BBC Books
Independence Day

Author Peter Darvill-Evans Cover image
ISBN# 0 563 53804 X
Published 2000
Continuity Some time after Survival

Synopsis: The Doctor wants to return an item he borrowed some time ago. Being a Time Lord, this shouldn't be a problem, but some things aren't as straightforward as they seem.


A Review by Finn Clark 8/10/00

Peter Darvill-Evans is best known as the Virgin editor who created the NAs, which is probably a good thing as "the latest novel from the author of Deceit" is a tag-line about as enticing as "Divided Loyalties II" or "Neil Penswick's back!". Don't let anyone tell you Deceit wasn't that bad. It was that bad. This is a book that came out just after Transit and The Pit and made them look good. It was tedious, it was annoying and it inflicted New Ace on an unsuspecting world.

So is Independence Day any better? Well, yes, but largely by default. It's okay. It's not actually bad, but it's not particularly good either.

The back cover says it's set "some time" after Survival, but in fact it's well down the road to the NAs. This is a brooding Doctor who you couldn't even imagine playing the spoons, alongside a sexually active Ace with considerable high-tech experience. In fact this book's sexual politics are its most distinctive feature, though not necessarily in a good way. It's slightly disturbing, in fact. The women are given personalities, yes, but for the men they're almost exclusively objects of obsession. They're creatures to be adored from afar, preferably by more than one man simultaneously. Their natural state is to be either physically imprisoned or mentally enslaved, in need of rescuing and until that time the objects of exploitation.

I'm not sure for which gender this is more degrading. It short-circuits the women from any plot developments, yes, but it also induces near-terminal stupidity in their worshipping menfolk. At times it's just plain annoying, especially when Ace becomes the object of such devotion (twice). I mean, come on! This is Sophie Aldred, not Marilyn Monroe! Had it been Peri then maybe I could have accepted it, but with Ace my disbelief muscles were severely strained.

That aside, the plot is a pretty bog-standard combination of interplanetary invasion, evil dictator and two-factions-on-a-planet. There aren't any real surprises, though it has to be said that the execution has been given more realism than usual. When Planet A invades Planet B, it's not for the sake of Being Evil but just simple economics. Moral ambiguity abounds. A good guy is simply a man who hasn't yet had the opportunity to be a bastard. When the chief rebel talks of overthrowing the tyrant, for a while it's hard to believe that he'll be much better as a replacement (though thankfully the Doctor picks up on this point too).

A theme emerges at the end, which to be fair is quite good. Unfortunately the regulars don't get much to do. Ace fares better than the Doctor, but even she's written out for a great chunk of the middle. This is a story that would have unfolded much the same with or without the TARDIS crew; for the most part it's the military in control. The Doctor meets a one-dimensional local and lets him tag along, only to discover half-way through the book that this temporary companion actually has a personality. It's a shock to us, too.

This is an unremarkable book that doesn't even live up to its cover. (Oi, Black Sheep! What's with the glowing eyes and the question mark, eh?) It's not badly written, but it's hardly unputdownable either.

A Real Disappointment by Tammy Potash 9/11/00

Before we can talk about this, we have to talk a little about Deceit. It's not so godawful as to make my worst books list, but if the competition weren't so fierce, it might have. Peter Darvill-Evans edited the NAs, and this was his attempt to write one. It committed all the sins of the NAs, with very few of their strengths. It introduced New Ace, wasted the presence of Absaalom Daak (he was a bit of a one-note guy in his own stuff, but this was worse), and was described by many as padded and dull in its pacing.

Independence Day claims to take place some time after Survival, but it is clear this is a book that took place in the NAs. Ace is written unmistakably as New Ace, lacking only her combat suit, but keeping her oversexed state and familiarity with weaponry and advanced computer systems, which could only have been gained while she was in Spacefleet. My best guess is that this book really takes place during the first half of Theatre of War, before Benny summons the Doctor.

The book is far too similar to Deceit in other ways too. Once again, we have the nearby, highly advanced people victimizing the feudal culture. Members of the feudal culture meet a horrible fate, like Deceit. And the Doctor and Ace spend most of the book apart, like Deceit. Poor Ace has very little to do in this book, other than be an object of lust. Other than Tevana, every woman in this book is nothing more than a sex object. Therefore Tevana is barely seen in this book, and her eventual fate is quite sad. It can be argued that she effectively ceases to exist without dying.

So the Doctor is onstage almost constantly. But where is his umbrella? He's got his hat, but his umbrella is strangely absent. It's not in the control room, it's just not in the book. It's like seeing the 4th Doctor scarfless. He gets a lot to do, which is good, but he seems oddly upset by the idea of theft. Odd indeed for someone who stole the TARDIS.

There's a ridiculous prologue which shows that Darvill-Evans should never ever be allowed to write for the 2nd Doctor, and a fanwanky reference to Creature from the Pit. The cover has basically nothing to do with anything. I didn't see the glowing eyes that another reviewer mentioned, but the question mark on the arch is there, and is not in the book at all. The Doctor never even returns the communication device which Ace finds, and that brought him back to the area in the first place (this is mentioned on the back cover, so no spoiler).

It's really hard to give a rat's ass about these people. They don't have charcaters or personalities so much as they fulfill roles: The Evil Ruler, the Stalwart Farmer, the Devious Weapons Dealer, the Loyal Soldier. In a post-modern touch, someone observes that "it was hard to tell those who were mindless from those who were not." There's not a drop of humor in this book. And it should have been explained just what the TAM of TAM Corporation was supposed to stand for.

OK, one thing I really did like was the flask of soup linked to the food synthesizer, thus having an infinite supply. Lars Pearson will surely list this under Stuff You Want in his I, Who 2. Just imagine if Benny had found this thing and filled it with booze instead!

Someone needs to tell Mr. Darvill-Evans that you are supposed to improve upon your first novel when you write your second one. Better yet, please take his wordprocessor away and spare us more tortured prose. Editors should not be allowed to write for their own lines; this is becoming more and more evident. (Keep in mind Justin Richards was a writer before he ever became an editor.) I was willing to forgive Deceit and allow the author a second chance, but I doubt many others will be. I'd rather see a third novel from Baxendale or Collier... almost.

Not as Bad as All That by Draco Firebreath 14/11/00

Not clearly expecting much from the author of Deceit, I picked up Indy for a long, boring graveyard shift. Imagine my surprise as 5 am rolled in and most of the book was finished, and not a lag through most of it. Obviously, as I am in the minority of fans of this work, I offer my position as Advocate to the other well spoken reviews on this site.

Where to begin? Well, let's start with the Second Doctor, who has the briefest of appearances, setting up a plot point for all the rest to come. Through circumstance (contrived, but how else do you get characters to do anything?) we need to return a seemingly unimportant piece of tech to a backwater planet and set the wheels in motion.

Fast forward to the Seventh Doctor, post-Survival. Ace discovers the tech in an old closet (plenty of those in the TARDIS) which prompts the return to the Mendeb system. Once there, as always, Ace is seperated from the Doctor, and the Doctor is swept up in a political struggle with many religious parallels.

I felt that was one of the more striking aspects of the novel. The Doctor can be seen as not only Moses, he who came to liberate, but also as an analog to a messiniac figure. He, at least to the enslaved people of Mendeb Two, seems to be the one who was promised, not that anyone ever mentions any legend from before on that regard. Consider: he brought back the dead, fed an army with one hip flask, and died and came back from the brink. Sound like anyone else you know? His chief helper from the other planet seems to be Peter, self-described as a humble fisherman and merely using the Doctor's influence and growing reputation for his own ends.

The plot revolves around the two planets, Mendeb Two and Three, and the space station between, also with the nominal overthrow of the power structure of Three. Two, as the lesser organized planet, plays the victim to the ambitions of Three, so much so as to almost be called the Stepford Planet. Only by the actions of a few dedicated individuals is the coming war going to be decided, and almost too late for all involved.

The Doctor is portrayed loosely in the book, never really getting his hands dirty despite close involvement with the people from the other planet. We get no feel as to his motivation, which worked as he was a means to the Two's freedom. Ace is shallow, not much more than a place-holder, to be in the right place at the right time. Again, the more important people turn out to be the extras, as it is their battle, with the Doctor and Ace as hostages to fortune, catspaws for the varios sides. One of the few problems I had with the book was this lack of motivation on the main's part, just going along with the various factions because they seemed to have nothing better to do that day (What's on telly? At the movie house? No books to read, let's liberate a small planet, etc.) Except for Ace, who can't really be blamed for most of her actions.

Personalities kept to a minimum, and the character names kept making me want to buy a vowel. As soulless slugs, the Twos developed into a effective army behind the Doctor, who also tried to get the world's leader to let them go, only to be poisoned for his trouble. The Doctor revives, Ace comes to in time for a slam-bang finale, and we learn that the true price of war can be brought home to the non-combatants.

For all its flaws, Indy was a zippy little novel, spare prose and high on action. PDE seemed to be setting up Ace to be militant for Deceit, and the drug could only be seen as an aid to indoctrination. I hope his next book is more like this, but maybe a different Doctor? In its favor, look for a very clever in-joke for the Eighth Doctor not even ten pages into the book, where Ace moons over one of McGann's costars from Withnail and I. Also, to continue the messiah arc, some references to Dune (worm bile poison, Ace being groomed as a pleasure girl/assassin almost like a Bene Gesseritt) also creep in. And finally, a really goony Casablanca end put the cap on all the seriousness that came before, especially the way the whole mess came to a sad conclusion. In the end, it was a strange trip, but was it really necessary? 7/10

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 31/1/01

To say I didn`t like this book would be a vast understatement. There is so little to commend here, its difficult to know where to begin. A cameo by the Second Doctor is probably the best thing about this book, but as we fast forward to Doctor number Seven and Ace things really start to fall apart. The Doctor is too loosely involved to be properly characterised and Ace is way below par. The supporting cast are barely noticeable and the plot is mind-numbingly dull. I know Peter Darvill-Evans previous offering Deceit has been slated, but at least that gave new life to Ace, something I applauded. But if he writes another book of this standard again, it will be too soon for me. 1/10.

An Examination Of The NA Stereotype By The Guy Who Made Them by Robert Thomas 12/2/01

It's a surprising book this one, very dark but also breezy and fast to read - not an often found combination, but one that satisfies the reader.

What this book does is examine the stereotype that The Doctor of the NA's was way to manipulative. To do this The Doctor finds himself in charge of some rebels who are literally begging him to manipulate them. Interesting but I think this could have been done better. The Doctor spends a lot of time just standing by and thinking 'Oh no, this is my fault'. A bit of action from The Doctor would have been better. As for the general view that Ace was too overexposed in the NA's, he has the solution: hefty pieces of action at the start and end with nothing in between. In saying this she has a lot to do and her sub-plot is very interesting.

This book is actually very good. If you take the hints at the start that this is the NA Doctor/Ace double act you'll enjoy it. There is a lot of stuff going on at characters slip into the forefront and fade into the background in good fashion and the pace is fast. There are some very interesting fates for some characters which give an extra depth to the book.

Now for some rants about impressions that this book left on me.

First of all Peter Darvill-Evans is either a very randy guy or a filthy minded bloke. He is either getting to much or not enough. Certain characters lusting over Ace mean that innocent sentences like the last one on page 153 leave a sour taste in the mind. We have people talking about 'fan-wank' and now we have the first case of wanking in the books, or as women say 'playing with themselves'.

Secondly Ace is not really that good looking, especially compared to the other companions. In my opinion the order of looks with the female companions is as follows:-

  1. Peri ( Number one every time ).
  2. Bernice ( Based on pics of Lisa Bowerman I've seen).
  3. Victoria ( Always had a thing for her ).
  4. Leela ( In her seventies prime of course ).
  5. Sarah ( yup yup yup ).
  6. Romana 1 ( If she had lasted longer than a season she might be higher ).
  7. Barbara ( To the tune of Mrs Jones - Me and Mrs Wright ).
  8. Liz ( Always like women who can argue well ).
  9. Polly ( We're getting to the more average chicks now ).
  10. Nyssa ( Way to much make-up).
  11. Susan ( Looks to much like an elf ).
  12. Dodo ( See above ).
  13. Vikki ( The perfect example of a nearly ).
  14. Mel ( No way its Bonnie Langford for crying out loud ).
  15. Zoe ( No, she's to short ).
  16. Romana 2 ( Just not my type ).
  17. Ace ( To much of a stereotype ).
  19. Evelyn ( No thank-you, pass the chocolates ).
  20. Tegan ( D-von, GET THE TABLE ).

Thirdly, The Doctor goes through the book blaming himself when it's clearly Jamie's fault. This got on my nerves the further I got into the book.

Fourthly and this has nothing to do with the book. The 2nd Doctor makes a brief cameo at the start. Now if you look at the MA page on this site you will see that this is the 36th book in the range. Up to 46 there is no planned book for The 2nd Doctor. If you divide the length in two the first 26 and the second 26 you see the following fact. The 2nd Doctors last book was release 24, he appeared in half of story 32 and gets a quick cameo here. The 2nd Doctor is my favorite and in my opinion one the best if not the best who translates to the book format. Come on someone write a 2nd Doctor book because I need my fix of him. Either writers haven't got any idea's which suit The Doctor or are unconfident about writing for him. So come on someone write a good 2nd Doctor book. If you don't I'll send in another of my idea's which means Justin Richards and Jacqueline Rayner will have to read another one of my c**p idea's - AND IT WILL BE ALL YOUR FAULT. Believe me after reading the idea that was Extreme Motive they're c**ping themselves already.

But then again the absence of The 2nd Doctor may be because so much of his missing stories have been made available on audio lately. Are they worried about sales? Probably.

A Review by Ben Jordan 26/3/01

The 2nd Doctor 'borrows' a piece of equipment from the planet Mendeb 2 in order to remind himself where he's been. When the 7th Doctor travels there years later to return it, he finds the world destroyed by unknown invaders, its people robbed of perhaps the most fundamental human quality of all - free will - and in driven to right wrongs there by guilt of responsibility, he discovers that even he can't save everyone.

Perhaps the reason why this story seems so epic-length, despite the standard page-count to me, is because its setting involves three locations - two planets and a space station. Televised Doctor Who would normally make do with only one of those. This allows for the usual technique of several different concurrent narratives to really add to the sense of grand scale. We're given a multi-layered view into the worlds of Mendeb 2 and 3, from the simple natives of the conquered world, who become little better than prozac-affected zombie slaves to the invaders, and who later demonstrate how a good army or mob runs well on the mindlessness of its constituents. We view the political machinations of the power-hungry rulers, led by an archetypal over-confidant Doctor Who dictator, and the nobles, who, with armies of their own, seek to overthrow him in order to make a better world. We see a maturing Ace, who, determined more than ever to stand on her own two feet in any surroundings, experiences love and loss, and forced servitude - the best kind of plot device of all to highlight her transition to adulthood. And the Doctor, champion of the downtrodden and oppressed, is perfectly captured, not only in this essential Doctorish characteristic, but Darvill-Evans never forgets that it's the 7th Doctor he's writing for, and the Timelord is suitably dark and brooding in the face of conflict.

With castles and nobles, peasants, and court intrigue, the fantasy genre greatly characterises Independance Day in a way that made it easy for me to imagine the worlds described. However, as the Mendeb 3 lead players struggle to rediscover the ancient forgotten technology of their ancestors, the narrative gently weaves science-fiction elements into the mix. Certainly there is no sorcery here, even though to many of the inhabitants, radio-communications, weaponry, and the method of enslaving people's minds certainly might look that way. The Doctor himself unwittingly adopts the role of all-powerful wizard to the peasantry. However the fact that all of these elements are artificial serves to heighten the theme of free will: that what we really have here is the mass suppression of humans by humans for no higher purpose than greed and power.

While the premise is nothing new to Doctor Who, Darvill-Evans manages to give the text his own enjoyable style producing a consistent narrative, supporting characters you actually care for, and an enjoyable pace. I suppose it's fair enough that the former New Adventures editor would bring with him the darker Doctor and mature Ace (here, he's actually trying to bridge the gap between the series and the NA's with her development), but they are entirely appropriate for a story which is anything but light-hearted. A cracking read to be sure.

Mysteriously failing to suck by Robert Smith? 10/5/01

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.

Frocks and Guns, Revisited by John Seavey 8/6/01

Well, I just finished Independence Day, and I have to say, between that and Heart of TARDIS, there's a definite wave of Virgin Who nostalgia surfacing. Unsurprisingly, the man who was behind the early NA's turns out a story that could have fit right in at any point before Love and War. Surprisingly, though, the man behind Deceit turns out a readable story.

Reading Independence Day, I definitely believed that this man was editor of the original line of NA's... every editor imposes something of their own style on the books they edit, I think, and this book came off as a distillation of many of the old NA's. The Seventh Doctor felt like the old Seventh Doctor from the books, trapped in a morally ambiguous situation that he hated, while all the while cynically taking advantage of it for his own ends because, well, as long as he can't stop it... The scenes with Bep-Wor (side note: I didn't like the names given to the Twos--they all sounded like strange and bizarre musical styles. "Yeah, we're a bep-wor combo; you got a gig for us?") conveyed quite nicely the Doctor's distaste for being turned into a messiah, while giving us the sure understanding that he couldn't simply abandon them either.

The plot was simple, but clear and sharp -- not many major twists and turns, but it was well-executed. The ending was sad, like so many of the old NA's, but... why do people keep having their ending be "Ace wants to leave the TARDIS crew, but something prevents her"? We know Ace doesn't leave the TARDIS crew, and that something prevents her. Stop doing that. :)

All in all, another worthwhile read...up next, The King of Terror, which I've heard bad things about. Then again, I'd heard bad things about Heart of TARDIS. Then again, I'd heard bad things about Divided Loyalties.

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 14/1/04

The Mendep system. Two major worlds running on parallel lines until the Doctor comes along and pinches (yes, pinches) a communications relay device from Mendep 2. This taking of the device has altered the evolution of the planet and now Mendep 3, who advanced quicker, enslaves Mendep 2. The Doctor is the cause of all this trouble, and he has to rectify it.

Now I know the Doctor can meddle a little too much at times, but was I the only one who thought this was just too much - even for the darker 7th Doctor. It sets up the story, but it strikes a discordant note. The mad thing is all the Doctor really does is drift around, getting involved with a bunch of slaves on Mendep 2. He promotes a very small revolution but he is hardly the hero we know and love. The result of the Doctor's blunderings - Mendep 3 is even more involved with Mendep 2 by the stories end.

I am terribly sorry if this sounds rather dull, but Independence Day is rather dull. Peter Darvill-Evans was the editor of the NA range for a good while, and he chooses to set his story in the early days of that series. And that is another negative point of the book, we have the free-loving, ultra violent Ace - and this is before she left the Doctor in Love and War!

Ace was the single worst thing about the NA's for her casual sex and Terminator callousness - and it really did not need resurrecting in yet another book. Her relationship with Kedin, the only Mendepian with any character, is superficial and dull. I tired of many of the New Adventures for the same reason I tired of this. Best to go back and read some New Adventures than this, at least they were a continuing story arc.

Independence Day also boasts one of the worst covers in the history of Who books. But if you were to judge a book by its cover then you'd be right in this case. What's inside is as dull as whats outside, and that is just about all I can say about it. 4/10