Monday, 4 January 2010
Review: LOVE AND WAR
New Adventure novel written by Paul Cornell, 1992
Love and War’s a weird one for me, because I’ve never really understood why people gush so much about Paul Cornell.
Reading it for the second time, I can see why people like his books – they’re neatly constructed, and Human Nature especially benefits from having a really strong Doctor Who premise – but, personally, I just don’t think Cornell’s prose is that strong. Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel, for example, blow Cornell out of the water in terms of the quality of their writing, but because their stories maybe don’t conform to what people think Doctor Who ‘should’ be like, they don’t get the same sort of recognition.
Love and War has a very conventional plot, and aside from some neat twists and the presence of the manipulative Seventh Doctor, there isn’t anything particularly original going on. People say there’s some amazing characterisation here, but, although it’s nice to get a bit of insight into the Doctor and Ace’s relationship, pretty much everyone else is quite colourless (barely even differentiated by description). There’s a bit more to Bernice (and, in retrospect, it’s surprising how many of what will become the staples of her character are established here), but I still wouldn’t say she’s three-dimensional. Everything’s a bit flat, really.
To my mind, this novel is a traditional Doctor Who plot with some added emotional manipulation. I’m not dissing it, but whilst reading it this time I was very aware of the buttons that were being pushed (although I’m fairly sure it wasn’t written this cynically). I did enjoy it, and, while I understand that when it was published the level of emotional involvement would have felt very fresh, now, with not only so many other excellent Doctor Who novels published subsequently, but also the increased emotional content of the new series, the emotional additions to Love and War’s slim plot almost feel like a very self-conscious choice. Though well-drawn at times, Ace’s doomed love affair mostly gives rise to quite a mawkish sensibility, where I imagine Cornell was attempting something more penetrating and honest.
I guess this novel is good Doctor Who – it ticks the right boxes, has some nice ideas (the Hoothi are genuinely repellent, but fascinating – brilliant name too, even if it was misheard from The Brain of Morbius) – but the concept of ‘good Doctor Who’ all too often comes down to an idealised version of the seventies series, I think, and Love and War has that feel. Personally, the books I’d rate highest are the ones that really push the limits of Doctor Who – Transit, Cartmel’s War trilogy, The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, The Man in the Velvet Mask, etc. I think it’s the difference between genuinely good authors tackling Doctor Who, and okay authors creating by-numbers ‘good Doctor Who’. (If you get me.)
Where Love and War is a total success, however, is in its Doctor. Ever since I discovered the New Adevntures as a kid, the NA Seventh Doctor has been the ultimate Doctor for me (and continues to be, even in light of the new series). Here, he’s recognisably McCoy’s Doctor, but maybe slightly expanded upon, with more rage and sadness; and he’s spine-chillingly effective. There are some slightly hyperbolic lines in regards to him (of the ‘I’m what monsters have nightmares about’ variety)… but, somehow, they work. He really does seem like a force to be reckoned with, and it’s glorious. You’re fully behind this funny little man, wanting him to decimate his opponents, but at the same time you’re kind of scared of what he’ll do next…
As I say, a weird one: it’s snappily effective, but there’s something quite inorganic about it, for want of a better word; it has a kind of committee-written feel, like there were twelve Cornells in a boardroom adding touches of poetic justice or irony every now and then to strategically tug the heartstrings… Perhaps for a tragic love story it feels a bit too meticulously pieced together?