“World Game”, “Players” and “Endgame”.
The Players like to view themselves as The Masters of Time, butthe Sixth Doctor called them vandals, children who throw bricks onto the lines of history just to hear the train passengers scream, and the Second regarded them as utterly evil, causing chaos and unrest on the whole of Earth simply to keep themselves amused. The Players lives by strict Rules, which have never been completely revealed in their appearances, but we do know their credits, as shown below;
Winning is everything – and nothing.
Losing is nothing – and everything.
All that matters is the Game.
To date, we aren’t even clear on the nature of the Player’s time travelling abilities; the most logical conclusion would be that they come from the future and meddle in the past, but there are hints that they live time contemporarily with Earth’s present although their long lives mean it has little effect on them. However, since The Players of “World Game” – when manipulating the events of the Napoleonic Wars – still made reference to the events of ‘The Game of Hitler and Churchill’, it seems likely that most theories are accurate; while The Players generally observe the future while ‘living’ on Earth in the present, they can also travel back in time to manipulate past events. Despite this, The Players apparently cannot travel forward to see the futures that will result from their actions, and they were evidently lack the Time Lords’ ability to know when history has been changed as one Player was clearly ignorant that the Second Doctor once defeated their plans by travelling forward to a time after they had succeeded and subsequently going back into the past after learning what they would do. It is, however, known for a fact that the Players are generally transdimensional beings, assuming a human and mortal form while on Earth to make the Games more interesting when they take direct part in their schemes. Another fact about The Players is that they hold the Game even above their own lives, willing to accept the risks of mortal death in order to avoid revealing their role in events to others. The exact amount of Players in existence are unknown, but it is likely not a large number, as the death of even two Players was considered proof that a Game had gone against them, and The Doctor’s most regular adversary among The Players, the enigmatic Countess, appears to have a significant reputation among her people.
The Doctor first encountered The Players in the aftermath of “The War Games”, when his sentence of execution for interference in the affairs of the universe was changed to exile after the Time Lords detected The Players’ involvement in the Napoleonic Wars, concluding that The Doctor was the best candidate to attend to this problem without violating Time Lord policy, offering him a relaxed sentence of regeneration and exile in exchange for his help. However, before carrying out their assignment, The Doctor insisted on confirming that the War Games had ended, with the Time Lords sending him to France in 1915 so that he could meet two friends from the Games, Lieutenant Jeremy Carstairs and Lady Jennifer Buckingham, and confirm that they had no memory of their previous meeting. Although he had intended to simply talk with them and depart, their plans were changed when they encountered Major Winston Churchill – having rejoined the army after a failed military campaign, saving him from an ambush that the Players had arranged. Although they were subsequently caught by the mysterious Count and Countess while resting in a nearby house – the two intended to send Churchill and the others to Berlin, unconcerned about whether the Kaiser would kill him or claim that he had defected, but the Countess betrayed the Count and gave Churchill a gun on a whim after taking a shine to him, allowing The Doctor to hold the Count and Countess down while his friends escaped in the plane that would have taken them to Berlin, then using the Time Ring given to him by the Time Lords to escape before he was shot.
Following this, The Doctor, along with his new companion Serenadellatrovella, began to track The Players throughout the course of another elaborate scheme. While his earlier encounter with The Players, and his meetings with them in his sixth incarnation, featured The Doctor getting involved in The Players’ ‘Game of Churchill and Hitler’, featuring The Players attempting to alter the events of the Second World War, in this encounter, The Doctor found himself fighting in the ‘Game of Napoleon and Wellington’, as the Countess masterminded a particularly ambitious scheme to alter the course of the battle of Waterloo. Although The Doctor and Serena were able to thwart The Players’ attempt to kill Lord Nelson and Arthur Wellesley – the future Duke of Wellington – by leaving a bomb in a meeting room in 10 Downing Street during the pair’s only coincidental meeting in 1794, followed by The Doctor sabotaging the Countess’s attempt to perfect an early submarine for Napoleon’s use prior to Trafalgar by sabotaging the power supply for the propeller to explode (The submarine’s main failure being its slow speed), The Doctor’s lack of knowledge about the Countess’s plans for Waterloo forced him to choose a more complicated course of action.
Travelling into the future to witness what the Countess planned to accomplish, The Doctor learned that, by 1865, Napoleon’s empire had collapsed as he pushed his forces so far that they lacked the ability to hold on to their pre-existing territory, resulting in various countries having reverted to smaller states at war with each other while The Players led the countries in conflict for their own amusement. Resolving to avert that timeline, The Doctor and Serena travelled back to a ball that took place the day before Waterloo, having learned from the Countess in the future that Wellington had been assassinated during that ball. Although Serena sacrificed herself to save the Duke by taking the musket-ball in her side – the shot destroying both her hearts and rendering regeneration impossible, The Doctor was still forced to remain with Wellington’s men to ensure that everything went according to plan. Although the Countess continued her efforts by preventing the Prussians from coming to Wellington’s aid after sending them a false message, The Doctor, accompanied by Colonel Grant, was able to deliver the Prussians’ true orders by disguising himself as Napoleon, the two being superficially similar enough to each other for The Doctor to fool the average French soldier who had never seen Napoleon in person close-up. Not only did The Doctor deliver the Prussians’ true orders, but he was also able to divert some of Napoleon’s reinforcements to where they’d do the least historical damage. After the battle, The Doctor was informed by the Countess that all games had been put on hold out of fear that they had overplayed their hands, but both The Doctor and the Countess remained certain that they would meet again.
(Evidence suggests that this encounter, for The Players, took place some time after the Sixth Doctor’s encounter with them as shown below, given that they referred to ‘The Game of Hitler and Churchill’ in the past tense, suggesting that it had happened some time ago for them)
After a prolonged period where they somehow managed to avoid ever coming into contact, The Players and The Doctor found themselves pitted against each other again, The Doctor now in his sixth incarnation, and once again playing the ‘Game of Churchill and Hitler’. The time-period in question was 1899, and The Players were attempting to shoot the younger Winston Churchill during the Boer War, which was only barley prevented bythe Sixth Doctor and Peri when, The Doctor having decided to give Peri a holiday in Victorian London, the TARDIS hit the right time, but landed in Africa instead of London. Although their presence helped to prevent a Player from shooting Churchill, as well as assisting him in restarting a temporarily derailed train, The Doctor and Peri were briefly held captive with him in a prison camp. However, Churchill managed to escape with the aid of a Player who was then trying to save him, and The Doctor and Peri thanks to a guard telling Peri where the TARDIS was, allowing them to retreat to the ship while Churchill’s disappearance distracted the guards.
The Doctor’s next encounter took place for him almost immediately after his 1899 adventure, but for The Players it was thirty-seven years. Tracking The Players once again, The Doctor decided that he and Peri would settle in to London society in 1936, using some money that he had left in a newly-established bank in 1816 to fund their activities while posing as his own descendant, also introducing Peri as his ward. Having hired a house after a Player tried to assassinate them while staying at a hotel, The Doctor also hired PI Tom Dekker (Who had coincidentally worked with the Seventh Doctor in Chicago (Blood Harvest”) as private security before they attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace. Meeting Churchill once again, The Doctor and Peri posed as their own children to explain their lack of aging, quickly forming a great impression on Churchill as individuals who could be trusted even before Dekker saved Churchill from another assassination attempt by The Players. while The Doctor and Dekker talked with Churchill and Carstairs, now Churchill’s chief of staff, about the apparent conspiracy against Churchill in particular and Britain in general, Peri attended a dinner with Wallis Simpson, the King’s mistress, Joachim von Ribbentrop of the Third Reich, and the Count and Countess, being briefly captured after The Players convinced von Ribbentrop that she was an American agent before The Doctor and Dekker’s contacts rescued her.
With Peri having stolen a list of key individuals who would be sympathetic to a Nazi coup of Britain, The Doctor and Churchill knew who they would need to keep an eye on after Churchill revealed that the King had declared his intentions to abdicate in order to marry Wallis, The Doctor realising that he was going to instead dismiss the Government and bring Britain under German rule. Thanks to The Doctor’s warning, Churchill persuaded the head of the BBC to merely record Edward’s announcement until they knew for certain what his intentions were, while Carstairs and his men put the names on von Ribbentrop’s list under observation. Having prevented Edward from announcing his intention to dismiss Parliament and establish a new government with Hitler’s help, The Doctor and Churchill blackmailed him into going along with his original plans for abdicatedition or be arrested for treason, von Ribbentrop being left with nothing but a laundry list that Peri had left him in place of the original list after she stole it. While preparing to depart, The Doctor and Peri were confronted by the Count and Countess, who revealed their true names and agenda to The Doctor, The Doctor dismissing their claim to be masters of time and denouncing them as nothing but spoiled children who threw bricks onto the railroad of history to hear the passengers scream. Although the Count was accidentally shot by the Countess in the subsequent struggle, the Countess departed leaving The Doctor a chilling message; they were now fully aware of him, and, as either a Piece or a Player, he would play the Game again…
In The Doctor’s last encounter with The Players, he was in his eighth incarnation, and was now about halfway through his forced amnesic ‘exile’ on Earth, the destruction of Gallifrey (“The Ancestor Cell”) having left The Doctor with total amnesia and seriously depleting the TARDIS’s power. By this point, all Players but the Countess had tired of Earth, with the Countess preferring to see what games were left to be played while others favoured the idea of leaving Earth and starting over somewhere else, and had begun to set events into an Endgame by increasing the intensity of the Cold War. Play would only end when one side had completely destroyed the other, even if Earth was destroyed in the crossfire, along with other additional rules, such as ‘points’ being gained for eliminating old enemies such as The Doctor. Unfortunately for the world at this time, The Doctor had now given up all hope of ever remembering who he was after over sixty years living on Earth without aging, spending his days at the library and his nights in his flat near to the still-regenerating TARDIS, its exterior still half-finished and the interior smaller than the outside (His time at the library was constantly frustrating him, as in most cases reading the books in the library felt like refreshing his memory rather than learning something new). However, The Doctor still got unwillingly involved as a Piece in the Endgame thanks to a Polish agent that he had befriended leaving stolen documents in his apartment – having concluded that The Doctor was a secret agent who was so efficient that his supervisors hadn’t even bothered giving him a cover story to ensure that he couldn’t be traced, resulting in The Doctor being sought by both sides.
He was eventually caught by Kim Philby, an American agent secretly working for Russia, who blackmailed The Doctor into helping him by taking The Doctor’s blue box; Philby was one of the founders of ‘Tightrope’, a group of spies from both sides working to ensure that the Cold War remained evenly balanced, but recent subtle events had made them aware that someone else was working against Tightrope – particularly after one of their agents mentioned ‘The Players’ before dying, a close encounter between The Doctor and an unknown agent confirming that The Doctor had some history with The Players even if he couldn’t remember it and forcing The Doctor to help him deal with various actions to provoke The Players into exposing themselves. While attempting to get double agent Douglas Maclean out of the country, The Doctor was attacked by a Player named Axel, who attempted to increase the hostility by embarrassing British Intelligence by creating the impression that Maclean and another defector were homosexual lovers who killed each other during their escape, but The Doctor managed to overpower him. Although still dissatisfied with his current role, The Doctor subsequently travelled to America to investigate recent inexplicable attacks that appeared to be the result of brainwashing, investigating the possibility that President Truman was about to fall victim to these attacks, The Doctor managing to expose the experiments and ensure that Truman remained free. Although The Doctor was reluctant to go along with Philby’s ‘request’/order for him to go to Russia to ensure that Stalin wasn’t falling victim to the same brainwashing, he was left with no choice after Philby faked evidence that he was a Russian agent.
Arriving in Russia, The Doctor was able to sneak into Stalin’s quarters and discovered his old foe the Countess, ‘encouraging’ Stalin’s paranoia and temper to provoke him into war. Although The Doctor continued to defend mankind’s right to make it on their own without the interference of the Players, the Countess sensed that he lacked an emotional investment in his words, offering to help him before The Doctor collapsed, screaming that he mustn’t know what he had forgotten (Most likely an automatic response he had programmed into himself to prevent his memory being restored until he was ready (“The Gallifrey Chronicles”). Recognising the wisdom of the Doctor’s words, the Countess undid the damage that she had done to him and Stalin – assuring Stalin that his position was secure, subsequently helping The Doctor defeat three Players who sought to permanently brainwash Truman to provoke war. Philby subsequently cleared The Doctor’s name and returned the blue box to him, leaving The Doctor to enjoy his rediscoveredappreciation for the small things after coming so close to death, while the Countess claimed to the Adjudicator of the Players that the humans had discovered their presence – thus invalidating the rule that the Players should never be exposed, explaining that she had spared the ‘damaged’ Doctor so that he could recover and be a more interesting opponent in future. Although The Players presumably remain somewhere, the Adjudicator having declared the Endgame void, it is possible that a future Doctor shall deal with them in the end, but whether this confrontation shall be witnessed remains to be seen.