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Doctor Who, World game (Doctor Who (BBC Paperback)) Paperback – 6 Oct 2005
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The Doctor has been captured and put on trial by his own people, accused of their greatest crime: interfering with the affairs of other peoples and planets. He is sentenced to exile on Earth. That much is history. But now the truth can be told - the Doctor did not go straight into exile. First the Time Lords have a task for him. From the trenches of the Great War to the terrors of the French Revolution, the Doctor finds himself on a mission he does not want with a companion he does not like, his life threatened at every turn. Will the Doctor survive to serve his sentence? Or will this adventure prove to be his Waterloo? This adventure features the Second Doctor.
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Terrance Dicks is a doctor who fan. And you'll get the most out of this if you're a fan. There are lots of little attempts at tying wayward continuity together - and some scenes take place off page in an earlier novel. The history is fascinating, but the story is very episodic, although the last sixty pages are stronger once we get to the climax of the napoleonic age.
The prose is, as usual from terrance, supremely readable rather than great literature. And that's no bad thing.
If you're a diehard fan looking for a decent, uncomplicated read, then this may fit the bill
I’ll concentrate on the negative first, because I did really enjoy the novel and I’d like to end on a positive note. First, and the most minor, it wouldn’t be a current Terrance Dicks novel if there wasn’t a threatened assault against a woman in it. This is really becoming tiresome in Dicks’ novels, as if he thinks that’s the best way to be “edgy.” Thankfully, it doesn’t even come close to happening, but it still made me stop and say “not again, Terrance” when I hit that part.
Secondly, the prose and the plotting need a bit more work. Three times in the first thirty pages, a woman is described as either “startlingly beautiful” or with “startlingly blue eyes.” You really need to find another word, Terrance. Then, the Countess trusts somebody who apparently turns against the Doctor *way* too easily, which is very out of character for her. Of course, the counter-betrayal was so predictable anyway that it didn’t really harm the book that much. Finally, the Players are immortal beings playing this game with humans, but they apparently don’t have very good time travel, as the Countess wants the secrets of the Doctor’s TARDIS. Unfortunately, the Countess also recognizes the Doctor from the game that was being played in 1915, which would seem to indicate that they are able to go to all time periods. Which is it?
That’s about it for the negatives, though. While the prose is rather pedestrian, it more than serves its purpose and it has some interesting stuff in it. He seems to want to showcase his historical research, as he has the Doctor (or others) educating Serena about everything to do with Napoleon and the Napoleonic wars, as well as the French revolution. There is a *lot* of history packed into this book, and while occasionally it drags the book down when Dicks explains it, overall it was quite interesting. Unfortunately, the wealth of historical detail makes one of the non-historical details stand out even more. He references Sharpe (from Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series) by name, which completely threw me out of the book for a moment. Evidently, in Sharpe’s Triumph, Sharpe saves Wellington’s life. Dicks has to namecheck him, which was really annoying. There’s so much real stuff in here, why throw in a fictional reference? I guess Sharpe fans will be happy.
Dicks’ characterization is pretty good in this book too. He usually gets the Doctor right, and this time is no exception, though he’s not exceptional. I could see Troughton doing this, though it doesn’t quite sound like him. The other characters are rather plain, but serviceable. Serena is exceptionally well-done, though. She starts off as the haughty Time Lady but is soon being almost as revolutionary as the Doctor is. The interplay between her and the Doctor is quite good, and is the best part of the book. Napoleon is done well too, and Wellington, though not quite as much.
It also wouldn’t be a Terrance Dicks novel without references to two of his favourite television stories, with the appearance of the unkillable Raston Warrior Robot and the vampire (though I have to question whether this particular type of vampire actually exists in the Doctor Who mythos). Both of them are almost superfluous, though they do make for an exciting sequence or two.
With the interesting plot that Dicks gives us, it’s almost a shame that there isn’t really a lot of tension in the book (though this lack of tension does make the ending even more shocking, at least to me). Most of the sequences had all of the tension wrung out of them by the pedestrian prose. However, the plot itself was good enough to overlook that. If you’re looking for the Terrance Dicks of old, World Game is probably the book for you. However, I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re new to the series. It’s not *that* exciting.
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The book explains the most important continuity glitches with the Second Doctor: when he appears in the crossovers he is always progressively older and his old companions are not there until THE TWO DOCTORS. He can suddenly steer his TARDIS and he is openly working for the Time Lords and instead of being just a fugitive, he is now an exile. You can read up on 6B and have a lot of fun doing so, the book is enjoyable for other reasons.
Historical drama is always excellent if well done, and TD is smart enough not to overdo it. You get the important characters--Napoleon and Wellington, but they are the large planets and the other characters are their orbiting planets. Talleyrand the double-spy is expanded in character and is one of the enjoyable additions to historical Who fiction. The Doctor and his "supervisor/assistant" Serena learn to get along with each other; her observations about the Doctor are always a treat--as are how the other Time Lords see him. He will always be a rebel, always a thinking, plotting, scheming Free Agent of the Universe, and his closest enemies knows this will never change. Sardon somewhat smirkingly points out that if the Doctor was trustworthy, he wouldn't be useful to him at all (Sardon later regrets challenging the Doctor, to the reader's delight). For the Celestial Intervention Agency the Doctor is a useful weapon--assuming they can keep him in control! For Serena, she realizes this is why he can never return to his old life on Gallifrey.
Through it all are the Players--the entire reason for the Doctor's stay of execution. The Players are mucking about in the timelines of Earth, causing progressively greater and more disastrous incidents in Time that will, viruslike, gradually grow throughout the Universe. The Players are not human, but humans are their chesspieces and with each victory they grow more confident and more capable of causing more damage. The CIA needs someone to get to the bottom of this mess, and that means employing the Doctor. If he agrees, they will force him into his new regeneration and send him to exile on Earth. If not, they will simply execute him. The Doctor gambles on their need of him and bargains right back, remembering that he has already met a future self twice, which proves to him he will live...hopefully.
TD makes a nice Byzantine problem for the Second Doctor. He doesn't like the situation, but he makes the best of it--and at the end of the Mission he proves to his jailors that they had best keep both eyes on him--he will work for them, but they will never stop his actions as a Free Agent. "I learn fast, don't I?" He blandly asks of the CIA after he counters their blackmail of him with a blackmail of his own.
Troughton would have adored playing this . He would have gotten a chance to play Napoleon as well as impersonate a slew of French agents as well as dance rings around his baffled jailors. The sting of WroleAR GAMES is eased with this book (that series was a real heartbreaker for fans). He would have gotten to be Chaplinesque, clever, puzzled, angry, terrified at a vampire attack, brave, resourceful, and overall, twelve steps of everyone else playing the same game.
Only this time he's giving us a story that should only exist in the world of fan-fiction. What gives?
For those who don't follow all the nuances and intricacies of the many sideroads of fandom, there's a branch centering on the end of the Second Doctor's tenure that suggests our views of him saying "No no no no no!" a million times at the end of "The War Games" was not the last time he graced the winds of time. Instead, these theories suggests, the the Celestial Intervention Agency segment of the Time Lords decided to use him in the name of plausible deniability, sending him out to fix their messes and giving him just a little more time to be Patrick Troughton. This is buffered by "The Two Doctors", a Sixth Doctor adventure that showed a clearly older Second Doctor and Jamie getting involved, which the Second Doctor cheekily suggested was the result of the Time Lords and not writer Robert Holmes simply not giving a crap about a thing like continuity (he's also the reason we have the "twelve regenerations" rule that everyone treats like gospel now, something else he probably made up as a throwaway line) and probably not figuring that a generation of fans would spend a lot of time dissecting it and coming up with stories for that mystical "Season 6B", as it's commonly called.
And then comes the BBC with their own story of how "Season 6B" got started, implying that it now has the stamp of canon, though one should remember that the none of the books were ever treated as set in stone (otherwise we'd have to explain how the Doctor lives through the plot of "Human Nature" twice) and they sort of dumped the story in a line of books that was about to be terminated anyway. Besides they had their shiny new crew cutted Doctor at this point, whose every exchanged glance with Billie Piper would give the world of fan-fiction new purpose again. Who cares whether the black and white Doctor of 1969 immediately regenerated into a man with a flair for velvety clothes or stuck around to have adventures that no one will ever hear about?
For me, personally, there's more poignancy in having his trial immediately end in the Second Doctor's figurative death. Not only does it mark the end of an era in the show, as it went from black and white to color, but also a change in tone, as the previously mysterious Doctor suddenly gained a home planet and people and went from being everyone's favorite mad uncle to Technological Science Hero. On some level the Second Doctor doesn't belong on Gallifrey, it's too structured for his cunning. But here we are, nonetheless, so let's see what we have.
A lot of the story is spent in simply explaining how we got to this point, which seems to undermine the very reasons for it in the first place. The Time Lord CIA (also called "The CIA") decides to get some usefulness out of their renegade and letting him enable them to have their noninterventional crumpets and eat them too, allowing them to gloriously intervene while proclaiming a desire not to intervene. The Doctor, sentenced to become Jon Pertwee, agrees to it anyway.
Unfortunately this is an excuse for the author to bring back his Players, the reappearance of whom actually elicited a groan of dismay from me. I don't know why he finds these people interesting, with their silly motto that sounds like the third rejected draft of a self-help group, their interchangeability, their weird desire to only play their games in the parts of Earth's history that the author has researched and their inability to play by their own rules, cheating on each other the first time things don't seem to go their way. Frankly, it's impossible to figure out why the Time Lords just don't put a stop to this nonsense right away and instead engage in a bunch of hand-wringing about intervening. On the other hand, anything that happens really only stays local to Earth, so it's also difficult to see why they even care. The Doctor, yes, but the Time Lords could probably let Earth go hang for all they care. It's just one planet.
So the premise isn't exactly gangbusters. However, this one I have to say won me over just a little bit. Maybe it's because I like the Second Doctor, maybe it's because it's aims are ultimately so charmingly old-school or maybe it's because there's enough history in here you could learn something and since I read "War and Peace" four months ago I have a basic working knowledge of this period of history. Essentially the Players are attempting to ensure that Napoleon wins, which means taking out all his obstacles like Wellington and Nelson's fleet at Trafalgar (the battle of Trafalgar kind of takes out Admiral Nelson but if you're a marksman aiming for a one-armed, one-eyed guy in a captain's outfit probably wasn't difficult, though I do give that person credit since everyone presumably was on boats). But instead of manipulating the circumstances of history so that Napoleon can capitalize on missed opportunities (and thus be much harder for the Doctor to stop), instead they go for more conventional means like assassination with bombs and guns (which, again, considering how they aren't supposed to be involved in their own games, shows you how much they care about rules).
This means the Doctor and his Time Lady companion (filling in the usual role of the inexperienced young lady the Doctor has to keep explaining things to) have to shuffle from crisis to crisis (with stops at cafes in between), figuring out which next weird convoluted scheme will be enacted next (the Players helpfully dropping hints, like a cosmic Riddler) and getting to hang out with the originator of the Napoleon complex, along with other famous figures in history. The stakes are rather high and we get a glimpse of the possible risk of failure but in all fairness the Player don't and never have made memorable villains. As the Doctor even points out, with their only goal to play a game, they don't have even the poorly constructed plans of the War Lords. They simply make trouble for the sake of making trouble, without any real endgame or point to it. According to their own motto, they don't even care if they win or lose, so why not just buy them all copies of "Age of Empires" and be done with it?
A story like this does the Second Doctor a disservice. He operates best when he plays the infiltrator, the scruffy guy you underestimate and whose bumbling about covers the fact that he's got you cornered six ways until Sunday and has ensured you don't realize it until it's too late. All the jumping around to put out fires is entertaining but there's no long game here, they simply plugging away at stopping things until the Players are tired of playing, or the book is over. Yet I can't dismiss it entirely. The local historical color is fun and after spending my youth reading almost every Target novelization, Terrance's prose style is like that old song on the radio you let keep playing even though you've heard it a million times. It goes down easy and is over before you know it, with nothing challenging to get in the way. But it's so breezy and the period detail is well placed that even with the lack of depth (or point) it reads like a history lesson you don't quite mind, unless you hate history. It means and aims are so modest that it can hardly even muster up the energy to offend and when it's all done, you think "That was a right pleasant adventure" and put this novel aside to reach for something meatier. It's a nice way to pass a couple hours and if you go into it with that mindset, you'll do just fine.
Interestingly, it also marks the end of an era in a different way: the last novel from Terrance featuring any of the Past Doctors. He's done a couple novels since, mostly in the BBC's Quick Reads line, but those all feature the Tenth Doctor and chances are we won't see an old style story like this from him again. Which in itself is sad in a way. He may not be flashy but he's dependable in a manner that few things are and while I may never rank any of this books as my favorites, at least I knew what I was getting when I read them. And I'm not ashamed to say, that hasn't changed here.