In order to stop the Doctor Who series of novels from stagnating, the writers decided that it was time to mix up the cast of characters a little, just as would happen every few years or so in the TV series itself. The result was that in Love and War, the ninth novel in the New Adventures line, the character of Bernice Summerfield was introduced.
Bernice, or Benny as they call her, is a really huge part of the Doctor Who expanded universe and even has her own range of novels and audio adventures. Despite consuming a lot of Doctor Who EU media, I’d only come across the character on very rare occasions and never in particularly significant roles. As such, this was really my first proper introduction to her, which is good, because it meant that I was able to enjoy the novel as it would have been read by people back when it was originally released back in 1992.
Benny is a down to Earth person with a sense of humour. She feels very real and it’s nice to have someone like her to contrast against the very aloof Seventh Doctor. I quite liked seeing her interact with Ace as well, particularly as Benny is an archaeologist from the 26th century who specialises in the 20th century (Ace’s home time). She brings an interesting new dynamic to everything and is a very good addition. Of all the characters who have been introduced in the New Adventures range so far, she definitely stands out as the best one.
Ace is portrayed very interestingly this time as well. The novel really begins to explore the kind of toll that it would take on somebody if they were to travel with someone like the Seventh Doctor, who was constantly manipulating them and withholding information from them. We also get to learn more about her past and an old friend she used to have named Julian. I’m a big fan of stories detailing Ace’s life before she met the Doctor.
The Doctor is pushed to his limits this time and his manipulative behaviour goes really far. Too far, I’d say. He also comes across as severely unhappy – the various Doctors have gone through various low periods in their lives, but this definitely seems to be one of the bleakest portrayals of the Doctor. He’s painted as a very tragic figure, one who knows that he’s wrong to manipulate so many people to his own ends, but also one who doesn’t see any other way of defeating even greater evils.
I realise I’m quite far into the review without even really getting into what actually happens in it. I guess it’s just because the personalities and relationships were just so strong. To give a brief summary, the Doctor and Ace arrive on the planet Heaven because the Doctor wants to find an old book. Benny is also on the planet doing some research and behind the scenes, an ancient evil is lurking… one which ties into the history of the Time Lords. It’s a really interesting story and there are a lot of little references which tie it into various classic Doctor Who episodes in nice ways.
There are only two things I could fault about this book: the first was that the dramatic ending of the previous novel, Nightshade, is not addressed. This was quite disappointing, particularly as it would have had a huge impact on the relationship between the Doctor and Ace. The second problem was that there is a romance in it which, though well written for the most part, felt a bit rushed towards the end. Thinking about it afterwards, I could think of a way for it not to be too unrealistic, but it did feel slightly jarring as I read it.
Overall, I’d happily describe this as one of the best books in the New Adventures range that I’ve read so far. There’s a strong, interesting story with excellent, three-dimensional characters and plenty of little bits of fan service throughout. If you like slightly darker and more adult Doctor Who, then this is one that you’re going to love.