Colin Baker is amongst the most unpopular actors to ever play Doctor Who. He was a bit pompous and was not quite as much fun as the other actors who have tackled the role. His time saw the show get its first axing and he was not helped by his assistant being played by Bonnie Langford as Mel. It was with some reluctance then that I stumbled across this book in my collection and decided to read it. I stand by the fact that the Dr Who books are usually far superior to the show itself could Business Unusual follow this trend?
The 6th Doctor is currently in 1989 England and is helping out an old friend to remove a computer virus created by the Master when he is sucked into a more immediate problem. A mysterious company has plans to release a games console that is far too advanced for this time period. With the aid of a new companion, Mel, the Doctor must uncover the truth behind the company and the mystery behind plastic that seems to come to life and kill young children.
Many of the younger fans of Doctor Who may not be aware of who the 6th Doctor was. To be honest I have read several of the books containing different Doctors and the difference between his personalities is not that apparent. Colin Baker comes across as being similar to Paul McGanns 8th Doctor with his sympathy, but he is also purposely eccentric. I do not think that it is important to know the specific Doctor as it works on its own merit. Business Unusual acts as an introduction to the 6th Doctor as it is the origins of how he joined up with Mel, making it accessible to everyone.
The story of Business Unusual is not the strongest aspect as it reads like a Doctor Who tale by numbers. Why are aliens always obsessed with trying to take over the Earth? There must be a few that want to be friends with us, not just the Doctor himself. The story suffers also suffers from some very grim in sections with several children being killed and a limp ending as Russell tries to wrap up the story far too cleanly for it to work. What is meant to happen to the 30 children who wake up from a trance with their left arms missing?!?
However, what makes Business Unusual a book worth reading is the characters rather than the story. The Doctor in all his guises is a great character to be in the centre of a science fiction story for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as a fan of the show (or after reading a book or two) you will know most aspects of the character so can jump straight into the adventure without explaining who he is. The characteristics themselves are the second reason why the books are better than other average sci fi, as he is an alien that does not always side with humans. Throughout science fiction authors seem to defend humans and make the aliens the automatic bad guys. The Doctor likes to weigh up the arguments and try and bring a peaceful conclusion to any conflict, not always siding with man. Business Unusual follows this trend with The Doctor only resorting to violence when no other opens are left.
The other characters that appear in this book are also, for the most part, as success. With out actually having to see Bonnie Langford the character of Mel is good. She is a fiery and independent young woman that wants more from life than living in a sleepy town. For this book we are also introduced to Mels parents who act as good comedic foil and an American foreign exchange student who finds out he has latent telepathic powers.
It is not The Doctor or his allies that make this book a middle of the road cookie cut Doctor Who novel, but the main bad guy. He is a man who is using alien technology to try and create a body from intelligent plastic so that he can transfer himself before he gets too old. Basically, he is another madman bent on the destruction of man. If it were not for his vicious aides this book would have felt toothless.
A final area of criticism is about Russells inability to get the book to feel like it is 1989. Written in 1997 Business Unusual is set 8 years earlier. This may not seem that long but when talking about computer technology, it is an age. I think that having advanced computers generated by aliens is fine, but too much else felt more recent than the late 80s. It is writing like this that will make future historians think that people in 1998 were all wearing shoulder pads and listening to Flock of Seagulls. 8 years is a long enough time to have to change the stories surroundings.
Due to the lack of a great bad guy, a limp ending and a messy timeframe Business Unusual can only be deemed an average read. The parts leading up to the finale were fun, if a little violent. If you are a fan of the show then this book will pass a few happy days but for those who do not like it they can take or leave it. The problem with this book was that the story was less business unusual than, the usual business of the same Doctor Who story. Perhaps all the books are not better than the show
Author: Gary Russell
Price: amazon uk second hand £4.90
Series: Doctor Who / A Doctor Who adventure. At Brighton in the 1980s, SeneNet Interactive are getting ready to launch their new 64-bit games console. But who are SeneNet? Their headquarters are guarded fiercely and they are buying up smaller companies. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart's C19 security division investigates.