In Army of Death
, the third Doctor Who
audio play to feature Mary Shelley as a companion, the pitfalls of putting words into a famous author's mouth really start to show. I was able to enjoy the two previous adventures featuring Mary but Army of Death
loses me early on with Mary writing in a diary, hinting that her affections are drifting from Percy to the Doctor (Paul McGann). Which seems really like where things were going all along, and I wouldn't mind it except Mary sounds like a dopey teen heroine now.
"My beliefs have been in flux these past few weeks but one thing I know--everybody has a soulmate," writes the supposed Mary Shelley, in monologue performed by Julie Cox. "Someone whom they were always intended to meet. My own soulmate was always going to be of a certain breed. He would be wild! And yet, intellectual. He would blend urban eloquence with boundless enthusiasm. In short, he would be an unearthly soul. I have already met this man . . ."
This is supposed to be Mary Shelley aged 18, from the year 1816, during the vacation that inspired her to write Frankenstein
. Dictionary.com and Wikipedia note the first known English written use of "soul mate" is from a letter by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1822 but this doesn't bother me much. As someone who writes historical fiction myself, I know a bit of translation to modern language is inevitable. I guess I'm bothered more by "wild" "yet intellectual" and "boundless enthusiasm." Sure, Mary's 18 and should be a bit zealous about men she's attracted to but I would expect more from her capacity for self-expression. The word "enthusiasm" occurs 11 times in Frankenstein
and never is it "boundless". Instead, we get this:No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.
And, yes, I'm not saying writer Jason Arnopp has to be as good as Mary Shelley. This is just the drawback of daring to put words into a famous author's mouth--for anyone who likes that author, a sour note is going to sound a hundred times as sour.
Arnopp has since gone on to write a novel that Alan Moore has given a very strong, enthusiastic
, blurb so maybe I shouldn't harp on this too much. Army of Death
is mostly not a bad audio play, involving futuristic politics colliding with an army of zombies. There's a Hitchcockian subplot about a presidential assassin played by Eva Pope that has some nice moments. Though, even forgetting a moment the model on which this fictional Mary Shelley is based, this Mary isn't even consistent with the previous episodes' depictions of her where she found herself always sympathetic to monsters she runs into. Suddenly she has trouble with zombies in this one, or possibly politicians. Well, I guess that's kind of funny. Paul McGann is very good as always.