Players by Terrance Dicks

The Doctor and Peri meet Winston Churchill in the Boer War and then again fifty years later on the eve of the Second World War. Between times the Doctor recalls an encounter his second incarnation had with the famous politician during World War One, and the mysterious, shadowy figures trying to manipulate the course of history.

The Sixth Doctor isn’t readily associated with Terrance Dicks’ writing, but his instinctive feel for the character and the series make him means he finds the voice of every incarnation with practiced expertise.

The presence of Winston Churchill as a main character in Players had me reaching for The Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 2011, in which Clayton Hickman published Churchill’s lost diaries. These recount his adventures with different incarnations of the Doctor, and I wanted to see if this tale tied in with those. There isn’t actually an entry for the Sixth Doctor, but there is for the second, which sadly doesn’t quite tally with what we see.

Dicks is a writer who makes his views known through in his writing (see The Eight Doctors for his opinion of the TV Movie), and his opinion on the Sixth Doctor’s clothes are made clear here; he has the character changing into period-appropriate clothing in this story. It’s a laudable approach, but rather against the bombastic nature of a Doctor who wore it and didn’t care.

The extended sequence where we see the Second Doctor meet Churchill reminds the reader of the other story to feature these two versions, The Two Doctors. With the Second Doctor again working at the behest of his own people, it is made explicit here what has been postulated: that he ran missions for the Time Lords before being regenerated and was exiled to Earth. This has long been a favourite Dicks theory, but this sequence also serves the purpose of leading into his Second Doctor novel, World Game.

Characters from Dicks’ own story The War Games are re-visited in a way that wasn’t too common in the twentieth century series, but is more familiar now. Likewise, Dekker, a Dicks character from a Seventh Doctor Missing Adventure pops up, meeting our hero in reverse order River Song-style.

The story is almost a pure historical, with Churchill, Edward VIII, Wallis Simpson and Joachim von Ribbentrop all playing key parts in the plot. The eponymous Players of the title by their nature are unseen and cannot show their hand as they try to subtly bring Earth’s history onto a different track. They are rather like the Eternals in Enlightenment, bored by their eternal existence and just playing games to relieve this. They show up once more in the Eighth Doctor novel Endgame.

Players is a story it would have been a joy to see Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant play on television. Rich in historical detail and characterisation, it is only right that he be represented in the fiftieth anniversary celebrations.

Haven’t read Players yet? Buy now from Amazon:

Doctor Who: Players: 50th Anniversary Edition

On Kindle:

Doctor Who: Players: 50th Anniversary Edition

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