Novel Review: The Bodysnatchers

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! I recently commented that, twice in a row, I’ve allowed months to elapse between entries in this series, and twice overlooked one book while trying to review the next. In the interest of not letting that happen again, here is the next entry, a day after the last! (Frankly, I think I owe it to everyone at this point, after making those mistakes not once, but twice.) Today we’re looking at the third entry in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel line, August 1997’s The Bodysnatchers, by Mark Morris. In this volume, we’ll revisit an old enemy: The Zygons. Let’s get started!

The Bodysnatchers 1

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this book! For a spoiler free review, scroll down to the next picture.

In 1894 London, a factory is owned by Nathaniel Seers. Once jovial and kind, he has recently become bitter and angry, toward his wife and daughter as well as his employees. A worker, Tom Donahue, recently discharged and destitute after an industrial accident, tries to meet with Seers after hours to beg for his job back. He finds his former employer cutting up human bodies—and Seers’ eyes are glowing orange. He flees into the night. Meanwhile the Doctor and Sam come to London in search of a replacement copy of a valuable edition of the Strand magazine. Donahue runs into them, then flees again in terror; and though they try to catch him, all they can do is watch as he is devoured by a dinosaur-like creature in the Thames. They try to report it to the police, but with little success; and so the Doctor instead recruits his old friend, professor George Litefoot, to help. (Henry Gordon Jago, Litefoot’s sometime partner, is away at the time, and does not appear here.) Meanwhile, Seers is employing two criminals, Jack Howe and Albert Rudge, to rob graves and bring him bodies each night. Howe intends to track Seers and blackmail him, though Rudge disagrees. As well, Seers’ daughter Emmeline intends to confront him about his change of heart.

Litefoot, with the Doctor and Sam in tow, is called to do a postmortem on the remains of Tom Donahue, which were fished out of the river. They find that half his body has been bitten away. The Doctor goes to visit Seers, Donahue’s former employee, but is roughly rebuffed; after some persuasion, he is allowed to examine the factory cellar, but finds nothing as yet. On his way out, he encounters Emmeline, who is here to confront her father. She, too, is rebuffed; the Doctor tells her where to find him should anything come up. Seers sends his men to investigate the Doctor. That night, the Doctor, Litefoot, and Sam break into the factory. In the cellar, they discover an organic lock on a hidden door; before they can check it out, they are attacked by a large reptilian beast. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to stun it, and the  trio escape. At home, Emmeline finds her mother dead at the hands of her father, who has glowing orange eyes and venomous stings in his palms. She flees the house. She arrives at Litefoot’s home in a terror-stricken daze. When the Doctor wants to return to the factory, she insists on accompanying them. They find the cellar empty, and deactivate the lock with the Doctor’s screwdriver. The door opens onto a rather organic passage composed of living tissue. They follow it into a large—but disturbingly organic—spaceship. When they see the inhabitants, the Doctor identifies them as shapeshifting Zygons. The large beasts—of which there are many—are Skarasen, and they are feeding on human remains. The Zygons, it seems, are invading, planning to remake the Earth in the image of their lost homeworld, Zygor. Their ship, underwater in the Thames, was damaged in space nearby, and cannot leave—even if they wanted to leave.

Emmeline reveals herself as a Zygon duplicate and captures the group; it seems that “Seers” captured the real Emmeline at the house. The trio are placed in body-print cells and duplicated; however, the Doctor resists the process and damages the living machinery. However, the Warlord Balaak—who is the real entity behind Seers—reveals that they were able to glean the existence of the TARDIS from his mind. He hands the Doctor over to the scientist Tuval, who wears Sam’s form now, and sends them to bring the TARDIS to him, planning to use it in his conquest. He warns the Doctor that any treachery will result in a detectable fluctuation in Tuval’s synchronization signal, and the Doctor’s friends will be killed. En route, the Doctor tries to enlist Tuval, and offers to take the Zygons to an uninhabited but accommodating world; she is sympathetic, but declines to disobey her warlord, and assures the Doctor that Balaak will never deviate from his plan, even with the TARDIS in his possession. Inside the TARDIS, he traps Tuval in a temporal loop, ensuring her sync signal will not be disrupted; then he returns to help  the others.

Meanwhile, Howe and Rudge deliver more bodies. This time, Balaak—who is occupied—sends the Zygon in Litefoot’s form to meet them. They then follow him back to the factory and confront him. He drops his disguise and kills Rudge, but Howe stabs him to death before fleeing. With the duplicate dead, Litefoot is freed from the body-print cell, and escapes the ship via the Thames, though he nearly drowns. A constable finds him and takes him to a hospital to recover. Howe flees to a pub and tells his story, and a mob joins him to burn down the factory. This causes Balaak to decide to move the ship to a new location in the river. Unknown to them, the Doctor is swimming to the ship when it moves, and he is nearly crushed; but he gets inside successfully. He finds the Skarasen holding area, where their lactic fluid is extracted and processed for Zygon consumption. He injects an anesthetic into the lactic fluid vats. He then rescues Sam and returns to the TARDIS, where he releases Tuval and explains. He plans to jump ahead a few hours to when the Zygons are all unconscious, and then slave their ship to the TARDIS and transport them to an uninhabited world. Tuval agrees—but when they arrive on the ship, he discovers that his plan has backfired, and the anesthetic is fatal to the Zygons. Only Balaak remains alive, and even he is slowly dying. Balaak stings the Doctor, and then activates the ship’s self-destruct before telepathically sending the Skarasen out to kill as many humans as they can. With Tuval, he steals the TARDIS; however the Doctor has set contingency plans: the TARDIS will only go to its previous spot on the riverbank. When they emerge from the TARDIS, they happen to encounter Litefoot, who has left the hospital in search of the Doctor; and he shoots and kills Balaak. Tuval, however, refuses to attack, and is spared.

The Doctor slowly recovers, as Balaak was too weak for a fatal sting. He denies Sam’s request to go back in time and change his actions, as he cannot do that. Instead, they release all the other prisoners—including Emmeline and her real father—and talk them through the transition, then recruit them to help get the ship as close to shore as possible before it dies catastrophically. Most of the captives survive the escape, as do the Doctor and Sam; however, the ship explodes in the river. Still, though, the Skarasen are loose, and wreaking havoc in the city. The Doctor takes Sam, Emmeline, and Seers to the TARDIS, where they meet Tuval and Litefoot. He and Tuval develop a method to summon the Skarasen back to the TARDIS in peace; and he modifies the ship’s shell to admit them in through the door. Litefoot returns home; and the Doctor and Sam then transport Tuval and the Skarasen to an unoccupied planet as planned, where Tuval—as Zygons can breed asexually—can start a new colony.

Later that night, Litefoot is at home, when the Doctor returns. The Doctor is older now, and alone; for him, as he explains, it has been a long time since their last meeting, and he hints that Sam may have come to a bad end. He thanks Litefoot for his help, and assures him that Tuval’s colony is several generations along now, and safe.

The Bodysnatchers 2

I admit, going into this novel, that it’s going to fare poorly when compared to Vampire Science. I knew when I started reading it that it had big shoes to fill. I’ll be direct: it doesn’t succeed in that regard; however, it’s still a good book on its own. With regard to the character development of the Eighth Doctor and Sam Jones, it picks up right where Vampire Science left off; the Doctor is still his romantic, audacious, self-sacrificing self, and Sam is still wrestling with her take on the Doctor’s approval of her. She’s gaining experience quickly, but she’s still a teenager, and still very much in need of approval. In the last book, it was a question of the Doctor trusting her with danger; here, it’s a question of the Doctor trusting her with horror. Sam finds it very hard to accept that the Doctor isn’t just coddling her; but in fact he isn’t. Rather, his universe is one that is sometimes filled with horrors that even an adult wouldn’t handle well. To illustrate that point, we have Professor George Litefoot (of Jago and Litefoot fame), who despite being a pathologist and an acquaintance of the Doctor, is quite overwhelmed by the things he sees here. (He acquits himself well in the end, as does Sam, but it’s touch-and-go for awhile.)

Litefoot’s presence here is welcome, but a bit odd. The story is stated to take place in 1894, five years after the events of The Talons of Weng-Chiang (I tried to verify this, but was unable to track down a date for that story, short of watching it again, so we’ll assume it’s correct). Henry Gordon Jago is oddly not present at all, having gone to Brighton to recuperate from an illness; he does of course get a mention or two. I say Litefoot’s presence is odd, not because he doesn’t fit here, but because Morris was very careful about how he handled the character—first, separating him from Jago, and second, pointedly NOT revealing the Doctor’s true nature. The Eighth Doctor passes himself off as a colleague of the Fourth, rather than revealing that they are the same man; and given that he doesn’t hide any other oddities from Litefoot, that seems a bit strange. I would argue that he was carefully preserving the character for future use, except that I haven’t seen any indication that there were future plans for Jago or Litefoot. (It would be twelve years before Big Finish incorporated the characters, in The Mahogany Murderers and then, later, in their own series.) It’s worth noting that, to this day, this is the only time Litefoot appears without Jago; and with the death of his actor, Trevor Baxter, it’s unlikely we’ll see any more such appearances.

The Zygons put in an appearance here. I’ve had some difficulty confirming, but I suspect this is their first prose appearance (outside of comics and Target novelizations). There’s nothing particularly revolutionary here; their appearance is consistent with both earlier and later appearances. It is mentioned that orange Zygons are all warriors, having been modified and made sterile; fertile Zygons are smaller, paler, and less devoted to violence. I haven’t seen this statement contradicted anywhere, but it doesn’t seem to have been maintained in later appearances, either. The description given of their technology—notably their body-print cells, which keep their template victims alive—is consistent with descriptions given in The Zygon Who Fell to Earth, and in their NuWho appearances. The Zygon duplicating Sam, Tuval, manages to keep her form after Sam is released from her cell; this would have been an error at the time, but is consistent with what we see with the two Osgoods in The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion, much later.

Continuity References: The Doctor’s screwdriver is destroyed by the Zygons; his comments at the time reference the previous destruction by the Terileptils (The Visitation). There are frequent references to the events of The Talons of Weng-Chiang. In the previous book, Sam’s room in the TARDIS was noted to have belonged to a previous teenage companion; here it is confirmed that it was Nyssa’s room. Skarasens and the Zygons were first seen in Terror of the Zygons; their enemies the Xaranti will first appear a few years later in the Past Doctor Adventures novel Deep Blue (which I may not reach anytime soon). The Doctor mentions and uses the TARDIS’s HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System), which he has modified (The Krotons, et al.) The Doctor mentions, but does not reveal, Jack the Ripper’s identity (The Pit), which will feature into the Seventh Doctor novel Matrix (future publication, but earlier in the Doctor’s timeline). He mentions Leela and her children and husband to Litefoot (Lungbarrow). He mentions Grace Holloway (TV movie). He reuses the Venusian lullaby from The Curse of Peladon to calm some horses. He mentions meeting his fourth incarnation (The Eight Doctors). In the story’s coda, which is later in the Doctor’s timeline (but only hours after this book’s events), he implies that Sam has not fared well; it’s been suggested that this is during an upcoming period when the Doctor loses her temporarily, in conjunction with the novels between Longest Day and Seeing I. The Doctor’s choice of breakfast with Litefoot is a nod to The Two Doctors. He has Delphonian coins with him, a nod to Spearhead from Space. The TARDIS’s “state of grace” circuitry is mentioned again (The Hand of FearArc of Infinity); it seems to be a bit more complex than those episodes stated, disallowing any hostile action, rather than just weapon discharges. The ability to alter the size of the TARDIS doors and/or shell appears again in the fan work The Eight Minute War, from the Seasons of War anthology (and is presumably how the Third Doctor got the console out prior to The Ambassadors of Death). Sam mentions being bitten by a vampire (Vampire Science). Tegan is mentioned at one point. The Doctor hums a Draconian lament (Frontier in Space–the Draconians, not the lament). The Doctor’s chair once belonged to a usurper to the title of Earth Empress (So Vile a Sin). He quotes himself from City of Death and Pyramids of Mars (the famous “I walk in eternity” speech).

Overall: These books are proving to be continuity-heavy, which is to be expected given that they were the face of Doctor Who at the time. With the exception of The Eight Doctors, they seem to be well-written, and they’re all enjoyable (yes, even The Eight Doctors, I grudgingly admit). This one, while not as good as Vampire Science, is a quicker read—I finished it in two (non-consecutive) days. If you’re a Zygon fan, you’ll greatly enjoy it, and you’ll see the seeds of later Zygon stories in which the Doctor really wants to help them rather than fight them. They’re one of Doctor Who’s more sympathetic enemy races, once you get past the whole conquest-and-death thing; orphaned, marooned, and homeless, and dependent on monsters for their survival, they’re really pitiable, I think. I’m glad they got a redemption in NuWho; I don’t know if that would have happened without this book to lay some groundwork. Definitely check it out, if you haven’t.

Next time: We have a fairly short entry, clocking in at just over one hundred pages (at least in the probably-bootleg ebook I’m reading): Genocide, by Paul Leonard! As short as it is, I hope to post about it by the end of this week; this range needs some serious catching up. We’ll see you there!

The Eighth Doctor Adventures are out of print; however they may be purchased at various used-book sellers.

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