Doctor Who – “Engines of War”

Doctor Who: New Series Adventures – Special # 4

Written by: George Mann
Published by: BBC Books

Synopsis: 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.

Along with the Eighth Doctor, the War Doctor is one of the lesser-seen incarnations of the Doctor, having only appeared in only major televised adventure. Shrouded in secrecy, this version of the Doctor relinquished his claim to the title to become a warrior for the Time Lords during the Last Great Time War against the Daleks. Played to perfection by the late John Hurt, the character is continuously forced to make tough decisions over life and death, culminating in his use of ‘The Moment’ to end of the Time War and cause the apparent destruction of both the Daleks and the Time Lords. While his motivations are hinted at in the utterly fantastic “The Day of the Doctor” fiftieth anniversary episode, there has been several extended universe materials since then, such as minisodes, comics, novels and audiobooks, which flesh out the character’s experiences during the Time War.

One such adventure is “Engines of War”, the first story to feature the War Doctor in a lead role, chronicling the final days of the Time War and providing context behind the War Doctor’s decision to put an end to both the Daleks and the Time Lords. George Mann handles writing duties, having previously contributed to the Doctor Who universe with Eleventh Doctor novel, “Paradox Lost”. Since writing “Engines of War” in 2014, Mann has worked on Titan Comics’ line of Doctor Who comics, producing adventures for the Eighth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors. He was also involved in creating Doctor Who: The Whoniverse, demonstrating a scholarly knowledge of the series’ mythology and continuity that is evident in his fiction.

Despite the fact he’d only appeared in the one episode, George Mann manages to accurately recreate the War Doctor’s persona on the printed page, which is as much testament to John Hurt’s sublime performance as it is Mann’s skill. Without the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors as distractions, Mann is able to delve deep into the War Doctor’s personality and explore the internal conflict at the heart of his soul. Introducing a new Time War companion in the form of Cinder, a flame-haired freedom fighter who has only ever known death and Daleks, allows Mann to partially restore the War Doctor’s humanity and foreshadow the character’s behaviour in “The Day of the Doctor”.

The banter and interplay between Cinder and the War Doctor is bittersweet to read, as we have a version of the Doctor who has been isolated for so long and fought so hard against his own ‘programming’ that it is sad to see him showing echoes of his former self, especially when he is forced into the role of a soldier. I love how the pairing of Cinder and the War Doctor reignites a sense of hope and innocence in the two war-weary soldiers, and it is quite affecting to see the Doctor recapturing his sense of mischief as he embarks on an ‘old-school adventure’. Mann nails this aspect of the War Doctor’s personality perfectly, and the prose really rewards long-term fans of the series with some wonderfully emotive sequences.

When it was initially introduced, The Time War was seen as a barrier between Classic Who and the New Series, clearly separating the Eighth Doctor from the Ninth and allowing Russell T Davies to approach the series with a semi-blank slate. As time has gone on, it has become less of a barrier and more of a bridge, especially as writers have been able to explore the previously undocumented adventures during this time period. George Mann gets to lay some serious foundations on this bridge through the use of continuity – such as presenting that climactic scene from “Genesis of the Daleks” as the first shot fired in the Time War. “The Five Doctors” is another iconic adventure that serves as inspiration behind this tale as Borusa, Rassilon and the Death Zone all become integral elements of this plot. However, despite this usage of decades-old continuity, Mann manages to keep his plot accessible and easy-to-follow, rewarding loyal fans with nuggets of continuity whilst keeping newer fans informed.

While the Daleks are obviously the main antagonists of this story, I was surprised at how much time Mann spends developing Rassilon and the Time Lords as threats, setting up their eventual full-on villainy in “The End of Time”. As I read the sequences with Rassilon threatening the Doctor, I could picture Timothy Dalton leering down at a defiant John Hurt – it’s a shame those scenes will never be committed to film. Mann’s narrative is filled with some wonderfully visual moments, such as the climactic battle against the Eternity Circle and the creepy mutant Daleks known as the Skaro Degradations. Every scene was so evocative and easy to visualise in the mind’s eye, and the plot rattled along at a decent pace without a dull spot in sight.

Engines of War” is a triumph of a Doctor Who adventure, and a worthy predecessor to the fiftieth anniversary episode, “The Day of the Doctor”. Quite simply, it is essential reading for fans of the Time War-era of Doctor Who, providing context to the events of the episode and fleshing out aspects of the Time War only mentioned in passing during the TV show itself. Having read this adventure some years after the initial airing of “The Day of the Doctor”, I can say that this has seriously reinvigorated my love for the War Doctor and inspired me to give the Big Finish War Doctor audio adventures a try. If you haven’t read this yet, I implore you to give it a go – it might be one of the most important Doctor Who novels out there.

Score – ★★★★★

Doctor Who – “Engines of War” is currently available in hardback or paperback formats on Amazon, or as an eBook from Amazon Kindle. An audiobook version is available for free on Audible, if you sign up for a free 3-month trial.

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