Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Complete Wildthyme II: "Old Flames"

"Old Flames" (from the BBC 'Short Trips' collection, 1998)

In terms of Paul's published Doctor Who fiction, "Old Flames" is the cuckoo
in the nest. It's the Iris story which doesn't really play metafictional
games. It's the Iris story with a conventional beginning, middle and end.
It's the Iris story with a straight companion. In short, it's not terribly
Irisy at all.

This feeling of dislocation from the rest of the Complete Wildthyme (or
'The Magrsian Chronicles' as I was briefly tempted to title these reviews,
until I realised that would be *very* crap) is increased by what seems to be
Paul's hesitancy in writing Doctor Who for the first time.

Whilst he was by this point a respected non-genre author, with his debut
novel
already three years behind him, there is a nervousness and caution in
'Old Flames' which isn't wholly unexpected from the new kid on the block.
Where in the next collection, he lets himself go and recasts his Who leads
as the Avengers' team, then drops them into Andy Warhol's Factory, here we
have an instantly recognisable Fourth Doctor and Sarah-Jane involved in some
fairly low-key shenanigans, as Iris attempts to marry off her latest
companion to the grand-daughter of the rich Lady Huntingdon.

Not that 'low key' and 'instantly recognisable' don't have their benefits.
Sarah-Jane is especially well-done, sounding *exactly* like the TV version,
and the Doctor is enjoyably erratic, moving from down-beat worry to gay
abandon in the turn of a page. Iris, too, is a treat (this Iris reads like
a dry run for the Big Finish audios - you can just hear Katy Manning
speaking the dialogue) and, at this early stage, the Doctor seems far more
genuinely fond of her than normal. Add to the mix the linear narrative and
clear-cut villain, and 'Old Flames' is something that even the most trad of
Who fans should have no problems in following.

Maybe that's why I'm not as fond of it as other Iris stories - if I want
what's generally termed traditional Who I'll go and watch 'Time Warrior' or
'The Invisible Enemy' or whatever. The fact that Paul generally pushes the
boundaries a bit and gives the reader something more than was possible on
the TV screen is a large part of the attraction in reading the Iris books,
and that sense of adventure is missing here. You can see it trying to burst
out now and again, most obviously in the villains who are the last remnant
of a dead race of tiger aliens, but the rest of the story is so
straight-forwardly written that when, for instance, Rector Adams describes
Lady Huntingdon as 'a terrible black spider on a golden throne', it jars
rather then delights and seems oddly out-of-place.

At heart (and imo obviously), 'Old Flames' just tries too hard to be a story
for the Everyman Who reader and although that's perfectly understandable,
being Paul's first Who short story in the BBC's first Who short story
collection, it leaves things a little flat, especially in comparison to
Paul's later Who work (and, in fact, his non-Who work published up to this
point)

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