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Doctor Who: Dreams of Empire by Justin Richards

We will get to the book eventually, but first I want to talk about Doctor Who a bit.

Royal Mail - Dr Who Stamps Booklet

Things are hotting up for the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, and the memorabilia stakes are high. The Royal Mail have issued a set of eleven stamps with the eleven Doctors, a Monsters Minisheet, plus first class stamp booklets now (until stocks run out). I’ve bought one of each, plus a set of postcards of all the stamps – I’m such a geek!

Patrick Troughton - the 2nd Dr WhoBut then I have grown up with Doctor Who.  I was too little to really appreciate William Hartnell, the first Doctor, but I can remember it being on the telly as my parents watched it.  The first Doctor I actively watched was the second doctor – played by Patrick Troughton from 1966-69, whose persona of the Chaplinesque recorder-playing ‘cosmic hobo’ makes him My Doctor.

There are two serials (most early Who stories had 4 or 6 half-hour episodes) featuring Troughton that have remained imprinted in my memory since childhood – The Underwater Menace, and The Web of Fear.  Tragically, neither of these serials remains complete in the archives – episodes having been lost or wiped.

The Underwater Menace is set in an underwater city in which dwell the survivors of Atlantis. There was a horrifying scene in which the Doctor’s companion Polly, was going to be taken for conversion into a fish-person. Naturally she escapes, but as a not-quite seven year old, this scared me half to death – I couldn’t imagine a worse fate than being made into a giant pilchard – and I’ve never eaten that fish!

A Yeti - Dr Who - The Web of Fear (1968)The Web of Fear from 1968 however introduced another foe – The Yeti.  The costumes are laughable by today’s standards (the eyes glowed red), but the combination of Yeti and London Underground made me scared stiff of going on the old red tube trains (the newer silver ones were safe!) on trips up to London for several years. I was petrified.

Of course, part of the premise of Doctor Who has always been for the monsters to scare young children witless!  My daughter, now 12, is just about getting over her fear of the Weeping Angels from the current incarnation.

Finally, this brings me to a book.

There have been loads of Doctor Who adventures written, and as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations, BBC books have chosen eleven books – one for each doctor, to re-publish in an Anniversary livery.  There are some well-known authors – Mark Gatiss, Ben Aaronovitch for instance, on the list but I opted for the novel chosen for the second doctor, by Justin Richards who is new to me.

50 Anniversary cover

Original cover

Dreams of Empire was first published in 1998 (right).  It’s slightly unusual for Doctor Who in that there are no monsters; instead it’s a novel of politics, that takes its inspiration from the Roman triumvirate of Caesar, Crassus and Pompey, and a power-play staged as a game of chess.

The Haddron Empire is being torn apart by civil war. The one man, Hans Kesar, who might be able to unite the factions is held in a cell on the prison fortress of Santespri, sited on an asteroid.  Kesar is one of three Consuls, and had been imprisoned following impeachment after his habit of going it alone resulted in the loss of the Republic’s fifth legion of robot warriors.

Two sets of visitors arrive on the barren rock. The first, unannounced, dematerialising in the depths of the castle, is the Doctor with his companions Jamie and Victoria; the second, official, is another of the triumvirate, Consul Milton Trayx come to visit Kesar. Trayx is an honorable man, and it has become clear to him that the other Consul Mathesohn is trying to outmanoeuvre them to reinstate the Empire under his control.

So the Doctor arrives into this tense political situation, and after some cat and mouse games with the guards, is finally captured having entered Kesar’s cell, where he is playing chess with Cruger, Kesar’s second in command.  Of course, he soon proves that he is no threat, and will prove useful to Trayx.

Eventually there will be a battle on the asteroid when the lost fifth legion of robot soldiers arrives to either kill or free Kesar (we’re not sure which), but before the shoot-out there is much politicking, a little espionage, and a lot of chess.

I’m not a chess expert, but after the chapter in which we were introduced to ‘The Knight’s Tour’ it became clear that the Doctor is the white knight.  For he arrives, goes everywhere, get’s his fingers into everything, then arrives back at the beginning, whereupon he leaves!

knights tour (from Mathworld)

The Knight’s Tour is a chess problem in which you have to move the knight around the board in legal moves, never landing on the same square twice, except for returning to the starting position in a ‘closed tour’ comprising 64 moves. There are hundreds of thousands of different possibilities apparently.

This was, like a chess game, a complexly plotted novel in which not enough really happens. There was, however, more than enough blood and gore. This, and its complicated nature definitely make it a novel for older teens and adults,  people rarely die nastily on the TV.

I thought that the author captured the personality of the second Doctor rather well.  He was slightly batty, yet obviously learned, keen to educate the boorish Jamie and to protect Victoria, never letting on how much he knows – or doesn’t know, playing his recorder to give him thinking time.  He can also be a clown, and there is a running gag involving sandwiches.

It did lack real villains of substance though and there was too much politicking and not enough of the Doctor himself ironicall. It all seemed quite familiar somehow too  – I’ve watched too much Doctor Who and Star Trek over the years.  So, this is not the novel in this series to start with – unless the 2nd Doctor is ‘your doctor’ and you like chess.  However, I will happily read a couple more …

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Doctor Who: Dreams of Empire by Justin Richards, BBC Books paperback.

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