THIS STORY TAKES
place BETWEEN THE
TV STORIES "PLANET OF
EVIL" AND "PYRAMIDS
PAPERBACK (ISBN 0-426
-20453-0) RELEASED IN
the Doctor and Sarah
Jane arrive IN
EUROPA, WHERE they must confront the
sinister Theatre of
‘She’s a witch!’ he screamed.
‘She’s got eyes in her breasts. Eyes for nipples!’
As you may gather from the above quotation, Stephen Marley’s “Managra” is downright bizarre. In fact, I have yet to come across a Doctor Who novel even remotely like it. The author’s trademark gothic fantasy and black comedy is fused with the much more light-hearted, almost cliché, gothic horror of the apposite Tom Baker / Elizabeth Sladen
television stories, and the result is… wrong.
Now to be clear, I am not in any way prudish about sex, violence, or even swearing in Doctor Who. If it is used appropriately, I say bring it on! For some reason though, having Sarah Jane, wearing nothing but a bikini and being leered at and sexually harassed by a clone of Lord Byron just did not sit right with me. Nor did having Mary Shelley hit on the Doctor. I did not mind the rest of the dark, sexual stuff in the book (the Claire / Byron devil-worshipping orgies, for example) but the fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane stuff – no way, Pedro.
That said, Marley handles the regulars well in other ways. His fourth Doctor is near-textbook, and he also does wonders with Sarah Jane. Similar to how Gary Russell opened up Polly’s character in last month’s “Invasion of the Cat-People”, Marley delves into Sarah’s past here – he gives her a father; explains the circumstances of his death, and how Sarah came to live with her Aunt. To say that Sarah Jane is almost certainly the most popular companion of all time, it is actually quite amazing how little we truly know about her. If nothing else, “Managra” goes some way towards remedying this.
Turning to the plot, thirty-third century Europa with its denizen clones is a wonderfully imaginative setting for a Doctor Who story. It also has the added advantage of being able to use historical characters - words do not have to be wasted introducing them; the reader already knows these larger than life characters (or at least they should). Unfortunately, “Managra” wallows in itself far too much for my taste. Marley takes over 300 pages to tell a story that could have been told in well under 200. There is simply far too much prose for too little story.
I think that “Managra” would have worked brilliantly as a 1975 four-parter – it would have benefited immensely from the red pen of Robert Holmes, and having lots of Byrons and Casanovas running around would have made the story a little easier to digest, as well as saving the BBC a few quid in actors’ wages!
As a novel though, I would not recommend “Managra” to most Doctor Who fans. It is not one that I will ever read again. Only literature and theatre buffs, and possibly those who are seriously into their gothic fantasy, will relish this novel. Others will most probably find it utterly unpalatable, as I did.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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