Monday, April 30, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 62: Number 12

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

You know the drill.  Number 12, by Squeak, after break.

Impressions before reading:  More Doctor Whooves!  Actually, this is only the second story about him I've reviewed for this blog to date, though there are more coming.  But it seems to me I haven't seen many new ones in the last few months.  Is the Doctor passe?

Anyway, this post contains two separate stories, of which only the first is completed.  So, I'll review the first and save the sequel for whenever it's finished.  Also, per multiple recommendations, I'll be reviewing the story as it's posted on fimfiction (at this link), rather than the apparently significantly messier DA post that EqD links to.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When a blue police box crashes into Twilight's tree, it signals the start of a day filled with aliens in pony form, sentient statues, time travel paradoxes, and a more.  She, together with Spike, Pinkie, and a mysterious stranger known only as The Doctor, must save Equestria from a threat that comes from beyond time and space.

Thoughts after reading:  Since I read the version of the story I did specifically because I understood the formatting to be much better, I found myself very disappointed in that regard.  Missed spaces, unclear paragraphing (there are no consistent indentations or double breaks), and the like dot the fic.  Moreover, countless sp/editing errors fill the story, from homophone mix-ups to confusion about proper punctuation and capitalization coming out of quotes to basic stuff like (constantly) using it's for its.  After glancing at the first paragraph I went and checked the DA version, which did indeed have slightly worse formatting, but both were in very messy shape.  Frankly, the piece is barely a step above draft-level quality.

In fairness, I should point out that this story was written in January/February 2011, when quality standards were slightly different among most readers than they are today.  But I try to judge the stories I review like I would any piece of literature, and in terms of editing, this really is almost painful to read at times.

If, however, you can slog through the jungle of misrendered language, this story contains some great characterizations.  Twilight and Pinkie Pie serve as excellent contrasts, the former going crazy trying to understand the myriad mysteries which the Doctor invariably introduces into any story he invades, while the latter gaily dives into the absurdities which time travel, multiverse-hopping, and weeping angels pegasus bring to Equestria.  Although his "screentime" is relatively limited, an OC pegasus named Night Shift (or, as he's first introduced, "Night Sift") fills his role excellently, and Spike is, well, Spike.

And of course, there's the Doctor himself.  Squeak nails the snark and flippancy which are his trademarks, and gives him a few good recurring gags for good measure (I particularly enjoyed his obvious annoyance at the ponies' tendency to give every place-name an equine theme, and the way he "accidentally" kept messing up Twilight's name was perfectly in character for Tennant's Doctor).  What was missing from this characterization was the sense of vulnerability, and the unstated envy of the simple lives of those he protects, which make the Doctor more than just a snazzy sci-fi Baron von Munchhausen.  Even when stymied, and even when those he's vowed to protect are threatened, Squeak's Doctor never seemed to lose his unflappable self-assuredness, and while this was hardly a fatal oversight, it stripped him of a significant portion of his complexity and interest.

One thing which this story does very well is to blend the tones of the two very disparate shows which it crosses.  The author does an excellent job of maintaining the aura of malice around the antagonists without ever resorting outright violence.  As such, despite the presence of villains intent on destroying all life in Equestria and beyond, the story never feels out of place in its idyllic environs.  And those villains, along with the Doctor himself, are give sufficient explanation for even a non-fan to be able to read the story on its own merits.

Although it's over 20,000 words long, the story feels short.  Events pass at a breathless pace, and new revelations are introduced and dealt with in rapid-fire manner throughout.  For the most part, this works; it matches the often frenetic pacing of both shows on which it's based, among other things.  But at times, it feels like important story elements are glossed over in order to keep things moving.  The Doctor's visit with Rarity, for example, serves its narrative purpose (to separate him from the other ponies briefly), but the speed with which Rarity is brought into the story, and her subsequent dismissal, are painfully abrupt.  There and in other places, I wish a little more time had been spent on the characters and their interactions, and that there was less emphasis on relentlessly progressing the action.

Star rating:    (what does this mean?)

There's a nice, if frantically paced, story here.  Unfortunately, the quality of the story's presentation in no way matches that of the story itself.  The characterization was good if at times incomplete, and any story which can simultaneously preserve the aesthetic of a sci-fi staple and a children's cartoon deserves praise, but there are some significant problems with the execution of this piece.

Recommendation:  Fans of Doctor Who should certainly give it a look, and even those unfamiliar with the show might find the affable snarkiness of the title Timelord as he's presented here to be to their liking.  Readers interested in a breathless romp of a story could do far worse than this.  But anyone who can't handle draft-quality work should give this a pass.

Next time:  The Midnight Crusades, by Riffbrony doesn't exist anymore!  Pity, that (thanks for the heads-up, Bugs).  Instead we'll move on to The Thessalonica Legacy, by Dashukta


  1. Given the editing problems, I guess I am lucky to have been introduced to Number 12 via the Radio Drama adaptation - despite Spike's annoying voice. By sifting through the text, the audio version looks more polished.

  2. First, your link goes to Ponies Discover /co/ (though the image link is fine). Second, you might wanna double-check that penultimate "Thoughts" paragraph.

    Third, to your question. I think Dr. Whooves' popularity stemmed from being not only somewhat prominent in early episodes (I mean, he had a speaking role in Call of the Cutie, c'mon!) but from being an obvious homage to another show. That's not something you see often, and the crossover possibilities were endless. When I first saw him, I wanted to do nothing but write Doctor fics (I came up with precisely one idea, wrote one chapter, and haven't touched it since). Since then, the world of Equestria has expanded so much that there's far more possibility out there to explore. So yeah, I think he's fallen out of favor, because of newer, shinier possibilities.

    I will say, your assessment of his characterization in this fic will definitely inform my portrayal of him should I ever get back to my own story.

    1. First, thanks; fixed now. Second... I fear I may be going stupid, but the penultimate paragraph of the "thoughts after reading" section looks okay to me (other than a criminal lack of organization, but I get the impression you mean something more wall-banger-y). Could you be a little more specific, lest I make an even bigger fool out of myself?

      Third, I suppose that makes sense. Thanks for the perspective.

    2. Blast and botheration. I didn't point them out because I didn't want to make you look the fool, and now I look the fool because I can't find what I was referring to. D:

  3. This was the story that introduced me to Squeak's work. I agree that an editor should to a quick once-over because many of the errors seem easily fixed.

    But heck, I enjoyed this fic a lot. There is something to be said for Squeak's snarky, creative humor that simply works. Though, truth be told, Traveler (12's sequel) is I think a much stronger work. Though incomplete ...