Independence Day is a Nigel Robinson Virgin New Adventure written with more structure and a thesaurus to hand. Or a Terry Nation Blake's Seven episode. Every once in a while a reviewer pipes up and says that a PDA feels so much like Blake's Seven that it makes one just want to scream Pylene 50 (or was it 40?) and be done with it. Independence Day has all the classic ingredients. Planet inhabitants suppressed by new pacifying agent, add a dash of rebellion and moral outrage and fifty minutes of liberation (sic) is just at hand. As for Nigel Robinson, well, it seems that 'rumours of death' have been greatly exaggerated.
To take the novel itself, Independence Day is a struggle (with or without another cover that makes no sense). The problem is mainly with the plot. Not a lot happens. There are few surprises. Whilst Darvill-Evans efficiently takes us from A to B it is a long journey. A very long journey. The outcome is predictable. There seems little deference to subplot. The rationale for the Doctor's intervention is based around the most convenient of devices - literally. One cannot help wondering if the Doctor blindly stumbling into the situation would have been more satisfying than Ace stumbling upon a communication device accidentally removed in irrelevant flashback mode. Or is it that Darvill-Evans is so tied to the NA ethos that there has to be consistency of cause of effect in his novels? There is a good deal of contrivance in the novel. As Finn Clark points out, this novel is set some time way after Survival as Ace is well into her morph to NA Ace. This is used by Darvill-Evans so that Ace and the Doctor can be split up - she elects to explore a space station (hence allowing her to reveal the Kedin/ Madok plot) whilst the Doctor is fortunate to just happen upon the ever faithful Bep-Wor. It is utterly unconvincing. From then on the plot makes limited stabs at looking at feudal politics, slavery, the dichotomy of two worlds and different stages of technological advance. However, the book does not have the sophistication to play these elements out with any degree of interest. They have to be there because this is Who written for the older reader, but in fact this just an adventure story wrapped up in sex and misogyny.
And sex and misogyny are the areas where the book lets itself down. To take the representation of sex the word juvenile springs to mind. Ace comes across as a horny idiot who cannot wait to get a good thrashing from Kedin. She then proceeds throughout the book on an SS10 variant sexual roll (though, thankfully, most of these efforts are off-page). One wonders if Darvill-Evans had been able to write in whips and chains whether we would have had a few more dungeon scenes - maybe with Ace raped on the rack? Perhaps Darvill-Evans point is to describe a society where ultimate power and corruption can lead to all manner of deviancy (a la the Roman Empire). However, as this is not a stated intent it seems that the inclusion of sex is an effort to spice up a lack lustre plot and word count.
Women do very badly out of this novel. The 'brilliant' Tevana is still the princess being held in the tower by an evil king waiting to be rescued by her gallant lover. Ace spends the whole time being subservient (and sexy to any male on Mendab who likes a pair of strong thighs). Kia-Ga cannot be rescued so it is up to the male husband to decide her fate. Men, on the other hand, are brilliant leaders, brave soldiers, evil tyrants, lecherous oafs - all of them, however, with power and politics. Now, one could say that this is typical of an historical time and place and the Mendab society reflects this. However, at the same time, history has shown that GCSE representation of sexual politics always preclude any reality in terms of the experience of the women. Men write most history. However genuine to his created society Darvill-Evans is trying to be he does not capture anything but contempt for the women in Independence Day. He makes little effort to show them as individuals with their own sense of worth or, indeed, alternative power.
As Ness Bishop points out in her DWM review there is disparity in terms of descriptive writing. Darvill-Evans wanders gamely around his created worlds describing every outcrop, ledge and promontory. Yet character description - even if motivation is disregarded - is lazy - in particular the need to introduce Kedin by means of Richard E Grant. It is almost impossible in Independence Day to put a face to a character. So it is that we have to fill in the gap with whatever image of 'old reliable soldier' (Madok), for example, is stored away in our subconscious.
The end of Independence Day produces pages of battle and muted gung-ho. The reader is asked to accept that the Doctor's first intervention is the direct cause of tragedy. Therefore, by removing a communication device he has unleashed SS10 and tyranny in the Mendabs. However, it is perfectly possible that Mendab Two would have advanced further technologically without or without the communication device. In many ways one wants to tell the Doctor to 'get over' his pang of conscience because, without hindsight, the future for the planets may have been just as bleak. It is in the same vein that one wants to tell Ace to get over her libido.
The tableau of Bep-Wor and Kia-Ga is one final misnomer. Here is a man who has been driven by his search for Kia-Ga. Would not the same man be driven to helping Kia-Ga after the Doctor leaves rather than gunning (sic) for the easy way out? Or, because it is the end, do we have to wrap up the guilt?
Blake's 7 or Nigel Robinson - take your pick. If one errs toward Blake's 7 it is only because as a fifty-minute romp it would have trundled along unspectacularly toward an end. As a PDA it is hundred pages too long.
In brief: Everything about this book is a huge warning sign that says it should suck, but it mysteriously doesn't.
Like Prime Time and Imperial Moon before it, Independence Day should have been dire but strangely isn't. It's got all the ingredients that send out warning signs: a return of the author who perpetrated Deceit, a broadly similar story, complete with a primitive planet and inhabitants and New Ace (by her creator, no less). Two of these elements drag the book down, but not nearly as far as they could and the third turns out to be an asset.
Peter Darvill-Evans' biggest problems is that when he's wearing his writer hat he takes off his editor hat. Okay, true, there's some of that famous moral ambiguity that launched the New Adventures on their way, but there isn't nearly enough. Furthermore, the story manages to be enjoyable, but far too simplistic. It's not quite Doctor Who by numbers, but it's a pretty linear story. And for something attempting to evoke nostalgia for the NAs, writing "Junior Doctor Who and the First Half of Deceit" isn't the way to go about it.
Given what it is, though, the story is rather fun once it gets going. True, the beginning is rather atrocious and characters ponce about telling each other what they know about local history. And the huge morally ambiguous act that sets two planets spinning off into a new destiny and changing the lives of countless millions of people... is the Doctor wanting to be reminded of something so Jamie just happens to take the most valuable piece of equipment on the entire planet? Huh? Okay, written out like that it's *funny*. If this novel were a comedy, that would be the ideal setup. But it isn't, it's played deadly straight, so this sits really oddly.
Once we get into the story proper though, things really improve. It's wonderful to see the NA Doctor and New Ace again. I've really missed these characters - even New Ace. Ah, New Ace. We all remember her. She was the one who was a psychotic killer one novel and who spent the next angsting about taking a single life. The illogical extension of the most developed TV companion ever. Recently voted the number one worst thing about the NAs in [Canadian fanzine] Enlightenment's celebration of ten years of the novels.
It helps a lot that the New Ace we get here isn't too similar to the one we got in the NAs themselves, so maybe Peter's having another go at reinventing her, presumably to undo the pain he inflicted on so many readers. She's a lot of fun and a lot more laid back than the psycho killer we often got. The fact that this is published by the BBC helps immeasurably - if this were an actual NA, it'd be languishing somewhere around The Dimension Riders and Apocalypse for reader interest. As a BBC novel, the rough edges of New Ace have been filed away and we've got a subtler character who works far better than she ever did in her prime.
Sadly, the same can't be said of the Doctor. He's Doctorish enough to be recognisable and he gets to wander around leading an accidental revolution, but there isn't really a whole lot here to latch onto. He seems almost bemused by everything, not the master manipulator of a thousand chessboards we saw in the NAs, but not a likeable reinvention the way Ace is.
The revolution stuff works well enough to move things along. There's nothing especially fancy or original here, but the story is well told. It's a shame about the way the female characters are treated by the male characters, but this didn't grate on my nerves the way I thought it might. I also really like the setting. The geography is established very nicely and the travelling revolution takes us on a nice tour of both planets.
The only real character of interest is Bep-Wor, who manages to stay just on the right side of boring. He wobbles dangerously close to the line, it's true, but he never quite crosses it. I must confess that I have no idea what was going with his final fate, though. It seemed really out of place for some reason, as though it were the ending to a completely different book. On the other hand, I really like that there was no cure to be found for SS10. That adds a level of realism and ambiguity to the book that helps it no end.
Overall, I'm surprised that Independance Day manages to be as enjoyable as it is, but it worked for me. It's NA-lite, for sure, but that really helps it along. I can see things that drive others insane and I don't think it's for everyone, but few of its faults bothered me overly much. It's a real shame about the goofy cover, though.