Author: Kate Orman
Title: Set Piece
Publication Info: London Bridge (1995)
This is Kate Orman’s second contribution to the New Adventures line and much like The Left-Handed Hummingbird she puts the Doctor and his companions in torturous scenarios that push them to their limits, physically and psychologically. An organic vessel known only as The Ship is exploiting a Time Rift to abduct starliner passengers with the help of robotic Ants and harvest their minds for The Ship’s systems. The Doctor and Ace make a plan to get themselves captured by The Ship to find out what’s happening and stop the abductions. But when Bernice comes to rescue them the Time Rift throws them into three different eras.
The heart of the story focuses on Ace, as this is her farewell story, putting her in a situation where she has a long time to think about her travels with the Doctor, accept that they may be forever separated, and begin to use how she’s learned and grown to continue on her own. Ace finds herself in Ancient Egypt, and unwilling to accept the cultural norms for women at the time, tries to prove herself as a soldier and a bodyguard. She even tries to overthrow the tyrannical reign of the pharaoh Akhenaten, as you do.
Meanwhile, Berenice ends up in France in 1798 and ends up befriending the Egyptologist Vivant Denon and traveling with Napoleon’s army to Egypt. The Doctor also ends up in Paris but in 1871 during the Paris Commune, suffering PSTD from his experience on The Ship and slowly recovering under the care of a mysterious frenemy Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart. It’s no spoiler that the three of them do find a way to get back together, but this book is more of a study of characterization and relationships in extreme situations than plotting.
This is the type of story that would be unimaginable in the original run of the television program, and although the New Adventures strongly influenced the revised series, I can’t see it done there as well. It’s certainly difficult to imagine Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred in these parts as I read the book. Not that they were not fine actors who could certainly give it a go, just that the characterizations of tv have evolved so much over the course of the New Adventures, so this is a satisfying farewell for book Ace that seems inexplicable for TV Ace.
While I’ve been enjoying going back and reading these books from the 90s to revisit an overlooked but transformative period in Doctor Who, it’s also frustrating how much continuity there is within the New Adventures. Set Piece is the 35th of 61 novels and there is no way I’m going to find time to read them all (especially the one’s I’ve been told are not worth reading). This is full of references to previous adventures and Kadiatu enters the story with no explanation of who she is or her significance, having previously appeared in the 10th book Transit. I’m griping a bit too much, but I am grateful that I’m reading these in the time of Wikipedia, otherwise I’d be lost.