Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Grimm Reality

Simon Bucher-Jones & Kelly Hale Grimm Reality (2001)

In the event of either of my readers being somehow unaware of the fact, in between getting itself cancelled for trying too hard in 1989, and subsequent rebirth as a series of flashing lights in 2005, The Doctor Who Telly Show spent its wilderness years as a series of novels. Some were utter shite - yer basic button-pushing continuity landfill - and some were pretty good.

Grimm Reality belongs to the latter category, and succeeds for two reasons: firstly its having been written as a novel rather than as something to be purchased because there's a picture of the TARDIS on the cover; secondly its having been written by authors who can  form sentences without falling over or giving themselves a headache. As a recovering addict, someone who once splashed out on a couple of these things every month for about a decade, I really cannot overemphasise how greatly I appreciate authors and publishers making a bit of an effort. Too many of these books relied upon the tenuous novelty of what would happen if Cybermen teamed up with Ice Warriors to invade a Dalek nudist colony, the sort of stories in which people say things grinningly, which feature sentences like his voice went up and down, and which assume the reader to be a gurgling moron with a reading age of about nine. Pardon the acerbic tone, but I still don't understand why a few more of those Doctor Who books couldn't have been a bit more like this, given that all it would have taken is for editors to refrain from commissioning novels by people who can't actually fucking write.

Axe duly ground, Grimm Reality deposits the TARDIS crew in a world of fairy tale populated by gnomes, giants, sleeping princesses and the like, hence the industrial strength pun of the title. Happily, not only is this the more visceral pre-Disney strain of Brothers Grimm narrative, but the traditional cock-obvious plot twists are neatly anticipated and avoided:

He wanted to believe, but he had a lot of experience to put aside: in the last hundred years, nine times out of ten the banshee had been a thing from Antares 5, the foo fighters bemused alien jellyfish, and the ghost usually a teenager in a sheet. Even when he hadn't got a full explanation for things, he'd always felt there ought to be one.

In a way he'd be pleased to find indivisible Giants.

He wanted Giants that couldn't be reduced to men on stilts, or aliens from a low-gravity world in cyber-braces. He wanted Giants that rumbled the world with their ultimate bone-shaking largeness, Giants that couldn't be explained away.

Of course, an explanation is eventually delivered as the sort of bewildering nosebleed physics Simon Bucher-Jones always writes with such poetry; and its an explanation which cannily keeps the promise of the above, thus avoiding stooping to the sort of anything goes lazy writing currently informing the related television show wherein the entire galaxy is saved by someone having a bit of a cry.

I could be reading too much into it, but this rather neat solution suggests an underlying theme, perhaps a subtle commentary on narrative conventions enslaved by their own continuity: a story told for its own sake rather than that of a - shudder - franchise; and to this end, Grimm Reality reads very much as a novel featuring a character once played by Paul McGann, rather than just the four millionth exciting adventure for that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as etc. etc. It's less Harry Potter, more Clifford D. Simak writing gnomes into his science-fiction novels on the grounds that he's Clifford D. Simak and he'll write what the hell he likes.

Speaking of the accursed television show, I've found myself surprised at how the current incarnation takes so many narrative cues from novels like Grimm Reality, and yet still gets it wrong through overstatement, reducing everything to clich├ęs, shorthand or gimmicks. This was how it could have been - intelligent, gripping, entertainingly weird with big ideas, jokes that don't outstay their welcome or require revolving bow ties to alert viewers to the occurrence of madcap antics, and pleasantly rounded characters - notably Anji Kapoor who I don't remember working quite so well in  other tales.

Both Simon Bucher-Jones and Kelly Hale have written better than Grimm Reality, and it's by no means the greatest Doctor Who story ever told, but it's pretty damn good. It just seems a shame that, with hindsight, novels of this standard should have been the average rather than upper range, but no matter.

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