The Brilliant Dr. Wogan is a highlight of the middle stretch of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Imaginative, kinetic and exciting, it recaptures the youthful vibe of some of the earliest entries in the series, and it’s a great return to form by R.A. Montgomery, the author probably associated with Choose Your Own Adventure more than any other.
The Brilliant Dr. Wogan by R.A. Montgomery (illustrated by Leslie Morrill)
Published: August 1987
Number in the CYOA Series: 72
I did not read this book as a child. A couple of readers, fans of the CYOA books and this review series on my blog, told me that The Brilliant Dr. Wogan was one of their favorites. I admit among the titles, covers and scenarios it didn’t really stand out as a potential jewel; a lot of the books in these 60s-70s (volume numbers) stretch have been mediocre at best. After reading it I completely understand why this is a fan favorite. It’s an action mystery that recaptures the globetrotting vibe of The Lost Jewels of Nabooti, one of the best early books, and it’s an example of R.A. Montgomery (who died nearly two years ago) at the top of his form.
The book is a futuristic adventure, but not too futuristic. It takes place in 2012, which is now in our past but was 25 years in the future from 1987 when it was written. The Cold War appears to still be going on and the world stands at the brink of nuclear annihilation. “You” are an assistant–your job isn’t very well detailed–to the title character, who is the genius head of an organization called Delta Group, based in London, that’s working for world peace. Specifically, Wogan has developed a device called the “radiation neutralizer,” which can render all nuclear weapons useless. Wogan has disappeared, presumably kidnapped. Delta Group needs you to find him and bring him back alive. You begin searching at Wogan’s retreat, at a Turkish port on the Aegean Sea called Canakkale. When you get there you see a clue as to Wogan’s whereabouts. Do you stay to meet the man who may be Wogan in disguise, or heed the warning of a stranger that you’re being stalked and must get out of Canakkale immediately?
Canakkale Fortress, built in 1462 by the Ottomans, is a colorful backdrop for the action in The Brilliant Dr. Wogan. I bet its history is fascinating.
This is a fantastic opening, one of the best in many books in my opinion. Montgomery thrusts you into the action almost immediately with a minimum of exposition. His penchant to do that is sometimes problematic, such as in War With the Evil Power Master, but here it works very well. After a couple of page turns you’re in the exotic locale of Canakkale, Turkey, running for your life from shadowy pursuers, and the range of stories open to you is pretty broad. A parade of characters seek you out and many of the choices involve “Do you trust this person?” or “Do you try to escape?” That’s pretty standard CYOA fare, but it seems to work within the context of this plot.
Montgomery goes in a number of different directions and the story paths are quite various, which means you’ll have an unusually different experience each time you read the book. Sometimes you find Wogan, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes the crooks trying to gain the neutralizer win, other times you foil them–and sometimes they think they win, but you and Wogan outsmart them. I especially like the bit involving another device of Wogan’s genius, the “energy minimizer,” which can stop bullets in midair. The scene where you use this reminds me of the slow-motion gunfights in The Matrix, though this was published 12 years before that film introduced the trope (much overused since) into cinema. The gadgets are all MacGuffins, of course, and not very plausible, but Montgomery never concerned himself with being plausible. It’s just good fun.
Bozcaada, an island off the coast of Turkey, is another scene of action in the book, and also features an Ottoman fortress. Bozcaada Castle was built by Mehmet II, the conqueror of Byzantine Constantinople.
Montgomery also uses the locales to good effect. Dr. Wogan doesn’t quite rack up the travel mileage that Lost Jewels of Nabooti did, but the Turkish Aegean locations are very colorful and atmospheric and make for an exotic-seeming adventure. When I was a kid one of the things I loved about these books was that they made me imagine traveling the world and doing important things. Dr. Wogan is all about that premise.
This was a really fun read and I highly recommend it. I still don’t quite get why the “new” cover design advertises “More Challenging Choices!” when the choices are just the same as always, but that’s a minor quibble. The Brilliant Dr. Wogan is everything you want in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Very glad I was able to read it.
Next up: we go Beyond the Great Wall with Jay Leibold.