Sunday, 26 September 2010

Love and War, by Paul Cornell (Virgin New Adventure)

The Seventh Doctor takes his manipulation too far and finally loses the trust of Ace.

Love and War is the definitive New Adventures novel, where the themes and directions of the series really take shape. Paul Cornell was undoubtedly the best writer of the Virgin New Adventures stable. Love and War occupies a pivotal place in the series in that it gives us Ace's break with the Doctor and the entrance of Bernice Summerfield.

Love and War takes that great theme of Season 26, that of the Seventh Doctor/ Ace relationship and takes it beyond the television show. In Love and War, the Doctor pushes Ace to the limit until the point where she rejects his Machiavellian scheming and apparent lack of concern for her feelings. The novel gives us an apparent climax in Ace's emotional journey. It is a story of personal tragedy.

Here we have the Doctor as Time's Champion, the lonely genius who manipulates good and evil to achieve his objectives. He is detached from the feelings of others, yet desperate to avoid loneliness and desperate for the understanding of Ace. This is not the story for those who want an angst-free Doctor, but Cornell captures the Seventh Doctor perfectly. It is almost an indirect sequel to the Curse of Fenric. It also takes cues from the Seventh Doctor of Delta and the Bannermen, with his cool detatchment from the relationships of others.

Bernice is given a good introduction and is sold to us as a character with an instant chemistry with the Doctor. The book does not, however, spend much time developing her character. She sinks into the background quite quickly.

I am a fan and I am not ashamed of it. I like continuity references. Paul Cornell and other New Adventure writers have been cursed for their 'fanwank', but I resent this charge. We like to see other stories referred to. It creates a sense of the reality of the Doctor Who universe. I appreciate seeing Draconians, references to the Dalek War, IMC and Abslom Daak the Dalek killer.

The presence of New Age Travellers/Crusties is a nostalgic touch. The reference to 80s and early 90s culture is one of the pleasures of reading New Adventures novels today. The presence of Puterspace, a virtual reality world is also a nostalgic cyberpunk element.

We might expect the Doctor, a wandering rogue to be very close in attitude to the Travellers, but instead we find him taking a suspicious view of them, seeing them as dangerous and somewhat parasitic.

Portraying a sexual relationship is something that could never really be done in the television series. This is an interesting element and it is portrayed with some brilliant prose. It is a little hard to believe Ace would really fall so wholeheartedly for a man as obviously unreliable and inconsistent as Jan (does she really expect him to remain faithful to her?). Perhaps being in the TARDIS with the Doctor makes the companions long for human relationships and take them wear they can.

Like many of the Virgin New Adventures, Love and War looks to H.P. Lovecraft for influence. The Hoothi are fungoid, like Lovecraft's Mi-Go, they are an ancient menace like his Old Ones and are worshipped by human cultists. They are an effective Doctor Who monster. It is perhaps a little awkward that it is never properly explained how Ace's old friend Julian came to be in their power.

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