REVIEW: "Players" Doctor Who Novel

by Zepo
26 June 1999

Terrance Dicks, _Doctor Who: Players_ (London: BBC, 1999).

[Image of Book]

RATING:  7 (of 10)

     Well, I finally broke down and read one of new BBC Doctor Who
books.  It wasn't that I didn't have an interest in any of these
books, it was just that I had never finished my collection of
Virgin's line of New and Missing Adventure novels.  With so many
books released and my life being a bit more complicated now then
when I was a student, I always looked forward to reading the
majority of my post-series Doctor Who novels once I retire. 
Still, for some reason I decided to give the Terrance Dick's
novel _Players_ a read.  I'm not sure why.  Perhaps it was the
bright orange cover or the fact that the story featured my own
personal favorite Doctor-companion team of the Sixth and Peri. 
Perhaps it was the fact that the adventure featured the pair
meeting the pre-World War II Winston Churchill and Baron Von
Ribbentrop thus appealing to my love of history.  In any case the
pieces of the puzzle assembled easier than Jamie's face in the
Land of Fiction and I found myself picking up this offering
hoping for a good read. 
     I couldn't help but enjoy Terrance Dick's writing as I had 
when I eagerly tore into his episode novelizations more than 
fifteen years ago.  His writing was uncomplicated yet captivating 
back then and it remains true to form in this offering.  The 
situations seemed to come to life are were well paced.  No sooner 
did I start to read than I found myself with the Doctor and Peri 
in South Africa in 1899.  Here during the Boer War they encounter 
a young Winston Churchill and aid in his escape from prison.  All 
the while sinister forces seem to plot to kill the future leader 
of England.  The read was quite exciting.  In fact, I felt that 
the ease of the read was an asset to the book.  Many of the other 
Who writers do not come from the background where they have had 
the opportunity to novelize Doctor Who's televised stories.  
Their writing is a bit more complicated and "heavy" much like the 
current novel writers in the waning days of this second 
millennium.  I found this Dick's offering a very refreshing read 
from the various Virgin Doctor Who line offerings that seemed so 
complicated and overly character driven (and in some instances 
very un-Who).  That is the brilliance of this offering. 
     Now as you might expect, the book does have its faults.  
Peri seems to spend every free moment taking baths.  Not that I 
mind picturing this is my mind, its just that after the fourth 
time Dicks has her doing so the idea becomes rather boring and 
the reader starts to run out of cigarettes.  Dicks starts his 
novel by tying in the Doctor's televised adventures as Peri names 
a list of examples to him about the time she has spent on board 
the TARDIS.  Wonderful to hear a litany of televised adventures 
which we know belongs to the unmistakable adventures of the 
Doctor.  Dicks is smart enough to leave open the possibilities of 
other adventures that also may have taken place as Peri's voice 
trails off.  Ah, a writer unconcerned with book continuity who 
offers us an adventure of the Doctors that can stand alone and 
untied to other book offerings.  An adventure that could have 
taken place as part of the shows canon or that can easily be 
disregarded.  Wonderful I thought, until I reached the middle of 
the book. 
     Mid-book the Doctor decides to show Peri some adventures 
that happened in his past.  Bringing back the Though Translator 
that was featured in the rebroadcast of "Evil of the Daleks" 
(when the Second Doctor showed Zoe his and Jamie's previous 
adventure), we move into a flashback sequence that takes place 
after the events shown to us in "The War Games."  Unfortunately, 
Dicks shows us that the Doctor does not immediately regenerate 
but that the Time Lords send him on a number of missions for 
them first.  So much for my happiness that the plot does not 
take too many liberties with canon.  
     The story continues as it is revealed that in his Second 
incarnation the Doctor already had the pleasure of meeting Mr. 
Churchill during the First World War and that the sinister forces 
were planning to assassinate him at that time as well.  The story 
finds the Doctor and Peri skipping ahead twenty years to 1936 as 
the sinister forces again plot against England.  It is here the 
whole plot unfolds and book stalks towards its conclusion.  
However, the book leaves one unfulfilled.  The mysterious players 
of the book's title seem to escape and go free and we are never 
told of their significance.  Perhaps this book was a sequel of 
sorts or we are going to meet these mysterious players again in 
another offering.  In short, I simply didn't feel quite as complete 
as when in the last episode of a televised serial the Doctor 
wraps it all up for the viewing audience.  Likewise, Dick's 
suddenly succumbs to "novel name-dropping" as he fits connections 
to various other novels in the last chapter of the book.  Doctor 
Greigsleiter's name (from the early Virgin novels) is dropped. 
The whole story also features the reappearance of a character 
named Dekker who at the end of the book (for no obvious reason to 
me as a reader) asks Peri to give his love to a girl named Ace 
should she ever meet one.  Presumably he is a character from 
another novel that I did not read.  It all seemed an attempt to 
weave Doctor Who's continuity together too tightly.  Won't Who 
novelists learn that by simply writing a good story that the fans 
can choose to embrace or ignore that their efforts will be more 
appreciated (at least by me)? 
     In all, "Players" was a book I actually enjoyed, though I     
was let down by the open ending and the attempts to complicate     
the Doctor's universe by interrelating the number of connections     
that appear in the book.  There are as Carl Sagen said "billions     
and billions" of stars in the universe.  Why does there have to     
be 30 or so people who always seem to pop up in the Doctor's     
adventures?  With a universe so large the singular things that     
connects all of these moments in time should be the Doctor, not     
the others around him.  I would hope that Doctor Who can surpass     
the banality of Star Wars in which Darth Vader is not only Luke's     
father but also Princess Leia's and C-3PO's!  The universe is a     
large place and when Dicks writes in this mode he is brilliant.      
I recommend this book if only because Dicks weaves an interesting     
tale without the thick and heavy prose that makes a lot of     
post-serial Who novels slow and boring.

(c) copyright Zepo, 1999.

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