THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE TV
STORIES "THE MARK OF
THE RANI" AND "THE
OFFICIAL BBC 'PAST
RELEASED IN APRIL
companion, Peri, high
society elegance in
the Doctor manages
to hit the right time,
the wrong place...
on the sun-baked
veldt in the middle of
a Boer War skirmish,
And soon the Doctor
and Peri are involved
in the adventures of a
seem to be interfering
in his potentially
Doctor senses the
hidden hand of the
Players - mysterious
beings who regard
human history as no
more than a chess
board. Can the
Doctor and Peri find
the right moves to
defeat them - before
it's too late?
“Players” is the first Doctor Who novel that I have read in a very long time that really evokes the sights and sounds of the television series. The whole thing reads like a season twenty-two novelisation, to the extent that there are even two distinct ‘episodes’ – the first set predominantly in the Boer War, and the second set in the middle of the 1930s Abdication Crisis. This feel is hardly surprising though, given that “Players” has been written by
Terrance Dicks, who of course famously novelised almost half of the Doctor Who television serials for Target.
“Touch one piece and the whole picture changes…
Winston Churchill dead before World War Two.
England under a king allied to Hitler…”
Dicks’ story is a simple one and, to be honest, it is far from innovative. Having a group of time meddlers interfering in Earth’s history is a device that has been done to death in both the television series and the novels, but as they say the devil is in the detail, and “Players” is told with such effortless panache that it is hard not to love it. I particularly like how Dicks gets across to the reader how easy it would be for a democracy like Britain to slip into fascism – all it could have took was one well-placed bullet.
What’s more, “Players” is perhaps as educational as it is entertaining. Take Winston Churchill, for example, Dicks’ customary historical character. Despite having studied twentieth century history, before reading this novel I knew very little of Churchill’s life prior to the Second World War. “Players” shows us Churchill at three key points in his life – imprisoned in Africa as young man; fighting in the trenches, back in 1915; and then in the throes of his 1930s decline, just prior to his almighty second wind. It is fascinating to read about the man behind the icon, and Dicks’ captures Churchill’s larger-than-life spirit magnificently.
“The BBC transmitting treasonous messages? Please, Miss Brown, some things are sacred!”
This novel also has a tremendous sense of fun about it. Not only is the story replete with some delightfully naff joviality, but it also brings back a glut of characters from the Doctor’s past and, indeed, his future. Carstairs and Lady Jennifer from “The War Games” are the first to return, when the Doctor shares the details of his first post-“War Games” sojourn with Peri (thanks to the memory-sharing-thingy from “The Wheel in Space”). These are quickly followed by the private eye Dekker, a fantastic character from Dicks’ New Adventure “Blood Harvest”, who by the 1930s has already met the Doctor, but not vice-versa. Even the Timewyrm-ridden Adolf Hitler makes a fleeting appearance, tying in the events of this novel beautifully with those to depicted in yet another Dicks’ New Adventure, the exceptional “Timewyrm: Exodus”.
Now as much I love such shameless fan service, I was a bit surprised being bombarded by all this continuity after the whole “Eight Doctors” debacle - it took Faction Paradox to sort
that one out! I wish Dicks would just take a view on continuity and stick to it.
And of course, continuity is the watchword of “Players”. More than anything else, this novel will doubtless be remembered as the one that finally made explicit what, over the years, many have called ‘Season 6B’ theory. It seems that the apparently older second Doctor that we saw on television in both “The Five Doctors” and “The Two Doctors” was indeed older. Following his trial, the Doctor did not go straight into exile but was put to work for Gallifrey’s Celestial Intervention Agency, who gave him limited freedom in exchange for his carrying
out certain missions for them. In a way this is something a shame as the “War Games” flashback is only a very minor part of this novel, and there is far more to “Players” than just straightening out the television series’ rough edges.
However, there were some things about “Players” that I did not think worked very well at all. The odd bit of gratuitous swearing – “hilarious bollocks!” and so forth – and the bizarrely sexual scenes where Peri is kidnapped and threatened with a rubber truncheon are really at odds with the overarching lightweight tone of the novel. Do not get me wrong – I am certainly not adverse to having such adult elements in Doctor Who; in fact, I am all for them. But they have to fit. Parts of “Players” – admittedly very small parts – just feel wrong.
On the whole though, I found “Players” to be relentlessly enjoyable and thoroughly rewarding. And as it only weighs in at around the 250 pages mark it is an easy enough job to whiz through it in just a single afternoon, Target-style. I look forward to the inevitable sequel. Just who are the Players…?
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Terrance Dicks’ late novel World Game would crystallise the theory put forward here that following his trial at the end of The War Games, the second Doctor’s sentence was suspended whilst he carried out a number of secret missions for Gallifrey’s Celestial Intervention Agency. Following World Game, the Doctor was reunited with Jamie – memories duly restored – who would aid him in his missions, including the one depicted in The Two Doctors.
At some point thereafter, the Time Lords’ sentence was carried out: the Doctor was forcibly regenerated and then exiled to 20th century Earth, and Jamie was returned to his native time and place, his memories of his TARDIS travels erased. It has never been stated whether or not the Doctor remembered his post-War Games employment beyond his enforced regeneration, though this seems unlikely given the sixth Doctor’s ignorance of events demonstrated in The Two Doctors and the agency’s need for the utmost discretion.
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