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Doctor Who: Players Mass Market Paperback – 1 Apr 1999
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A Doctor Who historical adventure. In turn-of-the-century South Africa, aspiring war correspondent Winston Churchill is befriended by two strangers - the Doctor and Peri. Suspecting mysterious forces at work behind the scenes, the Doctor determines to keep a close eye on Churchill's career.
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The characterisations of the Doctor and Peri are fairly superficial, and they largely seem to exist as props for the narrative which features mysterious `Players' tinkering with time and attempting to influence those periods in which Churchill becomes more powerful and prominent. The Doctor and Peri are not the characters that they could be, and really could be just about anyone who happens to be in the right place at the right time.
Overall, not a great Doctor Who story, not a great Sixth Doctor story, and while it's nice to have Terrance Dicks represented in the writers for the 50th anniversary commemoration stories, I feel certain there was a better story that could have been put up, and a better story lurking in the skeleton of this specific story.
Essentially the story involves a group of time meddling aliens, the Players, attempting to assassinate Churchill. It is never really made clear why they should want to do this. It appears that they may just upset timelines and history merely for fun than any ulterior objective. As such the story is set in three historical periods; The Boer War, The First World War and the years of Edward VIII's abdication in the run-up to the Second World War. In each of these periods the Players attempt to kill Churchill only to b thwarted by the Doctor (sometimes the Sixth and sometimes the Second). Why they should only try once in each time period must be part of the odd rules the Players play by that are never really given any meaningful explanation.
In fact, the eponymous Players who appear to cause or influence the events of this book don't actually feature much at all and their characters are left very basic and undeveloped. They are to feature more in other novels by Dicks, such as the Second Doctor story `World Game' and `God Game' with the Eighth Doctor. And, indeed, the Countess becomes a re-occuring character. In this novel there is very little to be learnt about them and they are easily forgettable as characters.
Many of the historical personalities such as Wallis Simpson, Ribbontrop and Churchill are portrayed as larger than life. This is fair enough in some ways considering who they are but somehow it fees as if Dicks' Churchill is a bit too jolly and lacks seriousness and conviction. What is good about the characterisation of Churchill though is that it seems to fit in nicely with the relationship he later has with the Eleventh Doctor on the television. It can be seen how this book helps to establish that relationship between the two.
Characters such as Carstairs and Lady Jennifer from the `War Games' and Dekker from Dicks book `Blood Harvest' also make re-appearances, but their characters aren't really given any development and there is nothing new to learn about them.
Dicks, who is usually spot on with his portrayals of the Doctor, misses the mark somewhat with this characterisation of the Sixth Doctor. I can understand the need voiced by Dicks in his introduction to get the Sixth Doctor out of his usual outfit (who wouldn't understand that?). But it seems as if the Sixth Doctor loses some of his brashness and loudness once he loses his outlandish costume. A lot of the time Dicks is writing for him as if he were the Third Doctor. Even the portrayal of the Second Doctor is somewhat lacking and usually Dicks is so good at this.
The prose is well written and cracks along at a decent pace, but most of Dicks other Doctor Who books would have been a better example of his work to represent him in this fiftieth anniversary series of re-releases.
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