Continuing my series of mini-reviews on the short stories to be found in the charity War Doctor anthology, Seasons of War, edited by Declan May and published by Chinbeard Books.
The War Doctor, still young and confident, assembles an army from various allied races. He takes them in his TARDIS to a forgotten, nameless moon, where they will join with a secret weapon of sorts before delivering a crushing blow to the Daleks. The various races marvel at the wonders of the TARDIS, and more, at their own unity, as they are able to understand each other and work and play together. The War Doctor has promised them protection for their worlds and families by placing a protective bubble around their planets. When they arrive, the War Doctor—whom they call the Visitor—delivers a rousing speech to rally them, and then takes them out onto the surface to meet his secret weapon. The weapon is not an army, but a single old hermit, one possessed of telepathic powers so strong as to link the minds of the army and anticipate the Daleks’ every move. Unfortunately, it is a trap. The Daleks have reached the hermit first and extracted his knowledge, using his own telepathic powers against the War Doctor and his army; in addition, they have mastered the invisibility technology first discovered on Spiridon, allowing them to appear suddenly and attack. The entire army is destroyed in just over a minute. Only one survivor, a Cabalian, lives to tell the tale, after being rescued by the War Doctor, who placed a perception filter on him to hide him from the Daleks. As they retreat into the TARDIS, the Daleks fire a Pulse weapon stolen from the Time Lords, which strikes the control console and resonates through the link to the Eye of Harmony, then from there to the various protected worlds. With their shields rendered useless, the inhabitants of all those worlds are aged to extinction in the blink of an eye, making the Cabalian the last of his race. The TARDIS escapes, and the Doctor mourns over his own foolishness and arrogance and what it has cost. He offers to take away the memory from the Cabalian, but the offer is refused—the lone survivor would rather live with the pain, and remember. The War Doctor sets him to roaming from civilization to civilization, warning and rallying everyone he meets, because the war will only get worse. He leaves him the perception filter to aid him, and to remind him. And somewhere, on another lonely moon, the War Doctor vows never to fail this way again.
Despite Ohila’s confidence in The Night of the Doctor, the Doctor is not all-wise or all-powerful, and his mistakes cost lives. That’s the theme of this story, and it drives it home in brutal fashion. Placing this story early in the anthology, and early in the War Doctor’s life, was a good choice; up until now, he has been arrogant and cocky, and thinks he will simply step in and solve everything. It’s not so easy as that, and this story brings him back down to reality. The Daleks are a bigger, more cunning threat than anything ever faced, and many people will die before they are brought down. The story is narrated by the unnamed Cabalian who survives at the end; he is one of several races involved, all of which are—as far as I know—original to this story. In a bit of a jarring contrast, they listen to What a Wonderful World in the TARDIS, to the point that it becomes their battle cry (strange as that may be). The Doctor doesn’t save the Cabalian by design; he simply has an extra perception filter in his pocket, and manages to put it on this particular character. In return, the Cabalian calls himself “the Visitor”, after the army’s name for the Doctor, as he makes his rounds to various spaceports and cities. As for the Daleks: These are run-of-the-mill Daleks, with only one noteworthy capability—invisibility. It’s not stated that it stems from Spiridon (Planet of the Daleks), but it seems implied. It seems to operate like a cloaking device in Star Trek; they must become visible in order to fire weapons. We will not see this ability again in the book, or any other material of which I am aware, so I can only assume it is lost to the rewriting of time like so many other things. Altogether, it’s a tragic and harsh story, so much so that it’s almost too heavy to take in, and some of the impact is lost just for being so overwhelming.
The Eight Minute War was written by Lee Rawlings, with art by Simon A. Brett. Next time: Everything In Its Right Place, by J.R. Southall.