Love and War

I never finished this review to my satisfaction, but here’s what I’ve got.

Doctor Who fans who’ve read Love and War probably remember it as the book in which Bernice Summerfield–the first series regular created just for the New Adventures–debuted, just as the Doctor’s partnership with Ace ended in an acrimonious break. (To recap: as part of an improvised plan to save a few million other lives, he’s taken advantage of the death of her lover. Ace seems to suspect that he deliberately engineered Jan’s death, or at least that he could have saved Jan but chose not to. I think some readers may have come to the same conclusion, as it takes close attention to work out what the Doctor knows and when he knows it. But more about that later. [Except I never finished this part.])

There’s some hugely obvious Biblical symbolism: Ace begins by accepting an apple from Jan–on a planet called Heaven, no less–and ends by leaving the TARDIS and the special privileges it provides, including the “Time Lord gift” for languages. (There’s also some reference to the legend of Sennacherib, the king whose attacking army was supposedly defeated by an angel sent by God. Or, if you prefer Herodotus’s version–and I definitely think it is cooler–by a cute little army of field mice who bit through their bowstrings. Probably this foreshadows Jan’s singlehanded burning of the entire Hoothi invasion force, although there may be some other symbolism I’ve missed.)

But Ace’s fall from grace is also her passage into adulthood. In Chapter One Ace’s perception of the TARDIS reads like a child’s description of home; in the end she rejects the Doctor and Bernice as a “[f]ake Mum and Dad.” Long before that, she’s begun to slip away from the Doctor, even as Bernice steps in–without yet realizing it–to take her place. When the Church of the Void chants to focus a telepathic message to a Hoothi agent, it’s the Doctor and Bernice who throw off their rhythm by crooning “Try a Little Tenderness.” (Ace stays off to the side. It’s not her thing.) And it’s Bernice who tags along on the Doctor’s visit to the Hoothi while Ace takes off on a disastrous non-Doctor-approved suicide mission.

This may have been a slightly risky move–not because of the circumstances of Ace’s writing-out, but because she was written out at all. It’s usual for media tie-ins to stay subordinate to their parent series. This has been less true lately–the Star Trek tie-ins have tried continuing Deep Space Nine and Voyager past their sell-by dates, and apparently the Star Wars books, comics, games and what-not are all supposed to be official additions to the franchise–but this was 1992, and I’m not sure if carrying on a television series as a series of books (as opposed to a collection of standalone novels, like the early Star Trek tie-ins) had ever even been tried. Any marketing department will tell you that tie-ins aren’t stories, but merchandise: familiar, unliterary and unchallenging enough to keep even the most conservative fans in their comfort zones.

Of course, in 1992 no marketing department cared enough about Doctor Who to micromanage the New Adventures. (How times have changed, in this era of talking Dalek wastebaskets.) So Peter Darvill-Evans was free to try another approach: “the New Adventures are not intended to be a support for the TV series, or a temporary substitute for it… the New Adventures have to be ready to take most of the strain of pulling Doctor Who forwards.” That statement comes from the afterword to his own Deceit, a few books down the line from Love and War. He was responding to a fan poll suggesting that a significant minority of fans would have preferred a monthly volume of pressed nostalgia. A series willing to replace a familiar TV character with a purely literary creation was bound to alienate a certain chunk of fandom. I don’t want to overstate the relatively mild risk here; we’re talking a small chunk. But fans are strange and they might always turn out more conservative than you realized–look at the reaction to “Love and Monsters,” which I never would have guessed would inspire deep and widespread loathing 1. That the move came in a book that questioned the Doctor’s morality and broke the expected relationship of trust between him and his companions was a bonus nervous-making thing.

Still, the first new regular character was an important second step in taking the NAs from media tie-ins to real novels. The first had been taken with Timewyrm: Revelation‘s strong characterization of the regular cast. So it made sense that the new companion would be introduced by Paul Cornell, who was now the first NA author to write a second book. Several characters besides Bernice were “auditioned” for the new companion, including Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart (Transit) and William Blake (The Pit) 2. But, in retrospect, going with Benny is the best decision any Doctor Who-related book editor ever made: She was the first of the Doctor’s companions to get her own successful spinoff series 3–and immediately after that one ended, another series, which even now, fifteen years after Love and War, is still going.

Rereading Love and War, it’s surprising how fully formed Bernice is. Only a couple of traits that were dropped or deemphasized: I don’t recall anyone ever referring to her crack shooting ability again, and her missing father was kept in the background until Return of the Living Dad. (Which was kind of lucky, as anyone familiar with Anji “Did I mention my dead boyfriend?” Kapoor will realize.) Cornell writes for her as confidently as if everyone had already had a few volumes to get to know her. In fact, Love and War has aged well in general. The one really odd detail is the way the Travellers physically wire themselves into the net with jacks implanted in their necks. (Also, it’s more amusing than it ought to be when Ace calls Christopher “Big Ears.” Can’t think why.) Aside from that, the book hasn’t dated at all. Which is lucky, because it’s a book that almost requires rereading.

1. But apparently “Tooth and Claw” and “The Idiot’s Lantern” are, like, really cool. Clearly I was not made for these times. (Back)

2. Seriously. William Blake. See I’m not sure if there were any other candidates. (Back)

3. Not counting K-9 and Company, which didn’t make it beyond a pilot. And was crap. (Back)

1 thought on “Love and War

  1. the jacks in the necks is actually directly out of the cyberpunk literature of the day. I assume that Cornell read some Shadowrun stuff (or something similar), which had a lot of this cable-into-head aesthetic. Back in the beginning of the 90s that sounded so damn futuristic to everyone. In more current versions of Shadowrun it was replaced by wifi implants, because by now cables are something antiquated.

Comments are closed.