The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Virgin Books
Dry Pilgrimage
A Benny Adventure

Authors Paul Leonard and Nick Walters Cover image
ISBN# 0 426 20525 1
Published 1998
Cover Jon Sullivan

Synopsis: A luxury cruise for Bernice turns into a nightmare as alcohol is forbidden, an accident leaves her confined to a wheelchair and her friends start dying from some distinctly unusual experiments. The fate of more than one planet hangs in the balance.


Self-Contained, but Quite Good by Robert Smith? 6/12/98

I'm a little bemused by Dry Pilgrimage. It's quite an interesting read and everything works quite well, yet I look back on it and nothing particularly leaps out at me. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because I certainly enjoyed the book while I went through it, but like the action within, there is little sense of importance in the bigger picture.

Like the previous month's book, interesting use is made of Benny's tendency to rely on alcohol. I've never been convinced that Benny was an alcoholic and that much of it is posturing. Putting her in a situation where she can't drink has the potential to really explore a major facet of her character.

Unfortunately, the idea doesn't really go anywhere. Benny is forbidden to drink, but manages to overcome this rather easily. I find this less than wholly satisfying. I was all set for an interesting exploration of Bernice's character, yet this was too quickly dealt with by the authors. I think I'd much rather have seen Bernice actually have to cope without alcohol for the period of the voyage and see what the absence does to her.

The Saraani seem to be a stock-standard Leonard alien race: interesting characteristics, a well-thought-out sense of culture that's different from our own, but not too different and no more than three interesting individuals in that race. This creation has been done so often before that here is works like a well-oiled machine. The cover illustration also seems to run in the same mould as almost ever other Leonard cover. It's a pity that the alien appears to be the same height as Bernice, though: he's supposed to tower over her!

Nick Walters seems to have made quite an impressive debut. It's sometimes hard to distinguish individuals in co-authored books, but I think the merging has helped Paul Leonard's style enormously. The interesting parts of his writing are all there, but Walters has restrained the worst excesses of it. The ending is also better than most Leonard novels, so I'm quite looking forward to seeing more from Nick Walters in the future.

My favourite character (aside from Benny, of course) is probably Professor Smith. This makes it doubly frustrating that he only really starts to work quite late in the novel. This is a great character and his whole narrative style is absolutely wonderful. I'd love to see him return, but I'm not sure how well other authors would do with his character. It's a real shame we never got to see this earlier in the novel as it might have livened up some of the earlier sections.

Benny also seems to recover awfully quickly from her accident. That is, once she begins the recovery, she seems back to her old self in almost no time, with only one further reference later in the book. On this note, I think I would have liked to see her tough it out from the position of being temporarily paralysed for longer than we did see. Like the lack of alcohol I think this would have allowed for a better character exploration than we got. As it is, she seems to be constantly suffering hardships for a while, only to have those hardships conveniently dissipate after a while. Yes, Benny lives a miraculous life, but I think it doesn't hurt to show that this doesn't apply to absolutely every situation she gets in.

Overall, despite a number of nits, I quite liked Dry Pilgrimage. It's a great self-contained adventure that contents itself with telling a tale. While I'd prefer to see events on a larger tapestry or to see more of a character exploration of Bernice, I can't fault it for doing what it sets out to do.

A Review by Finn Clark 28/3/05

Nothing particularly special for most of its duration, but it builds up to a strong ending. I'll go a long way for one of those.

I like the fact that it's based on Dellah rather than some other planet, though the downside is that the survivors presumably got screwed a few months later by the Gods story arc. Nevertheless Paul Cornell created a rich, fascinating world back in Oh No It Isn't! and I always found it a shame that later authors completely ignored it. Benny went on plenty of cruises in her post-Who NAs, but this is the only time spaceships weren't involved. It's an ordinary ocean-going liner, albeit a bit neglected before the Saraani hired it.

The Saraani are yet more Paul Leonard Aliens, with abilities slightly reminiscent of his Venusians but less emotionally involving for the reader. Even a moderate Paul Leonard novel can often contain a wonderful all-new alien race with which you'll fall in love (e.g. Venusian Lullaby, Genocide, Dreamstone Moon), but the Saraani never quite grabbed me. They're interesting, but to be honest they're a bit up their own arses. They bitch and angst (albeit politely) about their religion... oh, and they have Two Alien Factions, though thankfully the Renaissants are mostly just discussed rather than seen. They have funky biological differences from us, though.

There are a lot of secret identities, probably too many. Learning that X is really an agent of Y isn't wildly dramatic, especially when that's the third such revelation so far. I much preferred the straightforward characters who are what they seem to be, e.g. Maeve or the borderline autistic Professor Hamilton Smith. The latter doesn't really do much (you could cut him from the book quite easily), but I enjoyed his scenes.

There are references, not least to books Nick Walters hadn't yet written! Benny has a bottle of Chateau Yquatine, while p77 namedrops the Chelonians, Krakenites, Valethske, Xarax, Tzun and Tractites. Weren't the Tractites in Genocide from a parallel universe that got unhappened? Maybe I'm misremembering... ah well. Wanky references are all bollocks anyway.

The good stuff comes with the bioconstructs and what's trapped inside them. It's kinda like another take on Killing Ground, except that these guys are even nastier propositions than the Cybermen. It also ends up tying in vaguely with the religious aspect, which gets a lot of screen time. To be honest I'm not sure where all those musings were meant to be going, since every religious dilemma ties into the specific rules of the book's invented faiths. The result is to make the book vaguely about faith in the abstract, rather than having anything in common with any real religion I'm aware of. (The Saraani don't drink alcohol, but they're certainly not surrogate Muslims.) Maybe 'twas a warm-up act for the Gods arc?

Nevertheless, as I said, it all builds up to a powerful ending. It's not just more "blow up the bad guys" nonsense, but something with emotional weight that's important to Benny and someone she cares about. Those last few chapters bring up the book from merely "okay, I suppose" to something I'd recommend. Overall, this is a serious-minded book that's not afraid to put its characters through the wringer. Benny gets knocked about more than usual and it's not just cartoon violence. As the back cover says, at one point she's wheelchair-bound. Hardly a barrel of laughs, but I ended up fairly impressed.