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Better than Hornets' Nest

By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 1 April 2015
Rating:   6

I have been highly critical of Paul Magrs' writing elsewhere on this site. However, this little adventure I actually like a bit. That is probably because Magrs tones down significantly all the little irrelevant bits that usually make his writing so irksome, and focuses on telling the story. It is a vast improvement over "Hornets' Nest," in which everything seemed to have been written just so he could get in a mildly clever pun or show off his talent for alliteration. The structure of "Demon Quest" seems to be basically the same as in "Hornets' Nest." We start at Nest Cottage, something strange happens, and this forces the Doctor to travel in time to get little bits of the story, presumably to put it all together at the end.

Pt. 1: This particular bit of the story involves the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey, the apparent cause of his trouble this time, to travel to Roman Britain and negotiate with some Britons so he can find out how a Roman mosaic tile of his likeness ended up there. This adventure has less narrating and more dramatizing than "Hornets' Nest," which is also an improvement. Still, some of the Magrs quirks are still there, such as the Doctor's being left with an elephant that he must take care of in an offhand manner. This is typical of Magrs' inability to take care of the many loose ends he tends to leave untied.

Pt. 2 After a pretty good opening of the "Demon Quest" cycle I had hoped that the whole set would step upward. Sadly, Magrs returns to many of his old tricks in this second story. The tale itself involves Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and the question of whether he is a Jack the Ripper type of killer. This in itself is just a preposterous beginning given the artists' handicap, which is referred to only once in this whole story. The narrator this time is Mrs. Wibbsey, who does not really make much of an interesting narrator, but the choice is typical of Magrs who prefers focusing on his own characters over focusing on Doctor Who characters. The most annoying part is that Magrs writes the Doctor as so unobservant that one would almost think that he's thick in the head. As is typical with Magrs, the Doctor is placed into a famous historical location or mis-en-place, such as a circus, and then made to perform like a puppet in all the clich aspects of the setting. So, we have to have the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey go to the Moulin Rouge and the Doctor perform cabaret and talk to street girls who drink absinthe, etc. This would not be so bad except for the contortions he puts the plot through to get the Doctor into these situations, making these set pieces more important than the story.

Pt. 3: This is a nice little atmospheric supernatural tale set in the Alps in 1847. The narrator this time is one of the locals, Albert Tiermann (Animal Man), storyteller to the blind King. The Doctor has a bogus book supposedly of Tiermann's stories, and uses this to track down the next clue in this series' paper chase. The Doctor, Mike Yates, Tiermann, and his driver and footman bunk down in the last hotel for miles to weather a snow storm. Tiermann has a deep secret involving visitations from his benefactress, a mysterious ice queen. The hotel gets attacked by a demonic creature. The setting and story work well together, and as with "The Relics of Time" the story works because Magrs greatly turns down the level of superfluity that usually screws up his writing. Magrs' imagination also works best in 19th-century settings, which correspond with his prose style. However, his favorite word - benighted - reappears. Also, the climax and denouement are rather obvious given what we already know. The presence of Mike Yates does not amount to much. He ends up being the damsel in distress, but otherwise contributes little to the story. It was an enjoyable, but not brilliant, listen.

Pt. 4: Part 4 of "Demon Quest" finds Doctor 4, Mike Yates, and Mrs. Wibbsey traveling to New York City 1976. There, they get involved in a comic-book adventure featuring a decaying movie star (Norma Desmond, anyone?), a nebbish pretzel boy, a ghoulish cult of Doctor impersonators, and a mysterious meteorite that gives superpowers to pretzel boy's girlfriend. On top of that, pretzel boy is the narrator. Some good things about this are that at last Mrs. Wibbsey gets to be an active character and really do a proper companion role instead of just complaining about everything, the story is very comic-book like and so maintains the atmosphere that was set, and the plot does not have too many holes in it. However, there are several problems. First, pretzel boy is uninteresting as a narrator. Second, Mike Yates is again pretty useless. Third, is there any surprise at all about who the aging movie star really is?

Pt. 5 "Demon Quest" finally and at long last comes to an end. While decidedly better than "Hornets' Nest," it still has too many of the characteristic flaws of Magrs' writing. As the payout episode, it is kind of low key. The demon has been trying to kidnap the Doctor and get him to Sepulchre. That leads us to believe that this will be an awe-inspiring place. In fact, it is a dull box in space with a bunch of equally dull caves beneath. Magrs still writes so as to downplay older Doctor Who characters and play up his own inventions. Thus, the real villains to this piece should be no surprise. The whole plan is so elaborately overdone compared to what they want to accomplish that it seems hardly worth the wait. And once more Mike Yates is utterly useless, spending half the episode pinned to a rock because of vertigo. It is typical of Magrs to supply stupid ways to resolves problems that his own plot creates. Why does Mike get vertigo? The only reason is so he will not be able to rescue the Doctor, which he otherwise quite easily would have. All in all, it is just disappointing given its start.

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