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Engines of War Review

Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull gives his verdict on George Mann’s War Doctor novel.

hurt-war-doctor-engines-of-war

Perhaps if Steven Moffat had not introduced the War Doctor last year, we would have had Engines of War much sooner. That is to say, this book, one set in the kernel of the Last Great Time War, has taken a long time to reach our shelves – and it was well worth the wait. George Mann might not seem like the first choice as the man to helm the trials of the War Doctor (this is his third literary contribution to the show, following an excellent debut novel, Paradox Lost, and a story in the Tales of Trenzalore anthology recently released in paperback format) but he handles the weighty remit with a deft, confident hand, giving us the Time War novel we truly deserve.

John Hurt’s formerly secreted incarnation did not make much of an impact on me when he cropped up in The Day of the Doctor. It was, undoubtedly, because we spent little time alone in his company and it was hard to get a grasp on “Captain Grumpy”. Engines of War has boosted him up several notches on my list of favourite Doctors and I was left drooling for more. No hyperbole there. When we first meet him he is gruff, careworn, weary and sarcastic, numbed by the world-spanning battle. In my honest opinion, Mann conveys the War Doctor’s fierceness, brusquerie and total abandonment of the name ‘the Doctor’ and all that represents better than Steven Moffat did. He’s violent (but not without justification), sharp (again, not without reason) and disinclined to take on another companion (much like the Tenth Doctor during the 2009 Specials). However, there are flashes of playfulness, glimpses of the Doctor, our Doctor, underneath the rough façade and these add levity to the expectantly heavy story. John Hurt’s voice can be heard in every line (though, with a voice as gravelly and memorable as his, it’s hard not to hear him) and this is one of the areas where Mann excels most; he has such a strong understanding of the character that you can flit between wanting to hug the War Doctor and send him on a holiday to fearing him in just a couple of pages. Also, for those wondering what the War Doctor is referred to, Mann skilfully sidesteps the “Doctor no more” problem.

While I would have liked to have seen the likes of Romana or even Susan alongside the War Doctor, George Mann has created a companion that is one of the best. Cinder, a sparky, orphaned young Dalek hunter, encounters the War Doctor when he plummets onto the planet Moldox after being knocked off-course by a glancing laser. Their meeting is not dissimilar to Amy and the Eleventh Doctor in The Eleventh Hour and Cinder shares many characteristics with the feisty redhead (other than their hair colour). Elements of Cinder also reminded me of Ace, the Seventh Doctor’s baseball bat-toting companion, as well as lashings of Cass from The Night of the Doctor. Having said that, Cinder is a unique character and Mann instils her with every character trait you want in a companion, both negative and positive qualities. The only sad thing about Cinder is that she never appeared onscreen because she’s absolutely magnificent.

The Time War is an aspect of Doctor Who that has never been fully explored onscreen. That is, up until The Day of the Doctor. Mann does not shy away from the grit and meat of the Last Great Time War, doing some much more than simply scratching the surface. He dives deep into the orange, bloody, gritty, screaming, tragic, baked earth bloodbath, mercilessly showing the horror and obscenity and pain of the whole damned affair. He shows families ripped apart (one character is introduced simply to show how mankind behaves under duress, not shying away from the betrayal, agony and fear), the abhorrent experimental weaponry manufactured in the heat of the war and the horrible deaths and losses. Mann sucks you into the world so fiercely that there are moments where I had to look up and assure myself that it didn’t actually happen.

Engines of War takes us to both camps: the Daleks’ and the Time Lords’. We visit Gallifrey with as ropey politics as we last saw in The Deadly Assassin and The Five Doctors (look out for aspects of those stories that reappear). Mann depicts the Time Lord not through rose-tinted glasses but as frightened, pompous halfwits petrified of the war. That is to say, they are very much the same people we meet in The End of Time. It’s hard to go into detail without spoiling a considerable degree of the book but Mann shows each side of the Last Great Time War fairly and exactly how I imagined it (though, each to their own).

Given that Mann has been given the task of setting his book slap bang in the show’s most consequential period, he has quite a tight, precarious window in which to set Engines of War. He has to be careful in how he tackles certain aspects so that they don’t clash with the mythology of the battle established retrospectively in the revived series. I’m thrilled to say that he successfully slots his story into the Time War without altering anything and that the events of Mann’s novel have consequences of their own.

Verdict: 10/10

I try not to dish out full marks regularly but Engines of War warranted it so, so much. It’s a must-read, a well-needed insight into the Time War that is exquisitely written amongst other things. Mann has a sure grip of the War Doctor, a sublime companion, plenty of edge-of-your-seat action sequences but, above all, Engines of War gives scope and considerably more depth to the Doctor’s dilemma in The Day of the Doctor, helping us see why he really was so conflicted over using the Moment. More please, at the double.

Step back in time...

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41 comments
simon delafield
simon delafield

Note that it is in the Sunday Times Bestersellers list at no. 10 - alongside the likes of Rowling, Patterson and their ilk. Is this a first for a DW book?

thribs1
thribs1

That was quick. I'm only 100 pages in.

It's okay but my problem with it is that it reads like a typical Doctor Who story. I expected something different with the War Doctor.

I did like the beginning with the Doctor attacking the Daleks with a fleet of other Time Lords. It needs more of that IMO.

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

I totally forgot this was released today with all the series 8 hype. It sounded great and I was going to buy anyway it but this excellent review convinced me to order it as soon as possible.

Can't wait to read it.

DrainOfMorbius
DrainOfMorbius

Any mention of the Nightmare Child, Could-Have-Been King, Geists, etc?

AboudDandachi
AboudDandachi

Well I have to say this is by far the best written review of a Doctor Who book I've ever read. I'll definitely be getting the book on my iPad tonight, should make for an interesting read.

TheTimeOfTheCommenter
TheTimeOfTheCommenter

Excellent review Patrick! My copy of the book arrived earlier and so far it's been an interesting read. :D

DasManiac
DasManiac

So The War Doctor fought in the war for four hundred years which confirms my theory that The Doctor simply stopped counting his age in this incarnation. In reality he is 400 years older than he said he was in his Ninth Incarnation.

robohappy
robohappy

Pre-Ordered the book. Although I have VERY mixed feelings about the war doctor, he is here to stay and Im glad the War Doctor got a solo story that will flesh out the character. Hopefully John Hurt isn't above doing a Big Finish Audio :D

Deus_Ex_Machina
Deus_Ex_Machina

I'll be sure to give this a look when I get the opportunity. It seemed like the kind of story that could backfire and go horribly horribly wrong, so I'm happy to hear that you thought so fondly of it. It should be interesting to see the War Doctor in his first solo story so we can see him get fleshed out a little more.

Huknar
Huknar

Makes me want to give Doctor Who books another chance. Didn't expect this to be very good, but wow, 10/10? Very tempting.

TheCyberDoctor
TheCyberDoctor

I pre-ordered this when it was first available, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to delve into the Time War. From what was already known about the war, which isn't much to be fair, its clear it was truly horrific. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from the book tbh, but this proves to me that it will be a brilliant read, it sounds like its one of the best DW books ever. Now, if they can just hurry up and deliver it! XD 



ilyootha
ilyootha

Yesterday I pre-ordered the 50th Anniversary boxset and The Blood Cell. Now I deeply regret that I didn't add Engines of War to my order...

Thanks for the review, Patrick! If I had any doubts about this novel before, now I certanly don't have any. Getting a physical copy as soon as possible!


YaelMoise supports the nuking of space-spiders
YaelMoise supports the nuking of space-spiders

Good review :) I'd have ordered it last night already, but Amazon is insisting on charging me a fortune for the kindle edition (12 dollars for a book that will only exist as a file on my phone, and which Amazon could delete at any time if something goes pear-shaped with their deal with the rights-holder??? I think not). Currently debating alternative options.

bl0ndie98
bl0ndie98

I've ordered a hardback version of this, I'm really looking forward to reading it.

Antee991166
Antee991166

Great review! Unfortunately I can't order this at the moment since I've literally run out of money, but I'll hopefully be able to buy some time next month!

ahunter8056
ahunter8056

Still waiting for Amazon to dispatch mine (despite having had it pre-ordered for nearly a month). I hope it's a good read.

Time_And_Space_Pirate
Time_And_Space_Pirate

Great review, Pat. Whenever I'm generally on the edge on whether or not to get certain DW books, your reviews make the final say. Glad to know I'll be ordering this one!

On a side note, did you ever review Tales of Trenzalore? I can't remember if you did or not, and I couldn't find anything when looking through the archives. I recently bought it on a whim, and I like it so far.

TheNightmareChild has some moon in his teeth
TheNightmareChild has some moon in his teeth

I'm torn between wanting to read it and wondering if it wasn't a mistake to expand on the Time War in this way; if it isn't better for that to remain largely in our imaginations. :/

ClaraOswaldIsAwesome
ClaraOswaldIsAwesome

Great review! This sounds so good, I can't wait to read. I pre-ordered, so it should be arriving any minute!

DawnTime
DawnTime

Looking forward to reading, might take it on holiday with me.  Great front cover too.

The Finn
The Finn

Wonderful review, Patrick!

Gustaff
Gustaff

Wow! Patrick, this article has to be one of the best you've ever done. It's magnificent! You actually got me interested in reading it and you know how allergic I am to that. Kudos


Side-note: A timeline would be really appreciated. Is this beginning, middle or near the end of the war or is there no information available to make such a deduction? Also, how does the author refer to the Doctor when he speaks. It's not like 'I am no longer the Doctor my dear', the Doctor-no-more said raising a brow in indignation.

PK-S
PK-S

@AboudDandachi Blimey! Thank you. I'm getting rather worried I've overexaggerated its merits and people will come back disappointed but I really loved it when I read it.

Amy says Peter Davison is the Thirteenth Doctor!
Amy says Peter Davison is the Thirteenth Doctor!

More than that, probably. It depends on how old he was when he became the War Doctor. If the Time War lasted for 400 years, then his age would be that, plus the 1300 years (400 years from War > Eleven at 1200, then the 900 years spent on Trenzalore) that spans Nine to Eleven, added onto whatever Eight's age was at the end of his life, which was at least over 1500 considering that Eight spent 600 years on the planet Orbis while Seven was known to be at least 953, all despite claims in the modern series putting the Doctor in the 900 - 1000 range. So I'm finding it ever easier to say, "he just has no idea anymore." :P

PK-S
PK-S

@TheNightmareChild sees into your soul! What I liked so much about Engines of War was that it felt very self-contained and ended before it could give too much of the Time War away. It's clear that Mann sat down with one goal and that wasn't to explore every single aspect of the War.

MowTheFrontLawn
MowTheFrontLawn

@Gustaff Yes, very well written.  I started reading thinking, "I'll just read the first few sentences to get the gist..."  And then my attention was held for several paragraphs before I realized what had happened.  It's a good article that pulled me in.  Nice job, Patrick.

AlessandroArsuffi
AlessandroArsuffi

@PK-S @AboudDandachi I'm almost certainly it'll be fantastic, I'm certainly buying it just for the very fact that the Time War is narrated and, to be honest, the fact that this story fills so many gaps is very interesting and I really want to read it. Thx PK-S for writing this review!

Gustaff
Gustaff

@MowTheFrontLawn @Gustaff The fact that Pat doesn't usually give out tens is also a good indication of this book's worth. Really hope they turn it into an audiobook with John Hurt and Nick Briggs.

Gustaff
Gustaff

But then I wouldn't get to hear John hurt as the doctor again ¬_¬

The Finn
The Finn

@Gustaff True, true. That voice is so powerful. But you could imagine him saying the lines when you're reading.

Gustaff
Gustaff

Given Pat's review,I think I'll do both.