Perspectives of Art and War: History 101 by Mags L Halliday [WHO-50—2002]August 13th, 2013 at 8:55
The books I’ve reviewed so far for this blogging project have all been rereads, but given my extreme lack of knowledge of the BBC books after Sam left (with an exception for anything by Kate Orman or Paul Magrs) I thought it would be good to stretch myself a bit for 2002’s output – especially as I have the benefit of a State Library full of Eighth Doctor Adventures that I can borrow!
So the 2002 book that most appealed to me was History 101 – thanks to an intriguing blurb and premise, my curiosity about companion Anji Kapoor, and the fact that it was written by a female author whose work I hadn’t read before.
Hooray, right decision! I really enjoyed this book. In tone it reminded me most of the Big Finish plays The Settling, No Man’s Land and The Angel of Scutari, all of which feature the Doctor’s companions (well, Hex, mostly) being thoroughly traumatised by the gritty realities of history and war. And when I say ‘traumatised’ I mean ‘just this side of Torchwood: Miracle Day.’ I see you celebrity historical, New Who, and raise you: the grimdark historical.
Visiting Paris, the Doctor, Fitz and Anji discover that the painting of “Guernica” by Picasso has lost all emotional power. Rather than assuming they’re all just terribly shallow people who have lost the ability to appreciate art, they investigate further and discover that the print of the same painting on a paperback book from the TARDIS library is in fact far more gut-wrenching than the original painting on the wall. That’s weird, right?
Cue a jaunt back to the dark reality of the Spanish Civil War, as the three of them separate to investigate what is distorting humanity’s perspectives of this time period. Fitz is sent off on his own to observe the bombing of Guernica first-hand (YES REALLY) while the Doctor and Anji wait for him in Barcelona among the war journalists, anarchists and gathering troops. Thanks to a bit of erratic TARDIS behaviour, though, the Doctor and Anji arrive several months early and have to wait out wartime Spain until they can catch up with Fitz again… oh, yes, and the TARDIS shuts down and apparently dies, preventing the usual convenient escape.
While the Doctor sinks into an inconvenient depression about the loss of the TARDIS, Anji and Fitz are left very much to fend for themselves, making friends and allies who might not be what they seem. Behind it all is the mysterious Sabbath, the Doctor’s “nemesis,” pulling the strings.
I found History 101 very readable, doing some clever things with history, time travel and plot twistery. Both Fitz and Anji are very clearly realised characters, and their origins inform how they react at all times (he’s a chain-smoking guitar playing bohemian from the 60’s, she’s a slightly uptight stockbroker of Indian descent from the year 2000).
More to the point, they are both utterly wrecked by their experiences here: immersed in grim historical realism up to their eyebrows, including soldiers, interrogations, forged papers, dirt and blood.
The Doctor should possibly not have worn a velvet jacket to this one.
And now I have to go read more Fitz and Anji novels. Damn it.
ELSEWHERE ON 2002
The Crooked World – in which Eight, Fitz & Anji visit a cartoon planet [Doctor Who Book Club]
Real Time webcast review [Geekcrashcourse]
Chimes of Midnight review [Den of Geek]