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The Great Virgin New Adventures Review: Deceit & Lucifer Rising

As the Virgin Novels continued the run of the show following its cancellation, they quickly set about making some changes. Ace left the Doctor in Love & War and the Doctor was joined on his travels by an archaeologist, Professor Bernice Summerfield. It didn’t take long though before Ace was brought back into the fold and this time she was meaner and moodier than ever. The Nineties had finally arrived for Doctor Who

DECEIT: WRITTEN BY PETER DARVILL-EVANS

Deceit came about because Peter Darvill-Evans, who was the head-writer on this range of novels, decided that if he could dish out criticism and instructions on how to write books for the show and continue the programme’s legacy, then he had better make sure he could do it as well. So he penned Deceit, which brought back Ace, although now she had been a member of the Spacefleet for a number of years, fighting the Daleks. She a changed person and whether that would affect her future travels with the Doctor and Bernice would alter the course of these books for some considerable time.

What is really striking about Deceit is that it is an experiment. Its Darvill-Evans asking himself the question of how many side characters should be included and how many plot threads should be woven into the story. These are questions that every writer should ask themselves before they put pen-to-paper and they were questions that sadly should have been answered before as a number of early Virgin Novels, suffered from there being far too many characters involved, often to the detriment of the companion Bernice Summerfield who was often shoved aside in favour of less interesting characters.

In real-life Ace hadn’t been gone for very long. Love & War had been published in 1992, while Deceit was 1993. And as this book goes on, one wonders if it was an editorial decision to get this older version of Ace involved. For Ace though, its been three years and she’s since joined Spacefleet and their Special Weapons Division. Oh and she’s worked for a shady sounding mining company. But there is no other mention of those who survived Love & War and Ace’s three-year stint away from the Doctor does seem to be pretty checkered. It’ll all be answered as the series goes on but for all her time away, she still doesn’t like the Doctor. She’s forgiven him for the death of Jan, her lover in Love & War but not for the way he used to treat her and manipulated her.

Cover art for Deceit
Cover art for Deceit

I know that at the time, many Doctor Who fans kicked off about the way Ace had changed but I haven’t noticed much difference. I’ve just finished The Dimension Riders and she still feels like the Ace, just with bigger toys and a bigger chip on her shoulder. Early on in the book’s run, there was a lot of emphasis put on her strained relationship with her mother, though these feels were dealt with on-screen in The Curse of Fenric. But there is none of that silliness here and so far, I’ve been impressed that her feelings for her mother haven’t been brought up again. But there is a hint that she’s gotten much more secretive since she left the Doctor and as she departs with the Doctor and Bernice, there is the hint that there is something she isn’t telling them. It’s a secret that won’t keep for long as Lucifer Rising delves into it nicely. But it’s a nice thing for the book to have and some nice development for Ace.

And much like Rose when she met Sarah Jane, there was a nice amount of tension between Ace and Bernice. Truthfully I don’t know why when the pair spent much of Love & War together but the jealousy of the new travelling companions must be par for the course for an older companion. The tension is something that will stick with them up until Blood Heat but there is little time for fighting here as Darvill-Evan’s story takes place over the course of five weeks with the final acts taking place over the course of a day. But as Ace and Benny spend much of their book run travelling together, they don’t keep their frosty relationship for long. And even though it is still early days for Benny, Davill-Evans doesn’t hang around to have her captured. Even though she goes on to become one of the most beloved spinoff characters, one does have to wonder where Bernice became strong enough to warrant her own run of books and twenty-years worth of audios. She must get better as the books go on.

The other major inclusion here is that of Doctor Who Magazine’s comic book creation Abslom Daak. I had read a little bit of his time with the Eleventh Doctor in the Titan Comics and certainly heard of him and seen panels from the old DWM comic book strip but never really read anything with him in. He’s an interesting character to look into, though I would recommend reading this book first and then delving into his background. He’s violent, coarse, straightforward and much to Ace’s dismay, quite lusty. In many ways, Darvill-Evan’s seems to have modelled him after John Peel’s Gilgamesh from Timewyrm: Genesys. But really, he feels more like Conan the Barbarian, ready to throw down with anyone, be them human or Dalek. Don’t get in his way because he’ll kill you. And he plays a larger part in Ace’s time away from the Doctor than you might expect, so he’s got some niceties into the wider Doctor Who universe. In many ways, he’s a character I’d love to see on television, but I doubt they’d have the guts to do him justice and I don’t think you’d get away with it at 7.00 pm in the evening! Maybe Big Finish could include him in their Torchwood range?

Darvill-Evans also goes to great pains to give us background on the Earth’s expansion phase. The time when humans really went out into space. It’s a time period we’ve seen and heard plenty of on television, but seldom seen really explored, so it’s nice to finally get some background here. He ties in stories like The Dalek Invasion of Earth and Frontier in Space as well as unwittingly giving us some basis for the fights seen in stories like Into the Dalek when it comes to the Dalek-Wars. And the Cyber-Wars also get a mention, which seems especially relevant now with Series 12 promising us the mystery of the Lone-Cyberman. It’s fun to think that these ideas might have been rediscovered in more recent times and upgraded for modern audiences and adapted to fit in with the television series proper.

Deceit was the first book I’ve really enjoyed in this range since Love & War. And I found very little to criticise about it. Where the book does flounder though is in its dealing with the infection of the TARDIS and by default, the degradation of the Doctor. Darvill-Evans does sort of handle it as a mercy killing, here the Doctor simply talks to it and everything is put right. This plot began all the way back in Cat’s Cradle: Warhead and has played a significant role in the books ever since. I’m glad to see it go and judging by what happens in Blood Heat, it seems to me that the creators at this time we’re delighted to get rid of the plot thread altogether.

LUCIFER RISING: WRITTEN BY ANDY LANE & JIM MORTIMORE

When I finished Lucifer Rising I looked back and I had thoroughly enjoyed it. However, looking back on it, it is a large book and takes quite a while to eventually get going. It’s got plenty of technobabble and weirdness to enjoy in the early half of the book, it just takes its time in getting to the point. Perhaps due to the two-authors of this novel, it jumps around quite a bit, moving the action from location to location and it isn’t hard to see the different writing styles of the two authors sometimes. It opens quite strangely too, with the Doctor, Ace and Bernice being viewed on a computer screen for quite some time. It’s an interesting way to open the story, though I doubt it needed to go on for that long. What makes it even stranger is that the crew watching them don’t know if the trio is supposed to be there or if they are stowaways. Perhaps it’s just because we are so used to seeing the Doctor smooth talk his way into situations, but here there is some explanation, about it being the TARDIS telepathic systems now that the TARDIS is working nicely again?!

With Deceit having been penned by Virgin New Adventures producer, Peter Darvill-Evans and the way he reintroduced Ace, then I think its safe to say that it’s been something of a course-correction for Ace. Lane and Mortimore continue that trend here, giving us some more background on the three-years she’s been away from the Doctor and her encounters with IMC, the corrupt mining company from Colony in Space and how she told them of the Doctor’s ability to travel in time. As the book goes on, it shows Ace has learnt how to be much more manipulative like her former friend and she manages to sneak IMC into the story’s setting without anyone realising until its too late. From there they try to get the Doctor to let them have access to time-travel. Of course, Ace eventually realises her mistake and corrects it and her and the Doctor and Bernice become ‘friends’ again, though the final line of the book does pose the question of how long that peace will last and it isn’t until a few books time with Shadowmind that we actually start to see the happier Ace we all knew and loved.

Cover art for Lucifer Rising
Cover art for Lucifer Rising

Poor Bernice. Yet again she seems to only exist to get herself into life-threatening danger, otherwise, she’s just stood around. You do feel sorry for the character, especially given how big she would become a few years down the line. Even here, she has the potential to be a great companion, had the writers of all her novels, treated her fairly. Whether it was due to the writers not knowing what to do with her or having three series regulars is up for debate, but at this point, you do wonder why she’s still around!

Lucifer Rising also introduces us to an organisation that was mentioned in Colony in Space and would go on to play quite a big part in future novels, not the least because it is through the Guild of Adjudicators that we meet the Doctor’s future companions, Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester. Here though, we meet Adjudicator Bishop, who is quite trigger happy in the beginning though he does mellow out as the book goes on and he discovers the Doctor isn’t the real enemy. He actually grows to be quite likeable and his death is actually quite sad. But everyone dies in the New Adventures, so don’t feel too bad! It’s a nice lead into an organisation we’d heard of in the show proper as well as some of the Doctor’s future companions coming from them. And it was good that Bernice had heard of them too but wasn’t a big fan. I’ve not gotten to the introduction of Chris and Roz yet, but I expect Bernice didn’t like them at all!

So Lucifer Rising is a decent read, easily up there as one of the best New Adventures I’ve read, even if it does take a while to really get going. It’s also a good jumping-on point for new readers if you’d missed Timewyrm: Genesys and Love & War. Even to this day, it’s still quite a cheap book to pick up, if you’ve got a bit of spare cash I’d recommend giving it a go!

And here’s a little fun fact for you, at the time this book was published, Virgin was toying with the idea of regenerating the Doctor. He was supposed to resemble David Troughton in appearance and although this book was published around the time those ideas were being formed, nothing eventually came of them as, by the time 1996 came along, Paul McGann was the Eighth Doctor. Won’t someone think of the continuity!

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