BBC Books, out now
What pushed the Doctor so far that he decided it was time for “no more” during the Time War?
When this Doctor Who novel came out in hardback in summer 2014, it focused on someone we didn’t even know existed eighteen months previously – the War Doctor, played by John Hurt. Introduced at the end of The Name of the Doctor (or if you’re being picky, at the end of Night of the Doctor), he was one of the strongest parts of the 50th anniversary special – not just Hurt’s performance, but the character himself, a Doctor who doesn’t feel worthy of the title but feels that he is justified in taking the ultimate step.
That’s the character we meet in George Mann’s excellent novel, at the end of which I suspect many people will do what I did, and go straight to watch the Time War/Hurt sequences of The Day of the Doctor. Mann shows us a Doctor who has become hardened, and almost – almost, but not quite – inured to what is going on around him. After a Dalek ambush, he finds himself on a planet which has been devastated by the depredations of war, and helping a young girl called Cinder to survive. Almost despite himself, he finds he has a companion for the first time in a very long time, by his side as he tries to persuade the Time Lords of a dreadful new Dalek threat.
Mann draws his inspiration seemingly from every version of the Time Lords and the Daleks that we’ve encountered over the past fifty-one years. Elements are used from everything from The War Games to The Day of the Doctor, with some of the ideas thought up for the potential TV series which would have followed the McGann pilot brought to life. There are tips of the hat to the New Adventures and the Eighth Doctor BBC books, and some truly horrific moments as we see the reality behind the Façade of Rassilon (that’s not a specific thing, but everything connected to the legendary Time Lord seems to require capitalisation!). There are confirmation of certain fan theories regarding The End of Time, and a very neat reconciliation of some of the inconsistencies within the canon.
That makes it sound as if the book is very fanwanky, and it isn’t. A large section is set on Gallifrey, that’s true, but in the same way that Big Finish’s Gallifrey series extrapolated from the TV show and created compelling drama of a very different sort, so Mann has built a credible society from the bits and pieces we’ve seen in both classic and new series and told an epic tale within it. The Doctor’s accusation about the Time Lords during his trial in his sixth incarnation is shown to be mild compared with the reality of what they – or at least most of them – are prepared to contemplate in order to achieve total victory, and there is some really neat paralleling between the two sides, which isn’t hammered home, but will be obvious to regular viewers of the show.
The highest praise I can give is that we should have had a chance to see this before The Day of the Doctor; an audio dramatization surely should be on the cards?
Verdict: A stunning take on the penultimate days of the Time War; more please! 9/10