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As far as I can remember, my total experience with Doctor Who novels before this one consists of:
  • One Target novelisation read when a child, I think involving Cybermen overseeing human slaves working in a quarry. I can't remember which Doctor was in it, but if anyone has the slightest idea what I'm on about, do let me know. Unhelpfully, I shall add that the slave-masters may not even have been Cybermen (but I'm pretty sure they weren't Daleks).
  • State of Change, a Virgin Missing Adventure in which the Sixth Doctor and Peri visit ancient Rome and find that all is not as it should be, read in my early 20s when a friend who was both a prominent member of OUWho and a fellow Classicist lent it to me.
With that rather minimal background, I suspect that launching into Lungbarrow was probably the Who novel equivalent of picking up A Brief History of Time after having read the Ladybird book of Space and maybe a GCSE Physics text-book. Certainly, there were a lot of allusions to Who continuity drawn from other novels which were completely lost on me - particularly regarding the companion character, Chris Cwej, and somebody called Roz whom he occasionally referred to. It also doesn't help that the events of the novel move backwards and forwards through time quite a lot without it always being clear that this is happening, while there are long dream-sequences towards the beginning and end of the story in which it becomes rather difficult to keep track of who is seeing and experiencing what, and who is an active participant in the events being described rather than merely a passive observer.

For all that, I'm glad I read it. It seems to be the novel that is referred to most often in fannish debate forums, so at least I know what all the fuss regarding looms is about now. It was also generally an enjoyable read. I liked the portrayal of early Gallifreyan history and the sense of atmosphere about the Lungbarrow house - although I did think that maybe there were slightly too many scenes of people wandering about trapped in its oppressive corridors and wrangling with one another over ancient feuds. I wouldn't say it was great literature, and I noticed a higher proportion of typos and spelling errors (e.g. 'populous' for 'populace') than I would expect in a professionally-produced publication, but it was imaginative and absorbing all the same.

Of course, the big issue that this novel prompts among fans is that of 'how canon' it is. And you can see why. Let's assume for the moment that the meaning of the word 'canon' as used in a Whovian context is roughly 'a set of stories about a single character, all of which need to be viewed as part of the same continuity, and therefore each of which casts a meaningful light on the way that character should be understood in all the other stories', which is what seems to me to be implied in most discussion contexts where I've seen it being used. If that definition holds, and is applied to this novel, then it is asking its readers to revise their understanding of the Doctor on an unusually radical scale, and to apply that new understanding to every other story he has ever appeared in. Suddenly, he's a reincarnation of mysterious figure from Gallifrey's early history, he's not literally Susan's grandfather, and he hails from a distinctly soap opera-esque family - and all of this in spaces where the reader's imagination had previously been free to play. It closes doors, presents a new view of the Doctor's motivations which readers may or may not like, and arguably reduces the mystique of the character by the very act of laying out his origins.

Whovian canonicity is something I really want to write about at some point in this journal. I'm fascinated by the way the concept is applied, and especially the way it frequently seems to me to go alongside very literal interpretations of things that are said by characters in accepted 'canonical' contexts. Just at the moment, though, I have a growing backlog of all sorts of review posts which need writing, not to mention the fact that I'm slipping further and further behind on the schedule of academic work that I was going to get completed over the summer. So it's probably better to let my thoughts on the matter mature quietly in the background for the time being, and satisfy myself with linking to Paul Cornell's excellent post about it instead. It is obvious, though, that Marc Platt is very conscious of what he's doing in this novel, and of the impact it was bound to have on fans, as I think this little exchange between the Doctor and Dorothée (aka Ace) while they are watching a puppet-show demonstrates:
"'Inaccurate,' complained the Doctor. 'Rassilon should not be wearing that sash yet.'
'Whoa! Better write in and complain,' said Dorothée."
Gotta respect that.

If you'd like to read Lungbarrow yourself, it is available in full on the BBC's Doctor Who ebooks page. But I can't help but suspect that if you did, you'd have found that out already. ;-)

Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
nwhyte
Aug. 6th, 2008 09:27 pm (UTC)
Your Target novelisation is probably Eric Saward's Doctor Who - Attack of the Cybermen which does indeed feature Cybermen overseeing slave labourers in a quarry. Though it is a relatively late story - 1984, I think - does that work?

Like you, I more or less started my current obsessional run of reading Who novels with Lungbarrow. I will go back and reread it some time fairly soon, now that I am more familiar with Marc Platt and what he is doing (and indeed with the New Adventures in general).
strange_complex
Aug. 6th, 2008 09:40 pm (UTC)
I've just read the synopsis on Wikipedia, and you may well be right. In my memory, all the action in the novel I read took place on an alien planet - but as you can see, that memory is incredibly hazy, so I may just have forgotten about the London bits. Since I've seen the televised version Attack of the Cybermen in reasonably recent memory (some time at Oxford, I think), it's also possible that my memory of that has over-written my memory of the novel I read, and it wasn't actually about Cybermen overseeing human slaves in a quarry at all! In other words, the original memory is really too fragmentary now for any serious hope of recovery...

I rather hope Lungbarrow doesn't lead me down quite the same path as you, because I read a great deal more slowly than you do, and I fear it would take me most of the rest of my life to work through the entirety of the Who novelisations! But now I've discovered the BBC ebooks page, I think I'm pretty much sorted for my lunch-time reading for the foreseeable future.
(Deleted comment)
strange_complex
Aug. 6th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)
No, because you have shown an admirable appreciation of true literature in that comment. ;-)
(Deleted comment)
strange_complex
Aug. 6th, 2008 10:06 pm (UTC)
I hadn't heard of the George book before, but have just Googled it, and it looks really cool! Lucky Shrubby, getting bedtime reading like that.
(Deleted comment)
xipuloxx
Aug. 7th, 2008 02:35 am (UTC)
Nope, that was pretty much my reaction too...

Pen, I like your definition of "canon" and may nick it, with your permission of course...

I'd like to know what you actually thought of Lungbarrow; I don't really get from your comments whether you liked it or not. I mean, you seem to think it was well written (which, for all my burning hatred of it, I can't really disagree with), but did you also think it was a load of bollocks, or did you think it was an interesting take on the Doctor's background, or what?
strange_complex
Aug. 7th, 2008 08:47 am (UTC)
Yes, feel free to quote it - but do please credit it back to this post, because I worked quite hard on putting that into words.

As for what I actually thought of Lungbarrow, that's difficult to answer in the terms I think you mean without getting deeply into the whole 'canon' thing. I mean, I thought it was an interesting and enjoyable story, with lots of very imaginative elements, basically decent prose and a well-constructed plot. But is it how I want to conceive of Time Lord society or see the Doctor's origins? Not entirely. I like bits of it (e.g. the living houses, the early struggles between Rassilon, Omega and the Other, and even the looms), but not others (e.g. the rather prosaic family, the 45 cousins rule instead of ancestral succession, the stuff about Susan). I think on the whole I prefer to imagine it as a collection of semi-accurate myths which have grown up around the Doctor (as they would around a figure like that), all drawn from a variety of sources and some of them based on truth but others not, with no-one other than the Doctor and perhaps some of his very closest companions ever being able to determine which. As such, it's very enjoyable to read.
xipuloxx
Aug. 7th, 2008 12:57 pm (UTC)
That's a very interesting take on it, actually. With that in mind, I may even read it again myself and try to enjoy it! Well, I did find it quite a good read, but I was so disgusted by the whole Looms/Other thing which MADE NO SENSE that I couldn't enjoy it overall. Maybe now I can.

Thanks again!
strange_complex
Aug. 7th, 2008 01:20 pm (UTC)
I guess it probably helped in my case that I read it ten years after publication, and had already come across lots of other people getting annoyed about the looms before I started it. It meant I was pre-warned, and could put myself in a frame of mind which was ready to take it as just one possible background for the Doctor, rather than feeling I had to fit it into the same world as the TV stories and then discovering that that changed everything about them! I imagine that people reading it when it first came out found it much harder to swallow.

I wonder if it would have been better received amongst fans if it had deliberately been written in a way that suggests a sort of 'mythology' take on the story? For instance, if it was all narrated by Chris Cwej, looking back on his previous experiences from a time after he has finished travelling with the Doctor. That would raise the possibility of an unreliable narrator, letting readers know that they don't have to fit it in with other continuity if they don't want to, in a way that the actual technique of an authorial narration doesn't allow to the same extent.
xipuloxx
Aug. 7th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
Yes, that would have helped.

Having said that, I read it quite some time after publication, and was warned that I might not like what it did to continuity. But it was before I was involved in DW fandom (though I was of course still a fan) so I didn't know that much about it, nor about the enormous controversy it caused.
paulgregory
Aug. 9th, 2008 01:44 am (UTC)
Indeed your reverse-engineered definition of 'canon' focuses on the importance of canonicity in comprehending works, and is all the better for it.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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