‘Dreams of Empire’ is the second entry in BBC Books’ Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collection. Written by Justin Richards, a long time contributor and creative consultant for the range, it features Patrick Troughton’s Doctor alongside companions Jamie and Victoria, pitching it in the earlier part of his tenure.
The story involves the aftermath of an attempted grab for power and the ensuing civil war for control of the Republic of Haddron. With his plans to set himself up as Emperor in tatters, plus an assassination attempt to boot, the horribly disfigured Hans Kesar has been exiled to an asteroid prison.
There is a complex set up on Santespri, with the prisoner guarded in an old castle by a mix of his loyal former troops working alongside those who defeated him. Kesar spends his days playing chess and thoughtfully doing his time. Indeed the King’s game features heavily throughout the book as complex plans come into play and the themes of chess parallel the Haddron political situation. The book is split into sections such as opening, middle game and check mate, mirroring the phases of a chess match.
Into this seemingly fragile situation comes the TARDIS, just in time for her crew to be found at the scene of a murder. Unusually the instantly trustworthy Doctor, with his shambolic appearance and bumbling manner, becomes part of the investigation rather than being accused for his murder.
The prison suffers from failing security systems, allowing the Doctor to do some enjoyable detective work and Richards catches Troughton’s character well. He locks on to the verbal interplay with Jamie and Victoria, as well as providing some amusing physical business that one can easily picture.
The authority figure of the piece, visiting General-in-Chief Milton Trayx, is well drawn as a thoughtful strategist. Sensing a kindred spirit in the Doctor, he is keen to use his skills and welcomes the stranger’s presence. Trayx is accompanied by his beautiful wife, Helana, whose personal history with Kesar comes to bear on the proceedings also.
Being shown the sights, including the magnificent space observatory, it is the Doctor that first notices in incoming ship that is drawn in by a surreptitious signal from Santespri. Old loyalties are put aside as the asteroid prepares for an attack of unknown origin, presumed to be either an attempt to free or to martyr Kesar.
As well as the principals, time is made for an insight into some of the minor characters. A pair of troopers who were on opposite sides in the civil war have become lovers and their attachment is put to the test when battle commences. As a warrior himself Jamie also chooses to help defend the base, although he remains appropriately out of sync with the technology around him prompting useful explanations for the reader.
This tale has a believable Troughton-era feel to it, with the science-fiction aspect remaining appropriate to its time and it is not too difficult to imagine how this might have been brought to the screen in Season 5. With hidden agendas and some relentless robotic foes, as well as a few clever twists of plot, ‘Dreams of Empire’ provides a hugely enjoyable read.
Published on Thursday 7 March 2013 by BBC Books.
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