Some Words on Lawrence Miles and The Book of the World

Again, here is another entry that I had been planning for later.  Hopefully this thing called “real life” will settle down and I can resume the reviews.

There are many controversial figures in the world of Doctor Who, but few more controversial than Lawrence Miles.  For those not already familiar with Mr. Miles, he is a writer who has written a handful of Doctor Who novels.  In my personal opinion, they are quite brilliant.   For Miles, Doctor Who is limited only by the imaginations of the writers, and Miles is not deficient in this area.  He breathed necessary life into the Eighth Doctor novels, created the visually and conceptually striking Faction Paradox, and writes extremely insightful reviews on the new show.  He is also quite frank with his opinion, which has led to the controversy.  While many fans of Doctor Who try to find the positives among even the worst episodes, Miles is not so generous.  He will even pick apart fan favorites.  From what I can tell, he does this for two primary reasons and one secondary reason.  First, he thinks that Doctor Who can do better.  Second, he views Doctor Who as capable of great vision and is, in turn, quite put-off when it doesn’t live up to his vision.  The third view is bitterness.  Miles desperately wants to write for Doctor Who but is unwilling to compromise his personal ideals to work for the show, one of these ideals is his dislike of kissing up to anyone, least of all Steven Moffat.  While this is somewhat admirable, he often uses insulting rhetoric for humorous effect, which further isolates everyone, including those who hold influence over the show.  This is a shame because I think new Who would benefit greatly from a mind as creative as Miles.

Faction Paradox is big on wearing skulls of non-existent creatures.

In 2007, Lawrence Miles wrote a screenplay for Doctor Who.  He did it as a personal challenge to himself, but also the powers that be at the new production.  This script was written to show a new direction to the show, a reboot, if I remember correctly.  Miles didn’t leave the script up for very long, but thankfully I got a copy from Dan Harma at the Series 4b site.  I am a huge fan of Miles’ writing, both his fiction and his reviews.  I have no problem separating the vitriol from the criticism.  He has some incredibly insightful and profound things to say if you can get past his anger.  Sure, he sounds like he may be difficult to work with, but he truly is a mad genius.  His nickname is Mad Larry, which has possible meanings: he is angry or he is quite insane where his ideas are concerned.  I prefer the second interpretation because his ideas truly are mad.

The screenplay is called The Book of The World, and starts in a planetary library.  A junior librarian named Calum is reading a book, which is forbidden for the librarians.  The book is about Earth, which it turns out vanished a very long time ago.  No one knows what happened to it.  Calum is full of curiosity about the Earth, which is a bit of a problem where his job is concerned.  Appearing this day at the library is The Quiescence, a group looking for books on The Earth.  The Quiescence party is composed of many hundreds of Drudges who are led by Cardinal Ossavar.  The Drudges are robed, humanoid creatures who, as we later find, are quite lumpy and misshapen.  Their eyes are sealed by locks and their mouths are sewn shut.  The Quiescence are intolerant of ideas and beliefs that they deem heretical.  Because of this, The Drudges cannot see The Doctor when he finally shows up in the story.  They don’t believe in him.

A library planet as seen in "Silence of the Library", and before that, "The Book of the World", and before that "Continuity Errors".
Calum meets The Doctor, who is looking for The TARDIS.  The Doctor has been in the library a very long time because he managed to lose The TARDIS.  Well, more accurately, the Chief Librarians moved it.  Apparently The Doctor had repaired the Chameleon Circuit (somewhat), and The TARDIS hid itself as a set of encyclopedias and The Chief Librarians, sensing its value, moved it to a more secure location.  There is a lot of character maneuvering and presentation of concepts, but the upshot of the story is that The Quiescence are looking for The Planet Earth, which The Doctor has hidden in a book using the same type of technology that makes The TARDIS dimensionally transcendental.  The Doctor removed The Earth from a certain point in our future.  Thus, Earth exists up until that point but no longer after that point.  He hid the planet for reasons unknown, but this was most-likely an arc set-up that would be explained later.  Unfortunately, when the planet was removed, it messed with the order of things, and many ghosts of the human race were created.  These are the possible creatures that humans would evolve in to at some point.  With Earth gone, all potentialities are plausible.  The Quiescence are one such possibility, but to ensure their continued existence, they must find the Book of The World (Earth) and remove all pages that would prevent their evolution.  In the end, The Quiescence are defeated and The Doctor takes The Book of The World into The TARDIS for safekeeping.  He also takes Calum as a companion, along with fellow junior librarian Marissa.  Calum is a human, so he has a claim to The Book.  Marissa has an odd bio-signature, which intrigues The Doctor.  This is how our story ends.  This is how Miles set up his re-launch of the show.

 

 

First, this script would be virtually impossible on a television budget.  The amount of FX shots are massive.  We have shots of a library that goes on for infinity in all directions.  We have gondolas that travel through the air.  The Drudge army and Cardinal Ossavar’s fire breath, the effects of opening The Book would all require massive amount of CG.

The characters are very well portrayed.  Apart from The Doctor, who seems to be in his David Tennant incarnation, we have no returning characters.  Calum is interesting.  He is smart, curious, but still likeable.  Marissa is sarcastic and a bit biting.  While I enjoy them, I’m not sure they would make good companions on the show because I’m not sure it would work to have children as companions.  While Miles doesn’t give an exact age, they seem to be pre-teens, possibly pushing thirteen at the most.  Sci-fi audiences generally don’t seem friendly toward children as leads.  I cite Adric and Wesley Crusher.  Although, both of those characters were know-it-all, uber-children.  There is no indication that Calum or Marissa would be used this way, so they may work.  With both their fates tied up in the arc, it is hard to get a clear picture of them.  Any character can be unlikable or even enjoyable, but a good character arc can change how we feel about them.  I have no doubt that Miles had this in mind, especially for Marissa.  Ossavar is quite the chilling character and I’m sure he and The Drudges would give children nightmares on the level of the Deadly Assassin Master or The Weeping Angels, if not more.  Upon further thought, I would say The Drudges have the potential to be too scary, which could cause this story to be nixed.   This wouldn’t be the first time content issues had assailed Doctor Who.

The concepts are so much fun.  This is Miles’ strength, these unbound, insane ideas that are at once brilliant and absurd.  Miles writes firmly in science fantasy and it is so much fun.  He establishes the rules for his fiction throughout the script with a precision that reminds one of Moffat, although it almost feels effortless and more subtle.  The idea of potential evolutionary incarnations of humanity gives an obvious recurring antagonist that isn’t so much a recurring character as a recurring idea.  The unstated reason for the removal of Earth fires the imagination in much the same way as The Last Great Time War, and it may even be related.  It is almost sad to me that Lawrence Miles’ script has more imagination and creativity than anything we’ve seen on the new show, and yet it may be completely unworkable for a television show even if we weren’t in uncertain economic times.  It could work as a movie franchise.  It would certainly work as a novel, sparking a new series of adventures for a “season” or even as a comic book.  I would love to see this story manifest because I want to know what is happening.   I want to know where it will go.  Alas, I will probably never know, and even if I had the chance to ask Miles over a pint, it would be significantly less satisfying than the journey it takes to get there.

Sabbath from the defunct "Faction Paradox" comics.

Yet, this is one of Miles’ strengths and greatest frustrations.  He comes up with so many ideas stuffed to bursting with possibilities.  Sadly, they never seem to pan out well because other people don’t approach his work the same way.  Case in point, the character of Sabbath.  Sabbath was a secondary character in his novel The Adventuress of Henrietta Street.  Miles had originally intended this character to be turned into a Doctor-type, possibly causing The Doctor to be regenerated into Sabbath’s body to give The Doctor a new lease on life, side-stepping the regeneration limit established by Robert Holmes.  When Sabbath reappeared in subsequent novels, he was portrayed as a fill-in for The Master, which robbed him of his uniqueness and intrigue.  These are the pitfalls of working in a shared universe, and Doctor Who is most-definitely a shared universe.  I don’t really fault the writers that changed Sabbath, I just think it is sad that he didn’t really go anywhere interesting.

I would love to see Lawrence Miles work in Doctor Who once more.  However, with his current attitude this seems unlikely.  I hope he can one day learn to let go of his anger.  Truly, Doctor Who is not important enough to nurse this type of grudge.  But what is?

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7 thoughts on “Some Words on Lawrence Miles and The Book of the World

  1. I think Lawrence Miles is great; if he could only just calm down a bit. In his defence, the stuff Moffatt is doing with Doctor Who makes me want to write some very angry posts.

    I know you only have volume 1 of About Time, but it get’s really interesting in volumes 4 and 5. Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood start to disagree from the point of the Deadly Assasin onwards. Miles tears the Graham Williams era to shreds, while Wood defends it. Then it get’s reversed in volume 5 and Wood attacks the JNT era with Miles defending most of it. It actually becomes quite interesting to see Miles defending stories rather than tearing them apart.

    I recently read Miles novel ‘Alien Bodies’ where he introduces Faction Paradox and the ‘War in Heaven’ story arc. I really want to follow through the ‘war in heaven’ arc in the 8th Doctor books because they are so influential in setting up the Last Great Time War concept.

  2. ‘Alien Bodies’ was a great read. It was one of the first 8th Doctor books I read, which was a shame because it set my standards too high for the range. I know that Miles wasn’t happy with where the other authors took Faction Paradox and The War in Heaven, but that’s the problem with a shared universe. You are one voice among many and even your own creation can be altered.

    I’ve been enjoying About Time 1. It would be interesting to see Wood and Miles taking different sides over Williams and JNT. Especially since most of Miles writing has been extremely critical rather than defensive. He’s a great writer, even when he is writing angry and/or drunk.

  3. They don’t actually state which sides they take. But as they give their favorite and least favorite stories of each era, you can work out which writer likes JNT and which writer loathes his era.

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