Reviewed By: Eiphel
Review Date: 11/24/12 7:18 am
5 out of 5 found this review helpful.
I've never been a New Adventures fan. I've looked at them but they never worked for me. As a result, I knew very little of the details of Love and War, though I was aware of the significant parts - particularly Ace's departure and Bennie's introduction. The result was intriguing in a very similar way to some of the Lost Stories. It felt a bit like a historical document I was learning about, as well as a new story I was enjoying.
I had no real trouble following things, and I don't know if I was really out of the loop about anything. There was perhaps a little bit of running to keep up at first - Ace is already in with the Travellers, and she has all her history with Jules already hanging over her. It felt a little like those were things I should already be aware of, but there was no difficulty in picking up who they were.
Still, I think a little of Love and War's adapatation heritage is present, since the pacing feels slightly strange and... dreamlike. That's an odd way to describe it, but it's the most accurate I can muster. It feels very decompressed, occaisionally languorous, and certainly very relaxed in its story telling. This doesn't actually detract, per se, but I feel things would have been blocked out differently if it was written directly for audio, in order to better build momentum across the story. As it is, I underwent a sort of dawning realisation about ninety minutes into the story that I'd only just got a handle on what the conflict actually was. I don't neccesarily mind that, and it's not at all that the early story feels purposeless. It's just a strange pacing.
The one area of the plot that this dreamlike pacing actually serves fantastically is 'puterspace'. This is also the part of the story I found most unexpected. At first everything was proceeding along lines I had anticipated based on my knowledge of the story. Ace, Bennie, Heaven, portents and death... Then the puterspace sections showed up, and were distinctly odd. I wasn't expecting my tale of war and death to go all matrixy. As it transpires, some of the best and some of the weakest material is involved here. The dreamy, introspective, phantasmal qualities of many puterspace scenes are very entertaining, and they do a lot of work setting up the atmosphere of the story for Ace. On the other hand, it feels like an extra level of plot bolted on to expand the Heaven story, which might be more elegant without it - Cornell admits that his first draft of Love and War did not actually have enough plot, and I think it shows here. For a while I was wondering exactly why we'd gone to puterspace at all, and I think it's a bit of a culprit in how long it takes to understand the nature of the conflict. It gets a little cheesy too, early on. The name 'puterspace' itself is a bit daft, and Bernard Holley (who is otherwise very good, if underused, as Phaedrus) cannot help a line like 'This sword is a very powerful attack program'.
Now, another area that I think the novel heritage tells upon is the detailing. I think some parts of the story are more deeply, or differently, detailed to what I'd expect from a usual audio. Chief among those details are the characters. I chuckled at Chris's description of 'a love letter to the disenfranchised' because it is rather accurate. Here's a story in which the Doctor's melancholic detachment sees him trade off a rebellious teenager for a troubled past for a feisty adventurer with a troubled past, amid the comings and goings of a nomadic commune with troubled pasts. A nice undertone, which is fairly subtle and may have been more present in the novel, is the way in which all the characters have differently been touched by war. There's no real warring actually at work in Love and War, instead it looks at the relics of wars past.
Literally the relics, in the case of Bernice Summerfield, who has of course lived a long and complex life across novels and audios in the twenty years since Love and War was published, making this revisit of her origins a bit of a curiousity, in context. Now, I have to confess, I am not a Bennie fan. I bought Love and War because I love the Seventh Doctor, and I'd have passed it up if it were not a Doctor Who story. Bennie's of that archetype of quippy, forthright middle-aged women who are always seen drinking and complaining about their ex-husband. I tend to find her smug, and founded on a bit of a cynical attitude to the world. I've also never found her humour funny. I don't hate the character, by any means, and I will say that Lisa Bowerman really does completely inhabit the role. In every instance that I've heard her, she very much /is/ Bennie. Also in her favour, she is a distinct companion with a dynamic of her own. For all of that, though, I'm never going to have huge enthusiasm for her.
In this release specifically, I found Bennie a bit more subdued and a bit more adult than has been my experiences of her previously, and she did work better. I still found her iffy, but I wasn't off put by her presence. It was good to see her doing some proper archaeology and selling me on the fact - I've heard two other stories where she's supposedly on a dig, but on neither occasion did I get the sense she was genuinely working or demonstrating expertise. I do here. Also, I will readily admit her penultimate scenes opposite McCoy are excellent. Some of the best in the play.
McCoy himself is on top of his game. After the last few years his talent can't be doubted. Here's another strong, restrained performance that hits all the familiar notes as emotively as he ever has - and also something a bit new. There's a certain headstrong certainty that comes out of the Doctor in this place that's just ever so slightly different to what we see from him elsewhere. Yet another facet of the Seventh Doctor that's still being uncovered after so many years, brought to light by McCoy's splendid work. It's that iron certainty which actually catalyses a lot of the play, so it's commendable that he got it so right. From a script perspective, though, certain wrinkles to the Doctor's behaviour are not quite so readily signposted as maybe they needed to be. It's all understood by the end of the story, but there are times during the story when I didn't know that there were things I wasn't understanding. Mostly this manifested in a lot of confusion about the Doctor's fixation with Dodo, which I only half grasped until it was patiently explained by a helpful forum post.
Now, I find McCoy frequently demonstrates more restraint than his reputation suggests, but unfortunately, I've also found the opposite true of Sophie Aldred. Love and War is admittedly a tricky one, since it rewinds Ace to the television era, then fastforwards her along a different and rather more emotionally volatile path than the more mature Ace who developed in the audios. Nonetheless, I felt there was a degree of excess in Aldred's performance. Some rather shouty displays of overly tortured hysterics undermined the empathy Ace's scenes should have elicited, and then there were the love scenes.
Now, the love scenes are not Aldred's fault. In this instance it's the story that's to blame. I don't know if the novel is spaced over a wider time period or what, but I found it exceedingly hard to credit the relationship of Ace and Jan. Within a day, the pair of them are supposedly deeply in love. Within two, they want to get married. They pour out heartfelt confessions to one another, and talk about deeply felt trusts - And it's preposterous because they've known each other for about as long as you might spend with a stranger on a particularly long haul flight. In the context of Ace as a very messed up and emotionally stunted girl you could understand her obsession and mistaking of her emotions, but the story has us really meant to believe they're in love, and that's just not a credible sell.
Probably because their characters both exist primarily for this flawed love-life plot, neither Jan nor Jules feels like a good character. They feel trite, mawkish, and a little 'obvious' in how they've been written to be Ace's love interests. Unfortunately, neither Redmond nor Unsworth can find an angle to cut through the sentiment, leaving their characters disappointingly wet.
I was a lot more enamoured with Christopher, however. They were a fantastic and interesting character, and I'm disappointed that they were only really a tertiary player since I was much more interested to know what sort of things went through Christopher's mind than the likes of Jan's. It pleases me to see a legitimately strong, active, interesting character who demonstrates queering of gender without any of the usual misguided humour or silliness. Of everything in Love and War, my lasting impression is wanting to have more of Christopher. I think they're my favourite element of the play.
Oh, and can I just say how cool it was that Big Finish got Charlie Hayes back for a cameo in the prelude? That stirred up some fannish glee in me no end!
As someone who has never been attracted to the New Adventures, I wouldn't expect this to be a perfect story for me. To be honest, the more faithful the adaptation was going to be, the more likely it would be to contain offputting elements. Some of those are present, in Bennie's character and in overly angst-ridden and overwritten emotionality. There's also a certain oddness to the whole thing which may well be the mark of its nature as an adaptation, or may have been a peculiarity of the original novel. It's certainly very interesting though, both as a story qua story and as a piece of Doctor Who apocrypha. I enjoyed the ways it was unlike the usual audios, and in general I liked the detail of its characters, and seeing McCoy in yet another new light. I think this one's a winner, on the whole, though a peculiar one. 8/10.