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The Great Virgin New Adventures Review: Love and War & Transit

Continuing with outlook back at The Virgin New Adventures books, all of which continued the series once it ended in 1989, we’ve got Love and War, which bid farewell to Ace and hello to Bernice Summerfield and Transit, written by Ben Aaronovitch, perhaps most notoriously known for introducing Doctor Who to the ‘F’-Bomb.

LOVE AND WAR: WRITTEN BY PAUL CORNELL

Love and War marks the end of an era as it says goodbye to the beloved companion Ace. But it also marks a new era of Doctor Who storytelling as this is the book where this novel range finally steps out from under the shadow of the television series and begins its bold voyage in a brand new direction.

I think that by this point, readers would have known that Ace was going to leave, there had been hints since the beginning of the range and then Mark Gattiss gave us a false start with the previous book Nightshade. The Doctor cruelly dematerialises the TARDIS before Ace can say her goodbyes. Also, a thread throughout these novels is the idea that the Doctor is ‘Time’s-Champion’, seemingly the only being in the universe capable of sorting out these sorts of problems. And while they aren’t entirely wrong, it has driven a wedge between the Doctor and Ace and she is fed up of being used as a pawn in his manipulations as it has put in her many life-endangering situations not only over the course of these books but the television series too.

So it fell to Paul Cornell, who had previously written the interesting Timewyrm: Revelation book, which also put a lot of focus on Ace, to write her out of the series. And while her departure is a bit predictable, it doesn’t spoil it, and indeed its hard to not see her point. The Doctor doesn’t care who he puts in danger and it costs the life of someone she comes to hold dear over the course of the book.

Ace has always been one of my favourite companions and while I’ve never really brought the reasons behind her departure here, she’s lost people before and its never really bothered her, perhaps its best to look at the circumstances around her leaving. So while I don’t like her departure, it is somewhat appropriate as it could only be something big to split the Doctor and Ace apart and that’s exactly what Cornell gives us.

Cover art for Love and War
Cover art for Love and War

As well as letting Ace go, Virgin also placed it on Cornell’s shoulders to introduce us to the new companion Bernice Summerfield or Benny as she likes to be called. Not only does this usher in a new era for Doctor Who but Benny also becomes the first of the new companions to become the star of the show. When BBC Books took back the licence to produce books for the show, Bernice was kept on at Virgin and they gave her another twenty-something book series following her adventures without the Doctor.

Benny wouldn’t be the only companion that the Doctor had over the course of Virgin’s publishing but she is certainly the most popular. She still pops up from time-to-time in books nowadays and her audio range with Big Finish has continuously gone strong for the last twenty-odd years! And its not hard to see why. She’s brilliant here, with Cornell devoting a lot of the plot to her, with the Doctor once again playing grand-chess-master, it falls of Ace, Bernice and the mysterious group, The Travellers to sort a lot of the problems out. And she also gets the first hints that the Doctor can be cold and manipulative but she also makes it clear that she won’t put up with it, forcing the Doctor to take a step back from his role of master-manipulator. It’s great to see a companion, apart from Ace, really stand up to the Doctor, though I would say that Bernice seems to be the first to almost work as his equal.

Looking once again at the idea that the Doctor is ‘Time’s Champion’, Cornell makes sure to make that notion more explicit and easy to understand. He tells us that Death is an Eternal, the omnipotent race the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough met in Enlightenment. Time is also an Eternal and the Doctor has long been Time’s Champion, fixing problems and stopping evil, even if it means the deaths of a few to save the many. And Ace and previous companions travel with the Doctor for enough time to be considered as The Stewards of Time’s Champion. And Ace isn’t too happy about that. The Doctor tries to make it up to her but just can’t help himself by continuing to manipulate and twist her and we also get the indication that the Doctor in the future still can’t help himself and he receives as game-player note from a future incarnation.

Cornell makes sure not to alienate old Doctor Who fans though as the Draconians from the Third Doctor’s era play a big part here. The planet of Heaven is a graveyard planet for both humans and Draconians following their peace treaty and the events of Frontier in Space. We’ve also got the inclusion of IMC, who would also feature in the future book Lucifer Rising, but IMC had already been the villains in Colony in Space. And Cornell also gives us the first mention of the Doctor being called ‘The Oncoming Storm’, as the Draconians call him this as does the modern series.

The Hoothi aliens are a great villain. They were first mentioned in The Brain of Morbius as a throw-away-line but they prove themselves to be horrific enemies. I just loved them, there were grotesque and disturbing, infecting people with little thorns that slowly convert their victims into them, absorbing their minds into their fungal hive-mind. They are perhaps the first worthy opponent these novels have had since the Timewyrm.

I really liked this book and it is just as good as Nightshade was. It’s dark and disturbing and offers us some new light on the characters of the Doctor and Ace. Bernice proves to be a great companion, even in her introductory story and even though I don’t really like Ace’s departure, the circumstances around her leaving feel entirely earned. She’ll be gone for a few books but have no worry, she’ll be back soon, badder and madder than ever…

TRANSIT: WRITTEN BY BEN AARONOVITCH

Transit is the first Doctor Who story written by Aaronovitch since the television series’ Battlefield and it was a book I had been looking forward to reading. Aaronovitch continued with his fascination for the Brigadier by introducing us to a distant descendant Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart and while I really liked her character, I must admit to having some trouble getting into this one.

Once I got started I really enjoyed it, but the opening chapters of the book were so all over the place, I did have a mind to just put it aside and move onto the next one. And while I didn’t, I stuck with it and in the end enjoyed it, it still felt disjointed. Perhaps some of the disappointment I felt here was in its treatment of Bernice. Almost instantly her mind is taken over and she plays out for much of the rest of the plot, as a baddie, killing her way through to the final chapters when she finally breaks free.

While it isn’t a bad thing to do with a companion, Cornell had set her up as such a strong-willed character in Love and War, that here the fact she doesn’t fight back somehow is just disappointing. I think maybe’s that’s why I didn’t entirely enjoy this one, with one main character down, the Doctor playing master-manipulator again, which I must admit is beginning to wear a bit thin, much of the plot is put onto the shoulders of Kadiatu and Zak two really strong characters but not characters that Aaronovitch makes sure to make us care about.

Cover art for Transit
Cover art for Transit

Actually, that’s a bit harsh because Kadiatu is a fascinating character and its great to see the future descendants of the Lethbridge-Stewart lineage is in good hands. For modern fans, she might remind a little bit of Jenny from The Doctor’s Daughter and I’d be surprised is the character for Jenny wasn’t possibly inspired by her character. And I think she comes back later in future novels as she does seem to fly away at the end of the novel.

Maybe another reason I struggled with Transit was in how it just seemed to be planting seeds for stories years down the line. We’ve got the first mention of the Ice Warrior-Human War also known as The Thousand Day War that will be explored in many books time with GodEngine. We continue with the Doctor being ‘Time’s Champion’ and he sets up Katiatu as a reoccurring character.

What I did like though was that the book seemed to lean quite heavily on Cyberpunk. Not something I’ve ever been into personally but it was nice to see Doctor Who venturing out into something a little bit different. It’s quite strange to have a story featuring cyberpunk elements that doesn’t focus entirely on those elements as stories about cyberpunk often fall to those traps that come with it.

With a few missteps here-and-there, Transit is a fairly enjoyable book, though it takes a while to get going. Once you get into it, its a fairly decent read, just don’t be shocked by the use of the F-word. I lost track of it after about ten uses as there doesn’t seem to be a chapter that goes by where it isn’t used. I think it caused quite a stir at the time though and I’m not too bothered by it, it’s just a word you don’t expect in something Doctor Who related! I didn’t like the treatment of Bernice here as it didn’t give her a chance to prove herself as a companion. Indeed, the book ends with Bernice believing she is nothing more than a pet to the Doctor. Not off the best of starts.

NEXT TIME: THE DOCTOR FACES THE HIGHEST SCIENCE AND THEN ONTO WHAT HAS BEEN THE WORST DOCTOR WHO BOOK I’VE EVER READ – THE PIT (AN IRONIC TITLE REALLY).

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