Doctor Who Review - "Love and War"

rating 4.5

(WARNING: Significant spoilers follow) An argument can, and indeed, has, been made that Bernice Summerfield is the most pivotal, important character in the entirety of the Doctor Who universe. Without her, it€™s not much of a stretch to say that modern Who would not exist in anything like its current form. Despite that, most old-series fans, and very likely almost all new-series fans, have never heard of her. This should change, and this audio is a great way to start that process. €œLove and War€ is an audio adaptation of the Seventh Doctor and Ace novel by Paul Cornell that was released twenty years ago last week. It shows the Doctor at his manipulative best, acts as a farewell to the TV version of Ace, and introduces us to the character of Bernice Summerfield, 26th century archaeologist. In the audio version, the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) arrive on the planet Heaven, where a fungal life-form known as the Hoothi are up to no good. While the Doctor tries to investigate what€™s going on and how to stop it, he and Ace meet Bernice (Lisa Bowerman). Ace also meets a young man named Jan (James Redmond) with whom she falls madly in love. Soon the Doctor and Ace are trapped in their personal worst nightmares (the Doctor reliving the time after he, as the Third Doctor, was poisoned but before he regenerated into the Fourth and Ace reliving memories of Perivale), people start dying in large numbers, and the fate of the entire universe is at stake. As usual. Now I haven€™t read the novel upon which this is based, so I cannot make any basis for comparison between the novel and the audio. I do have some knowledge of Bernice from other audios of hers I€™ve listened to, including the most recent box set. So while I can€™t say how good of an adaptation this was, I can say with certainty that it was a great retroactive introduction to the character for me. The story is gripping and interesting. The Hoothi are one of the nastier groups of baddies that the Doctor has had to deal with (and thankfully everyone had the good sense not to, at any point say, €œThere€™s a fungus among us!€). They managed to feel like a real threat. I also very much liked the idea that the Doctor was deeply traumatized by the time he spent wandering and dying, trying to get back to Earth to say what he thought was a final goodbye to his friends. I was surprised at how little Bernice had to do in this story. It mostly establishes her character, gives her a couple neat moments and then moves on with promises of more to come. That works, but it was a bit unexpected. I also have to say that I didn€™t really buy Ace€™s moments of true love with Jan. It€™s probable that in the book that was fleshed-out a bit more, but in this audio it seemed rushed and unconvincing. I€™m also still very unclear as to why Ace hates her mother so much. This story provided something of an explanation, but really all it did was remind me that this element of her character was never properly explained on the TV series. All that aside, I have to say this was a truly great story. Despite those minor flaws I mentioned, it really is something special and well-worth listening to. If you€™re a fan of the McCoy years, you owe it to yourself to get this story. If you like Bernice, you need it, too. If you€™ve never heard any of the Big Finish audios, but you want to have a good place to start, you can€™t pick a better jumping-off point than this story. It really is just about perfect as an introduction. Special features on this set include several behind-the-scenes sequences, interviews with Paul Cornell and the principle actors, and two €œprequel€ scenes. All in all, you get two hours of story and an hour of the bonus features all for only a few pounds/dollars, and that€™s certainly no bad thing.
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Chris Swanson is a freelance writer and blogger based in Phoenix, Arizona, where winter happens to other people. His blog is at wilybadger.wordpress.com

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