Doctor Who Book Review: Plague of the Cybermen (by Justin Richards)

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Spoilers, ish.

No one really seems to know what to do with the Cybermen now, do they? Or at least, in terms of New Who material, I’m not all that familiar with any recent Big Finish outings.

At any rate, there seems to be a desire to change the Cybermen, presumably to give them some sort of edge. This isn’t really a problem, apart from the way it’s manifested itself – slowly but surely, the Cybermen are being turned into Borg. In Nightmare in Silver, they were Borg in spirit – connected to a hivemind, constantly adapting to the situation, and with an overall ‘leader’.

This novel turns them into the Borg in terms of physicality. It takes the idea of Cybermen as scavengers on their last legs and runs with it; in a reversal of the Cybermen concept, these Cybermen are having to harvest flesh and blood limbs to replace their own broken or missing metallic ones. It’s an interesting idea, and is a pretty good use of body horror – the only problem with it is one of coincidence really. If it hadn’t been for Neil Gaiman’s recent Borg-ification of the Cybermen, I would’ve  seen this in a much more positive way; in the way it deserves to be seen, really… but when reading it now it wasn’t as impactful as it could’ve been, and it came across as a bit distracting.

As to the rest of the novel, it’s a pretty traditional fare; it’s a base-under-siege story, essentially, with a slightly macabre atmosphere. And a well written one too. (Admittedly, elements of the plot riffed upon Richards’ earlier novels, such as The Clockwise Man and The Resurrection Casket, even copying a few of the jokes!) The style of prose was good (which is definitely a good thing; I don’t know why, but sometimes Justin Richards’ novels seem… off slightly? It’s probably just me) as was the characterisation of Matt Smith’s Doctor. It was exactly right, striking the balance between silliness and seriousness. Richards’ even managed to throw in a few morbid jokes, and make them feel in character. That’s a pretty impressive achievement.

Overall, I did like this book a lot, and would probably read it again. So…

7/10.

Related:

Doctor Who Book Review: The Shroud of Sorrow

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On Love & Monsters and Turn Left

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Isn’t it interesting that one of New Who’s most reviled episode follows the same theme as one of it’s most lauded?

Love & Monsters came 153rd in DWM’s Mighty 200 poll; Turn Left came in at 12. Suffice to say, there’s a pretty large gap between them in people’s affections. (At risk of losing all credibility and each of my followers, I actually really, really, really, like Love & Monsters*)

Love and Monsters follows the story of Elton Pope, telling the tale of how his life, and those of the people in London, were affected by the Doctor. Turn Left follows the story of Donna Noble, telling the tale of how her life, and those of the people of the world, were affected by the Doctor.

It is the same theme, the same central concept. The only difference is the way in which the idea was approached. Love and Monsters is what happens when the Doctor is there; Turn Left the story of when he isn’t. Despite the superficial differences, it is still the same idea – it’s how the Doctor affects people. (Taking it a bit further, you could argue that Love and Monsters is about the accidental evils that he causes, and Turn Left is about the greater evils that he prevents.)

I suppose the reason why Love and Monsters isn’t appreciated as much as it should be is the Abzorbaloff**, which is certainly a shame. It’s really a brilliant concept, when you distill it down to it’s base elements – it’s about the removal of your autonomy, isn’t it? (It is) I wonder if people would like this episode more had it featured, say, the Zygons or the Krillitanes in the place of the Abzorbaloff – but I think that would probably be to the episodes detriment, on the whole…

So, that’s why New Who’s alleged-second-worst episode is, in fact, very, very similar to it’s sixth best.

* As much as I like the episode, I think they made a mistake with the title – it really, really should’ve been called “Love ‘n’ Monsters”

** Yes, I like the Abzorbaloff as well.

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