Sunday 15 May 2011

Conundrum, by Steve Lyons (Virgin New Adventure)

'I trusted you,' stormed Ace, waving a trembling finger in Benny's face. 'I trusted you and you grassed me up to the bloody Doctor!'

'Don't you play the injured party with me!' she snapped grabbing Ace's arm and pushing it roughly away from her. 'I've bent over backwards to accommodate you- I should have known from the start, you're nothing more than a selfish maladjusted killer!'

In my opinion, Conundrum is the best of all the New Adventures. It has an experimental style and offers a playful postmodern touch, but is also highly readable. I first read Conundrum when I was 13 and found it much more enjoyable to read than some of the other Virgin New Adventures. I found it puzzling that the two companions seemed to be so moody and that Ace hated the Doctor so much, but I accepted that. When I later came to watch the Seventh Doctor televised stories, I was surprised to find that Ace was not as moody and aggressive as she is in this novel.

Conundrum is a sequel to The Mind Robber. I would venture to say that this sequel is actually a bit better than the original story, which had a rather weak plot. Lyons creates a very English provincial town in a rural backwater and populates it with a weird collection of cliched characters from different literary genres. The plot seems to shift from murder mystery, children's' adventure, superhero comic and horror until we discover the nature of this world. Cleverly, the story is narrated by the Master of the Land of Fiction and so we get a narrator who interacts with the characters he is describing. One of the most hilarious moments is the narrator's amazement at the Doctor's ability to come up with a scientific explanation for a superhero gaining his powers.

One of the things I really enjoyed in this story was the soap opera drama between the Doctor, Ace and Benny. This was the high point of the NA angsty phase, but it was Steve Lyons who really made this drama fun. Many people love the New Adventures for introducing Bernice, but hate the way they handled Ace. I am the opposite. I don't like Bernice at all, but I love the NA version of Ace. Lyons manages to show the nasty side of Bernice, presenting her as a self-righteous, hypocritical and manipulative bitch. I find Bernice too overconfident and too clever for her own good. I find it impossible to identify with her. NA Ace on the other hand, is a loser. She is a talentless failure who blames everybody else for her problems and just wants to lash out. That is a terrible attitude to have, but it's easy to empathize with her. There is something of Ace in most of us who aren't lucky enough to be as confident and clever as Bernice.

I am not entirely happy with the suggestion that John and Gillian were not really companions. I suspect that back in the 90s, Doctor Who fans were a bit more closed-minded about what could be considered canon. These days, many fans would be more open to seeing the TV Comic as canon. Of course, that Conundrum is canon need not rule the TV Comic out of the canon. The Doctor never actually denies having two grandchildren called John and Gillian, he just does not recognise the Land of Fiction duo as being them.

The revelation that the Land of Fiction was originally created by the Gods of Rrrragnarok is cool.

Conundrum is the best of the Virgin New Adventure novel and should be essential reading for any fan.

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