19 June 2017: The Eaters of Light review added.
11 June 2017: Empress Of Mars review added.
6 June 2017: Extremis/Pyramid At The End Of The World/Lie Of The Land review added.
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THE CROOKED WORLD by Steve Lyons
Imagine it's Saturday morning and you've got a horrible hangover. You're lying on the sofa, moaning faintly from time to time, with your eyes squinched shut against the light sending white-hot needles of fire straight into your brain. You know the drill.
Meanwhile, somebody else in your household is watching cartoons. And because you can't see them, they insist on describing them to you. Lots of them. In ever so careful detail.
And that's what The Crooked World is like. (Except, maybe, for the white-hot needles of fire. Although on the other hand...)
The book falls into several parts, all equally annoying. In the first bit, the Doctor and companions stumble around the cartoon world, giving Steve Lyons the chance to carefully outline all the cartoons, with thin pseudonyms, that we already know back to front anyway. This is about as entertaining as it sounds. Unless you have the IQ of a slug, it's unlikely to strike you as an amazing insight that cartoon violence doesn't hurt, or that cartoon characters perform the same actions over and over. It's unlikely to strike you as particularly hilarious, either. It's more a case of yeah, yeah, yeah, when's the story going to start?
Then it does start, and you wish you hadn't asked. Lyons puts on his Pontificating Hat and poses the question: what happens when a society suddenly gets free will? Ooh, Steve, what a novel idea. You're a deep one. The story lurches into a terribly serious examination of this old chestnut, but because it's such well-worn ground, absolutely zero comes out of it that we haven't already seen a million times before. This chunk of the book is also graced by an excruciating subplot involving Fitz trying to get off with the wincingly named Angel Falls but finding that she, er, ... well, we don't want to give away too many spoilers, but this part of the story is just as predictable as the rest.
The last part is a bit of a mess, as Lyons tries to pull together the rambling narrative into some kind of significant finish. The TARDIS crew's sigh of relief as the wheezing and groaning starts could hardly have been louder than ours.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: satire is more than changing a name. Dropping the Doctor into a world of cartoons is an interesting idea, but it never gets any further than that. It's as if the author fell in love with the cartoon idea but when he sat down to write found he couldn't do a thing with it. The Doctor in particular is a terrible fit for the concept. While Fitz in his endless quest for punani and Anji with her rationality at least find something to play off, there's really nothing for the Doctor to do here except a forgettable bit of po-faced moralising.
However, and it's a big however, by some alchemy we can't begin to fathom Lyons does manage to make the book readable. Despite all the problems we had with it, we still found it entertaining enough to get through to the end. When we think about the slog we've had through many of the Doctor Who range, we're grateful.