Doctor Who
The Crooked World

Author: Steve Lyons
BBC Books
RRP 5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53856 2
Available 03 June 2002

The Eighth Doctor, Fitz and Anji arrive on a planet where normal physical laws have given way to cartoon logic. The inhabitants cannot be killed, only knocked out of shape; gravity works by consent; and evil deeds always backfire. But the TARDIS' arrival brings change to the Crooked World. People begin to question their lot in life, and cartoon violence turns into something far deadlier...

Steve Lyons has transported us to some strange realms, from the Land of Fiction in the New Adventure, Conundrum to a 1950s conceptualisation of the 21st century in The Space Age. Although a thematic extension of these previous works, The Crooked World is the wackiest yet.

Countless characters from Warner Bros and Hanna-Barbera cartoons are alluded to here - from Porky Pig and Tom and Jerry to Penelope Pitstop and Scooby-Doo - although their names and descriptions have been altered sufficiently to prevent any copyright infringement! Some are combinations of familiar characters: Dick Dastardly and Daffy Duck have been fused to create Dirty Duck, while Scrappy-Doo and Oggy Doggy become Scrapper, the nephew of Sheriff Boss Dogg.

Lyons seems to know the rules of such cartoons like the back of his hand. On this world, dogs are allowed to chase cats, but cats may never catch mice or birds. Villains need only place a mask over their eyes to render themselves completely unrecognisable. The Mystery Machine (or rather the analogous Spook Wagon) will always break down outside a haunted building or creepy forest. It is perfectly reasonable for animal characters to only wear clothes over their upper halves, because they lack genitalia. Like the world visited by the Seventh Doctor and Ace in the recent Telos novella Citadel of Dreams, the locals go through the motions of eating, but never (ahem) go through the motions of visiting a lavatory.

The effect that the TARDIS crew have upon the people of this realm owes a great debt to the movie Pleasantville. Concepts such as free will, which motivates oppressed cats to fight for their rights, go hand in hand with less pleasant realities, such as injury and death. Like the mayor in Pleasantville, Sheriff Dogg regards free will as a perversion of natural law and morality. The author doesn't need to spell out the political message contained within his story, that laws sometimes need to be adapted to better serve the changing nature of a society.

It is difficult at first to really care about the fates of such fantastical characters as Jasper the cat and Angel Falls, but as they grow more "human", they also become more sympathetic. There's a particularly evocative trial scene towards the end of the book.

An explanation for the bizarre nature of the Crooked World is also a long time coming. This being Doctor Who, we need some kind of rationalisation (unlike in Pleasantville, a magic remote control will not do), and we do get a logical explanation in the end.

This is more or less a one-gag novel, but one that is done very well. And it's good to have the occasional light-hearted story to break up the doom and gloom in books such as Hope, Anachrophobia and The Book of the Still.

Richard McGinlay


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