Review: “Seasons of War: Gallifrey” by Paul Driscoll and Kara Dennison

coverSeasons of War: Gallifrey is everything I wish the Star Wars prequels had been. Full of political intrigue, interesting and compelling characters, and fun callbacks to the continuity of Doctor Who, Seasons of War: Gallifrey is a delightful read. Written by Paul Driscoll and Kara Dennison, Seasons of War: Gallifrey is an unofficial Doctor Who charity novel, written and published in support of Caudwell Children.

On a planet already broken and divided, an unlikely band of friends are forced apart as a devastating time war rips their world asunder and threatens to destroy all of time and space.

In the struggle for peace, their lives will never be the same again.

But can Savalia, a poet turned soldier; Mordicai, a school drop-out turned engineer; Kendo, an idealist turned senator; and Tor Fasa, a respected academic turned war criminal, reunite to save the universe from total destruction?

This is the story of how they fought the war and how the war fought them.

Proceeds from Seasons of War: Gallifrey will go to Caudwell Children.

Seasons of War: Gallifrey (from hereon referred to as Gallifrey) is really only loosely a Doctor Who book. It deals with certain ideas and locations from the series, but primarily features wholly original and unique characters (aside from the occasional cameo from a few different incarnations of the Doctor and the occasional reference to other established characters, such as Rassilon and Romana). The story is set on the planet of Gallifrey, home of the Time Lords. We’re introduced to Tor Fasa, an Academic (and cult leader) with some pretty radical ideas, and Mordicai, Tor Fasa’s apprentice and an engineer who was expelled from the Time Lord Academy. The two of them are on a trip to the Outlands (the area in Gallifrey where the non-Time Lords live) where they meet Savalia (a poet), Nairo (her mother, dangerously sick with regeneration sickness), and Kendo (her cousin, aspiring to be a senator in the Gallifreyan High Council). Mordicai, Savalia, Kendo, and Tor Fasa quickly get entangled with each other’s lives right as the Time War between the Daleks and the Time Lords begins.

By far, the best thing about Gallifrey is the characters. Gallifrey is full of really well written, well developed, three dimensional characters. Mordicai is an engineer who’s been inspired by the Doctor. He wants no part of the Time War and rejects the atrocities that the Time Lords are committing. He’s a stickler for the rules while also being a rebel. Savalia is an Outlander, the daughter of a former Time Lord who got infected with a nasty illness due to a botched regeneration. Savalia ends up volunteering to be drafted into the Gallifreyan army in order to save the life of a neighboring child. She’s a poet forced to be a solider. Savalia and Mordicai share a relationship with each other that ends up being a driving force behind their actions. Kendo is the cousin of Savalia, a Time Lady who desperately wants to make a difference as a senator on the High Council. After the Time War begins, she finds herself on the War Council and puts in motion a number of plans with unexpected results. Tor Fasa is an academic and a master manipulator. He’s Mordicai’s mentor and the leader of a cult whose sole purpose is to change the culture of Gallifrey to one of equality. As the war breaks out, he acts as a master chess player, trying to reach a peace between the Time Lords and their enemy. The four of these characters are split up as the Time War begins and go on their own journeys, often running into each other in surprising ways.

The novel is structured in such a way that the story is told from the point of view of all four of our main characters. Different parts of the book are told from their different perspectives and often the different points of view may overlap as the characters experience the same events (and those same events are described multiple times from those different points of view). It’s an interesting way to write a novel and one that really works, given the whole “Time War” aspect of the story Gallifrey is telling. The middle parts of the book (parts two through five) are each devoted to one character and their experiences from the ending of the first part (Living Before the War) to the beginning of the sixth part (Living Outside the War). As each part goes on, we learn more about the events contained within them as we see those same events from the different perspectives of our lead characters. It’s such an interesting and natural way to tell a story as grande as the one being told in Gallifrey and I really like the way it all unfolds. It’s a bit confusing at first as it’s hard to grasp how much time has passed at any given moment, but as the book goes on and we get to the later parts where we see the same events from those different perspectives, holes start to be filled in and questions we had when viewing the events from one point of view are answered when we get to view them from another point of view. It’s a really great way of writing and it really works for this story.

I don’t wanna say too much about the actual meat of the story here as I think it’s something that’s best experienced as blindly as possible. I will say a few things about what’s not in the story, though. The Daleks are not in this book. They’re referenced and it’s made clear that they’re the ultimate enemy of the Time War, but there’s a more immediate threat that’s the main focus of this book. The Doctor does not play a major role in the story. As mentioned earlier, a few different incarnations of him appear in a few different scenes, but he’s very much an ancillary character. Many of our main characters do things because of him, but he’s not really an actual character in the story. His influence is felt, but he’s rarely seen. Lastly, don’t expect to see much of anything from the TV show. Very little of the hinted-at elements of the Time War make any kind of appearance in this novel. There’s no sign of the Horde of Travesties, the Nightmare Child, the Skaro Degredations, or anything like that. This is very much a story about the earliest days of the Time War as it happened on Gallifrey. All of those elements are from later years of the Time War, so they do not appear in this story.

I say all of this because I think it’s good to know what you’re getting into. Don’t go into this novel looking for Daleks and huge armies of Gallifreyan soldiers fighting them. Don’t go into it looking for the Doctor to be sauntering around, saving the day (look at other books in the Seasons of War charity series for that!). Seasons of War: Gallifrey is a very personal, intimate story involving four characters. It’s grande in scope but intimate in execution. It’s a truly enjoyable read but very much not what you’d expect when you hear the title. Once I got used to the story that was being told, I really dug it. All of the main characters are instantly likable, frequently relatable, and genuinely deep and nuanced. The actual plot of the novel is a bit nonlinear and confusing at first, but by the time you reach the end of the novel, it all makes sense and feels really satisfying while also leaving the door wide open for more adventures with these characters.

All in all, Seasons of War: Gallifrey is a really good novel. It’s far more than just a Doctor Who spinoff. While it shares some elements with the Doctor Who universe, it mainly just takes certain ideas (like the Time War) and the setting of Gallifrey and spins a wholly new, original, unique, and engaging story out of them. The novel went in a completely different direction than I was expecting and I loved every second of it. It’s a great science fiction novel that’s all at once a romance, a political thriller, a war story, and a mystery. There’s something for everyone here. While heavily influenced by the mythology of the Doctor Who universe, it’s not so far up that mythology that the story is totally inaccessible to newcomers. If you know anything about Doctor Who or the Time War, you can absolutely read this novel. It’s a great novel for fans of the revived series and fans of the classic run. The characters feel three dimensional, well written, engaging, and relatable. They’re a motley crew, for sure, but it’s a lot of fun following their adventures and I’m really excited to see what comes next for them.

4 out of 5 wands

NOTE: Seasons of War: Gallifrey is an unofficial Doctor Who novel written for charity. All proceeds from the novel are being given to Caudwell Children. The novel is only available for a limited time, so if you’re interested in it, check out the Altrix Books website for more information.

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