The world of Doctor Who spin-offs is a rich tapestry of creative goodness, populated by iconic and enduring characters such as Jago and Lightfoot, Captain Jack Harkness, Iris Wildthyme, The Minister Of Chance and Colonel Lethbridge Stewart. Through the medium of novels, short stories and audio dramas fans have plenty of avenues through which to continue their love affair with all things Doctor Who during series breaks. And that’s without watching repeats or recons of the 230+ tv adventures. New initiates to the worlds of Doctor Who soon discover that like the TARDIS it’s so much bigger on the inside than the outside.
Added to the mix in early 2015 came an anthology of short stories exploring that forgotten and disowned incarnation of the Doctor: The War Doctor – a part of the Doctor’s life that would have remained hidden were it not for Clara’s magical journey across his time stream. The Doctor would not want us to read about his exploits, let alone enjoy them. But in the wake of the hugely acclaimed Engines Of War novel by George Mann it was clear that the War Doctor had fired the imagination of fans. There was a thirst for more in whatever form that took. And quite rightly he looks set to join the pantheon of popular spin off characters and material.
The motivation to read more about the War Doctor comes down not to a fanwank obsession with the time war, time lords and Gallifrey, as obliquely referenced in the new series, but to the brilliance of the character as created by Steven Moffat and performed so marvellously by Sir John Hurt.
This was no leader. This was a reckless, misguided egomaniac. A man who needed reining in. A man who needed to help people, not to destroy. His destructive plans wiped out my entire legion, my entire civilisation and other races that were now no longer in existence. (The Eight Minute War. Rawlings)
As a result, the Seasons Of War anthology is a character driven collection. The younger face of Hurt as seen at the end of The Night Of The Doctor suggested that this incarnation had lived a long life before his regeneration into Christopher Eccleston. This allows the anthology to encompass different stages in his journey through the time war. Each author adds their own nuances to a Doctor who throughout the anthology displays a set of consistent, uncompromising traits.
The only way to end it, to stop the unimaginable pain and the agony is to do something the Doctor would never do: Kill a human. (Guerre. May, Jack)
And yet as the consequences of his actions begin to take their toll, we see him developing a softer edge. He is never quite worthy of the name the Doctor and this book is far from being the story of his redemption, but in his ambivalence there is an implied hope that he is after all, still the same man.
I remember my friend as he used to be: passionate, curious, sometimes cynical but always with a core of whimsical frivolity. Behind those ruthless eyes and the inch-thick, war-scarred hide – I could see in his face a glimmer of our old adventures. (Fall. Barber)
With a number of well known writers (including Gary Russell, Paul Magrs, Jenny Colgan, George Mann, Lance Parkin, Kate Orman, Andrew Smith, John Peel and Matt Fitton) contributing to the book it might be tempting to skip to favourites, but whilst each story stands alone, a richer experience would be achieved from reading the anthology in order. The editor Declan May has carefully crafted, selected and structured the stories. He mixes up the themes, styles, scales and lengths of each adventure so that the whole anthology is beautifully paced, with appropriate breathers along the way. The positioning of each story also gives the reader the tiniest morsel of developing hope in the character, as alluded to above.
They’d removed him from the war. He could feel softness creeping into his thoughts, inveigling itself into his mind. His limbs, with their seemingly permanent aches and pains, begging him to simply return to the bed and rest. But that would be a betrayal of his solemn vow after regeneration. Doctor no more, warrior instead… (Always Face The Curtain With A Bow. Arnold)
They say that variety is the spice of life and the fantastical worlds of Doctor Who have always been wonderfully diverse. This collection has something to suit everyone’s tastes from the truly macabre to the whimsical, from tales with more of a classic feel to those that would not seem at all out of place in the new series, from beautifully descriptive pieces to dialogue heavy action, from war journal to poetry.
You come and go, fixing things and leaving them as if they can stay mended. But even after the victory the horrors of war multiply. (The Time Lord Who Came To Tea. Driscoll)
There are returning foes, including of course the Daleks, but some quite unexpected ones too (spoilers). And there are returning friends including Leela, Susan and The Brigadier. The obligatory tie-ins to the new series take their place without being obvious or clumsy. Some of those loose ends and throwaway lines are referenced but are never the reason for a story. But much that you will read will be fresh – even those familiar figures who return in ways you would never expect. They are joined by a host of new ideas, new concepts, new enemies, new friends and even a new companion in the form of Jenny Shirt.
In a time of war a good question to ask is what is our greatest fear? Death and the loss of all we are, who we were, all we could have been? Or is it the uncertainty of when we will die? (Jenny Shirt, The Girl With The Purple Hair II. May, Davies)
The Seasons Of War project is more than a self-contained anthology. It opens with Nick Briggs’ moving tribute to Paul Spragg, known and loved by so many fans and one of the leading inspirations behind the project. It is accompanied by a truly remarkable short film directed by Andy Robinson.
Illustrated by some brilliantly inspired artwork from Simon Brett, Paul Handley and Paul Griffin, Seasons of War also has at its heart a sublime comic strip penned by Jim Mortimore.
Best of all, Seasons Of War follows in the long standing tradition of Doctor Who charity projects, raising money for Caudwell Children. To get your copy of the ebook, pdf or mobi file follow the link below and donate what you can to this worthwhile cause.
As one of the contributors, I hope that you enjoy the book as much as I’ve enjoyed being a part of it.
And in true Doctor Who style – it ends with a cliffhanger. Could there be more to come?