Story: The Doctor, having suddenly 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 ‘puterspace 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. In the crucible 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 Jan and the Doctor.
Review: Though I’m inclined to nominate Paul Cornell’s later novel Human Nature as the best of the Doctor Who novels, “Love And War” is a very close runner-up and was, in my opinion, the book which redefined and redirected the entire New Adventures series. Cornell proved that it was possible to tell a mature and intense story against the backdrop of Doctor Who’s sometimes whimsical and more science-fantasy-oriented millieu. The author excels at spinning a very dark horror story, capable of scaring the pants off of nearly anyone, while still ensuring that the characters at the heart of the story are recognizable as the Doctor and Ace as portrayed by Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. Though harsher expletives spring from Ace’s mouth, and the Doctor reaches what is possibly the darkest, lowest ebb of his seventh incarnation’s “sinister secrets” phase. The characters’ traits are amplified somewhat, but remain true to the characters we saw in the final season of Doctor Who on the BBC.
Though some readers initially balked at the thought of sex scenes or the word “shit” appearing in a Doctor Who novel, I would argue that these were all integral to the story, and the intensity of Ace’s relationship with Jan was absolutely necessary to increase the narrative stakes. And the profanity? Part of the same package. By lashing out more viciously than usual, even to the point of using language that might offend some purists who cling steadfastly to the chaste BBC-TV standards of the show, Ace makes it clear that the Doctor’s manipulative tendencies have gone too far this time. And it makes her departure all the more understandable. Even though the Doctor has once again saved the universe, he has also played one too many games of chess with his companion as the chief pawn. Bernice’s reluctance to join the Doctor as his new companion is all the more understandable in this light as well.
I can’t recommend “Love And War” highly enough. It’s the one Doctor Who New Adventure that I had to buy a second copy of because, after repeated readings, the spine of my first copy simply fell apart. It’s a tightly plotted Doctor Who story, harkening straight back to the Philip Hinchcliffe era of classic horror stories re-told Time Lord style, but more importantly, the emotional stakes are as critical – and as necessary to the reader’s understanding – as the dramatic stakes and the plotline. If you don’t get a lump in your throat while reading “Love And War”…you may want to check yourself thoroughly for Hoothi spores.
Author: Paul Cornell