Mad Dogs and Englishmen, by Paul Magrs – Book Review By Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Mad Dogs and Englishmen, by Paul Magrs.
London, BBC Books, January 2002, paperback £5.99 (249 pages).
Doctor Who is massively popular, but his adventures do not seem to offer much for furry fandom. But they do overlap in “The 100th Novel in the Record-Breaking BBC Worldwide Doctor Who Series”, to quote the back-cover blurb. Mad Dogs and Englishmen features the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann, 1996-2005) and his Companions at the time, Fitz Kreiner and Anji Kapoor. The novel is also a parody of J. R. R. Tolkien’s writing of The Lord of the Rings.
The first chapter is about Professor Reginald Tyler, a reclusive British university don who spends his life from 1917 to his death in 1974 writing and rewriting his magnum opus The True History of Planets, “an epic of dwarves and swords and wizardry. And definitely no poodles. Or at least there weren’t when the Doctor read it.” (blurb) When Prof. Tyler dies, his widow takes his towering manuscript to a publisher.
“She was the one who had hoiked out the dusty manuscript of the ongoing book and promptly sold it for a bomb.
One that set off reverberations everywhere.
Up and down the length of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries on Earth, and other worlds besides.
Notably the dogworld.” (p. 3)
Chapter Two begins, “In another hotel, one hundred years later and off-world, a conference was underway.
The hotel was built into a small, rather tatty-looking asteroid and it was, for one weekend, playing host to an academic conference and a motley collection of academics, all of them concerned with Terran Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century.” (p. 9)
One of the attendees is Professor Alid Jag, a tiny but loud literary critic from a people that “were tantamount to aphids” (p. 10). He believes that, “You have to learn to despise what you analyse” (p. 11) to be a proper critic. Prof. Jag is pontificating in the hotel’s foyer when the TARDIS materializes on top of him, crushing him. The Doctor has arrived to hear Prof. Jag’s paper, and is nonplussed to learn that he is responsible for the crypto-aphid’s death. He and his Companions, Fitz and Anji, are taken in charge by the hotel’s manager – “The manager was a boar, standing erect on his two hind legs and wearing a smart uniform adorned with all manner of medals. His humped back stood almost as tall as the TARDIS itself and his rancid breath came steaming out through a snout that quivered and dripped in annoyance.” (p. 16) – while waiting for the police to arrive.
Chapter Three reveals what really happens to Prof. Tyler when everyone thinks that he died. He was abducted into an alternate timeline by a bright blue anthropomorphic French poodle.
It turns out that Prof. Jag was more sinister than he seemed. He was trying to murder an expert on Reginald Tyler. When the expert is murdered, after all – after Prof. Jag’s death – the Doctor, Fitz, and Anji are blamed for it. Meanwhile, the Doctor has discovered that The True History of Planets is no longer about dwarves and swords and wizardry.
“‘Poodles,’ said the Doctor.
Anji raised both eyebrows.
‘With hands!’ Fitz laughed. ‘In the book, they live on this planet where they’ve clambered their way to the top of the evolutionary ladder with their perfectly manicured five-fingered hands and by making full use of their opposable thumbs. They have a very luxurious world with a corrupt monarchy and the book’s all about their various skirmishes and how one of them manages to depose the queen of the dogworld and set himself upon the throne…’” (p. 34)
Well, obviously there’s nothing for it but to be off to the dog dimension. With Flossie, the asteroid hotel’s disgraced cook:
“‘I fell from grace during the greatest of my challenges and honours. Oh my, but I did. Oh yes. That was a terrible story. It was a banquet for the Child Emperor of Karim. They’re a kind of… well, there’s no nice way of putting it. Lobster people. It was all some kind of peace treaty thing going on. Well, no one told me they were like lobster people. And you can guess what I’d spent all night preparing for their main course…’” (p. 50)
On the dogs’ space station:
“Look at those pictures!’ the Doctor called out.
Each one showed a dog staring straight out at the onlooker, baring its fangs. They were beribboned and titivated. Some of them were wearing elaborate bonnets.
Fitz burst out laughing and the Doctor shushed him.
‘These,’ he said sternly, ‘are probably the great and good of this civilization.’
‘It’s like an Intergalactic Crufts,’ Anji said. ‘Or like some mad version of Planet of the Apes. .. with, um, poodles instead of monkeys…’” (p. 63)
The humans are present at the beginning of the dogs’ civil war:
“‘Grrr,’ said the guards. It was their ceremonial greeting.
‘Grrr,’ said the archivists dutifully. Having been here for so long, they were unused to such formalities. The lack of ritual arse-sniffing was a definite snub. Fritter and Char were evidently inferiors, and not to be sniffed. Char felt this like a slap in the face.” (p. 65)
The Doctor, Fitz, and Anji, who have all their clothes confiscated while on the dogs’ space station, re-dress and escape into time-travel: Fitz and Flossie to Las Vegas in 1960; Anji and Fritter (disguised as an ordinary dog) to Hollywood in 1978; and the Doctor and Char to 1942 Bournemouth where they must prevent Prof. Tyler from being influenced into throwing out his manuscript about dwarves, swords, and wizardly and writing about a world of poodles instead. Fitz and Flossie encounter an entertainer singing the Beatles’ songs before they’ve written them; Anji and Fritter encounter an obvious pastiche of Ray Harryhausen; and the Doctor and Char find Prof. Tyler at his literary club, the Scribblings, arguing with his friend Cleavis who tries to persuade him to finish his book and publish it. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)
“Six Imperial poodles, armed and dyed red, had emerged from the copter. They gave the ceremonial greeting as one.
‘Grrr.’” (p. 181)
The poodles of the monarchy are dyed bright scarlet. The rebel poodles are dyed bright orange, green, purple, and other colors. There is a battle between stop-motion monsters and CGI monsters. There are the Mob, dozens of Nöel Cowards, and MIAOW. And more.
The TV program doesn’t have the special-effects budget for stuff like this. This paperback does. Mad Dogs and Englishmen is over a decade old, but it’s still available through Amazon.uk. Have fun.
The cover is only credited to Blacksheep Design Ltd., a London art agency. What appears as bright yellow lettering in its illustration is in gold foil on the book (which unfortunately doesn’t photograph well).
The ray gun that the poodle on the cover is holding looks extremely like a water pistol I had when I was a child. Coincidence?
Another coincidence: Wikipedia has just featured a Picture of the Day of Noël Coward. Now imagine dozens of him.