Reviewed By: newt5996
Review Date: 5/28/16 8:23 pm
1 out of 1 found this review helpful.
God I hate this book. I really, really hate this thing. I thought The Pit was as bad as the Virgin New Adventures could get. This novel is worse than that novel for a lot of the same reasons so I hope this review doesn’t get redundant. Strange England is the debut novel of Simon Messingham who after this went on to write for the BBC Books line of Doctor Who novels. It’s a wonder that he was allowed to write for Doctor Who again after this mess as Strange England is page after page of grotesque imagery trying to create a horror story in the same vain as Ghost Light and Horror of Fang Rock but he doesn’t put any substance in the characters present in the novel so the grotesque imagery and body horror doesn’t have any real horrific effect. The plot is also paper thin and Messingham really is trying to scare you with his novel, but has nothing to keep it going.
Strange England sees the Doctor, Ace and Benny land in an alternate universe inside of a TARDIS where there is a Victorian Manor House filled with people who don’t understand the basics of life. There are giant insects and everything starts trying to kill the people in the house but the twist is it’s actually The Quack who is basically a stupid version of the Valeyard for the character of Charlotte who for some reason is a Time Lady, but she still doesn’t understand basics of time and temperature. Yeah the story doesn’t make any sense and it just sort of happens without a second glance and you’re expected to care. Everything goes weird and everyone makes it out of the story alive somehow or other. The plot is really all over the place and doesn’t know what it wants to be, if it wants to be a horror novel or a character study or a comedy. Yes there are several moments where the story tries its hardest to be a horrific comedy which just throws mood whiplash into the mix of the story creating even more problems in the mix.
The novel really fails at the horror aspects because of how it falls flat on the characterization. The Doctor suffers as Simon Messingham doesn’t understand who the Seventh Doctor is as here he is played as a clown who still plays the spoons and tries cracking jokes. He barely acts like the Doctor as he freezes up when a young girl is being killed by a horrific insect in this alternate universe letting her die. He doesn’t have a single plan and lets his companions get swept up in the mystery not for any sort of master plan, but just because it seems like he was extremely bored with the last few adventures. Ace suffers also as she is played as almost too nice. She has a caring soul which really doesn’t work after we’ve seen her development. Now I don’t always like the hardened Ace as much, but even without the hardening she was never very nice, but strong and independent. This becomes really apparent when Messingham tries to make her tough and it doesn’t work at all as more mood whiplash is created. She also gets a subplot going into another alternate universe within the alternate universe where she meets up with a psychic who has supernatural powers which creates a lot of problems as more imagery is created. Benny also comes off badly as blandly as she is portrayed as almost a lazy woman with an affinity for alcohol. This novel really brings out the problems with the TARDIS team as if they aren’t portrayed correctly the adventure automatically suffers from any characterization.
The supporting cast of the novel also is one note. You have Garvey who is your Standard English butler and Messingham tries a lot of comedy with him. You have the rest of the house staff whom I can barely remember. There is the villain, The Quack who as I said is a boring version of the Valeyard without any of the charm of Michael Jayston. The story with him is really sickening and clichéd as he has nothing interesting to do.
The horror elements in the novel also don’t work as they try to be really terrifying but they keep happening every ten pages so there is no tension build up. This makes the novel an incredibly slow read as well as a bad read that shows a lot of the problems of getting first time novelists. You will get gems from first timers like Kate Orman, Paul Cornell and Mark Gatiss who all showed they can be the best allowing them to have second and third novels each in the same range, but you also get a lot of duds like Neil Penswick and Andrew Hunt who have written some of the worst Virgin New Adventures. They read like first time novelists and have plots that feel like they’ve been made up as the writing goes along with no real revision. Yes I like risks but editors really need to be able to tell people no when it comes to what and who they are allowing to write.