The Doctor, having taken Ace to a funeral for one of her Perivale friends, takes her to the planet Heaven to recuperate as he goes on an abrupt quest to retrieve the Papers of Felsecar. Ace encounters a band of gypsy-like Travelers, some of whom hide extremely dark secrets; she begins to fall in love with Jan, their ringleader. During a group linkup to a virtual reality mechanism, Christopher, the most mysterious of the Travelers, is apparently killed as his comrades see their first glimpse of an enemy who is closer than they think. The Doctor, growing increasingly aware of a grave threat to Heaven and everyone on it, meets archaeologist Bernice Summerfield, who currently holds the Papers of Felsecar. At the center of the growing danger is Ace, confused by her love for Jan and her intense loyalty to the Doctor, and determined to bring the two together. But by the time the Hoothi – an enormous, self-contained necrosphere consciousness who reanimate and absorb the dead – are finished with Heaven, Ace will have lost both.
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Lisa Bowerman (Bernice Summerfield), James Redmond (Jan Rydd), Riona O Connor (Máire Mab Finn), Aysha Kala (Roisa McIlnery), Ela Gaworzewska (Christopher), Bernard Holley (Brother Phaedrus), Maggie Ollerenshaw (Audrey McShane), Christopher Allen (Clive Aubrey), James Unsworth (Julian Milton), Scott Handcock (Piers Gavenal), Charlie Hayes (Death), Peter Sheward (Eros)
Timeline: placement among other Big Finish audio stories uncertain; after the New Adventures novel “Nightshade” and before “Transit”
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: To celebrate 20 years of Bernice Summerfield (good grief, has it really been that long?), Big Finish Productions reneged on their long-standing policy that they would never adapt New Adventures novels for the Doctor Who audio range (never mind the fact that Big Finish’s first-ever audio play was an adaptation of the Doctor-less Benny book “Oh No It Isn’t!”, about a year before the company landed the Doctor Who audio license). There simply isn’t a better story that could’ve been on the receiving end of that policy reversal. I’m not sure I want this to be a regular thing – I don’t really need “Transit” in audio form a month after this one – but next only to “Human Nature” (which, of course, has already been co-opted by the modern TV series), “Love And War” is the archetypal New Adventure: the seventh Doctor playing a deceptive game of chess against the monsters, with Ace as the pawn, and getting caught out by a particularly cunning opponent, and still winning the day (at a terrible price, of course). With the added emotional stakes of being Ace’s exit story (well, the first one, at least, in the book continuity) and the introduction of a new companion, this is where the Doctor Who novels suddenly proved that they weren’t just any old tie-in fiction that had to restore the status quo by the end of the story to avoid colliding with whatever plans the television writers had (a charge frequently, and accurately, leveled at the copious Star Trek novels in print at around the same time). With no new Doctor Who TV episodes to contradict, the New Adventures could get away with major and lasting changes.
In audio form, Love And War starts out, much like the book does, as if it’s just another adventure, complete with the typical McCoy-era title music. What makes the audio a tricky prospect is that, since the story’s been out there for 20 years now, everyone familiar with the story has probably “cast” the voices of the various characters in their heads. I was surprised to find that Big Finish’s casting was fairly consistent with what had been in my head since 1992. There are some fairly obvious clues with some characters, ranging from Irish names to characters such as Phaedrus spouting dialogue in the classic Doctor Who villain vein, but overall, the entire cast of characters sounds more or less as I’d expect them to – in fact, some specific lines of dialogue sounded exactly the way I expected them to.
And there, really, may lie a limiting factor in the appeal of Love And War: if you’ve read the book, there really aren’t any real surprises. (The biggest surprise, really, isn’t that much of a surprise given Big Finish’s “house style”: most of the book’s top-tier swearing has been removed. Suddenly, “crukking” really is the worst swear word in the story – though I never begrudged the original text for its choice expletives, given the situations being depicted). Also soft-pedaled is the implication that Ace is having sex with another character during the course of the story. You can put two and two together, but some of the actual scenes from the book have been omitted. They’re not, strictly speaking, mission-critical to the plot, but it does result in the audio missing some of Ace’s emotional story arc. Generally, Jac Rayner’s adaptation of Paul Cornell’s novel is surprisingly faithful.
It’s not much of a stretch to say that the success of Love And War is in the hands of Sophie Aldred, but with Gary Russell directing (his first Doctor Who audio directing gig in several years), the whole thing has the right “feel”, and Aldred really sells this as Ace’s last story. (At least for a while – at the risk of spoiling things, the books saw the Doctor and Bernice reunite with Ace, only an older and battle-scarred Ace, an iteration of the character who appeared twice in Big Finish’s early audio stories.)
Fans familiar with the book will be satisfied, but not surprised, by nearly everything in this version of the story, while those who bypassed the New Adventures in the ’90s may find that they truly missed out on outstanding game-changing stories like Love And War.