Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Love and War

I really loved the previous New Adventures book. Would the streak continue? Would I enjoy Paul Cornell's second Doctor Who book? This is the one that introduces the famous Bernice Summerfield to the canon, by the way. Let's dive in.

The Doctor and Ace have come to the planet Heaven, a perfect paradise where the worlds send their dead in space capsules, a perfect resting place. Ace falls in love with a member of a gang of Travellers and the Doctor meets an archaeologist by the name of Bernice Summerfield. But all is not paradise on Heaven. A strange conspiracy centuries in the making is coming to fruition, and the Doctor's game to defeat it might go too far.

To say anything else of this story would ruin it. This is definitely one of the things that you want to start reading blind. It's a fairly depressing story, full of love and war, just like the title, but there are beautiful moments. This is the first Doctor Who story to explicitly refer to sex; Ace and Jan make love. They don't just have sex - they make beautiful tender love. It doesn't take a genius to see where this is going. He might as well be called Cannonfodder. However, it's how he dies and how everything comes together that's so perfect and wonderful.

It's an entirely bittersweet story that echoes "tis better to have loved and lost..." without actually coming out and saying it. The reason why this works is twofold: our investment in Ace's development across 9 books and because of Cornell's light touch. This is a short book and it doesn't need to be any longer than it is. Cornell just sketches out the details of the love, sketches out the details of everything, and then in the last third, lets the Doctor Who story become a Doctor Who story. This isn't a criticism. Far from it. How the Doctor manages to pull off this feat is incredible and fun and exhilarating all at the same time. This sort of echoes what I loved about Silver Nemesis so much: seeing a master work is always amazing.

The villain in this story is ostensibly a classic-style Who villain. But in the last twenty pages, Cornell manages to make them seem even scarier. He raises the stakes to an impossibly high level and the danger feels palpable. This is a hard thing to do and Cornell does it magnificently. It helps that he's not hindered by the budget of a tv serial. He goes all out for the climax, including a skyscraper made of bones and an infinite staircase made of bones. It's creepy and effective.

Also effective is the love story. I can totally believe that Ace would fall in love with Jan. He's so right for her but in that way that he's wrong for her. Because of its believability, the ending is heartbreaking in all the right ways.

I don't really have much more to say about this story. I liked it. It was well written and well executed. It featured many elements of Doctor Who that I am a fan of. So there you go. Onwards and upwards.

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