Winner Takes All

by Jac Rayner

BBC Books 9th Doctor series, 2005

Brains... bleeding from ears... I have dragged myself through to the end of "Winner Takes All". The 9DAs continue to serve up SF pabulum with only the characterisation of the TV regulars offering any spark. Despite the promises of some and the hopes of others, two books in and I don't see the new 9DA/10DA book line as having much to do with the prior Who book lines. What we are getting is what, sadly, most TV tie-ins are: good pastiche wrapped around generic hackwork.

The story is bad. It is a clichéd idea, with each twist and turn contrived. There is no imagination, no wonder, and it is hard to care about anything. Without any texture of a fictional reality, there is no sense of threat. The aliens are ciphers: we have neither a convincing alien society nor an iconic monster. This is the literary equivalent of men in rubber suits. The nonsense of the story drains away the modicum of urban realism that the book sets up earlier on with its depiction of Rose's home council estates. The one nice plot idea, when Rose's predicament mirrors her fears over how the Doctor treats her, is ruined by being unsubtly repeated over and over.

I won't pretend to know what 12-14 year olds want to read these days, but I hope it's not stories as simplistic and clichéd as this. Thinking back to the TV novelisations I read at that age, I'm sure the stories were better, offered something more, something less predictable. The moral conundrums of "The Cave Monsters", the time travel paradox of "Day of the Daleks", the breadth of "The Crusaders": were these not more fulfilling than "Winner Takes All" or does the memory cheat?

"Winner Takes All" is not without some merit. It shows a basic competence that certain PDAs and 8DAs could not manage and is more coherent than Rayner's earlier novels like "Earthworld" and "The Glass Prison". As with Richards' "The Clockwise Man", Rayner captures the characters' dialogue: the Doctor, Rose, her mum and Mickey all appear and feel right. As a good pastiche, it reminds us of the TV series and the first half of the book passes pleasantly. There are some funny interchanges, although the prose fails to capture the same energy. Yet, as with "The Clockwise Man", it's not enough to carry us through the whole book.

What seems like a 12-14 year old audience recognition figure, Robert, offers the only real wit as Rayner satirises Harry Potter and wickedly yet emotionally effectively undermines what would otherwise just be the jolly larks of the main characters. Rayner is getting good at balancing between humour and tension, but she needs better stories to provide that tension in the first place.

Henry Potts, 2005

Originally posted to the Jade Pagoda mailing list.

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