Seasons of War Mini-Review 36: The Time Lord Who Came to Tea

Continuing my series of mini-reviews on the short stories to be found in the charity War Doctor anthology, Seasons of War, edited by Declan May and published by Chinbeard Books.

Seasons of War cover

On war-torn Gallifrey, near the city of Arcadia, a thirteen-year-old girl named Sophienna keeps a diary. In it she talks of many things: of her friends, who have one by one disappeared to different fates; of the crumbling sky trench (affectionately called “Bob”) that hangs above her town, Jericho, in decrepit danger; of the walled city of Arcadia, and her desire to relocate there, and her crippled father’s resistance to the idea; of the gang warfare that dominates her little town in the shadow of the War; and of her family’s trade. They are Dalek meat scavengers, a profession as horrible as it sounds. Sophienna goes into the battlefields nearby and scavenges for dead Daleks, pulling the mutant corpses from their armor and taking them home, where her father renders them down into stinking cuts of meat and foul energy drinks. Their clientele are the refugees in the ruins nearby, people who come and—sometimes grudgingly—give the last treasures of their old lives in exchange for another day’s terrible sustenance. Sophienna hates this life, but knows no other way in the face of the War—but she rejects a terrible idea, propagated by the cult-cum-terrorist group of the Puritanians, that those who eat Dalek meat become Dalek themselves in some way. It’s difficult for her to ignore the words, though, as her boyfriend, Mazal, comes from a Puritanian family; and already they keep their relationship secret.

She talks of the deadly (and illegal) Time Ball games that the older children play. Sophienna believes that the children do this to remind themselves of what victory—a distant concept—is like. She is too young, but she plays her own game, tossing stones at jars of Dalek eyes, the one part of the mutant that few people will eat. In dwelling on this, she thinks of her prize possession—a particular stone that she will not throw, one given to her now-deceased mother years ago by a man, a hero, who saved her mother’s life. She follows his adventures, as best she can, with news clippings in a scrapbook.

Suddenly there is a knock at the door—a secret knock, signifying something unusual. The face that greets her at the door…is that of her hero. He sweeps past her simply enough, with an airy “I believe I am expected for tea.” He sets the table and provides the meal, foods and teas that have not been seen in this house for a very long time. The family and the hero catch up; and the man is shaken by the news of the death of the woman he once saved, who has died in childbirth with Sophienna’s younger brother. At this he grows sad; but he grows angry at word of the stripping of Jericho’s resources and defenses, of the transfer of doctors, nurses, and warriors to Arcadia. Later he lets Sophienna show him her room, with a star hanging from the ceiling in memory of her mother. Sophienna tells him that she once named a real star for her mother—but for seven years, the sky trenches have necessarily obscured the view of the stars.

The Warrior takes Sophienna by the hand and leads her from the house. Traveling through an underground network of tunnels, and before she realizes it, in the darkness they have entered the Warrior’s TARDIS, and are traveling. When the doors open, they are standing atop the sky trench. Sophienna chokes up at seeing her mother’s star, unimpeded, for the first time in years; and as she writes this down, she finds it hard to articulate. The Warrior pleads with her to share her thoughts and experiences, to write them down and make them live on; he assures her that to him, she is the true war hero. She understands…but that is not enough. She grabs his hand and makes him look down on the ravaged landscape, and she tells him:

“You come and go, fixing things and leaving them as if they can stay mended. But even after the victory the horrors of war multiply. Mum didn’t die in war – but she died because of it. Ask yourself: what did you save her for? Every day I face a struggle to survive, to keep Father alive. The Time Lords, like distant gods, curse the kids, but what chance have we got? My school days finished when the last of our teachers fled to Arcadia – lessons in ancient Gallifreyan replaced by demonstrations of how to skin a cat. You’ve taken me on an incredible journey and for that I am truly grateful, but if you want to understand you need to walk in my shoes, follow my lead. Let me take you on the trip of your lifetime. Come and face the hostile terrain without using your TARDIS as a shortcut or hideout.”

And follow he does. Later she will reflect that it is his journey with her across the battlefields that eases the memory of her journey with him to the sky trench. She is due to pick up medical supplies for her father, and so the TARDIS lands near the medical center—and then they make the long trek on foot, under warships en route to Arcadia, under the rattled sky trenches, back to Jericho. Along the way, they forage for trade goods in the wreckage. Only in Jericho do they enter the underground network, where they encounter a band of Puritanians; but Sophienna is able to bribe her way past them, impressing her hero. She is surprised to see the Warrior is out of shape in his old age, but he presses on—and she reflects that to him, this must be like unfinished business, a debt owed to her mother.

As they approach the house, a Dalek rises from the weeds of the neighbor’s garden.

It is barely alive, but Sophienna—who has been thinking for years of how to face this—is ready. She manages to evade its now-feeble defenses, and pry off its gunstick, and beat the mutant inside to death. In the process, years of restrained anger pours out. It seems this journey has not only been cathartic for the Warrior.

He kneels beside her and whispers a lullaby, one she knows from her childhood—one that, she sees, her mother must have learned from this man. Then he carries her inside, and is off again, on his way. Before he goes, he reassures her that she is, indeed, a hero in his eyes—and her story, of what makes her strong, must live on.

We’ve been looking at the Time War for a long time now, and it’s sad to say, but stories like this are common now—stories of loss, of misery, of jaded minds and eyes, of the futility of life in the face of war. What is not common is the perspective we see here. This story is told in first person by Sophienna, where most stories have given us the Doctor’s view. It’s eye-opening, both for him and for us. One shouldn’t be too hard on the Doctor; every war needs its leaders, its generals, its heroes, and the Doctor is all of that. He’s here to think big. He is bound to look at a war this size with a macro view of fighting it. And yet, he is still, in some way, the Doctor—even Sophienna reflects on this near the end—and is bound to lift up individuals where he can. He may desperately want to pretend that he doesn’t care, but the truth comes out, even if occasionally it requires a reminder.

Sophienna’s journey at the end, in the company of the War Doctor, is almost downplayed, despite being the climax of the story. It feels very ethereal, hazy even, less than real, which is odd given that her purpose is to show the Doctor real life. I took this as a trick of perspective. We’re still seeing things through Sophienna’s eyes here; and she doesn’t need the lesson. For her this is commonplace. She navigates the wasteland with skill and ease. It’s the Doctor who is taking it in and learning from it, but we don’t get his perspective here. That’s okay, though; let’s not forget that this is part of a larger narrative, and we will see the outcome of his experiences, the change in his way of thinking, in the future.

I should mention the sky trenches briefly. We never get a good description or depiction of them on television, or in licensed materials (as far as I know, at any rate; I should give the caveat that there are War Doctor audio dramas to which I have not yet listened). We still don’t get a full description here, but there are some things we can infer. The trenches are actual structures as opposed to force fields, and can contain soldiers and equipment (hence “trenches”, as World War I and II trenches). They hover over strategic areas to intercept incoming Daleks, and are substantial enough to block the view of the sky depending on their altitude; at the same time, they are light enough and fragile enough to crumble and break down, and they appear to lack measures to prevent people from falling off. By this point in the War, some of the trenches are abandoned, though we know from The Last Day that Arcadia’s trenches, as well as those of the Capitol, are still active.

Many times now, as we near the end of the War, we’ve gone back and forth with regard to the Doctor’s attitude. It may seem as though we’re not actually making any progress, though I’ve repeatedly said he’s taking step after step toward the Moment. The reason for this is simple: He’s wrestling with himself. He simply has not resolved the conflict within himself between Warrior and Doctor; and until he does, he’ll continue to go back and forth. Nevertheless, every swing of the pendulum brings him closer to the final swing, the one that will end the War. And perhaps, along the way, he’ll continue to do good where he can, as with a girl named Sophienna.

John Hurt Tribute photo

The Time Lord Who Came To Tea was written by Paul Driscoll. Next time: We’ll take a brief look at one of the more enigmatic references from the television series in Declan May’s The Nightmare Child! See you there.

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 19: Life During Wartime

Continuing my series of mini-reviews on the short stories to be found in the charity War Doctor anthology, Seasons of War, edited by Declan May and published by Chinbeard Books.

Apologies; this one is a little longer than the other mini-reviews, but that’s because there’s a lot to talk about.

Seasons of War cover

A young Gallifreyan girl, Karlen of the House of Brightshore, knows that she is different. All around her, Gallifrey suffers and groans in the throes of the Time War. Its history is written and rewritten, again and again, as the two temporal superpowers—the Daleks and the Time Lords—battle for the future and the past. People wink out of existence as their history changes, then wink back in, sometimes the same, sometimes very different. Whole areas come and go. Most people can’t track these changes, for they are part of them. Some, a rare and fortunate (unfortunate?) few, can, and Karlen is one of them. She sees these Untempered Time Rents, and remembers, and does not change with the rest of the world.

She works in a munitions factory with many other children—until he comes. She doesn’t know him, but she sense that he is a Time Lord and more, far more, a man of great import. He rages at the factory’s overseers—“Children are our future! They are every future, and we have so few to choose from!” He tells the children to flee. Most are scared of him, and refuse to move. Karlen follows him, compelled by his demeanour. She talks with him that night. She tells him of the changes she can see, and he tells her of the history of the war, and the deep weariness and pain he carries. He has fought all his life—most of it anyway—to save various worlds; but he can’t save his own home, this world that he loves, no matter how much it deserves saving. But this is why he learned—to try. Now, he wishes only to stop Rassilon, to stop the Dalek Emperor, and to bring peace—but first, he has to survive this time and place.

Karlen feels for him. He is a good man, and so weary, and she pities him. Trying to reassure him, she reaches out to touch him, but only manages to touch his coat—and yet she is suddenly assaulted with visions of the man’s past, of another life, crashing on a rocky world, a blue box, dying a Doctor, reborn as a Warrior…She sees his future as well. She sees destruction and devastation, especially here on Gallifrey. She sees a ragged barn, and an ornate box. She sees the Moment, and knows it for what it is, and what it can do. He does not have it yet, but soon will.

But there is still worse to happen here…for she isn’t the only one seeing. At thatr brief touch, the man sees something as well: he sees Karlen in a new light. Her visions of the changes to history were just a story before; now, he understands what she can do, and he wants to use it. She shrinks back from his greed, seeing him as cruel and cowardly, but when he asks for a safe path out, she has no choice but to point it out. The way that she indicates will take him to safety, avoiding the Time Rents. Before he can go, however, a Dalek Saucer appears in the sky, and bombs the nearby factory. There’s no time to save the children—but, he tells her, it doesn’t matter. They will be reborn, perhaps different, in another Time Rent. Everyone is. He leaves, and she calls out to him—first as Warrior, which he ignores, then as Doctor, which gives him pause. He explains to her that people like her are a result of the Time Lock on the War. These temporal changes have nowhere to go, because they are locked into the War, and so they rebound onto Gallifrey, creating both the Time Rents—history’s “antibodies” against the destruction of itself—and those who can see them. She thinks she understands; breaking the First Law of Time, as is happening here constantly, is a great and devastating problem, and even a touch between two of the same Time Lord could destroy things. She tries to pull him back again, and he muses that she is his “what if?” And then he is gone. Karlen is left with only confusion as she dwells on his words—and it only grows, because suddenly, she cannot remember what is true of her own history. It seems that she, too, is now subject to the Untempered Time Rents.

There’s a lot packed into this short story, and for the sake of organization I’m going to mention some references first. Very early, Karlen talks about having witnessed many events of the War, and having seen them rewritten again and again. She mentions the Fall of Arcadia (which is on the last day of the War, so make of that what you will with regard to how time plays out—the events of this story are certainly not on or after the last day); the Horde of Travesties; The Erosion of the Crevice of Memories That Will Be (Time Lord names for phenomena are so poetic); the Rupture of the Schism (presumably the Untempered Schism?); and the Emergence of the Divergence (possibly a reference to the Divergent Universe from Big Finish’s Eighth Doctor Main Range stories). The first two were already familiar from references in The End of Time; the others are new here, and it’s a shame we’ve never been able to see any of these famous events. She mentions the Daleks firing on the Capitol and the Cruciform (with the latter having been mentioned in The Sound of Drums as the event that made the Master flee the War; it’s worth noting that Engines of War has the Doctor returning from searching for the Master. The Cruciform is noted to have been destroyed on the day that Gallifrey fell, but it apparently was attacked earlier than that). She mentions worlds that have been destroyed: Polymos (the Nestene homeworld, destroyed during the Eighth Doctor’s time in the War in Natural Regression, and first referenced as such in Rose); the Zygon Waterworld (Zygor, mentioned in The Day of the Doctor as destroyed in the early days of the War); and Eve (original to this story, as far as I can tell). She mentions Pazithi Gallifreya, the planet’s moon, and states that it still exists (contrary to The Gallifrey Chronicles, but as usual, things can be rewritten—a literal theme of this story); Mount Cadon (home of the Prydonian Academy, the House of Lungbarrow, and the Hermit K’anpo Rimpoche); Mount Perdition (The Master’s childhood home, The End of Time); Lake Endeavour (original to this story, but probably located on the continent of Wild Endeavour, The Sound of Drums; here it is said to be the location of the House of Brightshore), and Olyesti (a Three Minute City of Gallifrey in an alternate universe, The Infinity Doctors, but here implied to exist in N-Space as well). The Doctor talks about why he left Gallifrey—boredom, mostly, plus the desire to see the things he had read about—and about his years in his first life as a Scrutationary Archivist (Lungbarrow). He mentions the Nightmare Child (The End of Time), which will get further discussion in later stories. He mentions his previous returns to Gallifrey, before the War, and he inadvertantly gives Karlen a vision of the events of The Night of the Doctor.

This anthology has done a notable job of balancing the various media of Doctor Who. There have been references to various audios, novels, short stories, and television episodes (I can’t account for the comics, as I have no real experience with them as yet). Of particular interest to me is its handling of the New Adventures novel series. That series is decidedly in favor of the existence of Looms, which has long been a point of contention among fans, and is the major issue with trying to incorporate the New Adventures into the rest of continuity (such as it is). This anthology gracefully regards the Looms as not real, but a rumor, a tongue-in-cheek reference that allows us to incorporate as much else as we like from the novels. It comes up again here; this story is firmly in favor of the existence of the sentient Houses such as Lungbarrow, with several references to the Houses and their locations. If anything, it goes a little too far; the Doctor makes an offhand reference to having had “millennia of study and research” before leaving Gallifrey, which doesn’t fit with his early stated ages, but would fit nicely with the idea that he had lives before his documented First.

The story ends with a curious suggestion:

Before he ran, he shook his head at me. “Fascinating. You are my What If. My path not taken.”

It seems to suggest that Karlen is a version of the Doctor from another timeline, despite being born into a different House. It seems silly at first; but note this exchange:

[The Doctor says] “The Rents are like antibodies, Gallifrey is trying to find a way to cope when two, three, or even a dozen versions of the same Time Lord co-exist in the War simultaneously.”

And he smiled again; breathlessly it had to be said. And I [Karlen] didn’t understand what he was getting at. I mean, I understood what he said, and I understood the gravity of it. If the Laws of Time were being flouted, then… well, everything could be destroyed just by two versions of the same Time Lord touching one another.

Immediately after this exchange, the Doctor stops her from touching him, as if he knows what may result. Indeed, some damage is already done; earlier she had tried to touch him, and only touched his coat, and yet her protection from the Time Rents is already being stripped away, as we see at the end as her memories change. Who knows what would have happened had she touched him directly?

There’s one final item worth mentioning here, and although it’s mentioned almost incidentally, it’s of great importance. This story tells us how the Doctor becomes aware of the Moment, and chooses to use it as his weapon to end the War. In the brief almost-contact with Karlen, both of them receive a quick vision of his future, in which the Moment and the barn in which he uses it are seen and named. This would place this story, from his perspective, after Engines of War; at the end of that novel, he determines to end the War right away, but hasn’t determined how. It fits; at the beginning of the story, he is described as old, with rheumy eyes. While the anthology mostly occurs in chronological order with regard to the War Doctor’s life, this story is out of place; but that is most likely because it is a late addition. It appears only in the final edition; it is the first of three new stories in that edition, and I imagine that the stories were distributed throughout the book rather than added to the end.

Overall, it’s a bit confusing, and there’s a lot to take in. However, it’s rich with references, and gives tantalizing hints not only of what is to come, but of what could have been. Coming as it does, it may be one of the very last stories of the War, possibly directly before the events of The Day of the Doctor–but we’ll see.

John Hurt Tribute photo

Life During Wartime was written by Gary Russell, a man of many Doctor Who credits—author, audio actor, director, and editor. Next time (Tuesday, due to the Memorial Day holiday in my area): Sleepwalking to Paradise, by Dan Barratt. See you there!

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

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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?

warhead-3

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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