Caught on Earth
|ISBN||0 563 53813 9|
|Synopsis: The world stands on the brink of nuclear armageddon. The Players are back, manipulating events for their entertainment, but this time the Doctor has no idea who they are.|
A Review by Finn Clark 11/11/00
As everyone knows, this book is a sequel to Players. However this doesn't just mean it reuses the eponymous bad guys in another Doctor Who book. This is a true sequel, fitting as neatly with its predecessor as if they'd been planned that way all along. I'm not talking about plot links, which are negligible (and strongly suggest a third book in the trilogy at some future time ). These are the Terrance Dicks History Books, in which he takes us on a tour of twentieth century newsworthy events and historical figures. He's hit on another formula and so far I have to say that it's working for him. If a third book were to appear (but please, not a fourth) then I for one would be quite happy to see it.
 - and because of the current Doctor's amnesia, this concluding book could easily star a past incarnation if Terry wanted.
These books aren't just entertaining, they're educational too. You might have thought you knew all about these famous people, but in practice you'll find that Uncle Terrance knows what he's writing about better than you. He lived through it. In Players he covered the abdication crisis and Mrs Simpson, while here he gives us fresh insight into the MI5 traitors and a famous political leader or two.
It's like a Forrest Gump movie, where you wonder which big name will crop up next. Alternatively it's the twentieth-century equivalent of those historicals and pseudo-historicals where the Doctor always hob-nobbed with the biggest names of whatever period he happened to visit. Imperial Rome, circa 64 AD? Of course he's got to meet Emperor Nero! The twelfth century? Richard the Lionheart! I suppose if you look at it from that point of view, it's a little odd that we hadn't previously seen the Doctor jetting around the world with our current real-life political leaders. Why should he change his habits for our era? Thanks to Terrance Dicks, at last we see that he hasn't.
This side of the book is genuinely interesting. Doctor Who is once again fulfilling the educational remit of its Verity Lambert era and I think it adds a lot. It's also a big help for Terrance. The dear old chap loves writing sequels and it's the same here except that the events he's ripping off are real-life ones. He can depict historical characters getting into the trouble they really experienced. The Players are really just the icing on the cake, the "pseudo" in front of our "historical". They're the bad guys who drive the plot, but the book's main focus is on the people they're influencing.
It also helps to give the book a depth that isn't usual in a Terrance Dicks novel. It's still enjoyable fluff, don't get me wrong, but it takes place in a world of espionage, murder and betrayal. At one point we even get an actual point of view, a new perspective on the events we're seeing. It's Boys' Own adventure and Terrance can't help taking the piss from time to time, but the setting gives it texture.
The Doctor is very different from his usual self, about as unrecognisable as he'll ever be in this Caught On Earth arc. To be frank, he's a bit f*cked up! Terrance compensates for this by making him a near superman with Venusian Aikido and Pertwee's Vulcan Neck Pinch, though I also think he goes a bit too far with that. Nevertheless I appreciate the effort (and can add Endgame to the growing pile of evidence that the Terrance Dicks' so-called "generic Doctor" is in fact Jon Pertwee).
Endgame isn't an intellectual book, but that's no crime after the last three Worthy Tomes. With a reading time of about two hours for 243 pages, it certainly flies past. I think I've just talked myself into giving it a higher mark than I felt it deserved while I was reading it, but within his limitations Terrance Dicks is a more than competent author. He can write colourful characters. His books never drag. To my slight surprise, I'm glad Justin commissioned him again to write Endgame.
This was another interesting one. It's Terrance's most recent book, but in many ways it's most reminiscent of Timewyrm: Exodus (and ironically his Planet of the Daleks novelisation that I read yesterday). I'm not sure we realised at the time just how shocking the Earth arc was.
This is a grim, nasty book of shadowy morality and traitors. Terrance's bad guys are normally jovial, unthreatening figures, but here even the Doctor's allies are traitors to their country and double (possibly triple) agents who caused the deaths of many British agents by selling secrets to the Russians. The killers are brutal, the murders are nasty. It's a hard-edged world, and hardest-edged of all is the Doctor.
He unwittingly quotes his previous selves, which is okay... up to a point. He's a master of Venusian Aikido again. However he's also an enigma, to us and to himself. He's violent, uncaring, ready to walk away from people who need his help and altogether a dangerous man to have around. This was the first Earth arc book where we had narrative from the Doctor's perspective; Graeme Burk for one objected, but on this reread I rather liked it. He's sufficiently interesting for me to want to see what it's like to be him in that mental condition.
I remember this as being a lightening of the Earth arc's tone. Jesus Christ. Maybe it is if read straight after The Burning, Casualties of War and The Turing Test, but as part of the complete Terrance it's a bit of a jolt.
It's got Terrance's usual multiple disconnected plots. It's all set in one timezone and on one planet, but Terrance copes with this snag by sending the Doctor to America after sorting things out in England. The Players hold the book together though, so it's not a problem for the reader.
It helped a lot that the historical figures involved were: (a) interesting, but (b) sufficiently obscure for me not to know much about them. I knew who Philby, Burgess and Maclean were, but I was unfamiliar with their personalities and eager to learn more about them - as opposed to Churchill in Players, where I was frowning critically and nitpicking throughout. I guess I knew a fair bit about Stalin, but he was such a monster that no pen-portrait of him could be anything but horrifying.
Before this I'd assumed Shakedown was Terrance's second-best novel, but now I'm not so sure. More sweat and imagination went into Shakedown, but for consistent mood and tension I'd say this edges it. (Shakedown has that middle section based on his video script, but what comes before and after lets the side down a tad.) Much of the credit for the conception of Endgame belongs to Justin Richards, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a surprisingly effective piece of work.
A Review by Mike Morris 2/12/00
I think Doctor Who historical books must be a bit like the number eleven to Wadelai Park; there's no sign of one for ages, and then two come along at once. Of course, this earthbound series is ripe for the pseudo-historical stories, but both The Burning and Casualties of War steered well clear of this territory. The Turing Test played around with the notion of the pseudo-historical, and Endgame - as you might expect - jumps into it full-throttle. The checklist in this book includes Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin, as well as a host of minor characters who were, you know, real, some of whom I'd heard of, some of whom I hadn't.
Before I begin reviewing this book, I should admit that this kind of story is skating on thin ice for me. I like very few of them. I didn't even like Timewyrm: Exodus... that's right, I'm the one... the formula is pretty uninspiring, a case of the Doctor turns out to be responsible for X (insert crucial event in Earth history). The Doctor meets Y and Z (insert famous historical figures). It's a little like Doctor Who becomes Forrest Gump for a day. This places me at a second disadvantage as far as Endgame goes, as my long-time despising of Winston Churchill made me avoid Players like the plague.
In spite of all this, Endgame isn't an unlikeable piece of work. It has a wide ranging scale, an interesting opening, and takes care of all its plot points pretty well. You'll also read it in three hours tops, so it certainly doesn't drag, and it's the latest in an increasing line of BBC books to have a really gorgeous cover. I certainly didn't hate it. But I didn't like it either, and I'm not sure what I can really say about Endgame.
I'll start by saying that the two prologues sum up everything that's good and bad about the book. The first is a silly bit of "aliens say cryptic things in a non-specific environment that's the SF equivalent of a smoke-filled room". The second is a devastatingly effective vignette that completely sums up the Doctor's frame of mind after recent events. You might wonder how it would affect someone, living an entire century and not getting any older, and not knowing who they are. The answer is that they become bored. This is a Doctor who has completely ceased to care about what's going on around him, and its this that lends the early part of the book some of its edge.
Endgame can be split into three; a sort of London Game, Washington Set, Moscow Match. Of these, the London segment is the best by a long way. This is partly due to the portrayal of the Doctor I mentioned above, and partly because Terrance seems far more at home in good old British surroundings. In that first prologue there are mentions of the Festival of Britain, Battersea Park, and Hungerford Bridge. Good locales are created and well-used, giving the whole thing a firm grounding that helps it immensely.
And the other thing which I often forget; Terrance Dicks writes really, really well. "What?" I hear you cry. "Uncle Terrance? He of the short sentences and the complete lack of descriptive prose?" Well, yes. I've a lot of time for economy, and Terrance has that in spades. He's not afraid to say a lot in few words, and in Endgame we throttle back and forth from city to city without anything ever seeming rushed. The early image of a man hanging off a bridge is a beautiful bit of prose. It's a bit rich of me to wonder why Terrance Dicks never trys anything a bit more ambitious, I suppose... I mean, he pretty much shaped Doctor Who as we know it... but he really does write so very well. It's a shame his subject matter tends to be a bit hackneyed.
I think I enjoyed the London segment a lot. But even in this minor joy, things troubled me. I didn't like the way that we broke away from the action to receive a mini-lecture in the history of the Cold War every now and then, seemingly without thought to how obvious or obscure the subject matter was. And, in spite of his well-evoked ennui, something about the Doctor's portrayal troubled me. He didn't have the enigmatic quality of the past few books. It took me a long time to realise that the reason was ludicrously simple... this was the first time I'd read the Doctor's point-of-view since The Ancestor Cell. I hope we get to the old formula immediately. The previous three books have made the Doctor a mystery, but still given effective portrayals of him, by concentrating on how other people react to him. The return to being inside the Doctor's head here is pretty unsatisfying by comparison.
The result of this was that a couple of chapters into the very silly Washington-based segment, I realised that I was pretty damn bored. The All-American stereotypes didn't help, and neither did a plot so tenuous that even Terrance apologised for it later on (it can't be a good sign that one of your characters says how pathetic all this is). Come on now, would anyone be stupid enough to name their covert project after a goddess of destruction? Worst still, it's the goddess of destruction that everyone's heard of, because she was in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (although I suppose that wasn't released in the fifties). Operation Kali... cripes. Some day a Doctor Who villain will launch Operation Inoffensive or Operation Chocolate Ice-Cream, which will be far less like to arouse suspicion and thus succeed in conquering the world, crushing all resistance, etc etc. Myrek and Helga, meanwhile, might as well go round sporting "I'm trying to start a nuclear war" T-shirts.
Things improve in Moscow, a short little segment that's dominated by a lovely image of the Doctor at the window of Stalin's house. The Countess, too, is a nice creation - I don't know if she was in Players or not, although the story seems to suggest she was. However, I didn't find the portrayal of Stalin to be all that satisfying. Anyone who's seen the film starring Robert Duvall (who invests Stalin with a terrifying, soft-spoken insanity) will find this portrayal of a ranting, drunken madman far less sensitive. Maybe Stalin really was this way, towards the end. But here's where the problem of the historical novel comes in. If you're telling a story, sometimes reality is a bit disappointing. If I want to know what Stalin was really like I'll read a biography of him, not two chapters of a Doctor Who novel. In Endgame I wanted Stalin to be more dignified and dangerous, to provide a truly memorable conclusion. But it just didn't happen.
We actually nip back to Washington then, for a finale that's rather like the rest of Endgame; consistent but unsatisfying. Given that Terrance has created some all-powerful multi-dimensional beings as his bad guys, there really isn't many options for killing them off, and this is an effective enough way of doing it, I suppose.
The Players themselves didn't grab me. Axel is in it the most, and his appearances are so formulaic as to be dull. He appears, threatens the Doctor, and is then knocked out but escapes (on account of those multi-dimensional powers). The Doctor, by the way, has suddenly acquired knowledge of the Third Doctor's chest-pinch thingumajig, and also that thing that Spock used to do (I've tried both of them, and they don't bloody work!), and to be honest, this rankles.
But these multi-dimensional beings are trying to start a war by... well... just being nuisances, really. They don't have any coherent plan of action that I can see, and presumably there's some sort of "they're aliens and we can't understand their game-playing motives" defence... which for me smacks of a cop out.
And, although there's plenty of mention of atomic bombs, somehow the imminent threat just didn't seem as lethal as it should. The fact that the fifties was an era when the future of the world hung in the balance just wasn't as well-evoked as it might have been. I can't really say why, but the "finger-on-the-button" threat is somehow lacking... and its that threat which I think might really have made Endgame work.
As I said, I've got to admit to some bias as far as the premise goes, and even so I didn't dislike Endgame. It's comic-book stuff, and it suffers badly from following on from The Turing Test (the continuity references to which were a mistake). But it doesn't have any illusions about itself, there are nice touches, and the adventure simply flies along. It's agreeable... but hugely forgettable. If you get it you won't be disappointed, but if you don't you won't really have missed much.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 5/12/00
This is one of those books that got a bit of hype on various MLs before I read it. Terrance's return to form, very well written, flies along, etc. And I admit I enjoyed Players and was looking forward to a sequel. On the other hand, this did come after the sterling prose of The Turing Test, and it would be hard to equal that. So how did we do?
We did OK, I guess. I enjoyed Endgame, but it really didn't stir me like the last 3 books have. However, when it is good, it's really excellent.
PLOT: This book is a cold-war thriller come to life, crossed with a bit of action movie heroics. With that in mind, the plot works fairly well to get us where we need to be. As for believability, I'm a little more skeptical. Any book depending on so many historical figures, including two of the most powerful people on the planet, as characters is going to need some suspension of disbelief. And though there are definite rope burns, it's still alive at the end of the book. ^_-
THE DOCTOR: Once again, the best part of the book. Easily. Terrance's handling of this Doctor was worrying me before I picked it up, but he does a fabulous job. Melancholic, uncaring, brooding, and yet capable of astounding fits of temper, this Doctor reminds me more of the one we saw in The Blue Angel. And once he does get moving, and flashes of his former past begin to emerge, we almost cheer... then the Countess shows up, leading to a startling scene that had me fascinated. Kudos.
OTHERS: Less satisfying. Philby was written very well, but most of the others existed to be one-note characters, even Truman and Stalin. Still, none of them were written to annoy me. Which is more than I can say for the...
VILLAINS: The Countess, what we saw of her, was well-written. At least until she was forced to provide the book with an ending in the space of about 5 pages. I found the Doctor's attempt to change her mind... really, really false. And as for the rest of those nimrods, god knows how they got to be Players. I'd wager Axel couldn't find his way back to home on a Parcheesi board. He was beaten by the Doctor so often, I almost expected a sign saying 'COMIC RELIEF'.
STYLE: It's Terrance. Don't expect five paragraphs describing the houses, and don't expect lots of brooding interior monologue (though we do get some). It also means that the book moves quickly, there aren't any wasted words, and it kept me reasonably entertained. It just looks off when compared to its predecessors.
OVERALL: This is a good book to read. The characters are somewhat 1-D, except for the Doctor and Philby, and the ending is... unsatisfying, said he politely. But it does a great job of furthering the Doctor's character, and it's got a lot of fun whiff-bang things to it.
20 Years In The Making by Robert Thomas 23/1/01
We all know that planned for the fourth Doctor era was a story in which the Doctor gives up and retires from saving worlds which was never made.
This is as close as we will ever get to it.
Terence Dicks pulls out all the stops to disturb us by penning a story when The Doctor has lost complete interest in EVERYTHING. When The Doctor is offered the opertunity to join in an adventure it is so strange to see him turn it down. Other characters go to great lengths to get him involved and at every oppertunity he tries to get out of the situation. This is a book purely about the Doctor, how he has changed and what has happened to him. Also in this book he somehow knows he must not regain his memory. Can someone explain to me why he must not regain his memory? He is at mercy from the personality of his former selves whose characteristics creep through occaisonally.
The good thing about The Players - the villains not the book - is the way they are used. Before they were used as an adversary to showcase the 6th Doctor's best points. Here they are used to show us what is psychologically happening to the Doctor.
So overall a breezy book and a good page turner. Quick to read and very involving.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 24/5/01
Uncle Terrance’s entry into this most enlightening of story-arcs is unfortunately its weakest link. It isn’t a bad book – it just pales when compared to the previous 3 books.
One big reason for this is the subject matter. The story is set in the 1950’s, it’s a spy story. The Turing Test showed us how to utilize that format to good effect. This does not. Having 2 spy stories together is a mistake. The Cold War setting this book depicts reads as a poor man’s James Bond. The book just is not as substantial or as interesting as it could have been.
The story meanders along. The characters are forgettable. The Doctor isn’t specifically McGann. The Villains of the piece have been used before. The Players were mysterious and alien in the book Players. Here it’s a case of using them once too much.
Terrance Dicks contribution to Doctor Who cannot be underestimated. He was the name I loved to see on a TARGET book when I was 10-12. He has written some classics – TV stories – Brain of Morbius, Horror of Fang Rock, Five Doctors. Original fiction Exodus, Shakedown and Players come to mind. He has also recently written some average tales – Eight Doctors, Catastrophea. This is better than those two, but not by much. He has done so much better and he can do so much better.
Traditional Who was his forte, he was the best – now Richards and Gatiss are better. Step forward Uncle Justin and Uncle Mark? 6/10.
A Review by Steve Traylen 30/5/01
Doctor Who enters the territory of true 'Secret History'. At the end of the book things are much as we know them but we see real people doing things we didn't know about. The main historical character in this book is the real third man himself, Kim Philby, I'll go more into my views of using him later.
Terrance Dicks has woven together a simple yet effective tale of spies and spying in this short but satisfying novel. One thing about Uncle Terry is that you usually know what you are going to get, sometimes that's a bad thing but in this case its a good thing, this is definitely one of Dicks' better books. The prose is crisp and to the point, why say a lot when you can say it two words? Yet despite this I think this gives the best portrayal so far of the sheer boredom the Doctor faces spending 100 years alone. For the first time we see the Doctor living a normal life.
My one major gripe with this book, and the one thing that sits quite uncomfortably with me is that Burgess, MacLean, Philby (and Blunt) were almost certainly repnsible for the deaths of many allied agents during the 40s and 50s. In this book all three are portrayed quite sympathetically, Philby especially. I'll be honest I have a problem with this.
However despite, this I recommend this book heartily, especially after the two very worthy tomes that came before.
Hitler in an Exciting Adventure With Cream Cakes by Jason A. Miller 14/11/01
There has never been a more accurate and moving account of the Cold War ever written. America and the Soviet Union are on the brink of nuclear war. Armies of suspicious spies and pandering politicians are poised at each other's throats, and only one man -- or is he more than a man? -- can save the world's children.
*stumbling drunk clatters through doors*
"It's me! I'm Doc-- *hic* Doctor Who!".
Two years ago, in the wake of the release of Divided Loyalties, some Who-minded friends and I discussed the most ridiculous lines ever printed in DW fiction. Obviously the Gods of Ragnarok being named "Rag, Nah, and Rok" topped the list. I countered:
"I am now reading a Doctor Who novel with the following passage: 'Hitler sat back, dreaming of world conquest. Absently, he reached for another cream cake...' And I was with Terry up 'til that point."
The book was Players. The suspicious-minded in the room believed Terrance Dicks to be a talentless hack. I saw the line as a joke. I just wasn't sure who to laugh at... and Endgame is a sequel to Players. The only thing I knew going in was that I'd read lots more of the same quality lines. Would I laugh this time?
Endgame comes at an important time -- in 1951, the Doctor is halfway through his exile and living an increasingly insular existence. Only Hitchcockian circumstances (or perhaps he's just The Dude from "The Big Lebowski") lure him out of hiding to save the world.
Paul Leonard played this for high drama in Turing Test. Uncle Terry plays the same scenario for uproarious laughter. His President of the United States is "Harry S. Truman" (as opposed to Harry S Truman, the man's name), and every time he appears, he's described by some character or other as "One tough son of a gun" (so to speak). Josef Stalin drinks a lot of vodka. British spy Guy Burgess reads like American comic Jon Lovitz in full-on "Master Thespian" mode.
And as ever, Dicks mocks typical Who exposition:
"Stalin's old and ill now, spends most of his time drunk in his dacha outside Moscow. A dacha's a sort of luxury bungalow -- "The chapters are short, littered with casual barbs and flashes of insight so quick you might miss them. Some scenes threaten greatness, and almost deliver. Fittingly, editor Justin Richards (whose Demontage was the last EDA comedy novel) penned a few lengthy scenes when Endgame was submitted late and under word count.
"I know what a dacha is," said the Doctor. (p. 191)
Endgame is 99.44% fluff and saccharine, albeit from an expert tale-teller and string-puller. It can be finished in a matter of hours, and you're likely to want to stumble around re-enacting the slapstick for days afterward. Just don't emulate the copy-editing, which is the worst we've ever seen in a Who novel. And don't re-enact Burgess's scenes... he wins the award for Most Inebriated Character in Who History. Just realize it'll be a long time before we see another book like this in the EDA line.
As the fictional "Harry S. Truman" might say, "I reckon the buck stops here!"
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 27/11/01
The major problem I had with Terrance Dicks' Endgame can be blamed almost entirely on the fact that I had read both Timewyrm: Exodus and Players within the past six months. These two stories form the entire basis for the structure and the content of Endgame; at no point does the book ever feel like its giving us something that isn't just a rehash of things that have gone before. Endgame is a story where the baddies in Players are responsible for the type of events in Exodus. It never deviates from this, and the results are quite unsatisfying.
The opening section of the book is rather interesting. We see a depressed Doctor who's starting to crack up at the prospect of a never-ending exile on a planet that is not his own. The sequences from the Doctor's point-of-view are well written and are excellent at conveying the hopelessness of a confused, amnesiac Time Lord who's almost suicidal at the prospect of being trapped in a linear existence for the rest of his unnaturally long life. The only parts I was confused about were the frequent mentions made by other characters as to the fact that the Doctor has no past. Although he arrived at the end of the 19th Century Earth with no money, no family and no memory of any previous life, he's been around for over fifty years now. Fifty years is quite a long time in human-terms and certainly long enough for anyone to build up a long trail of traceable events (even if one has lead a completely boring life), yet people are acting as if he's just appeared out of nowhere last week. It's possible that he keeps moving from place to place without any records (though it's mentioned that he's been living in the same flat for almost a decade) but if so, it was not properly addressed.
The beginning sections of the plot are fairly interesting. This is an unabashed spy novel and the early portions are quite well told. But the story begins to fall apart midway through and by the end major characters are jetting across the world with ease for no real reason. The ending to the story also feels majorly contrived, with one of the main characters (I'll be vague here to avoid spoilers) switching allegiances for no apparent reason. It's quite handy that this person does so, as it allows the plot to end relatively painlessly, but in terms of the story, it makes absolutely no sense.
The book also feels rather lazily written in portions, with many clumsy examples of boring and primitive exposition. The historical details could have been integrated into the story with much more ease, yet they feel clunky and lecturing. Once we get past the lessons, the story itself becomes staggeringly unoriginal. If you put Dicks' Exodus and Players into a blender and then fed the results into a Markov Chain generator, you would almost certainly end up with something that has a remarkable resemblance to Endgame. That's not to say that the Endgame is badly written (apart from the aforementioned instances of awkward prose), just something that you've probably seen before.
After the previous three books in the series (the first three books of the Earth Arc) had slowly increased in quality, it's a shame that Endgame fumbles the ball the way that it does. While it does a surprisingly good job at furthering the arc along its course, the standalone story here isn't worth all that much if you've already read previous Terrance Dicks books.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 16/12/01
Terrance Dicks does get a bit of the shaft in DW fiction. Too trad, the GenDoc/PertDoc concept he returns each incarnation of the Doctor to in his works, the mining of familiar ground, the nods to the TV show and Time Lord history.
I still enjoy his works immensely, though. It could be that I read a huge amount of his Target novelizations, and know his writing style on sight. Then again, it could be that for all his flaws, the man does know DW better than anyone else around and that he can still tell a ripping yarn.
Endgame is a sequel to his excellent Players, and although a bit less in standard, is a fun way to spend an afternoon. Dicks does with few words what takes other authors far too many. And in his own uber-traditional way, he does manage to toss in a very radical idea without ever calling attention to it like so many other have done in their novels.
Endgame's biggest theme is this: What if the Doctor was bored with adventuring and decided to retire? What would spark him back into action?
And with this wonderful radical concept, Uncle Terrance gives us a third wonderful pseudo historical romp, this time through the beginnings of the cold war and a very famous spy scandal that hit MI6. Toss in his mysterious time meddling aliens -- The Players -- and sprinkle with a couple of heavyweights from History and watch what happens.
As usual, Dicks relies on his strengths: solid plot, crisp writing and enough set pieces to keep everything huslting along. The only downsides are his takes on Harry Truman and Josef Stalin, both who come off as one dimensional ranters rather than world leaders. Philby, Burgess and MacLean, on the other hand sparkle on the page. Their interaction with each other and the Doctor is nothing short of fabulous.
Unlike in other efforts, you can definitely see more Pertwee in the Doctor in Endgame than in The 8 Doctors, which is a bit of a letdown. But, Dicks does let us into the head of the Doctor and let us see his thoughts without having it come off as pretentious.
Overall? Itıs Terrance Dicks. He'll never be the subject of controversy, nor will he ever write masterpieces. What he'll do is write ripping yarns that will put a smile on your face and let you back into your childhood. And what is wrong with that?
7 out of 10.
A Review by Brett Walther 25/5/03
I had secretly hoped that the second book featuring the Players would have involved some revelations about the creatures' origins. Are they the Eternals from Enlightenment, for instance? Both races are extra-dimensional, extremely bored with existence, and despite being enormously powerful choose to live amongst humans. As it remains, Endgame leaves us with no development of the rather unimpressive singular motivation the Players demonstrated in their debut adventure: amusing themselves through the disruption of human history.
Having said that, I must explain that the Players remain more convincing and interesting in their attempts to alter the course of time than, say, the Master in The Kings Demons. Players was probably the best Sixth Doctor and Peri adventure ever (much better than anything we got in Seasons Twenty Two and Three by a long shot). Endgame is a reasonable sequel; entertaining, but by no means living up to the original.
Although Endgame is a quick read, Dicks's writing is nowhere near as engaging. It doesn't help that he's positively obsessed with the use of epithets throughout this book. Truman is a "tough little sonovabitch", while the Countess rarely escapes a sentence without Dicks making a reference to her "blue eyes flashing". The effect is rather irritating, and turns everyone into a caricature, especially the Americans. Here we have politicians and military officials from Missouri who can't refrain from quoting their state motto at every opportunity, and rather silly "American-isms" that I can imagine would have been delivered in an accent as convincing as the cast of The Gunfighters had this story been made for the small screen.
The plot, concerning a group of "Tightrope" agents attempting to balance the nuclear tension between the US and the USSR, despite the efforts of the alien Players, is decent, but as Dicks confesses in a roundabout way in his Author's Note, there just isn't enough to pad out a 240-ish page novel. As a result, we get the Doctor finding out what's going on in Washington, leaving it to the authorities there to sort things out; travelling to Russia to prevent the same thing happening to Stalin; then returning to Washington to finish things up there. It gets to be a bit too much running around, not helped by the fact that the journeys from Washington to London and then to Moscow are hideously dull, and nothing ever happens en route to make them noteworthy.
Although in retrospect it's a highly unlikely conclusion, the Doctor's showdown with the Countess in the book's climax is stunning. It's the battle of wills that we've been waiting for in a book in which the Doctor is far more likely to resort to physical force in dispatching his enemies.
And how can you not positively love an ending in which an apathetic, amnesiac and downtrodden Doctor finds a reason to go on living, even if its just that he's learned to appreciate the little things in life: the taste of cheesecake, a polite conversation with a newsvendor, and friendly service at his favourite cafe... It's like the Doctor finally believes in that little tirade he unleashes at the Cyberleader during Earthshock, and it's lovely.
Exile depression... by Joe Ford 6/3/05
You know I have just finished Endgame for the second time I cannot decide whether this book is a success or a failure. The premise behind the book is a sound one and it certainly does the trick of pushing the Doctor's adventures on throughout his one hundred year exile on Earth but some niggling part of me doubts that this book would be acceptable is it weren't written by anybody else but Terrance Dicks. If say this was the work of Paul Magrs we would all be following Mike Morris' tirade and calling him a lazy hack (of late) for producing a work that has so much potential for drama but squanders it on a Target-like Doctor Who and an exciting adventure with the Players! There are some unforgivable lapses in logic in this book and there never seems to be much danger despite the audience being told that the events would be catastrophic should the Players' plans reach fruition. It is sad to admit that it would be a little embarrassing should the Earth be nuked in a story as fluffy as Endgame.
However due to Terrance Dicks' formidable talent for juicy dialogue and fast paced action Endgame seems to just breeze by entertainingly. I certainly had no desire to put the book down once I had begun and I raced through it in a matter of hours. I found the result a rather fun trip around the world meeting up with so many historical figures.
If you were in control of BBC books and had the opportunity to re-establish the Doctor with a brand new personality, one that suited your tastes more, who would you call upon to write the Doctor through his most depressing period of his exile? Terrance Dicks of course! The man who because of his endless talent for sticking to a certain formula was partially responsible (along with Trevor Baxendale) for splitting fandom in two and starting up the whole "Trad/Rad" nonsense (with Lawrence Miles and Dave Stone on the other side). Aside from some blatant steals from past Doctors ("There's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish occasionally!", "What are you a Doctor of?" "Practically everything.") Terrance actually has a fair stab at trying to capture the Doctor's depression and nonchalance. "He sat their motionless as the darkness gathered around him..." what a disturbing image of our once brave Time Lord, lurking in museums and library, pushing away adventure and excitement because he cannot be bothered to fight any more causes. This certainly is a new look for the Doctor, one who doesn't care about politics, or the life of one man and will only get involved when his blue box is stolen and used to blackmail him. One of the greatest strengths of the book is watching the Doctor get more and more embroiled in secret agent politics and rediscovering his sense of adventure. It is a relief to know that when talk of atom bombs start creeping into the book the Doctor is still moral enough to see the bigger picture and fight for the world. Considering Terrance's usual scattering of sayings and descriptions for each Doctor (young-old, bohemian, etc) this is his best attempt at any non-Pertwee Doctor.
Infusing the book with so much history is another good selling point. Look at the list of names of people we get to meet: Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Don Maclean, President Truman, Stalin... with a few hops around the world the Doctor gets to meet up with some of the most famous people of the time. Endgame does start to feel like some of a textbook at times when Terrance halts the plot as he introduces these well-known figures with a brief description of them and their history but considering I am only recently becoming aware the joy of history it was pleasing to learn about them.
I certainly preferred this to Terrance's embarrassing personality traits for each of them... Guy Burgess is a raving drunken poof, Don Maclean is a suspicious sceptic, President Truman is a tough sonofabitch... it wouldn't matter so much but these shallow character traits are highlighted by being repeated again and again until I was cringing (especially that sonofabitch!). Worst of all is how Philby spills out all of his special agent secrets to the Doctor after knowing him for five minutes. After being undercover for years and working for three different agencies it seems highly unlikely he would admit everything to a total stranger. And I know Terrance is trying to give us all a history lesson but his dialogue when Philby explains the background to the Cold War to the Doctor (Jesus man... where you been?) sounds like a teacher addressing his student in very... simple... terms. I cannot stand being spoken down to in any form of storytelling and this was frustratingly patronising.
However despite how Terrance informs us of the political situation the truth of the matter is he does manage to paint a pretty grim picture of the world's events. And with the Doctor smuggling two agents out of the country through several murder attempts and the Russians and the British and the Americans all pointing fingers at each other there is an uneasy feeling that these are not the safest of days to be living in. The book revels in its action sequences, most of which are pretty fun. I loved the opening sequence with Vladek being dropped upside down over Hungerford Bridge and the Doctor being confronted by a confident Axel, only to chuck him of the edge of the boat. Hilariously good. There is a pretty exciting car chase too. One thing Terrance can always be counted on is a story full of excitement and Endgame is no exception.
It is a return visit of Terrance's elusive villains, the Players, who once again are barely explored beyond the game they are playing with the Earth. There are a few sketchy descriptions of what the Players look like and we discover they are extra-dimensional beings but beyond that... nothing. What is appealing is the idea of beings who would play a game on such a large canvas with so many casualties, the thought of popping through time to different periods on Earth and whispering news of Truman's intentions to drop bombs on Russia or killing off Churchill gives a good idea of how amoral and mischievous they really are. This is exposed in what is easily the books best scene (and written by Justin Richards no less to pad out the book) where the Doctor confronts one of their number about the callousness of their actions and the casualties they are causing. "You don't think about how they feel, how they cry, how they fall in love, how they exchange words in the street or watch the sunset. You don't care about the beauty they see and sense and smell in life." A third book in the Players series would be nice, so we can discover just who on Earth they are and where they come from. For the moment they are entertainingly elusive but another book with such anonymity would be pushing it.
Don't bother looking for any depth or adult plot mechanics (The Player Axel reveals his name just so the Doctor will now know who he is before he dies! The Doctor is allowed back into Britain after being declared a traitor because Philby has sorted it out) and just go with the flow and let the book take you on an entertaining (and occasionally educational) spin around the world. Endgame is probably one of the least sophisticated EDAs out there but if you are in a forgiving mood it is actually quite a lot of fun.