It says on the back cover of 'Deceit' that Peter Darvill-Evans, the author, is also a long-time writer and editor of role-playing games, and the line editor of the Virgin New Adventures books. That's a very handy little blurb, because it neatly prepares you for a book that comes off as a cross between a dusted-off module for the 'Time Lord' RPG and a brutally functional reintroduction of Ace to the range. With not one but two appendices that explain the future history of the Doctor Who universe and the line editor's personal ideas about how time travel works in the series. With all that working against it, it's a wonder this book isn't worse than it is.
It's still not great, don't get me wrong. Much of the book feels like it was lifted from 'Timewyrm: Apocalypse'...and I gotta say, if it's a bad sign when you're less than fifteen books into the series and you're having to crib from someone else's work, it's an even worse sign when you've picked 'Timewyrm: Apocalypse' to crib from. (Although Darvill-Evans is also generous enough to crib the scenes from 'Timewyrm: Genesys' where Ace nearly gets raped by a thuggish alpha male and makes it out to be nothing more than a mild inconvenience, too. Just in case there was any danger of liking the book.) We get yet another colony world kept in perpetual ignorance, that yet again turns out to have been established for sinister and universe-shaking purposes. The only real twist here is that the villains are so barking mad that the Doctor actually has to give them a hand to keep their plans from failing before he can stop them. (Oh, and the other twist is that the villain and her henchwoman are in a seriously dysfunctionally kinky lesbian relationship, which Darvill-Evans seems to find far more interesting than the actual plot.)
And of course, we get the return of Ace, who takes the place of the PCs in the "Spacefleet investigates the colony" role-playing scenario. Obviously, in retrospect this was a big deal. Bringing back Ace as a hardened Dalek-hunting space mercenary was a major shift to the character and to the whole dynamic between the Doctor and his companions; if there's a single iconic thing you can point to that represents the way the New Adventures was for adults and not kids, it's the way that Ace was changed from a teenage sidekick to a grown-up with her own agenda. But it's really the next novel that actually examines that. Here, she's just another hardened space marine wandering around in a book that's got too many of them to begin with.
To say nothing of the fact that her decision to tell the Doctor to sod off and quit being such a manipulative git is presented as another manipulation by the Doctor, this time to get her off the TARDIS until he needed her again. This undercuts 'Love and War' by suggesting that Ace's departure, which should stand as the moment when the series starts to really examine the relationship between the Doctor and his companions in a mature and serious light, is just another case of Ace being puppeted by the Doctor for his own purposes. And while it's not Darvill-Evans' fault that this isn't really examined in any kind of meaningful way until the next book--he's the editor, he shouldn't be hoarding all the really big moments for himself--there's not even a hint here that Ace is bothered by this. Or that the Doctor feels anything about it. It's just something that happens, in a book that's full of stuff that happens.
That said, the prose is serviceable, the plot hangs together reasonably well and is decently paced, and the book isn't so much terrible as just sort of there. But coming as it does right on the heels of a total disaster, this book doesn't improve things nearly enough.