‘Love and War’ – A Big Benny celebration of Doctor Who’s wide universe
Big Finish Productions
Twenty years ago Doctor Who was dead as a television series, canceled in 1989 after entertaining audiences since 1963. But just as fandom’s passion kept Star Trek and Star Wars alive during dark spells, a generation of fans took up their pens to write not angry letters to network executives, but “New Adventures” for Virgin Books featuring the Doctor and his companion Ace.
One of these novels, Love and War, was written by Paul Cornell, who would gain fame as a comics and TV writer whose Doctor Who book Human Nature was later adapted into a script for the third season of the resurrected series.
Love and War introduced a new companion for the Doctor, a witty archaeologist named Professor Bernice Summerfield, known as “Benny.” She quickly gathered a fan following of her own, as well as a spinoff book series that morphed into full-cast audio plays from Big Finish Productions starring Lisa Bowerman. And those plays soon led to official Doctor Who audio adventures featuring the TV show’s original stars in new scenarios, which truly kept the franchise alive until it returned to the screen.
Now, on the 20th anniversary of Benny’s introduction, her debut tale has been adapted into audio form.
I had never read Love and War, though I own it after tracking down many of the NAs as well as the excellent BBC Books adventures that followed. I was more of a BBC Books guy anyway, although I respected the role of Virgin’s NAs in keeping the flame alive. Virgin used the print medium to take Doctor Who places TV never could, then and now, in terms of both special-effects budgets and maturity and complexity of content.
Love and War is not the first official Doctor Who audio to dip into “Virgin territory.” Bowerman previously joined Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace in Big Finish’s original, NA-inspired stories The Shadow of the Scourge and The Dark Flame. But Love and War holds a special place in the mythos, and it’s lovingly been staged by a full cast and with a script adapted by Big Finish veteran Jacqueline Rayner. It’s significant for being the point of departure for Ace, although she is destined to rejoin the Doctor and new companion Benny after growing up during future humanity’s endless wars against the Doctor’s perennial foes, the Daleks. Never is Ace more damaged than in Love and War, but for once the Doctor can’t heal her wounds, only let her go to find what she needs elsewhere at last. We also see something the TV series doesn’t show us often, or at least has not done for a long time: the devastating effect the Daleks have on humanity’s diaspora over time. But make no mistake — this is not a Dalek story. It’s a very human, very companion-driven story. It’s a sobering reminder that the Doctor can’t possibly save everyone, and it paints him as a disastrous force of nature in light of his reputation for manipulation and collateral damage. One wonders why The Silence in the current version of the series waited until the Doctor’s 11th incarnation to declare war, when the Seventh was always playing chess with living pieces — and losing them.
Love and War is not your grandparent’s Doctor Who, and it’s one of the most grown-up tales to star the Time Lord. The Doctor warns Ace that her new friends are dangerous. “I’m dangerous too, Professor,” she retorts. And he knows it. I grew up with this Doctor and Ace as my TARDIS team, and watching (or listening to) them drifting apart wasn’t easy, but it is satisfying, and the pairing of the Doctor and Benny is a joy to behold. It may not be the red-hot romance of Professor River Song and the current Matt Smith Doctor, but you can see elements of that relationship and perhaps the roots of the archaeologist-vixen archetype here, though it’s a partnership based more on professional respect and loss than on love.
I hope Big Finish follows up with even more stories with this cast, whether adapted from existing material like Love and War or spun from original cloth like The Shadow of the Scourge and The Dark Flame. And I hope they keep providing excellent behind-the-scenes information — Love and War is packed with it, including the revelation (for me) that Bowerman had a role in the final episode of the classic Doctor Who TV series, 1989’s “Survival” (she was costumed as a cheetah-person). Even author Paul Cornell joins the party.
Big Finish Productions provided a download for review. Love and War can be purchased as a download or as a three-CD set from Big Finish.