Thursday, 13 October 2016

Doctor Who: The Virgin Novels #20 – Blood Heat: Director's Cut by Jim Mortimore

Disclaimer time!  19 reviews ago I mentioned reviewing New Adventures, Missing Adventures and miscellaneous.  Well, here's some miscellaneous for you: a new version of Blood Heat, only it wasn't published by Virgin, and not at all until 2015.  I still think it counts as part of the overall Virgin Books experience.

I'd like to say cheers to Jim Mortimore who kindly sent me a free review copy.  So: cheers Jim!

If any of you would like to read it, either as an e-book or paperback, you can get it direct from Jim.  E-mail, or search Facebook for Jimbo's Directors Cuts.

Now then: let's go back to 1994, and a world gone familiarly pear-shaped...

Blood Heat: Director's Cut
By Jim Mortimore

The more I consider it, the more appropriate it seems to have an expanded-and-alternate version of Blood Heat, of all books.  It's already about a different version of reality – why shouldn't there be a different version of the book?  And make no bones about it, this isn't the same thing with the deleted scenes put back in.   Jim Mortimore makes it clear a.s.a.p. that we're dealing with a different Doctor Who altogether, where the Doctor's past is different, TARDIS stands for something else, half the names are changed and the back-stories aren't how you remember them.  Okay, so this likely began as a copyright-avoidance wheeze – it's Joanne Grant, okay?  Friends don't sue friends! – but it all serendipitously adds to the odd parallel-ness of the book.  Here is a new version of Blood Heat that could very well exist alongside the original.

But don't panic: it's still Doctor Who and it's still Blood Heat.   If you've read the original, you'll know your way around.  Until the roads change.

It would be redundant to discuss the plot at length since I've done that already, but I might as well recap: Blood Heat is a Worst Case Scenario sequel to The Silurians, and it gets considerably greater mileage out of the man vs. reptile dilemma than you'll find in most of their televised appearances.  There are parallels and differences between the species, both want to reclaim the Earth, both are right, but also wrong since neither is going about it peacefully.  There are still consciences on both sides, but they're in the minority; vendettas and mistakes speak the loudest.  There are plenty of echoes of that Malcolm Hulke mentality that made such a good story in the first place.

But let's cut to the chase: how's it different?  Well, I'd say the changes come in three main categories.

1) Nips and tucks.  There are tiny alterations which might be imperceptible if, unlike me, you haven't read Blood Heat recently.  Things like taking a minor character and giving them more flavour.  Doctor Meredith goes from a relative non-entity to an ex-drug addict; Geoff, prize-winning scientist and leader of a Nut Hatch-esque commune, was always quite a bit like Cliff Jones, so now he is.  And then there's taking bits of back-story and going in a slightly new direction.  The truth about Liz's late husband is different; the version we previously got is now the lesser one, the one she'd rather believe.  Also, there are times where we look at a scene, or a moment, and just turn it slightly.

One of my favourite examples is early on: the Doctor needs a dinosaur to act as a distraction, so he attaches some clothes to it, smacks its rump and sends it on its way.  Only (this time) that doesn't work, so he has to sneak up and whisper to it instead.  It's such a delightfully Doctorly thing, like several bits we're rightfully seeing again verbatim, like his apparent failure to accrue dirt in a swamp, his way of not making a sound when he approaches, his flighty, not-quite-on-the-same-plane-as-us-ness.  And there are more added to the mix.  When the Doctor (spoiler?) leaves the humans to see how the other half lives, he leaves flowers behind.  We don't know where he got them; no one's seen flowers in more than a decade.  But of course the Doctor can produce some.   It's a little bit of hope in an apparently hopeless situation, and it speaks to the Doctor's (surprisingly?) positive attitude to this whole situation.  Maybe because the rules are different now, and mankind's murderous supremacy can't cancel out everything else – as it used to, seemingly every week – this is the only version of The Silurian Dilemma that can end another, better way, on a different world altogether.

2) The extra goodies.  Because hey, it's a director's cut, you want more, right?  It's difficult not to imagine Jim Mortimore scrolling through his old manuscript, reaching a moment where Character A goes to Location B and announcing: "Of course!  There's the problem!  I have neglected to include a spectacular, balls-to-the-wall action scene there!"  And fair enough.  So instead of Ace escaping a stampede of dinosaurs just sort of... between pages, now it's a roller-coaster ride of teeth and bones that'll probably knock you out of your chair.  When Ace and Manesha escape a collapsing building, well sure, that's pretty exciting, but is it as exciting as a T-Rex and a Triceratops fighting to the death?  NO IT IS NOT, so in that goes.  When Sergeant Benson [sic] traverses a dead London on a mission for the Brigadier, he'll have to contend with worse things than dinosaurs.  No spoilers from me, but... yikes.

3) The new stuff.  More dinosaurs are awesome, and I love the thoughtful little touches, but I'm betting this was the real reason for the Director's Cut.  As any New Adventures reviewer will tell you, the elephant in the original room – and in a bunch of adjacent rooms as well, if I may stretch a metaphor to death – was Bernice. She was a late addition to the story, so she was bundled off into a subplot for more than 150 pages.  This was disappointing, because she's a great character and she brings out something very enjoyable in this particular Doctor, but there was also a surprising oh-is-that-it-ness to where she'd actually got to.  We didn't really need to be ignoring her for a huge portion of the book.  Similarly, the Doctor and Ace didn't seem all that bothered about missing her.  (Not for the first time in the New Adventures, there seemed to be no argument about who the third wheel was.  Of course, if you'd asked me...)

Well, that's (partly) fixed now.  Rather than inserting her into the main action, which would be difficult as the original plot is fairly tight, Blood Heat 1A: Silurian Boogaloo pushes her even further out, which sounds like a way to add fuel to the fire but actually makes a point of her absence.  Snootiest sentence I've ever said: it's a good use of negative space.  The Doctor and Ace's attitudes aren't much different, of course, but now they've actually forgotten she was ever there, which at least explains why they're like this.   As for Ber[e]nice (away with your lawsuit, good sir!), she contributes meaningfully to the story in a way that adds to, but does not interrupt the flow of the original.  Without going into spoilers (which is tricky when the whole point of a review is what specifically is different about this book), she is displaced in time and witnesses the original end of the Silurians, first hand.  In a story about two races fighting for supremacy, when we naturally bias towards the one we are, this is all to the good.  Heaps of extra information is added to the Silurians as a species.  They feel more rounded, more like people.  Berenice's empathy is an essential ingredient, just like the Doctor's, and – pointedly in a dream sequence, where she remembers her husband as one of them – Liz's.  It enhances the characters, and adds new angles and consequences to the plot.

Speaking of plot: there was a somewhat episodic quality to the original, somewhat necessarily as it was part of an arc.   I wasn't crazy about that.  You didn't know what instigated the whole mess but it was more or less resolved anyway (in time for Round Two) by the end.  As it happens, I was fairly disappointed by the explanation given in No Future.  (Er, spoilers.)  Well, there is a new one here.  Fortunately spoilers prevent me from going into detail; I say fortunately because there is a lot of information and I'm not sure I've digested it.  Between Berenice's canon-skewering discoveries in ancient times, the Doctor's increasingly complex theories in the now-plot and certain trippy interludes featuring familiar characters in new guises, the book teeters over a rabbit hole at times.  (From what I've read about his other works, though, it's probably very Jim Mortimore-y.  Mortimorish?)

I was thrilled to find Jo(anne) Grant's role expanded.  I called her "little more than a haunting What-If" in the original, and that couldn't be further from her reprise.  Introducing Jo in a cheeky lift from Mac Hulke's Doomsday Weapon novelisation, we promptly traverse the Silurian Nightmare from a 28 Days Later... perspective, cutting back and forth to Jo long before we met her, feral, in the jungle.  It's gripping, but ultimately quite dreamy and trippy and narratively timey-wimey stuff.  This is personal preference, but I don't handle really out-there writing terribly well; I'm not sure what it all meant.  There are numerous poetic echoes and callbacks throughout the main story, but this apparently builds to a... well, I can't describe the ending because you should read it yourself, but suffice to say it's a "Wait, what?!" development, albeit one I had considered somewhere on my periphery.  If this was written in the '90s, when books were all the Who we had, it would be a huge talking point.

There was less closure than I expected.  But that's sort of fair in a 22-years-later shot-in-the-dark rewrite, isn't it?  This isn't part of a series, it's not beholden to whoever's next in line.  It can dive into the unknown and leave it there if the author feels like it.  And I shouldn't moan: after all, I didn't like the bit in No Future (uh, spoilers!) when the characters all sat around asking the Doctor to explain everything in Etch-a-Sketch English.  (Can you tell I read this one later?)  Blood Heat 2: Blood Hotter is obviously a work that's been thought about in great depth, quite possibly in a cave with writing all over the walls. It's a bit of a mind-boggler.  I'm still not sure why the Doctor and Ace forgot about Berenice – come to that, I'm not sure Ace met her, post-forgetting.  But perhaps I'm just seasick from scrolling through a PDF every day for a week.  (I have since got a Kindle.)  In any case, any brain-ache I have should be alleviated with a second read.  Although I guess that's technically a third read.

The new Blood Heat is an intriguing anomaly.  If you've never read the original, or come to that never read a New Adventure, I think it's sufficiently robust that you can dive straight in.  Berenice's origins are obligingly reproduced, though of course the details are new; a more broken and more human story, her introduction to the Doctor is different too, which is fitting for an altogether different iteration of the man himself.  Ace you'll recognise from her TV persona, only with added grit.  Another neat addition is a consistent harking back to her days in the (space)'fleet; it tells you all you need to know about why she's different now, without going into the specifics of why she went away and came back.   That's for other books.  But after I found her increasingly wearying in the other, later (earlier?) books in the Cycle, I liked this Ace a great deal.  It still felt like a bit of a random quirk for her to look up an old friend on Beta Earth, but people are full of random quirks, and this relationship too is somewhat beefed up.

As for those of you who've already read (and probably own) Blood Heat, there's even more reason to give this a go.  Everything is richer and fuller.  (Well, that bit with the Doctor and Jo entering the Complex still plays out off-screen – but maybe I'm just not missing anything that can't be summarised in a sentence.)  The Silurian society is much more detailed.  Human society, particularly the ways it copes with near-extinction, is even more poignant: such pettiness as racism has disappeared, while pencils are as valuable as Picassos.  If you're like me, there's a nerdish glee to be had in flicking between one version and another, seeing if something really is a new addition or you just forgot it was there all along.  (Like the references.  I'd forgotten that Ber(e)nice handles a heroic moment with a cheeky lift from Caves Of Androzani.  Come to think of it, there are a lot of references in this.  Well, it was the thirtieth anniversary; at least it never feels like a Gary Russell ref-fest.  They're harmless.  If you get them, they're there.)

It's altogether a bolder, fuller story.  Save for the significantly different ending, as the original was a necessary building block in New Adventures canon, this is the definitive version.  It's worth the return journey.



  1. how much does the extended cut cost

  2. how much does the extended cut cost

    1. Hiya, sorry for the delay, just saw your comment. The paperback is £20.00 direct from Jim, the eBook is £5.00. Drop him an e-mail at for further details / postage. :)