Third in the series of original adventures starring the Ninth Doctor and Rose comes Jacqueline Raynerâ€™s Winner Takes All. Whereas previous tales - The Clockwise Man and The Monsters Inside – show the travellers based firmly on Earth and an alien location respectively, Winner Takes All splits the action squarely between both locales â€“ Roseâ€™s home on the Powell Estate in 21st Century London and the planet Toom, home to praying mantis-like Mantodeans and porcupine-a-likes the Quevvils.
Not only does this split provide balance to the tale it balances the BBC Books series up to this point. Following the fine evocation of 1920s London in Justin Richardsâ€™ The Clockwise Man, things went generally off-kilter with Stephen Coleâ€™s The Monsters Inside. Luckily Jac Rayner pulls the series up by the bootstraps and marches it single-handedly out of the swamp.
Winner Takes All – like the recent tv series â€“ is built around mankindâ€™s ability too tell a whopper or two, and to be taken in by such misinformation. Exploring one key theme from Lance Parkinâ€™s 8th Doctor adventure Trading Futures (remote warfare) Rayner successfully captures the atmosphere of the series contemporary Earth episodes. The Doctorâ€™s relationship with Earth is of course a complex one. Not only is he our rescuer on umpteen occasions, he consistently allows attractive human females to travel with him; yet the domestic setting he finds himself dragged back to as Roseâ€™s best friend is his worst nightmare (after Daleks, of course).
During the course of this story, the Doctor moves from bristling and a little moody to his best, angry heroism. Of course all of the regular characters are handled as per their tv models â€“ and we even get a video game called “Bad Wolf”!
As alien races go, the Quevvils are very much in the slightly cartoony vein of the Slitheen and the Moxx of Balhoon. While the Mantodeans are based on stick insects and hark back to the 1960s take on aliens â€“ such as those in The Web Planet – the Quevvils are more DWMâ€™s cartoon strip; think spiny “Beep the Meep”s with an insatiable desire for victory over their insect neighbours.
The Quevvilâ€™s steely determination, refusal to negotiate and ingenious plan to give humans “something for nothing” carry the adventure along admirably, and with the change in locations comes a welcome change of narrative voice in the shape of a young boy called Robert whom the Doctor and Rose befriend on Toom.
Like itâ€™s immediate predecessors, Winner Takes All isnâ€™t going to take any awards for ingenuity in plotting, unveiling a fearsome new race of aliens to Doctor Who or investigating the Ninth Doctorâ€™s motives and psyche.
What it will win a prize for is being the best of the first three releases. While the television audience can be described as “general”, the books have on the whole made a shift from focussing on the late teen age group upwards back to a general readership. Just as childrenâ€™s television producers shouldnâ€™t patronise the viewer â€“ something Russell T. Daviesâ€™ show never did â€“ books are a very different kettle of fish. Justin Richards no doubt knows by now that the introduction of a child prince into key scenes of The Clockwise Man fails to make the story anymore relevant to under 15s. Similarly Stephen Coleâ€™s use of the popularly flatulent Slitheen and their compatriots doesnâ€™t guarantee a fun and engaging tale.
Jacqueline Rayner has given us a tale which has the same strengths as Doctor Who on television â€“ fun, engaging, refusing to patronize, asking questions of humanity and our motives and not requiring any gimmicks.