Most of the following was written around Christmas 2001, shortly after reading all five of Marc Platt's books. Unfortunately this retrospective doesn't include short stories, fan videos or Big Finish audios - and the last of those is a significant omission. I've heard good things of Loups-Garoux and fantastic things of Spare Parts, leading me to suspect that I would prefer Marc's scriptwriting to his novels. With the upcoming Russell T. Davies TV series possibly looking for other writers, Marc Platt is one of the few people who might end up having worked on both incarnations of TV Who. Could another - please please! - perhaps be Stephen Wyatt? I've long admired the man's writing to a degree that borders on the idolatrous.
However this retrospective is concerned only with Marc Platt, writer of books. He's highly regarded by many, but personally I can't say I'm a fan. Ghost Light is described as plotless in some quarters, but clearly these are people who've never read his NAs. Compared with them, Marc's TV story is a masterpiece of clarity and strong plotting - managing, what's more, to include interesting characters and give them stuff to do! Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible and Lungbarrow are both carefully crafted on a basic prose level, but on a story level Lungbarrow is distinctly lacking and Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible is about on a par with sawing your knees off.
It's a shame that Marc's best book was his first one, but on the other hand his second-best was his last. He can't really play the novice author card for Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible, since by then he'd written a TV story and more prose (his two Target novelisations) than you'd find in an average novel. There's important stuff in these five books, albeit at times courtesy of Ben Aaronovitch and Mervyn Peake. I couldn't recommend all of his books, but Marc Platt is one of the most imaginative writers to have worked on Doctor Who. Clearly the man's talented. Given a strong editor and the format constraints of an episodic structure, he's capable of wonderful work. For the purposes of this run-down, by the way, I'm ignoring everything except books. Ranking those from worst to best gives us:
5th - Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible, which is worse than I'd believed possible.
4th - Downtime, an unintentionally spooky tale of ghosts and companions' pasts. It's an adaptation of a video drama, so by far Marc's most conventional novel and a sequel to The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear. It's not unreadable, but it's not particularly good either.
3rd - Battlefield (novelisation), which somehow manages to be a rollicking good book! It's still an adaptation of Battlefield, but Marc nearly makes this seem like a good thing.
2nd - Lungbarrow, which is simultaneously brilliant and a bit boring. The endless train of companions works surprisingly well, but the original characters are pretty much a bunch of losers stuck in the middle of nowhere doing nothing. Chris Cwej turns into a human TV and even the Doctor doesn't get much to do. The revelations about the Other clog up the story yet further, but it's the capstone to a decade of Who and a wonderfully crafted piece of near-poetic writing.
1st - Ghost Light (novelisation), which is damn near perfect. If you can forget you're reading a Target novelisation, then this is a wonderful combination of a strange and complex story with literate prose. The characters grab your attention and don't let go, while the story runs like the wind. If only we saw this kind of pace more often! Possibly a bit too rich for what's theoretically a kiddie audience, but as a book for adults it's nearly as good as Doctor Who gets.