BBC Books
Bunker Soldiers

Author Martin Day Cover image
ISBN# 0 563 538?? ?
Published 2001
Continuity Between The Gunfighters
and The Savages



A Review by Robert Thomas 22/3/01

A perfect recapturing of the Hartnell era and a very good read. Everything is spot on and there are no complaints whatsoever by me. Martin Day sets the scene and location very well and enriches the story with his style. All the characters motives are believable and interest the reader throughout the book continuing to surprise us and make us think about our lifestyle and compare it with that of this time.

Part of the story is told through Steven's point of view and it's nice to see a writer challenging himself, Steven seems to excel in all the books he is in. Dodo hasn't got a lot to do but comes across well when she appears. The Doctor we see is inch perfect although due to the events going on around them we see both the wise and knowable Hartnell - this is by no means a Hartnell historical comedy. A must for 1st Doctor fans and well worth a read for people seeking to dip back to the era of Hartnell. Although I do hope that it isn't ignored as much as season 3.

A Review by Finn Clark 4/4/01

I haven't been reading my Doctor Who books lately. I looked at the 8DAs and just couldn't summon up the energy. Escape Velocity, dinosaurs and Steve Cole. Be still my beating heart. But getting three months behind was the impetus I needed to make myself attack the mountain. I've now read Bunker Soldiers.

I should have liked this book far more than I did. The historical period is dramatic and very fresh in Whoish terms. The Mongols were awesome. Martin Day's research turned up some lovely gems I didn't know (though I was irritated by the common assumption that a low life expectancy implies a young population; in fact the Russian peasantry was long been renowned for amazing longevities). All in all, this was a setting with potential.

Unstoppable marauders. A doomed city. Machinations, politics, double-dealing and death. So what's my problem with it?

Some of it is the plot. The Doctor can't intervene! Watch him not intervening! Gasp as he goes off on an excursion to give the narrative some local colour, which we all knew could accomplish exactly nothing! Oh, and I didn't buy the reason why the regulars couldn't return to the TARDIS either. I'm sure it works fine in Martin Day's head, but personally it left me feeling niggled. If you're going to write a story about tragedy and unstoppable death, I'd prefer the regulars' obstacles to measure up on the same scale of things. To me it felt arbitrary.

Perhaps it would have been better with only one companion - just Steven, or just Dodo. If you're doing a "we cannot change the course of history" story, then you're always going to struggle to give your characters enough of importance to do. Even if given lots of plot time (running around and the like) they'll tend to seem to be drifting rather than driving for a single concrete goal.

But I think most of my problem is with the prose style.

This doesn't have the depth and texture I associated with a Hartnell historical. It's more like a Hartnell Target novelisation. I couldn't empathise with any of the characters, not even Steven Taylor (despite some first-person narrative!) I'd guess the author was going for a simple style that somehow evoked the period, but somehow it's turned into an omniscient authorial voice that simply tells everything to the reader rather than letting us see it from the characters' point of view. "Once again the creature had spared their lives" is the ending to one chapter. Why did we have to be told that? Colour it with the characters' attitudes, or tease us with enough detail to make us start wondering about the implied character motivations. For me it felt like a story being assembled from building blocks rather than painted.

To be fair, I enjoyed the last thirty pages. At last we had an idea of what was happening, so had some character conflict and motivations to get a grip on. The notion of the Bunker Soldier is clever and I admired that.

But even then I felt I'd read a book that was trying and failing to be Sanctuary. Both are tragedies about a beseiged community that history says will be destroyed. Both have star-crossed lovers. However with Bunker Soldiers it was always hard work to immerse myself in the world that was supposedly being evoked. It's never actually bad, but I found it the least involving Hartnell novel not to be written by Christopher Bulis.

Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 19/5/01

First a note about placement. It's been decided that Bunker Soldiers fits in between the novel Salvation and the TV episode The Ark. However, the novel takes weeks, and there are indications that the TARDIS pairing of the Doctor, Steven and Dodo have been together months and had many adventures. Aside from a few references to The Massacre, there's no reason this novel shouldn't be placed later.

The story looks to be a standard historical. The TARDIS crew land in a place and time and are stuck there, caught up in the events of history. Typical history lessons and explanations for not changing the path of time abound. The new twist, which is starting to become more common in the novels, is the addition of a true alien, threatening to break the path of time through its mere presence. However, I found it hard to get to grips with the alien. The scenes from the alien's perspective don't seem to correlate to anything else that happens, so I wasn't sure if the alien was reliving past experiences or what. Fortunately, there aren't many such scenes, so they didn't get in the way too much.

The Doctor is fairly one-dimensional, sitting on the sidelines and being there mainly for exposition purposes. Then, at the end, he comes in with all the explanations and solutions. This is not the Doctor's novel.

But it is Steven's. This is stressed by having several chapters from Steven's point of view. It's a little disconcerting to go from third person narration to first, but at least it stays the same for each chapter. Steven is very much the hero of the hour, getting involved everywhere and being much the impetus for most of the novel's action. Pretty much in the style of the TV series then, but still well done.

Dodo isn't overlooked either. Nor is she abused like she is in other novels. In fact, she's almost normal here, a strong character that deals well enough with what happens. But not exactly the rather flighty girl of the series.

Governor Dmitri is a respectable character, well written and likeable, though he is opposed to the TARDIS crew. Yevhen is the villain, although that's more of a black and white delineation than should be applied, but even as the villainous character he's rather incompetent, more second rate though he's in the starring role. The other likeable character is Issac, although a lot of character development is forced, and much is made from a somewhat sketchy character outline. Just the mere fact of Issac being Jewish was used to push events forwards. I thought the Mongols were better written, despite their fair more minor role.

As an interesting variation, the chapter titles were all in Latin, which made them a little tricky to understand. In fact, anyone have a Latin-English dictionary handy?

Bunker Soldiers is a little slow in the beginning, but the pace speeds up and keeps the impetus going well. A decent read despite slightly jarring passages.

A Review by Eva Palmerton 27/5/01

Curse work for forcing me to put this book down from time to time!

The one word review - Wow!

I absolutely loved this book! I could hardly find any faults with it. Day's First Doctor is incredible, he wrote Steven as a damned strong character, and he even managed to do something worthwhile with Dodo!

I'll break this up into elements.

Setting - Excellent choice for this. Somehow, setting a Doctor Who story in the 1200s during the Mongol advance on Kiev seemed like the most natural thing to do. It was perfect! I would have liked a bit more on the visual end, there wasn't quite enough description. Fortunately, I've seen enough pictures of that region of the world to compensate.

Characters - I've touched on this a bit. IMO, Day captured the Doctor perfectly. This is the first PDA I've read for which I couldn't picture any other Doctor in the situation. Steven was very well done. I always worry about how an author will pull off a character who does so much narration. In many cases, I get tired of the character. I didn't get tired of Steven. His words and actions kept me interested in the story, and kept it moving along at a good quick pace. And Dodo - what can I say? She was actually useful! I was extremely impressed with Dodo. I had always seen her as one of the most useless companions ever, but Day used the character so well. The other characters were also very well done. Dmitri was solidly written, and his actions were consistent for the position he was supposed to be in. Isaac and Yevhen were incredibly well written as complete opposites. The dynamic really couldn't have been done better. The "Romeo and Juliet" story with Nahum and Lesia was beautifully executed, though not as much of a focus as I would have liked. At least their ending was happier. The Khans were well characterised, but a bit underused considering their importance to the plot. Bishop Vasil was probably the weakest character, again because he was quite important to the plot but really wasn't around enough. He had few enough scenes that it was difficult to get a feel for his character until the end. I knew he was a bit of a coward, but I didn't think he was that bad!

Plot - I really enjoyed the plotting. There was nothing too complicated about it. The war was written essentially as it had happened in terms of outcome. The events played out very much as an actual war might. Day did a great job of capturing the emotions and desparation of people in a situation of imminent danger, which seamlessly tied the war plot with the alien plot. The alien plot was amazing! It was so simple that I spent large parts of the book completely overlooking the obvious. I love it when that happens!

Writing - Excellent. I really enjoyed the switches between first and third person. The transitions were executed perfectly. I was worried about this, having just read Frontier Worlds and seeing fairly messy transitions between perspectives, but it really worked in Bunker Soldiers. I was very impressed with the way Day handled concurrent actions, scene switches, flashbacks and the occasional look inside the mind of the alien. The flow was superb. At no point was I jolted from one scene to the next. It all just fell together so nicely. And the ending was teriffic! No loose ends! And although there were a few minor continuity references, they were small enough that they could be completely overlooked. This book could so easily stand alone.

Overall, I have to say that this is not only the best PDA I've read, it's also one of the best science fiction novels I've read in a long time. I have no doubt I'll read it again, probably more than once!


A Review by John Seavey 25/6/01

Well, I was going to head from Quantum Archangel to Imperial Moon... but after reading Quantum Archangel, I decided I desperately needed something not written by Chris Bulis, so I switched around and read Bunker Soldiers next. I was glad I did...the book is a sharply written First Doctor story, with good characterization of the regulars and a plot that is a kissing cousin to other stories of the era, such as The Aztecs and Marco Polo, but has some good alien stuff therein.

First, anyone know what the chapter headers really said?

Second, Day's prose is workmanlike, which is not meant as an insult -- there are very few pages where I'm wowed by the dialogue or descriptions, but the story is always clear, I always understood exactly what was happening, and the details of life in the Middle Ages were well-placed.

The alien's actions and motivations provided a clever puzzle, and the solution at the end was worth reading. The Mongol hordes provided a wonderful backdrop to the whole thing, and the characterization of the First Doctor is nigh-unto-perfect.

If it had any flaws, they were thus -- Steven's first person narration feels slightly "off", in a way I can't describe, and Dodo, despite Day's best efforts, gets very little to do. (What can you say -- she's Dodo.)

Up next, I tackle Imperial Moon... if you don't hear from me within a week, tell my parents I love them. :)

A Review by Keith Bennett 29/6/01

Unlike several historical stories of the First Doctor, both televised and original novels, this is one that treats things totally seriously. The constant threat of attack from the Mongols is interesting, as is the mysterious alien presence in the city of Kiev. Martin Day deftly brings the period to life in such ways as commenting on death being a "way of life" for these people. However, he errs at times. On Page 144, he has the character Isaac saying, "We believe in the same God... Different expressions of him perhaps, but the same creator." Now I'm no history expert, but to my understanding, this is post modern thinking, which the Doctor Who writers love to preach wherever possible, pushed into a century which would not have had people thinking in such a way. Also, a few pages later, Dodo says "ballistic". Forgive me for being picky here, but that word is surely a fairly new one (it is to me, anyway), and would not have been around in the 1960s, from when Dodo came?

These are trifles, however. The period is captured wonderfully overall, and the characters are pretty good. Steven is the star, although there seemed no point in sometimes narrating from his perspective. I don't normally like the first person style, but despite all this, it did not interfere with the narrative. Dodo is pleasing, but the Doctor doesn't seem to do a lot until the end. The supporting characters have more interest than a lot of other similar characters found in Doctor Who books; even Yevhen, the "baddie" in Kiev, tends to invoke some sympathy. And the monster, although it is centred upon little, apart from a number of incomprehensible passages written in italics (gee, I hate italic passages), eventually comes across as very interesting. It's maybe a pity it could not have been given more time on centre stage.

Overall, this is a pretty good book and quite solid entertainment.

A Review by Luke Sims 31/7/01

A nice easy read. Martin Day manages to capture the flavour of the 3rd season with a very good historical. Plus it was good to have an alien in this book, because it added to the mystery of the story. Actually the Alien was the mystery of the story (no that's not a spoiler).

Plot: The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo arrive in the city of Kiev weeks before it's going to be invaded by Mongol forces. Plus something inhuman is going around killing people. I liked the story and when I finished it. I felt that I had learnt something.

The Doctor: Hartnell to the bone. I liked the Doctor here and he has plenty to do, with him meeting the Mongols a real highlight. Mr Day did a good job putting him into print form.

Steven: Steven made this book IMO. I loved the first person narrative from his point of view. This should be done more often in the PDA's. Steven is one of my favourite companions and I wasn't let down here.

Dodo: She was just the same old Dodo, and she really didn't do much for me. She was a big let down, because the standard of the other two main characters made her seem really small.

Others: Dimitri was a good leader who tried his all to save his city and was a really solid character. Isaac was also good and was one of the characters I looked forward to seeing in the whole book. Yevhen was the only character that I really hated he just went on and on and just would not see common sense. Another real let down. I was glad to see a happy ending as far as Nahum and Lesia went, although they were hardly ever there.

Villains: The alien was well done and I like the small chapters in it's perspective. I thought that the alien gave the reader a much needed change now and again to the main plot. The Mongols were also really good and even though they are hardly in the novel their presence is felt throughout.

Style: I like the switch that Day made between the 1st and 3rd persons, as it really gave the reader an extra bit of enjoyment. I also thought it was fun and different to have the chapter titles in Latin.

Overall: A good story that makes the reader want to keep reading, even though it won't be all the that memorable in years to come. 7/10

A Review by Brett Walther 8/9/03

Choosing the last Doctor Who novel of the summer is not to be taken lightly. With the assigned readings of the school year looming, it was vital that I picked a title that would end my uninterrupted summer of Who on a high note and satisfy my appetite until the time comes again that I can put the textbooks down and (gasp) read for fun.

Luckily, Bunker Soldiers was the perfect choice, although it was perhaps too perfect, making it altogether crueler that I may not get to read Doctor Who again for quite some time.

In Bunker Soldiers, Martin Day has constructed a brilliant novel. Steven's first-person narrative (adopted for more than half of the book) pleasantly evokes David Whitaker's excellent novelisation of The Daleks that, for many of us I'm sure, was the first of the Target books we ever owned. Although Steven's no more convincing as an astronaut from the future as he was in the series, he's a great companion. It also works extremely well for Steven and the Doctor to resume the debate that ensued at the end of The Massacre; with Steven questioning the Doctor's insistence that nothing can be done to save any of the people they meet from the past for fear of disrupting the timelines. It's more than a mere rehashing of the debate from The Massacre, though. Here, Day has sown seeds of doubt in the Doctor's mind as to the mutability of time, which he suggests were planted by the Doctor's encounter with the Monk a season earlier. This new edge to the moral dilemma encountered by the TARDIS crew works extremely well.

In fact, this is historical Who at its best. Kiev is magnificently brought to life through evocative descriptions of the smells, sights and sounds of the city. This is a period of history that I admittedly knew very little about, but nevertheless, the historical background is made accessible by the age-old (yet still charming and functional) convention of the Doctor explaining things to Dodo, who thankfully shares my ignorance on events in Russia during the Middle Ages.

What's so lovely about Bunker Soldiers is that the science fiction element, namely a rogue war machine (no not that kind!) or rather "machine of war", being employed by the besieged citizens of Kiev to repel the Mongols, is balanced perfectly with the historical drama. Although the attacks from the rogue alien are indeed genuinely creepy, Day's success at generating a palpable sense of tension from the approaching Mongol hordes cannot be underemphasized. The hours leading up to the final attack on Kiev are incredibly edgy, enhanced immeasurably by a scene in which administrators of the city coax the Doctor into confessing that they are indeed doomed, identifying himself as one who has seen the future. The Doctor as a prophet of doom is absolutely chilling stuff, and is a nice homage to The Aztecs, in which the Doctor is grilled by Cameca as to the fate of her people.

This is the best PDA I've read since Mark Gattiss's nearly unbeatable Last of the Gaderene, and I can't praise it enough. I can't think of a better way to have ended the summer!