The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Neil Gaiman’s new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is out. It sounds so mouthwateringly good that I might even buy a copy new, rather than wait for it to show up in my local charity shop.

The Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing, and Ideas, is a literary and publishing centre in Melbourne, where he recently gave a talk and read from the book. I like this Wheeler Centre, and I like the interviewer, a woman with the fetching name of Alicia Sometimes. It’s an Antipodean TED, only much more interesting because of the Australian attitude. TED tends toward the bland and corporate. I might dump the occasional TED Talks feature in favour of the Wheeler Centre videos.

And here’s Neil.

Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver (7.2.7)

Nightmare in Silver Poster

BBC Doctor Who Website

The Doctor: Impossible girl. Mystery wrapped in an enigma, squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little too tight.

A family outing for Clara and her two charges, Artie and Angie, in this Neil Gaiman episode. Pity the greatest theme park in the universe is now abandoned, and the Cyberiad is using the place as a recruiting ground, after being almost wiped out in the last battle with the Empire. It’s almost a given that the Doctor never ends up in the place he intends to get to.

But the kids love it, especially the moon landing exhibit with the artificial gravity gizmo. Even the hard to please Angie grudgingly confesses that it’s all right. For a member of his school chess club, though, Artie really shouldn’t have fallen for the Fool’s Mate in his match against a supposedly defunct cyberman. Who is in fact operated by the AWOL Emperor, known as Porridge.

Chess is the metaphor in the battle against the cybermen, who can now run fast and upgrade themselves on the fly. Both players are the Doctor, part of him an upgraded Cyber Planner, held at bay only by the original Doctor’s threat to regenerate and destroy all the nasty implants. Great opportunity to show the Cyber Planner all the previous Doctors. Cyber Planner even tries to do impressions of Christopher Ecclestone and David Tennant. He has an engagingly quirky sense of humour, as you would expect from someone sharing the Doctor’s mind.

While the Doctor is making the moves in the meta-game, the pieces are represented by Clara’s rag-tag punishment detail of Imperial troops, and an army of bright, fast, shiny cybermen. They’ve been kidnapping visitors to Webley’s World of Wonders and upgrading them, which has led to its demise as a wonderful place for a family holiday.

The end game is never in doubt. Clara’s army – she took to the whole commanding thing like a duck to water – is picked off one by one. Which is a shame because I was much taken by this bunch of misfits. The Doctor gives up his Queen to release Artie and Angie from cyber control. Then he bluffs Cyber Planner into using up all his computer processing resources to work out why it’s mate in three, thus halting the cyber army in its tracks. I seem to recall a Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk does the same thing to a defenceless computer.

All this leaves the Doctor free to zap himself with a hand pulser and knock the Cyber Planner out of his head. But the final mate takes Angie’s realisation that Porridge is in fact the Emperor, with the necessary code to destroy the planet. So they transmat up to his ship, the planet implodes, and the obligatory bit of cyber tech is left behind to ensure the survival of the cybermen for future episodes.

I like these upgraded silver machines. Just as zombies got a needed shot in the arm with 28 Days Later, and daleks learned to fly, so cybermen are now faster and meaner. I think there was even an implied reference to daleks in the episode.

Beautifully written, as you would expect from Neil Gaiman, and chockfull of character. The setting is perfect, redolent of abandoned amusement parks, with a dash of Victoriana in Webley and his eclectic collection of unrelated wonders. Porridge is a brilliantly complex character. He wears the depth of what you don’t know about him on his face, so it becomes entirely possible that he’s an Emperor on the run from the loneliness of power. And It’s great to see Artie and and Angie getting involved, just as Rose’s family and boyfriend were. I think this is indicative of the Doctor’s connection to Clara.

Which proceeds by leaps and bounds. There may be some truth under cover of Cyber Planner’s insincere blandishments. They do share the same mind.

Clara, I suppose I’m the only one who knows how I feel about you right now. How funny you are, so funny and pretty. And the truth is I’m starting to like you in a way that is more than just…

At which point Clara slaps him, as the Doctor hoped, on the the grounds that even if he did feel that way he’d never say it. As a test to see if he really is the Doctor, there’s this later exchange.

Clara: Do you think I’m pretty?
Doctor: No, you’re too short and bossy, and your nose is all funny.

Fair enough, but the Doctor is perhaps too eager to be involved in the resolution of the Emperor’s touching marriage proposal to Clara, as if he might have an interest. And right at the end, when Clara automatically assumes he’ll be there next Wednesday, the Doctor says this to himself. He’s a little shocked at the thought.

Impossible girl. Mystery wrapped in an enigma, squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little too tight.

I’m completely hooked on this story arc of finding out who Clara is, and discovering the nature of their relationship. Looking forward to the big revelation next week, something to do with the Doctor’s real name (which must never be spoken or Silence will fall). I imagine we’ll learn a lot more about Clara as well.