Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

The Players trilogy, by Terrance Dicks

Players, by Terrance Dicks
"We don't know your name either," said Peri. She glanced at the Doctor. "At least, I don't. My friend the Doctor seems to think he knows you already."
"Churchill," said the war correspondent. "Winston Churchill, very much at your service." He looked at the Doctor. "I don't think we've met before, sir, have we?"
"We will, Winston," said the Doctor. "We will!"
This is the first of Terrance Dicks' three novels about the Players, a mysterious race of manipulators of human history for the sake of a grand Game, reminiscent of Roger Zelazny's "The Game of Blood and Dust" (a favourite short story of mine). Anyone who wondered why Ian McNiece's character seemed so chummy with the Doctor back in 2010 can find the answer in this book, which is largely about the Sixth Doctor and Peri encountering Churchill in the Boer War and then in 1936, though with a brief flashback to an adventure of the Second Doctor with Churchill in 1915, in which the future prime minister is rescued from capture by the Germans.

Dicks is of the generation who knew Churchill as a genuine time-travelling hero, in that he progressed from a young officer in the British army's last meaningful cavalry charge at Omdurman in 1898 to being the man in charge of a nuclear power. It sort of seems obvious in retrospect that Churchill and the Doctor should meet, and it's almost surprising that it hadn't happened on screen or page before.

The plot itself is thrilling stuff, ending in confrontation with Joachim von Ribbentrop and a direct intervention into the 1936 abdication of Edward VII, where the Doctor and Peri successfully keep history back on the right lines despite the efforts of the Players. Fun, if not profound, told in Dicks' characteristically clear prose, and brining in plenty of references to Dicks' other Who work - The War Games, of course, but also Dekker from Blood Harvest and off-screen references to the events of Timewyrm: Exodus. Interested readers can pick up a brand new edition, as it is one of the 11 books reissued by the BBC for the 50th anniversary.

Endgame, by Terrance Dicks
It occurred to the Doctor that he hated tyranny and oppression. Or was it that he used to hate tyranny and oppression? It didn’t seem to matter much any more.
Nothing did.
Continuing the arc of the amnesiac Eighth Doctor, this novel actually has some similarities with The Turing Test, its immediate predecessor in the series, but I enjoyed it more (not saying much, I'm afraid). We are now in 1951, with the Players trying to resolve their Game through causing, or preventing, nuclear war. The story swirls round the Cambridge Spies, with Burgess, MacLean and Philby playing key roles and the Doctor and Peri eventually flying to Washington and Moscow to prevent the Players from working their way on the minds of Truman and Stalin, with a final emotional appeal on behalf of humanity melting their inhuman hearts. The research was clearly meticulous, but the results not all that inspiring.

World Game, by Terrance Dicks
The Doctor stared hard at the blank white square and concentrated. The card seemed to blur before his eyes – and suddenly he was holding a gold-edged, heavily embossed invitation card to the Duchess of Richmond’s ball.
‘Latest Agency technology,’ said Serena. ‘Psychic paper – gets you in anywhere!’
And finally, we dip back in continuity to an entire book set after the Second Doctor chapters of Players, in which we have a brief return to Carstairs and Lady Jennifer in the First World War, and then the Second Doctor and new Time Lord companion Serena, dipping in and out of the timeline of the Napoleonic wars, trying to prevent history from being diverted by the Players. This is all set during Season 6B (as is the Second Doctor section of Players) with the Doctor sent on mission by the Celestial Intervention Agency in order to diminish his sentence to exile and forced regeneration. It ends with the Doctor accepting the mission which we know as The Two Doctors. Lots of Napoleonic romping, particularly with the very steampunkish submarine which was indeed designed for Napoleon by American inventor Robert Fulton, though some liberties are taken with the historical timeline.

The climax comes just before the Battle of Waterloo, and one inaccuracy tweaked my Belgian sensibilities: the Doctor walks from the denouement at the Duchess of Richmond's Ball to the Parc de Bruxelles via the Place Royale, which is rather a long way round. (The ball, as far as I can tell, was held roughly on the spot which is now the location of the car park for the City 2 shopping centre.)

It's an interesting case of Dicks reinterpreting bits of later continuity to fit what he might have done in 1969, had he been thinking about it then; the inclusion of psychic paper (the book was published in 2005, one of the last of the Past Doctor Adventures range, and after New Who had started) is perhaps the most dramatic example. Serena is perhaps a thought experiment as to how Romana might have been done in the black and white era, and the Players themselves are an odd combination of the War Lords and perhaps the Eternals. (The Sarah Jane Adventures took the concept and tweaked it into the Trickster, who operates on a much more personal rather than historical level.)

Anyway, the three books together are a solid case of Terrance Dicks pursuing a single sfnal concept over the 1999-2005 period; if I'm still able to do that when I reach his age, I'll be glad.
Tags: bookblog 2013, doctor who, doctor who: 02, doctor who: 06, doctor who: 08, writer: terrance dicks
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