Friday 13 January 2017

Time Shadows Reviews II

A couple more Time Shadows reviews...

Reviewer: Daniel Tessier
24 September 2016

I believe we're on the cusp of a new golden age of fan fiction, at least in the worlds of Doctor Who. After a few years when professional and semi-pro unofficial fiction all but dried up, there has been a resurgence in this area lately, and some of the projects have been excellent. The latest such project, from Pseudoscope Publishing, is perhaps the best in a recent run of impressive publications.

Time Shadows sees an impressive group of new and established writers come together to raise funds for the Enable Community Foundation; a charity dedicated to providing needy communities with access to the latest technology and techniques to provide replacement limbs and prostheses. It's a remarkable organisation, supported by a remarkable book.

Time Shadows gives us a wide variety of story styles and themes, although a number of them revolve around a concept of time becoming twisted or undone. The stories are of a very high standard. It's a cliché to call these collections a mixed bag, but it's true. Inevitably some stories are better than others, or, at least, better suit a particular reader's taste. However, Time Shadows is the most consistently well-written collection I've read in a long time. There's only one story in the book that I didn't particularly enjoy, and even then, I can see that it would likely suit another reader. In terms of quality, this is a huge achievement.

Going through every story, one by one, would make this a very long spoilerish review, so I'll be content to pick out some of my favourite stories. Time's Shadow, by Simon Blake, not only sets the overall feel of the book with its tale of time out of joint, but provides an unsettling and entertaining story from the very beginning of Doctor Who's history: that dilapidated junkyard back in '63. Also tied in with the earliest elements of the series is David McLain's story, Indigo, a fun diversion for the first Doctor with a fun punchline.

One of my favourite stories of the collection, The Godfather, has nothing to do with Mario Puzo. Rather, it's a quiet, rather beautiful story by John Davies, about the difficulties of growing up, that gives us a glimpse into the later life of two of the Doctor's companions. The Neither, by Ian Howden, is a very effective little adventure for Mike Yates and Sarah Jane Smith. They make such a fine pair in this story that they could have had their own spin-off series together.

There are two Cyberman stories that are particularly noteworthy for their very different approaches to the fifty-year-old monsters. Iron Joe, by Abel Diaz, sees the sixth Doctor and Peri encounter a Cyberman in the old West, an arresting and unlikely combination of images that make for quite an adventure. Andrew Blair's story, Confirmation Bias, is an absolutely devastating story that looks at the Cybermen from the opposite angle, focusing on the unbearable reality of becoming a Cyberman.

Christopher Colley manages to create both the funniest story of the collection, and one of the most affecting. After The Ball Was Over begins as light-hearted, frothy, almost Hitchhikers-esque romp before veering into an tale of guilt, that goes exists to explain the huge change in the fourth Doctor's demeanour between seasons seventeen and eighteen. The Redemption of Vequazon, by Nick Walters, has an outlandish fantasy title but delivers quite a powerful tale of morality and deliverance.

As with many collections of this nature, Time Shadows has a framing story. However, while most such stories are contrived and often quite ineffective, A Torch In The Darkness is one of the best Doctor Who stories I've read in a long time. Dale Smith, David N. Smith, Violet Addison, and Christopher Colley work together on this overarching tale, that brings the twelfth Doctor and Clara on a voyage throughout time, from the days of classical myth to the end of the universe itself. As well as capturing the Twelve/Clara relationship down to a tee, this five-part story sees the Doctor's own history explored. The stories throughout the collection are explicitly referenced as newly created events - intrusions into the Doctor's past. Indeed, isn't that what all these missing adventures are? New elements that we've fashioned to make our favourite character's life even more packed full of incident. A Torch In The Darkness also riffs on the same ideas as Listen, but takes it further and to a more powerful conclusion. In a collection that features all thirteen Doctors (and more besides), it's the crowning achievement. Exceptional.

Regeneration Who
Reviewer: Kara Dennison
17th October 2016

There is a real joy to Doctor Who charity anthologies. Minus a few thematic elements to bind the book together, they are largely free of restrictions of both what can be televised (both conveniently and legally) and what can and can’t be done within the set plot structure. It enables writers to toy with crossovers, returns to characters the series proper might have no desire to revisit, and even bits of canon that the show itself may never want to write. There’s a beautiful freedom there, both as a writer and as a reader who knows that this is just one of many fan imaginings that can be enjoyed for itself without wondering about its influence on the show’s legacy.

Time Shadows is one of the latest additions to the run of Doctor Who fanthologies, written to raise money for the Enable Community Foundation. Edited by Matt Grady and Samuel Gibb with a foreword by Gary Russell, it is a collection of new stories spanning the entirety of the televised series’s run. As is potentially guessable by the cover image, there is an especial focus on our incumbent Doctor, by way of a frame story featuring him and Clara Oswald.

What makes Time Shadows truly unique is the way it plays with the anthology format. We have a variety of writers pitching in a variety of stories — a young boy befriending an uncased Dalek, the Sixth Doctor and Peri encountering a Wild West Cyberman, and the Eighth Doctor’s run-in with Daleks and the Meddling Monk all at once, for example — which, in and of itself, is par for the course. But it’s the frame story, the overarching adventure of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara hunting down a mysterious time machine known as the Alpha TARDIS, that brings the threads together. How? Why? Where does it lead? That’s best discovered on its own. But it’s an ingenious use of the anthology format, and a brilliant way of tying together the works of a variety of authors that makes the patchwork of eras not only cohesive, but actually necessary to the plot.

As happens with a fanthology, the quality of the stories is all over the map. None of the stories truly fails as a Doctor Who story, but the writing quality itself varies person to person. Overall, there are far more hits than misses, and many of my misses may well be other people’s hits. It is important to bear in mind, though, that when picking up a fanthology, you’re not picking up a squeaky-clean, picked-over, BBC-polished product. You’re picking up a labour of love — and even if a particular writer’s voice may not be as strong as the ones around it, their passion for the show and characters still shines through in the inventiveness they bring to the concept.

So far, Time Shadows has raised more than $700 for the ECF, but there’s still a ways to go. Even leaving aside that it’s for a good cause, this anthology is definitely worth your money. It brings a degree of cleverness to the collaborative anthology format that, while present in other books, is exercised in a truly ingenious way here. There’s also a great deal of love shown for both 20th and 21st century Who, so no matter what your era, you will find something to enjoy.
Time Shadows is available to buy from the Pseudoscope Website, where you can also make donations to the ECF.

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