Doctor Who: Engines of War by George Mann
Published by Broadway Books, September 2014. Paperback of 312 at $9.99.
The cover: I’ve been waiting for new adventures of Peter Capaldi’s doctor to appear and I was floored to see next to two of his adventures this cover with John Hurt as the War Doctor. Just seeing this image of John Hurt, holding a sonic screwdriver, before a planet with Daleks firing their weapons, I had to buy this. Credited to Lee Binding, this cover is beautiful. Very steampunky, but absolutely Doctor Who. I need this to be a poster immediately. Overall grade: A+
The premise: From the back cover, “The Great Time War has raged for centuries, ravaging the universe. Scores of human colony planets are now overrun by Dalek occupation forces. A weary, angry Doctor leads a flotilla of Battle TARDISes against the Dalek stronghold, but in the midst of the carnage, the Doctor’s TARDIS crashes to a planet below: Moldox. While the Doctor is trapped in an apocalyptic landscape, Dalek patrols roam among the wreckage, rounding up the remaining civilians. But why haven’t the Daleks simply killed the humans? Searching for answers, the Doctor meets Cinder, a young Dalek hunter. Their struggles to discover the Dalek plan take them from the ruins of Moldox to the halls of Gallifrey and set in motion a chain of events that will change everything. And everyone.” The war has been going for centuries? The Daleks are the villains? There’s a young Dalek hunter who sounds like a possible companion? The cover sold me, but this summary got my money. I was on fire to read this book. Overall grade: A+
The characters: This Doctor was so much fun. He has every quality you want in a Doctor who’s been fighting for eons. He’s tired and bitter, but he has more heart than the pair beating in his chest. He doesn’t just care for the billions that could die because of this war, but he cares for the individuals before him. He wants every life in the universe to matter, to see its way through its complete cycle, and heaven help the individuals that stand in his way. Cinder is a native of Moldox who can’t remember life before the Daleks were hunting her people or destroying her world. She is in her early teens and she has killed many Daleks. She’s so small she can go into spaces adults cannot, so she’s an invaluable member in killing these unending metal encased monsters. She reluctantly goes with the Doctor on his adventure in this book, and as the book progresses she and the Doctor care immensely for each other. Their relationship is wonderful. There are three antagonists in this book. The first are the Daleks, who have gone back in time to mutate their own species, creating cannon fodder that is slightly warped from the traditional pepper pot shapes. Among their new artillery is a weapon that can erase someone from time. This doesn’t sound like too big a deal, “dead is dead” after all, but Mann deftly shows this to be the worst weapon in the history of the franchise. There are two other villains, but I can’t get too specific. They are both Time Lords, as Gallifrey features majorly into this novel. The name of one Time Lord sent me reeling, and to see this individual in the flesh was mesmerizing. Trust me when I say, he’s an important character. The other Time Lord is new to me, but what a monster! His opinions of non-Time Lords are brutal. These characters are believable, and it’s impossible to read the Doctor’s lines without hearing Hurt say them. Overall grade: A+
The settings: Two settings for this book, Moldox and Gallifrey. The first is a cosmopolitan world that has been decimated after being hammered for decades by the Daleks. It’s easy to visualize this world from Mann’s descriptions. I could draw you a picture of the devastation. The Dalek base on the planet was a unique setting, something I have not seen or read before, and it, too, was great. Gallifrey is confined to two settings, the Time Lords’ war room and someplace seen in a famous Who episode, but one I won’t reveal. Seeing Gallifrey through Cinder’s eyes was a great way to showcase these iconic aliens, and not all of it is pleasant. The second location on Gallifrey inspired me to dig up the DVD that it appears in. This place was appropriately scary. Overall grade: A+
The action: There is a lot of action in this book, but it’s completely balanced with the heart of the Doctor. War TARDISes battling Dalek ships, humans freedom fighters on Moldox fighting Daleks, the Doctor and Cinder infiltrating a Dalek base, the Doctor fighting Time Lords in a fight to preserve the universe and all time. Spectacular stuff. Overall grade: A+
The conclusion: Characters live, characters die, and the Doctor is a changed man, again. A heart breaker, because the war goes on, but at what cost? Fantastic conclusion. Overall grade: A+
The final line: The best Doctor Who novel I’ve read in years. George Mann must return to pen another adventure of the War Doctor. I need to read more of this Doctor’s adventures. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+
Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!”, he reviewed comics for TrekWeb, and he currently reviews Trek comics at TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for two years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.