Doctor Who: Alien Bodies (1997) by Lawrence Miles

A wonderfully creative, innovative, mad story bursting with imaginative ideas. My issue with this Eighth Doctor Adventures range has been how concerned it has been with the past, when it’s featuring a new Doctor and would be better served creating a new distinct era of its own rather than pandering to eras of the past. Vampire Science set some actual strong characterisation for the range’s new characters, and Alien Bodies sets some actual new storytelling, lore, events, ongoing plot, worldbuilding, and so on. Author Lawrence Miles puts it perfectly when he says “I didn’t give a rat’s minge about [the Doctor’s] past, and thus wrote something about the future”. The perfect direction to take the range in.

It’s startling just how many unique ideas are presented here, especially when other novels in this range have often just idly poked at one idea instead of multiple, let alone multiple high stakes, very new, very dramatic ideas. The Faction Paradox, that would later be successful enough to be spun out into their own range. The Celestis, an idea the revived televised Doctor Who would drawn from in David Tennant’s last episode. “Retroactive ancestry”, a delightfully bizarre concept sure to be used in ways particular to the Eighth Doctor and his controversial “half-human” status. A temporal war, a “Time War” the Time Lords fight with a fearsome enemy at some point during the future. The narrative around the companion Sam warping to a disturbing, meta place commenting on the nature of companions in general and presumably setting up some dramatic, unsettling developments down the line. Biological TARDISes in humanoid form. Time Lord skulls, from other timelines where they merged with vampires, bigger on the inside, through which victims are pushed through like they’re a black hole unto themselves.

The Doctor turned into a fetish object, the object of the narrative itself, Miles saying “the Doctor becomes the subject of Doctor Who rather than its medium. I wrote it that way for a specific reason: a lot of very silly people, mentioning no Jon Blums, were trying to ‘redefine’ the Doctor’s past after the “half-human on my mother’s side” blather of the TV movie”, before launching into his “Like the editor of the books at that stage, I didn’t give a rat’s minge about his past, and thus wrote something about the future” line I quoted earlier.

Alien_bodies

It’s easy to see connections and parallels between ideas in this novel, and ideas in the revived series of the show – a Time War, making the Doctor the subject of a story, Time Lords transcending consciousness, etc. I think it’s unwise to act like this is some hugely untoward case of the revived series exploiting the ideas introduced in this novel without crediting it, as writers like Steven Moffat have greatly praised the book, and Miles himself openly talks about how he was pulling from past influences himself (”Alien Bodies shares 95% of its DNA with its closest relative, [Alan Moore’s comic] 4-D War”). The Celestis are perhaps the clearest case of an original idea the revived series did indeed seem to use. At one point, they are described as “idea-based life-forms. They need new ideas to survive, but the High Council hasn’t had a decent new idea for thousands of years. The Celestis are starting to side with my employers, largely because my employers are so much more… how shall I put it? More imaginative. More dynamic”. It’s easy to see how those ideas apply to the Eighth Doctor Adventure range at this time this novel was released, and Doctor Who in general, as well.

For all the creativity of its ideas, and how such a forward-thinking original book was perfect for the range at this time, the novel isn’t exactly perfect. The pacing gets away from the novel around halfway through, where repetitive runs around the pyramid and repetitive conversations and conflicts start to become a bit grating, especially as the novelty of the strange concepts they’re playing with wears off. The length feels a bit unearned in comparison to other novels in the range. The “X’s story” segments feel a bit indulgent, especially the way they’re meant to be read in reverse order to illuminate certain story details (the movement and story of the Relic). And while Sam has some very powerful and fascinating writing going on about her in the novel, Miles’ actual grasp of her (and even moreso the Eighth Doctor) feels tenuous and vacant at times (especially when the Doctor sounds more like his fourth incarnation, a writing tic that has confused and bothered me elsewhere in this range). When the novel is zipping along with its crazy story and event pieces, it works great, but the moments where it slows down and characters have conversations not just about the mysteries and novelties of the book…the wheels start to squeak.

I’m being more particular and critical here because this and Vampire Science are so far the only books in the range really worth engaging with on this level, and because it does so much else right. Miles’ forward-thinking attitude was so completely tuned in to what Doctor Who needed at the time, evolving and moving Doctor Who into the future instead of endlessly navel-gazing into its past. The amount the revived series seems to draw on and reflect this novel proves the Eighth Doctor really did get an era of his own here, not just a vacant space where he referenced iconic eras before him. Four dogs, and a coffin.

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