Book Review – “Doctor Who: Engines Of War” by George Mann

Doctor Who: Engines of War

From Goodreads:

‘”The death of billions is as nothing to us Doctor, if it helps defeat the Daleks.”

The Great Time War has raged for centuries, ravaging the universe. Scores of human colony planets are now overrun by Dalek occupation forces. A weary, angry Doctor leads a flotilla of Battle TARDISes against the Dalek stronghold but in the midst of the carnage, the Doctor’s TARDIS crashes to a planet below: Moldox.

As the Doctor is trapped in an apocalyptic landscape, Dalek patrols roam amongst the wreckage, rounding up the remaining civilians. But why haven’t the Daleks simply killed the humans?

Searching for answers the Doctor meets ‘Cinder’, a young Dalek hunter. Their struggles to discover the Dalek plan take them from the ruins of Moldox to the halls of Gallifrey, and set in motion a chain of events that will change everything. And everyone.

An epic novel of the Great Time War featuring the War Doctor as played by John Hurt.’

 

It seems a long time since the fiftieth anniversary celebrations for ‘Doctor Who’.  One of the big changes of that anniversary year, apart from Peter Capaldi taking over the controls of the TARDIS from Matt Smith, was the introduction of a previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor portrayed by John Hurt.  The problem was that for so pivotal a character in the Doctor’s personal timeline, the man who fought in the mythical ‘Time War’ that has hung over the continuity of the series since its return in 2005, we know very little about this version of the Doctor.

Whilst this novel by George Mann doesn’t give us a great deal of fresh information about the Doctor during this period, it certainly adds weight to the actions that he takes in the anniversary episode itself, ‘The Day Of The Doctor’.

Mann’s written portrayal of the Doctor himself is very much as you see on the screen in John Hurt’s portrayal of the Doctor in this form.  ‘The War Doctor’ hangs on to the belief that he is not worthy of the title that he has lived by in previous forms, but there can be nothing further from the truth as Mann’s scripting for this incarnation has to come across as one of the purest interpretations of the Doctor that I have seen in print.  Granted, there are other novels where I instantly recognise the respective incarnation of the Doctor from his mannerisms or physical description, but this one shows through not only John Hurt’s portrayal of the Doctor as a man who is a blunt instrument of war rather than the more professorial Doctors of the classic series or the more blokey relatable versions of the ‘NuWho’ but in the fact that under the surface, despite ‘The War Doctor’s’  protestations to the contrary, he is (and apologies for paraphrasing a line from the series itself) the Doctor, whether he likes it or not through his underlying morality and behaviours.

Where there’s a Doctor, there is a companion and despite the Doctor’s denials that he needs one, Mann gives us a fantastic companion in the form of Cinder, a young resistance fighter from the planet Moldox upon which the Doctor crash lands early on in the story following a battle between Dalek vessels and Battle TARDISes.  Although she is a resistance fighter, she becomes the Doctor’s moral centre for this story, particularly given the nature of the threat posed not only by the Daleks, but the Time Lords as well in Parts Two and Three of the book.  If she had appeared in the television series itself, she would scream out as companion material.  She challenges not only the Doctor but the Time Lords on their morality during a time of war, particularly in the fact that the ends do not necessarily always justify the means and manages to blunt the Doctor’s gruffness by lightening him up and humanises him, much in the same way as Clara or The Moment interface did in ‘The Day Of The Doctor’.  In fact, it’s safe to say that Cinder enables ‘The War Doctor’ to temporarily be THE Doctor again during the course of the novel only for this redemption to be snatched away for him for reasons that become apparent by the story’s conclusion.

The story is split into three acts with the first act taking part on the planet Moldox with the Doctor and Cinder investigating the Daleks’ reason for invading the region of space in which the planet sits.  The second act takes us to the Doctor’s home planet, Gallifrey, and leads us into the political machinations of the Time Lords.  The final act takes us back to the Tantalus Eye, leading not only to the resolution of this story but the start of the Doctor’s fateful journey in ‘The Day Of The Doctor’.

There are two sets of antagonists in this story – the Daleks and the Time Lords.  The Daleks are very much as you see on screen with their desire for racial purity and ambitions to conquer dripping out of their dialogue.  As with the Series 5 story ‘Victory Of The Daleks’, we are introduced to new paradigms namely the Degradations (as name checked in the last David Tennant special ‘The End Of Time’) who are basically Daleks who have been altered by the actions of the Time Lords and the sinister and powerful Eternity Circle who are the weapon-smiths and tacticians for the Dalek war effort.

Opposing them are the Time Lords.  Although there are quite a few Gallifreyans in the story, the story really focuses on two – the resurrected President Rassilon (as portrayed by Timothy Dalton) and his chief underling Karlax.  Rassilon is very much as portrayed by Dalton on screen – even down to the description of spittle leaving his mouth when he shouts in a council meeting.  A war leader who wishes to win at all costs, even the genocide of the people who exist near the Tantalus Eye as a means of preventing Gallifrey’s destruction.  He is on the one hand charming and willing to listen to the Doctor’s information of the Daleks’ plans whilst on the other hand torturing one of his own number for knowledge of the future and happily willing to try and execute the Doctor for treason.

Karlax follows the line of previous duplicitous Time Lords such as Chancellor Goth in ‘The Deadly Assassin’ or Castellan Kelner in ‘The Invasion Of Time’ – weak willed and willing to look at any opportunity to serve his master, in this case Rassilon, as they wish – be it through the use of the Mind Probe device to interrogate Cinder as to the Doctor’s plans or to attempt the Doctor’s murder during the third act of the story.

 

The story is a continuity fanboy/fangirl’s dream with references not only to ‘NuWho’ such as the Dalek’s desire to create new paradigm’s or the Time Lord’s fall from grace as a result of their participation in the Time War, but to the original series as well.  It’s expressly mentioned in this book that the classic Season 12 story ‘Genesis Of The Daleks’ is the opening salvo in the Time War, but you also get mild references to stories such as “Revelation Of The Daleks” where humans are mutated to become Daleks and housed inside transparent cases and big references such as the story ‘The Five Doctors’ which features the Death Zone, the Tomb of Rassilon and the president’s secret room which housed the Time Scoop from that story plus the return of a character thought long dead… or should I say immortalised.

 

I do have one quibble with this story and it is the lack of care by Random House in their proof reading of the Kindle version of this book.  There were quite a few occasions where sentences didn’t make sense and I had to re-read them a few times due to typo errors, both in words and punctuation.

 

That quibble aside, ‘Engines Of War’ is a book that does the job of breathing life into a character we knew little of (and to an extent still know remarkably little of in comparison to other incarnations of the Doctor) whilst serving as a direct link to a popular television episode.

 

Review first published on Goodreads on 8th February 2015.

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