ENDGAME by Terrance Dicks

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Up till now, we've managed to dodge Mr Dicks's literary output: an astonishing feat, you might think, given the sheer quantity of the stuff, but true nevertheless. So we're not in a position to judge whether Endgame is a strong sequel to Players, nor whether this is better or worse than the usual run of Dicks novels. From the scuttlebutt we'd heard about Dicks's writing, we weren't expecting too much, and so we were pleasantly surprised. On the other hand, this still doesn't mean Endgame is a particularly good book.

There's no doubt that Endgame suffers from immediately following the excellent Turing Test. Both books use historical figures as characters and both are set in the intelligence world. However, The Turing Test is a thoughtful novel with considerable psychological depth, and unfortunately for Endgame, the contrast couldn't be more marked.

It's not as if Endgame is poorly written. In fact, it's one of the minority of EDAs in which the writing doesn't actively get in the way of the story. The prose flows smoothly, pulling the reader effortlessly through the book: it's a very fast read. The Doctor is believably beset with boredom and disengaged from the world. And the plot moves along well.

The trouble is, though, that it's all so utterly lacking in inspiration. We don't know how the Players came across in their previous appearances, but here, as the standard set of aliens intent on stirring up trouble just for the hell of it, they couldn't be duller. The Cold War was a fascinating period, but that's because of the human psychology involved: the idea that the humans were being nudged along by aliens instantly strips all the point out of it. The aliens themselves are also fairly yawnsome: Axel has the most potential, but since he's beaten by the Doctor in exactly the same way every single time he appears, even he loses whatever interest he had.

As for the other characters, ugh. The Turing Test overcame our prejudices against using real people fictionally with its sensitive, intelligent writing, but the "real" characters in Endgame are mostly cartoons. Dicks picks out a couple of characteristics for each character, then relentlessly hammers them to death: Stalin's half man, half vodka, for example, and Burgess tiresomely refers to himself in every other sentence as "Brigadier Brilliant". The most subtly characterised is Kim Philby, but given the number of deaths he and the other double agents caused in real life, his sympathetic portrayal here gets right up our noses.

As for the Doctor, as we've already said his ennui is done well, and his flashes of temper seem pretty reasonable under the circumstances too. We also enjoyed the glimpses of his day-to-day life. However, as in every other book in this arc his reaction to his predicament is still disappointingly underexplored. Annoyingly, too, he's apparently acquired the Vulcan Neck Pinch from somewhere and uses it approximately a thousand and three times.

As with Coldheart, we can't deny that Endgame does exactly what it says on the tin. It's a competently written trad adventure with all the required components. The only thing missing from the formula is passion. Unfortunately, that's also the most important thing. Instantly forgettable.

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