Title: Festival of Death
Author: Jonathan Morris
Team TARDIS: Fourth Doctor, Romana II, K-9
Adversary: Repulsion, Dr. Koel Paddox
Originally Released: September 2000
Range and Number: Past Doctor Adventures #35
Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
The Beautiful Death is the ultimate theme-park ride: a sightseeing tour of the afterlife. But something has gone wrong, and when the Fourth Doctor arrives in the aftermath of the disaster, he is congratulated for saving the population from destruction – something he hasn't actually done yet. He has no choice but to travel back in time and discover how he became a hero. And then he finds out. He did it by sacrificing his life.
I have tried for two weeks to read this book. But I’ve only gotten as far as page 70. Every time I sit down to read, I get through a couple of pages and get bored. Even yesterday (Sunday, June 16) I tried to force myself to read for an hour so I could at least get halfway through. I even promised myself I could watch "The Three Doctors" afterward because I had borrowed from the library and I hadn't had a chance to watch it yet. I ended up falling asleep for 45 minutes and watching "The Three Doctors" after I woke up anyway.
(Note: When you have to force yourself to read anything, it’s probably a good indication that you are just not enjoying it. And since I am not in school anymore, I don’t have to force myself to read anything I don't want to. So, nyeah!)
My inability to get into this story really bothered me. There was absolutely no reason I shouldn’t enjoy this book. Even if I don’t have much to say about it in my review (as was the case with “The Last of the Gaderene” - it was an enjoyable story and I was interested in the plot and characters and it fit the definition of "page turner", but I didn’t have much to say about it when I went to review it. Which is why that review is so short). “Festival of Death” starts with the Doctor and Romana landing on a planet where everyone knows them and are grateful to them both for saving their planet - but they haven’t even been there yet to save the planet! It’s an interesting premise - one that Steven Moffat would be proud of (timey-wimey and all that). There are even some really great moments between the Doctor, Romana and K-9 early-on. Some examples -
- The Doctor and Romana leave K9 in the TARDIS. K9 quips that there’s a high statistical probability of him needing to come rescue them at some point (talk about being self-aware within a story).
- Doctor: “Where would I be without my sonic screwdriver?”
- Romana: “Probably still locked in a cellar in Paris.”
But the other characters... I just couldn’t bring myself to care. Not in a rage-inducing, Hulk-smash sort of way (I’ve done that already in this project, to my great chagrin). No, the green rage monster stayed safely caged away for this. It was more of a “Oh - that’s a thing? Hm... don’t care... I’m going back to sleep” sort of way.
It took me finally getting into chapter five of this book to realize why I was not enjoying this book as much as I hoped I would. And this realization also answered a lot of questions of why I’m just not as enamored of the Fourth Doctor’s era as most people are.
Buckle up, Dear Reader, because it's Story Time!
Back when I was doing my undergrad degree at Utah State, I had a roommate who I shared plenty of common interests I am still good friends with (if she’s reading this - Hi Shelley!) It was a little odd that an electrical engineering major (that’s her) and an English major (that’s me) would get along so well, but we did and still do to this day. One of her favorite authors is Douglas Adams and she was appalled that I’d never read any of his books. I promised her I would read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when I graduated (when you’re in the English department, you never get to read anything for fun. You have to read shit like “The Bell Jar” and then go stab your eye out because it’s so hideously horrible but your professors have wet dreams about it so you have to smile and nod for your grade. Sorry for the swears but “crap” just isn’t going to cut it in this case).
After graduation I got a job, I lost said job (long story - don’t ask), I went on a mission (another long story - ask me later), and when I came home, I ended up working at my old high school which is out in the middle of the desert (yet another long story - which I’ll probably tell you whether you ask or not). West Desert High is probably the smallest high school in Utah (I’d have to look up the numbers to be absolutely sure that there isn’t a smaller one out in Four Corners or something), but the library had always been very well-stocked because, well, there isn’t a whole lot to do out in the desert. School, church, farm chores, sports and reading - that’s about all we have to do for fun. When I took up the librarian post in 2010 (as well as my assistant teaching duties), I started looking through the books we had and doing routine collection maintenance. And I discovered that we had Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I was in my master’s program at the time, it was a 3/4-time program and while I was busy, I could find time for some fun reading. Plus, one of my students was reading Hitchhiker’s Guide and she loved it, so I thought I’d better give it a whirl.
Well, I read it. And I have never felt so much indifference towards a book in my life (well, not one that I hadn’t been assigned to read for school). On the one hand, I can see why other people like Douglas Adams’ stuff. On the other hand, I couldn’t give two craps about it. The most excitement I could respond with was “Well... that was a book. A book I read. Yup. That’s it.”
(This confession probably will mean the forfeiture of my geek card, but I think I already lost that when the most excitement I could muster over the prospect of meeting Mark Sheppard at Gallifrey One was an apathetic shrug).
So - what does all this have to do with my indifference toward “Festival of Death?” And why did it take me five chapters to figure it out? Well, “Festival of Death” is written very much as an homage to the Douglas Adams’ era of Doctor Who. The writing style and the characters - even the names (Chapter five introduces a character named Hoopy - that was an immediate clue) all point to the influence that made that particular era of Who a success. And I’m certainly not one to knock success - if people like Douglas Adams' writing, that’s wonderful. I’m glad that they found something they like so much. And his influence is felt even all these years after his death and he still has plenty of fans (one evidence comes from my friend Brittany’s “The ABCs of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” photo challenge - it’s on Instagram with the tag #TheABCsOfHGTTG, if you’re interested).
As for me - I tried. I tried to like Douglas Adams and I really just don’t connect. It's like trying to load an ebook file meant for a Kindle onto a Nook. It just doesn't compute. One of the first Tom Baker stories I ever saw was “City of Death” and my first thought was “This is what all the fanboys pee their pants over? I don’t get it...” Luckily I’d seen “Genesis of the Daleks” before that and I knew that not all of the Fourth Doctor’s stories were like that - it’s quite deserving of the praise and love it gets. “City of Death” is all right - I just don’t think it’s quite as good as everyone says it is. At least, I don’t connect with it the same way everyone else does. Maybe the section of my brain that would normally love Douglas Adams is too occupied with loving the black-and-white era of Who. Because I will say this - if I’d followed conventional advice and started with “City of Death” and the rest of the Douglas-Adams-as-script-editor stuff, I think I would have dropped Classic Who like a hot potato and stuck with the New Series. As it is - I’m glad that I went with starting at the very beginning with “An Unearthly Child” and making my way through the early Hartnell stuff before the recons became too much and I skipped ahead to the Fifth Doctor (it’s a strange jump to make, but I made it and it worked quite well for me).
I suppose that this realization of mine is quite fitting in my attempt to review and recap significant stories and give attention to hidden gems and opinions in Doctor Who's history. Douglas Adams is such an integral part of the history of this show and his influence shaped something that lots of people still love and he deserves credit for that. Just because I don't see the appeal doesn't mean that I need to slag off the whole thing. But don't expect me to be anything less than totally honest in my opinions of it either. But I can just as easily go off and watch "The Sensorites" and leave you all to your "Shada" recons.
In conclusion - if you’re a Hitchhiker’s Guide fan, you’ll enjoy “Festival of Death.” I’m not, so I didn’t. But it's not like I didn't try.
Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 5.01 - The hill that I am more than willing to die on: Storytelling vs SFX.
Review 4.03 - So Much Cooler Online