Friday, 1 April 2011

Book Review 3: The Scales of Injustice by Gary Russell (1996) - 10/10

Story Summary (BIG SPOILERS!):

The existence of another awakened Silurian shelter is revealed, as in Sussex, England, a teenage boy is kidnapped, and a frightened policewoman starts drawing cave paintings. While investigating, The Doctor himself is taken, and encounters this new group, made of different Silurian races, and even Silurian-Sea Devil hybrids.
Meanwhile, C19, the British government alien defence department in liaison with UNIT, through its secret medical facility – the Glasshouse is also trying to find the truth about the Silurians. However, unbeknownst to them, a secret organisation that hides in C19, called the Vault, is searching for the Silurians to include in their inhumane genetic experiments. The Vault’s aim is to advance the military might and power of Britain over the rest of the World, through the discovery and use of alien secrets and technologies.
Back at UNIT, the Brigadier tries to prevent the breakdown in his marriage, and Liz Shaw is manipulated by the Vault into locating the Silurians. Liz finds The Doctor, once again trying to plead the case for peace between the Earth Reptiles and Human kind, without much success. An insane, powerful and influential Silurian deputy galvanises a large number of the Earth Reptiles to once more attack the Humans. Sergeant Benton and the UNIT forces manage to defeat this Silurian offensive, while Liz manages to reason and convince the remaining Silurian-hybrids to work and live with the Humans in peace.
In Northumberland, Sergeant (soon-to-be Captain) Yates, with later help from The Doctor and the Brigadier, infiltrates and thwarts the Vault organisation, while its mysterious leader escapes to fight another day. After the incident is over, Liz Shaw decides to leave UNIT and go back to Cambridge to try and forge a better career and life for herself, away from the Doctor.

Story Placement
Between The Blue Tooth (BIG Finish Audio) and The Devil Goblins from Neptune (BBC Book PDA).
(TV Episodes: Between Inferno and Terror of the Autons)

Favourite Lines
The Doctor – “If you want a war with mankind, you will certainly get one. And you will receive your wish. You will surely die”.
‘Inside a barred cage was the lower half of a cream-coloured Dalek, stained with green and pitted with bullet holes. The Doctor was sure he’d never seen a Dalek like that, least of all in the twentieth century’.
The Doctor – “I realised not that long ago now that I didn’t know very much about you, Liz. As you say, it’s been all work and no play. That’s my fault. And if you’re going back to Cambridge, then the opportunities to mend that breach are going to be few and far between. But for what it is worth, I value you. Your judgements, your ideas and your ethics. You’ve been my calm in a storm. My white when I’ve been black. I don’t think either of us realised how much I’ve relied on you over the last eight months”.

It was only going to be a matter of time before I chose a book featuring my favourite Doctor, and I was already aware that The Scales of Injustice had gathered an acclaimed reputation amongst the Doctor Who book reading community; a reputation which I discovered to be very well-founded. A Doctor Who fan could be forgiven for thinking that this adventure is merely another rehash of The Silurians, (the original Silurian story made for Season 7 in 1970) just to plug in a few continuity gaps in the TV episodes. After all, the other TV appearances of these popular Earth Reptiles had been, so surely we will get more of the same, right? No. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sure, it does fill in some big continuity blanks created by companion Liz Shaw’s sudden departure off-screen between Inferno and Terror of the Autons, and the odd continuity established in the 1984 sequel adventure Warriors of the Deep; and the events surrounding the Silurians in this story echo that of the others, but they are all written, plotted and presented in a much different, and in fact, far better developed way.
For instance, The Scales of Injustice substantially builds upon the established world of the Earth Reptiles in The Silurians, and creates a fascinating and fully-fledged society, truly worthy of them. Here we have not just a shelter, but what feels like in many ways to be an underground city where a whole community resides. Gary Russell also takes the time to give every Silurian an individual name, including the previous Earth Reptiles who featured in The Silurians, personalising them, and giving their characters depth and independence. Although this may seem a bare necessity, it is a sad truth that Doctor Who aliens weren’t always given the same level of depth on Television as their human counterparts. The simple and relatively unfeeling nature of monsters like the Daleks and Cybermen allows writers the luxury of not needing to necessarily write characters for them. The Silurians were a happy exception, but even they were still reduced to unnamed monikers like ‘Leader’ and ‘Scientist’. Now the Earth Reptiles can at last be seen as individuals, but more importantly it makes us more able to sympathise with their plight.
Throughout the book, Gary Russell helps us to see not just the superficial details to the Earth Reptiles, but also their complexity and heart, showing us for once an alien race that cannot be defined in black and white. We see their compassion as well as their hate, such as the wise and open-minded Chukk, who always takes The Doctor at his word. More interesting though is our encounter with young scientist Baal, who is experimenting both to save his own life, and that of the other Silurian-Sea Devil hybrids, who are all dying from premature cellular ageing. It is in fact through Baal that we realise (if you didn’t realise already) that the Silurians are just as much of an emotionally and mentally complex race as Humans, which of course is ultimately the point. In his desperate search for a cure, Baal’s initial prejudice and amoral values cause him to rely on inhumane experimentation upon his human captive, Marc Marshall. In the company and help of the Doctor and Liz Shaw however, Baal slowly sees the error of his ways, and that of some of his people.
Although the Silurians’ are still suspicious and afraid of the humans, in part due to the beliefs of the influential and insane deputy leader – Auggi, the Earth Reptiles finally see the best in the ‘Apes’ they previously despised due to the selfless and positive acts of both The Doctor and Liz, and finally reach a peace. How long this peace actually lasts remains to be seen, but in the long term it seems it must fail considering that in Earth’s future, the Triad (Icthar, Scibus and Tarpok, three old Silurians, who feature in this book also) try to attempt to finish off Mankind for good in Warriors of the Deep.
However, from the very first page, it’s very clear that there’s a lot more going on. Gary Russell cleverly weaves several subplots into the story, the most important being that of the Vault. In an era that was influenced by the legendary James Bond film series, what better than to feature a Bond-esque conspiracy into the proceedings. Throughout the classic TV episodes of Doctor Who, it was effectively UNIT that was at the heart of these many conspiracies, because it was their world-saving antics that were being hushed-up by the government. However, Gary Russell blows this assumption out-of-the-water by giving us a secret organisation forged within C19 (without their real knowledge) to help benefit British interests and Empire, through the use and manipulation of alien secrets and technology. In effect, this is Torchwood, thought up ten years earlier (1996), by another name. In fact, it’s an idea so good; I’m not surprised it’s been used more than once. In the context of The Scales of Injustice though, I feel the idea works even better here than in its later TV incarnation. The Vault is the black to UNIT’s burning and bold white, and the two contrast each other brilliantly throughout the book.
The mystery of the Vault is well revealed in the book too, with only visual clues at first, and only a full reveal at the climax, when The Doctor discovers the truth for himself. It helps to create an exciting rise in tension during the book’s second half, and cleverly switches to become the central plot at the final quarter, while the Silurians are gradually pushed more into the background.
The Vault is also a homage of, and has taken clear influences from The X-Files too, like the main villain of the piece – the scarred pale thin man, who mirrors the silently menacing ‘cigarette-smoking man’ from that show. Partially Cyber-converted like Tobias Vaughn, the pale man is a genuinely menacing (and appropriately Bond-like) villain, who is seen to inflict quite graphic harm to show off his inhuman strength. There are also a lot interestingly unresolved elements to this plot too. The pale man, interestingly escapes to fight another day (like Blofeld perhaps), as do his half-human, half-auton associates, but he also has a mysterious boss, who we get no clues for. Is this the Master? Or is there another big villain we will meet someday? I’m aware that there are two sequels to the Vault plot (already written) – Business Unusual and Instruments of Darkness, and I will look forward to reading these with great interest.
Of course a Doctor Who UNIT adventure wouldn’t be the same without either a raid or an alien assault and in The Scales of Injustice we get both. First, Benton and UNIT troops withstand a Silurian attack, including the first chronological appearance of the Myrka (in Doctor Who continuity). As a big fan of the Jon Pertwee years, it felt like nostalgia made flesh. I could just imagine the HAVOC stunt team in action, jumping about the Sussex coastline, throwing grenades, and reeling from killer explosions and heat rays. So it was almost a double ‘whammy’ when the good ol’ Brigadier and crew came rushing like the Cavalry to the Doctor’s rescue; launching an assault on the Vault.
However, what makes The Scales of Injustice stand out from many of its Doctor Who novel contemporaries is the substantial character developments of not just its antagonists, but more importantly, that of its famous and much loved regulars.
For the first time that I can recall, we get a detailed insight into the private life of the dedicated and ever affable Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart. We see that while the Brigadier has a tough time trying to do his duty to the world, he also has an even more terrible time, trying to reconcile and achieve some kind of peace and normality in his home life. The BBC TV series Spooks has often well-explored and lamented, how secret service personnel could lose out on the luxury and type of life we often take for granted. In this case, the Brigadier is also facing a similar prospect, as his wife Fiona hates him for always been away at work, never trusting her with secrets, or spending enough time together as a family. Of course the Brigadier is duty bound by the official secrets act to stay silent of his work, and the national importance of it requires his constant attention. However, that doesn’t make it any less sad when Fiona inevitably leaves him, taking Kate, their only daughter with her. What’s so great about Russell’s writing here is that it shows us the real life and rounded three-dimensional person of a character that is very easily taken for granted, even by The Doctor himself. The sheer heart and strength of character here, also re-confirm that the Brigadier still is, and always has been, one of the greatest Doctor Who companions ever, and my personal favourite too in fact.
The story of The Scales of Injustice though, is ultimately that of Liz Shaw’s. The companion’s sudden departure between Inferno and Terror of the Autons needed and demanded a proper explanation; one which was both believable and true to the original character and in this Gary Russell succeeds admirably. From the very beginning of the story we realise that Liz feels underused and undervalued, fed up of not achieving anything worthwhile for herself since being enlisted by UNIT. To make matters worse, Liz is constantly patronised from all sides, and feels alienated by the Doctor, who becomes increasingly more obsessed with his TARDIS repairs by the day. Ill-treated and unrecognised, it is unsurprising that Liz decides to rebel by hunting down the C19 conspiracy alone, or feels a need to leave, a need to have a life for herself for once.
Liz’s feelings reach a climax in the book’s final chapter, which culminates in a powerful final scene, as Liz and the Doctor have a very moving goodbye. Here the Doctor displays his alien detachment, but also for the first time tells Liz of his affection and admiration for her, apologising for his earlier behaviour, and wishing her well in the future. Liz’s departure as a character is one of the most powerful, dignified and rewarding I’ve seen of any Doctor Who companion, and it was about time that the character finally achieved the proper send-off she deserved.
Although Gary Russell has filled The Scales of Injustice full of Doctor Who continuity references, ranging from The War Machines, all the way to Remembrance of the Daleks; compared to the common school of thought, I see their inclusion as being a good, rather than a bad thing. It is true that some Doctor Who writers use old continuity as a self-indulgent means just to show off how much they know, but in The Scales of Injustice, Gary Russell has used all this continuity to create brilliant story moments, adding dimensions to both the narrative and the characters especially, creating a very well-rounded and satisfying experience for the reader. In fact, the only criticism I could make about this book is that Gary Russell’s dialogue can occasionally be rather simplistic and clunky. However, because the story and characters are written with such heart and spirit, and the dialogue true to character, that it’s not something you remember for long. Younger readers may also find the first chapters quite slow-paced to start with, but that is only because of how many plots and character arcs Gary Russell has to set up at the start of the story. As for myself, I became so engrossed into the book, that for the last 100-odd pages, I couldn’t put it down.
The Scales of Injustice has definitely been one of my very best reading experiences so far, and part of that is certainly down to the care and attention Gary Russell has taken with this book and the characters he pays tribute to. However what ultimately won me over was how well judged the story and tone was considering the period it was intended to fit in. I could easily imagine The Scales of Injustice being another fantastic classic from Season 7 in 1970.  In fact, to me it feels like having just watched an episode from your favourite period of Doctor Who for the very first time, like re-living the favourite years of your childhood. It feels like nostalgia made real.

Score: 10/10