The first fifty New Adventures
|ISBN#||0 426 20470 0|
|Synopsis: It's the wedding of the century and you're all invited. Bernice and Jason must overcome their differences and decide on their futures. The Doctor finds himself wrapped up in a problem of great proportions: how to organise the cricket match and keep the guests from killing each other.|
A Jumbo Review by Sean Gaffney 2/9/99
Well, here we go. This review was pretty much a given, but for those who like to watch me wibble on about how great something is, read on. This also contains a quick-ref of who's where from what book. Thus, this review is longer than my others.
Actually, read on anyway. This book is something special.
I sorta knew I'd like this book. It was the ideal plot for a person of my romantic nature -- everyone gets married and lives happily ever after. Throw in some bad puns and it would seem that the book is catered to my reviewing tastes.
But lets get to the important bits.
Plot - Yes, there actually is one. Actually, this book had some very intriguing plot threads, with dozens of red herrings (I'd like to see Paul write a Campion). The villain was given away, but it was fairly obvious, anyway. But for the most part, this is a book of character scenes, with occasional plot interruptions. These are done well, though.
The Doctor - Surprisingly melancholy. The Seventh Doctor has always been a manic depressive, but this one really makes him think on his life. He almost runs away (a suicidally dangerous option for him), until Benny points out the advice he told her in Love and War - you can't be alone, Doctor. And, you must admit, he throws a hell of a wedding.
Bernice - Utterly brilliant. It's everything we could have expected for a companion this beloved. At the end of the book, Bernice is truly happy, and actually looking forward to having children. This isn't to say she's like this through the whole book - she tends to be in a jealous rage, partly by herself and partly through the intervention of an annoying android. Anyway, I know Benny will be back, but for the moment, she's gone. All the best.
Jason (both of them) - No, I'm not referring to Mr. Miller. There are two Jasons in this book, and I must admit to liking Benny's better. He's a lot more passive in this book that in D&D, but that fits with the manic highs and lows that Benny goes through. The other Jason - well, I dont think it's gonna work out. Good luck, though. Hopefully, we'll see Jason 1 in Return of the Living Dad.
Dorothee - You know, with an egume, or whatever it is. I think Paul is getting revenge on people who see Ace as merely a shag-monster. She certainly gets her fair share in this book, and the scene where she names all her lovers is a stitch. However, the last of the Ace-growing-up bits is in here, so this is the Ace that everyone is stuck with. The final bit with her mother is wonderful. And she dreams of shagging Jarvis Cocker. (Impeccable taste.)
Roz - Gets along well with Holmes, but didn't really have a lot to do.
Chris - Speaking of shag-monsters...is this guy gonna knock up every woman he sleeps with? That's talent! Seriously, perhaps Chris could have an affair that didn't end in a pregnancy that's kept secret from him. Anyway, he's as well done as Chris gets. Hopefully he'll get more characeter bits in the future.
The Master - Yep, he's the villain. Surprise. And, to quote Paul, as a villain, he's utterly crap. His plan is stupid, the consequences are horrific, and he gets beaten to a pulp. I know it's not Ainley's Master, but it felt like him, right down to the over the top screams. And it's in May, too. Coincidence?
Villagers - the Special K combo. Jason, Felicity, Laura and Steve actually have big parts in this book. Graeme Burk gets a mention too. The villagers are interesting to watch, as they gradually come to accept the aliens that have come for the wedding. Annie Trelaw is very good, Saul is comforting as always, you know - what can I say about this fabulous elixir?
UNIT - Now The Brig was a surprise. In fact, I'm willing to bet that this is the surprise that everyone talks about. Mike and John are fine.
The Isley Brothers - Proving that not all time accidents are bad, they are actually a major force in this book. "Summer Breeze" is as beautiful as ever, plus it'll make you think of this. Very well written, especially O'Kelly (who almost gets Kadiatu - a dangerous undertaking).
The cover - well...everyone looks too long. One Doctor is drawn well, one isn't. Annie Trelaw looks awful. However, Benny and Jason look fantastic.
Now, let's try this logically. Mentions, and then what I thought.
Timewyrm: Genesys - Gilgamesh is at the reception. Solely there to tie in the book. As annoying as ever.
Timewyrm: Exodus - Hemmings sort of makes an appearance.
Timewyrm: Apocalypse: ? [Raphael?]
Timewyrm: Revelation: The village, Saul, etc. Plus, we see that the Timewyrm isn't quite dead. Wonder how Ishtar'll deal with that.
Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible - I have no clue. Was DaVinci in this book?
Cat's Cradle: Warhead - Creed is outside, and Benny says hello. Plus, Vincent and Justine are mentioned in connection with Tasham.
Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark - Herne. I like the bit with the cake. And Bat's there, too.
Nightshade: Robin Yeadon, in one of the most beautiful bits of closure I've ever seen.
Love and War: Maire, and an excellent scene where Benny and Jason finally confirm their trust in each other. No, she's not dead.
Transit - Kadiatu, still being herself. Nice chat with the Brig.
The Highest Science - The Eight-Twelves, resolving one of the most annoying cliffhangers in the first two pages of the book. Glad they're out of that one.
The Pit - William Blake, weird as ever. Can I just say that Neil Penswick's paragraph is one of the weirder in this book? I hope he got permission from Neil Gaiman.
Deceit - Elaine and Francis, in a rare serious bit in the book. Rather sad that war is still the only answer.
Lucifer Rising - ? No clue.
White Darkness - Petion, his wife, and a nice bottle of whatever.
Shadowmind - Kim Talevera, now recovered.
Birthright - The Charll, from the Doctor's original TARDIS. And Popov, the Russian detective, now living in London. And, of course, Muldwych. We still don't know who he is, but he's free now.
Iceberg - Ruby Duvall. Hate her new beau, though. At least she cleared up her issues with the Doctor.
Blood Heat - The original TARDIS. What do you expect?
The Dimension Riders - Professor James Rafferty. The same. Do we ever find out what the Doctor's task is?
The Left-Handed Hummingbird - Cristian and Ben, doing very well for themselves. And Hamlet Macbeth, easily the most annoying character ever in the NA's, is given a chance of redemption. I still don't like him, though.
Conundrum - The AFKATMOTLOF, in a nice Prince ref. I liked this, because with his wibbling on about self references and happy endings, he reminded me of a certain happy guy...
No Future - Plasticine, complete with Kit/Ian Levine. I like the spot of world changing at the end. Thank God for O'Kelly Isley.
Tragedy Day - Forgwyn, who seems really uncomfortable.
Legacy - A whole passel of Ice Warriors, plus Keri and Kitai. Benny gets to snog with Savaar again. Is Kitai supposed to be Jon now?
Theatre of War - Irving Braxiatel, as weird as ever. He and Blake would get along famously.
All-Consuming Fire - Holmes and Watson, who have a large role in solving the mystery. Watson's just as horny. I like the fact that Holmes can still be Holmes.
Blood Harvest - Dekker, being annoyingly PI-ish, IMO.
Strange England - Richard and Charlotte, in a beautifully bittersweet paragraph. My favorite in the "guest" slots.
First Frontier - The Master, attempting to duplicate Tzun technology.
St. Anthony's Fire - Liso, getting on a bit.
Falls the Shadow - The Grey Man, in another of my favorite "guest" paragraphs. Nice present. Gabriel and Tanith get a few mentions.
Parasite - ? I don't think there was anything. Jim was the only author absent. Isn't everyone dead?
Warlock - Creed (see Warhead).
Set Piece - Vivant Denon, as French as ever. Count Sorin is mentioned as having been frightened off by Ace.
Infinite Reqiuem - ?
Sanctuary - Bernice deals with her feelings for Guy. (he's not there, of course.)
Human Nature - Alexander, finally managing to score. Plus the Doctor asks about Joan.
Original Sin - Dentalion and Beltempest. Didn't really make much of an impression.
Sky Pirates! - Nathan Li Shao, Leetha, Kiru, and Sgloomi Po, being as po-faced as ever (well, what else can he be?).
Zamper - The Chelonians at the beginning, I guess. ?
Toy Soldiers - 'Manda, rather muted from her experiences.
Head Games - TAFKATMOTLOF.
The Also People - AM!xista, still Kadiatu's companion. and SaRa!qava, who brings news of Chris shagging his way 'round the galaxy.
Shakedown - Lisa Deranne. Kurt is mysteriously absent. Hmmm, wonder if Stephen Grief took his role.
Just War - The child, now grown up, of Anne Doras. Plus the return of Benny's diary via Steinmann.
Warchild - Creed (See a pattern here?)
Sleepy - Cinnabar and Byerley get a mention.
Death and Diplomacy - Jason. Duh.
"We Have to Kill the Parasites, Because We're So Much Better than They Are."
"I fought Trelaw and Trelaw won." [aaaaaigh....]
Benny calls Jason a git, so I guess I'll have to make do with that.
"Have you been to the decolletage...I mean, the Dordogne?"
"Jason 2: The Revenge."
Almost everything said by the two camp Earth Reptiles...
Almost everything said by Sgloomi Po...
The last line: "And a love, for all seasons."
THE CHAPTER (Everybody's Welcome At The Wedding) :
Actually, pretty damn good. Jim wasn't there. Some of them more evocative than others, of course. As I've said, Simon Messingham and Daniel O'Mahony get honors from me. But of course, the real honors go to Paul.
I do actually believe that almost everything was wrapped up. The continuity bits were fixed, Ace and her Mother finally met, and all worked out. They even split Jason between Ace and Benny, 'cause he's such a great guy and all.
This book was really written for the fans of the NAs. It can be read as a stand-alone, but, having read all the NAs, I can't imagine what that would be like. It is a present from Paul and Rebecca, who know that Bernice's happiness is something that we've been waiting for for a long time. If you're a fan, and you're worried, don't be. This is written by an author who loves the NAs, and this is not only Bernice's going away, but his as well. We'll miss you, Paul. (Though you're still here, of course.)
Do I need to bother with a rating?
10/10. (Guess that's a yes.)
A Book-A-Minute Review by Eric Briggs 30/5/00
Bernice Summerfield: "Oh no, I'm getting married! Something is bound to go wrong."
Doctor Who: "It'll be all right, and just to prove it to you I'll invite lots of aliens and xenophobic humans."
General Lethbridge-Stewart: "Oops! I'm dying."
Dorothée McShane: "Oops! I had sex with the groom."
The Master: "No, foolish human, it was one of my genetic experiments gone awry."
Bernice Summerfield: "It's the Master! He's ruined my wedding!"
The Master: "It's the Doctor and his friends! They've ruined my experiments!"
The Humans: "It's the aliens from outer space! They've come to ruin our planet!"
(There is a big explosion)
General Lethbridge-Stewart: "Oops! I'm not dying anymore."
(The Doctor throws a big party and everybody is happy)
The Author: (contented sigh)
A Review by Graeme Burk 18/6/00
I really wanted desperately to like Happy Endings, particularly since I got to see it while it was still being written, and since I got to be a middle aged copper with an alsatian on the pages therein. I became friends with Paul while he was working on it, hell, I even own proofs of the (fortunately) discarded original red cover.
But ultimately, this book just doesn't work for me. It's a polemic for how Paul Cornell (and others) would like Who and the NAs to be and that's a double-edged sword -- on the one hand, there are some insights that are remarkable, but on the other, there's no story.
To begin with, the idea of a "plotless" NA (and that's a misnomer because this book does have something a plot; it just isn't driven by it) I think ultimately can't work because this isn't something like, say, Tales of the City, or Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould. This is Doctor Who. Doctor Who is mostly a sub-genre of television, sf, fantasy and drama which has a format where stories with a plot are integral. Even the NAs, which allow for expanded characterization (indeed characterization at all), are driven by the plot (something which even angsty books like Set Piece or Human Nature ultimately end up struggling with) The whole idea of fusing a plot-driven series format with a non-plot-driven novel is simply very skewed.
Terrance Dicks once commented that Doctor Who is a tightrope walk between menace and self-mocking mirth. Well this story has bags of self-mocking mirth, but no menace. What we do get with a semi-plotless NA seems to be 250+ pages of really bad jokes, mostly about bodily functions, and some low-to-middlebrow farce. The great characterization and angst of a Cornell NA usually supports a plot. Here, without the menace, the plot, the jeopardy or whatever, the characters become less believable, not more. I had no sympathy whatsoever for Benny and Jason the entire book, nor did I have much interest in the rest of the cast, except for maybe Annie and the Brigadier. Everyone -- including the regulars -- just seemed like cardboard. Putting this against a backdrop where aspects or characters from nearly every NA was in attendance didn't help this any, either.
A lot of this book seemed to me to be part polemic on Paul's part about the NAs and Doctor Who. It's not just that this book is the "Frockiest" NA of them all, its that it draws attention to this aspect, screaming "LOOK HERE, THIS IS CAMP AND LOVELY AND YOU WILL ENJOY THIS". The cricket match features some of the nicest moments in the book, but when you start reading about the Doctor thinking this-is-the-most-important-thing-he's-ever-done-instead-of-an-invasion-there's-a-game, etc etc etc, you start wondering if you're reading a novel or an illustrated pro-NA posting on r.a.dw. Sanki and Jacquilian, the Silurian boyz irritated me for a similar reasons -- they seem less like characters and more like camp archetypes (gay monsters because it can be done). Again, this is a novel, and the polemicizing only works well in small doses with the occasional comment slipped here and there -- the best example is Love and War, with the Doctor's passing comments on why he kept the Police Box shape, and the Jackie Piper/Companion comparison. Given a wider berth here in Happy Endings I found that the polemical argument that camp lovely sweetness makes great Doctor Who got annoying after a while. It seems, well, self-indulgent.
It strikes me that, and perhaps I'm wrong, but a favourite form of fan fiction is one where the Doctor and the companion converse for long periods of time, or the Doctor converses with a fan-created-representative for a while. It's the sort of thing all fans like to write -- or at least I do -- since most stories on TV and even in the NAs usually doesn't give us much time to get to see these moments where the characters interrelate while not having a gun held to their heads. Happy Endings seems to fall into this tradition of fan writing and takes it to its logical extreme with everyone just talking for over 200 pages. In this way, this seems like the most fannishly-written NA. That the fannish writing are about NA characters (and that the NA characters are worthy of that attention) is worth lauding. That it is, ultimately, fannish writing at its worst is not. 4/10.
A Review by Finn Clark 7/3/02
This is The Eight Doctors of the Virgin line, a rampant orgy of silliness and continuity without much plot to get in the way. As for spoilers... I don't think it would be possible to spoiler Happy Endings, but I do reveal a few things that happen towards the end. If you're happy with that, read on!
A book is different when you reread it. Back in 1996, the namechecks made me howl with pain, the Brigadier's subplot seemed grossly out of place and the Master almost offended me. In 2002, I was ready and forewarned. My soul was steeled against the namechecks. I knew what was in store for the Brigadier, so gave no emotional weight to his earlier angst. Finally the Master was better than I remembered.
Basically I loved it! Happy Endings is hilarious, a happy romp through fifty books of continuity. Some of it you simply can't take seriously (the second TARDIS) but that doesn't matter. In a way it feels more honest. How often have the traditional elements of a Doctor Who book held it back from what it really wanted to be talking about? Here at last is a book that's junked all that nonsense (apart from a nearly subliminal bit at the end.)
Ace is back (complete with yet more names) and she's a slapper, but by now it's sufficiently well established for Paul to be able to take the piss out of it. Page 67 even suggests an in-story explanation.
The Brigadier's situation is terribly moving... and doesn't belong in a book like this. Gareth Roberts might have taught Paul how to laugh at himself between No Future and Goth Opera, but in my opinion that lesson should have had a footnote saying not to put silly pisstakes alongside deep angsty stuff and cures for cancer. But I guess it sets up Shadows of Avalon, which was a book that really needed writing after this Happy Ending.
The continuity is fun. I'd been overdosing on Doctor Who books lately, so the returning characters and blooper-fixing really worked for me. Happy Endings is by turns the fifth Timewyrm novel, a continuation of Blood Harvest and Goth Opera, the second half of Death and Diplomacy and a sequel to Birthright, Blood Heat and No Future. I loved meeting Maire from Love and War again (p168). I cooed happily at the mention of Vincent and Justine (p178). Mind you, p190 is just daft. And I adored the cricket match.
The multi-author chapter's weird. Gary Russell's bit is instantly and recognisably crap, while Dave Stone had me laughing out loud. I soon gave up on trying to match every single paragraph to the author list in the front, though.
This is an amazingly silly book, impossible to take seriously and lots of fun. However by its continuity-obsessed nature, it's also hugely important to the other books. (See, I said it was The Eight Doctors of the Virgin line!) It gives us our first glimpse of Romana as President of Gallifrey, for a start. I loved it.
Fortean fiftieth by Peter Anghelides 2/6/02
Here's a review of "Happy Endings" wot I wrote in June 1996 and posted to rec.arts.drwho (in the days when that newsgroup was more on- than off-topic).
I wrote this 18 months before my first DW novel Kursaal was published. On the whole, I have tended not to write reviews of other DW books since then, because I think readers rather assume good reviews are just crawling to your mates and bad reviews are sour grapes about other authors.
Besides, in the past I have also been in the lucky position of being able to read many of the books before publication, sometimes at outline or first draft stage, so I've usually sent my comments (hopefully useful and constructive) to the authors themselves before they wrote their submission drafts, which they've used or ignored as they wished :-) In particular, I did this for the books in the Compassion arc that I read while writing Frontier Worlds -- from Interference (a draft which was still one huge book without the "Dust event") through to Shadows of Avalon (which Paul had written well ahead of his submission deadline, what a pro!).
Also note that I misidentified the cover artist of Happy Endings. It was actually Alistair "Soupy" Campbell.
Happy Endings is a celebration of the New Adventures and, supposedly, a new direction too. The book cover itself seems to proclaim this, too. And while it's true that there is much fun to be had spotting the character faces in Alistair Campbell's landscape colour cover art, something didn't seem right to me.
Was it the selection of only a subset of guests? No, to feature them all (even only those at the church) would have meant a crowd of faces each the size of a pinhead. Was it getting used to the new cover design? No, though the novelty is rather undercut by featuring a gold "Fiftieth New Adventure" overstamp and a "Poster Offer Inside" corner flash.
Was it the likenesses? No, the Doctors, Brigadier, Lisa Deranne, Benny, and Ace are very good, even though Cwej and Forrester seem unfamiliar. And Sherlock Holmes, no doubt in a wicked coincidence, looks at first glance startlingly like Andy Lane.
Then I realised: like the famous photo of Lee Harvey Oswald, the lighting isn't consistent across all the faces--some of them look like they've been stuck on, which is an amazing, perhaps Fortean, coincidence because that's exactly how some of the character appearances seem in the novel itself.
In the days when Danny Paripski was still known as Danny Pain, literary critics would have described a book like this as "postmodern". It's full of punning self-reference, DW in-jokes, and cultural knowingness. People like us on r.a.dw love it. Some rawders even appear in it.
But twenty years on, and there's a danger that to most readers this may seem indulgent, precious even. Ironically, this is itself pointed up in Steve Lyons' pointed contribution to the multi-author chapter, when one of his characters says to Benny at the end of a long and rambling speech:
"He told me you were getting married, and what with me having used you in two stories, I feel like I know you pretty well, and I did so want to be here, and I just sort of insisted, 'cos, well, I just love happy endings..."Benny's response is merely to sigh and grumble:
"I hate all that self-referential crap."For all but us aficionados, there's a danger of that being a short summary of the whole book. (It's doubly ironic that I think Steve Lyons' contribution here surpasses most of the stuff he published in his own books.)
I think Happy Endings is Paul's least successful book for other reasons: the plot is slender enough for a shortish short story, the sort of thing you'd expect to see in an early-80s fanzine (except much better written); there are so many characters, they don't all know what to do, many appear and disappear at random with minimal description, and it's difficult to judge who is driving most of the action; and at various stages there's a mass sleep-walk and a group chase which involve significant numbers of the cast for apparently important plot reasons, but which seem a bit lame in the aftermath.
Plus, given its brief (in part) to try and tie up some of the previous 49 books' continuity goofs, it is thoroughly implausible at several points, particularly the all-purpose McGuffin of a Fortean Flicker (don't leave home without one) and the Leftovers of Rassilon (which admittedly Paul does gently debunk at an early stage). Why hasn't the Master been locked up with the Handcuffs of Rassilon, I keep asking myself.
There are compensations, mostly in Paul's usual high standard of prose and characterisation of course. There are rare exceptions: Braxiatel seems different to both his appearances in the NA Theatre of War and the MA Empire of Glass (is he a different incarnation?), there seems to be a running gag about Mike Yates being gay (an extreme reaction to being jilted by Jo?), and the Master is a carboard cut-out with none of his old charm (the characterisation consists of him having a TCE and a beard).
But Paul captures the Tardis regulars, particularly Benny and newcomer Jason, very well, and develops Ace in a fascinating synthesis of old and new. The prose rarely struggles, though I did wonder how anyone could "stalk like a rocket" and winced at a couple of awkward phrases like "sitting in the, by now, reconstructed bar".
And there's bags of compensation if you prefer stylistic prose and puns to purposeful plotting, however: a juxtaposition between a couple bonking and someone watching the Tardis time rotor go up and down; "Blake's heaven"; a surreal cricket match, with scorecard; two camp Silurians based on Julian and Sandy of Radio 4's "Round the Horne". And a great deal of tastefully- described lusting, snogging, and enthusiastic rumpy-pumpy in a variety of conventional and unconventional rural settings.
In addition, there are the unusual extras: a chapter written by all the previous NA authors (with the mysterious exception of Jim Mortimore, whose Tardis goof from the dreadful Blood Heat Paul helpfully rectifies elsewhere); interior cover color artwork; a poster offer; the score and lyrics to a duet for Silurians, er I mean Earth Reptiles, er no sorry I should say Indigenous Terrans -- one has to be so UC (Universally Correct) these days.
There's also an hilarious William McGonagall-inspired introductory poem by Vanessa Bishop -- sample couplet:
"Doctor Watson Benny found a shameful, wicked flirtThe poem is mysteriously entitled "In The Words of David Cassidy...". More mysteriously, although Plasticene, some Silurian duetists, and the Isley brothers are all invited to the wedding, David Cassidy is a no-show. Shame, because he could have sung "Looking through the eyes of love" at the reception, or "How can I be sure?" during one of Benny and Jason's frequent rows. And given the preonderance of DW in-jokes, there could have been Ragnorak relevance in his other hit, "I am a clown", which might reveal Ace's hitherto undisclosed hatred for the Partridge Family.
And dangerous at twenty feet to anything in a skirt"
Elsewhere, Paul shows that he can capture the style of other NA authors when he uses their characters -- particularly well achieved I think in his All Consuming Fire-style passages supposedly written by John Watson, MD.
So if like me you enjoy the cliqueish in-jokery of groups like ours, you'll love the references to The Landlady, Miss Gjovaag, Jane Austen, Broadsword, Kerry Packer, and frocks; and you'll rejoice in the return of Neil Penswick to the pages of the Virgin Whoniverse. But if you're not, then although you do not need to recognise all of these things to get something out of the book, I think there's very little else to sustain you through 290 pages.
It's Virgin's NA equivalent of the BBC's The Five Doctors. I doubt whether its broader readership will have the range of specific subcultural reference to make it a success -- possibly that's something we can't judge from our unusual, and perhaps parochial position in r.a.dw. I count myself as someone who's read a significant number of the NAs and MAs, and kept in touch with much of the discussion here on the net, but I can't help feeling that much of the book still passes me by, let along the majority of the larger NA and MA audience.
But I think there's an admission of this from the author in his long list of (appropriately perhaps?) acknowledgements:
"Rebecca (mad mod poet god) Levene - who took the original idea far too seriously"and
"Parts of this book were written at the Fitzroy Tavern. Obviously."It's enough to make you check next time you're there that the Tavern's "Writers and Artists Bar" isn't full of body beppled, holo-disguised aliens. (On the other hand, at the average Tavern night, how would we tell? :-).
PS: For more on the postmodern discussion, see Teresa Ebert's distinction between meta-SF ("a self-reflexive discourse acutely aware of its own aesthetic status and artificiality") and traditional SF ("mimetic conventions of the bourgeois novel with its preoccupations with socio-political realism and its commitment to a causal representation of the universe"). I came across this in "Science Fiction Audiences" (Tulloch/Jenkins, London 1995). Ebert's article was in "Poetics Today, 1: 4, 1980, p.93. What larks, eh?
Lots of fun by Tim Roll-Pickering 19/7/02
The New Adventures mark their fiftieth book with Benny's wedding and a reunion of literally hundreds of familiar faces from all the past New Adventures. The book omits the long convoluted plots and angst that many of the novels have become notorious for and instead focuses upon celebrations. The setting is Cheldon Bonniface, a village in Norfolk, in the year 2010 but aside from the odd reference to ten pound coins, the appearance of older versions of a number of contemporary characters and some mentions of the 'Reconstruction' that tie in with Cat's Cradle: Warhead and Iceberg, there's little that really sets this out as the future - indeed as O'Kelly Isley says 'this is just a little British village, and they don't change none.'
It doesn't matter if the reader hasn't read every single New Adventure before as the key characters are re-established sufficiently well, though there is the fun of spotting all the additional ones, especially in the chapter 'Everyone's Welcome at the Wedding', written by all the authors (except, surprisingly, Jim Mortimore - where was he?) in which many extra familiar faces pop up from Gilgamesh (Timewyrm: Genesys) to the Master of the Land of Fiction (Conundrum and Head Games). But fortunately most of the characters are kept to the sidelines, with the main significant focus being upon, in no particular order, Benny, Jason, Dorotheé, Roz, Chris, the Doctor, the Hutchingses, Keri, the Brigadier, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Hamlet Macbeth, Ruby Duvall and Kadiatu. At times the book feels like a cross between a soap opera and a comic strip given the way that many ludicrous events take place as though normal. Attention is given to continuity, with the Doctor at times panicking about the potential effect that so many visitors will have on the time lines. There are some references to past adventures that can be seen a links to the subsequent The Dying Days, though why Lethbridge-Stewart is a Brigadier in this book when he is promoted to General in The Dying Days and had this rank by the earlier Head Games is one noticeable error, unless it has been corrected in another book somewhere.
Paul Cornell does a good job at capturing many of the characters and imbues the core ones with a strong degree of realism, though all too often the cameos do little more than feature a character and give little impression of development since they were last seen. There is some wonderful humour as well, such as with the camp Earth Reptiles Sanki and Jacquilian as well as the cricket match between the villagers and the visitors. There is a small plot as well, which eventually climaxes in an appearance by the Master which is sent up for all its worth and this works all the more. But this isn't a story about battling menaces, though the Brigadier is cured of cancer and rejuvenated. Instead it is a celebration of the New Adventures and a chance to relax and enjoy things. This is a highly readable book, with some nice additions such as Vanessa Bishop's poem at the start, the sheet music for Sanki and Jacquilian's reception song and even the score sheet for the cricket match. The cover limits itself to only the major characters and a few additional ones to fill out the scene, and the only thing really missing from the book is a set of additional pictures showing all the other characters at the wedding as well. This is an extremely light-hearted entry for the series, but the New Adventures were criticised for being over serious and depressing and so this celebration makes a change from all that. Highly re-readable (indeed it is the New Adventure I've read more times than any other over the last six years) this sets out to show the marriage of Benny and Jason and does so in style. 10/10
The Problem with Paul by Antony Tomlinson 21/2/03
Paul Cornell's work can be so frustrating. Since the early 1990s he has been the author that has most clearly addressed the need for Doctor Who to "grow up" and address the full gamut of human emotions. Yet, occasionally, he is the author to have done this more clumsily than anyone else, and I believe that Happy Endings is a particularly clear instance of this.
More than any other era of Doctor Who, the New Adventures period was a product of its time. For instance, these days no one really thinks much about "hippies". However, in the early 1990s, the New Age lifestyle was a subject of great debate, given that the UK government was passing legislation to effectively ban "travellers" from travelling. Thus we end up with what now seems an odd degree of attention to such lifestyles in books such as Cornell's Love and War as well as Warlock and The Return of the Living Dad.
The early nineties also saw political correctness grip the liberal mind. As a result, every new adventure features the line "the tall black woman entered the room", most adventures require someone to have an affair with an alien of indeterminate gender and instead of screaming, the female companions cry out and then analyse whether their cries were the cliched product of a patriarchal society or not. Of course I have nothing against any of these occurrences in a book - but after 50 books it gets tiring. The need to sandwich politically correct parentheses into every moment of action can make poor reading and, fittingly as a celebration of the New Adventures, Happy Endings is perhaps the book that most clearly exhibits this 1990s confusion.
As a story (and a celebration) it is mostly brilliant. Cornell is an excellent teller of tales - in fact he is often best writing less emotionally "deep" works such as Goth Opera and Seasons of Fear. The intergalactic cricket match is pure joy, and the appearance of an Ice Warrior battleship at the end of play is wonderful. The Isley Brothers' singing of a song that they haven't written yet is fun as is the Brigadier's meeting with his great, great, great... granddaughter. Even better are the scenes featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson (still written in the style of Conan-Doyle). Holmes's joy in examining the modern world is infectious, and his discovery that he enjoys fame 100 years after his death (as everyone gawps at him) can't help but make one smile. The story does lose its momentum once the number of characters gets too great (I began to switch off by the arrival of the Charrl). Furthermore, the villain's dastardly plot doesn't add much to the story. However, this can be forgiven in a big The Five Doctors style celebration.
However, Cornell is too ambitious to merely celebrate. He also wants to explore death, religion, love and sex. On the issue of death he is a powerful writer. In the 1990s, death was not an issue that was endlessly talked about in wine bars and in the supplements of newspapers and so he can write about it simply, without politically correct confusion. Thus the sense of doom and loss hanging over Danny Pain is beautifully communicated, while Doris's tears as she stands singing "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" besides the sick Brigadier are particularly painful.
But when it comes to love and sex, the whole book becomes annoying (I ended up throwing it across the room on several occasions). Benny and Jason are absolutely obsessed with their own sex lives and we can't get through a scene without them making some fatuous innuendo about the fact that they like to have sex ("but, hey man, we're still monogamous"). They're like one of those middle-aged couples who are trying to bring spice back into their relationship with their continual amusement at the fact they can tie each other up. In fact there is so much sexual self-consciousness in this book as to put one off the activity for life (this self-analysis is a hundred times less sexy than the simple, gentle, caring and apparently platonic relationship between Ian and Barbara in the early 1960s).
The issue of marriage is even more of a mess. It is never clear why Benny wants to be married. She's from the far future, and has met hundreds of alien cultures, yet somehow thinks a wedding in an Anglican church is relevant. Why does she think this ritual will make her more secure? Surely, in the far future they will have either abandoned or fully embraced marriage, rather than enduring the confusion on the issue that currently exists. But no, she's just bewildered. Thus we have to sit through her wailing "oh I love him, but I don't know him, but I want to be his wife." Get a life, woman; you're not a student scared of losing touch with your university boyfriend - you've fought the Chelonians and been tortured by the Nazis for heaven's sake - get some perspective. In fact it's a relief when Dr Watson turns up; he just fancies Benny and wants to protect her, without continually beating himself over the head as to whether love has any place in modern society. This makes him a far more enjoyable read.
Religion is an absolute chore in this book. We can't just have a vicar who is a Christian and does weddings. No, she's got to be flirtatious, to embrace every faith and be capable of swearing. It's all very groovy, but, as always in these books, it is making too much of a point. Then there's the nauseating, slightly kinky (but again not very sexy) sci-fi religion of the travellers to endure. In fact the most attractive figure ends up being the fanatical William Blake with all his talk about angels and damnation.
Of course it was this confusion about love and life that made US shows such as Sex in the City and Ally McBeal so popular. So maybe I just hate the culture of those times (that still endures, of course). By I can't help but feeling that the problem with Paul Cornell is that he can't resist falling into the self-analytical obsession of that culture at the very moment that his Doctor Who stories get interesting. True, in Human Nature and Love and War he just about keeps things sufficiently under control to produce excellent works. But in The Shadow of the Scourge, for example, after three episodes of brilliant action adventure it turns into the Oprah Winfrey show - all the characters quite literally end up holding hands and shouting "if we can just believe in ourselves, then we can achieve anything". And The Shadows of Avalon is so close to disappearing in a cloud of Prozac and psychotherapy as to be unreadable.
So I'd say that Happy Endings is 50% brilliant and 50% awful. And, of course, this is just what a celebration of the New Adventures (and Paul Cornell's work) should be.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 19/12/03
When I first read Happy Endings, I was amused. Reading it again in 2003, I was downright tickled. This book is hilarious; I couldn't stop laughing. (And, no, I wasn't laughing at the book, I was laughing with it.) Paul Cornell combines many things together in a way that I wouldn't have thought possible. Happy Endings celebrates the publication of the fiftieth New Adventure, manages to tie up loose ends from the previous forty-nine novels, and still arrives with a story that is much more entertaining than it has any right being.
Happy Endings is primary the story of companion Bernice Summerfield's marriage to that horribly one-dimensional character from the previous novel. While the plot does make very few journeys outside that premise, it rarely wanders away from the wedding story for very long. After bringing the Relatively Happy Couple to the proverbial sleepy English village of Cheldon in the year 2010, the Doctor spends most of the story scurrying around, importing aliens from all over time and space. The characters amuse themselves in various subplots relating to the wedding. Most of the scenes and sequences are surprisingly short, but this just helps the novel maintain its pleasantly quick pace.
It should be mentioned, of course, that not all of the tie-ins to previous novels are successful. In fact, the book opens with a shockingly poor coda to The Highest Science, which only served to remind this reader of just how annoying that story was. Thankfully, the vast majority of the successive references are much more fun, and, indeed, much less awkward. Once the book really gets going, the past slips smoothly into the present, and while it's still obviously a continuity fest, it somehow manages to integrate these pieces well.
As for the plot, well, it's practically nonexistent. Which is a relief to be honest. The story is purely a romp and the narrative follows the romp in whatever direction it decides to lurch rather than sticking purely to plot lines. The result is hugely enjoyable and utterly unpredictable. It shouldn't come as a surprise that some of the book's least good moments are those when the plot rears its angry little head and demands attention. (The other least good moments are, of course, the now hopelessly out of date rec.arts.drwho in-jokes.)
I almost always enjoy the actual process of reading Cornell's prose, even in the books that I didn't like. And I think the writing here ranks with his best. The sentences and words have a wonderful free-flowing quality to them. They just pour gently off the page with me scarcely aware of the fact that I'm reading them. In other, weightier stories, Cornell would successfully use this to throw some stunning and shocking things at the audience. In this book, he manages to sneak some hilarious jokes under the reader's radar until the punch line leaps right off of the page for maximum impact.
It shouldn't (indeed, it can't) be forgotten that this is primary a book for the fans of the New Adventures, and it's almost impossible to appreciate it in any other way. Most of the great scenes are built around those whimsical set pieces that would most appeal to those warriors who have braved the prose that had come before. Some of the book's more successful passages include Sherlock Holmes and Roz Forrester solving a case together, the UNIT family getting one last story together, and Dr. Watson's jealously regarding Benny's fiance. Other moments, such as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart finally coming face to face, are unabashed attempts to stroke the average fan's funny-bone, yet they work.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this reading of Happy Endings. Of course, the last time I read the book, I didn't have nearly as many New Adventures under my belt as I do now, so probably caught many more of the jokes this time around. But even the sections that weren't specifically funny were, at the very least, entertaining. And as a romp celebrating the past and present, it's hard to ask for more than that.