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"Engines of War" Expands "Doctor Who" Lore, But Not the Doctor
Author: George Mann Publishers: BBC and Broadway Books Formats: traditional, electronic Length: 322 pages
Ever since the success of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, other franchises have taken advantage of this trend. "Doctor Who" is no different, providing a range of new series adventures through BBC Books, though Americans will read reprints through Broadway.
"Engines of War," is product of George Mann, whose work largely delves into genre fiction, including the Newbury & Hobbs series as well as 2011's Doctor Who novel, "Paradox Lost." Mann's qualifications made him an extremely safe choice for this expansion of John Hurt's War Doctor, an obscure incarnation of the titular character that appeared in only three official episodes of the TV show.
"Engines of War" excerpt, as narrated by a fan.
The novel boasts as being one of the few pieces of Whovian literature taking place during the Great Time War, a conflict so cataclysmic that it signaled the end of the Time Lords and the defeat of the Daleks, forming a basis for the revived show's modern direction. Rarely explored on the show, it is a time of great intrigue, not only for the Whoniverse, but the Doctor himself, who has been advertised as a general of sorts to be reckoned with; a stark departure from the British icon who prefers screwdrivers over guns.
Sadly, the novel boasts none of that, presenting an all too familiar formula for the duration of the book: the Doctor crash lands on an alien planet (Moldox), befriends a local (Cinder), and uncovers a hideous plot by alien invaders (the Daleks). The Doctor handles the war like he would any other adventure, though Mann does give pretext as to why; a disagreement with Gallifrey has isolated him from Time Lord help, something common in the classic series.
Where this novel shines is its truth and expansion of the classic lore, which in many cases, hasn't been touched since the original series wrapped up. Mann brings new life to nostalgia locations such as the Death Zone and Rassilon's Tower, as well as bringing back old villains like former Lord President Borusa and Rassilon, who serve to perpetuate the conflict.
If this were any other Doctor, I'd find this tale to be fantastic, and as a one-off adventure nearing the end of the War Doctor's life cycle it is. However, it fails to live up to satisfy audience expectations by keeping all the yummy bits of the Time War off limits, though it was nice to finally see the oft-mentioned Tantalus Eye.
Hopefully future forays into the Time War can illuminate to what lengths the War Doctor suffered to truly reject the name "doctor," though that is unlikely if BBC keeps hiring writers like Mann. What makes this version of the Doctor so specially is how radically different he is from the other incarnations, yet still retains the very basic moral codes each version lives by, and as of yet that difference is yet to be seen.
The book is by no means bad. it's just more of what we've already seen on the show, with a few Time War elements slapped in here and there. It by no means provides a radically different experience a War Doctor adventure should have, which is a shame considering how authentic the novel is to the John Hurt portrayal and how original a companion Cinder is (think Cass had she gotten more screen time). Mann gets the small things absolutely right but his overall narrative structure by no means touches the crux of the Time War, or the engines that allowed it to manifest across the galaxy. Until the War Doctor gets a solid collection of his own adventures, I'll have recommend BBC's 8th Doctor books for fans wishing to explore this period in Whovian history.