REVIEW: "Players" Doctor Who Novel
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
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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Last Updated June 29, 1999