Doctor Who
Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Author: Paul Magrs
BBC Books
£5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53845 7
Available 07 January 2002

Arriving at an interstellar sci-fi conference, the Eighth Doctor realises that one particular example of the genre, an epic Earth novel entitled
The True History of Planets, has somehow been altered. Instead of dealing with fairies and elves, the book now appears to concern a planet of bipedal poodles. Elsewhere, a transmission of the movie version is intercepted by a space station - a space station crewed by bipedal poodles...

Yes, that's right: poodles, as you can see from the garish cover! And these are not the only animalistic aliens that feature in this, the BBC's 100th Doctor Who novel. Magrs also includes an intelligent aphid, a porcine hotelier and a vaguely humanoid cook whose name, Flossie, brings sheep to mind.

There's an eccentric cast of human (or human-looking) characters, too. A singer called Brenda Soobie is essentially Shirley Bassey by any other name. Meanwhile, John Fuchas, the producer of the movie version of The True History of Planets, is analogous to George Lucas. We find him plotting out his next blockbuster by playing with action figures based on characters from his previous film. Ron Von Arnim is a down-and-out animator in the mould of Ray Harryhausen, who seeks revenge on Fuchas after discovering that his stop-motion animation poodle effects are to be replaced by CGI. Strangest of all is the role played by a time-travelling Nöel Coward, or rather several versions of him from different points in his existence, who cuts through the time zones using an awesome pair of pinking shears (no, really)!

In among all this weirdness, a few more serious issues are subtly raised. Literary critic Roland Barthes' theory about "the death of the author" is given a more tangible twist, as The True History of Planets is reshaped in order to fulfil a function entirely divorced from its author's original intentions.

And from the point of view of Doctor Who novel mythology, the impact of Gallifrey's destruction continues to resonate. At one point, the Doctor boards a train whose passengers are comprised of classic fictional characters, including Van Helsing and Professor Challenger, who describe incidents that bear a remarkable resemblance to the Doctor's television adventures (though the amnesiac Doctor fails to realise this fact). This might just be your standard Magrs madness... but it could also signify that, in the absence of the Time Lords, Earth's timeline has been reshaped to such an extent that the Doctor's own contributions to it have now been fulfilled by other heroes.

Straddling a number of locations, including three different points in Earth's history, Magrs' plot is complex. However, his strange characters and situations are so memorable that this isn't a problem. In fact, with the settings usually alternating between chapters - many of which end on truly riveting cliffhangers - this book makes compulsive reading in spite of its bizarre (you might even say barking mad) subject matter.

Richard McGinlay

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