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The Great Virgin New Adventures Review: Legacy & Theatre of War

After a little break, we’ve jumped back into the Virgin New Adventures. The next two books took me a rather long time to read, mainly because I wasn’t feeling very well for a while and I didn’t have the energy for them. But we’re back with Legacy and Theatre of War. Legacy sees Gary Russell take us back to Peladon for a third story on that planet and Theatre of War, from Justin Richards sees a Doctor Who story told in a rather new and interesting way!

Legacy

Written by: Gary Russell

I’ll be honest, I’m not a massive fan of the Pertwee-Peladon stories. They aren’t bad, just not my cup of tea, so the third outing for me seemed one two many. And unfortunately upon finishing this book, my fears weren’t entirely wrong. However, what I did like, was that this story sees Peladon leave the Federation. Looking back at The Curse of Peladon, it sees Peladon joining the Federation at the same time Britain joined the EU, The Monster of Peladon was a direct parallel on people’s fears of being in the union at that time and Legacy, albeit about twenty years beforehand, sees Peladon leave the Federation, just like Britain has just left the EU. Could original writer Brian Hayles have been unwittingly predicting the future? Gary Russell certainly seemed to be.

Despite being set on Peladon, the politics of the planet doesn’t play much of a part to the main story, which Russell hands over to the quest to get a device called the Diadem, something that gives people dominance over other’s minds. We do still have all the Peladon-stables though, we’ve got royalty in charge, an untrusting chancellor obsessed with Aggedor. We’ve got Aggedor, Ice Warriors and Alpha Centauri.

Legacy's striking cover artwork
Legacy’s striking cover artwork

Russell sets up the story with a flashback featuring a previous Doctor and aliens called Pakhurs, creatures which go on to appear in a few of Russell’s later works too. With Ace chasing down the Diadem, the climax to the story doesn’t really do much to get across how powerful this device is despite the bodies it leaves in its wake throughout the rest of the novel. Worse still, Russell leaves it on something of a cliffhanger promising a continuation to the Diadem when he doesn’t really finish things up here.

I don’t know if this was Russell’s very first time writing any form of Doctor Who story but he really doesn’t have a handle on dialogue. No one speaks how he makes his characters speak. Kort, a spoilt brat who goes to Peladon with the Doctor and Bernice doesn’t get any scenes which make the reader actually think he’s changed over the course of the book and Russell pairs him with a Pakhur called Keri who ends every sentence with “Yeah”, which get very annoying very quickly. And for some reasons, the Ice Warriors make a comment about Bernice wearing Chinos but I don’t know when in conversion Bernice would have told them what she was wearing. He doesn’t have a great handle on Bernice either. Part of her character is that she is a studier of human behaviour but we get inner monologues about how she’s noticed that a particular person is or isn’t smiling. It doesn’t add anything to the story, makes Bernice sound rather stupid and doesn’t give her anything interesting to contribute to the story.

Ace is treated even worse and is hardly in it. But given how little Bernice gets to do on Peladon, perhaps it’s a good job she doesn’t go with them as she certainly wouldn’t have had anything to do. While I’m more than happy to read more from Bernice, basically dumping Ace at the beginning of the story is a rather inelegant way of making sure Bernice gets the ‘solo-companion’ role.

Mismanaging the two companions, you’d think Russell would at least get the Doctor right. Given how much he wanted to write a new Peladon story but you’d be very wrong. Instead, the Seventh Doctor here feels like he’s been pulled right out a Target novelisation. Nevermore than a few feet away from his umbrella and sporting his question-mark jumper once more. What’s even more shocking is that the Seventh Doctor seems to have an internal hatred for the Ice Warriors despite getting over this in Curse of Peladon. It’s almost embarrassing to read, given how it doesn’t fit the characterisation for who the Doctor is at all. The Doctor should always believe the best in people, not always expect the worst.

It is difficult to find anything good to say about Legacy, the writing is just awful, its clichéd, its overly long, the dialogue is horrendous, the characterisation of everyone involved is shockingly bad. And like I said, I’ve never been a massive fan of the Peladon stories but perhaps it would have been better had it not featured the Seventh Doctor but instead a different, earlier incarnation. It’s not really a setting that lends itself well to The New Adventures format. Being a Gary Russell book, there are plenty of continuity references but despite the pros and cons of those types of references, Legacy still isn’t a good book. The plot begins to stall and fall flat pretty early on, the vast majority of characters are unlikable and the regulars don’t really get out this without egg on their faces. It’s not a good book for anyone involved and good have done with a few more drafts before submitting it to print. Hopefully, this will be the last I ever have to hear, watch or read from Peladon in a very long time.

Theatre of War

Written By: Justin Richards

Like Legacy, Theatre of War is the debut of another first-time novelist. This time its Justin Richards. However, unlike other first time novelists, Richards actually seems to have read through what he’s written first, as this time, the prose reads really easily.

Richards is one of my favourite Doctor Who writers and I believe wrote one of my favourite Doctor Who books, The  Sands of Time and I was a little wary of going into this one, given how it was his first book and these novels don’t have the greatest track record of new incoming authors. There is a patience to the prose that lends itself quite well to being able to either read in one go or like I did, in small chunks if you’re busy with other things. It was the sort of breather we really needed after the last arc finished with No Future.

That’s not to say that Richard’s prose is slow going, but he isn’t afraid to stop and smell the roses for a moment before continuing. And given out its based a lot on different aspects of Shakespeare, that a lot of this book is about building the anticipation and waiting for things to happen. The book opens with Bernice taking a look around the Braxiatel Collection, a large library with almost everything you can think of in or around it. It sounds like a fascinating place and is brilliantly realised by Richards. Likewise is the theatre, the main bulk of this story takes place in. You instantly get used to the layout and remember the grisly deaths like something out of your nightmares.

Artwork for Theatre of War
Artwork for Theatre of War

Perhaps its because I’m a member of a dramatic society and love acting, that the layout of this book made it a real easy read for me. It’s not something that I can see everyone liking and I’ll admit that I did think it was a little too long for the story that it was trying to tell. But for once, this is a new author who seems to have the story sorted out nonetheless and knows what he’s trying to do with it even though there were a few bits and bobs I didn’t quite grasp!

One of those things is the main villain of the piece, a machine that can bring any play to vivid life. While I get it as a concept, in practice, the rules Richard’s puts in place for the machine seem to be in as much flux as the machine’s sense of reality. It can put people from plays into the real world with real weaponry but can also transport you within itself. It’s not just fictional characters it can reproduce, it makes clones and holograms of real people too. One thing I did like but doesn’t get used again is in the first half of the book, it kills a number of archaeologists in ways they remember from their past. But this doesn’t come up again, despite being a brilliant concept.

Despite the elegant prose, where Theatre of War doesn’t quite reach the bar is in its characters, namely because there isn’t enough for them all to do. Bernice comes across rather well though, finally getting a version of her character close to what Paul Cornell created in Love & War is nice too. And Ace gets plenty to do, including a rather movie-ish moment where she jumps out the back of a space-ship to destroy their pursuers. Richards should be praised for handling two companions much better than many other writers before him.

And we finally get a Seventh Doctor who feels like the McCoy incarnation. Yes, there is the usual manipulations from him but even that doesn’t feel as bad as it could have been, especially as he gets as caught up in his machinations as everyone else does. It’s nice to have a book where this feels like the Doctor and not a dark-imposter.

While I doubt that Theatre of War will connect with people on any form of emotional level, there is still plenty to enjoy here and it’s never boring. Its got one eye on culture and isn’t afraid to smell the roses, while the other eye is an action movie, throwing characters from one gruesome moment to another. While some of the supporting cast don’t really get much to do, we are finally introduced to Braxiatel, a character who plays an important part in the life of Bernice Summerfield as well as the Gallifrey range from Big Finish, though he did leave me wanting to hear more from the character in these pages.

This is a very elegant book, maybe not expertly written but for a debut novelist, its nice that it is clear Richards has done his homework and a good few drafts beforehand. And it feels like we’ve finally gotten the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice right. Hopefully, that will continue in the upcoming books, I guess time will tell.

Next Time: All-Consuming Fire and Blood Harvest

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