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.
Here at the end, we return to the beginning. The young War Doctor, strong and energetic and ready for the fight, watches an evacuation. Three hundred and fifty thousand refugees, fleeing on retrofitted WarpSpinner life pods into the stars from an unnamed world. The Daleks may get them; there’s a chance of that. Still, many—most, even—will escape. A job as well done as can be in these troubled times. The Doctor puts it behind him, and returns to his TARDIS.
He muses over his lifetime—this incarnation’s lifetime. Already he isn’t sure how long it has been since his regeneration—his transformation–on Karn, though it has likely only been months. It was a necessary change, even aside from his then-impending death. His incarnation, though strong and capable and resourceful in so many ways, was too weak, too Doctorish, for this war. So, the cruelty of Karn-augmented regeneration burned away the Doctor, with his promise and his healing, and left a Warrior in his place. The Doctor had a thousand years or so, and it was a good life; but something new is needed now.
He’d gone to Earth first. Not only for training in the arts of war, but to shield this planet for which he still felt a sentimental protectiveness. Knowing he could not do it alone, he sought out an ancient Gallifreyan sect from before the days of Rassilon, the Chronosmiths: thirteen men and women in possession of powerful abilities for manipulation of time. Divesting themselves of the future of Gallifrey, they had long ago hidden themselves away here, on Earth, and now dwelt in a crumbling hotel in Barcelona. The once-Doctor barters with them, though he has little to offer. He asks them to hide the Earth, with all its history, future, and timelines, from the combatants of the War. The Chronosmiths decline to choose sides, but in the end, they agree to his request, knowing that they too need a safe place to hide—or a safer place, at least. Still, their assistance comes at a price. Their arts are fueled by temporal energy—minutes, hours, days skimmed from lives. A project of this magnitude will take not days, but years, centuries even. No one has more time to give up than a Time Lord—and none have more life in their time than the Doctor.
He consents. He screams in pain as years are stripped from him—not forward, from his remaining life, but backward, from life already lived. His adventures, his stories, are shuffled. Some are stripped away. Some are retold. His age rolls backwards—a thousand years, nine hundred and thirty-two, seven hundred and fifty, four hundred. It is enough. The Earth is as safe as they can make it. The defense is not perfect—some will stumble in, and there will still be incursions. From the greater path of the War, Earth is shielded and hidden. As the Warrior reflects, it’ll do for now.
Later, a TARDIS tears through space and time. Its Victorian parlor of a console room has been tossed about and torn up. Its young-yet-old pilot sits and thinks as he touches the bandolier across his chest. Later, much later—hundreds of years later, from his perspective—the now-aged Warrior stands in a transformed console room, with roundels on its walls and cables dangling from its ceiling, and he sets course for home. On his lips are two words that have become soberly dear to him only recently, with the death of a friend: “No more.”
His TARDIS slams to a halt, still floating in the time vortex. He is thrown to the floor. As he scrambles to right himself, a voice calls his name: ”Doctor.” He knows this voice, from somewhere long ago. He answers; denies that that is his name. The voice insists that that is the only name by which it has known this Time Lord.
The doors open, and despite the vortex outside, thirteen figures walk in and surround the War Doctor. They are deformed and twisted, predatory and bloody, scarred and wounded; and yet he knows them. They are—or were–the Chronosmiths.
They make room for another figure. A man the Doctor recognizes, wearing a pair of spectacles and a machinery-bedecked uniform (the Doctor may not know the term “steampunk”, but it would be appropriate here). And the Doctor knows him.
“The War Lord!” says the Doctor, staggering back against his console. “But that’s impossible…”
Impossible or not, the War Lord is here. He has been watching for a long time—and now he has come to claim the Doctor. He will have the Doctor’s military mind at his side; for he has done a horrendous thing.
He has unleashed the Horde of Travesties.
The Time War was nearly over, but now, it has only just begun.
Forty-three entries ago, I noted that this anthology deliberately put something backward: its epilogue came first. Now, here at the end, we at last get the prologue. It’s no mistake, and it’s no misplacement, because this prologue begins at the end. Engines of War, with the death of Cinder, has passed, and the War Doctor has declared “No More”. He flies for Gallifrey to collect the Moment and end the War. As he does, we take a look back at the beginning, when the newly-regenerated War Doctor sought out the thirteen Chronosmiths on Earth and employed their help to protect Earth from the War. Centuries later, as he prepares for the end, that seed reaches terrible fruition, as the War Lord reveals that he has taken the Chronosmiths and transformed them, unleashing the Horde of Travesties.
The obvious cliffhanger at the end of this story was intended to lead directly into Volume 2 of the anthology series. That volume has since been cancelled, but the cliffhanger has not been abandoned; the recently announced novel, The Horde of Travesties and History of the Time War, will pick up where this story leaves off. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, pre-orders for that volume have closed, although I posted regarding them at the time; however, when the novel is released in December 2017, I’ll cover it here. (It’s worth mentioning that other volumes, not necessarily sequential, are also being planned; I hope to cover those as well, and to post their availability as their pre-order dates arrive.) We have covered the entire span of the War Doctor’s life, from Karn to the Moment; therefore I think it’s safe to assume—and in keeping with this story’s status as “prologue”—that we’ll be dipping back into the Time War in the upcoming novel, rather than cramming in a new story at the end.
I am intrigued by the introduction of the War Lord here, and I think he’s a fitting addition to this story. The character only has one in-universe appearance to date, in The War Games, where he was sentenced to dissolution at the end. Presumably, he escaped that fate. (He also has a few alternate-universe appearances, in The Light at the End and Exile.) Let’s not confuse him with his ally the War Chief, who is a Time Lord; I point this out because this appearance wouldn’t be so unusual if we were dealing with the War Chief, but with the War Lord acting (presumably) unaided, it becomes impressive indeed. As well, the Chronosmiths have been interesting characters in all their appearances; we don’t know much about them yet, and I am excited to learn more in the upcoming novel. Presumably they are the core—if not the entirety—of the aforementioned Horde of Travesties, but we have much still to discover. Their names prior to transformation are given as follows: Wigs, Rags, Hynchcliffe, Sheepskin, Plunder, the Baronessa, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, Spinach, Thruber, Myopapa, and the Cigarette Crow. Given that “Hynchcliffe” is a clear reference to former Doctor Whoproducer Philip Hinchcliffe, I imagine there are other references and/or jokes hidden here, but I don’t have enough information to puzzle them out (so feel free to pick at it in the comments!).
In part, this story seems to be designed to address some of the controversy about the Doctor’s age. The popular consensus is that the Doctor doesn’t know how old he is, and makes it up whenever it comes up, as his stated ages conflict with each other quite often. Also, allegedly at some point he started counting from the beginning again. This story tries to reconcile those issues by peeling away centuries—six of them, more or less—from his age, giving him a new age of 400 when he visits the Chronosmiths after Karn. While this does make statements by the revived series Doctors make more sense, it’s not the most satisfying answer, and can be taken or left as one wishes. My thought is that removing those years would remove his actions during those years—but would NOT remove the problems he dealt with, and thus would increase the chaos in the universe substantially. Still, the plot device of using stolen bits of time to power certain endeavours is ingenious (though credit goes to Faction Paradox for doing it first). At any rate, I can accept this matter of the Doctor’s age for now, because—as I’ve pointed out before—the time lock on Gallifrey seems to seal away most of the effects of the war and its altered timelines, meaning that in the post-war universe, things could mostly be restored to the way they were before, with some notable exceptions. He could get those years back, in other words.
Overall: a quick, but excellent story, with the promise of good things to come. I’m looking forward to continuing it in the upcoming novel! In the meantime, we have, for all practical purposes, reached the end of the War Doctor’s story. We have one more story to cover, which is the last of three stories that are new to the final edition of the anthology, and which will pick up immediately after The Day of the Doctor. We’ll then conclude with a look at the short film associated with the anthology; and then we’ll put this project on hiatus until December, when the next volume launches.
Prologue – The Horde of Travesties was written by Declan May. Next time: Rise/Risen: A Coda, also by Declan May. See you there!