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Read online at the BBC Classic Doctor Who website.

Science Fiction fans often express concern about why it is that more women don't seem to be interested in the genre. I know they do, because there was a panel to that effect at Mecon 11 in the summer.

Unfortunately, this book is a prime example of the reason why. Apart from Romana and a tea-lady who makes a brief cameo appearance in chapter 2 before being blown to smithereens, all of the female characters in the book are crazed dominant-yet-also-subservient femdroids who turn out to be modelled on the inner workings of K-9. In fact, the total lack of any plausible female characters for the entire duration of the novel even gets the writer into plotting problems towards the end of the book. Realising that the Metralubitans at the centre of the story are in the position of needing to rebuild their society from a small pool of people after surviving a catastrophe, the Doctor has to turn to their President and ask, "Premier, there are females down in your dome, aren't there? Real ones, I mean?"

Dear Gareth Roberts: here is a clue. If you want your readers (and especially your female ones) to find Metralubitan society plausible enough for them to either a) believe in its ability to regenerate itself or b) care, write both sexes into that society in the first place. Don't just suddenly assert that they are there when the plot demands it. Gah.

The world moves on, though. Since writing this, Roberts has proved himself capable of better things, especially in regards to his Sarah Jane Adventures scripts. So my annoyance is more directed at the fact that this is such a common failing in SF contexts in general than it is against him personally. But it is disappointing, and lets the book down considerably.

Which is a pity, because on the whole this is a pretty decent story. The ending gets a bit contrived and hand-wavey, and winds up with Roberts writing himself into corner which nothing but a literal Big Red Button can get him out of. But the essential set-up of a war between two rival parties who actually rather like one another socially, the basic conceit than most human(oid)s are sufficiently vain that they can easily be manipulated into non-sensical and immoral behaviour via a bit of flattery, and the comic touches (especially the parody of Marxist revolutionaries) were all well worth reading. Plus the Four!love was most satisfying, and came complete with a nicely-realised Romana II and a charmingly unhinged K-9 into the bargain.

In short, then, basically good fun, but with a Russell T. Davies-style ending and an apparent failure to register the existence of half the human(oid) population. If you love Four, you should definitely read it.

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 17th, 2008 06:57 pm (UTC)
I tend to think that the Sarah Jane scripts from RTD and GR are considerably better than their usually rather awful Doctor Who scripts. Not sure why.

- K
Dec. 17th, 2008 09:12 pm (UTC)
There's definitely a case there as regards Gareth Roberts, although I enjoyed The Shakespeare Code, which was one of his Whovian efforts. To be fair to RTD, he has only co-written one SJA script (Invasion of the Bane), so there's not much to judge him on there. Apparently (or so I learnt on Wikipedia!) the two of them are going to co-write one of the Doctor Who specials next year, which I fear may not be a very good thing.
Dec. 20th, 2008 02:48 pm (UTC)
I really wasn't a fan of The Shakespeare Code, but that could be because I'm a purist when it comes to Shakespeare, and there were some glaring errors in that script which really should not have been there (and could have been easily rectified). But I adored his other script, The Unicorn and the Wasp, which really showed him as a writer of some calibre. So it's very odd to see the sexism inherent within The Well-Mannered War. All I can think of is that perhaps it was one of his first efforts and since then he and his writing style have matured much more.

I'm also wondering if, perhaps, Roberts was writing the novel in the style of the series at that time...I haven't seen a lot of Tom Baker stories, but from what I do remember, there were never any really major roles for women. It still doesn't excuse it, though - we're not in that period anymore - but perhaps as a first attempt at a script/novel, he really wanted to emulate past tropes...
Dec. 20th, 2008 05:07 pm (UTC)
Actually there are some very strong female roles in the Tom Baker era, quite apart from his companions. The Stones of Blood is a particularly good example, but others include The Ark in Space, Image of the Fendahl, The Pirate Planet, City of Death and Meglos to name just a few. So it's a brave attempt to play devil's advocate, but I don't think Roberts can get off on that excuse! ;-)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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