Monday, November 28, 2011

6-Star Reviews Part 13: Timelords and Terror

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

Crossovers!  We mark our entry into the topsy-turvy world of pony mash-ups with what is perhaps the most commonly done crossover in this fandom, My Little Pony + Doctor Who.  Specifically, we'll be looking at Hephestus' Timelords and Terror. Everything worth reading is below the break.

Impressions before reading:  I, like many readers, never bother with anything labeled [crossover] unless I'm already familiar with the source material.  Although I understand there are a (very) small number of crossovers so transcendently good that they are worth reading even without some sort of advance grounding in their setting, the fact is that crossovers just aren't as enjoyable to read if you don't have at least enough familiarity with both sources to catch all the references.

As it happens, I was introduced to Doctor Who late last spring, in part because of all the "Dr. Whoof" stuff floating around.  I watched the first two seasons of the "new" Doctor Who, which I thought were very hit or miss.  Still, I felt the same way about Star Trek TNG and Highlander, and I enjoyed both those series despite some really awful episodes, so I kept watching.  And besides, there were some quite good bits in there.

Well, to make a long story short, I hate Martha.  Just can't stand her.  I quit watching halfway through season 3 because I disliked her character so much.  My Doctor Who-obsessed friends have assured me that she leaves before season 4, but I'm a completionist and don't particularly want to skip half a season just so I can watch something I wasn't really enamored with in the first place.  And I certainly have no interest in wading through another half-dozen hours of Martha just to see if it gets better.  So, that's pretty much where I stand with Doctor Who.  Oh, and I know about weeping angels, via pop-cultural osmosis.

Anyway, that's pretty much what I know going in.  Hopefully, that's enough for me to appreciate this story.

(On an unrelated note, writing just this much of this post has already forced me to use spellcheck's "add to dictionary" option four times: topsy, turvy, transcendently, and completionist all are apparently not part of the device's native vocabulary.  Perhaps I'm just being paranoid, but I can't help but feel like Google is subtly trying to pressure me into using a more limited word set.  Never fear, however; I shall persevere in the face of all adversity, up to and including squiggly red lines under words that I know are correct)

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When two warring alien vessels escape the confines of the Deep Darkness and crash-land near Ponyville, the result of their conflict threatens not only Twilight and her friends, but the very universe itself.  With the help of David Tennant a mysterious alien/pony known only as "The Doctor," they must find a way to save Equestria from a threat the likes of which they've never imagined.

Thoughts after reading:  Other than the Doctor himself, there are three groups of aliens in this story: the Hervoken (who are apparently from the book series), the Carrionites (who are from an episode where Martha and the Doctor go back in time to visit Shakespeare and beat up some alien witches who are using his latest play to resurrect their species.  Personally, I thought that episode was just terrible, but that had more to do with the way it treated Shakespeare and literature generally than with the Carrionites specifically.  Also, Martha.  Ugh), and a G1 baddy reimagined as a multiverse-devouring abomination ("Add to dictionary" update: baddy, reimagined, and multiverse).  Although I was already familiar with the Carrionites, I don't think there's anything about them that requires knowledge of the show, and the other species I can attest do not require any foreknowledge to understand or appreciate.  Likewise, important facets of the Doctor himself (regeneration, what the TARDIS is and how it works, etc.) are all addressed in-story.

In fact, this story does a wonderful job throughout of making sure that it accommodates non-Doctor Who fans.   Although there are a few very minor shoutouts that might go over the heads of folks with zero familiarity with the source material ("Why does he keep saying 'allons-y?'"), I can't think of a single significant or plot-relevant detail that is laid out in such a way that a person who'd never seen a single episode of Doctor Who would fail to understand it.  Far, FAR too many crossover stories forget that their potential audience isn't guaranteed to be versed in the nuances of whatever the second setting they're using is (since these are being posted on a pony site, it's obviously fair to assume that the reader's familiar with FiM), and end up becoming unreadable or incomprehensible to anyone who isn't a fan of both settings.  This story does not fall into that trap.

Unfortunately, it does fall into another trap: failure to blend the two settings harmoniously.  Jokes about a certain pony's predilection for trashy romance novels and Pinkie Pie's trademark goofy antics fall flat when, only a few pages earlier, the reader was subjected to a fairly graphic description of a colt having his soul pulled out through his eyes, leaving behind nothing but an empty husk.  While such imagery may be appropriate to Doctor Who, it's shocking and mood-breaking when combined with ponies.  Ending notwithstanding, this story really needs a [grimdark] tag to reflect the sheer amount of death in it, and the incredibly painful ways in which some of these creatures meet their makers.

Characterization was mostly good.  I think Hephestus did a great job capturing the snarky yet affable wit of Tennant in his ponified version of the Doctor, and the mane cast are mostly well-done.  Pinkie is, as is often the case in fanfics, possessed of extraordinary knowledge and reality-warping powers, but she's thankfully not in "break the fourth-wall" mode.  The other ponies are all well in character--until the aforementioned grimdark stuff.  At that point, it's kind of hard to judge characterization, because the ponies in the show never have to address things like murder and genocide.  I felt that several members of the mane six got a bit too violence-happy for me to believe at one point, even granted that they quickly backpedaled to a more pacifistic stance once they were given a chance to reflect on their actions.  Also, I didn't like that the ponies started swearing in the last couple of chapters.  Yes, they're under a lot of stress, but still... it just feels terribly out of place to me.  However, all the characterization excepting those points was unquestionably on-target.

I want to come back to the Doctor, because he really is well done.  Quick with a quip and never fazed, yet strangely vulnerable.  That's not easy to portray in writing, but the author does a wonderful job capturing the essence of this character.  Whenever he had dialogue, it always felt like a treat to read.

For the most part, grammar/sp are good.  For some reason, however, there's a lot of missing punctuation.  Lots of possessive nouns are missing the apostrophes before their final s, and the occasional missing comma or (more rarely) period was baffling, considering that every other aspect of the story's technical presentation was so good.

This is by far the longest story I've read for these reviews to date, coming in at just under 45,000 words.  Despite its length, it never feels slow or ploddy.  Throughout, dialogue is crisp and consistently funny, action is described clearly but not in excessive detail, and (much like in an actual episode of Doctor Who) plotting and exposition is kept to a minimum in favor of seat-of-the-pants improvisation and hasty half-explanations which make the reading experience more like a thrill ride than anything else.  Twists!  Turns!  Dramatic reveals!  Etcetera!


"Add to dictionary:" ploddy (though to be fair, that actually might not be a word.  Either way, I'm sticking with it) and etcetera.  And snarky from a few paragraphs back, as long as we're stopped.


As I was saying, the story never feels long despite its length, which is an impressive feat considering that it's the size of a small novel.  I think part of that draw comes from having believable, goal-oriented villains.  Yes, it can be hard to relate to someone who's short term goals included "total planet-wide genocide," but Hephestus does a great job of explaining the motivations of all his characters, even the ones with no moral justification.  And, as is often the case, moral justification sometimes turns out to be in the eye of the beholder... and sometimes not.  And that's all I'm going to say about that.

The technobabble that fills this story is suitably realistic-sounding, at least to someone who doesn't actually know any better.  Lines like "The directional tachyon field prevented the TARDIS from materializing within its radius. However, since they don’t have any kind of large power source they’re probably using a low-powered field. That puts us less than fifty meters from where they don’t want us to be!" could have come straight from the actual show, for all I know. If any physicists are reading this review and want to tell me that directional tachyons don't work that way, I'll bow to their superior knowledge. As near as I can tell, however, these lines do a wonderful job of maintaining the pretense of advanced technology.

Star Rating: ☆ (what does this mean?)

The meshing of ponies and galaxy-destroying aliens is not always smooth, but it's certainly interesting.  The author does a wonderful job of keeping the excitement high, and never lets details wriggle in from the Doctor Who universe without adequately explaining them to the reader.  The writing was superb all the way through, and the plot was fast-paced and never dull.  The dearth of apostrophes confuses me, but the other technical aspects of the story were well-done.

Recommendation:  Obviously Doctor Who fans are more likely to read a Doctor Who story than non-fans are, but I would have no trouble recommending this to anyone, even someone who's never seen an episode in their life.  I would warn that there's some fairly disturbing imagery and death, along with some light swearing--but if you can tolerate that, then this fic won't disappoint.  The story is long, so don't plan on reading it over an idle half-hour, but if you give it a chance there's plenty here to like.


"Add to dictionary:" technobabble, tachyon, tachyons, and wriggle. *sigh*

Next time:  Catching Rainbows, by Phoe


  1. And so we get to a long 6 Star story.

    Fallout Equestria and its six star spinoff Project Horizons must be close to a million words together, so good luck for when you get there.

  2. Fallout Equestria IS coming to an end soon, so that should be interesting.

  3. You forgot to mention that the Carrionites in this story were named directly after the witches in the (GOD-AWFUL) MLP movie who created the Smooze!

    It's critical information! ;D

  4. Okay, that review pretty much seems to nail what I liked about "Time Lords and Terror" without ever being able to put it into words.

    That said, you quit halfway through season 3? I guess you've been told a million times, but you picked about the worst point in the entire series' run to do that, you know? The stretch from "Human Nature" to the season ender "Last of the Time Lords" is among the best TV I've ever seen, Martha notwithstanding (she's barely in the best episode of the bunch, "Blink", aka the one endorsed by Neil Frickin' Gaiman).