The War Games
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and the War Games

Author Malcolm Hulke Cover image
Published 1979
ISBN 0 426 20082 9
First Edition Cover John Geary

Back cover blurb: Mud, barbed wire, the smell of death... The year was 1917 and the TARDIS had materialised on the Western Front during the First World War. Or had it? For very soon the Doctor found himself pursued by the soldiers of Ancient Rome; and then he and his companions were reliving the American Civil War of 1863. And was this really Earth, or just a mock-up created by the War Lords? As Doctor Who solves the mystery, he has to admit he is faced with an evil of such magnitude that he cannot combat it on his own - he has to call for the help of his own people, the Time Lords. So, for the first time, it is revealed who is Doctor Who - a maverick Time Lord who 'borrowed' the TARDIS without permission. By appealing to the Time Lords he gives away his position in Time and Space. Thus comes about the Trial of Doctor Who...


A skeleton of greatness by Tim Roll-Pickering 20/4/04

Recently Doctor Who Magazine's 40th anniversary special published the results of a mega survey and revealed what fans thought were the top ten novelisations of all time. Tellingly many of the popular books were ones which break the page count limitations (Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, Doctor Who - Remembrance of the Daleks, Doctor Who - Fury from the Deep, Doctor Who - The Evil of the Daleks and the double volume Doctor Who - Mission to the Unknown and Doctor Who - The Mutation of Time). Equally all the top books came from either the early years of the run or the latter years - the Golden Age and the Modern Age to use the accompanying article's terms. By contrast the "Bronze Age" of about 1978 to about 1984 when the books were much derided as being churned out, with low page counts and limited excitement.

Doctor Who and the War Games is very much an anomaly in the period, being a late 1970s rare book that is not written by Terrance Dicks (even though he co-authored the television story) and which tries desperately to be longer, coming in at 137 pages of narrative. However it is all too clear that the book has been cut in places (try to find the moment when the chief War Lord is actually introduced as opposed to just suddenly being present in the base) and the whole thing feels heavily abridged and rushed. Yet at the same time Malcolm Hulke tries desperately to fit in additional material, such as individual soldiers remembering their childhoods or bemoaning how they have had no chance to see glory that they can tell their family about, or sequences cut from the television scripts such as the Doctor and companions escaping from the Time Lords' cell because Zoe can squeeze through the gap at the bottom of the forcefield. Hulke sadly died shortly after submitting his original manuscript and so the final version was edited without his input and it really shows. Had Target felt daring enough to print the complete novelisation in an extended "bumper volume" and market it as such as they would do in later years with Doctor Who - Fury from the Deep or the Troughton Dalek stories then I think this novelisation would have been nothing short of spectacular and easily a strong contender for the recent top ten poll. But instead we get a mediocre book that rushes through the events of the television story and can only give hints at a much greater canvas, such as the numerous references to many different wars that suggest almost every major conflict in human history is being re-enacted.

Despite this Hulke does attempt to make the story spectacular, fully aware of its significance in the run of the series. There is one especially effective sequence early on (page 43) where we are reminded of just how much of a mystery the Doctor is, even to his companions:

'...We can't run away without discovering what's behind all this.'

Jamie smiled. 'You never do run away, Doctor. You always want to put things right.'

'I am of an interfering nature, the Doctor agreed amiably. 'Mind you, I'm not supposed to interfere.'

'Who says you shouldn't?'

'Well,' the Doctor said mysteriously, 'perhaps I may tell you one day.'

'And at this rate, perhaps we'll all be shot dead. Tell me now, who says you musn't interfere. I thought you were your own master?'

'But I am,' the Doctor said. He turned back to the safe and tried again with his piece of wire. 'You'd think the lieutenant would have found some explosives by this time...'

'Doctor,' Jamie persisted. 'You were ging to tell me something about yourself. Who are you really? Where do you come from?'

'Another time, Jamie.' The Doctor turned the wire. 'I've almost got it...'

'It's bent again,' said Jamie, exasperated. 'Aren't you going to tell me - please?'

The Doctor turned and looked at him. 'We've travelled together a long time, Jamie, so perhaps I should let you know who I really am. You see---'

Lieutenant Carstairs hurried back into the room...

Such tantalising comment merely whets the reader's appetite to learn more, even though the original editions do give things away on the back cover blurb. Later on the conversation between the Doctor and the War Chief is well handled, though the comment that a traveller in a space-time machine can only be one person reads strangely even from a 1979 perspective, especially given the number of rogue Time Lords who had appeared by that point. The revelations are done in a careful manner, reflecting the fact that the reader receives them only through a meeting between two Time Lords and not from Jamie suddenly discovering things. Later on Hulke treats the Time Lords with a sense of respect and awe, with the judge never shown but only heard as a voice from above. The book comes to the final climax as the Doctor is exiled, with a wonderful addition after the Doctor has vanished:
The accusing Time Lord looked upwards.'I think you did right. He would never have fitted in back here.'

'I agree,' said the great voice. 'It's a pity. He would have brightened the place up no end.'

In general this book represents a brilliant final effort from Malcolm Hulke that has been spectacularly let down by the enforced abridgement. What is left is the mere skeleton of something great, a book that has tried to be as grand as a novelisation of such a significant story should be, but which is instead left feeling incredibly empty. For this Target's lack of imagination and unwillingness to really push the boat out has much to answer for. <6/10>