“I’ve faced this in the past, and I didn’t act in time. If I’d only had the guts to do what was necessary back then, things might be very different now. But I’m a different man now. I don’t live by the same ideals. I have a job to do, and this time, I have no such qualms.” —The War Doctor
I used to be a big reader of tie-in novels (In particular: Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who), but somewhere along the line the continuing onslaught of material (let’s face it, tie-ins/expanded universe books can drop faster than tribbles) wore me down until I only dipped in the pool for something extra special. In the case of Doctor Who some recent exceptions were Gareth Roberts’s tremendous 2012 novelization of “Shada” written by Douglas Adams and, back a little farther, 1995’s “Human Nature” by Paul Cornell.
Mind you, this isn’t a backhanded compliment against buying tie-in novels, it’s just that budget constraints played a major part in being much more selective in my choices, and I’m sure there are plenty of fine adventures I’ve missed along the way as a result. Nevertheless, I got such a big kick out of seeing John Hurt in the role of the disheveled War Doctor in “The Day of The Doctor” that I immediately jumped at the chance to read about more of this incarnation of the Time Lord and his adventures.
In Engines of War, Cinder is from the planet Moldox and has been fighting practically her entire life, ever since her family was eliminated by Daleks during the ongoing Time War (The Last Great Time War) with Gallifrey. As a young girl she was used as bait to lure Daleks to their doom, and as she’s matured, she has become one of the hardened vets. The story begins in a violent firefight against the Daleks—and losing—when a crashing TARDIS comes hurtling from the atmosphere. At first, she is leery of the man in the blue box but when more Daleks begin attacking she takes the opportunity to jump into the Time Lord’s ride for safety. Once the outside threat is behind them and with the TARDIS temporarily grounded, The Doctor wishes to inspect the planet a little further and find out the Daleks’ interest in snatching inhabitants and taking them to a city called Andor. Cinder agrees to guide him there but with the agreement that he takes her with him when he leaves the planet … she is understandably exhausted from the lifetime fight and wants to get the hell out of there as soon as possible.
They travel to Andor where the resistance that Cinder belongs to has identified an old school as the Dalek’s base of operations. The Doctor and Cinder find the mutants rounding up more flesh and blood, not simply just killing them. There’s a new form of Dalek atrocity that The Doctor calls a “temporal weapon,” one that has the ability to erase a person from history. The Daleks are also in need for more fighters for the war and are converting the planet’s inhabitants into Daleks via a eugenics program. The Doctor realizes they are no longer concerned with racial purity as much as they are interested in creating “the perfect killing machine to deploy against the Time Lords.”
He also determines the Daleks are using Moldox’s position under the Tantalus Eye (a space-time anomaly and a gateway between universes) to create a planet annihilator by turning the Eye itself “into one, massive energy cannon, and fire it at Gallifrey” which the Doctor assures Cinder will be the end of everything.
The Doctor, with Cinder’s help, manages to destroy part of the Dalek’s base, free slaves, and escape to the TARDIS using some tech that the War Doctor takes back to Gallifrey to demonstrate to his home planet what they are up against. Rassilon and the other Time Lord elites decide that Cinder’s world and the other eleven planets in the region will be destroyed since they are now under Dalek control even if that means killing innocent natives since, in their mind, the ends justify the means. That decision doesn’t sit well with The Doctor. He surreptitiously follows Rassilon, and for Whovians of the classic era, they will be in all their glory as he returns to the “blustery wasteland” that had once been the Death Zone and the site of 1983’s The Five Doctors adventure. Big kudos for Mann’s expert handling in pulling it off in such a seamless manner.
If I had one complaint, and I am truly nit-picking here, I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the War Doctor’s personality revealed. Since “The Day of the Doctor” I’ve been wanting to delve into this particular persona of what I guess we can call an ‘in-between’ of the Time Lord’s psyche. But I get that this is straight forward action novel and that is what Mann delivers with nice aplomb and several welcome surprises. And considering this incarnation was designed as a killing machine, well, then it was done to perfection. I’m not sure how many times we can go to this particular well before it runs dry but I’m hoping this writer’s assured hand continues to steer the TARDIS if we do. Whovian fans and those new to The Doctor’s universe alike will enjoy Engines of War.
Engines of War is available now from Crown Publishing.