Anthology Review: Seasons of War, Final Edition

I have not given up on my rewatch series, which is usually on Fridays; but the last few weeks have been extraordinarily busy for me, and I haven’t had time to watch the episodes. I do intend to get back to it next week; but in the meantime, here’s something a little less labor-intensive to hold over.

Greetings from N-Space! Today I want to cover a piece of Doctor Who fiction that doesn’t fit the usual categories. The overwhelming majority of the material I review here is licensed, official material—and honestly, that’s just as well; with fifty-plus years of stories, I may never get through all the licensed material, let alone unlicensed works. Still, every now and then, I come across something unlicensed which I think is worth inclusion.

Seasons of War final cover

Cover art borrowed from the Seasons of War Facebook page; link at the end.  Created by Simon A. Brett.

One such work is Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War, a charity anthology published by Chinbeard Books as a fundraising effort for the charity Caudwell Children. I consider it noteworthy because it adds much material to the admittedly-thin canon of War Doctor stories in existence. In addition, it has some degree of sanction from Steven Moffat, who provided a brief dedication for the book (although I would definitely not place it on the same level as the licensed works). The book manages to do something that none of the War Doctor’s televised, audio, or novel appearances accomplished: delivering on the promise of a Warrior who broke his own promise, and committed atrocities, and—to some degree justly—forsook the name of the Doctor. While at his core he will always, in every incarnation, maintain some spark of the Doctor, here we see why he declared himself “Doctor no more”.

 

This book is out of print now, and is not expected to return. The original edition was published in 2015; a second and final edition, with added material, was announced in December 2016, and a limited run of orders were accepted. With the sudden and unexpected death of Sir John Hurt in early 2017, orders were delayed for approximately six weeks, as tribute material was added to the project prior to printing. It is this second edition that I will be reviewing. The editors, Declan May and Barnaby Eaton-Jones, have made it clear that no further editions will be produced, and no ebook of the final edition will be released (though I understand there was an ebook of the original edition). Therefore, while this work may be of interest, I realize many fans will not have the opportunity to obtain a copy. As such, I may be a little more explicit with plot details than I usually seek to be.

The book follows a very loose character arc for the War Doctor, and covers events from immediately after his regeneration in The Night of the Doctor–and I do mean immediately—until immediately after his regeneration into the Ninth Doctor at the end of The Day of the Doctor. Most entries are short, twenty pages or less. There is a great deal of story packed into this 400+ page book, much more than I anticipated when I bought it. As I want to do it justice—and as War Doctor material is in very short supply anyway—I’ve changed plans for dealing with this book. Instead of covering it all in one or two long posts, I intend to post a series of mini-reviews of one or two paragraphs each, one for each entry. I will admit that this is more for the sake of my blog than Reddit, but I think it will be worthwhile in both cases. Meanwhile, this post introduces the book; and at the end, I’ll make a final post with thoughts on the book as a whole.

The original edition was dedicated to the memory of Paul Spragg, (1975-2014), formerly of Big Finish Productions, who passed away on very short notice in 2014. That dedication remains in the final edition, alongside the new dedication to Sir John Hurt (1940-2017). The book also contains a number of illustrations, some of which were newly added after John Hurt’s death. The book opens with a tribute to John Hurt written by editor Declan May, in which he describes his brief contact with Mr. Hurt in preparation for this anthology; Hurt declined to participate directly (shortly before news of his ill health broke, so it’s understandable), but gave his blessing for the project. The tribute is followed by a brief dedication by Steven Moffat, as I mentioned before, and then the original introduction to the book, also by Declan May. The original preface and tribute to Paul Spragg follows, written by Big Finish producer Nicholas Briggs. After this, it immediately dives in…to the epilogue?! Eh, it’s a time war, why not?

John Hurt Tribute photo

Tribute artwork in memory of Sir John Hurt, created by Paul Griffin.  Borrowed from the Seasons of War Facebook page and used without permission and for no profit.

 

I say it jokingly, but it will make sense in the end. This epilogue by Matt Fitton, titled Warsmiths and coming at the beginning of the book, details an encounter near the end of the War Doctor’s life. On a barren world, the aged War Doctor meets another Time Lord who stands over a pool of primordial ooze. The planet, it is revealed, is Skaro, and the man is the Co-ordinator of the Celestial Intervention Agency, although his name is not given. He carries a canister with a simple purpose: Here in Skaro’s distant past, it will poison the primordial soup from which life will evolve, preventing the rise of not only the Kaleds and their progeny the Daleks, but all life on Skaro. The War Doctor talks the Co-ordinator out of it despite his desperation, and takes the canister with him when he leaves, allowing history to play out. Only then can the war be halted—and perhaps the Co-ordinator will make peace with himself as well.

This epilogue takes place after the events of Engines of War, but before The Day of the Doctor. Near the end of the story, the Doctor reflects on his late catchphrase: “No More”. He only reached that conclusion—that he must end the war by any means necessary—at the end of that novel, which we know to be very late in his life; seeing the phrase here, in that context, places this story very near the end, and indeed he makes comments to the effect that he is leaving now to go and end the war. If this is how it ends, one wonders how it begins—but the prologue, unfortunately, is a long way off.

Seasons of War cover

Cover art borrowed from the Seasons of War Facebook page, used without permission.  Link is below.

Next time: I’ll post the first of the mini-reviews for the individual stories, beginning with Karn, which picks up immediately after The Night of the Doctor and gives us a glimpse of the newborn Warrior. See you there!

Although this anthology is now out of print, you can learn more at its original edition and final edition sale pages, and at the Seasons of War Facebook page.

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