Roots: The Third Man, James Bond, other spy fiction.
Goofs: How does the Doctor pay for his flat?
The Doctor on several occasions quotes himself, which is intentional on behalf of the author but incredibly annoying.
Double Entendres: Not really a double entendre, but the Doctor is the object of desire of Penny, the waitress at the Café des Artistes. Burgess also briefly eyes him up.
Dialogue Disasters: 'Tough little sonovabitch'.
Dialogue Triumphs: The Doctor's impassioned speech to the Countess about the benefits of humanity.
Continuity: The Players return, having decided to move on to an Endgame. This decision has been prompted by the development of nuclear weapons, since they intend to trigger World War Three. They are attempting to do this by accelerating the cold war between Russia and America using their psychic abilities. Myrek, posing as Professor Myrek, has set up a psychic research weapons project with the CIA, codename Project Kali. Helga assists him. It is ostensibly inspired by the psychic experiments carried out by the Third Reich during the War, but is basically a means of generating unrest. The influence of Myrek and Helga allows them to use volunteers as conduits, transmitting psychic influences to each volunteer's mind-partner. They typically use this influence to make American's attack communists, thus causing friction between the USA and the USSR. Most of these incidents are small-scale and are being covered up by both sides, neither of whom want a full-scale war; however, Myrek is using these exercises as experiments to prepare for his main scheme, which is cause the President to launch a full nuclear assault on China or Russia. He has already managed to influence the President after inviting him to visit Project Kali, as a result of which the Project has the Presidential seal of approval. Unlike the test subjects, Myrek is directly influencing the President, apparently because of his strength of will. Many of Myrek's test subjects die.
In Moscow, the Countess, using the alias Madam Razetskia, is similarly exerting an influence over Stalin by seducing him and then influencing him whilst he sleeps. She is eventually convinced to abort the Game thanks to a combination of reluctance to decimate Earth at this point in its history (she sees the potential for further games on Earth in the future) and affection for the Doctor, whose current body she particularly likes. She telekinetically causes Axel to kill Helga with a throwing knife, and Myrek to kill both Axel and himself with a pistol. The Players seen here include Myrek, Helga, Axel, the Countess, and the Adjudicator. They can appear or disappear at will, but can only kill people whilst in human form and using human weapons, or they will forfeit the game. Once in human form, they can be killed (as in Players). Axel says that an Endgame has special rules, including bonus points for killing an old enemy such as the Doctor.
The Doctor does not remember the Players, although he does get flashes of déjà vu whenever they are mentioned. He is openly terrified when the Countess offers to restore his memories, possibly due to the sheer size of his past, which his flashes of memory have hinted at. When he sees the Seventh Doctor, he fails to recognise his past self, although his predecessor feels a brief flash of recognition at the sight of him. Following his failure to get off Earth in The Turing Test, he has sunk into depression and spends most of his time reading books at the Reading Room of the British Museum, although he repeatedly finds that this generally results in refreshing his memory rather than actually learning new things, and he also frequents the Café des artistes. He rents a flat in a quit Bloomsbury back street in London, which has a basement where he keeps the TARDIS, which is still empty and with an incomplete shell. He is concerned by his failure to age.
When attacked, his body automatically responds, allowing him to disarm both KGB attackers and Axel. After being tortured by two KGB thugs, he reacts automatically and punches one in the side, breaking several ribs, and one in the face, breaking his jaw. He also tries to strangle an attacker to death until Oskar stops him. He appears to have greater than normal strength (see The TV Movie), on several occasions bodily lifting Axel and throwing him out of vehicles. Additionally, he frequently uses a [Venusian Aikido?] move which involves knocking a component unconscious by squeezing a pressure point in the shoulder. He is also shown to have psychic abilities, passing the Rhine Test (in which a subject attempts to predict the order of a series of special cards) and also predicting dice throws. He drinks whisky at one point. When tortured, he places himself into a trance, although this can be broken by a sharp enough stimulus. He is reluctant to get involved with the British Security Service, but is forced to when Philby holds his TARDIS to ransom. During a brief nap on board an aeroplane, he is said to have bad dreams. Whilst posing as Doctor John Smith, British Secret Service agent, he changes his clothes and gets a haircut. He meets President Harry S. Truman, Joseph Stalin (briefly - Stalin is asleep at the time), Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, and Donald Maclean. In return for his services the American Government pays him a large sum of money and have the British Embassy grant him a special Diplomatic Passport. He is also offered American citizenship and a highly paid job as a Whitehouse aide, both of which he declines.
Links: The Players last appeared in Players. There are references to The Turing Test, as Kim Philby remembers Greene's report of the Doctor in the Turing File. He tells the Doctor that Greene is out in West Africa "hating every minute of it". Additionally, there are various throwaway references to past Doctor Who stories, as flashes of memory plague the Doctor. In particular, he recognises the portraits in the National Gallery (see Unrecorded Adventures). The Seventh Doctor and Ace appear in a short prologue in which they see the Eighth Doctor at the Battle of Britain Festival in London. This takes place during the events of Timewyrm: Exodus.
Location: London, Washington and Moscow, over a period of several weeks during 1951.
Unrecorded Adventures: Amongst the memories that briefly resurface in the Doctor's mind are a Venusian Aikido lesson with a Venusian in a cave on Venus (Venusian Lullaby, and fishing with the Venerable Bede (referred to but not seen in The Talons of Weng-Chiang). He also briefly recalls drinking in a Tavern with William Shakespeare.
The Bottom Line: Another Terrance Dicks novel with a simple plot and virtually no characterisation. As in Blood Harvest, the pace builds gradually to a rushed climax, with rather too much crammed into the final quarter of the book. The Players are rather dull antagonists and perhaps the best that can be said about the novel is that it brings back fond memories of the Target Novelisations.