Dee: Surprise! Happy Valentine’s Day!
John: I’ve actually been wanting to get back to this for a while, but before we can move on to anything else, we need to finish up our talk on ‘Shadow of the Scourge’. And the back half...it’s good, but it’s good in that weird sort of way that an author revisiting a past triumph is good but not quite as good as the original. It kind of invites comparisons to ‘Timewyrm: Revelation’, and I think it’s hard to win those comparisons even though this is also a good story. Is that me being unfair, or did you kind of feel that way as well?
Dee: I… didn’t see that, but that’s partly because I was having too much fun with Sophie Aldred. Whereas in “TW:R” Ace was slogging through the Doctor’s mind, here Benny is more at home and Ace is busy going “EH!? ALL RIGHT, BUT I HOPE YOU HAVE A PLAN!!” at the top of her lungs. Much more fun, less imagery-heavy. For obvious reasons, mind you, but still they felt different enough I didn’t run to that comparison. And good grief, was the cast having fun.
John: Okay, yes. You’re absolutely right, this is one of the biggest reasons why Big Finish slowly took over as “Doctor Who” in the hearts of fandom over the period between 1999 and 2003, because they had Sophie Aldred and Sylvester McCoy and Lisa Bowerman all sharing wonderful chemistry and bringing an indefinable magic to scenes that made them even better than on the printed page. Lisa Bowerman, in particular, deserves special mention simply because she makes Bernice seem like such a natural and organic part of the TARDIS crew. It feels like she’s known the Doctor and Ace for years (and yes, I know that’s technically true because she was one of the Cheetah people in ‘Survival’, but still…) You’re absolutely right, the cast is having a ball. I just kind of felt like when we went back into the Doctor’s mind again, and when he conquered his guilt again, and when we got a happy humanistic ending again...it was all good stuff, don’t get me wrong, but it just felt a bit over-familiar.
Dee: Eh. You’re allowed, obviously. I just don’t see it. I think that guilt and shame are things that creep back in, speaking as a person with depression, and that you really do have to beat them again and again. This time felt different to me, and that’s perhaps good enough. Or maybe I’m just easier to please as long as Ace isn’t being a total git. That’s also very possible. And again, we’re talking about a story that could have been written for my interests, so it had me a lot earlier and kept me better. And I loved “Revelation.” At least I remember loving it!
John: Well, it is pretty easy to please me as well, when it comes to Paul Cornell writing a 7/Ace/Benny book. For all that I gripe a bit about it being a lot like Cornell’s other work from this era, it’s worth noting that I consider Cornell’s other work from this era to be some of the best of Doctor Who, full stop, and a model for the New Series to the point where they had to just break down and adapt ‘Human Nature’ because it was the mission statement of Doctor Who from the moment it was released and they needed to make sure everyone knew about it. If it’s an imitation of Cornell’s other work, there are worse things to impersonate. And the message is good, too. It’s not just that you have to beat back guilt and shame, it’s that if you reach out to other people, they will support you and help you in that fight. They will forgive you if you ask forgiveness, they will care for you if you need care, and that as bad as it can seem sometimes, you’ve got more friends than you realize. It’s a little sappy, but it’s an important thing to hear.
Dee: I’m wondering if that message is more visceral to me because of my depression, too. It’d be really nice to think that instead of having broken circuitry in my brain, it’s aliens trying to use me to gain power when I feel like staying in bed for a week, you know? I don’t think I can hear the “reach out, you’re not alone” enough. Might have to mention that to Cornell at CONvergence this year. And that might also be something that influences my opinion of this story. Also cross-stitch. (Seriously, pointing that out will never get old to me.)
John: The cross-stitch convention is awesome. It’s a sign of Cornell’s creativity and cleverness, to me; I think the easy route would have been a sci-fi convention, complete with lazy jokes about con-goers that would get laughs out of familiarity. Instead, he gets to show the audience that everyone’s got things they’re passionate about, and even if we don’t share that passion we can understand what it’s like to care that much about a hobby. I also like the ending, where the Doctor tells Brian that he will find someone else not because he has some secret insight into the future, but because he believes in the healing power of time and understands that no matter how bad things seem when they’re at their worst, there’s always tomorrow. Those are good things. (Oh, yes, and Ace wandering around being smugly badass to monsters that don’t know how dangerous she is to them. That’s cool too.) There’s definitely a lot to like here, no question.
Dee: Honestly, I’ve liked Benny OK before, but I think this is the first time I’ve really loved-loved her, and her beautiful snarkiness made me giggle. I feel good about this story, and I hope everyone involved does as well.
John: I suspect they do. And now, back into official Virgin territory, and the first short story anthology we’re about to tackle! Join us next time for ‘Decalog’!