The War Games
Timewyrm: Exodus
Blood Harvest
BBC Books

Author Terrance Dicks Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books page
ISBN# 0 563 55573 4
Published 1999
Continuity Between Mark of the Rani and
The Two Doctors

Synopsis: The Doctor and Peri find themselves encountering Winston Churchill and a mysterious group of plotting aliens... over and over again


A Review by Finn Clark 16/6/99

I like Terrance Dicks. No, really. I thought Catastrophea was brilliant and I'm even prepared to defend The Eight Doctors, but boy, is Uncle Terry pushing it this time. He's always been self-referential, but here it's almost self-parody. Let's begin at the beginning.

Page two. "A little digging with my Gallifreyan army knife".

Need I go on? This is Scooby Who, as played by Adam West. "Pass the shark-repellent bat-spray, Robin!" said Batman in the sixties movie. How we laughed! Little did we know...

This book is unbelievably shallow. You all knew that anyway, but I just thought it needed saying. It makes Biggles look like Tolstoy. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as can be testified by anyone who greedily devoured blood-and-thunder pulp war stories as a child, but there isn't much to engage the higher brain functions. After a brief blip at the start of the Virgin era, Terrance is back to writing Target novelisations. Judged on these criteria, how does this one measure up?

Sections of the book are set in war-time, which has the effect of grounding Terrance slightly. He's still writing Boy's Own adventure, but he's aware that war and death are serious subjects. This gives a more realistic edge, as do the historical characters we meet. The research is solid and the period detail is convincing. However to be honest, I'm not sure this works. Since not even Terrance takes himself seriously these days, I gib at being asked to do so. I like my Dicks silly and fluffy, but if you found Catastrophea terminally mindless then you'll prefer this.

Basically it's fanwank, with the one qualification that using Winston Churchill is the masturbation of a historian, not a Who fan. Let's see. Players is...

  1. the third Terrance book to tie into The War Games (and it does so twice over!)
  2. another book set around World War Two
  3. a sequel to Blood Harvest
  4. a lead-in to Timewyrm: Exodus
As has been common knowledge for a while, it also stars the second Doctor in a section that canonises Season 6b. (Somehow it feels appropriate to reuse this Doctor pairing - yet Players is set before The Two Doctors and Peri didn't recognise Troughton in the latter! What gives?)

But what about the characterisation? Actually, it's rather patchy. Even Winston Churchill feels pretty wooden until a good way into the book, though that's not entirely surprising given the Indiana Jones escapades he's given to do. He's okay in the later sections, but no more. Where's the famously acidic Churchillian wit? That I could live with, but what really surprised me was the rather poor rendition of the Doctor.

The sixth and second Doctors are perhaps the most colourful of them all, yet here Terrance often writes them as generic Terry-Docs that unsurprisingly bear a strong resemblance to Pertwee. I had real problems imagining Troughton or Colin Baker swanning around in evening dress. The Doctor of Players is an incorrigible name-dropper, financially secure and at ease with cuddling up to the establishment. He has a sprinkling of appropriate mannerisms, but it's nowhere near as convincing as Terrance's sixth Doctor as seen in The Eight Doctors.

In the end, Players is an inconsequential runaround made up of caricatures and stock situations. It's Terrance's grittiest work since the middle bit of Shakedown, though that isn't saying much. It's blatantly sequel-hunting. I expect most people will greatly prefer it to The Eight Doctors and Catastrophea, but speaking for myself I didn't find it quite as entertaining.

Supplement, 30/1/02:

I recently read Players for the second time. Back in 1999 it was the latest Terrance novel after Catastrophea (which I'd adored), but two years later I was reading it as the start of a trilogy with Timewyrm: Exodus and The Shadow in the Glass. So what did I think?

Bascially... hey, that was fun! Players is amiable Boy's Own fluff, a kiddie's cliffhanger serial. See Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Players! It's a bit silly and rather episodic plotwise, though the running character of Churchill holds it together and stops it feeling like the novella collection it might otherwise have resembled.

Uncle Terry's characterisation of the third Doctor is excellent... wossat? That's supposedly Pat Troughton and Colin Baker? I suppose Terrance captures some surface mannerisms, but at root these are Doctors who namedrop, dress up to the nines and are surprisingly quick to associate with the authorities.

It's fun. It occupies a few pleasant hours... uh, actually maybe not. Terrance's prose flies by. Make that about ninety minutes. Players will never win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but it's enjoyable - and seeing it as part one of a larger story really enhanced my enjoyment of it. Fanwank becomes clever foreshadowing. Rereading Players was for me an educational experience.

Light and fluffy. Obviously by Robert Smith? 18/6/99

I like Players. That's about it, really. I don't adore it like Catastrophea or hate it like The Eight Doctors. It's a fun tale, well told.

My main problem is the characterisation. I think I can see what he was trying to do with the sixth Doctor, but I don't think it really worked. Only occasionally does the character shine; the rest of the time, he seems to be the embodiment of Uncle Terry's generic Doctor idea. Which is odd, considering the sixth is the least Doctorish of them all. I think that's the main reason it feels a bit off.

I think the problem is, and always has been, that Terrance is an actor's writer. He can write a generic character with enough clues in it that any reasonable actor can bring that character to life. He can also take the acting of someone and trasncribe it so perfectly that the character really works in a novelisation. In original fiction, I think he's a little lost with this technique: if Players were really a Season 22 story, it'd top every fan poll.

Peri is okay, if nothing special, although I have to object to yet another suggestion of companion-rape that we get here. It was bad enough in Catastrophea; twice in a row is just overdoing it. There are ways to make your book appear a little more adult, but I don't think this is it.

The second Doctor doesn't seem to be quite right either, but he's always been tricky in novel form. However, there's enough going on with the trial and post-trial sequences that I can forgive the somewhat odd characterisation. Others have complained that we get yet another sequel to The War Games. I'm a bit more forgiving. It's definitely a nexus point in the Doctor's life, both fictionally and for the series, so it's not that surprising that we keep harking back to it. I think it also makes sense that the first thing the Doctor would do after the trial is follow up on the most recent events he's experienced. What better way to find out if he can trust the Time Lords than to check to see if they've kept their end of the bargain?

The slight discontinuity with the Two Doctors (Peri not recognising the second Doctor) jars a little - but only a little. I really like the use of the scanner to watch a previous Past Doctor Adventure. The use of this technique alone is a wonderful way to set the scene for the second Doctor's era, harking back to the end of The Wheel in Space.

The star of this book, however, is Winston Churchill. He manages to work quite well, mainly due to Terrance's obvious affection for the character. This backfires slightly in that the author can't help himself when trying to reintroduce a mysterious character, later to be revealed as Churchill - it doesn't even work the first time, but this doesn't stop him from trying to reuse the same trick over and over, bless him. That's the modus operandi of Terrance Dicks in a nutshell, for me.

I am impressed that all the snippets of Churchill's life that we saw concentrated on his less-famous exploits as a reporter and his gradual rise to power. I felt sure we'd get to see him as the great wartime leader everyone knows him to be... but Terrance knows that we don't need to. I really liked this.

I thought the Players themselves worked well enough in their own way. They got the action moving and managed to keep things going without being overused. I'm also glad that different Doctors ran into them over the years - the sixth Doctor meeting them and Churchill twice is believable, three times would have ruined it. Having the sixth Doctor suddenly make the connection is a great way to prepare for the second Doctor's segment. There's also something deliciously amusing about the Doctor claiming to be his own son.

Oh, and the tie-in to Timewyrm: Exodus really worked for me. This book is more than just a missing adventure slotted into a nonexistent slot. It's a celebration of the history of Doctor Who, stretching back to season six and forward to the New Adventures. You can tell that Terrance Dicks adores every single piece of it. I think a lot of fans could do worse than follow his lead. It's been a long time since I've seen a love for the series shine through so clearly as it does here. This book is about history and how great the past is, especially as a form of entertainment. It's not about continuity or cutting-edge science fiction... but Doctor Who was never about that in the first place and Terrance knows full well how irrelevent these things are in the long run.

I've said a lot more about this book than I thought I could. I think it's great and I really enjoyed it. It's not the deepest book ever written, but the fluffiness isn't entirely meaningless either. You probably won't miss much if you skip this... except a rollicking little story that's fun for a few hours, reminding you just how much fun Doctor Who can - and should - be, in a delightfully childlike way. And there's absolutely no shame in that at all.

A Review by Graeme Burk 24/8/99

Terrance Dicks returns to Timewyrm: Exodus territory and I couldn't be happier. This is, simply put, Terrance's best Doctor Who novel. It's a novelisation of the Colin Baker TV story that should have happened. The plot is throughly engaging-- the Players themselves are a great idea which I hope to see again-- and the history lessons oh-so-painlessly delivered. The supporting cast is hugely entertaining: Dekker is very agreeable when you don't have to put up with first-person narrative like in Blood Harvest, and Winston Churchill is great. The interlude with the Season 6B Doctor through the War Games is, surprisingly, not a pale rip-off (a la Eight Doctors or Blood Harvest) but in fact a fully formed and entertaining story in its own right.

Best of all, the Sixth Doctor and Peri are given their best-ever portrayal in print. (I would loved to have seen the TV Peri deliver some of the dialogue Terrance gave her-- especially the interrogation scene!) Sure, it's 100% pulp fiction, and sure most of the ideas were much better handled in Timothy Findley's novel Famous Last Words. But this book gave me an ear-to-ear grin the entire time I read it, and reminded me how fun Doctor Who can be-- and how great a writer Terrance Dicks can be when he gets off his ass and works at entertaining people rather than shilling nolstalgia. 9.5/, hell...10/10 just because of the endorphins it generated...

All that Matters is the Game by Richard Wallace 17/12/99

I don't know why, but I always seem to find most of the Doctor Who novels I try to read, I end up putting down before the end, but when I manage to get into a book, I find they are thoroughly enjoyable novels. I have to say that the quality of the novels has greatly increased, since BBC took over the range and Players is probably the easiest book to read of the lot.

From the outset, it is almost impossible to put the book down. Terrance is reliable as usual and tells a good story extremely well and simply. This book is basically a double length target novel, but it?s a pity that it wasn't actually broadcast in the middle of season 22. It would have knocked spots off even the best (Revelation of the Daleks and Vengeance on Varos) and would have made Timelash look like a Disney cartoon in comparison to its Titanic.

One of the best parts of this novel is the Players themselves, even though we don?t find out much about them. They should be brought back in another novel, to flesh them out a bit more.

The characterisation in this story is good. Dicks seems to know exactly what he wants and Winston Churchill becoming a great aid for the Doctor, but for me, the best of the bunch is Dekker. Making a return appearance from Terrance?s own Blood Harvest, he is a new character, as I haven't actually read the first book. I think that he is probably characterised better in the first book, but having not read it, there was no reason for me to be disappointed.

Another of the best plot points is the appearance of the second Doctor in the second part of the novel. This is written in very well, and the revised ending to The War Games is super. The return of Carstairs and Lady Jennifer were welcome and actually necessary to the continuity. But the second Doctor doesn't feel like the second Doctor! He doesn?t have the bumbling mannerisms we have come to expect. This is also a problem with the sixth Doctor, who seems a lot more placid and calm than his season 22 persona would have been. He is calmer and a lot less snappy. This is good if you don't like the way he was represented in this season, but it is bad if you do.

A great novel, and one that makes a great prelude to Exodus, Terrance's first new adventure.

Dr. Who: How to be a Player by Matt Haasch 3/4/00

Right off the bat, I'd like to say, Terry's no Shakespeare. Unfortunately. But then again, the only one to prove himself a Shakespeare was Francis Bacon, and that's not Uncle Terry's job. His job is to write intricate plots, and here he does so, a bit more than I found in Catastrophea, which I liked, but "me likey" this one a bit more. I started to read it. I got bored when after they reached Earth, during their capture, but the mud-soaked teaser at the begining was very entertaining. I shouldn't say that it's booring, I'm just lazy.

I pushed fourth to the Second Doctor bit, which I found good, but would've enjoyed better with viewing The War Games beforehand, 10 episodes that I, unfortuantely, have yet to see. While Peri watches it, I just kinda think that in the bit of The Two Doctors, which everyone gripes about, when Chessene reads Peri's mind, I don't recall her telling Shockeye that she didn't recognise him. Either way, the gluttonous Androgum chased her. I also like the tie-in to the rumored season 6-b here, with the first seen use of the time ring. Why do those two Doctors seem to have a rapport that the others don't? Churchill is enjoyable to see maturing throughout the book. You can't tell much, but I could still picture it. Von Ribbentrop is a pretty good nasty, and his battle of wits with Peri is a great scene to see what she thinks of interrogations. Dekker and the Doc are a great pair, along with the Op, and should meet up more often, the Doc saying for him not to kill anyone, and Dekker pulling out his tommy gun, but where's the Op? They probably did in Blood Harvest, but I didn't read that sucker yet!

Wallace Simpson is a naughty dowager, and she plays the part elequently, rather like Myrtel Wilson in "The Great Gatsby." The King is nothing but a blinded dope who is easily swayed, and little of what we see of him, is nice to know the scorching hatred is still there while he drinks tea. The Players themselves were good too, and should be seen more of, those manipulative jerks are almost worse than the 7th Doctor! The housebreaking bit reminds me of the Buridian's Ass chapter from The Eight Doctors, both which I liked extremely. It isn't Douglas Adams, but who is? Terry's an author in his own right, concise and to the point. The radio announcement was exciting, not knowing anything of my British history. The ending was a whimper, instead of a bang, and I thought it was a great whimper, the Doctor saving the day, but not snagging all the bad guys, and not knowing where they'll meet next. Kind of like Logopolis in that respect, and I hope that the Players return for a sequel. A good read, and a more satisfying one than trying to get through the first half of Interference - Book One.

P.S. Monty Python bit- John Cleese says:"Will the Op stand up, please?"- from 'how not to be seen.' Truthfully, he's probably 90 years old, and hiding in my backyard!

Churchill the Man rather the Churchill the Myth by Tim Roll-Pickering 23/4/00

The Doctor meets Winston Churchill.

This is arguably the single most obvious historical encounter and it initially surprised me that it hasn't been done in any previous novel or television story. However on reflection it's easy to understand why it hasn't at least been done on television -- Churchill was alive during most of the Hartnell era and the only real historical characters who subsequently appeared in the series were George Stephenson (in The Mark of the Rani) and H.G. Wells (in Timelash), which incidentally makes Season 22 perhaps the most appropriate place to set this novel in. The prospect of the Doctor turning up in the midst of the Second World War and telling 'the Great Man' how to win would seem incredibly cheesy and difficult to pull off (though it is worth noting that when Stafford Cripps came back from Russia and tried to give Churchill such advice, the Prime Minister's response was to get away as quickly as possible!). Instead Terrance Dicks has wisely focused on Churchill the Man, rather the Churchill the Myth, which was particularly welcoming to me when I first read Players as I was then studying Britain during the Second World War and in particular looking at Churchill's rise to power in 1940. Players is set during three of the lowest periods of Churchill's long political career -- shortly after he had first been defeated at Oldham and had left for South Africa as a war correspondent in 1899; during his time on the Western Front after leaving the Government when Galipolli proved such a catastrophic failure; and finally during the 1930s when he was excluded from the National Government due to his stances on India and appeasement. This gives the reader a somewhat different perspective on Churchill, though it is interesting to note that Terrance Dicks has remained loyal to his childhood hero and so there is no mention of the fact that for many years Churchill was hated by the Left for his stances on strikes and Russia amongst other matters.

But what of the book itself? Apart from The Eight Doctors, Terrance Dicks has never previously written for the Sixth Doctor (The Ultimate Adventure was really written for the Third and the changes for when Colin Baker took over were minimal and largely instigated by the actor) but it's easy to imagine Colin Baker speaking the lines. There are perhaps two areas in which the Doctor does differ from the perceived norm in that he does clearly display his dislike of violence when talking with Dekker (although even in Season 22 there were times when he expressed his traditional stance) and for most of the book he is in period dress. The description of the Doctor in what is almost (by about fifteen months!) Edwardian attire in the early part of the book and then later on in 1930s suits and dinner dress conjures to mind a somewhat subtler Doctor than was portrayed on screen, though his personality is still the familiar forceful one which provides for an interesting comparison with Churchill. Peri is not captured quite so well, coming across as being a little more American than she was portrayed on screen with her references to her native culture more obvious but she does show a considerable amount of strong independence, especially when she discovers the attitudes of the 1930s British upper orders towards morality. Of the other characters, Ribbentrop receives far more attention here than he did in Timewrym: Exodus, whilst Edward VIII, Hitler, Baldwin and Wallis Simpson are all used sparingly. We also get to meet Lieutenant Carstairs and Lady Jennifer Buckingham (both from The War Games) after they were returned to their proper place in time and space via a flashback sequence featuring the Second Doctor that finally confirms that he did have adventures after his trial...

The plot of Players revolves around the mysterious Count and Countess and their ilk as they seek to alter the course of history by assassinating Churchill before the Second World War even starts whilst at the same time co-operating with Wallis Simpson and the German government to bring a very different outcome to the Royal Crisis of 1936. Whilst the book is rather shallow when compared to some Doctor Who novels, it doesn't just give the mythologised version of the Abdication -- namely that Wallis Simpson was unacceptable purely because she was a divorcee. The plot is woven so perfectly into the real historical events that one could easily believe it actually happened, unlike some of the historical events depicted in other stories.

Players is a very traditional style Doctor Who story, but that by no means makes it a bad one. On the contrary it is a thoroughly enjoyable read and of particular delight to history students who have studied either the periods or Churchill's career since it generally portrays them well (one or two minor details such as the Doctor inaccurately claiming that the South African diamond fields are located within the Transvaal aside) and can be read without being repeatedly thrown across the room for any inaccuracies. 8/10

A Review by Sean Gaffney 19/10/00

This was a book that came out in that dark period where I simply wasn't reading Who. And for the most part, I don't really intend to go back and catch up with those old books either. However, Terrance is putting the villains of this book in his November EDA, it would seem by that book's back cover blurb, so I felt a need to go back and read this one so I wouldn't miss anything.

Imagine my surprise to be quite glad that I got it.

I wasn't expecting to like this. Terrance has been incredibly variable of late, he's a very trad PDA writer and I'm not the traddest person in the world, and I didn't think my English History would be enough to keep me interested. By the end of the book, I was fully drawn in to Terrance's easy to read style, and wanted to read up on Churchill's life to see what subtleties I'd missed (similar to my reaction on finishing Turing Test).

PLOT: Quite simple and straightforward, with the added quirk of never really getting a handle on the true villains' motivation - mostly as they really don't have one. Well, they do, but as a motivation to move along a book, it's paper thin.

THE DOCTOR: I had read a lot of reviews saying this wasn't Colin or Patrick, but rather TradDoc. I really didn't see this, though. I could easily imagine Colin saying the lines he's given in the book, albeit perhaps more in a later, Season 23 Colin style. The relish with which he shows Peri around society especially sticks as a fine 6Doc bit. The 2Doc interlude doesn't give us as much time to see his foibles, but I didn't have problems.

PERI: Great fun, easily one of the best books I've seen with her. She's accurately American for the most part, she doesn't scream or trip, and the interrogation scene with Von Ribbentrop is priceless. Nicola Bryant would adore this book.

CHURCHILL: Sort of a Bruce Willis Churchill, playing the action hero role throughout. We see the great statesman in action throughout his life, though I'd have preferred a few more really good lines - most of those went to Dekker!

DEKKER: It's been so long since Blood Harvest, I can't even remember what he was like there. Still, he was the consummate pro here, almost becoming a deus ex machina with his ability to come up with weapons or shoot down villains. Oh, and the Op was cute. You wanted to hug him. :-D

VILLAIN: The Players, and what mysterious, unreadable villains they are. In hindsight, it seems obvious that they were written in such a way as to cry out for a sequel. The Countess was a lot of femme fatale fun, and I hope she spars with the Doctor in Endgame.

OTHERS: Ribbentrop is a little worm, but that's historically accurate, at least. Carstairs is OK, except for the one truly atrocious bit in the book where the Doctor says that he and Lady Jennifer are in love and they turn and say, 'Wow! So we are!'. x_x OK, subplots deserve to be tied up a LITTLE better than that. I realize the outline prolly said, "On the way, Jeremy and Jennifer fall in love", but jeez...

STYLE: It's a Target book writ large. Moves along at a roaring pace, no excess Pip and Jane verbiage... works wonderfully for this story.

OVERALL: This really isn't a book with deep meaning or something that will make you think. But it's a hell of a lot of fun. This is what trad fans want in Who books, and for this month, I don't mind either. More like this every once in a while would be great.


Playing the Game by Terrence Keenan 13/3/01

Players by Terrance Dicks, is the story of meddlesome, bored aliens influencing Earth history for their own pleasure and under a set of rules called The Game. The Sixth Doctor and Peri, along with the Second Doctor (in an extended cameo) keep running into Winston Churchill in various parts of his life and help him keep time on its proper course. Also along for the ride is Wallace Simpson, David a.k.a, the King of England, a couple of characters from The War Games, and an American detective named Dekker, who showed up in Blood Harvest.

This was a great TradDoc story with good action, some fun characters, and a page turning plot that, although slight, never felt that way until you looked back upon it. The pages flip by and although you know everything will come out all right in the end, the little twists along the way make the trip worth it.

Methinks Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant would have loved to do this story. Their characters sparkle, and you can hear them reciting the lines as you go. Complaints have been made that the Sixth sometimes comes across as GenDoc/PertDoc, but I didn't notice this. The Second Doc didn't come off as well. His, like the Fourth, is sometimes harder to capture in print. Notwithstanding, his small section of the book is fun going. The canonization of the Theorised Season 6b is nicely underplayed.

The funniest scene in the novel is the Interrogation scene between Peri and Von Ribbentrop. Very reminiscent of Robert Holmes in taking the cliche and turning it upside down. And I thought Hitler's hissy fit at the end of the book was a nice touch.

Players succeeds because it is squarely TradDoc. Not to say there is nothing wrong with stories that take Doctor Who in radical and wild directions. It's a good thing there are complex, mindf%^*ing stories in Who. But, without fun Trad tales like Players, what's the point?

For those of you scoring at home 8/10.

A Review by Eva Palmerton 20/6/01

I liked it. Just not that much... It had some fun bits. I enjoyed the transitions from Doc 6 to Doc 2 and back. That was very well done. Characterisation was quite well done. Peri had more brains and guts than I was used to seeing, which is a good thing.

The bad points - I've never been terribly fond of the horrendously powerful time meddlers playing their "Ming the Merciless" routine with Earth history. It's a tiresome plot that would have been far more tolerable if the book had been shorter. Also, there were no surprises at all, which you really need if you're going to try pulling off such a common plot. Lastly, I just don't think Hitler ever adds anything good to a story. Unfortunately, he seems to be a favourite returning character in Doctor Who for some unknown reason.

Fun bits:
The opening bit was really fun - Doctor Who meets sketch comedy. It was an excellent way to start a book. Pity it was also one of the most exciting parts.

A slight editorial mistake made for the fastest sex change I've ever seen written into a science fiction novel - "Peri looked at himself in her mirror..."

The prison break... that was very nicely done.

Overall, not a bad read. Nothing spectacular, but certainly above average - 6.5/10.

A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 30/8/01

I'm not usually a big fan of Doctor Who stories where the main characters have adventures with historical figures. Not to say that this situation can't be and hasn't been done well, but the usual result is that the historical events end up being cheapened and the sense of history never gets properly conveyed. So when I read on the back-cover blurb of Players that the Doctor and Peri were going to be having adventures with (among other people) Winston Churchill, I hoped that I wouldn't be disappointed with the result.

Thankfully, I wasn't. Terrance Dicks has done a wonderful job of making his Churchill appear like the historical figure he was and doesn't let him fall into the trap of being just another character who happens to have a famous name. By allowing us to view Churchill over the course of several decades, a real sense of history is established. This lets us view Churchill in the proper context; he's a real person who has done hundreds of things before without contact with the Doctor. He has his own life and his own place in the history books. This may seem like a simple thing to setup, but I've seen far too many instances where this background isn't established and the result is that there is no connection between the real person and the fictional version used in the story. Dicks passes with flying colours here. With the periodic dips into Churchill's timeline it seems more like the Doctor is jumping in and out of Churchill's personal biography rather than just pulling Churchill into his own otherworldly adventures.

The story itself is straightforward without being totally simplistic. Aliens (the Players of the title) are attempting to manipulate the course of human history for their own bored amusement. The plot is slightly frustrating in that the back-cover summary tells the reader exactly what the Players are up to, but until almost the conclusion, the characters in the book are virtually oblivious to any of their machinations. Another annoyance is that by the end of the story the reader hasn't learned much more about the Players than what the blurb has already informed us of. Fortunately, the sections that deal specifically with the Players (they exist behind the scenes and rarely make personal appearances) are done stylishly enough to compensate for the lack of explanation.

For the most part, the characterization of the sixth Doctor and Peri are handled very well, especially in the beginning section. There are a few places towards the middle and end where Dicks seems to forget the bombastic nature of the sixth Doctor, but overall, he's got them spot on. Even the extended portion featuring the second Doctor is done well, which should not be a surprise after all of Dicks' Target novelisations.

All in all this was an entertaining, fast-paced book that kept me interested the whole way through. During the reading of it, I kept having flashbacks to Terrance Dicks' Target novelisations, but I mean that in the best possible way. While a lot of those books have been criticized for being shoddy, cut-n-paste hack jobs, some of them were excellent examples of the best of Doctor Who. There were only a few places were the comparison to Targets was unflattering and that was the numerous paragraphs that consisted entirely of passages like: "The Doctor brought Churchill up to date and told him of their adventures while Churchill laughed loudly." These information dumps for the varying characters seemed to crop up in far too many places, were very annoying and really broke up the pace of that section. On the other hand, for every one of those present there were numerous places in which his minimalist prose style really helped to quicken the pace and tighten the action. Terrance Dicks has been writing these characters for (literally) decades, and the result is that he can make it look easy and effortless. When he's on form, he can produce some of the most enthralling Doctor Who fiction out there. This is not an example of his best work, but it's certainly not his worst and it comes recommended.

A Review by Brian May 25/5/06

Players is typical middle-of-the-road Terrance Dicks fare: not his best effort, but by no means down there with his worst. It's an easy-to-read, engaging story. It's simple, perhaps too simple. The events that occur are enjoyable, yet predictable. The writing ensures that nothing drags, but at the same time feels like it's aimed at a ten year old.

There's a generically faithful rendition of the regulars, in this case the sixth Doctor and Peri. Their speech, mannerisms, behaviour and relationship to each other are depicted capably, echoing the surrounding televised era, but they're hardly fantastic characterisations; they certainly don't capture the onscreen rapport the actors shared. Once again historical figures are included; a whole bevy of them in fact. They're all as standard as you would expect from Dicks, except for the star of the book: Winston Churchill. You can tell the author's had a lot of fun bringing him to life, reflecting more on his faults and failures rather than lauding him as the hero history has painted him. It's also fortunate that Dicks is an apolitical writer; after all Churchill had his more shameful episodes: he had no qualms about gassing Iraq's Kurdish population in the 1920s, for example. I can imagine plenty of other Who writers meting out a far more damning portrayal than just a pompous, self-important, failed politician.

Okay, token political statements aside, on with the review. This being a Dicks book, reliving his past glories is obligatory as he brings his distinct form of self-fanwank to the adventure. It's a veritable mix-and-match of his earlier work, with many "spot my previous story/character/scenario" games to play. The War Games gets a look-in, with the first look at season 6B, as initially put forth by The Discontinuity Guide. Terrance does quite a good job of this: it's a feasible attempt to describe what happened in this interregnum, the cause of so many continuity nightmares. He's also written an excellent second Doctor, but Carstairs and Lady Jennifer only work on a superficial level, mainly because they were never endearing enough for a return appearance.

Other recycled characters are Hitler, Bormann and von Ribbentrop from Timewyrm: Exodus. The last of these formerly played a peripheral role, but here is made more of a central character, while the reverse applies for the Fuhrer and his secretary. Decker from Blood Harvest also returns, but unfortunately he lacks the goofy charm and affability from his Chicago days and feels like he's been reused simply because the author can reuse him. But just check out Bormann's last line (p.241) for the ultimate groan!

The villains of the piece, the Count and Countess, are lots of fun, but that's only because they're such laughably awful characters. They're cheesy and cliched, with zero depth. But because of, and in spite of, this, they're an absolute hoot, in the ultimate "so bad they're good" way. I do hope Terrance wrote them with a tongue-in-cheek attitude (but with him, you can't always tell). And am I the only one, or is the Countess a carbon copy of Rocky and Bullwinkle's Natasha Fatale?!? The whole notion of them, their fellow Players, and the Game aren't as mystical and omniscient as intended, but I do appreciate the ambiguity of their origins. Dicks has deliberately avoided linking them with the Guardians/Eternals/Great Old Ones etc., but still they fail to enthral, and the promise of a sequel isn't much of an event to anticipate.

But the story is fun, in an unspectacular, forgotten-by-tomorrow way that still passes the time nicely. Incorporating the Doctor and Peri into the various events of Churchill's life is particularly good, there's an authentic period feel, and it would have been nice to see the sixth Doctor dressed elegantly, just once! But Players is standard Terrance Dicks. Everything a knowledgeable Doctor Who fan expects from him is here, and a newcomer would be suitably entertained. 6/10

Playing with the Fans by Andrew Feryok 5/8/09

"Well, if you interfere with interference, is it still interfering? You might say they cancel each other out. In a way, interfering with interference is a form of non-interference in itself!"
- The Doctor defends his interfering with time in order to investigate the Players, page 111, chapter 15
In choosing which Doctor Who book I wanted to read next, I realized that I had never read any of the Sixth Doctor PDAs in my collection. I therefore decided to rectify this by reading Terrance Dick's Past Doctor Adventure, Players. After reading numerous Target novels, I wasn't exactly in the mood for yet another Terrance Dicks book, but I liked his New Adventure book, Blood Harvest, so I decided to give this book a try.

My reaction at the end of the book was somewhere between confusion, delight, and outrage all at the same time! I was confused by its structure, delighted by its characters and outraged that a potentially great idea for a book was completely wasted by what we got here in the end. It's made even more infuriating because it starts off well! The Doctor and Peri are humorously escaping from their latest adventure, Peri demands to go somewhere where they can experience the good side of time travel and the next thing we know we are in the middle of the Boer War with an arrogant young Winston Churchill having an old-fashioned adventure. Not bad. But then the story abruptly ends, and we launch into a mini-Second Doctor adventure that comes completely out of left field! And no sooner have we adjusted to this sudden change than the book fast forwards to a totally different story set in the mid-1930s with a completely out-of-character Sixth Doctor hob-knobbing with the rich and famous.

The structure of this book is very problematic. I think Terrance Dicks should have either made this a story arc concerning the Players over several different books, or he should have written a Big-Finish-style short-story volume with little mini-adventures concerning the Doctor and his encounters with the Players. Instead, we get a strange story structure in which the setting, time and characters are constantly changing so that we never get a good idea of what is going on or settling into a locale or style. I realize that Dicks was trying to give us an idea of the scope of the Players' game, but in doing so he dilutes the adventure and makes it seem less accessible to the reader.

And, of, course there are the interludes. You know your book is in trouble when you have an interlude after chapter 3. CHAPTER 3! AN INTERLUDE! We are only 29 pages into the book and we have an interlude! It's like something out of Monty Python where you have an intermission in the most inappropriate of places. The interludes are mainly there to allow the reader to be privy to what the Players are doing behind the scenes, but they are awkwardly shoe-horned into the book and stilt the flow of the story.

Terrance's characters, for the most part, come across well. The only one who does not is the Sixth Doctor. In the opening chapters, he is depicted very well with all the bombast, arrogance, and sense of adventure that makes the Sixth Doctor so infurating and lovable at the same time. But after the mini-Second Doctor adventure, Terrance seems to confuse the Sixth Doctor with the Seventh as he has the Sixth Doctor start acting totally out of character. Suddenly the Doctor has a bank account that he set up in his past for just such an occasion as his mission to track down the Players. He knows how to work the social circles of aristocratic England, he has impeccable dress sense (the Sixth Doctor?), and now prefers to act behind the scenes with Dekker and Peri as his pawns. This in particular seems out of character. The Sixth Doctor always seemed to be a more hands-on character than the Seventh and his manipulations and relying on others to carry out his plans is not consistent with the character I have always been familiar with.

And don't even get me started about the Second Doctor, who is horribly rendered in his little mini-adventure. He feels more like the Third Doctor in his verbal mannerisms and in his hob-knobbing at the dinner party. He also shows some of the darker traits of the Seventh Doctor. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if Terrance Dicks originally wrote this book as a Seventh Doctor adventure and then just changed Doctors to fit the demands of BBC Books! Sadly, there is none of the charm, humor, or cleverness often associated with Troughton's Doctor. His only moment of true cleverness comes during his escape from a firing squad using a transmat control. Overall, his segment is an embarassingly poor retred of The War Games. Shame on Terrance who actually wrote for the Second Doctor during his era!

Peri comes across extremely well. While she is her usual bickering and whining self at the beginning, she becomes a totally different character in the 1930s segment. Suddenly, she's taking on SS officers, battling Von Ribentrop and doing gunplay with a Countess! She is far more confident than she ever was on screen and I think this is largely due to the presence of Dekker. I would love for Terrance to write for her more in the future!

Ah yes, Dekker. I am so glad to see him even though he is shamelessly being shoe-horned into the story. Dekker was my favorite character from Blood Harvest and I was wishing that he could have gone on with the Seventh Doctor and Ace on adventures, but it was not to be. So it was fantastic to learn that Dicks had not abandoned the character and brought him back! Of course, his relationship with the Sixth Doctor and Peri is different due to the fact that Dekker doesn't recognize him and the Doctor hasn't met Dekker yet, but the two make a great team once more. Dekker once again provides his usual balance of humor and action, with his best sequences coming towards the end as he acts as the Doctor's muscle power. The sequence where he takes on a carload of SS officers with a tommy gun is particularly fun! Definitely not a guy you want to mess with. And he now gets a funny little sidekick of his own named "Ops" who has an uncanny ability blend in and out of the scenery at will.

Of all the characters, the one that the book absolutely demanded to succeed was Churchill and Terrance rises to the task admirably with his remarkable depiction of the famous historical figure. Other than his leadership in World War II and some vague knowledge of his being involved in the Boer War, I didn't really know a whole lot about Churchill or his life story. There are other reviewers on this site who are far more knowledgable than me at stating whether this is an accurate depiction of Churchill, but as a character he is the glue that holds this story together. For the book is really about the Players interfereing in his lifetime. While the structure of the story, which jumps from time period to time period, is very harrowing, it does allow us to see Churchill at different points in his timeline and thus we watch as Churchill grows up from a cocky, arrogant and adventurous war correspondant in the Boer War to the brave and confident soldier of World War I, and finally to the shrewd if outspoken politician of the 1930s. The character has so many aspects to him and you feel that, while his personality may mellow with time, he is still the fun-loving, good-hearted guy who loves to speak his mind that we all adore. Love or hate the historical figure, he makes for a great character to follow.

I can't say much about the Players themselves. They are very obviously a rip-off of Terrance's "The Three" from Blood Harvest. They even get their own group chant, only unlike the The Three, they are not self aware about how annoying their chant is. But the Players are far better handled than the Three who turned out at the end of Blood Harvest to be complete idiots. By contrast, the Players are a force to be reckoned with. Their "game" is actually not unlike the "game" that the Seventh Doctor likes to play. They cannot alter history directly, but instead use their influence to get others to seriously alter history for them. And even more interesting is that the "game" is being played amongst the Players, so while one Player may be setting out to say prevent World War II from occuring, another Player is trying to mess up his plans. The Doctor ends up as a wild card in their game by opposing both sides and trying to preserve history as it should be. The Players have infinite patience and there are clearly a large number of them, so that although you may defeat one, there are countless others waiting for their turn at the game.

While this makes for a great premise for a villain, it is utterly ruined by the fact that we don't learn very much else about the Players. You could read the back cover blurb of the book and learn everything that this book has to say about the Players, at least until the epilogue when the Doctor finally confronts the Players and learns of their existence. Terrance is obviously setting them up for return appearances, but the lack of resolution concerning their characters makes it all the more infuriating. Just as we are getting a taste of what the Players are, Terrance pulls the meal away! It also doesn't help that the only Players we meet in this book are one-dimensional, ranting megalomaniacs.

On the whole, this book is okay. Its depiction of the Doctors (numbers 2 and 6) is very inconsistent, the structure is problematic and the Players are never adeqately explained. But the sense of adventure is still palpable, the return of Dekker is very welcome, and Churchill is fanastically recreated by Terrance Dicks. On the whole, not that bad of a book, but I still think Blood Harvest is better. 6/10

A Review by Steve White 12/7/15

Players is a Past Doctor Adventure written by Terrance Dicks, featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri. It is a more serious novel after the fanwank that was Business Unusual and the rather fun Mission: Impractical.

Sadly Players isn't about guys who have sex with lots of women but rather a shadowy group messing with the great conflicts of human history. It starts off with the Doctor and Peri landing in Africa, just in time to stop Winston Churchill being killed during the Boer War, an event that shouldn't have happened. We then hear about the Doctor's previous meeting of Churchill in a flashback to the 2nd Doctor's past, set after his trial and before his exile to Earth in what is now called Series 6b. After telling Peri the story, the Doctor sets the TARDIS to investigate in the early days of WW2.

The often-disliked 6th Doctor is written as he should have been on TV. A bit brash and arrogant, but still well within the confines of the role of the Doctor. Dicks also seizes the opportunity to get him out of his usual costume - a little bit redundant in novel form, but still a show of what could have been had Colin Baker not been written for so badly back in the 80's. As previously mentioned, the 2nd Doctor is also present, albeit in flashback, and he is well represented too. The one downside to the Doctor(s) is Uncle Terry tends to be a bit generic, and at times you forget it's the 6th you are reading about.

The companion is the delightful Peri, who is one of my favourites. Dicks writes for her well and you can imagine Nicola Bryant having fun with it on screen. She is joined by an American private detective called Dekker, and of course the aforementioned Winston Churchill.

The historical characters are all really well done and portrayed just as you'd imagine them, the King being a Nazi sympathiser and more interested in marrying an actress than his role as a Monarch, von Ribbentrop being sneaky and underhand and Wallace Simpson seemingly manipulating events. History really does come alive on the page, a good thing in my opinion.

The enemy of the novel are the titular Players, an enemy kind of like War Lord/War Chief from The War Games but different enough so Mr Dicks doesn't get a lawsuit. My one disappointment is they don't really do a lot and nothing is explained. I know this is explored in later novels, but the Doctor seems content to let them be for now, which just doesn't sit right somehow.

Terrance Dicks always offers good value for money, and delivers an entertaining read without too many confusing plot lines. Players is possibly his finest work of the range to date, a little bit more complex than his usual fare, but still simply enough to be a light read. Well worth the investment.