Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Happy Endings by Paul Cornell

Plot: You are cordially invited to the wedding of Bernice Summerfield and Jason Kane. You and every other bugger. Expect much drink and sex, misunderstandings, infidelity, cloning, regeneration, end of the world stuff, religion, peace and a 30 page game of cricket. A New Adventures comedy…who would have thought it?

Master Manipulator: Paul Cornell and the 7th Doctor have made up, I see that now. His treatment of the character in Human Nature was just wonderful and he is similarly good here. It’s like Head Games never happened, he has shrugged off his angst and reputation and spend the whole book just trying to be the best friend Bernice could have.

He is giving Bernice away. He admits he hasn’t been on television in a long time. He smelt of growth as well as destruction, of the air that grew sweeter every day. Bernice his forbidden him to play chess unless he starts plotting so he is trying to relearn the rules of cricket. He wonders if he is the only one thinks that Benny and Jason are a good couple. The relaxation of this visit made the Doctor realise he was always alert for danger, jumping at shadows. Allen Road was his safe house but Cheldon Boniface was his English Village. When the Doctor wonders if he should interfere in Benny and Jason’s self destructive relationship he is told ‘humans will be humans and we shall outlast them and be puzzled by them all the while.’ The scene where the Doctor and Brigadier take a walk on the forest is understated and beautiful; the depth of feeling between the old friends is palpable. The Doctor loses the ability to speak when the Brigadier admits he will die shortly and he admits he is going to leave Chris and Roz behind at the end of this adventure, to put them somewhere safe. He tells Ruby no when she asks to come with him. Accelerating chaos, damage to the time stream, interstellar war…the Doctor cannot believe he is juggling so many factors for a wedding. He organises a cricket match instead of an invasion, to calm things down a bit between the alien visitors and the villagers. The Doctor looks giddily happy at the sight of Bernice in her wedding dress. He watches his companions at the reception; dancing, smiling, laughing, content. He walks out of their lives…only to be stopped by Bernice who tells him, ‘You aren’t meant to be alone.’ Considering how grim so many of these New Adventures are it is glorious to see the seventh Doctor spend his last night with Bernice dancing, talking with his friends and holding her hand.

Boozy Babe: Bernice is so real it hurts. She reminds me in the first year of my relationship with Simon, deeply insecure, full of lust and love, questioning myself during every conversation with him. She had never learnt to sleep with anyone. Brilliantly a whole passage explains that her rows with Jason always with end with one of the following: sulking, sobbing, violence, admissions of love or shagging like rabbits. Benny has serious doubts about the wedding. She doesn’t know how she is going to feel from one moment to the next and concludes she is definitely in love. She admits to Jason: ‘You’re afraid of getting hitched. So am I. And I’m also afraid every time you look at another woman. We’ve both been alone too long to trust any of this.’ In what appears to be a heartbreaking sequence Jason starts to pack his bags to leave Benny before you realise, hilariously, she has already packed hers and left him! During the cricket match Sgloomi Po picks up Bernice’s latent desires and Guy de Carnac walks onto the pitch, and she collapses. She manages to stop a bar fight with her vicious row with Jason. In a moment of true Benny she makes Benton continually drive around the village while she decides whether she will go through the wedding. She always hoped for one true love. The only ending that would have worked for such a magical companion, Bernice has found a love for all seasons and leaves the series blissfully happy.

Stroppy Copper: Once Roz doesn’t really make much of an impact although Chris’ digging that she is desperate for an investigation amongst all this frivolity really hits home. Her scenes with Holmes are lovely. There’s a spin off in the making.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Not bad, actually. He is described as a good night out which I guess sums his character up pretty well. Once again he impregnates his girl without his knowledge…he’ll soon have to work triple shifts to pay all this maintenance around the galaxy! He seems to get into the spirit of the story well, drinking, shagging, having a laugh. I’m just not sure what the writers are going to do with him and Roz without Benny’s influence. Interesting times ahead.

Oh Wicked: Dorothy returns again and she is more a slapper than ever! However Cornell is in total control of her character, brilliantly easing her into the Doctor and Bernice’s life without any of the drama of previous years. As soon as she is on the scene she is flirting with Jason. Sorin has left her because she scared him to death, keep pulling her gun out all the time! In a glorious sequence she calls him Professor and he calls her Ace and they decide to take a spin in the TARDIS together. She admits time away from the Doctor allowed her to love him more. The way she understands time and its responsibilities picks up her story brilliantly from Set Piece. She shagged Glitz on the floor of the Nosterafu! She tests Jason by agreeing to sleep with him which backfires when he does! She felt he had a vulnerability that you wanted to share and comfort, giving in to her allowed her some healing after Sorin left her. She admits she doesn’t want t settle down because she will become like her mother which prompts Bernice to tell her to ring her. They have several telephone conversations and her mum shows up after the fireworks. Its easy to miss in a book with so much happening but the scene where Dorothy rushes up and hugs her mother is one of the most important novel scenes, especially for her character.

Twists: Romana is now President of Gallifrey and the Master has been caught and is being put on trial. The Land of Fiction is officially part of the Matrix. Like French farce every man and his dog turns up at the pub in time to see Jason locking tongues with another woman! The Brigadier is over 90 and is having memory lapses, he thinks he’s at the wedding because Jason used to be one of the Doctor’s companions. The 30 page cricket match is far more amusing than it has any right to be, the author juggling up so many characters and fun moments. Page 220 is a lovely sermon celebrating the New Adventures. The Master turns up, trying to create a new body for himself. Turns out the Jason Dorothy has been having it off with was a clone! Beautifully the book sees the Brigadier undergo a form of regeneration after he sacrifices his life for the sake of the alien visitors.

Vanessa Bishop’s poem is so funny it hurts, with more continuity than a bonding twixt Russell and McIntee.

Funny Bits: This is a comedy and unlike the nervous breakdown humour of Sky Pirates this book is loaded to the gills with in jokes and moments to make fans of the TV series and the New Adventures squeal with delight. For every gag that fails, there is another five that work. The book brilliantly pokes fun at so many of my major complaints about the series, leaving my crying with laughter…
· Once again Chris is utterly na├»ve to the Doctor’s manipulative ways but at least this time we have Benton around to take the piss.
· Benny has forbidden the Doctor to play chess unless he starts plotting!
· Page 25 takes the piss out of the word ‘cruk’
· Dorothy realised that carrying a gun around was a bit melodramatic!
· Mrs Higgins – Bed and Breakfast’s Champion!
However the book enjoys so many other laugh out loud moments:
· Chris’ ‘Biddly, biddly, biddly’ in the pre titles sequence is without a doubt one of the funniest things I have ever read. Just to think of it makes me giggle.
· The Loom of Rassilon’s Mouse has been stolen from Gallifrey! Whatever next?
· Page 46 has a terrific gag at the bottom involving a lurid description of sexual intercourse and a dream Jason was having about Dorothy.
· ‘Never before in the history of Kasinitz and Gjovaag have we confused an alien being with a member of the Royal Family!’
· The Doctor buying a pitcher of lime (for Kadiatu), a bitter (for the Brig) and a sherry (for Doris) before they have arrived at the pub is offhandedly one of the best examples of this sort of nonsense I have read.
· Watson and Bernice’s very differing accounts of the same scene between the Doctor and Holmes is glorious
· ‘Is it wise to send Professor Summerfield to confront a raging mob?’ ‘I should think that most of them will come out unscathed.’
· ‘There will be no rehearsals here!’ – I had to stop reading for a while on that one whilst I composed myself.
· ‘Do you think Jason’s coming?’ ‘I haven’t quite honed my suspicions to that level of accuracy!’
· The Brig pulls at Tasham’s beard, ‘Oh well, you never know.’
· The Master to the Doctor: ‘I merely required some time to finish my experiments. I didn’t anticipate the arrival of this maladjusted couple and their wedding plans. I have learnt to be only mildly surprised when you arrive to disrupt my work. But this time you bring with you a full platoon of UNIT troops, numerous armed aliens, an Ice Warrior battle craft, a couple of Time Lords and Sherlock Holmes! You have excelled yourself!’
· Bernice to the Master: ‘You can’t just wander in and disrupt my wedding like this you bearded git!’
· Benny thinks it is a pity that she can’t have both Jason’s, just for one night and spills her champagne when he seems to like the idea!
· Gilgamesh’s brief but unforgettable appearance at the reception almost makes Genesys worthwhile!

Embarrassing Bits: However there were quite a few moments that didn’t sit well with me as well…
· ‘The games a foot!’ I nearly, nearly chucked the book out the window…
· Lisa Derane thinks she recognises Dorothy…
· The original TARDIS just turning up is just inconceivably odd.
· Once the travellers turned up I was starting to get a bored of old characters popping up and the handfasting sequence was really dull.
· Benny gets wedding messages from Gabriel and Tanith and the Cybercontroller…are you having a laugh with me?
· Audrey is living with Robin Yeadon. Argh…make it stop!
· The multi author chapter was a fine idea in theory but it gets a bit ridiculous as every single New Adventures character turns up at the reception.

Result: Happy Endings is a New Adventures comedy. Some might think that that is an oxymoron but this is a genuinely rib tickling experience. The first half is brilliant; hilarious, emotional, celebrational with so many great touches. Once the cricket match is over it all becomes a bit The Eight Doctors with several Doctors and Jason’s, villains popping up and just about every character from the New Adventures putting in an appearance. This is hardly an exercise in credulity but my patience was stretched in a few places. However throughout there is a giddy sense of things coming to a close and things moving on, the prose is mostly beautiful and the last few chapters leave you with a song in your heart. It’s bonkers, but it’s hard not to love. In her last novel as a regular Bernice gets to display all those qualities that made her so damn readable, her humanity, her recklessness and irritability, her wit and humour and most importantly her gorgeous relationship with the Doctor. So long lovey, you will be solely missed: 8/10

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