Doctor Who: "Dreams Of Empire" Review

Re-released in 2013 for the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, Christopher Morley revisits the Second Doctor novel Dreams Of Empire.

History moves on apace, as does the Doctor, for Dreams Of Empire! Well, pseudo-history in any case. For Justin Richards takes one of the turning points of the history of Rome - the shift from Republic to Empire, which the little man in the bow tie visited in his previous incarnation - and turns it on its head & shifts it into the future.

It's not particularly hard to read between the lines, either. Hans Kesar, Consul-General of the Haddron Empire, is a space-age Caesar, the shift from republic gradual as he becomes Emperor in all but name = the man with definite dreams of Empire! And his attempt to cross the metaphorical Rubicon has led to conflict with Milton Trayx, one of his oldest & closest friends as well as the Commander in Chief of Haddron's military. Kesar is eventually defeated & imprisoned amid much intrigue, alongside his second in command, General Axel Cruger, The loss of support from one of his Legions- the Fifth- proves to be key to his downfall, adding to the feeling of a Rome from Rome! After all Caesar needed only one in his infamous crossing, a pivotal moment according to Eyewitness To History:
"Caesar's popularity with the people soared, presenting a threat to the power of the Senate and to Pompey, who held power in Rome.

Accordingly, the Senate called upon Caesar to resign his command and disband his army or risk being declared an "Enemy of the State". Pompey was entrusted with enforcing this edict - the foundation for civil war was laid.

It was January 49 BC, Caesar was staying in the northern Italian city of Ravenna and he had a decision to make. Either he acquiesced to the Senate's command or he moved southward to confront Pompey and plunge the Roman Republic into a bloody civil war.

An ancient Roman law forbade any general from crossing the Rubicon River and entering Italy proper with a standing army. To do so was treason. This tiny stream would reveal Caesar's intentions and mark the point of no return."
And so it proves for Kesar, with the Doctor, Jamie & Victoria finding themselves stepping from the TARDIS into the heart of the fortress which holds him.

Trayx had been forced into a role similar to that of Pompey, and takes responsibility for his former ally & now prisoner as leader of the Haddron Republic. The suits of armour which stand about the place are far more than just decoration, too- they're VETAC robots! And they've been programmed by Cruger to attempt to engineer a prison break to spring himself & Kesar out. Only it isn't that simple, as the man in the iron mask, of sorts, that he thinks is his disgraced commander isn't quite who he thinks he is- the mask hiding what he thought to be his leader's disfigured face following an assassination attempt actually concealing something & someone else. To say more of that would be to spoil it.
"The history books were clear: the once-proud Haddron Empire, fatally weakened by civil war, was finally brought to its knees by a catastrophic explosion. But, then again, history books can lie..."
Lets give all this further context by looking into that iron mask, too- with thanks to io9.
"He was a mysterious prisoner in the time of Louis XIV. Two centuries later, a cryptoanalyst finally discovered his probable identity.

In 1698, the Man in the Iron Mask had gained quite a reputation for himself (some said herself) when he had been in a prison in Savoy.

In Paris, he was the subject of so much gossip that he became a legend for centuries to come. Theorists tried to work out his identity. Some, most famously, Alexandre Dumas, made up an identity, and spun a tale in which the Man in the Iron Mask was the secret twin of Louis XIV.

Twins were a threat to orderly succession, but no one could kill a prince of royal blood, so the second twin was masked and imprisoned. For two centuries, the mystery remained. There were clues, but they were written in what's known as The Great Cipher. This numeric code kept all the court communications secret. In 1890, a French military cryptoanalyst named Etienne Bazeries decided to try his hand at The Great Cipher.

There were about 600 different numbers used in cipher messages, so the numbers couldn't match up to letters of the alphabet. On the other hand, Bazeries realized, there are 676 ways of pairing up letters of the alphabet. The Great Cipher must use numbers as substitutes for pairs of letters — with a few for more common words, and a few left out because certain letters are never paired up.

By making guesses at frequently-used pairs of letters, he got a few words, then used those deciphered numbers to guess at yet more words, and find more numbers. Eventually, the code was cracked.Bazeries began working his way through correspondence from Louis XIV to his minister of war and found a letter about a certain Vivien de Bulonde.

Bulonde was a military man, and was put in charge of an attack on the Italian border. As soon as he heard Austrian troops might be closing in on his position, he turned tail and ran, leaving his own wounded soldiers behind. Louis ordered the minister to put him in the prison at Savoy, but allowed that he would be "permitted to walk the battlements during the day with a mask."

If all that gets a bit much, just follow Cruger's games of chess- his set & its pieces mirroring the positions/moves of the major players in the battle for Haddron's future. Even the structure of the narrative follows the individual phases of such things- Opening, Middle Game, End Game etc.

This also marks the first time the Doctor uses the sonic screwdriver in a novel! He'd first talked of making himself one in The Murder Game, & was seen deploying it for the first time on screen in Fury From The Deep. It'll also come in handy in his swansong, at least in this body, in The War Games.

But before we come to say goodbye to this Doctor of Doctors, we must head into ''base under siege'' territory for The Wheel Of Ice!

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