Winner Takes All
By DJ Forrest
Written by Jacqueline Rayner
Published 2005 by BBC Books.
Winner Takes All is a 9th Doctor story that includes Rose Tyler and Mickey Smith. It also involves a video game called ‘Death to Mantodeans’ which normally wouldn’t have got my suspicions pricked if I hadn’t just finished reading the Terry Pratchett novel ‘Only You Can Save Mankind’’.
In Pratchett’s novel, a 12-year-old boy is called upon by the Captain of the ScreeWee alien ship, to help them reach the border, as they have surrendered to him and don’t want to lose any more of their fleet. When Johnny sleeps, he dreams, and while he dreams, he’s suddenly facing the might of the ScreeWee fleet, meets with the Captain, and has to handle life and death situations that no 12-year-old gamer should have to face.
In ‘Winner Takes All’, a group of Quevvils who look like large Porcupines, are in a bitter battle with the Mantodeans, a large race of praying mantis. They are both hard opponents and neither can defeat the other. However, by cleverly constructing a video game that relies upon scratchcards to win consoles and holidays, the Quevvils target the hapless humans to play right into their hands, by beaming up those who have mastered certain levels on the game itself. Although their recruiting methods could do with a clean-up, plus the holiday destinations are not quite what they seem either.
Mickey Smith, Rose’s on off boyfriend, is struggling through the game and having known the Doctor for some time, is aware that if something looks alien, there’s a good chance that it probably is. And the game itself, has all the hallmarks of being just that.
With Mickey struggling to get past the training level, in breezes the Doctor to up the game score and put Mickey’s nose right out of joint. Bored with the whole video game interest, Rose heads out for tea and milk and biscuits.
After the Doctor leaves to find Rose, the alien Quevvil send down their recruiting squad and beam up a surprised Mickey. It’s a battle of wits after that to find Mickey and save the rest of the surprised and scared recruits of a game that goes above and beyond ‘Call of Duty.’
The idea of a video game story has been done on many levels, from books, to television and to film. Take for instance The Sarah Jane Adventures episode where Clive and Luke do battle with a few other teenagers in a warehouse full of laser quest style shoot outs, unaware that it’s a training ground for hardened warriors, ready to do battle in the real…alien world.
In Torchwood, Another Life by Peter Anghelides, Dr Owen Harper was playing with a virtual reality headset, that allowed him to converse with others over the internet, including an old flame that he later hooked up with.
And not related to the Whoniverse, Enders Game also had the gamer training but with a real alien cause. Great film by the way.
Not forgetting that Matthew Broderick film back in the 80s with the computer Joshua and his desire to win every computer game going, with the plan to nuke the Earth.
So, there’s always going to be a video story out there. But what I found interesting was that after reading Pratchett’s novel, and picking up Winner Takes All, there wasn’t an awful lot of difference in the premise. The only difference was that instead of a 12 year old, there was Mickey Smith! Ahh, now I see the connection.
My initial review had taken a dim view of the story in general. I found it irritating because it appeared to talk to a younger generation, even though I found that the 9th Doctor stories were anything but for younger children. But I failed to pick up on what it was telling me. So, I read another chapter, and it all started to make sense.
I felt that the writing style had been too bouncy, too full of enthusiasm, over exaggerating events, and often appeared that a teenage girl had written the story. What I’d failed to consider was that, I was looking at the story through the mind of a blonde haired teenage girl by the name of Rose Tyler. When I’d accepted this, the story made a lot more sense. The descriptions of the buildings around the scheme, the people and their attitudes, and life in general, with words like ‘stuff’ to end sentences with, as if the writer had run out of words to use. They weren’t Jacqueline Rayner’s words, they belonged to Rose Tyler.
Jacqueline is a bestselling author who has been involved in the Whoniverse for ever such a long time, and wrote The Stone Rose and The Last Dodo, two of my favourite 10th Doctor stories which I also enjoyed listening to on audio. So, it made no sense at all that Rayner would have written such a bad book in my initial review, as the Winner Takes All.
Sometimes it pays to take a step back after reviewing something and review it again. It’s surprising just what you find after you mull ‘stuff’ over.