Paul Cornell once again does wonderful things in this novel. I've never seen the episode with the baddie in it, so I'm perhaps under-educated on some of the background story. That said, I had a blast reading it.
The Doctor's treatment of Ace and their mutual mistrust has come to a head. Her neutrality toward Bennie has slid toward dislike. In addition to all that, Ace has started having visions of a red-clad woman. Meanwhile, they're back in the 1970s and finding out that something or someone has been interfering. The solution? Save the world with rock 'n roll!
OK, fine, punk. Regardless, this is a great setup for a novel. And Cornell's usual deft touch with character is back. He's shameless about invoking elements of Love and War, of course, because he understands the unwritten parts of that story. I enjoyed this book a lot more than Love and War, though, for multiple reasons.
First, that aforementioned deft touch with characters. I liked the punk band, especially Danny. The UNIT subplot is ingenious and works only because Cornell makes you believe these characters would behave in just the way they do, especially the beloved Brigadier. What do you mean, you don't recognize the Doctor and Ace? And yet Benton recognizes the Doctor, as does Yates? This plot, by the way, had me almost biting my nails... and I've been working very hard to quit! So well done, and so much fun. Bravo. And while I have no idea, as previously stated, if Mortimus is true to the series, he is internally consistent through the whole novel. His mannerisms are distinctive but not overplayed and he comes across as a very real villain, in part because of his capriciousness.
Second, the usual Cornell tight plotting. He knows where he is taking the book, and so events unspool cleanly and with a sense of inevitability. This can be hard to take, like when Ace is so very clearly being manipulated by Mortimus. As she follows him into his TARDIS, as he apparently mind-controls her, it made me want to reach through the pages and shake her. A feeling of real danger to main characters is hard to come by, even in the NAs so far, but Cornell can bring it off.
Third, because despite all this it has a wonderfully light touch. Even when I was trying not to bite my nails, Benny could make me laugh. Even when I was seriously worried for Ace, Danny's nerves about sex kept things from getting too thick. No, this isn't a romp. It's clear that for at least some characters, things are not going to end well. The ability to soft-pedal that, though, is magnificent. And the Doctor's brilliant escape at a pivotal moment is both jaw-dropping (yes, even though of course he's going to escape) and funny. I mean, really... origami?
It's really almost too bad that you have to go through Blood Heat and The Dimension Riders to get to this point. The other three books in the arc - Left-Handed Hummingbird, Conundrum, and No Future - stand as shining examples of what Doctor Who can be when it's freed of budget considerations and has excellent writers to take it that next step farther. I'll read the latter three again for fun, where I won't read the former two. And I feel bad for Gareth Roberts, because he had to follow this one... and I just don't know how anyone could pull that off.