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Theatre of War

By Justin Richards

Book review by David Lawrence

This was my idea!

Well, not entirely. In Revelation, the Doctor tells Ace 'Just because somebody isn't real, it doesn't mean you can't meet them.' and it was using this premise that I was thinking of writing a story in which the TARDIS crew land within a Shakespearean play. Not wanting to alienate readers unfamiliar with Shakespeare, I was intending to use Hamlet since it is his most well-known work.

Theatre of War doesn't quite do what I was going to. The Hamlet that the Doctor and Ace land in isn't real, merely one of many performances stored in a big machine with lots of plays recorded in it. Bizarre.

The Doctor doesn't turn up until page 50! Grrr! I don't quite know why, but a lot of Theatre of War reminds me of Star Trek, particularly Benny's adventures in the simularity chamber reconstructing various bits and pieces to add to her research; very 'holodeck-ish'. While I'm on about Benny, did she write Down among the Dead Men in 2466 or 2566?

Having acted in half the plays referred to in Theatre of War I appreciated all the references.

The part I found most interesting is 'The Good Soldiers'. A lost classic in the same vein as Shakespeare's missing plays. Justin Richards provides us with details of the play and the plot, but rather than being a good idea for a play, I found 'The Good Soldiers' to be a cunning metaphor for missing Doctor Who episodes. 'Imagine your greatest and best childhood memory.' Braxiatel says to Benny, 'then go back and relive the moment. I guarantee it won't be the same. It can never live up to your expectations.' In this context, 'The Good Soldiers' could just as easily be The Tenth Planet part 4 or Fury from the Deep. How many people admitted to being disappointed by The Tomb of the Cybermen?

Theatre of War must win the 'worst New Adventures cover artwork' award, beating Deceit and Shadowmind hands down for having the most dreadful cover. As for the content of the book, I'm not sure. Definitely not the best New Adventure of late, but definitely worth a read.

Book review by Chris Girdler

Rather than constantly pointing out moments from the Doctor's history, Justin Richards' New Adventure is steeped in fictitious intertextuality. There are various Source Documents attributed to the Aristotles and Meyerholds of the future, even some segments from Bernice Summerfield's book, Down among the Dead Men. There are a few oddities, seemingly unrelated to the main action - Source Document 14 sounds like something one of my lecturers would write on my essays. Aside from these documents, there are numerous references to theatre throughout the book, often quite subtle.

'The Good Soldiers' is a reference to a certain Cartmel strip but is more obviously inspired by the recent discovery of The Tomb of the Cybermen. Incidentally, the sense of claustrophobia due to the unfightable enemy and approaching war evokes a similar mood to that particular Troughton saga. 'The Good Soldiers' extracts are written in the form of a play, providing a unique narrative device that could have been expanded on.

Richards not only realistically portrays the central trio but also schedules their appearance and contributions to the plot in a clever way. The reader's interest is held during the scene-setting process because Bernice is involved. The TARDIS touches down on Menaxus at a later stage where the Doctor (easily identified as the seventh incarnation) quietly and confidently works out the mystery. Ace is a lot more helpful than she has been in some New Adventures prior to this, proving that her character is not cast in stone (sorry, bad joke). This treatment does not extent beyond the regular characters and this is the central weakness of Theatre of War; too many characters and not enough characterisation.

The Exec/Marlock interaction is interesting and similar to the powerplay between the Supreme One and Shrubb from Tragedy Day. There are some inconsistent changes in character for Lannic who goes from self-assured archaeologist determined to uncover the secrets of Menaxus to seductive sex object hell-bent on revenge. It was a good idea to select a cast of soldiers and archaeologists, giving particular characteristics both companions can relate to. However the blandness of the characters risks a disinterested and uninvolved audience - luckily saved by a powerful plot acting as the backbone. The result of this is that the inevitable deaths of Richards' original characters have little effect, despite being chillingly well-written.

Other than this lack of development for characters and a slightly disappointing ending, Theatre of War is an impressive novel. The bridging between Legacy and Theatre of War is an example of the improving continuity within the New Adventures. It is one of those rare novels that are intelligent and informative yet exciting and entertaining at the same time. There are some pretty spooky moments too. Not many reasons to abjure this rough magic just yet - but next time round Richards should take a leaf out of Shakespeare's book and make characterisation his top priority.

Book review by Jamas Enright

The thing that most impressed me about this book was how well paced it was. Although I can't confess to a large knowledge of theatre and Shakespeare, I did recognise some of the Greek theatre references, but none of these were necessary for following the plot.

The continuity with Legacy was well done, but it would have been nice if the Doctor and Ace had something else to do other than just wait for Benny.

The characters of the TARDIS crew were very believable, and none of them seemed redundant to the plot. As for the other characters, Lannic came off very well and I had no idea as to her actual creation. The rest of them didn't really stand out that well, but Gilmanuk and Klasvik did seem better than the others. (It was interesting to note the way the names changed from sensible in Legacy to more complex in Theatre of War, given their connection.)

I liked the touch of the 'Source Documents.' It added more to the archeological atmosphere, as well as giving small asides to break the story up. With extracts at the beginning of each chapter, it is interesting to note that Professor Bernice Summerfield wrote Down among the Dead Men in 2466 and again 100 years later!

This book rates fairly highly with me and I look forward to more from Justin Richards.

This item appeared in TSV 41 (October 1994).

Index nodes: Theatre of War