Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review: Players

I was late to discover Doctor Who: there was no hiding behind the sofa at age 10 for me, I didn't even know Doctor Who existed until I was 14 or so, but once I did, for the next three or four years I devoured all the novelisations I could get my hands on. I remember coming home from the library with my schoolbag jam-packed with as many books as the library would allow me to check out at one time, eight or ten I think, and given that they were hard covers my bag was overflowing. A few years ago, I tried re-reading a few of my favourites, and found them almost unreadably bad. I also borrowed a more recent Expanded Universe novel from a friend, and simply couldn't get into it. So two weeks ago when Mrs Impala spotted Players by Terrance Dicks at the local library and suggested we borrow it, my expectations weren't terribly high. I'm very glad to say that the novel blew those low expectations away.

Players is a Sixth Doctor Expanded Universe novel first published in 1999. In 2013, it was re-published as one of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collection, and it's the first full Doctor Who story I've read since those glory days in my teens. Back in the 1980s, my interest in Doctor Who was already tottering on a knife edge due to the ridiculous stories and obnoxious personality of the early sixth Doctor, and then killed dead by the mess that was The Trial Of A Time Lord. But after seeing Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and the delightfully tipsy Katy Manning (Jo Grant) reminisce live on stage about their time on Doctor Who, I've been a fan of Baker. Both he and McCoy are consummate showmen and raconteurs, and it broke my heart to think of what they could have done as the Doctor had the BBC given them some quality material to work with, instead of childishly bad rubbish. It was a true pleasure to see Dicks take the sixth Doctor out of the ridiculous clown suit and give him some dignity, and Players demonstrates that Dicks can actually write well when he is freed from the shackles of the TV novelisations.

The novel tells of the Doctor meeting Winston Churchill and saving him from an assassination attempt. Not the Churchill of "blood, toil, tears and sweat", but his younger self, during the Boer War. We briefly revisit Patrick Troughton's Doctor, post The War Games, shows us another side of King Edward (Dave to his friends) and Mrs Simpson, and introduces a mysterious group of ageless, jaded time travellers calling themselves "the Players", who meddle in human history as part of some great game. In the latest round of their never-ending Game, the Players have decided to see what will happen with Churchill dead and a pro-Nazi king on the British throne. Players is not great literature, but it is well-written, with Dicks doing justice to both the Sixth Doctor and Peri. He captures their voices perfectly, although the Second Doctor perhaps not quite as well. The characters are engaging, the story interesting, and the villains are believable (if not quite chilling). I don't hesitate to recommend Players and give it a solid, workman-like three stars.

Players by Terrence Dicks:

No comments: