Endgame.

EndgameBooks  Terrance Dicks included an author’s note at the back of his novel Endgame:  “Due to the collision of two deadlines, a long-arranged family holiday and a Doctor Who delivery date, I found myself presenting Justin Richards with a book that was not only a bit late but a bit short – and immediately leaving the country. […] Justin rose to the occasion with some very inspired editing, above and beyond the call of duty.  I am very grateful for all the hard work that has made this not only a long but better book.”  It’s comforting to know that even in the wilderness years the kind of behind the scenes jiggery-pockery which occurred on The Brain of Morbeus was still being replicated and demonstrates how compulsive or at the very least a bit interesting a complete history of that time could be should Mr. Pixley choose to write it.

The reason the question of authorship’s important here is that I really want to congratulate both Dicks and Richards on producing a really entertaining, really exciting piece of prose.  The mother, father, two children, small dog and a hatchback of spy stories, pulling in elements of Le Carre, Ludlum, Fleming, The Manchurian Candidate and even The Champions, it’s everything I’d hoped these stuck on Earth stories would be like with the Doctor getting involved in international affairs whilst now and then having flashbacks to his former life, a returning alien he doesn’t remember, action, adventure and really wild things.  It’s even a sequel of sorts with a returning character who even offers his own criticism of four fifths of the previous book:  “Greene’s report was as remarkable for what it left out as for what it included.”  Which is pretty much what I said.

It opens in the early fifties with the Korean War in full swing but the Doctor disaffected and jaded by his predicament, spending most of the day in either a café or the British Library trying to jog his memory.  In contrast to his usual persona, he’s reluctant to get involved but rather becomes dragged into it when a friend is murdered and a Top Secret document is dumped on his person.  After evading attacks from various national flavours of security agency, he falls in with the defecting double agents MacLean, Burgess and Philby, the latter of whom, having read the Turing and Greene accounts from the last novel is aware of what the Doctor is capable of.  The spy holds the Doctor’s still forming Tardis to ransom in order to gain his co-operation in discovering the truth behind the secret societies mentioned in said document, in particular the shadowy Players, journey which takes him from one end of the cold war to the other and which will ultimately re-ignite his sense of being life’s champion.

All of which sounds terribly complex, but in reality much of the novel takes place in rooms and restaurants and darkened streets with people playing personality games trying to outsmart and outwit each other – at least when they’re not getting drunk.  For all his reputation as a nuts and bolts man, Dicks has always had a certain facility for character and that’s demonstrated here in capturing the distinct voices of the spies, spookily prefiguring Peter Moffat’s versions of them in his television drama Cambridge Spies; for most of the pagination it's difficult not to picture Toby Stevens, Tod Hollander and Rupert Penry-Jones enunciating the dialogue.  To an extent there’s a certain amount of characaturing though and towards the end a couple of other very public figures are presented in a form which reflects the general opinion of them rather than something akin to how real people behave, but it’s entirely in-keeping with the book’s chosen genre. In other words, you wait ages for a celebrity historical and two come along together.

Dicks does capture the period very well indeed.  We're reminded that in the early fifties, for all the apparent trappings of the modern world, rationing was still in place and a general feeling of hopelessness pervaded the land.  The reason the Doctor can meet such prominent people and essentially save the world again without really trying is because of the impression of a war being fought outside of the public gaze, inadvertantly prefiguring the situation today in which we seem to be in the grip of mini-cold wars which a range of different powers instead of one big one.  Once again Doctor Who reminds us that history has a habit of repeating with the people at the top only really figure heads, with men not just further down the ladder but hiding in the alleyway nearby wielding the real power.  Endgame is another expression of how far away from being family material the franchise had developed -- no wonder some of the ming-mongs were shocked when that wheelie-bin farted.

Unlike The Turing Test, which was too clever for its own good, the Doctor is never less than the focus and as I’ve hinted for the first time there’s a real sense that he’s now been on the planet for quite some time and fallen into a routine.  There’s a hint that his sullenness is as a result of the events in the previous book and also that he might never discover his origin – finally he talks about the time before as though he knows that there’s a darkness hidden that he doesn’t want to deal with but the novel is very much about him dealing with his place on the planet and what he is capable of.  Much of the novel is intensely sad because we can see the old Eighth breaking through now and then, but as these moments take hold it’s almost as though they’re wrong somehow, the wrong parts of the real him. 

That’s especially true when he confronts each of the Players – there’s the kind of violence and anger which we’ve seen before and yet its being laid out on an adversary who could be dealt with very easily and inventively.  One of Dicks’s original creations, the Players have appeared in a number of his novels, none of which I’ve read which puts me rather in the position of the Doctor in hearing about events in the past that don’t make much sense.  The underlying motivation of these aliens is expressed well – that they’re using Cold War figures within a giant game with the winner being decided based on who manages to get things to warm up a bit – but in terms of this story they’re pretty underdeveloped and I know that one or two of them would have far greater resonance had I met them before.  That lack of internal consistency would be about my only criticism of a novel which renews my faith in the lost on Earth arc.

Next:  More than meets the eye

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