Tuesday, 2 July 2019


Jonathan Morris Anachrophobia (2002)
Regardless of all of the usual claims made on behalf of Doctor Who, most of which tend towards hyperbole, its appeal and its greatest strength is to be found in its sheer weirdness, in my opinion, and by weirdness I mean that which unsettles and borders on horror rather than mere whimsy. My earliest memories of the television show are of scenes which disturbed me because they were unlike anything else I'd seen either on the box or out here in the real world - Pertwee menaced by a flapping gargoyle and the weird electronic visual effects of innocents zapped by nightmarish beings. Although my oldest memory is of that particular scene from The Daemons of 1971, I'd presumably already watched bits and pieces of the show because I recall informing my mum that it'll be okay for me to watch this from now on because it doesn't scare me as much as it used to, which was probably a lie. I was five, and from then on I kept watching until it was no longer practical to do so, and its greatest appeal remained, for me, in just how fucking weird the thing often was. Not even the less adventurous, more generic stories were quite able to diminish this aspect, for even when we were reduced to the primary colours of our jolly adventurers being chased along a corridor, the collaborative effort of the show had developed this back story of which we never truly received more than tantalising glimpses, ensuring that new revelations served only to increase the mystery.

So we had this race of near-omnipotent semi-immortals who may or may not have engineered the development of the universe for reasons we couldn't even understand, and in doing so had reduced themselves to sterility, even something akin to senility; and the Doctor is quite naturally one who chose to flee from this awful society. They routinely travelled in time, changed history, and their people were grown from looms, and so this was a civilisation genuinely beyond our imagination, revealed by means of hints rather than anything so reliable as a statement, generally foiling attempts to consolidate any of this back story as canon, canon being something which usually matters most to those who have missed the point and would prefer neatly modular adventures in which escapade five neatly concludes just in time for escapade six and everything remains the same. This is why it all went tits up around the time of that half-human on my mother's side bollocks. It wasn't that the idea contradicted an established continuity so much as that it was blatant button pushing targetted at those whom some focus group had identified as being in the market for a fun time travelling Byronic dreamboat; and, like the notion that David Tennant and John Simm could have attended the same time-kindergarten, it was an attempt to root the whole thing into something more familiar, something safely quirky like one of those cool Tim Burton movies.

Anyway, it seems the viewing public didn't really want Who as dreamy Mr. D'Arcy after all, at least not back in 1996, so the property - as marketing executives and twats so charmingly refer to it - crept back to the book shelves, notably less weird than it had been, but still trying, and nothing like so bland as it would become once it got back on the box.

I was a sucker for this shit up to the age of forty, dutifully buying a couple of these things a month, and I distinctly recall this one being amazing; except my reading age has increased since then just as my tolerance for foolishness has decreased, so revisiting Anachrophobia has been a mixed pleasure.

To first dispense with initial objections, Anachrophobia really picks up in the last five or six chapters, meaning that it's a bit of a slog up until that point - hundreds of pages of a base under siege, running down corridors, doors slammed
just in time to shut out slow moving monsters, essentially all the cliches.

But he had to look back. He glanced back up to where the creatures were standing.

As one, they turned to look at him.

Unfortunately this means it reads as a book which would rather have been a television show, and to such an extent that there were passages during which I swear I could sense Moffat feeling pleased with himself. Of course, some will doubtless regard a book which captures the atmosphere of a television show as a triumph, to whom I'd say you might be better off watching the box instead, maybe leave the books to those of us who actually enjoy reading, yeah?

Also there's the additional problem of occasional touches of what reads like fiction aimed at young adults - because apparently they can't handle proper fiction and need to feel that what they're reading somehow includes them, addresses their concerns as young people; so rather than simply describing something, we're told how Anji feels about it. It reminds her of her granny's kitchen, because we all have grannies, and many of our grannies will have had a kitchen. It suggests Geoffrey from Rainbow smiling and suggesting, 'maybe you too sometimes feel a bit grumpy like Zippy?'

However, as with a few of the shitier shows on the telly, we have that weird back story to compensate for failings of the author's imagination. The back story running through these Who books as of 2002 was that the Doctor's entire race had been erased from history leaving him without a memory and in a very different universe, again relayed as rumours and vague mythology, and it was more than enough to keep things interesting. On top of which, Anachrophobia - once we're done with all the corridors and Doctor, look out! - is a genuinely peculiar allegorical novel almost in the vein of Kafka. Here we have two societies at war, purposefully kept at war for awful reasons which would have doubtless warmed Ayn Rand's objectivist little heart; and this is told in terms of what might almost be surrealist cinema between the wars, which is at least preferable to imitating something from the telly. Once it gets going, Anachrophobia is sufficiently gripping to erase the awkwardness of the earlier chapters, and actually reads like a book rather than a book impersonating some other medium, so that's good, and means I didn't entirely imagine having once enjoyed this one.

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