Fearful Symmetries

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30 November, 2012

The Doctor Shall Fight in Hills, He Shall Fight in France - He Will Never Surrender!: Players



Earlier this month I began reading Doctor Who books again in anticipation of Chicago TARDIS. I jumped in more or less where I left off by reading the 6th Doctor adventure Players. It being a Terrance Dicks story I wasn't expecting anything mind-bending or a tale which would tweak the tried and true Doctor Whovery much, if at all. Having finished the book, I can say that I got pretty much what I expected.

Our story begins with Sixie and Peri on Rigel Seven which is a very rainy, muddy place. The pair make a quick escape but Peri decides she wants a change. "I want elegance!" she tells The Doctor. He replies, "Elegance you shall have, Peri." But, as is usually the case, The Doctor is unable to deliver. Instead of a nice respite in Victorian London they end up in South Africa with the Boer War raging. They meet up with a young Winston Churchill as well as a seemingly out of place assassin with a dark complexion. The Doctor, Peri, and Churchill survive a skirmish but end up being captured. A brief interlude in a prisoner camp includes the mysterious Captain Reitz who comes bearing faked orders to have Churchill shot when he tries to escape. Reitz turns out to be the wily assassin whose plan The Doctor had foiled earlier.

At this point in the book things are going well. Dicks didn't reveal the identity of the war correspondent until absolutely necessary, which is fun even though Churchill is mentioned on the back cover. We have a little action and some mystery and I kept envisioning a younger, thinner Ian McNeice in the part. From here, however, the book runs into a big problem. Our heroes escape the prisoner camp with a dash of derring do. Back at the TARDIS, The Doctor explains to Peri that he'd met Churchill previously and thinks that their current adventures are somehow related to events which took place during The Doctor's second incarnation. Peri gets her friend's memories beamed directly into her brain.

The flashback here takes place in France during World War I after the events of The War Games, the Second Doctor's final TV story. The Doctor hitches a lift in an ambulance driven by Jennifer Buckingham and finds that Lieutenant Carstairs is also a passenger. They run into a British staff car which had been ambushed only to find that it belonged to Churchill who was a major by this time. The future prime minister is rescued and they drive through the fog and take shelter at a chateau inhabited by a mysterious (again) Count and Countess...

The problem here is that, as I was reading the flashback sequence, I kept envisioning Sixie instead of Patrick Troughton. After a couple pages I realized that I was reading it all wrong and inserted the short, mop-topped vagabond into my brain. Dicks doesn't capture any of Troughton's nuances here in the flashback and instead what we get is a generic Doctor-lite figure. Too bad.

With this story done, The Doctor takes Peri to 1930s London as he is convinced that running into Winston Churchill was no mere coincidence. The Time Lord and his companion get wrapped up in the prelude to World War II which involves Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador to the UK at the time, King Edward VIII along with his mistress Wallis Simpson, and a band of conspirators culled from the English aristocracy who want the English Empire to ally itself with Nazi Germany. Oh, and the count and countess make a return appearance as well.

The London storyline takes up most of the novel and, while not perfect by any stretch, it was rather fun. For instance, there's a scene where The Doctor and Peri go to a bank where The Doctor has an account to withdraw some funds. The thing is, he made his initial deposit 120 years previously and interest has been accumulating. It was disappointing, though not unexpected, that Peri would jump headlong into the lap of luxury and become a conspicuous consumer. Another stereotype rears its head in the form of the private dick, Tom Dekker. A close call with a bomb convinces The Doctor to hire a bodyguard ("'Not a bodyguard,' said the Doctor. 'A security consultant!'"). While The Doctor doesn't let on that they've met before, Dekker has indeed run into the Time Lord previously – he even mentions Ace – though I'm not sure which story this refers to. Like Peri, Dekker is an American ex-pat but from Chicago. And being from Chicago can mean only one thing – Al Capone and his gangsters.

On the other hand, Dekker's partner, referred to only as "The Op" was interesting. Not a major character by any means but I liked how he was described as suddenly coming into view as disappearing just as quickly. I was wondering if something was going to be made of this but Dicks did not. The Op was a funny little diversion in a sea of stereotypes and middle of the road characters.

The Players are a race of beings that see everyone and all of history as a game, a chess match for their amusement. Their credo is "Winning is everything – and nothing/Losing is nothing – and everything/All that matters is the Game." What might be a fun conflict between a group of chaotic neutral hedonists and our lawful good hero turns out to be rather uninteresting. The story is peppered with brief interludes that take place at Players HQ on Mount Olympus or wherever they reside but they consist merely of a couple paragraphs of the Players being profoundly irritated with The Doctor. Dicks may have been trying to set up a future story in which the Players feature more prominently and get more backstory but, here as a standalone affair, what could be an intriguing set of villains is rather one dimensional.

Players has its moments, such as a car chase, and is endowed with plenty of intrigue, but it's bogged down by stereotypes and greatly underused villains. Also, I am flummoxed as to how Dicks was unable to write a credible Second Doctor considering that he wrote for the show back in the Troughton era. While there is some fun reading to be had, for the most part, Players is a disposable entry in the Doctor Who canon.
|| Palmer, 3:13 PM

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