|Myth Makers Presents: In Tua Nua|
|by James Bow & Joseph Keeping|
To kick off their "Myth Makers Presents" line of novel-length fanfic fanzines, the Doctor Who Information Network (DWIN) is fortunate enough to have not one but two such authors. James Bow is perhaps best known for the "Trenchcoat" fanfic series, chronicling five seasons of fictional Eighth and Ninth Doctors. Joe Keeping has written numerous stories for the fanzine I edit, "The Whostorian Quarterly", and was chiefly responsible for the script for both Doctor Who movies we produced.
The result of their collaboration is "In Tua Nua (In The New World)". An eighty-four page illustrated novel, ITN started out as a New Adventures proposal which was ultimately rejected by Virgin. Unperturbed, James and Joe completed their work and it is now available for public consumption.
In a way, I find it difficult to properly review ITN because of my close ties to the project -- two years ago I read and offered advice on the early chapters; both authors are friends of mine; and I actually make a brief appearance in the book along with another, er, friend of mine. But I'll try my best. :-)
ITN is set during the brief period between the departure of Ace and the arrival of Forrester and Cwej, so only the Doctor and Benny currently occupy the TARDIS. They land in the small coastal community of Ferry's Landing, Newfoundland, in the near future, where a friend of the Doctor's -- a Time Lady named Moira -- now resides. Benny meets a popular fantasy author named Seamas McCausland who still mourns the disappearance of a mysterious woman named Aisling who stole his heart thirty years before. The Doctor, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly disturbed by his actions of late. Ferry's Landing is becoming overrun with genuine faeries, however, which are causing more harm than good. Soon the time travellers, Moira and Seamas find themselves embroiled in the destruction of a world, the salvation of an entire race, and the activities of creatures normally reserved for bedtime stories.
It's not hard to see why "In Tua Nua" was rejected as a New Adventure. The style is really quite different -- it's straightforward, uncomplicated, and there are few distractions from the main plot. The subject material still maintains the more mature levels of the NAs, but it would be difficult to place ITN alongside much more involved works like "Human Nature" and "Set Piece" (although if "Apocalypse" can get commissioned...).
This is in no way a criticism of the book, however, which is really quite lovely. James and Joe have crafted a good plot and an even better premise which serves to make up for the relative simplicity of the storyline. By far their strongest suit is characterization -- both the Doctor and Benny are spot on, and they do a good job with the major supporting characters too. Even incidental characters possess a feeling of individuality, rather than being stock characters running around under different names. The Doctor in particular is well treated, and we get a rounded look at his character worthy of Paul Cornell. Rather than simply emphasizing one of the Seventh Doctor's traits (a shortcut too many New Adventure authors have opted for), the Time Lord's qualities of humor, mystery, urgency, courage, stubbornness and charisma are all in evidence.
Also very good is the actual writing itself. It is easy to envisage the different locales, something especially important when the action shifts to the land of the faeries, a fantastical and malleable world whose richness could easily have come over as trite and stereotypical. James and Joe avoid this at all costs, and the world truly comes alive, adding immensely to the reader's enjoyment of the second half of the book. This is aided by the wealth of research the authors have obviously done, which is evident throughout. They also avoid turning the book into a "Who's Who" of Celtic mythology, providing plenty of background without letting it interfere with the narrative.
All is not perfect, of course. Like many NAs, the book is wrapped up far too quickly, resulting in a rather disappointing anticlimax which leaves the reader feeling just a tad cheated after such a great build up. There is also a rather annoying tendency in some passages to skip from perspective to perspective within the same scene, giving those parts of the book a disjointed feel. For instance, a scene might start from Bernice's point of view, dip into the Doctor's mind for a couple of paragraphs, then return to Benny. And the Ferry's Landing setting feels a tad underused -- after being the main setting of the first half of the book, it is only given a brief return appearance towards the end of the book. Although the people of Ferry's Landing had certainly fulfilled their role in the plot by this point, it would have given ITN an added sense of closure if we'd revisited them one more time.
It would be remiss of me to review ITN without mentioning the extra parts of the package which enhance the story itself. Martin Proctor continues to establish his preeminence amongst fan artists, offering beautifully drawn line illustrations throughout. Proctor is particularly proficient with the faerie land and characters, but does seem to have some trouble capturing the Seventh Doctor's appearance -- although he's often on target, at times he makes the Doctor seem very cadaverous and aged. Benny, on the other hand, looks like she just hopped off the cover of "Love and War". Proctor also tends to miss details of the narrative, which again cause a slight feeling of disjointedness. For instance, in a scene where Benny turns her clothes inside out to ward off evil faeries, the illsutrations nonetheless show her wearing her clothes normally.
Pat Degan also does a capable job with his illustrations, offering a nicely stylized collection of illustrations at the head of each chapter. He does tend to be overshadowed by Proctor, though.
Additional writings -- an interview with Kate Orman, an essay by Lance Parkin on his experiences writing a New Adventure, and a history of the "In Tua Nua" project by Joe, also enhance the overall parcel.
"In Tua Nua" will no doubt immediately attract comparisons with "Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark", as both draw heavily from Celtic and faerie mythology. There is little doubt in my mind that, despite its minor shortcomings, ITN is by far superior. "Witch Mark" lacks both the skill of characterization and narrative that ITN possesses, and reads more like a Celtic "Dungeons and Dragons" game with the Doctor and Ace thrown in. ITN incorporates its fantastical elements much more evenly, although I can't help but feel that such a very fantastical story is somewhat out of place in Doctor Who.
Overall, "In Tua Nua" stands out as an extremely classy piece of Doctor Who fiction; the term "fan fiction" only loosely applies to a work of this calibre. It is by no means perfect; few fan-produced works are. But it accomplishes so much that it would be a major injustice to declare ITN anything other than a success. I, for one, certainly look forward to future collaborations between James Bow and Joe Keeping.
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