On a planet called Heaven, all hell is breaking loose. The Doctor comes here to find a book – or so he says. Ace, his companion, becomes involved with a charismatic Traveller called Jan. The Doctor is seriously opposed to the romance, but what is he trying to prevent? Archaeologist Bernice Summerfield’s destiny is inextricably linked to that of the Doctor’s, but even she might not be able to save Ace from the Time Lord’s plans. This time, has the Doctor gone too far?
Love and War was a book that took me years to get hold of. Many Doctor Who fans had told me of this influential ‘New Adventure’. It is an early entry in the series of spin-off novels that lay the foundations for modern Doctor Who. Not only did it write out the Ace of the television series, but it also introduced the first companion not seen on screen – one we wouldn’t ‘hear’ for 7 years in the shape of Lisa Bowerman as Professor Bernice Summerfield. It also is the first book to take seriously the change in characterisation of the Seventh Doctor turning McCoy’s cosmic chess master into a much more manipulative swine out to secure victory no matter the end cost.
This might not be the first attempt at adapting of the New Adventures for audio. Indeed, Benny Summerfield’s audio adventures began life this way. What makes this different is its ambition. Adapting one of the most revered of the New Adventures by an author responsible for one of the most successful David Tennant stories (Human Nature) and now a writer for DC comics is not a task undertook lightly. Although Cornell might be seen as the go-to man for adaptations of his stories, I wouldn’t agree his books are most representative of spin-off fiction. I would say he was the first writer to understand what the books offered to Doctor Who stories and how they could become truly ‘broader and deeper than the small screen’. He admits in the documentary accompanying the release that Love and War was under-plotted, and it does show with seemingly random changes in tone and style as a response.
All of the above makes it difficult to explain why Love and War on audio is such a disappointment. It’s certainly not Jacqueline Rayner’s adaptation which is mostly successful; importantly it captures the essence of the book without compromising the story. Sure, there are some expositional heavy segments, but I suspect that is given when adapting such a prose heavy source material. Rayner, perhaps surprisingly, keeps a lot of the key elements that made Love and War such a crowd pleaser without causing the plot to collapse in on itself. However, the adaptation is not entirely written for audio, it is not fluid enough to take the medium into account causing some odd pacing issues.
Crucially, my dismay stems from two key areas. The first, James Redmond’s Jan leaves a lot to be desired. He delivers the majority of his lines without any inflection whatsoever. Far from being the suave, charismatic hero of the book, here he is a damp squib and totally compromises the character. The only sense of disbelief upon Jan getting shot at is from the listener at the complete lack of reaction from Redmond.
Sophie Aldred’s Ace is given one of her hardest challenges as an actress. She works hard with a script that asks her to fall very quickly in love with a complete stranger, and amazingly she delivers. Despite the problems with Redmond’s portrayal, her conviction in selling the relationship and subsequent fallout with the Doctor is easily the best thing about the production.
Of the rest of the cast, Bernard Holley’s silky smooth tones are always welcome as he clocks up another menacing Doctor Who credit as Brother Phadreus . Meanwhile Ela Gaworzewska is simply astonishing as the ethereal Christopher.
Unfortunately, Love and War doesn’t achieve its objective in celebrating twenty years of Bernice Summerfield. Here, Benny feels incidental to the plot. Lisa Bowerman’s extensive talents are barely put to use. But this isn’t really Benny’s story, it’s Ace’s – which is part of the problem in trying to adapt this particular story for this particular purpose.
Several of the elements here just are not cohesive enough for the whole to be enjoyable for me and Love and War suffers as a result. There was a chance to create a musical identity for the New Adventures that sadly isn’t fulfilled. Similarly, the Hoothi, which work very well on the page with the invasive nature of transformation, become less effective and more generic on audio. These bitty elements all add up to a disappointing whole.
In the documentary accompanying the release, Sylvester McCoy highlights the fact that the dark Doctor has been done better, and more critically acclaimed on audio. Perhaps this is the rub that by dramatising a New Adventure, Big Finish is doing something that they have already done better. Certainly McCoy’s performance isn’t as accomplished as other Big Finishes he’s done. His strengths come in the scenes with the Doctor and Ace’s fallout, something that you clearly hear the depth of the relationship between McCoy and Aldred coming to the fore.
Not wholly successful then unfortunately. The age of the material works against it as does regressing some of the characters back to states they were in 20 years ago. Whilst I’m not obsessively trying to fit this in any continuity bracket, the characters have done other things in other mediums that have surpassed the New Adventures, and they, in part, stand as examples of where Doctor Who was at that time. This said, I would like to see other New Adventures, or even some of the Eighth Doctor novels tackled to see if this is something that could be addressed. Love and War on audio is by no means a disaster, just a disappointment.
The Fiction Stroker gives Love and War two strokes out of five:
Love and War is available now from Big Finish Productions.