The idea of Doctor Who novels being produced regardless of how fleeting the appearance of the Time Lord’s incarnation is not a new one. Paul McGann’s Doctor was the hero of dozens of novels and comic strips after his initial TV appearance as well as many Big Finish audios.
In this light, George Mann’s Engines of War should be seen as a chance to get to know the War Doctor and not as opportunism by the BBC.
The product description on Amazon (if you get past the reviews) tells us the following:
“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.
This tells you a lot of the story – Cinder ends up as a companion for the story and they discover the Daleks are building a super-weapon capable of destroying Gallifrey. They warn Rassilon and the council who decide to deploy a super-weapon of their own. The only problem is it would wipe out several human worlds as well.
The story touches on several sections of so-called classic-Who including (predictably) Genesis of the Daleks and (less predicably) The Five Doctors. We see a classic Doctor in all but name making difficult choices, being a maverick and doing ‘the right thing’ while also finding himself less and less able to distinguish his own people from their foes. There is a texture of the Time War running through this without dominating the plot with paradoxes.
The action all takes place (as the cover suggests) near the end of the War Doctor’s time. This makes for an easy out and I would like a series starting from the beginning of his incarnation. The central ‘I’m not the Doctor any more’ idea doesn’t come across well and on a first read it seems the War Doctor has avoided having companions until Cinder appears. Given he must be centuries old I find that hard to believe.
The characterisation matches Day of the Doctor and it is a good read; overall though it tells the reader more about Rassilon than anyone else and in doing so makes for an uncomfortable insight into a dictator who escalates at a moment’s notice. The secret’s of the Death Zone make for uncomfortable reading and the story is imaginative and well worth the purchase.
If only someone would start from the War Doctor’s early days!