Mar 17, 2015

[Books] Doctor Who: Engines of War

I've only recent started to delve into the Doctor Who novels written in support of the television series as a way to get into more adventures of the various Doctors. As much as the on-going TV show has a lot of great stories to share viewers, there are a heck of a lot more stories to be told about the practically limitless history of our favorite Time Lord.

But I personally feel that the books are best utilized when they tell stories of Doctors that we don't know quite as much as we'd like to. Thus the diverse fiction written to provide more back story for the 8th Doctor and now we have our first book featuring the almost enigmatic War Doctor.

We first met the War Doctor in the web short, "The Night of the Doctor," which was designed as a prequel to the big "Day of the Doctor" Doctor Who 50th anniversary special. All that we really know about his life is defined around those two bits of fiction and not much else, so it was nice to see that the BBC authorized a book providing another adventure involving our rather grumpy Doctor. And what's even better is that this book has also been indirectly celebrated by the folks behind the Doctor Who Legacy game given they immortalized the character of Cinder in the game. Fun times.

Synopsis: Doctor Who: Engines of War is the first Doctor Who novel to focus on the character of the War Doctor and was written by George Mann. The story takes place during the Great Time War between the Daleks and the Time Lords as referenced multiple times during the Doctor Who TV series.

The Great Time War wages on and countless worlds and race are caught in the crossfire between the Time Lords and the Daleks. One such world is Moldox, where Cinder is a young woman who is part of the human resistance on the Dalek-overrun planet. She's out on patrol together with Finch and they encounter a Dalek patrol that also includes Skaro Degradations - more Dalek soldiers that have been created through experimental mutating techniques and such. Cinder is able to take out a few Daleks with her salvaged Dalek weapon, but sadly Finch is killed in the process. Beyond that, it seems Cinder is no longer able to remember Finch at all.

Meanwhile the War Doctor leads a daring attack against Dalek forces near the Tantalus Eye. At first things seem to go well, but once again the Daleks manage to turn things around due to sheer numbers and the War Doctor narrowly escapes with his life. He crashlands on Moldox where he first encounters Cinder and ends up saving her life. Now the two end up working together to find out what the Daleks are doing on Moldox and hopefully warn the Time Lords of the dangers they face before it's too late.

The Great Time War is such a dark period in Time Lord history and somewhat personally for the Doctor as well. The TV show  has made a lot of references to the Time War time and time again and this book presents one of the rare glimpses of how the war was. And Mann does quite a stellar job of painting this rather dark picture of what has been going on all this time. More and more it seems it's hard to tell the Time Lords apart from the Daleks given the wanton destruction both sides end up causing in exchange for small victories here and there.

The War Doctor is a grim character, one who has been shaped by the War and one who bears the burden of many hard decisions made over the year. But in the presence of Cinder as his sort of Companion in this adventure, we eventually see glimpses of the impish Doctor that we know and love. That Doctor is still alive somewhere deep inside the War Doctor, and thus the book nicely illustrates how Companions like Cinder and all the others do a lot to keep the Doctor grounded and hopeful. Without directly saying so, the book sort of tells us that a lot of what makes the Doctor so optimistic is the very nature of humanity as well.

And once again, we are made to fall in love with a Companion rather quickly in the person of Cinder. She's yet another hard person, certainly traumatized by the rigors of life under Dalek oppression. In that way she's very much like the War Doctor - totally committed to her goals. But underneath the surface she is still a hopeful young woman, one whose childhood was taken from her and yet could still potentially be unlocked and celebrated in its own way. And the two work amazingly well together and the experience of being together helps unlock something in both of them.

The entire story that drives this book is brilliant and quite scary at times. We see just how far the Daleks are willing to go to achieve their goals and their master plan to finally defeat the Time Lords is quite the significant one indeed. And of course the other greatest risk to the Time Lords is actually the Time Lords themselves. As lead by Rassilon, supposedly the greatest of all Time Lords, we see that he's a scarily ruthless individual who is open to authorizing just about any use of force or exotic technologies in order to win the war.

I really enjoyed this book and how it helped flesh out a period of Doctor Who lore that has largely remained a mystery. It's not a happy time,  but it's certainly an important time and seeing what happened here helps better explain the War Doctor we met in the 50th anniversary special.

Doctor Who: Engines of War is a great addition to the sort of expanded universe around the Doctor Who series and a must-read for those curious about the War Doctor. Plus it's a great Dalek book that doesn't have them engaged in some silly plan but instead are very well poised to take over all of time and space itself. Thus the book more than deserves 5 moments of Cinder brilliance out of a possible 5.

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