An Interview with the Editor of Seasons of War

Recently I finished reviewing the stories in the Seasons of War charity anthology. The editor and sometime-contributor, Declan May, was kind enough to sit down and answer a few interview questions about the project, and I want to post them here. Curious about how a project like this develops, and what it accomplishes? Check it out! Thanks to everyone from Reddit who contributed questions a few weeks ago; I’ve incorporated them as well as I could.

I should say in advance that I recruited a few people over on the /r/Gallifrey subreddit to contribute a few of these questions, so I can’t claim credit for all of them. However, having just finished the reviews of the anthology, I’ll start with a question of my own: What’s your personal favorite entry in the anthology, and why?

That is a very, very difficult question. Having lived with this project for so long, my favorites tend to change each time I read it. I have a soft spot for Jon Arnold’s excellent ‘Always Face The Curtain With A Bow’ and ‘The Postman’ by John Davies. But I must admit that my consistent favourite – the one I keep coming back to – is Lee Rawlings ‘The Eight Minute War’ because here we see the War Doctor trying to still be the Doctor and failing miserably and tragically. Yes, I think that’s my current favorite.

Clearly this project has been dear to you, so tell us a little about how it got started. What was the inspiration for this project, and for its charitable connection with Caudwell Children? (And also, for those of us not in the UK—and thus not familiar with it—what can you tell us about that charity?)

The inspiration for the project was the charity Caudwell Children. I was very strict and determined on that. Many anthologies are put together, then a charity is arbitrarily attached to it to avoid copyright issues. This anthology (and subsequent projects) was for the charity. There are a few reasons why. The main reason being that my son continues to benefit from the support given by Caudwell. He was 7 years old at the time (he’s now about to celebrate his 10th Birthday) and severely autistic. Caudwell offers on-the-ground, real support for children with disabilities, learning difficulties and all sorts of illnesses. Also, I wanted to bring attention to the fact that, for many families with a disabled child or a child with a condition such as autism, epilepsy, ADHD and so on, it can be very difficult. Financially, emotionally, in maintaining relationships, connecting with the rest of the world, getting the right support and keeping your head above water. Depression and isolation are big factors for carers… living with a child (or an adult) with a disability can be a very stressful and difficult thing, and Caudwell helps with all this. Providing material support, helping to build and encourage and help families in an extremely difficult situation. It can be a very violent thing, you know? The upheaval and change in your life and lifestyle when there’s a person who depends so much upon you, who is so vulnerable, who needs constant help and stimulation and support. So that’s why I chose Caudwell. They help. They are utterly fantastic. And they need our help – the help of the public at large – to enable them to finance this support. Caudwell Children have helped him, and us, a great deal. Caudwell Children’s objectives are to change the futures of all disabled children by providing access to the services, equipment, therapies and treatments they need; to increase awareness and understanding of the needs of disabled children across the UK; to enable disabled children to lead an active and independent life reaching their full potential; and to enable disabled children to lead ordinary lives. But they need money. And awareness. And the only way I could think of doing that – whilst thanking them – was to put together this anthology. A vanity project, or a chance for writers to showcase their work, was not, and is not, the objective.

How does a project like Seasons of War work with regard to legal and copyright issues? It’s been referred to as an “unoffical” project; how are projects such as this able to be published despite not being licensed by the BBC? I’ve been asked if there is any possibility of endorsement by the BBC, making the anthology official with regard to continuity.

This is where I have to be careful. First of all, I have an acquaintance with Steven Moffat who, after all, created the character of the War Doctor. I spoke with him. I spoke with people within BBC licensing – I think Mr. Moffat must have had a word with them too – and as long as it was for charity, not sold in any bookshops and, ultimately, there was a ‘tacit’ endorsement of the project, culminating in Steven Moffat’s mini-foreword at the beginning of the second edition. Nicholas Briggs also gave an introduction and we ultimately discovered we have unofficial license to produce War Doctor/Time War books, as long as it doesn’t stray into official territory (ie: novels about the eighth Doctor etc). As far as canonicity is concerned, Steven Moffat’s endorsement and his support, perhaps put Seasons Of War into the ‘canonical mix’. As for the BBC, well, I’ve been in touch with them throughout and, as long as it is all for charity and nobody earns a penny out of it and as long as we do not make any claims to it being ‘official’ or ‘canon’ or whatever, then we’re ok. I use the analogy of a charity fete where the local am-dram group puts on a stage production of… Midnight. Same with all the fan-fiction on the net. Like us, it’s absolutely free. Anyone can access it. The difference is we’re doing that, but making sure those who read it donate to the charity. But, all along the process I’ve made sure to check up and run things past certain people now and again.

How did you go about recruiting the (may I say excellent) group of authors who contributed to the project? What was it like working with them? I should say, artists as well, as art has played a large role in this project, especially in the final edition.

First of all, Paul Spragg. It was he (mere weeks before his shocking, sudden death) who, so kind and generous with his time, advised me how to contact so and so, as well as giving me ideas of the structure and how to phrase that to the authors. Matt Fitton and Andrew Smith were the first I contacted. They were very enthusiastic (seeing this as the only opportunity to write for the War Doctor – this was well before Big Finish’s War Doctor audios). Kate Orman, I just asked, emphasizing the autism aspect and asking whether she could incorporate that into her story. Lance Parkin, who I already knew, was more than ready. The same for John Peel. Matthew Sweet, who I already knew, had something which he’d like to include and Jim Mortimore really wanted the script of ‘Time Enough For War’ to be completed, illustrated, made into a comic strip (which the incredible Simon Brett spent months on completing – it’s absolutely stunning). Gary Russell had several stories and was very enthusiastic (in the final edition he has two stories) and Jenny Colgan had something too. They were all very kind and generous with their time. George Mann who wrote ‘Engines Of War’ wanted to include a ‘missing scene’, which I think is beautiful and heartbreaking, and they were all, each author, so kind, supportive and we had and have a good relationship. I’m frankly amazed that they took the time. As for the artists, they all said yes. Simon Brett was responsible for all that and he managed to get some great names: Carolyn Edwards, Paul Hanley, Paul Griffin….and for the final edition Barnaby Eaton Jones managed to get Raine Syraminzki. We were really very lucky . . .

More on the topic of the artwork: There’s a wide range of art in the book, and it’s all excellent. I’ve heard there were some alternate cover designs as well—anything you’d like to share?

(The alternate cover designs were numerous. Simon Brett as art editor came up with quite a lot, but below are included a few, including one unfinished piece by Alistair Pearson:

War Doctor alternate cover Alistair Pearson

Here’s another alternate cover, by Simon Brett and Declan May:

War Doctor alternate cover Simon Brett and Declan May

And this one by Will Brooks which thought excellent but both John Hurt’s agents and the BBC said we couldn’t use it:

War Doctor alternate cover Will Brooks

The cover we have is really down to Simon Brett: a compromise – no official imagery, the War Doctor taken from the Andy Robinson film, and, I believe much more simple:

Seasons of War cover

Front cover only

Seasons of War final cover

Full cover (prior to the replacement of the eyestalk telescope with the sonic screwdriver)

Were there any rejected stories submitted for the anthology? If so, I don’t want to name names and embarrass anyone, so I won’t ask for specifics; but in a general sense, what sort of things led to those rejections?

In total, I received something like 330-340 submissions. Pitches for the most part, but a few full stories as well. Quite a few were clearly already written with another Doctor, any Doctor, in mind. Submissions they may have had for other anthologies etc. They changed whichever Doctor it was to “the warrior” or “the Time Lord”. But you can always tell it was written with the seventh or eighth or fourth or ninth Doctor in mind. But there were lot of really good ideas. Really. There are a lot of really creative people out there. But we wanted to make sure that a great idea could be backed-up, followed on by good writing and fit into the almost novelistic approach we had with Seasons Of War. The arc, so to speak. It’s often the case that you’ve someone who has great ideas and concepts but who can’t really write prose. Sometimes it’s the other way round. We needed people who could do both. So there I was with a couple of other editors looking through the submissions. Far too many “the Doctor arrives on a strange planet and discovers a Dalek superweapon” or stories based around Romana or Drax or Leela and Andred, or just generic sort of stories where nothing much happens. No story…just people talking a vast screed of dialogue referencing ‘canon’ and Gallifrey references. Dull as dishwater to read. What I did want to avoid – and submission-wise, we did receive a lot of these – were stories set within the Doctors head, or in the Matrix or in some ‘dreamscape’. We received far too many of those. It’s very difficult to read or to hook in the reader, if all that is happening is the War Doctor walking through some fantasy dreamland, talking to wise old characters who are aspects of himself or something like that. We needed stories with a start, middle and end. Antagonists. Action. Story coming first. But any story where it was just the War Doctor by himself, wandering round his own head or the Matrix, talking to himself with nothing much happening… Not interested. But Christ, there were quite a lot of those. And we had to refuse any pitches that changed the lore or the history of the show too much. I can understand totally why people would want to write a story like that, the temptation is huge, but we didn’t feel it right or appropriate to do anything too drastic (like blow-up Karn or kill Romana) in the anthology. The other thing was people sending-in pitches and work and saying: “I am a brilliant writer and my Doctor Who fan-fic is highly praised at such and such a website” or “You should choose my story because everyone who has seen it thinks it’s the best thing they ever read.” or “My writing is better than Steven Moffat’s” and they’ll send a story that demonstrates painfully clearly that that is categorically not the case. A lot of that. And a lot of very angry people who, when you politely reject their pitch and say why, get quite abusive and there’s personal attacks and so on. If you want to get on in this business, you have to learn how to take rejection (on a daily basis!) and don’t be a rampant egoist, throwing your toys out of the pram if your story doesn’t get chosen. But, for the most part, people were lovely. And out of about 300 pitches we narrowed it down to about 35 and, the stories and writers chosen…well, they really are the best. Some absolutely remarkable work.

As for links to the current ongoing show, we have been very careful. For example, during the pitching process back in June and July, someone submitted a story set in that barn from ‘Day Of The Doctor’. Now, because of my job and because I know people involved with the show, I knew that that would be coming up in ‘Listen‘. So I said “We can’t use that” and they changed it to somewhere else. Same with the Doctor’s childhood and so forth. Some things were out of bounds. It was all in a ‘writers guide/bible’ thing I gave out to prospective authors. I’d say things like “no Rani, no past-Doctors, no sequels or prequels to TV episodes”. Seems to have worked out ok.

The final edition received an endorsement from Steven Moffat. Could you tell us about his contribution, and how it came about?

I sent him a copy of the book (he says he enjoyed it) and then I just asked him whether he’d like to write something, anything, as a foreword. He’s a very nice man and a big fan of the show and, after all, the War Doctor is his creation. So he very kindly wrote the ‘endorsement’. It was really that simple.

Seasons of War was intended to be the first in a series of Time War anthologies, but you have stated that the second volume (and possibly third…?) was cancelled upon news of the untimely death of Sir John Hurt. What could we have expected from those volumes, had they been published? Are any of those plans being incorporated into the upcoming novels?

The second and third anthologies were cancelled a) Because what we thought we had with Seasons Of War was unique; b) the death of John Hurt; and c) Big Finish were doing their War Doctor audios. Therefore I thought it would be better if we concentrated on novels and novellas to continue to explore the Time War.

John Hurt’s passing wasn’t the only tragedy during the production of the final edition. We were sad to hear of the death of Alan Jack, the co-author of ‘Guerre’, one of the earlier entries in the book. What can you tell us about Mr. Jack and his unfortunate passing?

I can’t talk specifically about Alan P. jacks passing because of his family and other reasons that may become apparent. He was (to me) a lovely man, and when he submitted a story set during WW1 I thought: here’s a chance to do something really different. So I took his draft and fashioned ‘Guerre’ from it, a chance to show the War Doctor doing something terrible. I wouldn’t normally attach my name as co-writer (I rewrote about 60% of the stories in the anthology) but in this case, basically, it’s a story of two halves and Alan was insistent I put my name on it. So I did.

It’s been said that bad news comes in threes; and accordingly, there’s a third untimely death associated with this project: that of Big Finish editor (and many other hats) Paul Spragg, in May 2014. I understand there was some contact with Paul, and perhaps some direction from him, in the early days of this project?

I’d been watching on DVD the series ‘The World At War’ and the scope of the thing – it’s 25 episodes or something – showed me that within a war – even within one individual battle like the Normandy landings or Stalingrad or the Anaheim – there are so, so many individual stories. And I mentioned this to Paul. Plus, the War Doctor is supposed to have been fighting in the Time War for 400 years or something, so that’s a hell of a lot of ground to cover – so many stories. So what we have in Seasons Of War, whilst being in no way official or anything like that, is just ‘some’ of the stories from the adventures of John Hurt during the ‘story arc’ of the Time War. And Paul Spragg was very interested in this idea. As mentioned above, at the beginning I was helped informally, conversationally, over chat and instant message, by someone who helped me out with email addresses, contact details, possible lines of enquiry and the like. This was Paul Spragg, who sadly died a week or two after those discussions. But we’ll come back to that. Basically, I just asked, or got other people to ask. And people are, really, just very nice and enthusiastic and willing to help, you know? Especially for a worthwhile charity. And that’s the important thing: the charity always comes first – before ego, before reputation, before storyline or pitch or whatever.

Little by little, we got some really fantastic names. But I can’t take credit for all that alone. It was Paul Spragg. Nicholas Briggs beautiful piece about him opens the book, and the anthology is, of course, dedicated to him.

Let’s talk about the future of Seasons of War. You have several novels in the works, featuring several authors. I’ve discussed this a bit in the course of my reviews, but what novels are in the works, and what can you tell us about them? In particular, I’ve been asked if the novel Gallifrey will involve Romana, Leela, K9, and Rassilon, all of whom are known to have been on Gallifrey at various points in the War. There’s also been an air of mystery about the novel Regenerations, as its title tells us next to nothing about what will be featured.

‘Gallifrey’ – written by Kara Dennison and Paul Driscoll, might involve some of those names in passing. But it’s truly a unique piece, about which I can say nothing. Except that it will be absolutely fascinating to fans of Gallifrey, and those interested in the effects of the Time War.

‘Horde Of Travesties And A History Of The Time War’ [written by Declan May ~TLA] is a novel, interrupted here and there with a history of the Time War. It is a sequel to the story of the same name in Seasons Of War, but much more than that. The only hint I can give is: the War Lords in ‘The War Games’ created these zones of combat. The Time Lords created the Death Zone. There’s a lot of correspondence between those two concepts. And Time Lords at War to War Lords isn’t a big jump. But the novel is so much more than that. Basically, what if the Time War was a simulation by the War Lords? The Horde Of Travesties are such a brutal, horrible concept that their origins and appearance will be, I hope, shocking.

‘The Corsair’ novel is being written by Simon Brett and Jon Arnold. I can say nothing [well, almost nothing–see the next question. ~TLA] about it because I’ve yet to read it (on this, I’ve stood back from my position as editor)

Regenerations’ will blow your mind. I can’t say much, but the effects of the Time War don’t just affect the 9th Doctor and the War Doctor. This is a big one . . .

Regarding the upcoming novel, Corsair, there’s been a surprising amount of enthusiasm for this character, who sprang from a few rather minor mentions in the incomplete classic serial Shada and the Series Six episode The Doctor’s Wife. Although other adventures of the Corsair have been subsequently mentioned, you’ve been the first (to my knowledge) to tackle the character “onscreen” as it were. How did you develop your conception of the character, and what would you like to see happen with him? Without too many spoilers, what can we expect from him in the novel, especially as we don’t know much about the outcome of the Battle of Infinite Regress? I’ve specifically been asked if we will see both male and female incarnations of the Corsair. Also, what about his TARDIS, the Battered Bride? It’s a unique take on the idea of a TARDIS—a unique model, which fell in love and eloped for thousands of years. Can we expect more of it, as well?

The Battered Bride – the Corsairs TARDIS and the Battle Of Infinite Regress are addressed. The Battered Bride in particular has an incredible backstory. Time and Space is a big place . . .

One criticism of materials relating to the Time War is that they don’t live up to the hype. The television series used names such as the Nightmare Child and the Could-Have-Been King as “set pieces” to build up mystery and suspense; but most stories, including both Seasons of War and the Big Finish War Doctor audio dramas, seem to avoid those “set pieces”. Tell us about the challenge of tackling those events, and of living up to expectations about the War in general. Also, is this something that we may see more of in the upcoming ‘War Crimes’ novel?

All the horrors of the Time War are addressed in these books. With a novel you have the space to really explore them. ‘War Crimes’ in particular describes some of them. And they aren’t Dalek creations . . .

Are there any plans for related stories outside the Time War? You’ve recently had pre-orders for a novella, ‘The Curator’, based on the character from The Day of the Doctor, as well as a second novella, ‘The Boy in the Barn’. Can we expect anything else along those lines?

‘The Curator’ is a short novella about a man who used to go by another name and now is the curator of the under gallery at the National Museum. He has a life. Many lives. And all goes well until his past intrudes. ‘The Boy In The Barn’ is similar. It’s written in such a way that, I believe, no other Doctor Who book has been.

Not exactly a question, but there is a great clamor for further releases of the anthology. Frequently I’m asked if it will be released again, and I’ve done some promoting for the recent ebook re-release. Is there any chance that it will be released again in conjunction with further releases in the series, so as to give new readers a chance to jump onboard?

As a hardback or paperback it will NEVER be released again. As for the ebook release, we MIGHT give it another go, Providing it benefits the charity. We’ll see . . .

As an editor, what do you recommend for anyone who wants to write for Doctor Who (in any capacity)?

Story first. Doctor later.

I have to ask: Who is “your Doctor”?

I hate to sound predictable, but it is John Hurt. Closely followed by Peter Capaldi and Matt Smith. I’ve a feeling though that Jodie Whittaker may be MY Doctor.

Is there anything else you’d like to say on any of these topics?

I want to say than you to you for all the work you’ve done in reviewing and spreading the word. Also a massive thank you to all those who pre-ordered the books and have been so supportive. There’s really been very little negative feedback.

On behalf of the fans, I’d like to say that we’re glad to see the War Doctor’s legacy live on (and for a great charitable cause, as well!). The War Doctor was an event in every sense—he arrived unexpectedly, changed the history of Doctor Who forever, and then was gone suddenly. Credit justifiably goes to Steven Moffat and the other writers involved with the character on television; but also to you, your group of writers, the crew over at Big Finish, and those responsible for the War Doctor’s comic appearances, for keeping things going even in the wake of the death of Mr. Hurt. Throughout this review series, it’s been a pleasure working with the various contributors, and everyone has been very enthusiastic about both the project and the reviews. Thank you again, and we’ll be back in December for ‘The Horde of Travesties and A History of the Time War’!

You can find Declan May and Seasons of War on Twitter, and Seasons of War on Facebook.  To learn more about Caudwell Children, or to donate, visit their website.  You can also donate via Seasons of War’s Facebook page.

Advertisements

Seasons of War Mini-Review 45: Seasons of War Short Film and The Director’s Tale

Concluding 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.

Seasons of War cover

We’ll wrap up our coverage of the Seasons of War charity anthology with a look at the promotional short film that was released in January 2015. The film serves as a promotional trailer of sorts for the anthology. As such, it is less a coherent story of its own, and more a collection of scenes pertinent to the stories in the anthology (and one in particular, as we’ll see). Still, there is a narrative, though not a lengthy one, and we’ll follow it. Let’s get started!

The majority of the film takes place on Warisia, which was last mentioned in an early story, Corsair. It’s the site of the Battle of Infinite Regress, the repeating conflict which the Warrior and the Corsair set out in the Battered Bride TARDIS to stop, or else prevent. The events of this film happen in and around that battle, although it’s not immediately obvious; the main perspective is that of a Warisian girl, who wouldn’t be time-sensitive, and therefore wouldn’t be aware of the repetitions the way the Time Lords are. She provides a narrating voiceover, which I won’t reproduce exactly (as I’m going to provide a link to the film at the end), but will summarize as we go.

short film 1

An interesting oddity: This shot is clearly the inspiration for the anthology’s cover, seen above and on every post in this series.  However, the digital edition I’ve used–taken from the anthology’s facebook page–shows the sonic screwdriver instead of the telescope; but the print cover, which I haven’t reproduced here, shows the telescope.  Both digital and print are clearly the same picture in every other respect.

The young War Doctor strides up the beach toward a Warisian village, stopping only to use his Dalek-eyestalk telescope for reconnaissance. Our narrator tells us that he is the greatest of all warriors, and has been fighting forever. He is a renegade to his own, but a hero and a protector to the Warisians, as to so many others. She speaks of the never-ending War as her family binds their wounds and works in silence; the Corsair joins them, but brings no help as yet. At night, the narrator—still a child at this time—sets an intruder alarm in her beloved teddy bear before going to bed. Even at this age, she knows that for the Warrior to win, to defeat his enemies, will require terrible things of him. In the morning, he comes through her village as her people cheer; she stops him long enough to place a gift, a homemade bracelet, on his wrist. She is confident that he will never stop—but will always be alone.

We see a montage of scenes of the War—the TARDIS, a world-ending explosion, the Daleks, a sonic screwdriver.

The narrator explains how the War made the Warrior old, and stripped away so much from him. Later, the war at last moves on from her world, leaving peace in its wake, but a broken people. The narrator, now older and now become an accomplished young artist, sits at a table, sketching the man who led their liberation. At that moment, after so long, he returns. Now old and battle-weary, he is no longer the man he was; and his actions have made him ashamed. With empty eyes, he returns her long-ago gift.

She knows not to ask his name; instead, she asks what he once was, before the War. There’s horror in his answer:

“I was a kind of healer once…but no more. No More.”

The anthology returns to the film for its final entry, The Director’s Tale, by film director Andy Robinson. Several months prior to the release of the film, he was approached by Simon Brett, whose work—both literary and artistic—we have seen several times throughout the anthology. The initial request was for a thirty-second artistic piece to promote the book; the end result is seven times that length, at just over three minutes and thirty seconds. (I’m counting only the actual production there; the full running time is 5:38, but that includes two minutes of credits and promotional information.) It’s safe to say Andy Robinson may be a bit of an overachiever.

He defends his decision, though, in true fan fashion. Andy Robinson has wanted to direct an episode of Doctor Who for years; that chance may or may not ever come, but the desire has given him plenty of energy and passion to pour into projects like this. He attributes that desire to the same origin story so many fans have had over the years: hiding behind the sofa as a child when Doctor Who came on (he attributes his childhood fear not to the monsters, but to the theme music, to which I heartily say “me too!”—that music scared me to death as a child. Listen to it and pretend it’s for the first time, you’ll see what I mean; it’s quite creepy). As an adult, he, also like me, has come full circle, and now watches with his own child.

He describes his vision of the War Doctor here as a western, and it shows; he comes off in a very “lone gunslinger” way. It’s a characterization that would no doubt make the War Doctor himself sputter and shout, but it’s accurate; after all, what else is he? He’s the man who wanders into town, takes out the bad guys, and moves on, never telling those he saves about the burdens he himself carries. The television series may have spoofed the genre (I’m looking at you, A Town Called Mercy, which I have to say is quite good, spoof or not), but this film plays it straight—or as much so as a show about a time-travelling alien can do.

Short film 2

For those who are fans of the Corsair, there is a brief appearance here; he doesn’t do anything, really—his actions are addressed a little more in his story in the anthology—but you at least get a view of what he looks like in this incarnation, complete with—if you’re quick—his snake tattoo (see above!). The character is played by Tom Hutchings. The War Doctor, meanwhile, is played by Tom Menary; the full-body shots we get of him are of the younger War Doctor, while the old War Doctor is only present from a point of view that won’t show his face, and is played in hand shots by Simon Tytherleigh. The tribute at the beginning of the book states that Sir John Hurt was approached about the entire project in advance; though he gave his blessing, he was not able to appear in the film, either visually or for voiceover work. The Narrator is played in her childhood appearances by Daisy Batchelor, and in her adult appearances by Becky Rich. The full credits can be seen at the end of the film; there is an abbreviated version included at the end of The Director’s Tale, but everything in it is also included in the film credits, so I won’t reproduce it here. It’s interesting to note that all of the major actors also served in production roles of various types.

And, as they say, that’s that! We’ve reached the end of the Seasons of War anthology. The series continues, however; look for Seasons of War: The Horde of Travesties and A History of the Time War in December 2017, followed by War Crimes: Dispatches & Testimonies from the Dark Side of the Time War; Seasons of War: Gallifrey; Seasons of War: Corsair; and Seasons of War: Regenerations, all in 2018. I’ll be putting this project on hiatus (and returning, albeit erratically, to my other review series) until December, when we’ll return for the next novel. See you then! Thanks for reading.

Short film 3

You can view the Seasons of War short film here. (For those who have the book, unfortunately, the website listed at the end of The Director’s Tale is no longer a valid source for the video, but YouTube has you covered at the link above.)

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here. To follow the series as it develops, please consider following the Seasons of War Facebook page, here.

Previous

Next (See us again in December!)

New to Seasons of War? Want to catch up before The Horde of Travesties and History of the Time War launches in December? Click here for the first post in this series! You can follow the “Next links on each post to continue.

Seasons of War Mini-Review 44: Rise/Risen: A Coda

Concluding 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.

Seasons of War cover

The War is over.

Part One: The man who was of late a warrior–the Warrior—stands at the console. Memories burn and fade in his mind. The taste of tea; an art gallery. He remembers, but he doesn’t. Three men and a woman—no, two; one of them both familiar and not. Three men? Two? Or only one? Old memories flood back, as well—a long-ago moment of theft of a TARDIS. Words at random, Earth words. A rose. A moment—no, a Moment.

Words spill from his tongue, at first in…French? Is he French this time? No, that makes no sense, though it would be quite a change indeed. His accent. Something northern this time.

The biggest change of all: He is young. Very young. After so many years of old age, it’s only right. The change in body, in sensations, is too much. It always is. What’s with these new ears?

Suddenly it all roars back to him. The barn. The Moment. The end of it all. It’s too much to bear, and he collapses as, roaring in, here comes everything.

Part Two: The TARDIS hangs and spins in the time vortex, battered by the winds of time. It tumbles toward a nearby world, on a collision course. Its pilot lies unconscious on the floor, defending himself in the only way possible from the onslaught of horrible memories, the terrible past (now Time Locked away, but the memories stay). As he comes to, he examines it all in his mind: the War, the Daleks, the Time Lords, Gallifrey, the madness…so many names he has worn in his rush to be anything but himself: the Warrior, the Postman, the Foreman, the Man in the Bandolier, the Prisoner…

He remembers it all: the death of his Eighth body on Karn, the end of the Doctor. The Chronosmiths and the Eight Minute War. The return of Rassilon, the lives and deaths of Jenny Shirt and Cinder, the Fall of Arcadia… and under (over?) it all, a fading memory of a man in a bow tie, and one in sand shoes…

He hesitates a moment only, before admitting it to himself. HE pressed the button. He used the Moment, and killed every last one of them—Daleks and Time Lords alike.

He is awake now. He moves to the console, pressing buttons, setting things right, stabilizing his ship.

Part Three: The newborn Doctor wanders the corridors of his ancient TARDIS, probing at the remaining hole in his memories. He cannot remember how he got here. From the Moment to the TARDIS…shouldn’t he have burned with Gallifrey? It was certainly what he intended. He had no wish to survive.

This TARDIS…now it is home for certain. It is the only home he has left. As he strides through its passages, it too shakes off the War. It rebuilds itself, changes, transforms…and as it does, the Doctor does the same. The Warrior falls away, and the Doctor blossoms—“like a rose”, he hears in his mind. He remembers them all—and he remembers ending them.

“Fantastic,” he calls out, new vowels bitter and ironic echo and reverberate. “I wiped them out, watched them burn then popped-off in my TARDIS and had a cuppa!” And with that, he laughs, perhaps for the first time in a long time.

Still, he can’t fill the hole in his memory. Words float back, indicating something might be different from what he recalls, but they are gone again at once. But… the War, the Last Great Time War, is over. “No more,” he says. “I am the Doctor again…”

He visits the wardrobe for the first time in years. He drops his old jacket to the floor, drops the bandolier with it. His sonic screwdriver rolls across the floor to fetch up against a crate. Atop that crate lies a simple, black leather jacket. That will work…keep things simple. He changes quickly, discarding the Warrior’s clothes, not paying much attention to what he chooses, and putting the new jacket over it all. The sonic, he leaves lying on the floor—he’ll soon make a new one, with fewer memories attached.

As he finishes, the Cloister Bell tolls. It may signal danger, but it gives order to his world. He is needed…somewhere. He runs back through his regenerating TARDIS, toward the console room.

He finds that this room, too, is changing—and what worse time? It burns and melts, its roundels falling and disappearing, coral spearing up through its floor to strike the ceiling. “Not now! Just give me this moment!”

The screen is active. It focuses in on Earth, London, 2005. There is a signal there. Nestene? Did the Consciousness survive? Its world burned, too…he’d been unable to help. Perhaps now he could set that right. The Nestene will be wanting the Earth. Perhaps today he can save two races.

His ship is burning. He himself is newly transformed. And yet, he knows two things for sure:

“The Earth’s in danger,” he says. “And I’m the Doctor.”

As he throws the dematerialisation switch, and swoops toward a planet he never expected to see again, he can’t help but be excited. The Doctor has returned. “Fantastic,” he says. “Absolutely fantastic!”

After the Horde of Travesties, beyond the Nightmare Childe,

When a rose caught in a Moment,

Bloomed ferocious genocide.

The Warrior fades and weakens, loosens heavy bandolier,

Forgets his day as the doctor,

Now the Doctor, again, is near.

Rise Risen 1

There are only a few things I regret about The Day of the Doctor. One is that the past-Doctor actors didn’t get to make an appearance, with the exception of Tom Baker as the Curator (The Five-ish Doctors Reboot notwithstanding). The others are tied together: I regret that Christopher Eccleston declined to appear (although, if he had, we might not have had the War Doctor at all, and might not be having this conversation!), and I regret that the War Doctor’s regeneration scene was cut short out of deference to Eccleston. That last is particularly notable; it’s no surprise that numerous fans have recut the video to show a more complete transformation into the Ninth Doctor. This story also sets out to address that gap, by giving us the newly-regenerated Ninth Doctor from the moment immediately after regeneration (as he still has the taste of the tea he drank in the under-gallery in his mouth) to the moment when he heads for Earth to initiate the events of Rose.

Some fans may take issue with the idea that Rose occurs so soon after regeneration. Certainly it’s been debated often—did the Ninth Doctor have adventures prior to meeting Rose Tyler? I think that that was certainly the implication, as there’s the famous scene where he looks in Jackie Tyler’s mirror as though he had never seen his own face before. It is a bit undermined by a scene later in Series One in which the Doctor was seen alone at several historic events, including the JFK assassination and the eruption of Krakatoa. Stories in other media have taken the stance that he spent some time without companions before meeting Rose; but the subject is still open for debate. I’ve always been a fan of the idea that Rose is truly his first adventure in this body, and that the historical scenes are later in his personal timeline (as it’s simple enough to get separated from Rose long enough for a photo to be snapped even if she is present for the adventure). With this story, it’s great to see the connection between The Day of the Doctor and Rose, even if the Doctor himself can’t see it (due to his memory being altered by the out-of-sync timelines among his selves.)

The thing that stands out to me most in this final story is the idea that it’s not over. Oh, the Time War is over, there’s no question of that; but the Doctor’s story is not over. It would have been very easy to look at the Time War and its resolution as the end-all of events in the Doctor’s life—after all, how do you top something like that? Simply put: you don’t try to top it, you just move on. The Doctor does exactly that here: he begins to alternately lose and push away his memories, and he looks toward the future. New body, new clothes, new sonic screwdriver (soon anyway), new TARDIS interior…and it is most definitely time for a change! He’ll have the lingering guilt to deal with, of course, but we know it will work out for him in the end. In the meantime, he gets to go and be fantastic.

We’ve reached the end of the anthology, and for a time, we can let the War Doctor rest. There’s one item left to cover; we’ll be looking at the Seasons of War short film next, and then we’ll put this series on hold until December, when The Horde of Travesties and A History of the Time War picks up the War Doctor’s story again. I hope everyone has enjoyed this series.

Some time ago, someone asked what materials are new to the final edition of the anthology. As per the editor, the stories titled Life During Wartime, Reflections, and today’s entry, Rise/Risen: A Coda, are all new. Additionally, all incidental art by Simon Brett, the opening endorsement by Steven Moffat (“Seasons Of War. At last: the John Hurt era continues. Those sixteen years off the air are fixed now!” – Steven Moffat, January 2017. Located on page 11 of the final edition.), and the illustrations by Raine Stryminski (pages 6 and 8, for anyone who has the final edition) of the young and old War Doctors, are all new.

Rise/Risen: A Coda was written by Declan May, with art by Simon A. Brett. Next time: the Seasons of War short film, written and directed by Andy Robinson, with additional information from The Director’s Tale, also by Andy Robinson.

risen proof

If you would like to get started with Seasons of War, there is a limited-time opportunity open right now to obtain the ebook version of the anthology, for a few more days only I checked just prior to posting, and saw that the ebook orders closed yesterday. My apologies. However there is currently an auction open for two signed copies (first and second editions in one prize package) along with some other special items. Also, pre-orders have been re-opened for The Horde of Travesties and A History of the Time War for one more day only! I will include links to both at the end of this post. As these are unofficial, charity projects, sales are limited, and no volumes are guaranteed to be released again. I am not affiliated with either project; I’m simply promoting them because I found the first one to be excellent, and expect the others to continue as such.

To pre-order The Horde of Travesties and A History of the Time War, please visit this link for information and payment options. This opportunity has been re-opened ONLY until Saturday, 07/15/17.

Another volume in the series, War Crimes: Dispatches and Testimonies from the Dark Side of the Time War, is also available for pre-order at this link.

Other volumes (Corsair, Gallifrey, and Regenerations) have been announced, and pre-order dates will be forthcoming.

Previous

Next

Seasons of War Mini-Review 43: Prologue – The Horde of Travesties

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.

Seasons of War cover

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.

The Horde of Travesties sonic

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!

War Lord Seasons of War

The War Lord.  Artist unknown.

 

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

Previous

Next

Seasons of War Mini-Review 42: The Moments In Between

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.

Seasons of War cover

The Moments In Between takes place during the events of Engines of War, at an unspecified point between chapter seventeen—where Cinder is seen to acquire one of former companion Sam Jones’ Greenpeace t-shirts, which she wears in this story—and chapter nineteen, where the Doctor and Cinder retrieve Borusa, the possibility engine, who is not present on the TARDIS in this story.

The War Doctor’s latest companion, Cinder, finds him in the TARDIS console room. He and his machine seem equally tired, and she can’t blame them; how long have they been fighting this war, anyway? Even her little part has dragged on for years. She knows how it can bleed people dry. She interrupts his concentration and asks if he has bad news (and of course he does; when is it ever good news anymore?). He’s diverted for a moment, however, when she comments offhandedly that it’s been a very long time since she heard good news, or saw something beautiful. That, he decides, is one tragedy too many for today; and so he leads her further into the TARDIS.

With a shrug, Cinder did as he said. “Where are we going?”

“To see something beautiful,” he said.

The TARDIS itself is beautiful enough, in its own way. The Doctor leads her through galleries of paintings, past flowing fountaiins, and even through an ancient wood and a field of flowers. How there can be nature inside the TARDIS, she doesn’t know, but she lets it pass for now. And yet, none of this is his destination. After an hour of walking, he leads her to a bright corridor, paved in irregular flagstones, lit with lanterns strung from cables like an alley in some lost-but-exotic city. On each side of the corridor are a variety of doors. She is surprised to learn that everything she has seen is still not what he meant when he said “something beautiful”; his goal, it seems, is behind these doors. He points her to the nearest one and tells her to look inside.

She pulls the weathered oak door—a church door, she thinks—open.

Inside, she is stunned to find an ancient landscape. Giant ferns wave in the breeze under the light of twin stars. Another planet—altogether too close—can be seen in the sky, bracketed by pink clouds. Strange creatures inhabit the puddles at her feet. This, the Doctor explains, is the Sense Sphere, the home of the Sensorites, at the moment of its birth—the moment that race came into existence. It’s complicated, though he tries to explain; the planet is both here and not. This is no holograph, but the moment itself, snatched from reality in the moment before its destruction. Why? He names any number of reasons: Preservation, freedom, a second chance, a personal rebellion. And there is more.

Door after door, the Doctor walks Cinder through moment upon moment that he has taken from the fabric of the universe. Cinder sees a Menoptra take wing. She sees the Nestene Consciousness awaken for the first time. She sees a Sarkovian Death March. The list goes on, and she knows she could go on forever. Finally she sits down and asks the Doctor the question that springs to mind: “You did all of this?”

The answer is unexpected. No, he tells her, he doesn’t do this. He simply found it here one day. It’s the TARDIS who does it; the TARDIS takes it upon herself, in the moments in between all the fighting and running, to capture these moments before they are lost forever. It’s not his reasons that matter, but hers; it’s her rebellion, because she hates the war, hates even the concept of it. When he mentioned a second chance, it was what she, the TARDIS, was hoping for. These moments may be the seeds that restore the universe one day. And Cinder agrees; it is beautiful.

There’s more, though. The Doctor points her attention to a small door, one that looks suspiciously like a homestead door on Cinder’s own world of Moldox. She could stay here; the TARDIS would allow it, as it seems to like her. She could avoid the fighting. She deserves it, or so the Doctor tells her. And tempting it is, she admits to herself.

But, no. Not while the Daleks remain. Not while people continue to die. She can’t be simply part of the TARDIS’s collection while there is a universe burning, a universe to save. She may not have to go on; but neither does the Doctor, and yet he does it anyway. So will she. After all, the new door, the Moldox door, will keep; she’ll be back soon enough. Won’t she?

I’ve previously reviewed the novel Engines of War, which serves as a parent work to this story; you can read my review here. I’ve often wondered if this story was a deleted scene from that novel, or if it was written separately. It’s a little difficult to fit it into the published version of the novel’s text; one can mostly point out where it should fit, as I did at the beginning of this entry, but the text isn’t written with any gap that would accommodate it. Regardless, it’s a good and sentimental story; and with that novel’s placement almost immediately (as far as we can tell) before The Day of the Doctor, this is very likely the Doctor’s last chance to, well, be the Doctor before he uses the Moment. Spoilers for anyone who has not read the novel: it’s Cinder’s death shortly after this scene that prompts his famous declaration of “No More”, leading him to use the Moment and end the War. That death also turns the ending of this story, and Cinder’s promise to return, into a melancholy bit of foreshadowing, which would be lost on anyone who has not read the novel first.

Although her time with the Doctor is brief (and, unlike other short-term companions, bracketed in such a way that it would be very difficult or even impossible to give her more adventures), Cinder is a companion of whom I’ve grown fond. She is very much a NuWho companion; she is far from the screaming damsel that so many classic series companions were. If you’ll allow me a bit of creative retconning, one might even argue that she is the template for NuWho companions; the powerful impact she has on the Doctor in this one short adventure, which takes place very shortly before his regeneration, sets the tone for the kind of female companions he seeks out for centuries to come. Still, her story as a whole is tragic: born and raised on a Dalek-occupied world, lost her family and friends at a young age, pulled into the resistance, spent her life killing Daleks, and then died after a single trip with the Doctor. It’s a level of grimness that is appropriate for a Time War companion; but it only highlights the need for a story like this one. Put simply, Cinder deserves to catch a break for once.

As much as this is Cinder’s story, it’s also the TARDIS’s. NuWho, of course, established that the TARDIS is a character as much as the Doctor; classic Doctors treated it like it was alive, but that was just an affectation, where the revived series canonized the ship’s sentience. (I am aware that other media took that route much earlier; I’m thinking specifically of the television series here.) Further, we’ve seen in stories like The Name of the Doctor that the TARDIS has strong opinions and the power to express them. I like the fact that the TARDIS is essentially a pacifist; she believes in standing up for what is right, but she hates the fighting. (We had an earlier hint of this in Fall, when the Doctor told the Brigadier that he was forced to deactivate the telepathic circuits in order to circumvent the TARDIS’s disapproval of his destinations.) I very much like the idea that, in a time of war, she rebels by saving peace and beauty. While I don’t see any indication that she must actually use these “seeds”—it appears that the sealing away of the War is sufficient to restore the timelines—it’s a beautiful idea. In the process, we get references to several stories from long ago, including The Sensorites, The Web Planet, and several stories involving the Nestene Consciousness.

We have one more story to cover within the Time War itself; but chronologically, we’ve reached the end of the War, as the next story takes place much earlier in the War Doctor’s timeline. It’s been a long ride, but a good one, and soon the War Doctor can rest. I recommend reading Engines of War for the sake of context, and then wrapping up the War Doctor era with The Day of the Doctor. Thanks for following along!

The Moments In Between was written by George Mann, with art by Paul Hanley; at the artist’s request, I am unable to include the art here, but below I have included a related piece which can be found on his DeviantArt page. Next time: Prologue – The Horde of Travesties, by Declan May. See you there!

Forged in fire

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

Previous

Next

Seasons of War Mini-Review 41: The Beach

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.

Seasons of War cover

Tom is a university student in Australia. This week, along with a few fellow students, he has accompanied his professor, one Professor Skellern, to a private retreat at a secluded beach, a retreat that the Professor makes every year on the same dates, although no one has ever thought to ask him why. It’s all going well, until this morning, when Tom spots a strange man—and a strange blue box—on the mostly-private beach.

The man only seems more odd when Tom approaches him. He watches the ocean, and grows annoyed when interrupted, but only mildly so; at the suggestion that he has come to watch the whales in the Pacific, he spouts the most amazing nonsense about whales among the stars. Tom is sure he’s mad, until the name of Professor Skellern comes up; and suddenly the man reveals that he knows far more than anticipated about the professor. When Professor Skellern arrives at the beach, things become truly strange. Did Tom just see the professor’s eyes change? He wants to investigate further, but he finds himself unable to move, his feet tied up in some preternatural seaweed that paralyzes him in place. And as he watches, the professor points to the water—which begins to split like the Red Sea.

A coffin, or rather, a coffinlike structure, sits on the now-bare seafloor. Through its translucent surface can be seen a body. The professor and the strange man both decline to explain, but Tom has at least grasped that this isn’t really the professor; maybe it’s the newly-sprouted gills that gave it away, one can’t be sure. He witnesses as the two argue; it seems the strange man somehow gave the professor-creature an extra decade of life, but now the debt has come due. The stranger makes his explanation, and Tom realizes that it is for his, Tom’s, benefit as much as for the creature’s. He explains that there is a massive, nearly-eternal war out among the stars…and he is about to end it at last. He knows now how to do so, though there will be a price to pay. In the meantime, there are loose ends to tie up, and Professor Skellern is one of them.

The coffin opens, and Professor Skellern—the real Professor Skellern—climbs out. For him, it’s only been moments, though in the world, ten years have passed. This is what the strange old man—the Warrior—gave him, though the reason remains to be seen. As Tom watches, the professor-creature transforms into a wondrous, humanoid, fishlike being with rainbow scales.

The creature explains that his world was annihilated in the Time War, and quite by accident, he himself survived when the Warrior’s TARDIS materialized around his ship. The laws of time were broken in the process, and thus the Warrior was able to save him, but only temporarily. He struck a deal for more years for the creature, but at the end, when the Warrior is about to end the War, he must return him to the place and time from which he took him. Meanwhile, the professor—an old friend of the Warrior from the time when he called himself the Doctor—was dying of a disease with no cure. The solution, then, was to allow them to change places for a time. Now, both of them, it seems, will go to their deaths. The creature, though perhaps bitter about it, accepts his fate and enters the coffin, thanking Professor Skellern for the time and the opportunity. The waves return over it as it prepares for transport.

When the coffin vanishes, Tom is freed. He hurries to catch the Warrior at the blue police box. To his surprise, the Warrior gives him an envelope:

“When I’m gone,” said the old man, “give it to Professor Skellern with my…gratitude.” He smiled. “Once upon a time, in a different life, he thought me a savior, a strong man, someone who fought for the underdog. This war has changed me in more ways than one. My morals have become…scrambled, and are very shortly going to get worse. I want him to remember me as I once was.”

The box vanishes, carrying the stranger—and the coffin in the ocean—with it.

Tom gives the envelope to Professor Skellern. Inside he finds a photo of Skellern and a younger man—clearly the Eighth Doctor, though Tom would not know that—bearing an inscription: “This man is gone forever, please remember him and live his ideals.” Despite this, Skellern is quite sure the Doctor—having become something else entirely—has let him down.

And yet, as Tom sees, there is something else inside the envelope: a newspaper clipping. It bears news of a cure for a certain disease, a recently-approved cure…for the disease that is killing Skellern. This, it seems, is what the bargain was really about: one being, the last of his race, obtained ten more years of life…and another had his life restored to him.

As they leave the beach, Tom ponders these events. This man, this Warrior, this Doctor…Tom is glad he doesn’t know him as Skellern once did. And yet, he thinks, he will return here…in case one day the Warrior does the same.

It’s nearly over now, and the Doctor knows it as well. He has made his decision, and made such peace with it as can be had, though that’s little enough. All that remains is to tie up the loose ends, as he says here. We as an audience won’t get to see all of those ends—and there is room there for more stories, should anyone be so inclined—but we get this one, and that’s enough for now.

It’s a little difficult to place this story, other than to say it is near the end of the War. It’s especially hard to do so, given that the next story—and I’m spoiling things a bit by saying so—takes place in the middle of George Mann’s novel Engines of War. Still, my personal opinion is that this story should properly take place after that novel; it’s during the events of the novel that the War Doctor makes his famous “No More” declaration, which I take to be synonymous with his decision to use the Moment. We’ve seen before that he’s already been pointed toward the Omega Arsenal, though I am unsure if he’s actually aware of the Moment at this point. He makes that choice after the death of his companion Cinder, and then—like the Tenth Doctor after him—makes his rounds, tying up loose ends and saying goodbye. (I suspected at first that Professor Skellern might be a character pulled from a past adventure, but I could find no indication of it; it seems to be another of the many adventures that happened “off-screen”.)

Other than that, the story is fairly standard fare, though I don’t mean that as an insult. Rather, I simply mean that nothing revolutionary happens here—we learn nothing new about the War, or the War Doctor, given that we’ve known for a long time where he’s headed. Instead, this is simply a good, clever story, and one with a happy ending despite the pall that hangs over it from the impending Moment. Happy endings are in short supply these days, and we’ll have no more until it’s over. I like that ending, though; in just a moment’s time, it changes the Doctor from a calloused, tired old man to a last-minute, ingenious hero again. Doctor Who has always been fantastic for those endings, and this one is a nice, and even sentimental, touch.

John Hurt Tribute photo

The Beach was written by Gary Russell. Next time: The Moments in Between, by George Mann. See you there.

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

Previous

Next

Seasons of War Mini-Review 40: Doctor Death

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.

Seasons of War cover

After all this time, it’s come down to this: The War Doctor has gone mad.

Or at least, he wonders if he has. After all, it’s not often he finds himself sitting on top of his own Police Box, wondering how he’ll get out of this situation…with the box buried to its upper edges in mud. It would be nice if, for once, he could rescue himself.

He thinks back to the battle from which he recently escaped. He won—of course—with the settlement saved; but in the course of leaving, his TARDIS was struck by an explosion, and careened off onto another world. THIS world, with its mud. He’s tired, he admits; this war has worn him down, until he’s only a shadow of the optimistic, cheerful mastermind he once was. Adding insult to injury, as he leaves his TARDIS, he finds it sinking into the mud. He climbs atop it as the door slips beneath the surface, and surveys his desolate landing area.

Something approaches across the mud flat. It’s distant, a small black blob, but it is definitely coming toward him. He reaches for his Dalek-eyestalk telescope, but remembers he left it in the now-inaccessible TARDIS. He finds himself talking to himself about the approaching spectre. Is it a mirage? And does talking to himself mean he’s crazy now? At least the sinking has stopped, much help that may be. Wait! The figure…

…is Death.

Well, of course it is. It’s long overdue, isn’t it? Maybe seeing Death personified is the true first sign of madness, followed by mirages and—possibly—talking to oneself. Never mind that! Death approaches! Black robe, scythe—very traditional, this version of Death. The Doctor hails him, but receives, of course, no answer. Well, he must have better things to do. He certainly had them earlier that day.

In a flashback, the Doctor cradles the girl with the purple hair. She is dying. It was only a glancing shot that took her, but that is all that was required. He knows he shouldn’t have brought her, and he apologizes. In end, she tells him it’s not her fault, though he is sure it is. They saved the planet, and all those people, but here, he can’t save her. She knows, and she accepts it. In the moment before her death, she chides him gently; she’s only known him a year, and in that time the man she calls Mr. Foreman got so old, so fast. The fact that he has known her for hundreds of years is irrelevant now.

“Sleep on. Jenny Shirt,” he said to the purple haired girl he had known for several hundred years, holding her close. “For I have rocked many like you to sleep and yet, I cannot sleep myself. Not yet. Not ever. I shall not sleep.”

And Jenny Shirt died.

As Death—with a capital “D”—approaches, the Doctor hails him again. Above, this planet’s three suns are sinking, and the Doctor wants to know if they will outlast him. Will his end be soon? He may get away. He always does. Does that make him lucky? Would Death call him that? Or would Death call him anything at all? He doesn’t deserve a name, and doesn’t have the energy to explain it anymore. The War has taken that from him, too.

He remembers another time, a little eariler than Jenny’s death. He visited an ambassador in a high tower. He’s been sent to kill this man who stands between his people and the Daleks—this man who fools himself into thinking he has done what he must, while instead he has betrayed his people. The Doctor makes no move, no reply; he only watches. It is the one thing the ambassador cannot handle. His own guilt bubbles out of him in his words, until at last, overcome, he leaps from the window to the ground beneath.

Mission complete—and all the worse for it—the Doctor leaves the Ambassador’s quarters.

Death has drawn close over the last several hours. During those hours, the Doctor has had his own time of confession, for this silent, relentless march is the one thing he cannot endure. He explains himself, cajoles, confesses. Now, as the suns finally set, and Death becomes dim before him, he falls silent for a moment.

With the red eyes of Death facing him under the cowl, he explodes in fear, and frustration, and abject self-vindication. He shouts that he never claimed to be right; he only acted to help where he could. There is no right in this War, only doing what one can. That cold reality has stripped his sense of purpose, and without it…why does he fight? He is too exhausted to know. And yet, even he, the Doctor, can’t cheat death forever. He is ready for it…he wants to sleep without hearing screams.

Death raises its scythe, and the Doctor closes his eyes in anticipation. He only wishes that he had not let everyone down—friends, allies, the universe. He wishes he had not failed.

A mechanical voice cuts through his silence. “Protocol #72. Search and locate. Attempt acquisition of machine.” And with that, Death’s scythe falls…scooping the mud away from the TARDIS in an increasing blur.

Death, it seems, is not here today. The Doctor recognizes as much, and gets an unexpected reply. “Recognition approved. Unit 5 deployed. Approximately 22 minutes until pick-up. You have been saved.”

The Doctor wonders if that’s really true. That depends, I suppose, on your definition of salvation.

I would like to look at this story, appropriately titled Doctor Death, from the limited view of the Time War. Instead, I have to admit that it’s much more applicable to Doctor Who as a whole, and that’s the thing that springs to mind.

The problem with any television series (and I know that Doctor Who is far more than television these days, but bear with me) is that it begs for an ending. I’m not suggesting that it needs an ending now, and I’m not suggesting that all series get an ending, but simply that we want resolution sometime. If our favorite shows must end, then let them end well! We can all think of a series that let things dangle at the end, and it’s frustrating every time. Lost, The X-Files, Twin Peaks (though those latter two have enjoyed some success in revival—although The X-Filesrevival still left things hanging!)—those are older examples, but you get the idea. So, what does one do with a series like Doctor Who?

In the 1980s, we faced this very question. Cancellation happened, and it was all that could be done just to put a nice closing monologue over the final episode. Wrapping things up was never an option. We’re glad of that now, of course, because it allowed for the existence of, well, everything that’s happened since then, but it was awkward at the time. Now, we’ve faced a situation where the Doctor has reached the end of his regeneration cycle (something the writers who created the concept must surely never have expected to reach), and he was due to die—and we plucked him out of the jaws of death. Again, I’m glad, because Doctor Who is far from over. In fact, you could argue that a show about a time traveller can never properly be over, because you can always plug in new stories in the middle. It happens all the time.

Still, one day, Doctor Who’s star is going to fade again (and I don’t mean Peter Capaldi!). It may be thirty years down the road, but it will happen. What happens then? Do we leave the Doctor hanging forever? Or do we, at last, give him a proper, noble ending? In other words, do we let the Doctor die? That’s the only surefire way to actually make an end of this show, of course; we’re dealing with a show where death is usually just a formality. As long as there is regeneration, the show must go on! Even if not on television. No, it will take a final, declarative death to lay the Doctor’s story to rest.

The War Doctor’s weariness is by no means the same thing, coming as it does from the Time War; but in this one instance, he is in fact standing in for the audience. That’s a role that usually goes to the companion, but this story is current companion Jenny Shirt’s death story, and she’s hardly an adequate audience surrogate in that moment. In fact, her death is brief and hasty and not at all built up, so as to put a final note on the horror of the Time War—we’ve had several adventures with her, and yet all her hopefulness and cheerfulness and success is cut down in an instant, almost by chance. We’ll miss her, and honor her, but it’s the Doctor who fills the surrogate role here. And the Doctor is tired. He has multitudes of timelines, hundreds of battles, tragedy upon tragedy, all tucked into his memory and scarring his body and mind. He’s ready for the end. We, the audience, aren’t ready yet—but with hundreds if not thousands of stories and details and characters and plots and universes to track, one can see how we could be. If Doctor Who ever dies, it will be in part from its own mass. None of this is to say I disapprove; I love this massive shared universe and everything in it. It’s simply to say that when the end comes, it will be well-earned. (I don’t know if any of this is what the author intended, but to me it seems too much a theme to overlook.)

It’s worth noting that this is not actually the Doctor’s first encounter with Death, though he says it is. He encountered a similarly-robed personification of Death, and even danced with Death on the surface of the moon, in a very early New Adventures novel, Timewyrm: Revelation. In that story, Death was not a machine, but was another form of artificial construct, and was short-lived (an ironic statement if ever there was one).

John Hurt Tribute photo

Doctor Death was written by anthology publisher Barnaby Eaton-Jones of Chinbeard Books. Next time: The Beach by Gary Russell. See you there.

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

Previous

Next