Please feel free to comment on my review.
Winston Churchill with the Sixth Doctor and Peri
This is where the Doctor actually met Winston Churchill for the first time!
Terrance Dicks! He’s a ‘Doctor Who’ legend! Over the years, Terrance has shaped the form of ‘Doctor Who’ to ensure its longevity and many ‘Doctor Who’ fans are grateful to him for that. He worked on the TV show as a script-editor and a writer and has written plenty of ‘Doctor Who’ books.
So it’s only fitting that Terrance should have one of his books reprinted for the 50th anniversary collection of ‘Doctor Who’ in 2013. The book chosen was of course ‘Players’ featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri. I found ‘Players’ to be a joy of a book to read as you can always rely upon Terrance.
I have met Terrance once in real-life at ‘The Capitol II’ convention in May 2017 as well as asking him a question on a panel at the ‘Valiant 2015’ convention in Sheffield, March 2015. It was a brief encounter, but I did thank him for writing the ‘Doctor Who’ books I’ve read which he acknowledged.
Reading a ‘Doctor Who’ book by Terrance Dicks is always going to be a joy as you know he’s a safe pair of hands. Terrance knows the show inside and out and has a huge respect for its many incarnations even on ones he hadn’t worked for in the TV series such as the Sixth and Seventh Doctors.
I’ve read quite a few of Terrance’s ‘Doctor Who’ books that weren’t Target novelizations that I usually come across. It was nice to read this ‘Doctor Who’ book by Terrance that was a story not shown on the TV screen and I did look forward to how he depicted the Sixth Doctor and Peri in print.
Of course Terrance has written for the Sixth Doctor and Peri in the Target novelization range of ‘Doctor Who’. With Peri, Terrance wrote for her in ‘The Caves of Androzani’ novelization. He later wrote the Sixth Doctor and Peri for ‘The Mysterious Planet’ novelization in ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’.
I was intrigued as to why ‘Players’ was chosen to represent the Sixth Doctor era for the show’s 50th anniversary. But of course, this is Terrance Dicks we’re talking about who is a huge contributor to the show and I’ve heard from someone at a Waterstones once that he highly recommended the book.
So what is ‘Players’ all about then? Well, it’s about the Doctor meeting Winston Churchill for the first time. Yes! That’s right! This book features the first meeting between the Doctor and Churchill before ‘Victory of the Daleks’ takes place. And the Doctor meets him in three time zones. Confused already?
Incidentally the book was originally published in 1999. It got a reprint in 2013 as I’ve stated. The story is divided into 30 chapters with a number of interludes in between some chapters as well as a ‘credo’ at the beginning and a ‘envoi’ at the end. These feature the Player characters during the tale.
So yeah, when I say the Doctor meets Churchill in three time zones, here’s what I mean. The Sixth Doctor and Peri first meet Churchill during the Boer War in South Africa, 1899. The Second Doctor meets Churchill during the First World War in France, 1915. Oh yeah! The Second Doctor is here too!
And the third time is when the Sixth Doctor and Peri meet Churchill in London, 1936, a few years before the Second World War happens. This means that this ‘Doctor Who’ story is divided into three sections with the first in 1899, the second in 1915 and the third in 1936. This is so excitingly thrilling!
From reading the book itself, it’s clear that Terrance Dicks is into his history and knows about Winston Churchill as a historical person. I like Terrance’s take on Churchill and how he has him meeting the Doctor for the first time. I consider this to be a better depiction of Churchill than on TV.
I can’t speak for the Big Finish audios since I’ve not heard them yet. But I’m pretty sure they’re as good as this book is featuring Churchill. I’m sure Ian McNeice would enjoy the material given to him as Churchill if this was adapted into an audio drama by Big Finish with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.
But yes, you did read right. The Second Doctor features in this story too. This is when the Sixth Doctor uses the headgear shown at the end of ‘The Wheel In Space’ to give Peri a story on how he first met Churchill as the Second Doctor during the First World War. I really liked that continuity link.
It was interesting to read this Sixth Doctor adventure featuring the Second Doctor as a flashback. This is before the Sixth Doctor and Peri encounter the Second Doctor and Jamie in ‘The Two Doctors’. In fact, ‘Players’ may well be considered to be a sequel of sorts to ‘The War Games’ for TV.
I say that because the Second Doctor’s sent back in time to the First World War on Earth by the Time Lords (the CIA actually) to do missions for them. This is when Terrance Dicks sets up Season 6B of there being stories with the Second Doctor between ‘The War Games’ and ‘Spearhead From Space’.
This is before the Second Doctor regenerates into the Third Doctor here. Terrance Dicks explored this Season 6B aspect in some of the ‘Doctor Who’ books he wrote for the BBC. It’s a theory that worked very well in books before it got screwed up Big Finish who changed things in the audios here.
‘Players’ also features the appearance of Carstairs and Lady Jennifer from ‘The War Games’. I was delighted to find them make an appearance in the book and how they met up with the Second Doctor and Winston Churchill. This is of course when Carstairs and Jennifer’s memories were wiped.
If the ‘Players’ book got adapted into an audio drama, I’d like to hear Jane Sherwin and David Saville reprise their roles. I’m not sure though if David Saville is still around since I haven’t come across an obituary of him. I was so happy to find that Carstairs later married Lady Jennifer by the time of 1936.
The story features a special guest appearance of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. He appears in two scenes of the story when interacting with the Joachim von Ribbentrop. Whilst not having active part in the story, at least Hitler did not get locked up in the cupboard like he did in ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ for TV.
‘Players’ is also a sequel/prequel, however you may want to interpret it, to ‘Blood Harvest’, another ‘Doctor Who’ book Terrance wrote for the ‘Virgin New Adventures’ range. That’s because we have the return/introduction of Tom Dekker, a former American detective who worked in 1920s Chicago.
It was nice to find Dekker make an appearance in ‘Players’. This is Dekker after he met the Seventh Doctor and Ace in ‘Blood Harvest’, but the Sixth Doctor doesn’t know him yet. Wibbley-wobbly, timey-wimey and all that! I did like the little continuity references made to ‘Blood Harvest’ in this. 😀
In terms of how the Sixth Doctor and Peri are written in the story, I found them pretty okay. The Sixth Doctor is written-well and I could hear Colin Baker’s voice as I read the book. Terrance has Colin’s Doctor out of his multi-coloured costume for most of the story and in some proper clothes. 😀
Peri is well-written as a character and has a friendly rapport with the Doctor. This isn’t much arguing between the Sixth Doctor and Peri as is usually the case on the TV, especially when they’re investigating mysteries about Churchill. Peri does get captured at one point, but she is strong-willed.
The Players characters as the story’s villains in the forms of the Count and the Countess are pretty vague. They don’t reveal their identities and the purpose of their being to the Doctor and Peri until the very end. Whilst most of the story was pretty enjoyable to read, the Players did seem limited.
Although it was interesting how the Players considered life a game; manipulated events in Earth’s timeline and targeted Churchill. They also attempt to manipulate King Edward VIII who wanted to marry Wallis Simpson from America (that did happen actually) until the Doctor, Peri and Churchill stopped them.
Apparently the Players reappear in future ‘Doctor Who’ books by Terrance Dicks. They appeared in ‘World Game’ with the Second Doctor and ‘Endgame’ with the Eighth Doctor. I’ve not read those books yet but I can imagine this is where it’s the beginning of the Players arc by Terrance Dicks here.
I don’t know if ‘Players’ would get adapted into a Big Finish audio, but I wouldn’t mind a BBC audiobook reading of the story either. I’m sure Ian McNeice would enjoy reading ‘Players’ since it features Churchill, but again it would be equally superb if Colin Baker or Nicola Bryant read the story.
‘Players’ has been a joy to read as a ‘Doctor Who’ book. I enjoyed Terrance Dicks’ writing; his take on Winston Churchill and his take on the Sixth Doctor and Peri. This book comes highly recommend for any ‘Doctor Who’ fan. I read this book at a leisurely pace and never found it boring whilst reading it.
‘Players’ rating – 9/10
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