We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! This week, we’re reading Deceit, the thirteenth entry in the New Adventures series, written by series editor Peter Darvill-Evans, and published in April 1993. The story features the Seventh Doctor and Professor Bernice Summerfield, and reintroduces former companion Ace, as well as tying in a character from the comics: Dalek Hunter Abslom Daak! Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!
In an unknown location, an aging man named Bertrand links with a vast, telepathic presence. The presence concludes that, although the war between Earth and the Daleks will soon end in a victory for Earth, the end of the war will mean an early end to the presence’s experiments. As such they are accelerating the pace. Bertrand is too old and frail to continue serving as the presence’s link to the real world, and must train his successor; but when his successor forcefully displaces him, he dies before he can do so. In dying, he is unable to join the presence in its immortality.
Near the end of the Dalek Wars of the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth centuries, Earth is consolidating its grip on the colonies which were formerly managed by interstellar corporations. One such is Arcadia, owned and heavily guarded by the Spinward Corporation. Earth’s Office of External Operations is certain something illegal is going on; and when an expedition fails to return, their suspicions are reinforced. Agent Isabelle Defries is dispatched to the system with a shipload of auxiliary troops—troops long ago drafted in from the security forces of various corporations—to find out what is going on, and to put a stop to it. One of her Auxies is not who she claims to be, and Defries soon meets her: a young woman, an explosives expert, calling herself Ace. Unwilling to waste resources, she leaves Ace free, but monitors her. Ace learns of a secret weapon on the ship: a cryofrozen Dalek Killer named Abslom Daak. It’s a name she remembers from the TARDIS databanks; and she knows how Daak will one day die, far from Arcadia. Determined to keep him alive to preserve that future, she forges a link with Daak, and wakes him up a day early. Meanwhile, the hypercube that the Doctor once left with her opens, connecting her to the TARDIS and the Doctor for the first time in three years from her perspective. She finds the Doctor in the Zero Room, where he has finally managed to isolate the infection that has afflicted the TARDIS—and by extension, him—since leaving Tir na n-Óg. With her help, he is able to at last purge the infection, restoring himself and the TARDIS to normal. As Ace withdraws, he sets the TARDIS to land on Arcadia, where Ace is headed. Upon landing, Benny—who has been trapped in the console room, unaware of the Doctor’s work—exits the TARDIS and explores the rather pastoral world.
Arcadia is an agricultural planet with a population living at a medieval level of technology and culture. An apprentice scribe named Francis has found forbidden books, which spoke of other worlds, and which stated that humans on those worlds live for many decades—unlike the Arcadians, who all die young, around the age of thirty. He is accosted in his prince’s palace by a Humble Counsellor, a hooded and robed figure from the fortress of Landfall, who tells him he must go to Landfall to become a master scribe. The Counsellor then tells the Prince that outsiders are coming from another world, carrying a plague, and must be killed. Francies goes out with his lover, Christina, and tells her what he has heard; shortly thereafter, she dies, apparently of natural causes. However, her younger sister, Elaine, witnesses her death, and sees that her brain is removed by a Counsellor. Elaine subsequently goes mad from shock; it is determined that she will go to Landfall for treatment. Elsewhere, a young woman named Britta, an employee of the Spinward Corporation, arrives on the corporation’s monitoring station for Arcadia. Shortly thereafter she is taken in by the station commander, Lacuna, who has an odd telepathic connection to an unseen being called Pool. She is manipulated by Lacuna to do terrible things for Pool’s enjoyment, as Pool has no sensory input of its own. She becomes addicted to this warped relationship.
Defries’ ship, the Admiral Raistrick, nears the planet shortly after Daak is defrosted. The crew finds that the system’s asteroid belt has been manipulated to resemble enormous tortured faces. They are attacked by the image of a woman’s face, and the ship is crushed; Daak manages to get Ace, Defries, and Johannsen, the head of the Auxies, into a lifepod. The pod crashes on Arcadia. Meanwhile, Benny makes her way to the nearest town, Beaufort, but is captured as a potential plague carrier. She is taken to a quiet manor owned by the father of Elaine and Christina, Gerald Delahaye. In a cell, she meets Elaine, who is nearly catatonic; the child responds to Benny’s kindness, and begins to make jumbled statements about Christina’s murder. However, Gerald gives them both to the Counsellors for transport—or transmat, as it turns out—to Landfall.
The Doctor exits the TARDIS sometime later, and meets Francis on the road to Landfall. As they walk, Pool sends Counsellors to bring the TARDIS to the station. The Doctor realizes that Arcadia has been terraformed, but now its terraforming is breaking down, and the native life is reasserting itself. He and Francis are captured by Counsellors, which the Doctor recognizes as a bizarre type of android. He realizes that he may be indirectly responsible for what is happening here. They are reunited with Benny and Elaine at Landfall, then transmatted to the space station. The Doctor explains that his previous efforts to help the Earth by interfering with the Butler Institute may have caused all this; had he not interfered, Butler may not have gone on to become one of the parent companies of the Spinward Corporation, and Arcadia may never have happened. Meanwhile, Defries’ group fights their way into Landfall, noting that it is the corporation’s original forward base on the planet. Johannsen is killed in the battle against the Counsellors. Nevertheless, Lacuna secretly allows them to infiltrate the base and capture a shuttle, which takes them to the space station as well.
The Doctor and his group encounter Lacuna and Britta, and Lacuna introduces them to Pool. Pool is the telepathic presence holding the system together; it is composed of the brains of the Spinward Corporation’s executives, with the addition of hundreds of pieces of brain matter from generations of Arcadians, all contained in a literal pool around control center of the station. Lacuna’s claims were true; she provides a sensory and interface link to Pool, which on its own is deprived of sensation. As such, she also controls the system. The Doctor realizes that Pool is capable of Block Transfer Computation, the same mathematical technique by which TARDISes create their outer shells—a form of math that can create matter. Pool’s goal is to create an entire universe, one of pure thought, in which it can exist forever. However, the Doctor analyzes the plan and finds it doomed to failure; although the planned destruction of the Arcadian System will provide power, it won’t be enough, and at any rate Pool has become mad and can no longer handle enough calculation.
As Defries’ team arrives, Lacuna tries to kill Defries, considering her unnecessary. The Doctor intervenes telepathically, saving the woman’s life. While Lacuna is distracted, Benny slips away and meets with them, then fills them in on what is happening. She goes with them to locate and destroy Pool. Finding the pool of brain matter, Daak prepares to sacrifice himself to blow it up; but the Doctor contacts Ace and persuades her to stop him, so that his timeline will not be damaged. This saves Daak’s life, but saves Pool’s as well. The group is captured and brought to Lacuna.
Pool, it seems, wants the TARDIS. It has gathered enough from the minds of Benny and Ace—the Doctor’s thoughts being shielded—to know that it can provide Pool with the power and space it needs to create its universe of thought. To persuade the Doctor, it intends to kill his companions one by one, beginning with Ace. As it deploys a force field to crush her, Daak leaps in to save her—and Ace inadvertantly kills him, in an attempt to blow up the control panel. Although she is freed, she can’t save him from death.
The Doctor reluctantly agrees to let Pool into the TARDIS; but how? Benny recalls a conversation with the Doctor about a data port under the console; the thoughts are picked up by Pool, who orders Lacuna to connect him manually to the socket. She does so, and Pool converts its consciousness to software, then makes the jump to the TARDIS; with only limited memory available, it is unable to send a copy, but transfers the original. Instantly it is trapped inside the tertiary console, which the Doctor had moved to the Zero Room for the purpose of removing the TARDIS infection. Trapped in the Zero Room, Pool is disconnected from the rest of the universe, and can harm no one. Benny realizes her conversation with the Doctor never happened; he planted the memory in her mind so as to give Pool the final push it needed. The station begins to break apart, as Pool is no longer there to maintain the Block Transfer Computations; Britta takes Lacuna to an escape pod. The Doctor, Benny, Ace, Defries, Elaine, and Francis escape in the TARDIS.
The Doctor returns to Arcadia to release Francis and Elaine, and spends some time informing the various rulers that they are on their own now, and further, that they are facing environmental changes as the terraforming breaks down. He takes Defries and Ace to a Spacefleet outpost to report back to the Office of External Operations. Ace, however, decides to rejoin him in the TARDIS, much to Benny’s consternation and the Doctor’s concern. He then ejects the Zero Room into the Vortex; however, unknown to him, Pool is alive and well, and plotting revenge. Meanwhile, Ace realizes that Daak was a clone of the original Abslom Daak; therefore his timeline was never in danger. Once again, the Doctor has used her. She continues to be distrustful of him—but then, why is she really here?
I consider myself a writer; I’ve made some attempts at publishing fiction, but have not been successful yet. Still, that bit of perspective makes it fascinating for me to see how an editor takes a look at the writing process. That’s what we have in this novel; as the afterword explains, Peter Darvill-Evans, the editor of the New Adventures line of novels, decided that if he was going to ask certain things of his authors, he should be able to see it from their perspective as well. The result is Deceit; and I have to say, the project was a success. He looked at it a bit more scientifically than some of the authors, I think, asking himself questions such as “how many characters can you fairly include?” and “how many plot threads are optimal?” (I’m paraphrasing a bit). I don’t recommend that approach for everyone in the case of every story; but it seems to have worked for him, and at any rate, those are questions every author should ask him- or herself at least once. (One noteworthy, but only loosely related, question is this: “What about the other Doctors?” Apparently he had been getting many requests to publish New Adventures using past Doctors. His short answer is “no”; he felt that the New Adventures should look to the future, not the past, as—and as I have pointed out before—the New Adventures essentially were Doctor Who between 1989 and 1996. However, these requests ultimately spawned the Virgin Missing Adventures line, which I intend to cover after I finish the New Adventures. As far as I can tell, the afterword includes the first mention by name of the Missing Adventures in any public-facing document; they were hardly even in the planning stages then, and I suspect the editor thought of the term on the fly as he was writing this afterword.)
The elephant in the room here is the return of Ace. (Truthfully, she hasn’t been gone very long; Love and War, in which she exited, was published in October 1992, and Deceit was only six months later, in April 1993.) There’s definitely a feeling that her exit was little more than an editorial trick to allow us to get an older, more mature and well-rounded version of Ace into the series. For her it’s been three years, and we don’t at this point get a complete look at what happened during those years. We know that she is part of Earth’s Spacefleet (inaccurately called Starfleet at one point—sorry, Star Trek!), and that at some point she worked security for a mining company. The latter is suggestive of a checkered history, especially as there’s no mention of any of the other survivors of Love and War; but three years isn’t much time for that, especially when she’s not only enlisted in Spacefleet, but also advanced to its Special Weapons division. She may have matured, but she hasn’t forgiven the Doctor yet; she’s over Jan, her love interest in Love and War, but she’s not over the way the Doctor uses her. Truthfully, though I like Ace, and I was glad to see her return, she doesn’t seem that different to me; she just has better toys and a bigger chip on her shoulder. At least there was not a single mention of her troubled relationship with her mother—maybe we can hope she’s outgrown that, at least? One thing she has learned from the Doctor is how to keep secrets; and we’re left at the end with a very deliberate suggestion that she has rejoined the TARDIS crew for reasons we don’t yet know. At any rate, she’ll be with us for a long time to come; with one exception, she’ll be in every VNA until #35, Set Piece, and will make a few more appearances thereafter. (Some audios, such as The Shadow of the Scourge, feature both Ace and Benny, and ostensibly at least must occur during this string of novels.)
Predictably, there’s a little tension between Benny and Ace—new companion meets old; it was inevitable. It’s only hinted at here; there isn’t time for them to fight. As the novels go, this is a very brief story; it covers five weeks—more if you include the prologue—but the vast majority of the action occurs in less than a day, on the planet and its space station. I expect more fireworks from them in the future; Bernice is still finding her feet as a companion, and Ace is nothing if not cocky. Their relation to each other is certainly a real concern, but I imagine it will be worked out eventually, as Benny is present along with Ace for nearly all of Ace’s future appearances. (And fortunately, there’s no dwelling on Bernice’s troubled relationship with her father here—really, both Benny and Ace could benefit from some therapy.) In fine Bernice fashion, she gets captured early, but at least this time she keeps possession of her mind. Truthfully, I’m having trouble seeing how Bernice becomes strong enough as a character to inherit the mantle of the New Adventures, or maintain her own audio series; but then, we have a lot of stories left to tell.
Abslom Daak is the other major feature here. I had heard of him, but had not yet read any of his materials; and when I discovered he would be a player in this novel, I intentionally put off reading up on him so that my experience here would be fresh. He’s a great character; violent, straightforward (as even Ace acknowledges) and lusty, he’s completely unlike most DW characters—the spiritual successor to Gilgamesh from Timewyrm: Genesys, now that I think of it. He’s the Whoniverse’s Conan the Barbarian, mixed with a healthy dose of “hold my beer” redneck, and I look forward to reading more of his stories. (Even if his name bothers me; my brain insists on spelling it as “Absalom”.) There’s more going on with him than we know at the outset; but to describe it would be to spoil much of Ace’s story here.
A final thing I love about this story: This is as close as we get to a coherent history of Earth in its expansion phase. The book concludes with a historical excerpt that adds much detail to what we know about the Dalek Wars, the Cyber-Wars, the colonisation period, and the early days of the Earth Alliance and the Empire that succeeds it. This is a period of history that is often revisited, but seldom explained. It does a great job of weaving in elements from the television series (such as The Dalek Invasion of Earth) and tying them to events from previous VNAs (such as the events of Transit and Cat’s Cradle:: Warhead). I think this is especially relevant this week, when Doctor Who Series Ten is about to launch; some scenes that have been revealed seem to revisit the Dalek War seen in Into the Dalek, which may be one of the Dalek Wars mentioned in this book. The possibilities are exciting!
There is a brief prelude to this book, as with The Pit; this prelude was published in Doctor Who Magazine #198. It adds a little to the backstory of Arcadia, but not much; it can be read in its entirety here.
I struggled to find problems with this story, but there’s one that leaps out at me. Near the beginning, the ongoing plotline about the infection of the TARDIS (and by extension, the Doctor) is quietly resolved. It’s a bit of a mercy killing; the entire plot arc, in my opinion, never really amounted to anything. Allegedly it interfered with the Doctor’s effectiveness, but we never really see that happen; he talks about it, then goes on to win in every situation anyway. There was never, prior to this book, a proper explanation of what was happening; I only knew because I had done some research. This plot began with the repair of the TARDIS in Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark, and quietly developed in each succeeding novel; but it never turned out to be level of sleeper plot that the editor seemed to intend. It’s only fitting, then, that he is the one to kill it off; and he does so quietly, quickly, and unceremoniously. Good riddance.
Continuity References: There are many, some of which I’ve already covered. Dalek plagues are mentioned (Death to the Daleks). Benny labors over the destruction of the Althosian System (The Pit). The Zero Room has been rebuilt (and gets dumped again; Castrovalva). Ace mentions the destruction of the TARDIS in Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, the events in Tir na n-Óg (Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark), Robin from Nightshade, and Jan from Love and War. The Doctor mentions the internal stabilizers on the TARDIS (Time-Flight), and mentions Spectrox (The Caves of Androzani). Block Transfer Computations debuted in Logopolis. Kane and Iceworld get a mention (Dragonfire). The Doctor mentions the Master, specifically explaining that he would have changed the Master’s life course if he could (this comes in the middle of a fantastic explanation about what the Doctor can change and what he can’t—the book is worth it just for that). He mentions the Monk (The Time Meddler) and the Draconians (Frontier in Space, Love and War). The tertiary control console (Nightshade) reappears, but is ejected at the end. Benny mentions Sakkrat (The Highest Science) and plays 4D chess with the Doctor (The Pit). Ace’s hypercube/tesseract was last seen in Love and War. The mining company she mentions is thought to be IMC (Colony in Space). Androids appear in any number of stories, but probably not this variety of android. Ace has a baseball bat, possibly the same one as in Remembrance of the Daleks if the Doctor repaired it. Abslom Daak’s first appearance was in the comic Abslom Daak…Dalek Killer; his predicted death (Nemesis of the Daleks) was established fact until he was saved from that death in Emperor of the Daleks!. The Arcadia presented here is not to be confused with Gallifrey’s second city (*The Last Day*, *The Day of the Doctor*). I won’t get into them, but there are an unusually large number of real-world references in this novel; also it is the first VNA to exceed three hundred pages.
Overall: A good entry into the VNA range, and more, it brings back Ace! Eventually I suppose Benny can handle things on her own, but for now, the extra perspective is welcome. A lot of good things were set up here, and it will be great to see how they play out. It feels similar in tone to *Timewyrm: Apocalypse*. This book is nearly as valuable as a reference as it is as a novel, with much useful background established here.
Next time: Lucifer Rising! See you there.