The Red Lines Page

April 18, 2009

Kursaal: Reviews

Filed under: drwho,Kursaal,Novels,writing — Peter A @ 6:51 pm
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KursaalI found a variety of reviews when my first novel was published. Here are the contemporary ones I spotted in newsstand magazines, online book stores, and other internet review sites.

Newsstand reviews

Doctor Who magazine

“Sombre shading makes Kursaal more than just a mindless runaround,” said the headline of Doctor Who Magazine’s assessment. Reviewer Dave Owen was reminded of some elements from Virgin Publishing’s Bernice Summerfield books (female archaeologist excavates alien culture for industralist), as well as TV’s Earthshock (vital signs vanish from remote displays, an underground bomb). He also noted that it was interesting and more upbeat than my previous fiction.

And although he commented that “the mind behind [the novel] is more a skilled assembly-editor than a driven visionary”, Dave also
said “I would certainly trust Peter Anghelides to create a new series of Doctor Who on television.” He summarised the book thus: “perfectly paced, balanced between action and insight, and thus well-composed to appeal to what Doctor Who readers like.”

In the annual Doctor Who Magazine poll for eighth Doctor novels, Kursaal came sixth out of 11, with an average rating of 69.2%.

DreamWatch

“A fast-paced Doctor Who tale, with all the requisite twists and turns,” wrote Paul Simpson in DreamWatch, rating it 9/10. This reviewer had not enjoyed my previous short fiction: “However, here he has come up trumps.” He said that the book featured strong supporting characters, and liked the way some scenes were portrayed from more than one point of view.

“Humour is not neglected,” Paul noted, “although there are some incredibly bad (and old) jokes.” For him, “it is in the use of the werewolf legends […] that Peter scores highest.” He concluded his review: “One of the most enjoyable books in the range to date.” Indeed, in his DreamWatch review of my subsequent novel Frontier Worlds the following year, Paul would comment that Kursaal was “still one of the best recreations of Doctor Who in print form.”

TVZone

John Binns in TVZone was less impressed, giving the book 6/10. “As subtle as a brick, and just as sophisticated,” he concluded. “a simple story with running around and monsters.” Apart from the Doctor and Sam (“some nice dialogue between them”) he thought that Kadijk was the only memorable character, with the rest “ciphers or clichés” who apparently had silly names (HALF), barely disguised names (Cocaine, Sergeant Saturday) or rude ones (Huan Qua).

Nevertheless, John noted a “creditable attempt” to make Sam interesting. And he liked the “familiarity” and “nostalgia” of a traditional tale, with the twist of the unexpected two-part story. This he felt helped make it “very fast-paced” and “pretty competently written”.

Starburst

“A damn good, old-fashioned Who story,” said Starburst’s Simon Lydiard, rating it B. He summarised it thus: “Great fun, told with
a wicked sense of humour, a plot as fast as a silver bullet, and a climax to match.

DWAS

When the book was published, I was still a member of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, so I also saw their review of the book. “Kursaal might be my choice of story to become the second Eighth Doctor film,” wrote Mark Fuentes in the society’s monthly newsletter. “The story has action, debate, spectacular scenery, and excellent characters […] Anghelides can inject craziness and pathos into his situations and characters with equal skill.”

Mark said that the word “Kursaal” can be translated as “‘playroom’, with its slightly sinister overtones […] reminding the reader of
the thoughtlessness and cruelty of childhood.” He also thought that “Anghelides uses [Sam’s] full potential in this story.”

Online bookstores

amazon.com

“No surprises,” said “christopher30” from Maryland on amazon.com, “but one cool things gets three stars [out of five].” The cool thing was the way that Sam and the Doctor “left the planet without resolving the problem. Now that was different.” He thought I was trying to outdo Jon Blum and Kate Orman by doing werewolves to their vampires (in Vampire Science). But he thought the story was “terribly predictable” and “slow-moving”. (Subsequently, “christopher30” became Chris Dudley, one of amazon.com’s regular
reviewers.)

Pamala Ritchie from Houston, Texas “liked portions of this book better than others,” noting in particular some of Sam’s conversations with the Doctor; the Doctor’s flight through a wall of water and his escape from the hospital into a parade; the creepy wolves. Parts of this book are funny, parts are sad and parts are predictable,” she said, but “don’t get too attached to any of the characters in this book—it isn’t a happy ending for most of them.” Pamala rated the book 3/5.

“Loved Sam, not the gore!” said Avraham Mattes of Chicago, Illinois, scoring the book 4/5. He “enjoyed the idea, but Doctor Who is not a horror movie.” On the other hand, “I love how Mr Anghelides wrote Sam. Bravo! I’m glad you took a risk in this story and I enjoyed it.”

Jason Jones from Macon, GA thought it was an “original take on a classic concept […] Anghelides somehow makes the whole idea of ‘wolfmen’ seem fresh.” Jason rated the book 3/5, and especially liked the way the Doctor and Sam “got the heck out of there as soon as they could and returned to the planet 15 years later when they thought the heat was off.” He thought the Doctor and Sam were “clumsy and undeveloped”, but concluded: “overall this was a good read.”

“Not the best novel ever written,” said A readerfrom Camarillo, CA, rating it 1/5. “I liked the book in some ways,” this reviewer said. “Anghelides has a very creative imagination in the gizmos he invents.” But this reader was less impressed with the fact that the book was written in England “so some of the words and phrases are hard to understand”, and those that were understandable were “long and boring situations.” There was evident disappointment that this was one book in a whole series. The review concluded: “Words are hard to understand if you are not English or if you don’t know what they mean,” which I concede is difficult to dispute.

Fortunately, Merlin Melchizedek from San Diego, CA thinks Kursaal is “one of the better eighth Doctor and Sam books; very fun reading.” He rated the book 4/5. He didn’t think it a classic, but thought “the relationship between the Doctor and Sam is well-explored […] you’ll fly through this one with a smile.”

Thomas O’Sullivan judged the book “a let down” and rated it 2/5. He thought the early BBC Doctor Who novels “really fail to
capture the imagination or the attention of the reader”, and suggested Kursaal was a principal offender for over-familiar elements from the TV series. He found the logic of the Jax infection confusing, disliked the number of deaths, and thought there were “no surprises here”. In short, despite a few moments of interest, the book was “Dull […] Kursaal is a true blue Doctor Who adventure in the classical sense… limited in scope and limited in budget.” On the other hand, he still suggest it was worth buying: “these early adventures
are becoming harder and harder to find, I do recommend picking it up if only for the collectors value.”

amazon.co.uk

On amazon.co.uk, an unnamed reviewer from London wrote that the story “had some interesting and original ideas which unfortunately were not put across in an interesting or original way. A werewolf-type tale could have been made really great and the potential is there but the story is just too dull and rambling for too long, and nothing really stands out, not the characters, not the planet, not the action, what little there is.” This reviewer liked the concept of the Jax virus, but wanted more explanation and background. For this reviewer, the book was an odd combination of “thrilling and entertaining” and “dull and tedious”. Rating: 3/5.
Conclusion: “Still worth a read.”

Maxwell Andrews from Kent disagreed: “An excellent Doctor Who book following a slow-moving start.” Maxwell also noted the two-part structure thus: “first part was laying the foundations for the second part of the book. The first part was mainly characterization, while the second was a roller coaster ride.” He didn’t like the way that the characters he liked died violently, nor the high body count. He wanted more depth to the Doctor’s characterisation, but “Sam was perfectly portrayed.” Rating: 4/5.

alphabetstreet

Jeremy Harrison rated the book 7/10 on alphabetstreet (site now defunct). He thought it was a bit of a let-down after the preceding book, (Lawrence Miles’s Alien Bodies). “It really isn’t that bad […] Kursaal is a competent novel which is mostly enjoyable to read, but doesn’t soar to any great heights.” The book succeeded in the “Hinchcliffe horror style of the early Tom Baker years”, though wasn’t an original concept. He thought there were only a few good characters, and that a lot of the jokes throughout the book weren’t particularly funny.

On the same site, Niall Crotty scored the book 6/10. “A well-written and competently structured book […] quite laid back, events happen but there’s no real excitement throughout most of them. Not every entry in a series can be noteworthy or excellent […] Kursaal serves it’s purpose.”

Mark Phippen rated it 8/10. “A very visual tale, and one that you could imagine being made into a movie.” he noted the split, saying that it recalled the William Hartnell-era story “The Ark”.

Paul Holgate gave it full marks. “An excellent Doctor Who novel which like many of the best Doctor Who stories is firmly rooted in Gothic horror […] The story pulls out all the stops and, in the grand tradition of the best Doctor Who, features claustrophobic environments, malevolent alien menaces and authority figures who won’t trust the Doctor.” He concludes: “This is one of the best novels in the 8th Doctor range, and if a series had ever been produced using scripts of this quality, McGann would have been a surefire hit.”

Web

Ratings Guide

On the Ratings Guide site, Michael Hickerson thought the book started well, but went downhill after the Doctor and Sam get involved in “the standard Who elements […] The novels are supposed to be adventures that take the usual Who conventions and take them to the next level. Kursaal never does that.” He liked some of the characterisations, but thinks that “the biggest failing of the novel is the complete lack of characterization in the eighth Doctor.”

Tom Wilton, meanwhile, was relieved to find werewolves in the Doctor Who books rather than more vampires. However he thought it “inevitable” that the book following Alien Bodies would be a let-down: “Kursaal is still an enjoyable adventure, not a glorious achievement, but not a failure by any measure.” It was a book that fell between the “child” audience of The Eight Doctors and the “adult” audience of Alien Bodies.

For Tom, two things stood out in Kursaal. The first was Sam’s characterisation (both her actions in the novel and the backstory it introduces). The second was the way the novel came in two parts (he also recalls Hartnell story “The Ark”), believing it an underused device: “It allows us to see the consequences of the Doctor’s actions, something the authors sometimes forget.” The thing that annoyed him was the use of quotations as chapter titles: “I often get to the end of a chapter and realise that the quote used has drifted by and then feel duty bound to search back through the chapter I’ve just read to find the quote. Not the best example of time management.”

Elsewhere on the same site, Mike Morris puzzlingly describes Kursaal as “The Book Where POV Changed In Mid-Paragraph”. I wonder where this was, and how it slipped through my scenes summary?

And in the Top Ten section of the site, Joe Ford lists Kursaal joint ninth (with Trevor Baxendale’s The Janus Conjunction) in his Top Ten Eighth Doctor Novels: “Anghelides and Baxendale know their Doctor Who and don’t let their stories get cluttered by continuity or complexity. Both are pleasantly simple, feature a strong role for both the Doctor and Sam and both have a satisfying conclusion. They aren’t absolute masterpieces but in the end they are both enjoyable, fun reads.”

Happy Guy

On his review page Happy Guy, Sean Gaffney revealed that Kursaal was the first BBC Eighth Doctor novel he read, and he rated it 8/10. “It’s rather surprising that Who hasn’t done a werewolf story yet, and this one just clips along. The whole pace of the book reminded me of the TV Movie—rather quick and more action-oriented than the NAs […] the book was really well-written.” He liked the Doctor, and thought it cool that the Doctor could be “refreshingly stupid […] just occasionally flat-out unthinking.

He surprised himself by liking Sam too: “refreshingly normal. She acted like a teenager, which was nice. I’ll admit that I didn’t really buy into her ‘evil’ persona, but I did like the idea of the Jax preying on her buried feelings for the Doctor”. Sean thought the subsidiary characters (Gray, Amy, Cockaigne, and especially Kadijk) were done very well, but noted that a lot of the others were there just to die. His summary: “Not a groundbreakingly original novel […] just very good […] Excellent intro to the 8th Doctor and Sam.”

GallifreyOne

Robert Smith’s review on GallifreyOne sums Kursaal up as “boring, forgettable and somewhat tedious […] a book whose only overriding description is ‘mediocrity’, and a let-down after the previous month’s Alien Bodies. The novel is “trying to rise above its own material […] it seems very forced [and] is trying oh-so-hard to be a Hinchcliffe horror novel that it isn’t funny.” Speaking of not funny, he also found painful the “string of completely unfunny and forced jokes that Anghelides insisted characters repeat […] I don’t think I spotted a single one I hadn’t heard before”, a situation which he described as “rather tragic”.

There were some things that Robert liked: “The Doctor and Sam work well enough” (except for the contradictory backstory); the Doctor and Sam change of time zones; Kadijk’s refusal to take the Doctor at face value; the true nature of the Jax ; “the dual natured plot (even if a great deal of the first half did go nowhere)”; and “the fact that I only spotted two typesetting errors”.

But for the most part it was obviously a great disappointment: “most of the characters are plot functions […] the all-action finale would probably look great on a big budget, but is a tad boring on the page […] the chapter titles are a bit unfortunate…”

Finn Clark announced on GallifreyOne reviews that “I’ve decided that Peter Anghelides is an underrated writer”. Coming to Kursaal a little later than most reviewers, he discovered: “It’s well written. The prose and characterisation have some texture to them, while the Eighth Doctor and Sam are well crafted and likeable. I was particularly impressed with their relationship, which is about a million times better than anything else in the 8Das [Eighth Doctor Adventures] around then. All things considered, the 8DAs would have been better off had Kursaal been the defining Sam Jones book. […]He’s not afraid to portray her as admirable but neither knowing it all nor being an airbrushed poster child for teenage activism.”

Indeed, Finn thought all the characterisations were stronger than the plot (a “formulaic monster movie”). Other things that he disliked were the physical appearance of the monsters (though he thought the explanation “ingenious”) and the “strange running non-gag of lame expletives”.

“At the end of the day, it’s terminally unambitious,” he concluded, “I blame the commissioning editor.” Which, I must myself observe here, is rather unfair—not least because Finn thought “this was the start of the Steve Cole era”. It was not: the first book that Steve commissioned was the predecessor to this novel, Alien Bodies. So Finn ought to have blamed me when he asserted that the novel “does everything humanly possible to squash down its author’s talent into mediocrity.” Perhaps I’m not so underrated after all then, alas.

Gary Rothkopf “had heard that Peter Anghelides was a very humorous person, who also wrote a good short story”. Unfortunately, he was disappointed with Kursaal, as he only gave it 5 out of 10. Indeed, it was so “blasé” that he wished he’d saved his money and bought Alien Bodies instead (did I mention that Steve Cole commissioned that?). The saving grace for Garyseemed to be that my grammar was good, which is always good for any writer to hear.

Things picked up for him in the second half, “coming close to actually being somewhat enjoyable”. He concluded: “Kursaal wasn’t a bad book. Anghelides should’ve used his excellent wit in writing this, and spare us from a totally unriveting, forgettable yawn.” Darn, I  knew I’d missed something.

Unit News

Martin Russell Hoscik is more positive on the Unit News site (now defunct). “Kursaal is a well written and competently structured book. The story is of the old Doctor Who standby “a terrible secret needs to be uncovered” ilk but is none the worse for it.” he thinks the
Doctor and Sam and well-portrayed, though the supporting cast disappointed him, being “the bland big company agents that feature in the likes of ‘Colony In Space’ etc.”

Ultimate Eighth

Oliver Thornton had a different comparison in mind on the Ultimate Eighth site. (defunct since 2006) “This novel was a simple and inferior copy of the plot of Vampire Science,” he wrote. “The storyline is formulaic and is reminiscent of the worst elements of the UNIT days. None of the supporting characters are properly fleshed out, and the companion, Sam, has been relegated to the status of pawn for the manipulation of the Doctor’s actions and the implementation of the baddies’ plans.” The Doctor’s character, he goes on to say, is inconsistent, and the
book is a real let-down after the previous BBC novels.

“Finxy”

“Finxy” disagreed in a review on this personal site (defunct since 2004). “I’m still waiting for a truly outstanding Eighth Doctor tale in this range and Kursaal isn’t it, but it’s better than much of the competition to date.” “Finxy” thought the book was a “fairly enjoyable romp that somehow manages to maintain a dark and dangerous mood alongside the usual frivolous antics of this Doctor.” The characterisation of Kadijk and Sam was enjoyable, and the Jax put “a new slant on the old werewolf legend”.

Michael Lee

Michael Lee rated Kursaal 9/10 in a review on his own site (subsequently replaced with a blog). He also pointed out that it had two firsts. One was that it was “the first 8th Doctor book [without] a returning character or alien from the Original Series […] reassuring to see this Doctor and companion stand in a story where there aren’t all of the elements from the past being used to support the story.” Another was that it was the first BBC Eighth Doctor book with a price in US dollars: “I’m sure there will be quite a few Americans who will pick this up as their first BBC Book. Fortunately, this is an ideal book for the job.”

He added: “Both the Eighth Doctor and Sam have never been portrayed better in print, and the story is classic Doctor Who story.” He liked the supporting characters, particularly Kadijk. “Definitely a good place to start with the BBC Books.”

Terminus reviews

“An impressive, if somewhat flawed, debut,” said Andrew Vogel on the Terminus Reviews site (defunct since 2005). For Andrew, the flaws included: the Doctor’s inability to see what was happening sooner; “the whole werewolf aspect of the novel just makes me cringe”; Sam’s inability to remember what happened at the end of the novel.

Andrew emphasised this last flaw because he really liked Sam’s possession. Other things that impressed him were the characters. He liked the strong and interesting characters, especially the “very memorable” Amy and Gray; “Kadijk was a real treat, too”. And “the regulars are put across very well”, with Sam’s background fleshed out and interesting (“seeks to show Sam as a real teenage girl [and she] manages to come off a fair sight more believably than she has been so far”). He concluded by expressing the hope that a sequel would be written.

Koschei

Not everyone agreed. At his own review site (now defunct), “Koschei” said that the novel had done nothing to convince him that the BBC Books were going to be as good as their Virgin predecessors: “nothing in Kursaal caught me in any way”. He disliked the characters (“they have none”); the Doctor “only seems to stand out as the Eighth when he’s overexaggerating some tiny mannerism we’ve seen before”; the companion Sam “was every bit as flat as I’d expected”; the subsidiary characters were all “stereotypical”, as were the Jax. His conclusion: “There aren’t glaring plot holes, poor prose, or cardboard settings, but it all leaves me asking ‘So what?’” Which, coincidentally, was my reaction to Koschei’s review.

Roger’s Online Dr Who Site

“Wow!” said the eponymous owner of Roger’s Online Dr Who Site (now defunct), “This is brilliant. I sat and read it in one go—it is truly un-put-downable”. He thought the characterisations of the Doctor and Sam were “excellent” and the other characters “well drawn out”. As for the Jax: “They are genuinely scary. A great story.”

Paradise Towers

“Without a doubt, it’s a winner,” said Donald Craggs at the Paradise Towers site (now defunct), rating 8.5/10. “As frequently happened in the Virgin range, a first-timer provides the range with a much needed jolt.” He liked the characterisation of the Doctor and, particularly, Sam: “This is easily her best novel to date […] Anghelides writes for a 17 year old girl as though he has actually met one, unlike some of the authors who have written for her.” He could easily imagine Paul McGann in the saying the dialogue.

Donald did feel that the other characters were somewhat stereotypical. Nevertheless, “the novel is intensely atmospheric, and it invites [favourable] comparisons with Blade Runner, and 1984” The novel also reminded Donald of “The Ark” and Jurassic Park. “The pace of the novel is fast […] tightly written and maintains a brisk pace all the way through. A definite thumbs up.”

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