Doctor Who: Love and War Review
The first Big Finish adaptation of the Doctor Who Virgin New Adventures books goes back to perhaps the most famous of the lot - 1992's "Love and War".
Back in 2012, as part of the anniversary celebrations marking 20 years since the creation of Bernice Summerfield, Big Finish decided to mark such a momentous occasion with the release of an audio adaptation of "Love and War", the 1992 book which introduced Bernice Summerfield for the first time. Not only did this mean that Lisa Bowerman would depict the very first story to feature Bernice Summerfield, but also it marked a chance for Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred to depict the circumstances of the Doctor and Ace's parting: an event talked about for years, but never performed by the actors. In many ways, then, this was a hugely significant release, and there was a lot of anticipation for it from fans of the classic series' final few years, and those who followed the books in the early 1990s too. And it is safe to say that "Love and War" is a triumph: not only did it spawn a further nine Novel Adaptations, but it managed to distil one of the most popular New Adventures into a two-hour release that never feels overly compressed or rushed. As such, it stands as one of the best adaptations Big Finish has ever done, whether it be a Doctor Who novel or as part of their Big Finish Classics range.
The plot of "Love and War" sees the Doctor and Ace arrive on the planet Heaven, ostensibly to look for a book. However, the Doctor is soon investigating an archaeological dig led by Professor Bernice Summerfield, while Ace falls in with a group of travellers, particularly the charismatic Jan. But something is coming to Heaven: something old and something dangerous. And something that could tear the Doctor and Ace apart forever... As you can tell from the above, this story is on an epic scale, and the stakes are as high as they will go. There's a lot of plot here: many different threads interweave into the story, and, while at the beginning you might not understand exactly how all these pieces fit together, the story pulls all these threads together organically at the right time in order to provide the answers to the questions it poses. It would be quite easy for this to become a mess: especially considering how much of the original novel has been cut down, it could have easily lost its way quickly. However, the plot comes across clearly, and you completely understand exactly what is going on. Sure, one could argue that some of the events do feel compressed, (I'm not massively au-fait with the book, but I do know that some plot threads are lost) but I think it tells all the events of the story pretty well. There's loads of really good ideas here, too: a planet of the dead during the Dalek wars being a front for a race who infest bodies and use them to spread and grow is genuinely creepy, and the Hoothi are brilliantly realised and developed, in both Paul Cornell's original script and Jacqueline Rayner's fantastic adaptation. It's a really good example of taking an obscure reference to a old Doctor Who serial, (the Hoothi were mentioned first in "The Brain of Morbius") and building on it, adding new things as well as embellishing everything we already knew about it. They really feel like a major threat, and like it will take the Doctor everything in order to defeat them. Often, the Virgin New Adventures saw the Doctor face off against huge, cosmic, intangible threats, and, while the Hoothi have that aspect about them, they are a much more present threat, and, despite this being an audio production, they have a great visual design, and that translates well onto audio. Plot wise, this comes together really well, and presents a number of ideas at the listener, without ever overwhelming them.
In many ways, this story has so much going on, you need a whole novella to talk about it all. One key aspect is what this story does to the main characters, and where Paul Cornell takes the Doctor and Ace's relationship, as well as how he introduces Benny. Building very much on where we left their friendship in the TV series, it's no surprise that, at some point, someone was going to depict the Seventh Doctor's manipulations going too far: it is, after all, fertile ground for interesting storytelling. What I think was quite unexpected was the extent to which Ace was involved in the Doctor's manipulations. Sure, the Doctor has used Ace before, ("Ghost Light" and "The Curse of Fenric" are good examples of that) but here, his use of Jan, who Ace has become close to, tips her over the edge. It highlights just how differently the Virgin New Adventures were willing to treat their companions, and that they weren't afraid to put them through the emotional wringer, so to speak. While a lot of later Big Finish audios, and the TV series itself, would make it clear that the Doctor and Ace were an unbreakable team, this story pushes their relationship to breaking point. While Ace would return in a few novels time, it makes you wonder if their relationship can come back from this, and if it can ever be as close as it was. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are amazing: the pair of them bring this difficult material to life with gusto, and Aldred, particularly, creates a believable relationship with James Redmond playing Jan, and really goes for all the emotional scenes she has to play, especially those with her mother, magnificently played by Maggie Ollerenshaw. Of course, while this story sees Ace leave the TARDIS, it also sees Benny join the TARDIS, and Lisa Bowerman is as wonderful as you would expect. She is very much the face and voice of Benny now, and she gets the chance to bring this early version of the character to life. In "Love and War", Benny's perhaps a bit less sure of herself and a bit less world-weary than the character she is today, and Lisa particularly keys into that. You can absolutely tell it is the same character, but Bowerman pitches her just a little bit higher vocally to differentiate Benny's age. To hear her and McCoy bring to life iconic scenes like their first meeting remains a thrill, and, together, the three actors clearly relish getting the chance to push their characters into new and unexplored territory.
Despite the fact the story is centred heavily around our regulars, there's still plenty of interesting guest characters that populate the story, and add a genuine sense of depth and complexity. Whether they be Ace's love interest Jan, or the sinister Brother Phaedrus, each one has a chance to be explored, and they all get the chance to be developed. Christopher, particularly, is a character that feels very much like a modern creation: essentially a transgender character, the idea of a man having lost his sex in military experiments is a great one, and the character becoming a kind of omnipresent figure, trapped in Puterspace and only able to advise the Travellers, remains a potent one. It's amazing that these things were being floated over 30 years ago, before they hit the mainstream, and a sympathetic performance from Ela Gaworzewska helps create the perfect package. The other Travellers are well-rounded too: whether that be James Redmond as Jan, Aysha Kala as Roisa or Riona O'Conner as Maire. There's plenty of underlying chemistry there, and they sell the complicated love triangle they're in without ever overstating or simplifying it. As for Phaedrus, well, when you have an actor like Bernard Holley (best known for being the voice of Axos in "The Claws of Axos"), you're guaranteed to get great results. He's incredibly sinister, and he helps to lift Phaedrus from a simple underling to a great villain, who adds some much needed gravelly menace. Post-production wise, this is very much up to Big Finish's usual standards: Gary Russell returns to directing Doctor Who audios after a long absence, and reminds you instantly why he was such a master of it, getting great performances out of his cast. Steve Foxon's music and sound design work is magnificent: bringing all these hugely complicated settings and sounds to life, whether it be a camp of space hippies, the digital world of Puterspace or the inside of the gas dirigibles of the Hoothi, Foxon takes it in his stride. The end result is something that, once again, showcases the highly professional level Big Finish are working at, and just how much detail they are willing to put into a release. It's simply magnificent.
In conclusion, then, "Love and War" kicks off the Novel Adaptations range with one of the best New Adventures being adapted into one of the best audio dramas to feature Sylvester McCoy's Doctor. A great novel this may have been originally, but it's success lies in the skilful adaptation from Jacqueline Rayner, and the amazing performances of the cast, especially the regulars, who, despite having done this for years, bring new elements to the table that keep things fresh. The net result is a superb story, that, despite it dripping in 90s nostalgia, remains fresh and exciting today, especially off the back of Sophie Aldred's return to Doctor Who in the 2022 BBC Centenary Special. For fans of the New Adventures novels, this is a perfect summation of all the successes these novels had, and this audio adaptation is a huge success. If you love this era, were fans of Doctor Who in the late 1980s, or even discovered the Doctor and Ace through "The Power of the Doctor" in the revived series, this is an essential listen.
You can purchase "Love and War" as a digital download and collectors edition CD from the Big Finish website (see below). Just type "Love and War" into the search bar at the top of the page.
All pictures copyright to Big Finish Productions/the BBC. Thank you very much for reading.
About the Creator
Joseph A. Morrison
25. Fan of Doctor Who, Blake's 7, The Prisoner and more old-fashioned TV. Reviewer, wannabe writer and general twit.
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