Book Reviews

Book Review: Doctor Who: Winner Takes All by Jacqueline Raymer – You Don’t Get Something For Nothing

The newest incarnation of Doctor Who has been a hit both in Britain and the U.S. Newbies to the series take note, it’s been around longer than many of us have, having first aired on the BBC back in 1963. The ongoing character of the Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He travels around through time and space in a TARDIS which is cleverly disguised as a British Police Booth. He also has the ability to regenerate, which accounts for the various actors who have portrayed him.

The book Winner Take All is based on the characters in the first season of the new run of the series. The Doctor is traveling with Rose, a nineteen-year-old British woman who he’s persuaded to join him on his many adventures.

Rose wants to pop back to Earth just to check on her mum, Jackie, after a phone call home in which Jackie states she’s won the lottery. When she and the Doctor arrive, they find everyone in London immersed in the latest gaming craze known as Death to Mantodeans. People are winning the game consoles with scratch cards and going crazy trying to beat the game and win the grand prize. Others simply win a holiday.

Rose’s friend Mickey has managed to get himself a game. When she and the Doctor pop into his flat, the Doctor plays a few rounds just to beat Mickey’s high score. However, the game is not as innocent as it appears and soon all of them find themselves in the middle of a nefarious plot to use humans on the front line of a war between two alien races. Can the Doctor once again step in to save Earth as well as Rose?

Winner Take All parallels the television show very well. I could hear the Doctor’s voice speaking the lines he has in the book. The same is true for Rose, Mickey, and Jackie. I could picture the actors in my head doing what is described in the book. Raymer has managed to capture the essence of what those characters were in the 2005 season quite nicely.

The alien characters are pretty ridiculous, but that’s perfectly normal for Doctor Who. It’s hard to believe that the Quevvils can do some of the dumb things they do and at the same time be responsible for something as ingenious and intricate as the video game and its console. Likewise, the real Mantodeans seem, by description, incapable of rising to a higher function, and yet there they are. However, throughout the years there have been some pretty strange and unbelievable alien creatures in the adventures of Doctor Who, so this is a point that’s fairly easy to overlook.

Raymer’s human characters are decent. The main villain is pretty much one-dimensional and what happens to him and what he does throughout Winner Take All is pretty predictable. The character of Robert was fun. He’s a young teen captured by the Quevvils along with his mother who narrates what’s happening to him in sort of a Harry Potter-style fantasy sequence. It seems perfectly appropriate for him to see things this way, while at the same time when he’s back in the real world he is frightened to death.

For me, the read was uneven. It had the feel of a mid-range Star Trek novel; not great but not Earth-shattering either. The characters are not terribly deep and a lot of the plot is predictable. I think the age range it is aimed at is the pre-teen and teen fan markets as the 13-year-old and 11-year-old in my house just loved it. Neither of them generally are big book readers but they’ve enjoyed the television show and really liked Winner Take All.

I’d give this 3 1/2 stars but I’ll go with four since we can’t give halves. It could have been better, but I do feel that when you are dealing with Doctor Who, part of the charm is that it’s usually not as slick and polished as other science fiction television shows. Should that be the same for the novels? Maybe not to some, but in general if I can finish a book and think Now that was a nice story. Where’s the next one? then I am satisfied.

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