Home : Archive : TSV 41-50 : TSV 48 : Regular

Not-So-New Adventures

Love and War

By David Lawrence

A column taking a fresh look at some of the older New Adventures novels

An English lecturer of mine once defined good literature as "books you have to read a second time." She was at the time talking about Chaucer's Canterbury Tales but I wondered if you could apply the same definition to Doctor Who literature. On first thoughts I'd probably say no - as a child I read every Target novelisation about ten, twenty times each. In hindsight I think this is more indicative of my obsessive nature than the quality of the books because let's face it: with about five exceptions, as works of worthy literature, the Target novelisations are all bollocks. I'd like to regard the New Adventures as a different case because I think (or used to think) that many of them could be considered outside their status as Doctor Who books but as "books you have to read a second time."

I can think of very few of the early New Adventures that I haven't read at least time. The first twenty-or-so were exciting, original, innovative novels, sometimes necessitating a second read because they couldn't be understood in just the one effort and other time because they were just so damn good. I can think of very few of the recent New Adventures that I've read more than once. There are even a couple I never managed to finish. Unfortunately, since No Future I've found almost every New Adventure tiresome, predictable and uninspiring. There are some notable exceptions (such as Warlock, Set Piece and the brilliant Falls the Shadow) but what I once found so enthralling I now find just plain dull. Everything seems to have settled into a repetitive format and style, whereas the early books were all so wonderfully different. Never was a book what I expected it to be.

Love and War surprised me. I first read it, considerably out of sequence, after White Darkness. After the reviews and the interview with Paul Cornell in TSV 28, I'd been led to believe that, in contrast with Revelation, it would be a much quieter, less-populated, more straight-forward book - Ace falling in love on a peaceful, serene planet while the Doctor plays chess.

Like Revelation, Love and War is a folk take that follows Vladimir Propp's model of the hero undertaking a voyage of self-discovery - going into a pit, meeting themselves and coming back out again. Only in Love and War, it's Ace's turn to be the hero. Although Revelation is probably my favourite, Love and War is the better book. It's far more accessible - Paul Cornell's first book is hugely continuity-reliant but Love and War can be read with no previous grounding in Doctor Who (I have an ex-girlfriend who will testify to this fact!). This isn't to say that there isn't lots of annoying continuity references because there are, but they don't detract from the story in any way. Its loose origins are the Pertwee story Frontier in Space and a throwaway line in The Brain of Morbius about the Hoothi and their "silent gas dirigibles."

The themes of the novel are expressed in their most obvious form by the title. Love, war and an Ibsenesque obsession with the past. Thoughts of Julian (whose funeral Ace attends at the start of the book) and Audrey are never far from Ace's mind. Benny and Jan are both fans of 20th century Earth, Jan and Maire are fascinated by the past of their own people and Benny's also running an archaeological expedition to uncover the ancestry of the planet Heaven. The Doctor's thoughts are elsewhere for most of the book, but when he is present he is concerned with an ancient book and when he realises Ace is involved with Jan he keeps thinking of countless times in his past he's lost companions to Love. But most importantly it's about past actions and how they affect the future.

For me, the greatest strength in each of Cornell's books is in the characters. It's a general rule in writing that the writer must care for all their characters and Cornell always gives special attention to every single individual we meet during the course of the novel, from Ace and Jan down to Trench the librarian and even Paul Magrs, whom Benny names a door after in the name of archaeology. The reader's intelligence is never insulted with black and white characters that we're either supposed to like or dislike according to the author's opinion. It's Ace's story without a doubt and for most of the book we see a woman who has taken the pain she has suffered in her travels with the Doctor (and often at his own hands) and used it to help herself grow stronger. "Let's see," says Christopher, as they join minds in Puterspace, "Dorothy. Warrior chemist, Dalek killer, she who loved not wisely but well." Perhaps the Othello allusion would be better suited to Jan Rydd, who attempts to emulate the Shakespearean ideas of honour and nobility, suffering unnecessary guilt over matters he had no control over.

Only in Andrew Cartmel's New Adventures do we see mastery similar to Cornell's in the use of the Doctor. In Love and War the Doctor is an icon, or at least on the way to becoming one. Few writers seem aware of how much more strength the character of the Doctor has when we don't see much of him. Just as in the Hartnell/Troughton eras, the strength of the series was that no one knew who the Doctor was, where he came from or what he was doing. Love and War shows the Doctor at his most enigmatic and suddenly when the book is at its most chaotic moments, we realise that he has absolutely everything under control, everything has been pre-planned in this game and by the time everything is over Benny and Ace have very good reasons to feel betrayed. He has even managed to cheat Death, despite her claims that he's used up all his bargaining power with her.

After the previous eight books, the tension and the strain in the Doctor and Ace's relationship wears a little thin, thus a breath of fresh air is needed and comes in the form of Bernice Summerfield. Bernice is a sheer delight to read and enlivens every page she's on. And the fact that she's continued to do so in almost every book she's been in since then is further testimony of Cornell's strength, that he can create such a useable character. "Take me to your tent and fill me with mead," she orders Jan on the morn of one of the most important points of excavation. She's also interested in Martian culture and is an expert in body language (a fact that virtually every New Adventures author has ignored since this book). Her bizarre sense of humour has been well handled by many later authors but some books have turned her into nothing but an irritating wisecrack (such as the atrocious All-Consuming Fire) with an alcohol fixation. Benny is the eternal university student who hasn't quite grown up and graduated yet. "Still a girl, still drinking too much wine and sighing a lot and keeping that stupid diary."

The dialogue is great - never cumbersome, even in the huge explanatory chunks, and there are some wonderful conversations. The Doctor and Bernice's late night stroll through the landing zone is a particular highlight, rounded off with the Doctor's attempt at self-expression. "I'm what monsters have nightmares about!"

Love and War is a novel that ends with a sense of loss. Ace discovers that she doesn't need the Doctor after all, when she thought she did, while he discovers he does need her, which he thought he didn't. But while Ace leaves him, a new companion manifests itself in the form of Bernice. The book also sets up ideas and elements that appear again in later New Adventures, just as Ben Aaronovitch's novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks did. It's macabre, gothic and intriguing with a fair share of some of the best Doctor Who moments - highlights would have to be Ace's dream about the Doctor and Death, the TARDIS crew destroying the concentration of Phaedrus's congregation by singing Try a Little Tenderness, all of Chapter 12, and then the trip inside the Hoothi sphere in Chapter 14, and above all the horrific moment at the end of Chapter 16 when we realise everything's not what it seems. And every bit with Benny in it.

At the risk of sounding too effusive, I'll have to point out that the cover illustration is very, very bad, but other than that there's not a lot that you can put to fault - any criticism of Love and War could only be due to personal taste rather than actual stylistic, grammatical or structural faults. In fact, I'd go as far as suggesting that Love and War is the best New Adventure of the lot - let's see if that raises any controversy!

This item appeared in TSV 48 (August 1996).

Index nodes: Love and War