Rose and the Doctor return to present-day Earth, and become intrigued by the latest craze - the video game, "Death to Mantodeans". Is it as harmless as it seems? And why are so many local people going on holiday and never returning?


Meanwhile, on another world, an alien war is raging. The Quevvils need to find a new means of attacking the ruthless Mantodeans.


Searching the galaxy for cunning, warlike but gullible allies, they find the ideal soldiers on Earth. Will Rose be able to save her family and friends from the alien threat? And can the Doctor play the game to the end and win?








MAY 2005






Winner Takes All feels like it has been lifted right out of the middle of the 2005 series; hell, a video game called Bad Wolf even pops up. As you read it, you can picture each and every scene in your head as if Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper were both playing it out for you. Veteran Who novelist Jacqueline Rayner certainly has an amazing grasp on all of the revived series’ recurring characters and, just like on television, the onus is more often than not on Rose and her thoughts about her wondrous travels with the Doctor, rather on the Doctor himself. All these elements combine to create the sense that you are reading something that is just as important a part of the ninth Doctor canon as anything that we are seeing on television, and for a tie-in novel that many would dismiss out of hand, that is high praise indeed.


This story’s premise is also a fascinating one. Quevvils (basically humanoid porcupines) are giving away scratch cards in Rose’s local area where you can win prizes of either a holiday or a games console. The console only has one game – Death to Mantodeans – and as we learn through Mickey, it is one of the most difficult and addictive video games ever devised, and a mystery prize has been offered for the winners. Little do the humans know that the Quevvils are teleporting the humans who win this ‘prize’ to their world to be soldiers in their civil war against the Mantodeans – soldiers controlled by the humans playing on the game consoles back on Earth.


The Doctor and Rose are drawn into things when they (well, Rose) decide to pay Jackie a visit after hearing that she has won the lottery. Of course, her win was merely one of these ‘prizes’. The storytelling is very much in line with the style of the television series, right down to the novel’s pace. The plot is revealed to us through action scene after action scene, with the exposition coming from the events themselves rather from the characters sat around chinwagging.


Aside from Mickey, who plays a role here very similar to the one that he played in World War Three, the novel features two other important characters – Darren Pye, a local thug; and Robert, a local teenager.


Pye is a particularly impressive piece of characterisation – everyone knows someone like him; a thug who habitually terrorises a community and is seemingly impervious to the law. Early on, Rose stands up to him when she catches him mugging an old lady – after all, she has faced the Slitheen, the Gelth, and Rassilon knows what else and so she will not be bullied by a mere human anymore. Regrettably though, he retaliates by beating up Jackie and stealing her winning scratch card. He then goes into business for himself stealing and selling the ‘prizes’ and games consoles for what they really are over the internet – games where you can kill aliens “…and they REALLY die…” and holidays where you can make people you hate “…not come back”. His character also creates an interesting dilemma for Rose when he ultimately meets a horrific demise at the hands of the Mantodeans.


“…I don’t feel guilty. I don’t know what I feel. You know how you say,

I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy? Well, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t.

’Cos I feel sick inside, but part of me’s still glad he suffered.”


Robert comes into the foray in the second half of the novel, when the Doctor and Rose take the TARDIS to Toop to try and rescue the human soldiers who thought they were going ‘on holiday’. At first we are introduced to him through his fantasies about being a hero; about getting a girl, and about being free of his embarrassing mother. Rayner does a wonderful job of balancing his fear of the extraordinary situation that he is in with his everyday troubles. He develops a huge crush on Rose and also becomes very attached to the Doctor, seeing him as the Father that he never had. What really is fantastic though is how he slowly realises that the Doctor is the hero, and that in all good stories the people around the hero die, often sacrificing themselves so that the hero can prevail, and he convinces himself that he is therefore doomed. Robert and his Mother do survive the events of the novel, however, and are reunited in the end as they are taken back to Earth in the TARDIS. This allows Rayner to once again show us the wonder of TARDIS through the eyes of an everyday person, and just like in Rose it still seems as awesome an experience as ever.


Surprisingly though, Jackie’s role is only minor, however Mickey does play a pivotal role in saving the day, using his newfound respect on the streets (everyone thought he was a murderer, remember) to rally some local lads into seizing all the consoles and playing the human soldiers to safety. All of it is done reluctantly and because of his love for Rose; all the way through, though, you get the impression that he would rather be anywhere else, doing anything. There is a brilliant line where Mickey suggests to the Doctor that in the interests of saving the world, he should buy a ‘holiday’ ticket from Darren Pye, and Rose is “…fairly sure she didn’t really detect just a hint of malice, just the tiniest indication that Mickey wouldn’t mind too much if the Doctor went off ‘on holiday’ and never came back.”


As in the televised episodes set either side of this novel, the banter between the Doctor and Mickey is rife, neither really liking the other, and only their mutual feelings for Rose bringing them together and resulting in a begrudging mutual respect. The Doctor is realised particularly well by Rayner; he even has a typical fit of throwing things around when he is forced into having to control Rose inside the game “…like a puppet.”


“You don’t treat a person like that. And they’re making me do it,

making me degrade her like that. We’ll get out of this, won’t dwell on it,

won’t ever mention it again. But, back of our minds, it’ll always be there.”


Wonderfully written. I also love his line to the Quevvil, “If she gets hurt, though, this planet’s dust. Just thought I’d mention it”. Typical ninth Doctor.


The novel’s conclusion feels a little rushed though, however in fairness I could say the same about most episodes in the 2005 series, and in truth it does not spoil one’s enjoyment of this outstanding novel in the slightest.


Quite easily the pick of the first tie-in litter, Winner Takes All is not just for kids, and not just for fans, but a brilliant read for anyone who enjoys modern Doctor Who.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006


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