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.

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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.

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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.

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 39: Time Enough for War

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

Time Enough for War is unique among all the entries in the Seasons of War anthology, in that it is the only story presented in comic-book or graphic-novel format. It’s not a story within the chronology of the anthology, as all others have been. Instead, it’s a somewhat surreal, metaphysical take on the War as a whole. Here, the Time Lords and the Daleks, each collectively, are portrayed as vast, supernatural titans of the metaverse—the universe and all its realities and dimensions and timelines—locked in an eternal war. That war expands until it becomes the final war, and then the only war, destroying realities and rewriting history and warping species and annihilating worlds and galaxies, until there is nothing left. We are walked through the history of the war, seeing some of its key events both upstream and downstream in time, until the end—the end of everything, when nothing remains. The titans are driven by primal urges: one to liberate and save, one to dominate and kill. And yet, there is nothing left to save, nothing left to kill.

Then, at long last, the two titans confer. Each knows the other cannot abide the one; each knows the war must continue. But, how? There can be no victory for either side. They are stalemated! And so, they concoct a plan: They will determine the outcome by proxy. They will, together, create an ultimate weapon. That weapon will weaponise time itself. It will have something of each titan about it—it will know how to kill, and how to heal. It will love and it will hate. It will be strong and intelligent. It will decide the outcome of the last great time war. And so, cooperating for the first and last time, they create their weapon…

…and they are stunned to see it weep.

For this weapon—this man, who once was a healer, but is now a warrior—does indeed weep, an outcome that neither of the titans foresaw. But why does he weep? Is it because he knows that reality—the entire metaverse—can only be saved by the destruction of two titans, two civilizations? Or is it because he knows that true destruction will never be possible? Perhaps even he does not know.

Proper credit is due to Simon A Brett’s artwork for this story, to which I cannot do justice in print—the greatest comparison I can make is to some of the early Adam Warlock comics, which I loved as a child (although they were long since in reprints, and the stories were far above my head at that time!). While I don’t have digital samples on hand—didn’t plan ahead far enough, unfortunately, due to a family emergency the last few days—I will say that the cover art for the anthology (seen above) is taken from one of the final panels of the story. (While at first glance that image appears to be the Eighth Doctor—a reasonable assumption for a number of reasons—the next panel confirms that it is the War Doctor wearing the Eighth Doctor’s coat, which he recovered from his own future self as far back as our fifteenth story, Loop. We won’t revisit that moment in any future stories, but very soon we must necessarily come to the point where the older War Doctor will pass that coat to his younger self in exchange for the leather coat we see in The Day of the Doctor.) As I can’t properly present the artwork here, I highly recommend that anyone interested in this anthology take the upcoming opportunity to obtain the ebook version, which will temporarily go on sale next week. (While I try not to make a habit of plugging for sales in a review—especially when the work being sold isn’t mine—in this case it’s appropriate, I think, and doubly so because the purchase window will most likely be short.)

This story makes brief mention of a number of events in the Time War. It implies that the true first strike of the war was an attempt by the Daleks to infiltrate the Time Lord High Council, and that the events of Genesis of the Daleks were a response to this. It credits the Sontarans with sabotaging peace talks and escalating the War. It mentions the Trees of Cheem and their near-destruction (or actual destruction, which would then have been rewritten at some point so as to allow for the events of The End of the World) and the corruptions of the Nestene Consciousness through the devastation of their worlds (which, in turn, is credited as the cause of the Nestene affinity for plastic). It mentions the destruction of the Animus (The Web Planet), and tells us that the Eternals at last fled the metaverse, fearing the loss of all coherent reality (perhaps explaining why they’ve never been seen post-War). It speaks of entire species being de-evolved and then evolved again into gestalt super-weapons. Here is a glimpse of the Time War as it was always promised: a war so vast, so ubiquitous with regard to timelines and their corruption, that it defies true comprehension. The comic captures the use of both time and space—and everything in them—as weapons. We only get a glancing view of the scale of the destruction, but it’s overwhelming even when glimpsed from the corner of the eye.

I thought for a long time about the implication that the Doctor is a creation of both the Daleks and the Time Lords. Of course, this story is, as I mentioned, a metaphysical take on the situation—it’s not literal, and not meant to be taken that way. Nevertheless, there’s a very real sense in which the War Doctor is a creation of both, although he is certainly all Time Lord with regard to his species. His experiences in and leading up to this incarnation have been so shaped by the Daleks that his very personality is a reaction to them—and in becoming the Warrior necessary to fight them, he had to take on some of their traits: hate, the desire to kill, the drive for victory. When merged with his own natural talents, this becomes a fearsome combination indeed, as we well know.

We are very near the end of the book now; there are only five stories left, and one of those occurs after the end of the War. (As well, at the end we’ll cover the related short film, though I haven’t counted it here.) It’s perhaps best to think of this story as a moment to pause and take a breath—a chance to lift your head and get a look around at the entire course of where we’ve been—before racing on to the end. We’ve come a long way, and we’re nearly there! If you’ve followed this far, thank you. Only a little further now!

Time Enough for War was written by Jim Mortimore and illustrated by Simon A Brett. Next time: We’ll revisit our old friend Jenny Shirt for the last time in Doctor Death, by Barnaby Eaton-Jones. 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.

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 36: The Time Lord Who Came to Tea

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

On war-torn Gallifrey, near the city of Arcadia, a thirteen-year-old girl named Sophienna keeps a diary. In it she talks of many things: of her friends, who have one by one disappeared to different fates; of the crumbling sky trench (affectionately called “Bob”) that hangs above her town, Jericho, in decrepit danger; of the walled city of Arcadia, and her desire to relocate there, and her crippled father’s resistance to the idea; of the gang warfare that dominates her little town in the shadow of the War; and of her family’s trade. They are Dalek meat scavengers, a profession as horrible as it sounds. Sophienna goes into the battlefields nearby and scavenges for dead Daleks, pulling the mutant corpses from their armor and taking them home, where her father renders them down into stinking cuts of meat and foul energy drinks. Their clientele are the refugees in the ruins nearby, people who come and—sometimes grudgingly—give the last treasures of their old lives in exchange for another day’s terrible sustenance. Sophienna hates this life, but knows no other way in the face of the War—but she rejects a terrible idea, propagated by the cult-cum-terrorist group of the Puritanians, that those who eat Dalek meat become Dalek themselves in some way. It’s difficult for her to ignore the words, though, as her boyfriend, Mazal, comes from a Puritanian family; and already they keep their relationship secret.

She talks of the deadly (and illegal) Time Ball games that the older children play. Sophienna believes that the children do this to remind themselves of what victory—a distant concept—is like. She is too young, but she plays her own game, tossing stones at jars of Dalek eyes, the one part of the mutant that few people will eat. In dwelling on this, she thinks of her prize possession—a particular stone that she will not throw, one given to her now-deceased mother years ago by a man, a hero, who saved her mother’s life. She follows his adventures, as best she can, with news clippings in a scrapbook.

Suddenly there is a knock at the door—a secret knock, signifying something unusual. The face that greets her at the door…is that of her hero. He sweeps past her simply enough, with an airy “I believe I am expected for tea.” He sets the table and provides the meal, foods and teas that have not been seen in this house for a very long time. The family and the hero catch up; and the man is shaken by the news of the death of the woman he once saved, who has died in childbirth with Sophienna’s younger brother. At this he grows sad; but he grows angry at word of the stripping of Jericho’s resources and defenses, of the transfer of doctors, nurses, and warriors to Arcadia. Later he lets Sophienna show him her room, with a star hanging from the ceiling in memory of her mother. Sophienna tells him that she once named a real star for her mother—but for seven years, the sky trenches have necessarily obscured the view of the stars.

The Warrior takes Sophienna by the hand and leads her from the house. Traveling through an underground network of tunnels, and before she realizes it, in the darkness they have entered the Warrior’s TARDIS, and are traveling. When the doors open, they are standing atop the sky trench. Sophienna chokes up at seeing her mother’s star, unimpeded, for the first time in years; and as she writes this down, she finds it hard to articulate. The Warrior pleads with her to share her thoughts and experiences, to write them down and make them live on; he assures her that to him, she is the true war hero. She understands…but that is not enough. She grabs his hand and makes him look down on the ravaged landscape, and she tells him:

“You come and go, fixing things and leaving them as if they can stay mended. But even after the victory the horrors of war multiply. Mum didn’t die in war – but she died because of it. Ask yourself: what did you save her for? Every day I face a struggle to survive, to keep Father alive. The Time Lords, like distant gods, curse the kids, but what chance have we got? My school days finished when the last of our teachers fled to Arcadia – lessons in ancient Gallifreyan replaced by demonstrations of how to skin a cat. You’ve taken me on an incredible journey and for that I am truly grateful, but if you want to understand you need to walk in my shoes, follow my lead. Let me take you on the trip of your lifetime. Come and face the hostile terrain without using your TARDIS as a shortcut or hideout.”

And follow he does. Later she will reflect that it is his journey with her across the battlefields that eases the memory of her journey with him to the sky trench. She is due to pick up medical supplies for her father, and so the TARDIS lands near the medical center—and then they make the long trek on foot, under warships en route to Arcadia, under the rattled sky trenches, back to Jericho. Along the way, they forage for trade goods in the wreckage. Only in Jericho do they enter the underground network, where they encounter a band of Puritanians; but Sophienna is able to bribe her way past them, impressing her hero. She is surprised to see the Warrior is out of shape in his old age, but he presses on—and she reflects that to him, this must be like unfinished business, a debt owed to her mother.

As they approach the house, a Dalek rises from the weeds of the neighbor’s garden.

It is barely alive, but Sophienna—who has been thinking for years of how to face this—is ready. She manages to evade its now-feeble defenses, and pry off its gunstick, and beat the mutant inside to death. In the process, years of restrained anger pours out. It seems this journey has not only been cathartic for the Warrior.

He kneels beside her and whispers a lullaby, one she knows from her childhood—one that, she sees, her mother must have learned from this man. Then he carries her inside, and is off again, on his way. Before he goes, he reassures her that she is, indeed, a hero in his eyes—and her story, of what makes her strong, must live on.

We’ve been looking at the Time War for a long time now, and it’s sad to say, but stories like this are common now—stories of loss, of misery, of jaded minds and eyes, of the futility of life in the face of war. What is not common is the perspective we see here. This story is told in first person by Sophienna, where most stories have given us the Doctor’s view. It’s eye-opening, both for him and for us. One shouldn’t be too hard on the Doctor; every war needs its leaders, its generals, its heroes, and the Doctor is all of that. He’s here to think big. He is bound to look at a war this size with a macro view of fighting it. And yet, he is still, in some way, the Doctor—even Sophienna reflects on this near the end—and is bound to lift up individuals where he can. He may desperately want to pretend that he doesn’t care, but the truth comes out, even if occasionally it requires a reminder.

Sophienna’s journey at the end, in the company of the War Doctor, is almost downplayed, despite being the climax of the story. It feels very ethereal, hazy even, less than real, which is odd given that her purpose is to show the Doctor real life. I took this as a trick of perspective. We’re still seeing things through Sophienna’s eyes here; and she doesn’t need the lesson. For her this is commonplace. She navigates the wasteland with skill and ease. It’s the Doctor who is taking it in and learning from it, but we don’t get his perspective here. That’s okay, though; let’s not forget that this is part of a larger narrative, and we will see the outcome of his experiences, the change in his way of thinking, in the future.

I should mention the sky trenches briefly. We never get a good description or depiction of them on television, or in licensed materials (as far as I know, at any rate; I should give the caveat that there are War Doctor audio dramas to which I have not yet listened). We still don’t get a full description here, but there are some things we can infer. The trenches are actual structures as opposed to force fields, and can contain soldiers and equipment (hence “trenches”, as World War I and II trenches). They hover over strategic areas to intercept incoming Daleks, and are substantial enough to block the view of the sky depending on their altitude; at the same time, they are light enough and fragile enough to crumble and break down, and they appear to lack measures to prevent people from falling off. By this point in the War, some of the trenches are abandoned, though we know from The Last Day that Arcadia’s trenches, as well as those of the Capitol, are still active.

Many times now, as we near the end of the War, we’ve gone back and forth with regard to the Doctor’s attitude. It may seem as though we’re not actually making any progress, though I’ve repeatedly said he’s taking step after step toward the Moment. The reason for this is simple: He’s wrestling with himself. He simply has not resolved the conflict within himself between Warrior and Doctor; and until he does, he’ll continue to go back and forth. Nevertheless, every swing of the pendulum brings him closer to the final swing, the one that will end the War. And perhaps, along the way, he’ll continue to do good where he can, as with a girl named Sophienna.

John Hurt Tribute photo

The Time Lord Who Came To Tea was written by Paul Driscoll. Next time: We’ll take a brief look at one of the more enigmatic references from the television series in Declan May’s The Nightmare Child! 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.

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 35: The Thief of All Ways

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

A woman named Claudia runs from a pursuer. She has been running from him for most of her adult life—long enough that she isn’t even sure how long. He keeps coming, and he never changes, never ages. This time, she’s been running for three days, and she’s desperate for rest, but there won’t be any. In a cave, a religious site at the top of a mountain, she finds herself cornered—and at last, the man once called the Doctor captures her.

In his TARDIS, he sends her to clean up. She isn’t expecting that. He is gruff, and angry, and clearly miserable, but not evil, at least not that she can see. He has a moment of emotion when she comes out wearing an old black bomber jacket, and she changes into a long burgundy coat instead. It is clear he usually has traveling companions, but they are not here. She asks him for an explanation of his actions, and all he can say is that she is needed for the war effort. She knows of the War, and knows that he is a Time Lord; she knows this is a TARDIS; she even knows his names, the one men call him now, and the one he abandoned. In answer for her years of running, all he can say is that he gets distracted sometimes, which is no answer at all.

He takes her to Earth, though they are still in her home century, the twenty-ninth. They land in a dark and humid room, and he uses his sonic screwdriver to open a door in a wall where no door was apparent. He takes her inside. Once there, he explains that he had many opportunities to capture her, but he delayed because he had to be sure of her, even though true certainty isn’t possible. He explains that the reason he has no companions is because they would stop him from doing what he is about to do. He activates a panel, and Claudia’s mind fills with impossible images: the War, other worlds, slave races, domination. She sees order out of chaos, and can’t help thinking it is the proper way of things. It is the Dalek way, and if they win the War, it will be reality.

The Doctor explains that these are her real memories of childhood, memories he once hid from her. The childhood she remembers, with her human family in Lucerne, Switzerland, was real, but was layered over those earliest memories. She was not born, but grown, in human form but of Dalek stock. The Doctor, in another life, rescued her at the age of two and placed her with her adoptive family in Switzerland. These memories come from the Dalek hive mind, to which she was linked. She remains linked to it. And more: she was not alone. There were nine others like her. Now, in this room, she sees ten alcoves along the wall…and nine of them are filled with thin, malnourished copies of her. All are linked into the systems by wires.

The Doctor explains that he placed each clone in a separate universe—an easy thing to do, now that the walls of reality have grown thin, and the Time Lords are too busy to police the dimensions as they once did. He did this to keep them from being aware of each other, and to keep the Daleks from finding them. It was necessary, for they are nothing separately—but together, they are the triggers for the machine in this room. And what a machine it is:

More synapses connected inside Claudia’s head. The machine that surrounded them was a terraformer, buried in the mountains of Canada by Dalek infiltrators decades ago. The intention was to strike out from Earth at EarthGove alliances, causing civil war and interstellar conflict. The Daleks would step in at the alliance’s weakest moment and claim conquest of the new terraformed worlds – and be one step closer to overall victory in the Time War. There would be little point in victory over cinders, the Supreme Dalek Council reasoned, so there was logic to make every planet in the Terran solar system – and eventually the Galaxy – a habitable Dalek world.

The Doctor’s theft kept the Daleks from using this weapon, but it didn’t stop them; and they continue to churn out ships, Dalek units, and weapons faster than anyone can stop. The Doctor has no vast weapons left; but he has this one. He has brought Claudia here—like he brought all her sisters—to use it against the Daleks. Some of the clones lived very different lives. But in the end, all came, and all cooperated—though he kept them in the dark about what they were doing. He will not do that now. He must tell one of them the truth. And suddenly she remembers him, in a different life, a childhood memory that is her own rather than the hive mind. She remembers what is clearly his sixth life, a shocking man, but kind and gentle to her in her youth. She draws on the hive mind to learn all about this man, and she understands suddenly that he is still the Doctor. Though he denies it, he still cares. He sighs, and says that she would have been better off not knowing; but she denies it. The Daleks would have used her for worse things, and now she can do something right. He tries to present a jaded face toward her, but she sees through him.

Unable to face it, he pushes her into the final alcove.

As the machine claims her, and acquires its targets—its Dalek targets—he cannot face her. He knows what he has done, and how he has used her, and what will become of her—of all ten of her—when the machine runs its course and shuts down. He turns to go.

Before he does, a screen comes to life. It displays not destruction, but a phrase. ”Thank. You. Doctor.”

“You’re welcome,” he says, holding back tears, and departs.

I’ve talked a lot in this series about the accelerating pace of the Time War as we near the end, and about the changes in the Doctor as he nears the breaking point that we saw in the Engines of War novel. Most recently I’ve discussed stories such as Storage Wars and Fall, which remind the Doctor of who he was, and the ideals he has sacrificed along the way. We see some of his old compassion, his old nature, bleed through at those times.

Inevitably, though, there’s a reaction. To take a rather vague example from real life: if you or I have a particular vice we’re trying to give up, we may make some progress in that direction; but when we do, it becomes painful to continue, and we may react by relapsing. It’s easier to continue in the vice than to face the problem and continue fighting it. On a more emotionally complex level, that’s what’s happening to the Doctor in this story. He’s begun to face who he is and how he’s changed, but it’s very painful to do that; and so he relapses and once again lashes out as the monster he has been claiming to be. It’s complicated by the fact that he feels there is no choice; he claims that he has no other weapons available on the scale of the terraforming system. Nevertheless, his behavior is still a reaction to the thought of going back to his old compassionate self, considering the things he’s done in this life.

I found it interesting that the story alludes to the Sixth Doctor’s involvement. It seems there’s an interesting story we’re not being told here: How did it come to be that the Sixth Doctor was the one who (presumably) kidnapped and placed the clones? (To be fair, it doesn’t specify the Sixth Doctor, but the description—curly blonde hair and a coat like a jester—is almost certainly that incarnation.) More to the point, does that mean that the Sixth Doctor was aware of the Time War; or does it mean that this Dalek plot predated the War? Just how porous is that Time Lock, anyway? All excellent, but unanswered, questions. There are also references to several other battles between the Doctor and the Daleks as Claudia taps into the Hive Mind: Spiridon (Planet of the Daleks), Reyella (Always Face The Curtain with a Bow), Kembel (The Daleks’ Master Plan), Cloudburst (a reference for which I could find no source), and Necros (Revelation of the Daleks).

Overall: Another good, but exceedingly sad story. One begins to wonder how much more the Doctor can take; although the answer is that not much more will be required. We are nearing the end of his involvement, and the Moment is coming. (Although, with the recent announcement of the upcoming novel, The Horde of Travesties, it’s possible there’s another segment of the War here at the end that we haven’t yet seen!) It’s a good story, with a clever title, as well: “The thief of always” is a phrase usually used to denote Death, and that’s certainly a factor here, but in this case it’s also ”all ways”–and the Doctor is certainly the thief of all ways with regard to Claudia’s many lives. (Or I may be misinterpreting completely—if the author wants to set me straight, I’d be glad to hear the correct version!)

John Hurt Tribute photo

The Thief of All Ways was written by Elliot Thorpe. Next time: The Time Lord who Came to Tea, by Paul Driscoll. 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.

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 34: The Postman

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

Hudrix may be a Time Lord, but he’s no hero. He’s a sigher, and even he knows it—he’s carried his trademark sigh through all eight perfectly average incarnations. Stemming from a memory of infanthood, that sigh is a part of him as much as…well, more than anything else, really, given that regeneration changes everything else. It’s particularly appropriate here, however, in his three hundredth (or so) year and second regeneration spent working in the War Office Department of Officially Sanctioned Condolence. Put another way, he writes letters of condolence to the families of victims of the Time War, using an ancient Biro pen from Earth (he’s a bit of a romantic even in these dreary surroundings, and eschews a computer for this thankless task). It’s a job for which a sigh is most definitely appropriate.

He’s just coming to resent the job, after all these years; and it’s beginning to weigh on him. He finishes another condolence letter—to the mother of one Wardenman Azbaselandularvenor regarding the death of her son in battle—and hands it off to the Postman—a grizzled old man with a curious limp. The man’s manner is as grizzled as he is; and he insults Hudrix for sitting at a desk and blandly repeating platitudes. He can talk; Hudrix is aware of some of what the man has been through in the war effort before taking up this role. The Postman casts a last verbal barb at him before slumping off into his TARDIS—the “post box”, as the desk jockeys here call it—and setting off on a delivery run. Hudrix returns to his work, and a death list that has grown by two million while he talks.

The Postman delivers his letters, watching as invariably wives and mothers fall to their knees, weeping at the bad news. Later, his work over for the moment, he sits in his TARDIS with a cigarette and his hip flask, and thinks. No rest for the weary, however; the Cloister Bell, that harbinger of destruction, begins to sound. The trouble isn’t inside the TARDIS this time; but a quick scan points him to the source, and a short flight takes him to the edge of a massive battle. He’s furious; the Time Lords promised him time to recover from his torture and repeated deaths, but it seems they’ve reneged on that promise. He’s to lead this battle, and strategically lose it. But there’s nothing for it but to carry on.

It becomes clear at once that this battle, Hirash Kam, is familiar to him. The Sergeant beneath him…is one Wardenman Azbasel, a name familiar to him in his job as the Postman. The battle rages, and the soldier dies, and the gambit is lost—so different from the calm and peaceful tones of honor in Hudrix’s letter to Azbasel’s mother, which the Postman has already delivered. Later, elsewhere, he screams with the fury and futility of it. This cannot go on.

Back in the Department of Officially Sanctioned Condolence, Hudrix has reached his next regeneration—and at long last his sigh is gone. It’s been replaced with a chuckle, which is equally annoying to his colleagues, but a change for him. And it’s merited; his new regeneration is far better with technology, allowing him to use a computer and thus make better time with his list. (It’s still bad taste to chuckle while writing death letters, of course, and his coworker Sprak kicks him for it, but what can you do?) Finally he settles back down to work, and sees the next name on the list: Azbaselandularvenor. Wait, no—he’s already written that one. Three times, in fact. Stupid technology, slipping back in time…he smacks the counter, getting it to move to the next name. Maybe newer isn’t always better…and he slips an ancient Biro from his pocket.

No matter how many ways that war can inflict terror, there are always more to be discovered. It’s a tragedy on every level, no matter how necessary it may be. I’m not arguing against it as a concept; rather, I’m simply saying, there’s enough horror for everyone. Take, for example, the matter of condolence letters. In the real world, armies send these letters, usually with some sort of personal delivery, to the families of fallen soldiers. It’s a horrible time for the families; it’s no less easy for those who must carry out this solemn task. An old college friend of mine once served in the Middle East in a capacity in which he was the last person to see or handle the bodies of fallen soldiers before they were flown home—a similarly garish and difficult task—and the effect it had on him was profound. It’s much the same here.

This story sets a vivid contrast between two equally terrible aspects of this part of war. On one hand, there are those who must deliver the letters (a role in this case played by the recuperating War Doctor, a role which was foreshadowed as far back as The Girl With The Purple Hair (III), with its sacks of mail scattered around the TARDIS). They face the horror head-on, as they must deal with the reactions of the survivors. On the other hand, there are those who write the letters. I don’t know with certainty how this works in the real world—I have heard that a soldier’s commanding officer will write the letter, but I am unaware of how accurate that is, or if secretaries or other office workers draft the letters before passing them to the officers for signature (which seems likely to me). In this story, the difference is emphasized by the sheer magnitude of the war; Hudrix’s queue jumps by two million in one scene, and the condolence department is said to have grown immensely since its creation. The point is that those writing condolences can be widely separated from the men and women about whom they’re writing; and if their words are devoid of that connection, then aren’t they really just platitudes? Hudrix, though he definitely does care about his work, is there to illustrate that point. The Doctor sees the contrast, and recognizes it as yet another injustice in a long line of them—necessary perhaps, but no less wrong for that—and takes another step toward the man who will put an end to it all. When read from Hudrix’s point of view, the story is light, almost comical—but it quickly becomes clear that that is a veneer, pasted over a depth of horror and emotion. The Doctor intends to break through that veneer and deal with what’s beneath. In that context, his belligerence toward Hudrix makes perfect sense—ever thinking of the individual, he’s trying to kick the man out of his complacency.

This story gives us the end of the short arc that began with Always Face the Curtain with a Bow, in which the Doctor was tortured and traumatized and then went into a convalescence of sorts. Like it or not—and he definitely does not—he has been recalled to active duty now. We’re in the final stretch, with only ten stories to go (and one of those is merely an interlude in a larger story); and things will seem to move quickly from here on.

John Hurt Tribute photo

The Postman was written by John Davies. Next time: The Thief of All Ways by Elliot Thorpe. 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.

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