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, now nearly middle-aged and not yet as war-weary as he soon will be, stands on a barren patch of land and watches the vortex unravel. Around him, time happens with simultaneity, all times happening at once. This is what has become of Earth: once protected by the Chronosmiths, hidden from the war by a trick that places it moments out of sync with the rest of the universe, its barriers are now breaking down. In the process, it is synchronizing with the rest of the universe…and the rest of the universe is in torment from the ravages of the Time War. It was always going to happen, he knows; but he is sorry to see it. He is interrupted by the arrival of a TARDIS behind him…his TARDIS. He hopes for a moment for some future incarnation, one who may have reclaimed his lost title, the name of the Doctor—but instead, he is greeted by an older version of himself.
The older War Doctor comments on the younger’s presence here, and on the coat the younger man still wears—the long coat that once belonged to the Doctor, the Eighth Doctor, when he fell on Karn. He wears it as a reminder. Not a reminder of who he was; that man could not have fought this war. His body, his heart, were not prepared for the Last Great Time War. No; the younger War Doctor turns out the label on the inside of the coat, showing its origin: Schweitzer and Davison, Master Tailors, Cork Street, London. The older man remembers, and recalls the a battle against the Ghoul of Whitechapel, which led to the acquisition of this coat. No, the younger man keeps it to remind him of Earth, and all the world represents to him. But now, that world may be lost.
As they watch the sky, a flare of temporal energy can be seen. The older man comments that it is the destruction by the Time Lords of a Dalek fleet; but it was accomplished by the use of the first of the arcane and forbidden weapons in the Omega Arsenal, an act which no one ever foresaw—not even the younger War Doctor, whose counsel set the Time Lords on that path. There’s more at stake, however; this weapon caught Mondas and Telos in its blast, excising them from history. The Cybermen will never come to be, and chunks of history are being overwritten, even for the War Doctor. (And yet, he notes, the Mondasians have time travel as well; and they will not be completely annihilated, but their Cyber-seed will be scattered through the dimensions.) The older man explains that it has, indeed, come to this; and for the younger man, the War is about to grow much worse. For the older man, it is over; and he has a plan in place which he will not reveal. Yet, here and now, perhaps something can be saved. He reveals that he has obtained a new piece of technology which will place the Earth and its timelines in a fold in the dimensions, concealing it again and more thoroughly; and so the younger man must go, and leave him to his work. As the young man returns to his own TARDIS, the older man stops him and asks a favor: the Doctor’s coat. It will serve as a reminder to him, here when he needs it most; and there will be a replacement waiting in the TARDIS. The younger man gives it to him, before going to face Hell in the reality of the War. There’s pain, and there’s dismay, but they must be faced…even if they never can truly be overcome.
We’ve reached a checkpoint of sorts in our trip through the Seasons of War anthology. For us, it’s a reminder of what lies ahead, and a moment to mark our place in the War Doctor’s timeline. For him, it’s a tipping point; he is approaching middle age, and the War is heating up, with the collapse of the universe accelerating. He needs some indication of what lies ahead, but he won’t like it when he gets it. From the perspective of the older version of the War Doctor, this story must take place after Engines of War, but before The Day of the Doctor; his plan to end the War is already in place, though he doesn’t share the details here. This story and The Day of the Doctor serve as bookends on a certain chapter of the War—that is, the Omega Arsenal. Here we see the first use of a weapon from the Arsenal; there we see the last. (One could guess that the Tear of Isha, the stellar manipulator seen in Engines of War, is the last weapon other than the moment, as there doesn’t appear to be a lot of time between that book and The Day of the Doctor.) It’s harder to pin down the time frame from the younger Doctor’s perspective, but I’d guess we are nearing the midpoint of his life, and therefore the midpoint of his time in the War. Presumably it’s at this point that he starts wearing the leather coat we see in The Day of the Doctor; up til now he’s kept the Eighth Doctor’s coat from The Night of the Doctor. (Previous stories have mentioned the leather coat, but we can overlook it; not every detail will match perfectly.) The story he references, regarding the Ghoul of Whitechapel, doesn’t seem to exist; I searched under various terms, but couldn’t find it, so we’ll call it an offscreen adventure.
The Cybermen are wiped from existence here—unintentionally, as it turns out. I’ve commented before that timelines such as this can and probably are overwritten many times—which explains how the Sisterhood of Karn could die in our opening story, but return on television—and I believe the same happens with the Cybermen. Interestingly, though, prior to the current television series, it didn’t have to be so; all the Cybermen in the revived series could be at least tentatively accounted for by the Cybus variant from Pete’s World (Rise of the Cybermen, et al). It’s only this year, with the return of the 1960s version, that we finally and definitively establish that the Mondasian Cybermen are still around. There’s an interesting line here, though:
“The weapon was not quite as effective as the Time Lords hoped. The Mondasians have time-travel too, and although our weapon partially erases them from existence, it also succeeds in setting the cyber-seed free to float in infinity on the dimensional winds…”
I think this is an effort to explain the parallel development of the Cybermen in Pete’s World, and possibly other universes as well. If so, it’s certainly clever, and useful too; even if the Mondasian Cybermen do survive, this explains how the Cybus Cybermen can meet and merge technologies with them (giving rise to the far-future Cybermen seen inNightmare in Silver).
Overall, it’s a clever story, though as far as progression of the plot is concerned, it’s marking time. It’s a much-needed pause for the War Doctor, in which he can alter his perspective, and possibly lay the earliest foundation of what he must one day do to stop the nightmare. As well, it’s a bit of foreshadowing of what is to come; the very next story is going to reveal a major development in the course of the War, one whose importance can’t be overstated. The older Doctor wasn’t lying when he said that things were about to get worse.
Loop was written by anthology editor Declan May, with art by Simon A. Brett. Next time: The Holdover, by Daniel Wealands. See you there!