The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Virgin Books
The Sword of Forever
A Benny Adventure

Author Jim Mortimore Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books page
ISBN# 0 426 20526 X
Published 1998
Cover Mike Posen

Synopsis: Finding human skull fragments containing her own DNA in the stomach of a mummified dinosaur, Benny travels back in time to find the fabled Sword of Forever. Travelling across 120 million years and two universes, Benny discovers that things are not always what they seem.


Decidedly Strange by Robert Smith? 13/12/98

It's interesting to see Mortimore's take on Benny in the new line. He's always had a particular view of her character and rarely minded that this didn't square with the views of other authors. Here it's more subdued, perhaps because the line is now about her, but it's definitely there. I prefer my Benny more witty than the one we get here, but frankly I'm just struggling to keep up. She's also a little too close to the Indiana Jones portrayal we sometimes get, but I think that's unavoidable given the subject matter.

Patience was remarkably well done, I thought. I was expecting something far worse and was pleasantly surprised that a lot of thought went into her. I was worried that we'd see a talking, animated dinosaur that was human in all but name. Fortunately, if anyone can deal with a cloned, intelligent raptor, Jim Mortimore's your man. The sequences in the past are slow, by their very nature, but very believable. And although the way the communication problem was solved slowed things down considerably, I for one appreciate the effort.

Marillian isn't quite as strong as he needs to be. The sequences with him in the earlier time sequence were very well done, though and the way he has to run back for the tree-child is quite touching. I wish we'd seen a bit more of this earlier, as it would help to make his character work better and also help us realise why Bernice marries him.

However, I'm absolutely convinced that Emperor Gebmoses III is played by Sylvester McCoy. Man, would I love to see this as a feature film! He's a great villain, even if such a concept as villain is a bit beneath Mortimore. I'd love to see a return appearance. I'm also quite fond of Anton the talking pig and indeed the whole pig community that Bernice meets.

I'm still not sure how much of the information we get is reliable. To say the ending seems rushed is a superlative understatement. The giant Star Trek reset button is used at the end, so much so that I can't help but wonder if Jim Mortimore submitted the entire manuscript bar the epilogue and challenged the editor to get them out of this one in two pages. It's probably fortunate that things seem to have reset themselves, because I'm not sure that subsequent books could carry off the threads developed here.

The Sword of Forever has some touches of absolute brilliance, some things that are very well thought-out, some really exciting bits, some exceedingly strange things, some downright odd things and some badly rushed things. In short, it's a Jim Mortimore book.

A Review by Finn Clark 19/2/00

I suppose it was inevitable that someone would write an Indiana Jones adventure for Bernice Summerfield. The parallels between them are too great to be ignored, each being the archeologist hero of a series of potentially grim but mostly wisecracking adventures. The only surprise is that the Benny author to succumb to temptation was Jim Mortimore.

I mean, HUH??? Are we talking about the same guy? Jim "kill 'em all and blow up the solar system" Mortimore? Could this man write a cheerful romp o' booby-trapped tombs, ancient relics, villainous Nazis and Biblical references? Well, yes. Sort of. Mortimore updates things a tad by replacing the Nazis with a coupla X-Files Men in Black, but for the most part it's a merry game of Hunt the Lady with those old familiar Spielberg ingredients. In the end Mortimore's apocalyptic instincts take over for a grandiose climax of confusion, but we expected nothing less. En route there's lots of gleefully surprising fun to be had.

We have booby-trapped tombs in the middle of hostile jungles. Of course these are genetically mutated jungles, ravaged by Dalek biological agents and weirder than you could possibly imagine, but they're still jungles. There's an almost-familiar Earth that's been reshaped by war, but it's the 26th century instead of World War II. (It's fitting that the Daleks happen to be occupying the Nazi role, however, since that's the symbolism they've been based upon since they first hit our screens in 1964). The world according to Mortimore is a good deal stranger than most of us could imagine without chemical assistance, but it's a rich and colourful place that I loved spending time in. For once a vision of the future has just as much verisimilitude and background detail as the real world ever had, and I for one was impressed.

There's a wealth of historical detail, for once using the Knights Templar in a manner that didn't have me gnawing off my own leg. Jim Mortimore's treatment is vivid and almost completely accurate, incidentally providing a subplot to complicate what would otherwise have been the relatively straightforward 26th-century adventures of Bernice Summerfield.

Should that be enough? Ahahahaha... oh no. How about another subplot, set in prehistoric times before mankind should even have evolved? The heroine of these stories is an intelligent raptor called Patience, whose point of view is portrayed with painstaking devotion to detail. There's a cluster of Bristol-based writers (Mortimore, Leonard, Walters) who love nothing more than getting inside an alien's head and writing about it so vividly that you start to worry about their hold upon the real world. Patience never utters a word throughout the book, but she's by some distance my favourite character in it. Groovy.

But that's all by the by. What, I hear you ask, about religion? Quite a few recent Who and Benny books have addressed the topic, but none took the literal Christian line you'll find in Indiana Jones. Surely Mortimore hasn't swallowed that too?

Er... yes, he has.

None of the information we get is entirely reliable, but the basic assumption of this book is that the Bible was telling the truth. Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross, God created the world in seven days and holy relics can bring people back from the dead. You can't even call it a theme. A novel uses its theme to examine consequences and explore character. Mortimore did that with religion in Beltempest. Here it's simply a law of the universe, accepted with wide-eyed naivete to see what the consequences of this belief might be. I'll tell you this for free, it's bloody frightening. And you thought the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark was weird.

I'm not a Christian and I'm not an atheist. I hover somewhere in "curious agnostic" territory and for me this was thought-provoking stuff.

For most of its duration, this is a good, fun book with some really intriguing mysteries. Unfortunately it all goes a bit peculiar towards the end, in which world-shaking events take place without ever letting the poor reader know exactly what they might be. I've got some theories, but I wouldn't like to bet the farm on them. Half of me suspects that before sending off any manuscript, Jim Mortimore carefully goes through its last few chapters, removing any page that contains even the slightest shadow of an explanation. The other half suspects that Mortimore has a habit of being deadline-crunchingly late.

Whatever. This is a cool book, especially if you can work out what's going on.

Holy shit! by Joe Ford 10/10/04

This the book where Benny loses the love of her life, survives the freezing wastelands of Antarctica by cutting open a sea lion and nestling inside, gets married to the man who owns London, trashes said city by plunging a rig into the Thames, befriends a talking pig, gets killed, brought back to life, discovers the holiest of relics (John the Baptist's finger, the Holy Grail, the Spear of Longinus, the Crown of Thorns and the Ark of the Covenant), gets crucified AND GOES BACK IN TIME AND RECREATES THE WORLD IN GODS IMAGE! All in time to be reborn in a new body to pop home to Dellah and mark some papers.

Now then boys and girls can anyone guess who wrote The Sword of Forever? What's that? Paul Leonard... nope, but he likes to emulate this author's style a lot? Lawrence Miles? Well he does enjoy fucking with your mind but no. Nope who else could fit in all of the above and have time to play about with a sub plot concerning an intelligent Velocoraptor who aids Benny on her quest? Jim Mortimore... come on down!

I thought The Sword of Forever was truly, truly excellent, better than practically anything else that Mortimore has ever written and easily on a par with his best work, Eye of Heaven. This is an intelligent, complex piece that deserves the title novel, one of the most outstanding literary achievements in Doctor Who's (and its spin offs) canon. It requires a lot of work to appreciate its dense plot but it you take your time and savour the nourishing prose you will find it one of the most rewarding books in a long, long time. This book takes Benny on a whirlwind adventure of high-octane action and explosive emotions; it takes a closer look at our hero than we are used to and explores her beliefs in dangerous style.

Let us not forget that the book is a work of fiction and not fact and not get too upset over the audacious use of religious iconography. Only Jim Mortimore could have the balls to take Christianity and effectively rewrite its origins for his own purposes. I'm not big on religious artefacts but it sounds as if he has done his homework and by scattering the relics around the world he manages to give the tale an epic quality, the sheer cheek that he is using such potent imagery grips the reader with danger... how far can he go before he has gone to far? Bravely and successfully in my eyes he pushes the ideas to the limit and uses the well documented religion for his own means, creating a wonderful idea in the Sword of Forever, when the four artefacts are brought together to create a device which can create time, build worlds and cause the resurrection of planets in the image of God. Brilliant, bold ideas utilised grippingly in the text. You cannot get much more world threatening than a religious loony threatening to recreate the world and wipe out everything that has happened to this day. It sounds remarkably childish and science fiction-y in this sentence but the potentially daft idea of the Emperor creating a cloned army of Jesus Christs to populate a pure world is dealt with with utter seriousness, his convictions are frighteningly realistic when he is willing to be crucified in order to create his new world from his death.

But of course all this hazardous bible slashing is left to punch the reader in the gut in the climax, the majority of the book is an entertaining trip around the world to find the artefacts and bring them together. It's nowhere near as Indiana Jonesy as some people seem to think and for the most part is written in an urgent, Benny could die any minute style, which gives the book a dramatic punch throughout which other books could do well to copy.

Somebody had to write the Benny on Earth story and there is nobody I would trust with such a task more than Jim Mortimore. In 285 pages he portrays a memorable and startling image of the future of our planet, starting with recognisable areas such as London and Paris and moving on to more remote areas like Somalia and Ethiopia. What impresses is the total confidence with which he paints his picture, you never doubt for a second that he hasn't thought everything through and some of the imagery, the solar mirror, the Parliament museum, the detoxified River Thames with its tropical sea life and protective covering, the Eiffel Tower in ruins in the middle of a wild jungle, is some of his best yet. Forget Blood Heat and its wildlife London, this is how to capture the world we know in fascinating new colours, offering an amazing political background to support the fractured landmarks. Such was my interest in this future Earth I was disappointed that it was merely a one off, after exploring the exotic jungles of Paris with its hybrid mutations and the farmland in Glasgow with its talking pigs I was intrigued to learn more and more.

The first forty pages or so are deliberately jarring, Mortimore making no concessions for a reader interested in a light book and strolling straight into a tangled non-linear plot that hops about from location to time zone with disturbing regularity. You are left behind at first to try and fill in some of the gaps in the text... what is the significance of the scenes in Benny's youth? Why is she in Antarctica wrapped in a sea lion? Why the constant interest in the Knights of Templar organisation? But once you have finished the book it is easy to look back on those early passages and realise just how tightly written the story is. Everything makes sense in the end, its just you have to have the patience to reach the end.

Some of the set pieces are extraordinary. You have to wonder why every Doctor Who book isn't captured with the potency of Mortimore's work. As usual he manages to write individual scenes as though the reader is actually there experiencing the pain, no matter how ridiculous the plot is. Some scenes, 1) Benny being pursued through the Sphinx by merchants and forced to dive through a passage of worms, 2) Benny trapped under the Thames in her rig and forced to swim ashore only to realise the protective covering is airtight, 3) Benny walking between beams of light that will bring the walls crashing in on her if she breaks them in a religious test of knowledge and survival... are breathtakingly tense and I was flipping the pages much faster than an average Who book.

His dialogue is intelligent without ever seeming arrogant or opinionated, like his later Beltempest many of the characters have fascinating philosophical discussions that add to the books depth. Much the dialogue makes you THINK which is another strength of his books. There is a powerful discussion on faith between Benny and blind priest, utterly unnecessary in the grand scheme of things but extremely thoughtful nonetheless. When Benny and the Emperor discuss his plans for the future, the dialogue steps up a notch, exploring the themes of the book with unflinching nakedness.

For all the main plot is thoroughly absorbing I was equally dragged into the secondary plot involving Patience and her education. Mortimore is writing at his all time best here in the scenes from the Raptor's point of view, how he manages to take this creature and take her from complete ignorance to a full education is amazing. He writes her early scenes with a faltering style, Patience relying on instincts and hunting skills but slowly shows her mind expanding as she is taken under the wing of Raptor Old and show how to the look at the world intelligently. The scenes where she is trying desperately to communicate with the human hunters, to let them know she needs their help, is mesmerizing, as is her later moment of working out how to cure Benny from her paralysing injection by infecting the woman who stabbed her and watching administer the cure. She remains an excellent companion for Benny, her hunting skills as useful as her intelligence and it is shame she wasn't used again in a full novel. There was real potential there.

I guess the book will best be remembered for Benny's crisis of faith. She is clearly intrigued by religion whilst not settling down into anything serious. The internal struggle she faces here, realising that something is missing from her life and wondering if she can plug that gap with God, is about as naked as we have ever seen Benny spiritually. How she accepts him into her life totally and thus saving the world at the end is a beautiful revelation, one that should cheer up any religious folk out there that are appalled at Mortimore's reshaping of Christianity. I loved her portrayal throughout, obviously a much younger Benny to the one we now enjoy over at Big Finish, but fiercely intelligent and focussed, stopping at no amount of death threats until she has discovered the relics she is after.

The ending is open to much debate, does it make sense or is it Mortimore being as deliberately confusing as ever? I was following the book perfectly until the mock biblical scenes featuring Benny shaping the ideals of mankind... they were head-scratchingly confusing but I understood what they were trying to say even if the passages themselves were confusing. Benny saves the day; she died and prevented the Emperor creating his perfect world by reshaping it into the one I know and love today. The real power of the climax is the fact that Benny is willing to die for the world, to make sure we have a chance she was willing to be crucified, a terrifying and powerful image.

The Sword of Forever is a rich, detailed book, powered by some daring ideas. Mortimore is well known for his mindfucks but this story is surprisingly clear-cut and all the more enjoyable for it. It is one of the best-written Benny books I have read and easily in the top three of the Virgin line.