The plot involves the Doctor and Ace meeting up with an archeological dig on the planet Menaxus where they meet up with Benny and investigate the mysteries of the great theatre which remains in ruin after the civilization was destroyed overnight. There is also a machine that projects plays and the discovery of The Good Soldiers which is a missing play that its discovery would be as if more missing episodes of Doctor Who were discovered, even with the reactions when the play is actually discovered. And then you get to the twist of the novel which I’ll get to in a bit, but first I think I should go over just how odd this story feels. Okay so in Legacy Benny went off to Phaester Osiris on Mars with some Ice Warriors, apparently to return a few novels later, except she appears again. I feel like that is mainly Gary Russell’s fault as according to some information on the audio adaptation’s extras Virgin had always intended to keep Benny on without a leave of absence. This novel’s plot is also close to a traditional six part story of the classic series as the first two ‘Acts’ dealing with the story on Menaxus and Benny at the Braxiatel Collection where the final ‘Act’ involves confronting the Helatian empire and revealing Braxiatel’s true plan along with the conclusion of the story. Yet the story feels very much like it wouldn’t be done on TV just because of how expansive Richards makes his set pieces. The theatre on Menaxus, even though in ruins, has the description of the largest ornate painting, the theatrical play’s projected sets are vividly detailed about things, then there is the Braxiatel Collection which is a replica at the palace of Versailles, except on a bigger scale. This allows the plot to seem almost bigger than it actually is.
Now let’s go onto the characters starting with the Doctor and Ace who are almost side-lined for most of the novel as Benny works out the mystery. By the end they get some great stuff, but the Doctor knows what’s going on from the beginning and is manipulating the events, and Ace suffers from her more standoffish personality. Benny gets a lot more attention as we get more of an exploration of her archeological side as she studies the ruins and researches information. We also see how she fits in with high society, not very well as she is taken aback by the Braxiatel Collection and its manipulative head but doesn’t really fit in with it. The story opens from her point of view and whenever it cuts back to her my interest in the novel suddenly rose. Richards really understands Benny’s character as she has some great lines and actually figures out the oddities of the theatre. Now the villain of the piece is the Executive of the Helatian Empire who is an extremely boring villain as he is simply power mad with no real pizazz to the character. He is easily manipulated by the Doctor and Braxiatel into his own demise. Yes Braxiatel, Time Lord and owner of the Braxiatel Collection makes his first appearance in this novel and the big twist is that he is the one pulling all the strings and not the Doctor, who is trying to get everything to work out. Now this is an interesting dynamic but it is barely explored, still Braxiatel is an interesting character as he interacts with Benny throughout the novel. The supporting cast are all a bit one note, but they have enough character to distinguish themselves from the others.
My biggest problems with the novel are its pacing and the ending. The pacing starts out strong, slows down a lot, but then speeds and slows at intervals as the plot progresses. The ending is also a problem as Richards tries to put in a big twist which really doesn’t amount to any change in the characters, but feels like a set up for other novels.
To summarize Theatre of War has one of the most traditional but one of the most engaging plots going by a method that isn’t broken so doesn’t need to be fixed. It has some great characters yet Ace and the Doctor are suffering from being in the background with an alright supporting cast save for Irving Braxiatel who seems like he may be a formidable opponent for the Doctor. Richards doesn’t do as much as he could have to make the story stand out. I can definitely see why this story was picked to be adapted for an audio as it is interesting. 72/100