|He Jests At Scars by Gary Russell|
As Doctor Who fans go, Gary Russell has always seemed like the exception, rather than the rule. But an exception I feel possibly closer to inside than the rule I feel more comfortable with as my outer self. Gary Russell could be more like the fan deep within me, the one I keep hidden and suppressed. The fan who briefly awakens when hearing throwaway mentions of Logopolis, the Moroks, Dodo and Uxarieus. Just as the Valeyard remained a part of the Doctor, forever struggling to break free, it takes a creative patchwork of borrowed concepts this monumental to bring him out. And suddenly he's free! Unfettered by the proprietorial pomposity that slams "Attack of the Cybermen" for being too continuity-laden and broken loose of the preposterous protesting over perceived lack of quantities like originality and freshness. It takes something else, something perhaps even greater than originality, to sculpt a monster that can turn your brain inside out, yes even a fan brain! Suddenly originality itself seems stale by comparison. Like reality, it's no longer a two dimensional concept!
No, not like other fans. Except perhaps one. I always found it ironic that JNT's prolonged term of office in the Doctor Who Producer's chair flew in the faces of so many unlike-minded fans just waiting to replace him. They almost did, and the books gave us sex, swearing, big concepts, REAL worlds, the embodiment of what those same fans always pretended Doctor Who was. As they pompously stamped onto the front of every In-Vision, it was a DRAMA programme. Of course it was. I don't think that many people actually read the books.
And then when Doctor Who did come back, if not to TV then half-way there, the man in charge shared all those JNT traits that everyone else held up as wrong. Publicity-hogging guest stars, an embracing of our past... and why shouldn't we embrace it? Where did that idea that this was wrong come from? We are all the result of our pasts. It was said a Doctor Who that gazed upon its footsteps would be inaccessible to all but the faithful. Is there any evidence? I'm here, a proud child of the eighties. Nobody likes a stranger until they get to know him.
But "He Jests..." is so much more. Look what happens when this sort of thing is given its own home, a range devoted to being what it was previously afraid to be. Unsurprisingly, it flourishes. But also, we find, an unexpected treat. The Valeyard emerges as an amusingly endearing character, more a buffoon than a villain. This is something the story develops, rather than gets wrong from the off. The Valeyard has always been stupid, his explicit nastiness in "Trial" was proof of this. But unmasked from his ego, he becomes a fast-talking lunatic with a hand on time's self-destruct button. The true danger in a "bad" Doctor isn't that he might murder or destroy, it's that he might go on being the Doctor without conscience or constraint. After all, the good version caused enough trouble as it was. The Valeyard is the Doctor as a maniac would be, until history is wound round and round into one, tangled, unsolvable knot.
And so what if he cribbed the ending from "Sapphire and Steel" (sort of)? It's still a satisfying concept. You just can't complain about any of it. You want to, but something, deep down inside, something that previously you kept docile but which now leaps forth and LOVES IT ALL... that something will no longer keep quiet. A breath of tangled imagination, and that's no mean feat in this restricting, suppressing, stale world of originality.