"Finn Clark"

17/06/2004 10:37 AM

Read-a-thon 139: The Tomorrow Windows (NO SPOILERS)

Sorry I didn't post anything yesterday. I was in Oxford, among other
things. Ah well, on with the review...


The Tomorrow Windows, by Jonathan Morris
The 69th BBC 8DA, published in June 2004
Starring the 8th Doctor, Fitz and Trix
ISBN 0-563-48616-3

I've said harsh things about the post-cutback 8DAs, but I think I should
apologise. I've been too kind. After reading lots of real Doctor Who, it
hurt to return to a book about the 8th Doctor, Fitz and Trix. I felt pain.
Just to make myself clear, I think I regard the 8DAs as dead - and not
because of the blessed countdown to PDA status with Lance Parkin's The
Gallifrey Chronicles. They've been bleeding from the gut for three years,
but 2003 was the mortal blow. Continuing the line isn't for me a
continuation of the story, but just kicking the corpse down another flight
of stairs.

Which is a shame, since there's much of interest to be found in The Tomorrow
Windows. It's undisciplined as all hell, but I'm pretty sure that's
deliberate. Jonathan Morris dedicates the book to Douglas Adams, but to me
it felt a lot like Jonny's Alien Bodies... an overstuffed grab-bag into
which a million ideas have been crammed. It's even similar structurally,
with an auction and wacky alien bidders. Many authors would have fuelled a
trilogy with these concepts.

Mind you, in one way it feels more like The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the
Galaxy than Doctor Who. Its scope is broader, hopping from planet to planet
like galactic tourists and usually not being able to help the natives before
we're off to the next world. There's also a broad scope of history, with a
more comedic slant than we're used to. Doctor Who isn't po-faced, far from
it, but we're not used to the bleak existentialism of Douglas Adams.
Hitch-Hikers and Dirk Gently reduced everything important to a joke (e.g.
life, the universe and everything) and only found significance in
triviality. If Adams's vision wasn't funny it would be wrist-openingly
bleak - and I don't think it quite fits into the most humanist Whoniverse.

The Tomorrow Windows is neither a Hitch-Hikers novel nor trying to be one,
but it's informed by that sensibility. Worlds are doomed by methods that...
well, in a straight book I wouldn't have been convinced. However played
ironically, as here, it works. Similarly the villains and their motivations
are being played for laughs, so their silly banality is the whole point.

I liked the buyers at the auction, my favourite being the endearingly
pyschotic Vorshagg. I admire the inventiveness of all Jonny's aliens,
loons, goofballs and eccentrics... but I also found it a little much. At
times I had trouble keeping track of who's who. This book is full of
pompous idiots with fancy names and an unrevealed connection to the big
secret behind everything, not all of whom are easy to distinguish from each
other. I got it straight eventually, but I don't think this book has the
firmest grip on its (deliberately) sprawling story.

There's plenty of continuity, though you'd need eagle eyes to spot the likes
of the more obscure comics references. I wish I could say that it was
refreshing to have a change in the books after the continuity-lite attitude
of recent years, but unfortunately to me the continuity-based gags feel
smug. We get lines that might be hints that Trix and/or Fitz may leave
soon, which should please more tolerant readers than myself who feel they're
following the 8DAs rather than enduring them. There's an attempt to use
Trix's chameleon nature for something more than yet another "hey it's me!"
scene, which in fairness I thought was quite good. Thumbs up for that one.

Mind you, I didn't see the point of switching to first-person narration for
Trix halfway through Chapter Two. Looking back I think I see the reason for
it, given the exact point in the narrative where it happens, but hindsight
is a wonderful thing. I was bemused at the time.

Oh, and the no-longer-very-amnesiac Doctor drops lots of references to his
pre-Ancestor Cell life. It's possible that I was supposed to get excited
about this.

There are lots of real-world references, which will probably date swiftly
but for the next few years will feel slightly startling. The Doctor knows
Ken Livingstone. Nothing unusual so far. However we actually get a guest
appearance from Red Ken himself, with permission from David Hayward at the
Mayor of London's office. Interesting. It's something new, anyway.
Besides, I was never a fan of deliberately separating the Whoniverse and the
real world, e.g. Topping's alt-universe Beatles.

Overall, I guess I'd recommend The Tomorrow Windows. It's bouncing with
energy, like a puppy who's heard you say "walkies", and about as hard to
dislike. I can imagine many Doctor Who fans being left slightly puzzled by
it, but not very much since those Doctor Who fans are almost certain to have
read Douglas Adams too. If nothing else, Jonathan Morris deserves praise
for trying something completely different in all of his books to date. If
we overlook Empire of Death, so far the 2004 books are proving far better
than those in 2003. Despite its handicap, I enjoyed this one.

Finn Clark.