Doctor Who: Beautiful Chaos Hardcover – Dec 26 2008
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About the Author
Gary Russell is one of the script editing team for Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, and the author of many novels and reference books in the Doctor Who range. A former editor of Doctor Who Magazine, he was the producer of Doctor Who audio dramas for Big Finish Productions for eight years. He lives in Cardiff.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I think overall my issue with the novels is something that isn't really the authors' fault: they're aimed at a teenage audience, for the most part. The focus isn't intended to be characterisation or character development; for the most part, the audience wants familiar characters and a plot that has enough twists and scary bits to keep them interested. Personally, I tend to need a bit more than that to keep me interested, in particular character development and relationship development - and I stress that I mean relationships of all kinds: family and friendship above all.
Beautiful Chaos gave me all that and more, and above all characters I could recognise, whose dialogue leaped off the page such that I could hear it in my head as I read, and really developed Sylvia and Wilf, and Donna's relationship with them, beyond what we see on-screen and made the Mott/Noble family so very much richer as a result.
The book actually starts post-Season 4, with Sylvia visiting Wilf up at the allotment, and we get to see the impact on the two of them of what the Doctor did to Donna - whether or not any of us feels that he had a choice, it can't be denied that he left Wilf and Sylvia with an enormous burden and didn't do anything to help them cope with it. This prologue, and the epilogue, are close to heartbreaking.
The main story is set some time before that, after The Doctor's Daughter and before the Library episodes. The Doctor brings Donna home for the first anniversary of her dad's death, and of course he gets caught up in an adventure. It's a rattling good alien adventure - the Mandragora tries to take over Earth - but there's the backdrop of Donna's family dynamics, her conflicted relationship with her mum, the secret of what she's really doing with the Doctor which she and Wilf are keeping from Sylvia - and Wilf's lady friend, who is an Alzheimer's sufferer.
The Doctor, surprisingly, even seems willing to play domestic, at least a bit - but Russell gets him perfectly as well, including his manipulative side. And the Doctor-Donna close friendship is played perfectly, as is Wilf's love and protectiveness for Donna. He and the Doctor understand each other perfectly on that one, which make the post-Journey's End bookends even more poignant.
Much to my surprise, this book gave me a much better understanding of, and even sympathy for, Sylvia. I'm expecting that the other Donna novels won't live up to this standard. Whether they do or not, if you're a Doctor Who fan and loved Donna's time as the companion, this one should be added to your reading-list post-haste.
There has been debate in the Doctor Who community over how much time should be devoted to the companion's family. Spending multiple episodes on Mickey and Jackie in series one, showing how those left behind when Rose went off with The Doctor, was something new in Doctor Who. I'll say that again, Russell T. Davies added something NEW to Doctor Who. In a show with a 40 year history, this is an accomplishment. However, this is something that RTD is skilled in: character moments. And while Mickey and Jackie are both loved and hated, they were at least a tool to see something new and there was genuine character growth. I personally wish we had seen more scenes being critical of Rose, for I personally found her to be a shallow and often selfish character. But that's neither here nor there at the moment. There were attempts to imitate this with Martha's family, but she wasn't a companion long enough to see real growth and change with her family, most of that change occurred in a questionable series finale. But with Donna's family, apart from her wonderful grandfather (is it the script or Bernard Cribbins that make the character work so well?) Donna AND her mother are rather hit and miss. In fact, more than Martha and more than Rose, there was so much wasted potential in their characters (wasted potential being a theme for Series Four, in my opinion). "Partners in Crime" did some good set-up, but so much of the season and the development seemed a vehicle for the Really Big Amazing Stuff at the end of the season. We sacrificed stories and characters so we could get Rose and the Doctor back together . . . sort of.
What Gary Russell does in "Beautiful Chaos" is fill in the gaps, and these were gaps that desperately needed to be filled. In this new age of Doctor Who, character has became as important as the stories of old, and even in the episodes that are weak, we need good characters. What is shameful is that it took a novel to get inside the Noble family and expose the heartache and pain that lurked beneath the surface of each character, and that this novel is essentially a flashback to something that happened shortly after "Silence of the Library/Forest of the Dead". It has a post-"Journey's End" framing narration, before heading back to an incident involving the Mandragora Helix. But while the old-series fan in me gets all giddy about the return of an entity from one of my favorite Tom Baker stories, the writer and artist in me loves getting to see the Noble family, and that is something I never thought I would say. Gary Russell is picking up the characterizations from "Turn Left" and going deeper, showing how Donna has grown, making Sylvia Noble more sympathetic (and infuriating), and showing Wilf's weakness. This is a hurting, broken family because it is a family haunted by death. This isn't the vague and mysterious death that follows and haunts the Doctor (according to the new series), but a very real and painful death. The death of both Wilf's wife and Donna's dad in the span of a year. These are the rocks upon which the Noble family shattered. Wilf had to bury his pain to be strong for his daughter (despite still hurting), Donna lost her father, and what girl doesn't have a special relationship with a father who is loving and gentle, and Sylvia lost her mother and her husband, and she sees her father as fragile and broken, and her daughter as irresponsible and courting death. The Doctor, therefore, represents everything she fears . . . more death in her family.
So all in all, Gary Russell effectively raises both Sylvia and Donna above being the charicatures they were in the show and makes them into genuine characters. This is a great feat. Wonderful. What about the story?
While being well-paced and well-written, I'm sorry to say that the story itself is perfectly average. With New Who's tendency (especially on the part of RTD) to repeat itself I couldn't help but see elements in this novel that I had seen on the show. The return of the Mandragora Helix has a bit of a Sontaran Strategem feel to it. The story of Dara Morgan borrows from how The Master created Harold Saxon. In fact, the whole M-TEK aspect of the plot is quite reminescent of how Cybus industries created the Cybermen AND how the Archangel network enabled humanity to accept Mr. Saxon. Perhaps these are merely sci-fi tropes that are repeated so often as to be included in any given book at any given time. Perhaps they are a reflection of a social consciousness and love-hate relationship with identity theft and modern technology. Or perhaps intentionally or unintentionally Gary Russell is borrowing from the show. It is interesting how in the 1970s the Third Doctor fought off an alien invasion every week. Now, as the first decade of the millennium draws to a close we have aliens manipulating our technology and essentially invading from within. This idea was probably best (and most casually) seen in "The Story of Martha" in which we find an alien race that doesn't invade, but slowly takes over the world economy through business. At least, it was interesting until The Master showed up and killed them. A good idea, quickly quashed by the need to advance the story and end the book. Yet another wasted opportunity.
When you get down to it, the portrayal of The Mandragora Helix leaves me wondering if another alien threat would have been better. Yes, more books will be sold if we bring back a villain, but much as the alien plot in "The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky" fit the Zygons more than the Sontarans, I don't know that using technology to enslave humanity fits with an alien that derives its power from belief in astrology and the zodiac. Reasons were given in the story, but it could have been any other alien and it wouldn't have been any different.
A great many of the Doctor Who books I have read have been boring or forgettable (or books that you desperately WANT to forget). Despite the criticisms of the overall story, particularly it's choice in villain, I don't believe this book to be one of the boring, forgettable ones. Quite the contrary, I rather enjoyed it. It wasn't particularly challenging, but it was good for an afternoon of escape. So, if you are looking for an entertaining Doctor Who book, one that at the very least is a fun ride, then you could do far worse than "Beautiful Chaos".
Movie and t.v. tie-in novels are traditionally sub-par, but I think the DW books get better with each new release.
The characterization of Donna, Wilf, and most importantly, the Doctor, are excellent here; Gary Russell does a fine job of capturing the voices, to the point where you can almost see it as filmed episode rather than novel. His twists and turns are excellent, and despite the sadness of the ending (no spoilers)--or perhaps because of it--this does stand as one of the finest of the Young Adult Doctor Ten novels.
I just wish they had opted for more Doctor Ten/Donna novels. It's a shame her time with the Doctor was cut so short when she was such a very good companion!
to save her life. In between is a very good story. Typical of other Doctor Who books with an evil force wanting to take over the Earth and universe. What makes this special is Donna Noble. The author knows
Catherine Tate, who played Donna on TV, and perfectly captures the spirit of Donna in this book. The best part, for me, was the interaction between Donna and The Doctor. In looking back at all my DVDs
of seasons with Doctors nine to eleven and then old ones I have bought I have to say that Donna Noble is my favorite associate. Her grandfather is also very well handled and always was interesting.
We like Clara well enough as well as Amy, Rory, Martha, Rose and Sarah Jane. However Donna Noble adds something extra. And Catherine Tate herself is an excellent actress, more experienced than any
past or present associate. A brilliant writer herself.