Novel Review: White Darkness

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Today we’re continuing our tour of the New Adventures line of Seventh Doctor novels, with the fifteenth entry, David A. MacIntee’s White Darkness. Published in June 1993, this novel weighs in at 244 pages, and is MacIntee’s first contribution to the Doctor Who universe. Let’s get started!

white darkness cover

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

After events at Lucifer were a bust, the Doctor is ready for a break. He attempts to take Ace and Benny to Key West, Florida, 1915; but as usual, his aim is…less than stellar. Instead, the group ends up in Haiti, 1915, which may as well be a world away from Florida. The island is ruled by the despotic President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, but his reign is under threat by General Rosalvo Bobo, the leader of a popular rebellion—nothing new in Haiti, but the timing is unfortunate, as both the Germans and the Americans have a vested interest in the tiny nation. The Doctor and his companions are pulled in when they stumble upon some mutilated bodies, and are taken in for questioning from General Etienne, who is loyal to President Sam.

The Doctor quickly takes charge of the situation, and ingratiates himself with the group’s guard, Captain Eugene Petion. He begins an investigation into the deaths, but moreover, into rumors of the dead rising; Haiti has long had talk, and sometimes more than talk, of zombis, but this seems out of proportion. He does not realize just how deep the web goes: for the Haitians are not the only ones present. The Germans have a hidden base on the island, in which they have allied themselves with a houngan named Lemaitre, or Mait for short; Mait’s underlings: the assassin Carrefour, the vodoun bocor Henri, and an American military attache—and devoted killer—named Richmann. With their help, the Germans are seeking to industrialize the ancient arts and potions that the locals use to create zombis, giving them a mass-produced weapon that will bring the war in Europe to a standstill—in Germany’s favor. As well, the American Marines under Admiral Caperton wait at nearby Cuba, poised to invade at a moment’s notice.

The Doctor senses odd telepathic whispers, which lead him to the local university and a doctor named Howard Philips. Philips, in addition to performing the autopsies on the original bodies, has long been researching the zombie tradition; and also, he has found something stranger still. He tells the Doctor of carved stones—now located in the university museum—that seem to date back much, much further than even the existence of humans, and which radiate a strange power. The Doctor sends Benny to investigate the stones; but she is captured by Henri, and taken away to be made into a zombi herself. Mait, fearing the interlopers’ influence, orders General Bobo to begin his attack on the palace. Ace returns with Petion to move the TARDIS to a new location, but they are attacked while en route; she manages to get them inside and pilot the ship to a safe location as instructed. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Philips try to return to the hospital, but are ambushed unsuccessfully by Richmann. Bobo and his men attack the palace, and Sam commits suicide (later to be believed an assassination). Meanwhile, the Marines, seeing their opportunity, invade the island to restore order. The Doctor quickly works his way into their ranks, and begins using them for his own purposes.

Benny awakens and escapes, only to find herself in the underground German base. She learns of their plan to use the mass-produced chemicals, and then escapes through a tunnel to the sea, coming ashore just in time to be picked up by the Marines. Meanwhile, General Etienne is killed by Carrefour.

The Doctor has learned of an upcoming ceremony in a nearby cemetery, to be conducted at midnight, and enlists the Marines to prevent it. He reconnects with Ace, Benny, and Petion—but he will need additional help. He meets and recruits another houngan, Dubois, who is also an Empereur of the Bizango, the island’s de facto council of houngans, who serve as a sort of unofficial law enforcement and court. With Dubois and the others, he visits Lemaitre’s villa, and destroys his vodoun workshop; he also finds a device that is used for amplifying telepathic signals. The device is Mait’s instrument for controlling his new breed of zombis. The Doctor doesn’t destroy it, but alters it to trap Mait’s mind and concentration—but unknowingly, he leaves an echo of his own memory in the device. He also realizes what is happening behind the scenes: Lemaitre serves the Old Ones, beings from before the dawn of the universe, who are disembodied—but who are using Mait and his upcoming ceremony to restore themselves to physical form. As well, the German plan will create an army of slaves for the Old Ones. The battle to end the ceremony just became much more urgent.

Hearing of the explosion of his workshop, Mait and Henri hurry back to the villa, where Mait is quickly trapped by the device. However, Henri frees him, and Mait gains a glimpse of the Doctor’s nature and plans. He sends Richmann to stop them at the cemetery, but the Doctor manages to convince Richmann he and the Germans are being betrayed by Mait. Richmann takes the Doctor to the base, but Mait intercepts him and interrogates him, unsuccessfully. When he leaves, the Doctor escapes, and plants explosives around the base and on a loaded transport ship, planning to destroy the chemicals. Meanwhile Ace, Petion, and Benny return to the cemetery with the Marines and their leader, Mortimer; but Mortimer holds out too long before attacking, allowing Mait to store sufficient telepathic energy in his device to complete the ritual on his own. He, Henri, Carrefour, and Richmann escape and retreat to the base, with Ace and the others in pursuit. Ace demolishes the door of the base, and the Marines invade it, joining battle with the Germans. Meanwhile, Richmann lashes out and kills Henri.

The Doctor chases Mait toward the lowest chamber, where the Old One’s body is buried, sending Benny to keep the Germans busy. She is captured by Richmann and Carrefour; but Carrefour has a crisis of memory, and takes out his long-delayed anger on Richmann. Richmann prevails and kills Carrefour, chasing the now-escaping Benny. En route he encounters Ace and Petion; and when he shoots Petion, Ace kills him with great prejudice. Mortimer is also killed in the fighting.

The Doctor manages to reach the chamber ahead of Mait, where he finds—and sabotages—a scaled-up version of the mind device. He also plants explosives with motion sensors behind him as he leaves, to bring down the tunnels. He encounters Lemaitre, and tries to talk him down; but Mait pushes past him, triggering the sensors and destroying the tunnels, killing himself. The Doctor heads back to the docking cavern and starts an evacuation—and just in time, as the hidden explosives detonate, bringing the project to an end.

In the end, the Doctor recovers the TARDIS, and the group moves on. The Marines, as history shows, will take control of the island, leading to the next chapter in its history. Petion will survive, though he will lose an arm. But the biggest shock is for Ace, who is confronted with the fact that in her last three years she has become a killer—perhaps not so different from Richmann. That is a fate she abhors, but can she still escape it?

White Darkness back cover

I’ve come to informally think of this book as the first in the “holiday tetralogy” (not an official designation, of course). After several difficult adventures, the Doctor makes attempts, over this and the next three books (ShadowmindBirthright, and Iceberg) to take his companions on a restful holiday…with predictably terrible results. Some people just can’t catch a break. At any rate, this book represents one of Doctor Who’s occasional takes on the classic zombie story—and literally, as these are traditional Haitian “zombis”, as it should properly be spelled.

Speaking of those who can’t catch a break, this is another entry in the now-well established tradition of doing terrible things to Bernice “Benny” Summerfield. Here, Benny gets a taste of what it’s like to become a zombi, though she thankfully recovers and escapes before it can be made permanent. She gives as good as she gets, several times fighting off various attackers and captors; but still, no one else seems to get into these situations in the first place. Maybe in the next book… (hint hint, Ace). Benny has had a tougher time since Ace returned; for one, the two women do not always get along; and for another, it’s hard to make anyone look tough beside hard-as-steel Spacefleet-era Ace. It will take a few more books to begin to balance things between them.

At the same time, this is Ace’s story too. When we last saw her, she was in full vengeful Spacefleet mode, taking out her long-delayed wrath on the Doctor and everyone else. Now that she’s got that out of her system, we’re slowly going to see her new persona get deconstructed; and it begins here, as she has to face the killer she’s become. The character of American assassin Richmann is otherwise extraneous to the story; but he’s here to show Ace what she’ll become if she doesn’t get a grip on herself and her future. I find that interesting, because Ace’s arc throughout the television series and early VNA novels was always about getting a grip on her past; now she’s shifted to look ahead. Meanwhile, Benny is the one focused on the past—specifically the matter of her father, though it will be a very long time before that thread comes to fruition.

Although this book itself is sunny enough, it must be pointed out that it occurs at a dark moment in history. The war in Europe—that would one day be called World War I—rages on; and Haiti is in a period of upheaval. It is, unfortunately, also a very racist time in the Western Hemisphere. The book doesn’t shy away from accurately describing the situation; characters sometimes use the word “nigger” and other insulting terms (not our heroes, thankfully), and the whole phenomenon of the racist relations between groups is on display. I was surprised that things were as explicit as they were; books today would tend, I think, to acknowledge the situation in info-dumps, but gloss over it in dialogue. There’s none of that here, and I can’t help wondering if the book would be rejected today. Certainly a story like this wouldn’t make it onto the television series, with family viewing at stake. Essentially it’s a gritty story set in a beautiful environment, and the contrast is jarring but satisfying.

Continuity references: The Doctor mentions having learned hypnotism from the Master—not by name, but by description, and not from any specific story. He wears the brooch given to him by Cameca in The Aztecs, and comments on the situation as a possible turning point in his character. In the same passage, he mentions Ian and Barbara’s return home (The Chase). It’s worth noting—though not mentioned here—that the First Doctor sold it for clothing in The Suffering, published sometime later; he seems to have recovered it. It will materialize again later in Relative Dimensions, as the Eighth Doctor gives it to Susan. The Doctor mentions his time as President of Gallifrey (The Invasion of Time, et al). He is reminded of his experience at the Dark Tower in The Five Doctors. He mentions hearing telepathic whispers (The Pirate Planet). He mentions wishing he had built another K9 (various stories). The HADS is mentioned (The Krotons, et al). The TARDIS translation feature works only erratically here (various stories). Ace mentions injuries from big cats, probably the Cheetah People (survival). Several figures, too common to name particular stories, are mentioned: Davros, the Brigadier, Bessie, Draconians, Centaurans, the Daleks. Drug use for mind control, seen here, is very similar to that used by the Usurians as mentioned in *The Sun Makers. The later novel All-Consuming Fire will indicate that the Old One featured here is Cthulhu, from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos series. Slightly unrelated, but I should point out as well that “Lemaitre” is French for “the Master”, though this is only an inside joke; the character is not the Time Lord by that name.

There is also a prelude to the story, available here. In it, Paul Richmann returns to his childhood home to kill an old man, presumably his grandfather, in the wake of his mother’s death (possibly at the old man’s hands). He takes a pocketwatch from the man, which is later lost in Haiti. Many years later, the Third Doctor—joining the Brigadier on an excursion for the American government—finds the pocketwatch, and feels something from it, before burying it again. I admit that I didn’t read the prelude before the novel; I didn’t discover its existence until afterward. However, you can read it at the above link.

Overall: I first stated this book more than a year ago, but couldn’t get into it, and put it aside. On a second reading, it was much better; a bit of a slow starter, as there are many pieces to be placed on the board here. However, once it picked up, I had to finish it. While I don’t know that I would call many of the VNAs essential yet, I will say that this book represents the start of a turning point in the relationships among the Doctor, Benny, and Ace. It’s a fresh start, of sorts, and I’m curious to see where it leads.

Next time: Shadowmind, the first Doctor Who novel by prolific author Christopher Bulis! See you there.

The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.

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Novel Review: Lucifer Rising, by Jim Mortimore and Andy Lane

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Today we’re picking up an older thread from this series: The New Adventures line of Seventh Doctor novels, published by Virgin Publishing (series sometimes abbreviated as “VNAs”). It’s been awhile since our last visit here—almost two years, in fact, when we examined the thirteenth entry, series editor Peter Darvill-Evans’s 1993 novel, Deceit. I should point out that this is one of the hazards of tracking the Doctor Who universe: There’s so much material to cover, in so many ranges and media, that it’s easy to let a series lapse for far too long. But today, we’re making a course correction, so, welcome back!

Now, a confession: As I moved to pick up this series, I realized that I completed the next novel long ago, but failed to post about it at the time. I’m picking up that lost entry today, but it will be a bit of a rush job; I have various resources to jog my memory, but the material isn’t exactly fresh after nearly two years. As well, I’ll admit to being in a hurry to move on to more recent reading. So, today we’re looking at May 1993’s Lucifer Rising, by Andy Lane and Jim Mortimore. Let’s get started!

Lucifer Rising front cover

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel! For a more spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

The Doctor, Bernice Summerfield, and the recently-returned Ace McShane arrive on the Project Eden station above the planet Lucifer, and almost mysteriously begin to insinuate themselves among the crew. One of the Project’s team members—Paula Engado, daughter of mission commander Miles Engado—has just died by re-entry, falling into Lucifer’s atmosphere in a starsuit—but unknown to anyone, she saw angels as she died. Miles summons an adjudicator to investigate the death. As the Adjudicator arrives, the team’s mission continues: to research and lay bare the mysteries of Lucifer and its rather odd star system, centered on a strange subsurface power transmission facility dubbed the “mushroom farm”. More deaths occur, along with acts of sabotage—and it seems that Ace, or perhaps the Doctor, may be responsible. Miles slowly loses his mind in the course of his grief, and tries to commit suicide in the same manner as Paula’s death; but he is rescued by Paula’s spirit, accompanied by the angels. The Doctor convinces the Adjudicator of his innocence, and sides with him to help stop a rogue scientist, Bannen, from taking control of the mushroom farm and destroying the system in his ignorance. As the system is activated, the planet’s atmosphere is torn away into black holes. Ace reveals that she manipulated the Doctor into coming here as part of a mission left from her days in Spacefleet; in the twenty-sixth century, there is an exclusion zone around the Lucifer system, and she wants to know why. That portion of the system’s history is about to begin, and she intends to witness it. The Adjudicator is killed by a strange being, and the Doctor kills it in turn, realizing that he has himself been too often guilty of manipulation. He sends the crew away in the Adjudicator’s shuttle, and takes Ace and Bernice to confront Bannen in the mushroom farm. The farm is revealed to control morphic fields, energy fields that shape biology—but the system is now running out of control due to sabotage to its feedback mechanism. The Doctor joins hands with Bernice, Ace, and Bannen, fusing together in the face of the morphic fields, but—through their dreams—providing the necessary feedback to shut down the system. Bannen becomes the new feedback mechanism for the system, and the Doctor and his companions are restored to normal. They depart—and as history demands, the system’s exclusion zone is complete. Later, the Doctor and his friends join Miles on Earth to honor Paula’s memory.

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Up front, I’ll say I found Lucifer Rising to be a difficult read. It’s a good story, to be sure, and replete with the weirdness and technobabble that I sometimes expect from Doctor Who; but it takes a long time to get to the point. More than that, the story jumps around quite a bit, with little explanation between leaps. Perhaps the most immersion-breaking moment for me was near the beginning; the body of the story opens in media res, with the Doctor and his companions already having been present on the Eden Project space station for some time, and no one thinking this is odd! In fact, several of the crew find themselves wondering if the Doctor and his friends had been there all along, or were part of the crew. It’s been awhile, but I don’t remember any proper explanation for this phenomenon (something something telepathic circuits, maybe?), and I don’t recall seeing this happen in any other story. I’m accustomed to the Doctor having to smooth-talk his way into a situation. Mysterious, indeed!

I haven’t looked deeply into the behind-the-scenes aspects of the production of the New Adventures; but I think it’s telling that the previous novel was written by series editor Peter Darvill-Evans. It seems to have been a course correction of sorts for Ace, who returned therein after three novels away. For the Doctor, that’s been a fairly straightforward time, perhaps a few months at most, but for Ace it’s been three years—and not just any three years, but three years of enlistment in Earth’s Spacefleet. She comes back hard as nails, bitter and angry, and dangerous. Jim Mortimore and Andy Lane double down on that here, and has Ace be the manipulator as well, tricking the Doctor into bringing her here to complete a final Spacefleet mission. I don’t know yet how far this new Ace will go; but she won’t show the first signs of her old, happier personality returning until we get to Shadowmind, a few more books ahead.

Bernice, meanwhile, can’t catch a break, and there’s no sign of any change in the near future. She seems to exist only to have brushes with death, and has several here; otherwise she spends most of her time in the way. I feel bad for her; she has so much potential as a companion—and obviously things must get better at some point, as she takes over as the lead character of the New Adventures after the licensing of the Doctor expires. So far, though, she’s essentially disaster bait, and never accomplishes much. Spoiler alert: That’s not going to change in the near future.

We get introduced to the Guild of Adjudicators here, from which future companions Roz Forrester and Chris Cwej will spring. The Guild was mentioned as far back as Colony in Space, but their first onscreen appearance is here, in the form of the dour and analytical Adjudicator Bishop. Bishop is a bit trigger-happy, and spends a considerable amount of time coming to the wrong conclusions; but I like the guy, and was disappointed to see him meet a bad end. (Not much of a spoiler, that; deaths are like pennies in the New Adventures, they’re everywhere.) We’ll see more of the guild later, of course, but this book does a decent job of setting the tone for them: even Bernice, in the future, is familiar with them, and isn’t a fan.

Continuity References: Quite a few, actually! The starship Hydrax (State of Decay) gets a mention, as one Project Eden scientist, Piper O’Rourke, had a husband, Ben O’Rourke, serving aboard that ship when it vanished. This also gives a timeframe for the disappearance of the Hydrax, as Lucifer Risingtakes place in 2157. Ace refers back to several past stories, including Deceit (mentioning a ship, the Admiral Raistrick, on which she served), Dragonfire(mentioning being from Perivale), Love and War(her love interest Jan, and her earlier love interest Julian), and—indirectly–Colony in Space(mentioning IMC being aware of the Third Doctor and Jo Grant by way of that story). She also dreams of the death of her father, addressed in Rapture. Bernice also mentions Love and War by repeating the story of her father’s disappearance in the Second Dalek War. The Doctor dreams about the hermit on Mount Cadon on Galifrey (The Time Monster), and mentions having spared Davros (and thus condemned billions) (Genesis of the Daleks). This story occurs during—but at a distance from—the Dalek invasion of Earth in 2157, and the Doctor gives Piper the packet of powder that his first incarnation will then use on Earth in defeating the invasion force. Oddly, though, no direct mention of the invasion is made, although it is indicated that they are destroying Earth colonies on a possible track to Earth. The Doctor mentions Orcini from Revelation of the Daleks. The honorific terms Krauand Trau, last heard in The Caves of Androzani, are used here. Ace mentions having stolen the energy packs from a Special Weapons Dalek, last seen in Remembrance of the Daleks. Also, the Doctor mentions his age, claiming to be 943 years old.

A prologue to the story was published in DWM 199, pictured below.

Lucifer Rising prologue

Worth mentioning is that, allegedly, Virgin Books was looking into a possible regeneration for the Doctor, which would have seen his eighth incarnation resembling David Troughton. These plans were being laid at the time of this book’s writing, although it does not directly reference them. Eventually the plans were scrapped, and the 1996 movie, just three years later, would give us the now-accepted regeneration into the Eighth Doctor.

Overall: A good story, with lots of good material, but unfortunately fractured in its execution. It also perhaps goes on a little too long. I may be a bit biased; at the time I read it, I was fairly burnt out on the New Adventures, and this novel had much to do with that. Nevertheless, if you’re coming into it fresh, you will most likely enjoy it.

Next time: I’ve picked up the series again, and we’ll begin with David A. McIntee’s White Darkness! See you there.

The New Adventures series is currently out of print, but may be purchased in previously owned form via Ebay and other resellers.

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Novel Review: Deceit

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!

Deceit 1

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?

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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.

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Next time: Lucifer Rising! See you there.

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Novel Review: The Pit

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! This week, we’re continuing the New Adventures (VNA) series with The Pit, by Neil Penswick. Featuring the Seventh Doctor and Bernice “Benny” Summerfield, this novel was released in March 1993. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

Pit 1

Bored and looking for adventure of her own choosing, Bernice asks the Doctor to take her to the Seven Planets of the Althosian System.  A former system of colony worlds that gained its independence, the system vanished before Benny’s birth, and no one knows why.  Catching the Doctor’s attention, there is no mention of the system in the TARDIS memory banks or his own prodigious memory.  En route, the TARDIS experiences some interference, then stalls out, before making a rough landing on a large, unnamed planet in the system.  Determined to find out what is affecting the TARDIS, the Doctor explores the jungle.

Elsewhere, a scientist named Jarak is studying the water and life on the planet, which is ordinarily off limits.  He witnesses the river turn red, then dies from exposure to it; the redness spreads onto the land, and anything it touches seems to be frozen in time.  His wife Ell is forced to hide in their interplanetary ship.  Yet elsewhere, two shapeshifters, Butler and Swarf, have stolen “Pandora’s Box”, the most powerful nuclear weapon in history; if used, it will destroy the entire system.  Using a team of telepathic Khthons, the system’s natives, they are transporting the device through the jungle to an ancient and forbidding castle.  In pursuit are a team of hunter-killer androids—Thomas, Chaney, Marilyn, and their leader, Spike—sent by the Archon of the Althosian system and his Justice Police from the capitol world, Nicaea, to recover the bomb.  As they skydive onto the planet, their ship—with hidden orders of its own—begins a long but fatal countdown.

On Nicaea, and other worlds in the system, the situation is degenerating.  An unwarranted military buildup has left the people starving, which in turn has caused riots that are just beginning to get out of hand.  While the Archon and his Justice Police administrator, General Kopyion, deal with the crisis, Major John Carlson has a problem of his own to investigate:  a strange series of murders.  The investigation leads him to one Bulbir Singh Mann, a dealer in Earth relics and antiques, who took a book of poetry from the scene of one of the murders.  He arrests Mann, but is forced to release him upon the interference of a politician, an Academician named Brown, who leads the opposition faction in the governing Academy.  Kopyion tells Brown that the most recent victim was an undercover Justice Police officer on an unrelated investigation, confusing the Major.

Spike strikes the planet apart from his fellows, and is mortally injured; he will die in sixty hours.  The Doctor and Benny happen upon him, and he takes them for the shapeshifters and holds them at gunpoint.  However, the Doctor suddenly vanishes, leaving Benny in Spike’s possession.  They are intercepted by the other androids, who cannot risk that they may be the shapeshifters, and open fire.  However, Spike escapes with Benny, still believing that she is a shapeshifter.    He takes her with him by raft down the river, in search of the bomb.

The Doctor falls through a hole in time, finding himself in a hellish underworld of sorts.  He is captured by a race of creatures called the Cun, who force him to fight another creature while they bet on the outcome.  He survives, but with injuries, and in the cells he meets the poet William Blake, who also fell through a hole in time.  Blake believes they are in hHll, and who can argue?  They escape and head for the hole in time, but are intercepted by creatures on pterodactyls.  The Doctor bargains for freedom, but is disturbed regardless; the creatures spoke ancient Gallifreyan.

On Nicaea, Brown confronts the Archon in the Academy and attempts to restore order, but fails.  The Archon retreats to his palace, but is killed during the night, in the same ritualistic fashion as the previous murders.  The chaos accelerates, drawing in military and religious elements; the priests are insisting it is the end of time, the final battle against the demonlike Hunters that are native to the system.  While Carlson tries to deal with the situation, his wife Melanie leaves him, volunteering as a nurse in the combat zones.

The hole in time takes the Doctor and Blake to London during Jack the Ripper’s murder spree, seventy years after Blake’s time.  Blake is disillusioned that the progress he and his compatriots predicted has not swept the world.  Their search for answers leads them first to a brothel, where the Doctor’s plans do not work out, leaving him disillusioned; his sonic screwdriver is then stolen, and in recovering it, they are captured by a cult whose members worship evil forces.  They escape just in time to avoid being sacrificed, burning down the cult’s lair in the process.  They find another hole in time, this time landing on present-day Salisbury Plain, where they are immediately picked up by UNIT.  Verifying the Doctor’s credentials, the UNIT officers let him in on current events; they are assisting an archaeological dig which has unearthed the bones of a massive, reptilian creature, much larger than any dinosaur.  The Doctor suspects it is only dormant, not dead, and insists that it be destroyed, but the archaeologist, Roberts, refuses.  The Doctor realizes Roberts is a member of the cult he just destroyed in the past, and Roberts tries to kill him.  A group of Hunters—the same as the ones in the Althosian system—interrupt, appearing through the hole in time and crashing a plane, which diverts UNIT to trying to save the passengers and kill the beasts.  The Doctor, with Blake, steals the carrier holding the bones and drives it back to and through the hole in time.  They find themselves back in the netherworld.

Butler stalks the androids through the jungle, killing first Chaney, then Marilyn.  However, before he can kill Thomas, he falls into the encroaching red weed that has spread from the river, and is frozen in time.  Thomas finds the ship in which Ell hides; she joins him outside, but destroys the ship, claiming there was a bomb aboard.  Thomas knows this is suspicious, but has no time for that, and takes her with him.

Benny falls into quicksand, but is rescued by an invisible figure.  She and spike then find a crashed, ancient space station near the castle, and explore it.  Swarf discovers that Butler is dead, and goes to the space station to take revenge.  He nearly kills Spike, but Benny escapes; Swarf returns to the castle.  Meanwhile, Thomas and Ell discover that many things on this planet, including much of the plant and animal life, are artificial; they were manufactured by Mirage Enterprises, a company owned by Kopyion.  They find Benny in the space station, and she tells them that Spike is dead, although she is not aware that the android survived.

Mann, the antique dealer, meets Brown at Brown’s apartment.  Brown was the expected buyer for the book of poetry; together, they remove its binding to find packets of a potent drug, Dream B, which they sample.  As their drug-induced visions wear off, an intruder shoots them both, killing them.  Later, Carlson wants to investigate the murders, but Kopyion stops him and closes the case, tying it to the dead officer’s investigation.  Carlson is not happy, but is interrupted by a notification that his wife was killed in a government-approved chemical attack on the rioters.  IN a rage, he tears apart the file room, but finds nothing useful there.  He follows Kopyion to the spaceport, where Kopyion declares these “the final days”, and takes a ship to the unnamed planet.  Carlson accuses Kopyion of the murders—correctly, as it turns out—but before he can stop Kopyion, Kopyion kills him.

The khthons sense the approach of Benny, Ell, and Thomas to the castle.  Ell has them surrender so as to get inside quickly; the red weed is closing in.  En route to the castle’s cells, Benny notices that the walls are decorated with the Gallifreyan Seal of Rassilon.  At Swarf’s direction, the khthons have used the bomb to power a dimensional drilling apparatus, which they now activate, trying to open a dimensional gateway to the netherworld.  Swarf’s interest is financial; the netherworld is the source of Dream B, which he will sell.  Outside, the Hunters gather, and one carries the dying Spike to the castle; he kills the Hunter holding him, and makes his way slowly inside.

The Doctor reveals to Blake that the netherworld is the home dimension of the Yssgaroth, the Great Vampires of archaic Gallifreyan history, which the Gallifreyans once allowed into the universe, thus kicking off their great war. Now the Cun and others are establishing a bridgehead for the Yssgaroth to invade again, and in the process they are mining Dream B, which the cult on the other side uses in its rituals.  He tries to use the Dream B, which is explosive, to destroy the bridgehead, but before he can do so, he and Blake are spirited away.  Their rescuer is Kopyion, who is more than he seems; he is Kopyion Liall a Mahajetsu, the nearly-mythical Gallifreyan general who led the war against the Yssgaroth, millions of years ago.  He claims that Rassilon’s early experiments with time travel opened the gates that allowed the Yssgaroth into the universe; after the war, Rassilon hid the truth, against Kopyion’s will.  Therefore, Kopyion has waited all this time for the monsters to return—and now it is happening.  He is willing to carry out his plan against them even if it costs Benny’s life.

Escaping the cells, Thomas, Benny, and Ell head to the courtyard where the drill is running.  There, Ell reveals that she and her husband were Nicaean members of the Yssgaroth cult, as were the now-deceased Brown and Mann.  It was they who hired Butler and Swarf, in order to gain access to the netherworld.  Thomas tries, but fails to kill Swarf, who instead kills him.  Ell then kills Chopra, the final surviving khthon, in preparation for the arrival of the Yssgaroth.  Kopyion prepares to deal with Ell, but Spike arrives, and destroys the drilling machinery.

Some small part of the bomb’s force radiates outward, bringing down the castle; it crushes Ell, and Kopyion then beheads her for good measure.  Most of the explosion has flowed through the gateway, causing incredible destruction in the netherworld and closing the gate for now.  The Doctor argues with Kopyion over his methods; Kopyion insists his resolve is strong, and he will stand against the Yssgaroth regardless of cost.  To prove his point—and to close this gateway for good—he reveals that he is allowing the androids’ ship to self-destruct; its explosion will destroy the entire system, including this world and its gateway.  Benny objects, but the Doctor reminds her that they are already aware of the destruction of the system, and thus part of events—therefore they cannot avert the destruction.  Kopyion erases this information from the Time Lord Matrix, deeming it too dangerous.  He warns the Doctor to stay out of his way in the future, as he will kill the Doctor if he sees him again.  Before the system goes up in flames, the Doctor and Benny take Blake back to the TARDIS, then take him home.

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I have to admit, I didn’t care for this entry. It took me nearly two weeks to finish it (I’m averaging about a week per book, given that I have other reading material as well), and toward the end it felt like a trek trying to get through it. While I certainly don’t want to insult the author, it’s a difficult and rambling read; it’s well done in a technical sense—Neil Penswick can certainly write—but it’s just boring. The book is Penswick’s only successful contribution to Doctor Who, although he previously submitted a script which might have been accepted, had the televised series not been cancelled. He does have some other writing credits, including a short story for a French publication described on the wiki as an “analogue to the First Doctor”. I do find myself feeling some sympathy for Penswick, however; he and I are both primarily social workers, and writers of fiction on the side.

I do like the history of Gallifrey, and I was especially fond of the Fourth Doctor serial State of Decay, from which this story takes its lead. The lore added here, regarding the Gallifreyans’ (the book uses the term “Time Lords”, but technically they wouldn’t be Time Lords yet, although that time was approaching) war against the Great Vampires, is very interesting; it’s unfortunate there isn’t more of it, and I wouldn’t have minded a story that actually took the Doctor back to that time. The book doesn’t actually state that the Great Vampires are the same as the Yssgaroth—a term which first appears here—but the context makes it clear, and it will later be confirmed in Interference. They don’t appear to have the same form as the Great Vampires, but this seems to be an illusion of some sort. (I understand that they also appear in some of the Faction Paradox works, but I don’t have enough experience there as yet to comment further.) The Gallfreyan general, Kopyion Liall a Mahajetsu, is quite a formidable character: ancient in ways even the Doctor can’t approach, world-weary, focused, and deadly. I would love to see him again, or even see him become an occasional nemesis of the Doctor; the book ends with his promise to kill the Doctor if he ever sees him again. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case; he has no other appearances to date. The book also adds one more piece of lore: “Gallifrey” is said to literally translate to the phrase “They that walk in shadows”.

Although I was impressed by Kopyion, it’s hard to get a feel for any of the characters in this book. All of them—including, strangely enough, the Doctor and Bernice—feel shallow, as if we’re only ever seeing the surface. I suspect that this is because there are too many characters, with too many plot threads for this rather short book. There are two shapeshifters and their telepathic slaves, who have stolen the most powerful nuclear weapon in existence; the trio of androids sent to take it back; the fourth, displaced android, who ends up with Benny as an escort; the mysterious General Kopyion with his secrets; Major John Carlson with his murder investigation; Academician Brown and relic dealer Mann, who have their own plot threads; the Archon, the leader of the Althosian system, who is trying to put down a growing civil unrest; Ell Romer and her husband Jarak, a scientist with secrets; a mysterious cult on Earth; UNIT; and the Doctor with—most improbable of all—the poet William Blake. It’s simply too much, and as a result it ties together in ways so improbable that Douglas Adams would cringe. There’s simply no time to get to know anyone. Some plots, such as Carlson’s murder investigation could be cut completely, and their characters reduced to the background; Carlson’s meaningless death negates his importance to the story in a single moment. Blake’s character serves no real purpose at all, and shouldn’t have been included (besides being unnecessary, he’s also incredibly unlikely—a random person falls through a hole in space and time, and it happens to be a historical celebrity? That stretches credibility even for Doctor Who!). In fact, we know in advance that this system is about to be destroyed completely, and everyone in it will die; therefore none of the local characters have much significance to the overall story.

I will give the story credit for explaining further about a plot that has been in the background for some time: the infection of the TARDIS. This phenomenon began in Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark and has steadily increased since; this is the source of the two competing cat-avatars of the TARDIS in Transit. Until now, it’s been essentially a nuisance; but here we see that the TARDIS’s actual function is breaking down, and the Doctor—by merit of his psychic link with the TARDIS—is breaking down with it. He very nearly loses the battle here, and in fact he is not really instrumental in the victory at all, all because of the TARDIS infection. That plot line will be resolved in the next book, Deceit.

I can’t help feeling that Bernice’s character is floundering at this point in the series. My feeling is that, after so long dealing with Ace, the writers simply don’t yet know what to do with a new companion. This holds true even with those writers who haven’t previously written for Ace; for several years at this point, Ace has been THE companion for the Seventh Doctor, and any writer doing research for the series would have to deal with her. As a result, Benny indulges in a number of traits that were common to Ace: impulsiveness, resorting to violence against the Doctor’s wishes, boredom, and fixating on her relationship with one or both parents. If I have counted correctly, she ultimately appears in more of the New Adventures than Ace or any other companion; therefore I hope that her character levels off soon and finds her own personality. Ace is slated to reappear in the next book, and I think this is a good thing; with both of them present, Benny shouldn’t be able to fill Ace’s niche, and may be forced to be herself.

There is a prelude to this book that was published in Doctor Who Magazine and subsequently excluded from the finished volume. It focuses on Major Carlson’s early investigations into the string of murders. It feels very rough, as though it was an early draft, and doesn’t add anything vital to the story, but it may be worth a look. You can find the full text here.

This book chooses to focus more on Doctor Who lore than on past continuity; however there are still a number of continuity references. The Doctor mentions Susan, in that she loved the works of William Blake, although I haven’t managed to pin down a particular story in which this is stated. There are numerous references to the lore established in State of Decay. Bernice makes several references to past adventures with the Doctor (Love and War, et al.) and especially to her own personal family history, as introduced in Love and War. She dates those events to 2450, which contradicts The Highest Science, though this may just be an error. There is a reference to the creation of the Eye of Harmony via a black hole (The Three Doctors); here it is stated that Rassilon deliberately caused Omega’s accident to cover up his own mistakes. The Doctor has a new Sonic Screwdriver (his original being lost in The Visitation, and confirmed as still lost in The Highest Science), although he will lose it again before Lungbarrow. The Time Path Indicator is mentioned (The Chase, et al). Several UNIT personnel get mentioned, including Brigadier Bambera (Battlefield), though they do not actually appear here. The Doctor finds Ogron bones (Day of the Daleks) and Terileptil bones (The Visitation). He mentions meeting Kublai Khan (Marco Polo) and Houdini (Planet of the Spiders, Smoke and Mirrors, et al). He mentions the Pythia (Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible).

Overall: Not so great, this one. It does have some good points, but they’re overshadowed by its problems. I’m glad to have it behind me, and I hope the next book picks up a bit.

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Next time: We’ll be reading Deceit by Peter Darvill-Evans, which features the return of Ace! See you there.

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Novel Review: The Highest Science

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Today we continue the Virgin New Adventures series (VNAs) with The Highest Science, by Gareth Roberts. Published on 18 February 1993, this story features the Seventh Doctor and Bernice Summerfield. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

Highest Science 1

The TARDIS approaches the planet Hogsuum in the year 2680.  The Doctor is in pursuit of a temporal phenomenon called a Fortean flicker, which creates coincidences and pulls people and things from their proper places and times.  His research leads him to a 25th-century scholar named Gustav Urnst, with whom Bernice Summerfield is familiar, and who allegedly found and wrote about the fabled planet of Sakkrat.  His writings speak of the Highest Science, the pinnacle of Sakkratian technology; but what it is, no one can say.  Urnst himself disappeared before revealing his answers.  Could Hogsuum be Sakkrat?

On the planet Vaagon, a Chelonian assault force is mopping up a human colony, when the Fortean flicker transports the Chelonians to Hogsuum.  The force’s commanding general, Fakrid, prematurely delivers a clutch of stillborn eggs, which begins to drive him mad.  He sends his troops into battle, where they confront the mysterious “eight twelves”, but they are repelled by intelligent weaponry.  At the same time, the TARDIS arrives, and the Doctor and Benny meet a human named Rodomonte.  Strangely, he seems to know them, at least by description.  Faced with the Chelonian threat, the Doctor sends Benny and Rodomonte away to safety while he stays near the TARDIS.  In orbit, another ship arrives, guided by an engineered being called the Cell.  It awakens its crew: first, unwilling participants and master thieves Rosheen and Klift, then the psychotic warrior Postine, and then the worst of them all: the expedition’s leader, the storied criminal Sheldukher.  They have been asleep for three hundred years, while the Cell searched for Sakkrat—and now it has found the planet, or so it believes.  Sheldukher reasserts control over his crew by prematurely aging Klift, forcing Rosheen to obey.  The Cell can’t properly scan the surface, but it telepathically contacts the Doctor, who is the first person to ever show kindness to it in its tortured existence.  However, its power overwhelms him and knocks him out, and the Chelonians capture him.

Benny happens upon a swamp creature that hypnotizes its victims.  Rodomonte gathers his two friends, Sendei and Molassi, who are behaving oddly; the trio also came here by way of the Fortean flicker, transported from the Ragasteen Music Festival of 2112.  Sendei goes after Benny, provoking Molassi in the process; Molassi begins growing progressively more insane and dangerous.  Sendei rescues Benny and takes her back to the camp, giving her drinks from a dispenser that they found after arrival.  Unknown to them, the drink is from their relative future, but her past; it is called bubbleshake, and though developed as an appetite suppressant when coupled with a certain medication, by itself it is highly addictive and eventually deadly, with many mental side effects including amnesia and paranoia.  As all three men have been drinking it, all of them are beginning to show the effects, with Molassi the most affected.  He believes himself to be the Wizard King, adapted from the lyrics of his favorite band—lyrics which, coincidentally, seem to perfectly describe the situation they are all facing… As Benny consumes the bubbleshake, she too is affected, and soon forgets herself, the TARDIS, and the Doctor.

As the Chelonians move to attack the Eight Twelves, the Doctor intervenes.  Bluffing, he persuades the Chelonians to let him deal with the threat.  He finds that the “Eight Twelves” are twentieth-century humans; they were on the #812 bus when they were transported here by the Fortean flicker.  Two of their number, Vanessa and Hazel, happened upon the intelligent weapons—also deposited by the flicker—that have heretofore kept them alive.  The Doctor gets them behaving in a way that contributes to survival, and goes back to announce their “destruction” to the Chelonians… only to find that the Chelonians have been monitoring, and know that he deceived them.  He is saved, however, when Sheldukher’s ship lands, and transmits a sonic signal that temporarily disables the Chelonians.

Molassi’s speeder craft carries his group, and Benny, to a ruined city before breaking down.  This is the location Molassi, in his madness, has been seeking, and he runs on ahead to a ruined temple.  Caught in addiction, he demands more of the bubbleshake, but the dispenser is empty.  Enraged, he kills Sendei.  At the temple, he meets ghosts, which probe his mind for a certain response, but do not receive it.  The ghosts reject him, and give him visions which disillusion him, causing him to commit suicide.  Rodomonte, too, is found and probed by the ghosts, and subsequently commits suicide.  However, the ghosts get the response they seek from Benny, and let her live.  She subsequently passes out inside the city from bubbleshake withdrawal.

Sheldukher threatens the Eight Twelves to get the Doctor to lead him to Sakkrat city.  The Doctor reluctantly does so, following Urnst’s cryptic directions, which Sheldukher had never seen, having been in cryo-sleep at its publication.  To discourage the Chelonians as he departs, Sheldukher kills four of him; however, this drives General Fakrid into a frenzy, and he takes his troops to follow Sheldukher to the city, several thousand miles away.  As Sheldukher’s ship lands at the city, the Cell locks everyone inside and tries to destroy the ship and end its own life—and take revenge on Sheldukher in the process—but the Doctor is able to get everyone out, including the Cell.  However, the self-destruction leaves them stranded here, far from the TARDIS.  The Doctor finds Benny, and manages to repair her mind telepathically, although she will still require medical treatment for the addiction and its effects.  She too knows Sheldukher by reputation.  Sheldukher sets Postine to hold off the pursuing Chelonians while the others enter the temple.  The battle outside brings down part of the structure, trapping Klift; but he subsequently confronted by the ghosts, and dies.  The Doctor seems to recognize the ghosts.  Postine manages to mortally wound the general, but dies in the process.  Before dying, Fakrid passes command to his First Pilot, Jinkwa, whom he reveals to secretly be his son.  Jinkwa, however, is already stressed past breaking, and is just as mad as Fakrid.  Benny and Rosheen escape the city, but are caught by the Chelonians, and Rosheen is killed.  Benny is transmatted to safety by the ghosts.  Jinkwa orders a suicide mission to destroy the city; two of the three suicide operatives carry out the mission, but are transported beyond the city by the ghosts before they can explode.  The third, in an attack of conscience, returns to stop Jinkwa, and detonates near his command vehicle; however two other vehicles take the explosion instead.

The Doctor, Benny, and Sheldukher, with the Cell, pass through a strange chamber, a slow-time conversion chamber, which matches them to the slower passage of time beneath the city.  This field of slowed time would protect whatever it encloses, possibly for millions of years.  They are attacked by a robotic monster called the Monumental Guardian, but it lets them go after trying to scare them.  Sheldukher is then captured by a containment field.  Two humanoid genetic Contstructs approach the group, and demand that they return Project FXX Q84…also known as the Cell.  Finally the Doctor explains.

Three hundred years prior, Sheldukher stole the embryonic Cell from a horrific research world called Checkley’s World, planning to use it to find Sakkrat.  When Sheldukher vanished, the controlling firm of Checkley’s World created a plan to trap him and recover the Cell, which had the power to become the greatest mind in existence.  They altered the planet Hogsuum to more perfectly match Sakkrat’s description, and created the various guardians and traps in order to lure in Sheldukher and recover the cell.  However, the slow-time chamber’s control globe became faulty, creating the Fortean flicker.  The Doctor makes his way to the control globe and shuts off the faulty circuit, ending the flicker; however, shutting down the rest of the system proves impossible.  Sheldukher overcomes that problem, however, when he cannot handle the truth, and kills himself; but he is wearing a powerful explosive on a deadman switch and a timer, and in fifteen minutes it will vaporize everything for a thousand miles around.  The Doctor and Benny flee try to flee via the facility’s emergency transmat, and are attacked by the Monumental Guardian along the way; they escape seconds before the explosive detonates.

The Doctor and Benny materialize near the TARDIS, only to find the Chelonians about to wipe out the Eight Twelves using a lethal Zarathion gas.  Using the facility’s control globe, he freezes the area in slow time, saving the lives of all the survivors, but leaving them as a problem to be worked out another day; he cannot enter the slow-time field, as it would kill him at this level.  With Benny, he returns to the TARDIS.  Inside, he administers the antidote to the bubbleshake, and she slowly recovers over several days; when she is fully recovered, he celebrates by taking her to 1935 Earth, for a meeting with Virginia Woolf, or—failing that—a night at the theatre.  As they exit the TARDIS, they fail to see that it is behaving oddly; and later, they find that it has moved itself to another spot nearby.  In the theatre, they watch the show before getting bored and leaving for other worlds, without realizing that Gustav Urnst, the lost scholar, is there, having been displaced by the Fortean flicker to this historic time.  Urnst watches them go, and muses on their existence as travelers from the future.

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I had heard this story mentioned in many contexts in the past; and so I was a little disappointed to find that it reads more like an extended interlude in the Doctor’s adventures. It’s not a bad story, but if this were Big Finish, it would be a Short Trip story. (Actually, as Big Finish has included this novel in their line of Novel Adaptations audio dramas, perhaps I shouldn’t say that.) Its events cover a few days, but they don’t feel like it; it gives the appearance of brevity, despite being as long as most VNA novels.

The story covers the Doctor’s trip to what appears to be the legendary world of Sakkrat, where a motley collection of others have also arrived, including a Chelonian (think intelligent, angry tortoises) assault force. He is in search of a temporal disturbance called a Fortean flicker, which is responsible for transporting the various groups to the planet. The Chelonians are on a mission of conquest, now tragically misdirected; a group of music fans are chasing a vision that keeps inexplicably coming true; a certain criminal element is in pursuit of the fabled Sakkratian “Highest Science”, which is reputed to reshape reality; and the human tourists in the middle of it all just want to go home. Toss in some serious drug addiction with amnesia on the side, and an alien conspiracy that may or may not be what it seems, and everything goes haywire in very short order. For once the Doctor isn’t able to do any of his customary scheming, and it’s refreshing to see him have to think on his feet (especially impressive, considering that he repeatedly gets knocked off of them); he does figure out what’s happening before the conclusion, but not in time to manipulate the situation to any great degree.

Bernice has a rough time in this story. In fact, her adventures with the Doctor aren’t going well at all at this point, though she remains inexplicably optimistic. Her adventures on Heaven (Love and War) ended terribly for everyone involved; in Transit, she was possessed by the transit system entity for most of the story. Here, she spends most of her time largely incapacitated by bubbleshake addiction. I’m reminded of the tendency in the early Fifth Doctor era to write the episodes in such a way that one of the three companions was out of action throughout the story. That technique was justified at the time by the fact that it’s just simply difficult to write for four main characters at once (for comparison, watch Stargate SG-1, and see how many times Daniel Jackson is either dead or off on an archaeological dig, or both). Here, we don’t have that excuse, but the various writers still seem to insist on writing Benny out as fast as they can—which is odd, given that she’ll be with us for something like forty-five of these novels.

This story relies heavily on deus ex machina events. Spaceships and transmats arrive at just the right time; characters mysteriously know each other when they shouldn’t, with little ultimate explanation given. On the one hand, these things should be expected, because the story’s macguffin—the Fortean flicker—causes odd coincidences. On the other hand, early in the story we get a set of indicators that show when the flicker is active, and it’s never active at the time that these particular coincidences take place. That negates the effect, in my opinion. We could forgive one such event—the arrival of the villain’s spacecraft, which in turn saves the Doctor’s life, is excellent—but a string of them is sloppy writing.

For a story set on an isolated and uninhabited world, there are a lot of supporting characters here. The mad Chelonian general Fakrid and his First Pilot Jinkwa; the leaders among the human tourists, Vaness, Hazel, and Witcher; the three music fans, Rodomonte, Sendei, and Molassi; the criminal Sheldukher and his entourage of Rosheen, Klift, Posteen, and the Cell; and several constructed beings inside the Sakkrat temple. Most of them are believable characters, but their circumstances have them acting in very erratic ways; Sendei, Rodomonte, and Molassi in particular are all suffering from various degrees of madness thanks to the bubbleshake addiction. Fakrid suffers from his own rapidly-advancing madness, and Jinkwa picks up some of it near the end. Fakrid and Sheldukher are both caricatures—Fakrid a caricature of a mad military commander, Sheldukher of a ruthless-but-cultured criminal—but otherwise, the characters are fairly well done.

Some continuity references: The Eternals (Enlightenment, et al) get a mention by the Doctor. The Chelonians are first mentioned here, but will appear in other stories later, including The Well-Mannered War, also by Gareth Roberts. Lasty’s Nebula will also be mentioned in The Dark Path. There are several references to the events of the preceding two novels (Love and War, Transit), mostly made by Bernice. The survivors of this story, left frozen at its end, will be rescued in Happy Endings, many novels from now. The Doctor states that he asks three questions every time he awakens after being knocked unconscious: “Where am I? Who am I? And who are you?” These questions date back to Time and the Rani. Elements of this story—especially the underused element of the bus tourists stranded on an alien planet—will be reused in Planet of the Dead, also written by Gareth Roberts, which I will coincidentally be covering next week, barring unforeseen circumstances. Allegedly Roberts wished to use the Chelonians in that story, but declined due to the difficulties of putting an actor in a Chelonian costume in the Dubai heat. Notably, this story is the first to spell out what was suggested as far back as Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, that the TARDIS likely requires six pilots for normal operation; this would later be adapted into television canon and confirmed in Journey’s End, which I covered last week. The Doctor’s ring here resembles the First Doctor’s ring (last seen in The Power of the Daleks) and may possibly be intended to be the same one.

Overall: Although I understand the book was well-received, I found it to be so-so at best. It’s not bad, but it’s definitely not one of the better novels in the series, either. The running theme of the book can be summed up in the repeated line: “He [or she] just couldn’t understand some people.” The characters don’t understand each other, and every step of the plot is built on such misunderstandings; and in too many cases, we the readers don’t understand them either. Roberts is good for some quick wit and humor, and his plot does hold together (with the exception of the deus ex machina moments I mentioned earlier), but it’s nothing to write home about. Planet of the Dead does it better, and I think that Roberts benefitted from the years in between when it comes to refining the basic ideas here.

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Next time: The Pit, by Neil Penswick! See you there.

Although most of the Virgin New Adventures novels are out of print, this novel has been adapted into full-cast audio drama format by Big Finish Productions as part of their Novel Adaptations range.  This adaptation’s purchase page is linked below.

The Highest Science

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Novel Review: Transit

I’m not going to be finished with the next audio review in time to post it today, so instead, here’s Tuesday’s novel review a day early, and we’ll get to the audios tomorrow.

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! This week, we continue the Virgin New Adventures (VNAs) with Transit, by Ben Aaronovitch. Published 3 December 1992, this novel features the Seventh Doctor and Bernice “Benny” Summerfield, accompanied by guest companion Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart, and is set in the year 2109. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has  not read this novel!

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In the year 2109, the Earth’s colonies throughout the solar system are connected by the Sol Transit System, or STS, a system of train “tunnels” through the fabric of reality itself.  Travel is fast, nearly instantaneous; and the ambitious human race is about to open its first interstellar addition to the system.  The first Star Tunnel, or “Stunnel” for short, will go to the colony at Arcturus, 26 light years away.  Something goes drastically wrong, however, when something unknown pushes its way out of the stunnel and into the body of the system itself, vaporizing everyone on the platforms for the opening ceremony.

Lunar University (or “Lunarversity”) student Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart—a distant descendant of Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart from an illicit relationship in his early military days in Africa—gets briefly involved with a group of special maintenance workers on the Stunnel project, and develops a hasty but passionate relationship with Zak, or Blondie as he prefers to be called, the youngest member of the crew.  Related events lead her to be at King’s Cross station when the entity from the stunnel passes through, destroying everyone; but she is saved by the sudden appearance of the Seventh Doctor and the TARDIS.  The TARDIS itself, with Bernice Summerfield still inside, are hurled to the end of the line, somewhere in another station.  Stuck with few options, the Doctor falls in with Kadiatu, who connects him to a family friend, a woman named Francine, who is—famously—a completely blind veteran of the war on Mars between the humans and the Ice Warriors some twenty years earlier, and also an accomplished underworld boss.  Unknown to the Doctor, Kadiatu knows exactly who he is.

Benny finds herself in a slum near the last station in the solar system, on Pluto, and falls in with two prostitutes, Roberta and Zamina.  (By coincidence, Blondie is also from this slum, and is well known to both girls.)  Benny quickly uses the girls, as well as a local gang, to seize power and then spark a riot that sends destruction careening through the slum.  Roberta is killed in the fighting, and Benny escapes.  Meanwhile, the Doctor knows a thing or two about Kadiatu, as well—he realizes that she has been genetically engineered, probably as a soldier.  He discovers her rather complete files on him, and learns that she is very close to discovering time travel, a few centuries early for humanity.  He considers deleting the files, but decides against it, fearing the repercussions.  He also realizes—though she didn’t tell him—that she is a descendant of his old friend.  When she awakens, he helps her solve a minor problem she is dealing with, and in return, recruits her to help him recover Benny and put an end to the crisis in the STS.

Blondie’s crew, led by a former—and highly augmented—soldier called Old Sam, begins to search the now-closed system for the source of the problem, using a modified maintenance train they call Fat Mama.  They are assaulted by a group of mutated individuals, and barely escape with their lives and heavy damage to the train, though one crewmember—Dogface—is critically wounded and whisked off to a hospital.  They report in to their supervisor, the System’s manager, Ming, often called “Ming the Merciless”.  Meanwhile the Doctor and Kadiatu make their way to the slum on Pluto, where the fighting has ended and the relief workers have arrived.  There they find the TARDIS; it struck the wall of the station with enough force to embed it deeply in the wall, with the door unfortunately facing the wrong way.  Benny arrives at the station, and tries to kill the Doctor; it becomes clear that she is possessed by the transit system entity.  He is saved by Old Sam and Blondie; Benny flees, collecting Zamina as she does, and joins a refugee group headed for Mars.  During the fight, Kadiatu discovers—and is disturbed by—her own preternatural fighting skills, which she does not understand; a flashback shows that she herself is not her parents’ natural child, but was found by her father on a military mission, organized by Francine.  She was genetically engineered by the Imogen corporation as a supersoldier of incalculable ability; however her father couldn’t bring himself to kill the infant warrior, and adopted her instead, vowing to overcome her creation with a good upbringing and psychology.  She knows none of this, however.

The Doctor takes Blondie and Kadiatu to his house in Kent, where the couple’s relationship deepens.  The Doctor realizes that the STS hasn’t been invaded by an outside intelligence; rather, because it is structured in the form of a complex neural network, it has evolved its own intelligence.  He builds a device to communicate with the system, and finds that while he is correct, he only has part of the story.  The system, though certainly intelligent, was invaded by a competing intelligence—a virus of sorts—from another dimension, which breached the system where reality was thin along the Stunnel’s path.  The Doctor decides to help the system expunge the virus.  He contacts Ming and her fellow executives and offers to help—and none too soon, because something in the system is preparing to open the Stunnel again.

Benny and Zamina are placed with a family on Mars, but Benny quickly kills them.  She heads out, intending to get to STS control and advance the virus’s plan—but she manages to resist the virus’s control long enough to send Zamina away with a warning for the Doctor.  The Doctor gets the message, and takes Kadiatu to Mars via the tunnels, finding that Benny has fled in a vehicle out onto the wilder parts of the surface.  She leads them to a dormant Ice Warrior nest, where she tries to shoot the Doctor; Kadiatu kills her.  The Doctor is furious, until he realizes it’s not the real Benny; it’s a mutant made to look and sound like her.  She was a decoy; they are forced to race back, having lost time on this distraction—and moreover, the Ice Warriors asleep in the nest will eventually awaken, not knowing their war with Earth is over.

Waiting to be picked up, Kadiatu compares notes with the Doctor about her family history, and then reveals something disturbing—she has dreams about an old woman, whom the Doctor identifies as the Pythia of Gallifrey’s past, giving a curse against childbirth.  Francine arrives in a modified jet and picks them up, but is shot down by an automated system that misinterprets her intentions.  She lands safely somehow, though the plane is destroyed.  A chance encounter with one of the rescue crew that collects them makes the Doctor realize that he may be far too well known to humans now, and he considers deleting knowledge of himself from human records.

Benny makes her way to STS control and sets the reactors to overload, pouring power into the Stunnel’s grid, preparing to open the gates on both ends.  The Doctor and Kadiatu arrive, but find that it’s another false Benny.  The Doctor sends the maintenance crew’s drones to build a machine to draw power from the TARDIS, and then he heads to the Stunnel station by freesurfing the tunnels—that is, traveling them on a board, without a train.  Inside the tunnels, he picks up an unidentified, disembodied hitchhiker, telepathically entering his mind.  At the other end, he finds a battle in progress, between the entity’s mutants and the human security forces, with Blondie and Old Sam there holding the line as well.  Blondie dies in the process, horrifying Kadiatu.  Benny—the real Benny this time—is there as well.  As the Doctor arrives, the gateway opens, and the full entity emerges, possessing Benny; it seems the version that was already inhabiting her was only an agent of sorts.  As it claims no name, the Doctor calls it “Fred”.  However, before it can act, the machine connected to the TARDIS fires a powerful burst of artron energy through the tunnel, channeled through the Doctor, striking Fred and driving it back into the tunnels and into its own dimension, taking Benny with it.   As the Stunnel starts to collapse, the Doctor follows it in, trying to rescue Benny; Kadiatu follows him.

The Doctor finds himself in a world of subjective reality, malleable to the wills of those inside it.  He shapes reality into a form he can navigate, and leaves messages for Kadiatu to follow.  He also finds that the artron energy—representing the TARDIS itself—takes the form of two cats, one green, one silver.  He battles his way through to a confrontation with Fred.  Fred admits that it has concealed its true purpose until now; it can’t act with impunity in the real world, but here, it has more power; and it saw the potential in the Doctor, and wanted to take him to augment its own power.  To that end, it kidnapped Benny, planning to lure the Doctor here so it could acquire his mind.  Kadiatu arrives manifesting as a leopard, and attacks Fred; the Doctor transfers the hitchhiker from his own mind to Benny’s, forcing Fred out, and Kadiatu devours Fred.  The hitchhiker then vacates Benny’s mind and takes form—it is the Transit entity, and now, without any opposition, it feels comfortable vacating the system and remaining here in this dimension, where it can reach its full potential.  The Doctor, Benny, and Kadiatu return to reality just as the gateway collapses..

The crisis is resolved; but before leaving Earth again, the Doctor visits the Stone Mountain data repository on the moon, which contains the sum total of human knowledge.  He has deduced that its AI management software has become sentient, and threatens to expose it to humanity—who are paranoid about such things—if it doesn’t accommodate him.  He persuades it to delete all records of his own existence on Earth, and he personally destroys what hard copies are available; and in return, he gives it pointers on how to live with humanity.  It names itself FLORANCE, and immediately begins establishing a presence on Earth, before revealing itself.  The Doctor returns to the station on Pluto, and has the maintenance crew cut the TARDIS free of the wall, and takes a very shaken Benny with him when he leaves.  He sends Old Sam to make peace with the newly awakened Ice Warriors, and sees that Kadiatu gets a job with STS.  He offers her a chance to come with him, but she refuses—but warns him that she’ll give him a head start, then come after him.  Later, she completes her time machine, and then destroys all her research, before setting off after the Doctor—but where her allegiance lies, remains to be seen.

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I had been looking forward to this book for some time, chiefly because of the character of Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart; I knew that she was a descendant of the Brigadier, but that was all I knew. While Kadiatu is a fascinating character, I still had trouble getting into this book. I’ve been trying to figure out why, and honestly I’m still not sure. It’s certainly a good read, and once I was able to get started, I finished it quickly, in about a day and a half of scattered reading. I think perhaps I had trouble because the book feels—to borrow one of its own words—interstitial, like it’s between greater things. (Not that I know if what follows is better—I haven’t started the next book at the time of this writing…) It spends a fair amount of time referring back to the events of the last book, Love and War, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this case it gives the feeling of mooning over a lost love, especially with Ace having left in that book. Ace is fantastic, I agree completely with that—but these books, I think, have serious difficulty with moving on. To that end, there’s a scene where the Doctor finds a stash of Nitro-9 in the house on Allen Road, and mourns over Ace a bit; and at the end, when he needs guardians in the virtual dimension occupied by the Transit entity, he manifests them as a horde of Aces, all with cans of Nitro-9. It’s clever, but it feels awkward. In addition, Benny is relegated to a background character here; she spends most of the story—all of it, really—possessed by the Transit entity (or not, actually—to explain would be a major spoiler, so just bear with me), and gets little dialog or screen time on her own. This is her first adventure traveling with the Doctor, and she leaves it with the conviction that she is essentially a pet to him—not a good way to get things rolling, Doctor.

Enough negatives; on to the positives! Kadiatu IS a fascinating character, and well worth the read. She has secrets layered upon secrets, and I am certain we don’t yet have them all. She reminds me of Jenny from The Doctor’s Daughter, in that she is born for military action, but also has secrets in her upbringing; and her exit scene at the end is almost a perfect match for Jenny’s, with the added bonus that we know from her later appearances that she doesn’t immediately crash into a moon and die. I look forward to further appearances. She is surrounded by a great supporting cast, with almost everyone getting at least a better-than-average amount of character development, even the throwaway villains (that is, the mutated hit squads created by the major villain). Junior maintenance worker and Kadiatu love interest Zak, aka Blondie, is a bit of a Mary Sue (or whatever the male equivalent is) without really needing to be, as he isn’t the main character and only rarely serves as the viewpoint character, and yet he’s endearing anyway, and I was truly upset at the way his arc ends. Old Sam, a maintenance worker with a serious military background, quickly became my favorite supporting character; and he gets one of the final scenes in the book, a moment of great import, pertaining to the Ice Warriors. Those classic-series adversaries (I won’t say villains, because they usually aren’t villainous) don’t appear at all, but they have a tangential bearing on the story, and their presence is felt in the background. The Transit system manager, Mind “the Merciless”, is nothing like she appears at first, and gets a surprisingly good backstory which doesn’t directly change anything, but makes her a much better character.

I left this story feeling that it’s planting seeds for the future. Often that’s a dangerous prospect—you as the author don’t know if you will have the opportunity to go back and harvest what you’ve planted, and you don’t know if any other author will continue with what you’ve done. We don’t know those things here, either; but Ben Aaronovitch certainly planted a lot of seeds for future use. He gave us the Human-Ice Warrior war on Mars, also known as the Thousand Day War, which ended with human control of Mars, and which will be expanded on in later stories such as GodEngine. He created the Sol Transit System (STS) , which, though not mentioned in any other works to date, is clearly instrumental in the expansion phase of human history. He created an early form of human time travel. He created an offshoot of the Brigadier’s family, and of course he gave us the recurring character of Kadiatu. He gave Benny a book that even she cannot read, and then doesn’t really go back to that thread; possibly something for the future? Some of these, of course, have been picked up in other works; some have not. Still, it will be interesting to see how these connections play out.

The Doctor is certainly more decisive here than he has been in recent stories. He does, as I mentioned, brood over Ace a few times, but never for long, and never in a way that would interfere with his activities. We do see something very rare early in the book: We see the Doctor get drunk. It’s not a pretty sight, but at least there is no singing…no, wait, that’s not true; he sings Happy Birthday…to the universe. It has to be seen to be believed.

There’s a definite cyberpunk theme to this novel which is curiously rare in Doctor Who. Despite the fact that the story depends on it, it doesn’t take over the story, but manages to fit casually into the story’s world without being too intrusive—a rare feat indeed, as cyberpunk elements usually tend to define their stories. I wouldn’t want this to be a common thing in Doctor Who, but I’m glad to see it happen occasionally; when the series began, no one had any inkling of such a thing, but if it wants to stay relevant to modern audiences (not to mention modern technology), this sort of thing almost has to be acknowledged sometimes.

Continuity References: The House on Allen Road last appeared in Cat’s Cradle: Warhead. The Doctor makes multiple references to Survival and The Curse of Fenric, especially in connection with Ace. He mentions building a boom-box (Silver Nemesis) and having visited “all three Atlantises” (The Underwater Menace, The Daemons, The Time Monster, which famously gave three different explanations for the destruction of Atlantis). Battlefield is referenced in the form of an opera based on the events of that serial, though it’s not a very clear reference. (The TARDIS wiki states that “[t]he unknown future incarnation of the Doctor that first appeared in Marc Platt’s novelisation of Battlefield reappears here in a cyberspace encounter with a supporting character”, but I don’t recall this happening in the book; I only recall the operatic reference to that story, and have not read the novelization of Battlefield so as to know what I’m looking for there. The wiki page for the novelization was singularly unhelpful in that regard.) The Doctor calls the entity “Fred”; this references his intended nickname for Romana in The Ribos Operation, as well as a Robot Yeti in The Web of Fear. The intelligent computer FLORANCE will appear again in Sleepy and Seeing I. Kadiatu will appear next in Set Piece, and several other stories thereafter. The TARDIS’s infection appears again, having begun in Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark, though with very little explanation given in either story; here it manifests as a green cat to match the TARDIS’s silver cat. That thread has yet to be resolved. Benny mentions the Silurians (Doctor Who and the Silurians, et al), who in her time are a known and accepted species with a bit of a lingering grudge against humans. She (or rather, a duplicate of her) mentions the Hoothi (Love and War). The Doctor mentions the events of Earthshock, if only tangentially. He remembers an Australian beach (The Enemy of the World). He mentions the Panopticon and the great seal of Rassilon (The Deadly Assassin, et al). He mentions various stories from his third-Doctor era with UNIT, including Planet of the Spiders; the flashback about Kadiatu’s ancestors also mentions a few, including Robot. Kadiatu dreams of the Pythia (Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible) despite having no direct connection to Gallifrey. Benny references the Butler Institute and the environmental crisis (Cat’s Cradle: Warhead).

Overall: After a slow start for me personally, the book turned out pretty good in the end. It’s not, I think, one of the pivotal stories of the series; but it’s getting us there. It was by no means perfect, but it’s a fair, mostly solid entry, and I enjoyed it.

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Next time: We’ll be reading The Highest Science, by Gareth Roberts, another novel adapted later into audio form by Big Finish Productions! See you there.

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Novel Review: Love and War

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! This week, we’re reading Love and War by Paul Cornell, published in October 1992 as the ninth entry in the Virgin New Adventures (VNA) series. In this story, we say goodbye to longtime companion Ace McShane, and welcome new and noteworthy companion Bernice Summerfield, who will eventually headline a series of New Adventures novels of her own. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read this novel!

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Ace attends the funeral of her old friend Julian in Perivale.  Afterward, the Doctor takes her to the planet Heaven in the year 2570.  The bucolic planet lies on the border between the human and Draconian empires, and is neutral territory, serving as a cemetery world for both races in their long and sporadic wars against each other and against the Daleks.  While the Doctor visits the governmental library in Joycetown in search of a lost manuscript, The Papers of Felsecar, Ace gets involved with a group of Travellers, a nomadic bunch that has lived on Heaven for some years now.  She quickly falls for Jan, one of the travellers, and he shares her interest, although he is in an open relationship with another Traveller, Roisa—who is in turn in another open relationship with yet another Traveller, Máire.  Ace meets other colorful characters: Christopher, the sexless priest of the Travellers, who has peculiar powers thanks to a government experiment; and a guest of the Travellers: archaeologist Bernice “Benny” Summerfield, who is conducting a dig at some ancient ruins left behind by the now-extinct Heavenites.  Meanwhile, Roisa steps on a filament of a strange fungus.

In Joycetown, Phaedrus—priest of the death-obsessed Vacuum Church—conducts a ritual sacrifice of an old friend.  The friend’s dying corpse is taken over by, and converted into, a fungus—and the fungus is intelligent.  It has orders for Phaedrus… later, he encounters Roisa, and warns her of terrible things to come.

The Doctor’s efforts to find the manuscript are unsuccessful, and he is balked by a nervous librarian.  He meets with Miller, the head of the local military detachment, and takes him into his confidence, warning him of the real reason for his visit; Miller keeps it to himself, but is convinced to help the Doctor.  Miller tells him about a mysterious sphere in space, which was spotted briefly before vanishing.  The Doctor meets Benny, and she shows him a buried Heavenite observatory with a strange telescope and a decayed body inside—the first Heavenite remains found.  The Doctor is disturbed by what he sees there.  He accompanies Benny to Joycetown, but they are attacked en route; Benny shoots off the attacker’s arm, but the assailant is not deterred, and escapes.  The arm is infected with white fungal filaments.

Ace joins the Travellers in “Puterspace”, a virtual reality environment that links to the Empire’s electronic networks, and which the Travellers use in lieu of drugs to join their minds for rituals and conferences.  With Jan, she encounters a being calling himself the Trickster; and she learns more of Jan and Christopher’s history.  The two men are old friends; both volunteered for military experimentation during their service.  The experiments took away Christopher’s sexuality, but gave him strong psychic powers; Jan was mostly unaffected, but gained the ability to generate fire on command.  As the Travellers gather, Roisa begs the Travellers to leave the planet and leave her behind.  They are attacked in Puterspace by a strange sphere, but Christopher sacrifices himself to let the others escape.  In the real world, the others bury Christopher’s now-empty body, and grieve for him.  Ace spends the night with Jan; later, she dreams of the Doctor bargaining with Death for her life, with Death refusing the deal.  In the morning, the Doctor meets her, and is disturbed to find that she slept with Jan; she assumes he is jealous of her desire for a separate life.  During the visit, he shows her a tesseract, a Gallifreyan hypercube, and plays a trick where it disappears between dimensions.  He enlists her help in locating the book; she meets the librarian, who seems afraid, but drops a hint as to where to look in the library computers.  Meanwhile, a guard named Kale meets with Miller and reports a (fabricated) attack by Sontarans, and requests to go to the orbital station to scan the planet for incursions.  Miller allows it, but notices that Kale’s arm is in a sling.

The Doctor talks with Jan about Ace, and then enters Puterspace.  He is attacked by Vacuum Church assassins; Christopher appears and rescues him.  Christopher reveals that his powers allowed him to copy his mind into Puterspace as software before he died; he is working out a way to control his own dead body as well, via the Puterspace jack in its brain.  However, before the Doctor can leave, Phaedrus enters Puterspace and catches him in a software trap, forcing him to relive painful memories of his third incarnation’s death.  Ace arrives to rescue him, but is caught in the trap herself, and it shifts to her memories of Perivale.  There she learns from the Doctor that the real enemy is a fungal race called the Hoothi, which absorbs its victims and gains their memories and minds.  Ace sees her dead friend Julian there, and the Doctor realizes the Hoothi have replicated her house from his memories, not from Ace’s, indicating that after his death, the Hoothi absorbed him.  The Doctor briefly liberates Julian’s mind, and Julian in turn restores Christopher’s program; Julian is reintegrated into the group mind by Phaedrus, but Ace liberates them by reversing the trap onto Phaedrus and making him relive his worst memory—in which he euthanized his own mother.  With the Doctor, she escapes Puterspace.  While they recover, Roisa gives the Doctor a drink from a Heavenite goblet that was once stolen from the Vacuum Church.

The Doctor and Ace lead the Travellers in a raid on the library.  There they are intercepted by Vacuum acolytes, who have been absorbed by the Hoothi.  Ace kills them with Nitro-9, setting the library ablaze in the process, but not before they infect the librarian—but just before he converts to fungus, he unlocks the computer, allowing them to find out where the manuscript is hidden.  They find that it was last released to Bernice Summerfield.  On the way out, they meet Miller, and he learns that the Sontaran invasion was a lie; and Kale has been infected by the Hoothi spores.  Kale, it seems, is the assailant who attacked the Doctor and Benny; his arm in a sling is fake, concealing a cache of the spores.  He has now infected the entire orbital station crew, and removed the station from action, leaving the planet defenseless until help arrives—in a week.

The Doctor again tries to get Ace to give up her romance with Jan, but to no avail.  He retrieves the manuscript from Benny, and finds his own handwriting in it, though presumably from a future incarnation.  It acts as a Rosetta Stone of sorts, allowing him to translate Heavenite writing left behind in the observatory.  Ace confers with Benny, and they discuss their respective and checkered pasts; Benny admits that she faked her credentials years ago, and is not really a professor.  She travels in search of the truth about her missing father, who may be among the dead buried on Heaven.  Ace spends the night with Jan, who tells her his secret name, Aradrath, meaning “one big fire”.  During the night, mysterious figures release spores into the Traveller camp, infecting some of the Travellers.  Christopher also appears, having regained control of his body after a fashion, and collects most of the spores, which will not harm him; he also warns Ace that remaining with Jan will require a sacrifice.

The observatory writing leads the Doctor and Benny to the graveyards, where they find that every body is infected with the spores, and indeed, have not decayed—all part of the Hoothi plan. He gets Benny’s team to rush and dig up the observatory, as it is intstrumental to his plan.  The Hoothi, via Kale, try to crash the orbital station onto the dig, but the Doctor threatens Phaedrus to divert it; the Hoothi need Phaedrus alive for now, and they destroy the station before it can crash.  The Doctor returns to the camp, and levels with everyone about the Hoothi: They are an ancient, fungal race, which absorbs and utilizes the living and the dead alike in efforts to conquer the galaxy.  They were believed to have fled after failing once to conquer Gallifrey; but now they have returned.  They exist in sub-hive minds as part of the greater group mind, and each sub-group travels in a massive organic sphere, composed of the remains of absorbed creatures.  Centuries ago, they farmed the Heavenites for raw material, until they eventually claimed the entire world; the observatory was left to guard against their return.  Now they are returning, and their long game will pay off; they arranged to have Heaven made into a cemetery world, filling it with a vast army of the dead, which they are coming to claim for use in their conquest.  They can see and hear through their living victims, and can control the victims’ actions, or take over at any time.  The spores cannot be cured.

The now-liberated observatory contains a special telescope that can penetrate the Hoothi sphere’s ability to conceal itself.  Roisa, knowing she is infected, goes to blow up the Vacuum Church in a suicide bombing, but can’t pull the trigger; Phaedrus forces her to meet the Hoothi that is located in the basement.  Jan realizes what has happened, and takes matters into his own hands; he takes some of the others and steals a shuttle, intending to set it as a passive projectile in orbit to destroy the Hoothi sphere.  Ace and Máire follow him and sneak aboard.  When he discovers Ace, he asks her to marry him if they survive.  She agrees, and everyone but Jan waits in the shuttle’s escape pods.  Jan will activate the final course of the shuttle, and then enter a pod himself, and launch the pods.  However, when the ship appears, everyone except Jan, Máire, and Ace explodes into fungus; and even Jan is clearly infected, as he can’t fire the engines.  He ejects Ace, Máire, and one of the others.  Ace loses her mind briefly from grief; but the Doctor’s hypercube appears in her hand, containing impressions of Jan, which pull her back to sanity.  Máire’s pod crashes into the Vacuum Church, doing much damage, but not destroying the church, Phaedrus, or the Hoothi.

When the Doctor learns that Ace followed Jan, he is appalled, and immediately takes the TARDIS—with Benny—to the Hoothi sphere.  The Hoothi—or rather, three of the four in their subgroup—meet with him, and reveal that he himself is infected, having received a spore from the drink given to him by Roisa.  They will refrain from taking him over, and allow him to leave with Ace, if he destroys the planet’s military communication equipment so as to prevent the empire’s Spacefleet from arriving.  However, they infect Benny; but the Doctor secretly prevents the infection, feeding the Hoothi images from his mind to make them think they were successful.  As the Doctor and Benny leave, they see Jan’s body among the other captive forms.  The Hoothi sphere enters the atmosphere, and sends down subspheres and stairways to receive their infected dead, which burst to life from the ground all over the planet.  Along the way, the dead attack and kill many of the living, breaking down settlements and buildings.  The Doctor sends Benny to recover Ace, who has crashed in the forest.  Christopher joins them as well.  Phaedrus, considering his work complete, enters Puterspace still haunted by the death of his mother; Ace arrives and follows him in, seeking revenge for Jan’s death.  The Doctor, meanwhile, deactivates the comm equipment.  He goes to the Vacuum Church and enters Puterspace to rescue Ace; however, with Christopher’s help, he exploits the remnants of Jan’s consciousness inside the group mind, horrifying Ace.  Rather than try to save Jan, he persuades Jan to ignite his pyrokinetic power—and the sphere, filled with flammable gases, explodes, destroying the Hoothi inside and breaking their control over their army.  It was all a part of the Doctor’s plan, including leading Jan to confront the Hoothi, as he knew that Jan was infected; however, Ace cannot forgive the Doctor for manipulating sacrificing her lover to win this battle.

As the colony picks up the pieces, Ace returns to the church—but finds Phaedrus still alive in the basement.  Phaedrus kills himself, and is absorbed by the fourth Hoothi, which has been in the basement all along; it could still salvage the situation with enough blood—and Ace will provide that blood.  The captive Roisa pushes her toward the Hoothi.  However, Máire is still alive in the wreckage, and she shoots and kills Roisa.  Ace calls on the last of Julian’s mind inside the Hoothi, and makes him rebel momentarily; and he causes the Hoothi to explode and die.

The Doctor searches for Ace, and bears witness to Christopher’s final death, as he can no longer maintain his body.  He finds Ace and tries to apologize to her; but her love for him has turned to hatred after his actions, and she refuses to go with him.  She stays behind with Máire and the remaining Travellers, keeping only the hypercube—she even leaves her jacket with the Doctor, indicating her break from her life with him.  He returns with it to the TARDIS…where Benny agrees to join him.  After all, as she points out, he needs someone to remind him who he is, and to give him a reason to fight.

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This story represents a major turning point for the New Adventures: the departure of the final classic series companion. We’ve had hints for some time that Ace would leave the Doctor (and it’s been common knowledge among fans for a few decades, of course), including a false start at the end of Nightshade; here, she goes through with it. It happens predictably but spectacularly; we’ve known for some time that Ace’s one problem with the Doctor is the way that he manipulates people for his own purposes as Time’s Champion. Here, it finally costs her the life of someone dear to her, and it overwhelms her, leading her to erupt at the Doctor at the end of the book. She’s lost people before, of course, but never with the significance seen here, and it leaves a mark from which she will be a long time recovering. I like Ace—I always have—and I hate to see her go; but given that it had to happen eventually, I can’t think of a more appropriate way for it to happen. Note that I don’t call it a good way; it’s not good, but it’s appropriate, in that only something so terrible would be enough to truly break the bond between Ace and the Doctor.

Bernice Summerfield’s arrival is just as portentous in its own way. She won’t be with him for the duration of the New Adventures—there are other companions to come—but Benny, as she calls herself, will accomplish something that no one else could manage: She will become the star of the show. Specifically, when Virgin Books lost the license to produce stories featuring the Doctor, they chose to continue the New Adventures in modified form, with Bernice as the main character. This will eventually lead into her extensive role in Big Finish’s books and audio dramas, with Bernice’s stories actually preceding the Doctor’s at Big Finish. At the moment I don’t intend to include Bernice’s books in this series of New Adventures reviews; I intend to stop with Lance Parkin’s The Dying Days, the final VNA to feature the Doctor, before switching to another series of books. However, I may at some point continue with Bernice’s novels as well.

This is the first book to make the concept of Time’s Champion explicit. Here, Death is personified as an Eternal (a concept first introduced back in Enlightenment), and later books will establish that Time is also an Eternal; Death makes a reference here to the Doctor being Time’s Champion, its chosen representative. It’s in this role that he carries out his campaign against the various evils of the universe, but it’s also this role that sometimes requires him to sacrifice the few for the sake of the many. Ace has been with him in this until now—she is referred to as the steward of Time’s Champion—but she can’t bear it anymore. The Doctor, for his part, is sorry to let her go, and even tries to make it up to her; but in the end, he fails at this last task. His chesslike manipulative skills are in full force here; we even get an indication that an unspecified future incarnation still plays the game, as some future version leaves a note for the seventh Doctor.

The Travellers are not your ordinary supporting characters. They’re inspired by—or are direct descendants of—what in America we would call Gypsies; I’m not sure what the preferred term would be in Europe, but I don’t mean any disrespect if I get it wrong here. There’s a larger group that appears in the background, but there are four major characters. Jan, Ace’s love interest, is exactly the type of firebrand that would attract her; he’s flamboyant, loyal, and driven, unlike her last love interest, Nightshade’s Robin Yeadon. (I never understood how the meek, bookish Robin managed to catch Ace’s eye; and apparently the Doctor felt the same, as he essentially forced Ace away from Robin, although I’ve seen hints that this will be significant for other reasons in the future.) Christopher, the group’s priest, is a mystical figure of sorts, which isn’t particularly unusual; but he continually turns up in unexpected places, with surprising abilities. In any other story, that would serve as a sort of deus ex machina; but here, it plays very well. Máire is the group’s priestess, and has the smallest of the four major roles; but she’s interesting for being on the end of Jan’s string of relationships here, as she is Roisa’s other lover; she’s a bit jealous, of course, but in the end her relationship drama plays into her role in the story’s resolution. She and Ace are on opposite ends of this string of relationships, and in the end, they find some solidarity in that fact, with both Jan and Roisa dead (which I think is not a particularly large spoiler, given that most people die in the average Doctor Who story). Roisa is in the middle of it all, and conceals a deadly secret for most of the story; she’s perhaps the most sad and tragic figure among the Travellers, and what’s worse is that she knows it—but still tries to save everyone around her.

Other supporting characters don’t figure as prominently. Miller, the imperial security lead, is decent, but has a fairly minimal role. Benny’s fellow archaeologists are essentially stock characters (though one of them is conspicuously named for Doctor Who author Paul Magrs; I wonder what the story is behind that).The librarian, Trench, is the same kind of nervous, cloistered, elderly academic that we’ve seen dozens of times; for a good comparison, see The Genocide Machine. Phaedrus is interesting, but horrifying, given his obsession with death; even when we get an explanation for it, it’s still depressing.

References: The Draconians and their war with Earth—and the subsequent Dalek wars—was first mentioned as far back as Frontier in Space. The Draconians in this book give us the first instance of the Doctor being called “The Oncoming Storm”, which features in the revived television series beginning with The Parting of the Ways. The fungal Hoothi aliens—the villains of this story—were first referenced in The Brain of Morbius, though without the extensive description given here. Abslom Daak is mentioned here by Máire, who is also a (former) Dalek Killer like Daak; he first appeared in the comic Abslom Daak…Dalek Killer. IMC, the Interplanetary Mining Corporation, has a presence on Heaven, and appears first in Colony in Space. The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe met Benny prior to this in The 100 Days of the Doctor (which had not been written yet, thus explaining behind the scenes why it’s not referenced here), although for Benny this is the first meeting; hence the Doctor doesn’t mention it to her. The Doctor refers again to Harry Houdini (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Smoke and Mirrors, other offscreen stories). The Doctor again reminisces about leaving Susan on Earth (The Dalek Invasion of Earth). Death comments that the Seventh Doctor, while as yet not regenerated, caused the death of the Sixth Doctor so that he could become Time’s Champion (Time and the Rani); however, as this occurs in Ace’s dream, it’s debatable whether it’s correct. There are a number of things in this story, as well, which will be picked up again in future stories, but I’ll leave those for when we get there, for the sake of spoilers.

This book is very nearly as good as Nightshade, in my opinion. If I have any complaint, it is this: Ace is still hung up on her past with her mother. While it’s completely believable that she would have this issue, several stories have had her resolving it. She’s grown so much in so many ways, but in this one area, she seems to be stuck in limbo indefinitely. It’s become repetitive over several stories, and stretches belief. The same could be said for the Doctor’s memories of Susan; several books in the nine we’ve read so far have had him obsessing over her to the point of delusion, and though he resolves it in every instance, each successive book seems to reset him to the starting point. I suspect that this is a product of the manner in which the books were commissioned and written by varying authors, who all worked from the same basic set of points; I imagine that each author had to submit his or her manuscript before the preceding book became available, and therefore had to wing it as far as such details were concerned. Still, it may be that we’ll get a shift in focus along with the change in companions.

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Next time: We join the Doctor and Benny on twenty-second century Earth in Transit! See you there.

Although most of the Virgin New Adventures are now out of print, and therefore are difficult to locate with reliability, this novel (among several others) was adapted to audio drama format by Big Finish Productions, and may be purchased at the link below.

Love and War

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