Saturday, 15 June 2013

'The Vampires of Crellium'

At last we get a decent story in the Doctor Who Books Project, for the first time in ages. 'The Vampires of Crellium' begins well, with the whole first page (out of five) spent on setting up a mystery and establishing a spooky atmosphere, in keeping with the promise of the title.

For example, the Doctor says to Sarah:
"'I never thought I'd see you scared off by a few ghosts.' His voice betrayed none of the unease that he, too, felt."
This tells us that even the Doctor is uneasy in this story, and he's normally almost as difficult to scare as Scary Cat!

The Doctor also gives some exposition as to why they are staying on a scary planet:
"The psychic activity on this planet is quite incongruous with its history. As a scientist I feel it my duty to investigate."
Sarah then has a brief flashback to how they discovered this planet needed investigating:
"For the first time in the hundreds of thousands of years that the Doctor had known them, the Communal Will, to which every inhabitant of Yula feeds his psyche and is in turn fed from the psyches of the other inhabitants, showed ripples and cracks in its usually egg-smooth uniformity.
Using his unique mixture of instinct, logic and knowledge, the Doctor had established that the fault was not internal disintegration, but the result of a massive psychic bombardment from space. He had traced the source of the onslaught to Crellium, a planet believed to be nothing more than swampland, gas and misty half-light."

Because we have read the title, we know there will be vampires there even though the Doctor doesn't. This is a clever technique that makes us anticipate the peril that the Doctor and Sarah will find. After this build-up, the Doctor and Sarah finally enter the story on page 2 by leaving the Tardis.

"The air was thick and cold, with a faintly fetid smell that clung to the lungs. The ground was wet and greasy, the vegetation soft and bloated, and the absence of sound played dangerous tricks with the imagination."

Lines like that further enhance the mood of the story. This story also has the added bonus of the Doctor acting properly like the Doctor. For instance, it is easy to imagine Tom Baker playing the following scene:

"After five minutes the Doctor suddenly held up his arm.
'Wh-?' started Sarah.
'Quiet!' hissed the Doctor, his face a mask of concentration.
Sarah strained her ears, but there was nothing to pierce the immense barrier of utter and absolute silence. Nothing, until, faintly, she thought she heard what can only be described as a sob, coming from the mist, as if from a thousand miles away.
'There it is again,' said the Doctor. 'You hear it?'"

They then find a "creature."

"Sarah started. There was no face. In place of her eyes, nose, mouth and ears there was only smooth yellow skin."

Aside from pointing out the obvious, that the skin is not yellow, it is pink (along with everything else in the picture), this is an effective scary face more in the line of a baddy from Sapphire and Steel than Balok. The "creature" uses telepathy to talk to the Doctor and Sarah. She is called Marsalla and the other manny in the picture is Krem-ling.

Krem-ling is
dead, but Marsalla tells the Doctor that he will be alive again soon. This worries the Doctor.

"'You say this Krem-ling took you as a child. Did he look like that then?' The Doctor pointed tothe head of the lifeless body.
'No, he did not. This is his first humanoid body. He has taken the shape of the Heemies and the Worgs, the Benlithulans and the Suasion Norbs. Next he will adopt the snail flesh of the Yulians.' Marsalla's telepathic message was unemotional, but her words were like cold knives to the Doctor."

I like this bit, because it mixes the silly names of aliens with the scary threat of the baddy's plan.

The Doctor gets righteously angry with Marsalla.
"'Then you will know of this... this thing's purpose!' The Doctor was speaking aloud now, contempt and anger almost choking his words. 'You will know what misery and horror he causes. You will know what happens to those he feeds upon.'"

This is another scene that is easy to imagine Tom Baker acting, reminiscent of The Pirate Planet. The vampire's plan is to invade the Yulian Communal Will, but because he is taking over an entire planet instead of just one manny, he needs the special flowers of this planet to amplify his power. The Doctor and Sarah start to destroy the evil flowers, but they are too late and they come to life as "slimy, squat automatons."

The Doctor sends Sarah back to the safety of the Tardis so only he is left in danger. His only remaining plan is to persuade Marsalla to turn against Krem-ling.

"'But why should I help you?' she mocked telepathically. 'How can I help you?'
'You could enter Krem-ling's body. Without it to return to he would die, and these emissaries would die also.'
'And me? What about me? Had you not guessed that I too serve the mighty Drakka? Would you have me die as well?'
'How can you die when you do not live? Is this your life, this black abyss? Is this your future? A desolate, never-ending trail of violation? Do you not remember Juksta? Was your childhood so empty and savage? Do you not remember having friends, playing in the sunlight? Do you not re-member your mother, your father, your family? That is your life, Marsalla, not this evil. If there is any part of you that still remembers, you must enter Krem-ling's body. Enter it, Marsalla, rid your-self of his influence, free yourself of him!'"

This works, and Marsalla merges with Krem-ling's body to defeat him. Oh, and she also has some kind of self-destruct button to blow everything up once the Doctor escapes back to the Tardis.
"The last thing they saw before leaving the planet was Marsalla flicking a switch on the container, and then a tremendous explosion rocked the Tardis so that they were both flung to the floor."

Maybe they had this picture of an explosion and just wanted to use it, so had to have an explosion in the story somewhere? I can't think of any other reason for this otherwise completely gratuitous ending.

There is an epilogue paragraph set back on Yula, where Marsalla gets a happy ending.
"But as he let his mind wander through the busily rebuilding Communal Will the Doctor thought he touched upon one spirit that had somehow found rest there - the spirit of Marsalla, the Jukstan child that had saved a planet and herself."

If 'The Vampires of Crellium' has a flaw, it is in the amount of story that is told as exposition. But with it only being five pages long, it is very entertaining for that, with memorable imagery, good characterisation, and full of ideas.

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