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Sky Pirates!

By Dave Stone

Book review by Paul Scoones

Not being a fan of humour in Doctor Who, I planned to give this book, touted as the New Adventures first foray into comedy, no more than a cursory look before handing it on to another, hopefully more appreciative reviewer. At first I was drawn to Sky Pirates! by its highly unusual title page design and the rather wacky appendices. I didn't mean to read these first. Idly flicking through the book, the last few pages jumped out at me and demanded to be read there and then. Anyone considering the same course of action can rest assured that the plot is not at all given away by starting on page 327, though it will give you a somewhat misleading impression of the level of humour throughout the novel, as it is definitely here that it is at its most extreme.

Dave Stone is, in my opinion, a very skillful writer. He has a knack of injecting humour into a very strange, grim and violent adventure in just the right dosages. In Sky Pirates! the humour is most apparent in places where, because of the quest nature of the plot, there are lulls in the action.

Bear with Sky Pirates! because it does take rather a long time to pick up steam. Astonishingly, the maiden voyage of the Schirron Dream described in the back cover blurb begins a very long way into the (admittedly rather chunky) novel. By this point much has already happened.

Characterisation is one of Dave Stone's strongest assets, and characters such as Li Shao, Leetha, Yani, Six and Kiru are more than simply parts in the drama. They are well-rounded characters with complex and sometimes deeply hidden motivations. I became most aware of just how effectively Stone had crafted his creations when at points of desperate crisis I found myself hoping that these people would survive.

After the appallingly bad treatment given to Bernice in her second New Adventure, I was concerned for the portrayal of the two latest companions, Roz and Chris, here appearing in only their second adventure. It appears that Dave Stone must have read a copy of Original Sin far in advance of its publication, as readers of Andy Lane's novel will find the same characterisations present in Sky Pirates!. That said, it is also evident that Stone wrote most of the novel for the Doctor and Bernice, as in typical New Adventures fashion, the TARDIS crew are split up very early on in the piece and thereafter have their own loosely connected adventures. Roz and Chris inhabit a comparatively small share of the story, but if this was the means by which Stone was able to ensure that he got their characterisations right, then it would be churlish to criticise this.

If New Adventures writers can be grouped according to how they portray the Seventh Doctor, Dave Stone most definitely belongs alongside Cartmel and Cornell for his depiction of a 'Dark Doctor'; even more scheming, manipulative and generally untrustworthy than seen on screen. Whether you enjoy or dislike this interpretation will undoubtedly have a large bearing on how you rate Sky Pirates! Although I feel the book benefits hugely from portraying the Doctor in this manner, it is perhaps ill timed coming so close in the wake of Human Nature, which dealt with the Doctor's apparent attempt to renounce the 'dark side' of his character.

Sky Pirates! is a highly inventive adventure, full of strange absurdities that despite their wackiness, all have a place in the story. Even the often clever, and indeed very funny, diversions have an internal, justified reason for their presence. Although I would be hesitant to recommend this book to a reader new to the series, to the long time and discerning New Adventures devotee Sky Pirates! is a refreshing change of style, and very welcome for it.

For those who are interested in local connections, the internal illustrations are by New Zealander Roger Langridge. And am I right in thinking that Sky Pirates! is the first New Adventure to mention the Maori?

This item appeared in TSV 45 (September 1995).

Index nodes: Sky Pirates!