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The Great Virgin New Adventures Review: White Darkness & Shadowmind

Our last Virgin New Adventures review saw Ace returning to join the Doctor and Bernice before semi-betraying them in Lucifer Rising. These two novels see her character kind of going back to her television persona and the Doctor and Bernice slowly beginning to trust her again. And White Darkness and Shadowmind see the debut of two writers who would go onto have a very big input into the many different Doctor Who novel ranges, David A. McIntee and Chris Bulis.

WHITE DARKNESS: WRITTEN BY DAVID A. McINTEE

I love horror movies. Love anything horror and I can’t get enough so I really love it when Doctor Who does dip its toes into the horror genre. And I also love the Doctor Who historical adventures. So in many ways, White Darkness should have been a hit with me. And while this was certainly a good book, I felt a little bit empty after putting it down.

White Darkness also kicks off the ‘unofficial’ series of holiday novels which sees the Seventh Doctor trying to get himself, Bernice and Ace to somewhere where they can all have a relaxing break from the dangers of the universe. But this is Doctor Who so each book has terribly predictable results, there are some people who just can’t get catch a break, especially if you happen to be a part of the darker Virgin New Adventures!

McIntee shows off how adept he is at his historical accuracy, it was an element I really enjoyed in one of his future novels, The Wages of Sin and I appreciated his care at looking into the origins of the zombie myths and the roots of that in Haitian society. McIntee also takes careful consideration to rightly pronounce it as ‘zombis’, which is how it should be properly pronounced.

Textless artwork for White Darkness
Textless artwork for White Darkness

It is also clear how much inspiration McIntee took from three films, I Walked With a Zombie, White Zombie, and Hammer Horror’s The Plague of the Zombies all of which focus a lot of the action on Voodoo, which has a big part to play in Haitian society and all those them show zombis as they are traditionally seen in Haitian society as slaves. And like some of the characters in these films, poor Bernice gets a chance to know what it’s like to be zombis, although she luckily manages to escape becoming one before its too late. But it does continue the mistreatment of her character, which has been the biggest running theme of these books so far, never mind the Timewyrm or Cat’s Cradle!

But even though she finds herself getting mistreated all over the place, Bernice does get a big part of this book to explore the historical setting and McIntee’s exploration of one of the darker aspects of World War 1, with a submarine of German soldiers hiding out on the island, and trying to get involved in the society and Voodoo practices. This is also an Ace story, with the Doctor almost surplus to requirements here. Lucifer Rising saw her in full vengeance mode, but now that is all out of her system it’s nice to see Ace going back to her Nitro-9 throwing, baseball bat swinging escapades! White Darkness also sheds some light on how she is dealing with her past pre-Love & War, and it was nice to get into her head a little bit, something that these books didn’t have too much time to do in other novels.

McIntee also includes a character, Richmann, an American assassin, who is largely irrelevant to the plot except for showing Ace the type of person she’ll become if she doesn’t buck her ideas up. In that respect, he is perhaps the most important part of the plot, as Ace struggles with who she was and who she has become. But trying to fit Richmann into the plot, proves a bit of a struggle and unlike all the other characters on offer here, he doesn’t really play any part in it.

And despite this being a brief book, I was impressed at the care and attention McIntee took in keeping this dark part of history authentic. Taking place in WW1 is horrible enough, but McIntee doesn’t shy away from showing racial relations historically accurate, much in the same way Rosa did, over twenty years later. Still, this is a Doctor Who book so I was taken aback by some of the nasty insults used, no way would that be allowed in print these days but the beautiful setting contrasted the horrible tensions and human relations perfectly and one has to wonder what is worse, zombis stalking the countryside or the evil characters around in this time. Luckily though, much the Thirteenth Doctor and her gang, The Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice are on hand to bring bad-guys down and tell them off for their language.

White Darkness gets off to a slow start. But like all good historical stories, it takes a while to get to the main bulk of the action. Once it gets there, I really enjoyed it, as well as the references to many of the zombie movies made over the many decades of horror-cinema. White Darkness also marks a turning point in the relationships between the Doctor, Ace and Bernice, they are finally getting along and following on from the events of Lucifer Rising, allows this TARDIS team, a much needed fresh start.

SHADOWMIND: WRITTEN BY CHRISTOPHER BULIS

Shadowmind continues the four-books that are loosely connected by the idea of the Doctor wanting to take his companions on holiday to various disastrous effects. But it also marks the debut of a run of somewhat lacklustre entries to the range. And while few of the Virgin New Adventures I would so far say were essential Doctor Who reads, Shadowmind is certainly one you can skip over. In fact, the only reason I finished it was I was a train back from a break in London and nothing better to do!

Actually, that’s not entirely fair, Shadowmind is acceptable, which isn’t a bad place to be, it’s not great but its certainly not reaching the lows of The Pit. In fact, we’ve had a few decent books in a row now and this one is engaging, even if it is a little long for its material. It’s not a large book, but the plot can’t really stretch to its two-hundred-something page count. Author Christopher Bulis gives us an interesting villain in the Shenn and their leader, the Umbra, which I won’t spoil what that is. Previous books have given us creatures with hive-minds before, like the Hoothi in Love & War, but Bulis makes sure these ones actually have a personality.

Bulis, who would go on to write many novels that dealt with the continuity of the show, playing in the mythos of the show, manages to give us a convincing take on Ace, someone who is still struggling with her past like a Star Fleet soldier, but someone who is trying to be the woman she once was, it’s certainly the most convincing take on that aspect of her character I’ve read so far and Bernice gets a taste of the military life and rises to the occasion wonderfully.

Cover art for Shadowmind
Cover art for Shadowmind

Bulis should also be praised for giving Bernice an easy time here, she doesn’t have to put up with the levels of abuse she has done in previous adventures and she gets plenty of the plot to prove how good she is and how she should have been written since Paul Cornell introduced her in Love & War. And the Doctor is far less manipulative here. He still keeps the secrets of the adventure to himself until the end, but given how the villain has a hive-mind, any secrets he divulges would give away how he is going to defeat the baddie, so his motives are understandable here.

So Shadowmind isn’t bad really, just inconsequential. I understand an old baddie is coming up in a book called No Future and they’ve been manipulating things behind the scenes for a while. There are some cracks beginning to form again for the new TARDIS team here, though it isn’t going to be as bad as it was in Lucifer Rising, no ones betraying one another. But Shadowmind can certainly go down as a fairly decent entry into the Virgin New Adventures range, but you won’t miss out if you decided to skip over it.

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