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This book really intrigues me, not in how great it is but in some of the artistic choices the writer made. I personally believe that Terrance Dicks only writes good prose when he’s novelising someone else’s script. That may sound harsh, but he never writes his own stories amazingly. His television scripts were alright, but something about his prose just doesn’t work.
I read this right after I read the EDA The City of the Dead, which possesses far superior writing. The sentences here never flow, and the characters are extremely one-dimensional. The Sixth Doctor is not characterised well at all, and feels like any generic, run of the mill Doctor. While I can hear Colin’s voice in my head reading the dialogue, I really had to force it. Dicks never wrote for Peri onscreen, so that’s probably why she’s characterised much, again, like a generic companion. We get a few Americanisms thrown into her dialogue, but that’s it. The other characters are dull as hell. Dekker is just an American Duggan (City of Death) who likes playing with guns. Winston Churchill sounds more like the Brigadier than a war hero. The Count and Countess are our usual gothic frowning villains. Wallis Simpson and von Ribbentrop are just characters, just characters, with no characterisation whatsoever besides ‘they are bad’. Even Hitler makes a pointless cameo, and does he get any treatment? No. He’s just a yelling guy in a room. The Second Doctor, who makes a brief (yet superfluous) appearance, is characterised great, but he doesn’t do much besides appear in the middle of the novel.
The plot drags, and drags, and drags. The story is so endlessly tiring, and it just keeps battling on. We get the sequence in the Boer war, which is alright, but hella slow. I love the scene in the War Prison, but they’re few. The characters are so flat, that they almost sound the same. We meet a very young Churchill, but he literally does nothing. It’s more the Doctor and Peri meeting him and crossing him off on their bucket lists. Then we get the sequence with the Second Doctor that canonises Season 6b. It’s enormously obviously that Dicks loves treading over his classic stories, as we’ve had sequels to The War Games, Robot, State of Decay and The Five Doctors, and here we get yet another sequel to The War Games. I think its the third sequel to The War Games, another book set around WWII, a sequel to Blood Harvest and a lead in to Timewyrm: Exodus. Ooooh Dicks loves his fan service! And then, after the really quite pointless Second Doctor stuff, we get the complete flip of pre-WWII London. I’d go as far as saying that the plot is derailed and changes course. We then get garden parties, political rallies, car chases, kidnappings, hostages, etc. However, because of Dicks’ flat writing, its just a slog to get through. It’s so tedious and drawn-out, I just want this book to end.
When the book finally end, we get a resolution that is extremely unsatisfying and makes you question why we read the book in the first place. Worst part, its not even resolved at all! I haven’t read Timewyrm: Exodus yet, so I can’t judge as to whether it’s resolved more there, but having read just this novel, I’m disappointed.
Still, there are some good things about Players. I like the concepts. That’s the thing - I like the idea of the novel. I love the ideas of the villains, the ideas of the plot, but does it pay off? No. I think if this novel was written by another author, it would be better.
Overall? 4/10. I am compelled to go lower, but I want to be fair. Only read if you’re a completist or a mentalist.