Book Review: Doctor Who – Engines of War

I broke a promise I made myself back when Doctor Who returned to the television screen and mention was first made of The Time War. The more people mooted the idea of a movie or other such story set in that period, the more I railed. If such a story ever came to pass and events of The Time War were to be revealed, then I would not watch it. Or read it. Or listen to it. Primarily because I don’t think a Time War is something that can be properly explained.

Day of the Doctor and its prequel, Night of the Doctor, did a sterling job of showing us elements of the war without going into details, but a novel… a novel set towards the end of the war with John Hurt’s incarnation involved … well that couldn’t possibly hold back, could it? Engines of War is set up as pretty much the direct prelude to The War Doctor’s involvement in the fiftieth anniversary television story. Being as how John Hurt’s incarnation of the Time Lord intrigued me, I thought I’d break my promise and give it a shot.

AUTHOR: George Mann
BBC Books

“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.

The first thing that I think is important to note here is that George Mann manages to capture the voice of the War Doctor phenomenally well throughout. I could hear John Hurt’s gravelly tone and the dry wit that was so evident in the television special. The author took that single appearance and managed to extrapolate a new story from it remarkably well. Given that success, I found it a shame that none of the other characters jumped off the page for me. The Companion in this story felt a bit like a template rather than a fully formed character, and the same could be said of the other humanoids – both Time Lord and Human. In this way, the novel felt more like one of the old “script to page” Target novelisations that I grew up with.

This book is not really about those other characters, though. Mann manages to successfully show the Doctor’s struggles with his own peoples’ descent into a savage disregard for other life. Focussing on the Doctor and the events that he is involved in is enough to drive the narrative forward towards the inevitable conclusion witnessed in Day of the Doctor. This is a novel that takes a weary warrior and pushes him to the brink. It is at the end of these events that our hero decides that enough is enough. No More.

The plot is suitably epic, taking place in a remote area of space and on the Doctor’s home planet of Gallifrey. There are plenty of nods to the past – especially the twentieth anniversary story, The Five Doctors – which are intrinsic to the narrative but I don’t feel that any of these are intrusive. Mann provides enough detail to allow any reader who is only familiar with the re-launched series to get the flavour and sense of history without bogging them down too much.

He also successfully brings some of the throwaway lines about the Time War from the television program to life. Most prominently, the ‘Skaro Degradations’ appear within this novel and the explanation of what exactly they were/are/will be was particularly satisfying to this Whovian. The idea of the degredations and in particular the twist with their origin was neat and ties in well with the theme of the novel. While we are on the subject, Mann captures the essence of the Daleks well and brings a new group – similar to but different from the Cult of Skaro – into the picture. The Eternity Circle are a group of five blue-and-silver-cased Daleks that are tasked with the production of new temporal weapons for the Empire.

Doctor Who Engines of WarWhile the Daleks obviously offer the main threat in the novel, the renegade Time Lord finds himself in opposition to his own people who have reached, and are about to step over, a line that the Doctor can not follow them across. This becomes the focus of the story, with the Dalek plot placed on the back-burner, providing a background threat. It is a shame, as I would like to have seen more of the Eternity Circle. Given the constraints of the novel’s length though, I can understand the choice, and it is one that doesn’t really detract from events, my personal preferences aside.

Where the novel lost me somewhat was right at the end, and it is for this reason that I am reducing the rating. To me, the climax of the story did not make much sense, as the action and its ramifications were somewhat out-of-sync. I was really on board up until the final chapter (or two) but unfortunately I became a little grumpy about the ending for a while afterwards. To be honest though, it may just be me either over or under-thinking it, and I really wouldn’t let that stand in the way of you reading this book.

In short, this novel is well worth picking up and reading if you are interested in John Hurt’s incarnation of the Time Lord, the scope of the Time War, or Gallifrey and the Time Lords. If you are a fan of the series but have never read a novel you should definitely pick this one up. It’s well worth the read.

Rating: 3.5 / 5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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