Friday, October 25, 2013

3rd Doctor Book Review - Mark Gatiss's Last of the Gaderene

Last of the Gaderene by Mark Gatiss
Published by: BBC Books
Publication Date: January 4th, 2000
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Wing Commander Alec Whistler fell in love with the town of Culverton, as well as a young lady, when he was stationed there during the war flying spitfires out of the aerodrome. He might have lost the love of his life in an air raid, but thankfully he survived the war and went on to make Culverton his home. Though as the village fete approaches it is a sad day in Culverton because the Ministry of Defense has closed the aerodrome and sold it to a mysterious company, Legion International, "getting us where we want to go." When Legion International breaks the quite of this quaint town with their loud lorries and there black-shirted employees who are a little overzealous in meting out punishment on those that stand in their way, Whistler calls up an old friend with connections to get to the bottom of what is going on.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is glad to help an old friend. Luckily The Doctor is still hanging around, though his imposed exile on 20th century earth, which included a forced regeneration, has blessedly been lifted, the Brigadier asks for him and Jo Grant to check out the situation in Culverton. The instant they arrive they know something is wrong. The head of operations at Legion International, Bliss, is an odd and secretive woman. Plus, when The Doctor sneaks into the air hangers he sees somethings that don't add up with the company's proposed purpose. Why a vertical wind tunnel? Then the very man they came to meet, Wing Commander Alec Whistler, disappears, and his young neighbor, Noah, who was doing some investigating with Whistler shows up in such a state of shock his life is feared for. Whistler isn't the only one who has disappeared... though some have returned. Different. Smiling. Strange. The Doctor calls in the Brigadier to come to Culverton. He needs his governmental clout, and if that doesn't work, he needs his weapons.

It is no surprise to me that when they chose the lineup of books to mark the 50th anniversary this year that among them was a Mark Gatiss book. Besides being one of the writers for the new series he is a fanboy extraordinaire through and through. Even if you haven't read the book's introduction, where he rhapsodizes about his new Zygon and his three different Jon Pertwee action figures, you just need to watch any one of his Doctor Who Confidentials to realize how much he knows about Doctor Who and how much he loves it. He fits into that rare category that David Tennant and Russell T. Davies occupied on Confidential, where he can just talk for hours on the subject but yet make it interesting. It didn't surprise me in the least when two of the three of these men left Doctor Who that Confidential wasn't able to endure. They were that show. In fact, Mark Gatiss can easily be credited with helping Doctor Who survive during its extended hiatus, during which time he wrote many Doctor Who books, Last of the Gaderene being one of them.

Though all these foreknowledge just made me leery that the book might not live up to the hype that I had created in my own mind. I mean, sure, Gatiss is a successful writer outside the sphere of Doctor Who, quite awhile before I even knew who he was I had picked up his first Lucifer Box book, The Vesuvius Club, based on a blurb on the cover by Stephen Fry, and I wasn't disappointed. In fact his fun camp series fits very well within the same genre as Doctor Who. But the fact has to be pointed out that while a gifted writer, he does have a tendency to stick to a proscribed series of tropes. Gatiss has a predilection for a period atmosphere, usually Victorian or WWII, and a desire to bring in the military... of course, the more I think about this, The 3rd Doctor being The Doctor of his formative years, perhaps these themes are actually a result of Doctor Who! The Doctor being stranded on earth in the 20th Century and having to work with UNIT... yes... this might explain a lot. But it also means that when asked to write a book for said Doctor, well, he didn't disappoint.

If you've picked up this book, you are obviously a Doctor Who fan. I can't really see anyone picking this book up on a whim, though I bet it would still work, but don't take my word for it. There is a chance though that you might not be too familiar with this Doctor. What Gatiss has done is given us a little glimpse, a vignette, of The Third to ease us into the story. While Last of the Gaderene takes place while The Doctor is still working with UNIT, he is no longer technically stranded on earth anymore. In a little side jaunt celebrating his freedom we get some classic Jon Pertwee moments as he races through a jungle in his puffy shirt and tight slacks, white hair haloing his head. A karate chop here and there, celebrating the "action Doctor" that he is with his cape flying behind him. In just this short little chapter you see not only his mannerisms and sartorial choices, but with his willingness to sacrifice himself for someone he barely knows, you see that compassion that is a hallmark of The Doctor. You can also feel the glee that Gatiss had in writing this camp Doctor in all his glory. A true passion for your subject can really go a long way to make the reader love the story as well.

But what made me fall for the book was it's pure Britishness. The real star of this book is the village of Culverton and it's beautiful English way of life that is shattered. The fact that the vicar and The Doctor show the most amount of concern for a tire track tearing up the edge of the village green just makes me giggle with glee, much the way I do for all of Hot Fuzz, which has a similar MO. What appeals to this yank about British television and literature is this quaint idealized way of country life. The village fetes and tombolas. The village green and the local pub. A place that is timeless whenever the story takes place. Yet it's the stories that take it one step further, the ones, like Midsomer Murders, that show us the evil that lurks beneath the surface. They break the sanctity of this idealized life. The calm that is broken with an alien invasion force in full black-shirt regalia. Yes please! I feel it in my bones that this level of campy satire with the dandy of a Third Doctor was perfectly realized with this book and is the first book in this select series which I would heartily recommend, despite the fact that oddly, yet again, we have a "legion" mind meld, telepathic thing going on, which I guess must be the theme... we'll have to see if Tom Baker stumbles onto it next...


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