Caught on Earth
Casualties of War
|ISBN||0 563 53805 8|
|Synopsis: In the village of Harkswick in the middle of the Great War, dead soldiers are going on manouvres during the night, pets have gone missing and livestock are being slaughtered in the fields. A man from the ministry arrives to solve the mystery, but he is as much of a mystery in his own right.|
A Review by Finn Clark 12/9/00
Steve Emmerson has called his debut book a horror novel, which I suppose is accurate but also perhaps slightly misleading. Bracing myself for a leering gorefest, I found myself reading a gentle, character-based book that's almost apologetic about its occasional side-steps into the gruesome. There's a real warmth in these pages, and a depth of character and setting about which we can normally only dream. The background of World War One is thoroughly convincing and gives a wonderful verisimilitude to events. The characters are real and sympathetic. There's almost no discernable plot, but that's not what the book's about. Even the traditional Whoish elements are downplayed most of the time. This is a story of people - and damn fine it is too.
Admittedly some fans will probably find it boring. If you struggled to get through Pat Barker's Regeneration, you probably won't have much time for Casualties of War. Its disturbing moments are subtle, almost underwritten, and all the better for it. Sensation-seekers will look in vain for ray guns, bug-eyed Martians and cackling megalomaniacs.
But to me it felt real. On finishing the book, I almost felt as if I'd just spent a holiday in Hawkswick rather than merely reading about the place. Even the eighth Doctor is described as a rich and complex character! Given the 8DAs' track record this is rather like reinventing Davros as a tap-dancing charity worker, but Steve Emmerson pulls it off. I'm still in shock.
And that's all I have to say! Sometimes I finish a Doctor Who book with enough notes to write a thesis, but this time all I had was a slight question about the number of C-names (a Corporal, a Constable, Lance Corporal Collins, Corey and Cromby... and that's just in the first nine pages!) In synopsis this must have looked spectacularly unpromising, but it's the execution that makes this book special. Highly recommended.
A Review by Barney Neale 19/9/00
Many Who fans, myself included, do not regularly read the Eighth Doctor range. Fearful of jumping into convoluted story arcs midway, put off by reports of overly grim tales devoid of sparkle, or disillusioned by bad experiences with derivative efforts, we still feel strangely drawn towards the smooth covers by the shiny Who logo, only to feel lost/angry/left behind when reading the back cover.
Justin Richards' The Burning marked a turning point not only for the BBC Books range, but for Doctor Who in general. It is superbly written, with a memorable villain, vivid characters and a surprising, exciting plot. It should serve as a template for a potential television series - it neatly sidestepped massive swathes of continuity just to tell a good story; arguably just how Doctor Whoshould be. I will not have been the only person impressed enough to vow to follow the EDAs religiously as a result. Hallelujah, I have seen the light. Every woman, every man, join the caravan of Who.
Casualties of War, therefore, has a weighty burden to bear. If The Burning is An Unearthly Child for the next generation, we really need CoW to be the equivalent of The Dead Planet. Unfortunately, it's more like The Time Monster.
The plot is promising enough - undead soldiers, a defenceless village, a mysterious mental hospital haunted by chilling screams... Philip Hinchcliffe himself would find it taxing to come up with something more referential to Hammer Horror. This is a Good Thing.
The Bad Thing, well the main one anyway, is that it just doesn't hang together like it should. The main problem is Steve Emmerson's prose; there is no fluidity or steady pacing to the narrative, certain passages seeming to have been dropped in to fill the word count. We are treated to graphic descriptions of the Doctor eating chicken, but some major occurrences are written with the minimum of description, Target-style. (Speaking of the Doctor's chicken antics, I thought he was meant to be vegetarian?) We are told, on more than three occasions, how Gothic everything looks, but with little in the way of descriptive atmosphere-building to create the image properly. I get the impression that Steve Emmerson would be more at home writing the scripts for graphic novels than prose.
The characters try far too hard to be real, but in actual fact are little more than cliched stereotypes, acting as signifiers of broad character types rather than people in their own right. Cromby, for instance, is totally predictable from his very first line - it is very hard to picture him as anything other than one of the interchangeable bullish, salt-of-the-earth farmers from All Creatures Great And Small. We have the past-it-but-amiable local bobby; the Sam Seeley-style poacher; the young, fiery Emily Pankhurst-admiring district nurse/ schoolmistress/ companion substitute... I could go on, but you've all seen The Claws Of Axos so I don't need to lecture you about stereotypes.
Banham, the ill-disguised villain of the piece, is two-dimensional and vague, and about as threatening as Morph. Don't expect cat-and-mouse dialogue between Doctor and adversary here - it's all playground stuff.
I had a hard time picturing Paul McGann speaking the Doctor's lines. The Doctor seems like a very bland composite, more like Rowan Atkinson in the Comic Relief skit, and his forced witticisms aren't witty (the Schwarzenegger quote with have you blushing down to your very toenails in embarrassment). He seems to start believing that he is the Man From The Ministry, too - at one point, the plot goes on hold as he physically searches for proof that two soldiers have been killed when he knows it to be true anyway. It's Doctor Who, not Columbo. I must also say that I was a bit narked by the fanboy reference to nitro-nine - totally unnecessary and out of place, certainly going against the grain of the 'kick up the continuity' Masterplan. The rot isn't setting in already, is it? I hope in the next book the Doctor isn't reminiscing about Lungbarrow and reversing the polarity of every piece of electrical equipment is sight.
The climax of the book, and the explanation for the events in Hawkswick, is frustrating and feels like a cop-out, albeit a drawn out one. This is the biggest shame of all because the concepts at work here are excellent, and have been surprisingly rare in Doctor Who, picking up on certain issues from The Mind of Evil. Doctor Who allows writers to leave question marks over the narrative, that's part of the point (things were resolved, not explained, in The Burning, for example) but here it just feels like things haven't been thought through properly.
I would compare Casualties Of War to a lazy Terrance Dicks book, but that would be unfair because it really does try to be great Doctor Who. It's heart is in the right place, but its limbs are on Metebelis Three. I'm afraid I would really only recommend this book to you if you think that Pigbin Josh from the aforementioned Claws Of Axos is a witty and accurate portrayal.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 12/10/00
Well, once again I purchased a PDA with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, opened it up, and by page 87 I was a bleeding, broken shell unable to continue. So the review of Imperial Moon has been put with the review of Prime Time in that vague 'I'll review it when I get a chance' place.
So instead I go back to the EDA's, and Steve Emmerson's freshman effort, another in the series of... wait, better not call it a series, bound to cause controversy. And don't say the Doctor's regenerated either, cause he hasn't. And the Earth is shaped like a burrito. Fnord.
Where was I?
Wasn't sure what to think about this one. Fledgling Who author, in a Doctor-only mini-arc, with a line that's trying to stay as far away from continuity as possible... hey, means anything can happen, right? Let's go to the videotape:
PLOT: Actually, probably the least necessary part of the book. The book runs almost entirely on characterization and emotional turmoil, with the scenes being connected more by viscera than any real 'find out what's happening and stop it' menace. That being said, the plot is pretty well put together for what it is, and holds up until the end (more about that later)...
THE DOCTOR: Still that odd cross of the 8th Doctor we know and a total stranger, still intensely private and prone to fits of brooding, but far more personable than the man we saw in The Burning. The Doctor seems to have taken a little bit of that inner fire with him, it's quite exhilarating to watch him worry his way through the mystery while still finding time to flirt with Mary and brood about his past.
MARY: Very interesting here. Incredibly curious about the Doctor, and yet always coming up against the fact that he's virtually unknowable, she manages to make herself look quite sympathetic to our eyes. Her resolve throughout these events is amazing, only breaking down near the end. Fulfills the companion role rather well, holds her own in flirtatious banter, and I think comes away from the experience with fresh resolve.
VILLAIN: Banham qualifies best. I really must credit Steve here, as upon my first meeting of Banham, when the Doctor was first being shown around, I was sympathetic towards him. Sadly, this meant that I was a little disappointed when he later turned into a rather one-dimensional raving looney.
OTHERS: Briggs and Cromby were both stalwart, resolute, sympathetic characters. Oh, and the introduction of Iris (well, her real introduction) made me cheer (though the use of the name 'Iris' might be a tad unfortunate in these troubled times).
STYLE: Excellent. Despite the horror elements and feeling of growing foreboding, this really felt like a small, rural country story. It meandered, it took its time, and yet I was never bored. It did get very rushed at the end, which brings up my one major carp: the resolution seems strangely offscreen. Maybe because we aren't supposed to get to far inside the Doctor's head yet, but not seeing what he did to stop the psychic emanations left me feeling a little bit empty right at the climax.
OVERALL: Despite that, I really got into this book. Excellent dialogue and characterization, which can carry 3/4 of a book all by itself. And it really sets some great mood pieces. Nice work, would like to see more.
A Review by Judi Grant 29/10/00
Take Night of the Living Dead (zombies galore), add the Regeneration Trilogy (WWI psychoses), a sprinkle of The Awakening (sexual awakening), some inside jokes and you get a sure-fire miss.
Steve Emmerson tries hard. But he manages to handle none of these themes adequately. He slings gore with relish, truly wallowing in it as has been the tendency of every EDA war story author before him. But just like the prior stories, the mounting body count loses its shock value quickly. The novel turns into a short story stretched too far with a lot of tedious talk and dead mammals lying around.
Thrown in to apparently keep the reader amused, is a subplot involving the romantic/sexual awakening of plucky, liberated Mary that does nothing to move the plot or the reader's interest. The reader is left to wonder that if Mary can commune with horses and feel the baby TARDIS' pain, why she can't sense that the Doctor is simply not interested.
Driven home is the theme that war is hell. The reader may very well think he's in hell waiting for the dead and the baddie (whose identity is obvious from start) to get on with it. As has been the unfortunate tendency of most of the EDAs, the climax signals the death of the plot. The killing blow comes when after chapters of bone, blood. muck and gore, the reader doesn't actually see the virtually apocalyptic battle between the Doctor and the antagonist, Dr. Bantham. The word CHEAT comes to mind. I can only assume that the author's exceeding his literary capability caused him to stoop to this tactic. The last few pages could have been cut; Mary's letter to the Doctor is implausible, and the tacked- on connection to the flu pandemic strains credibility.
The author fails to do anything remotely interesting with the Doctor's psyche. The angel/devil imagery for the Doctor is weak and the author's inability to carry it off becomes pointed with each attempt. Aside from laying on the gore, Emmerson seems to have trouble with pacing, suspense and romance. This book illustrates the fine line between being a good scrivener and a talented writer.
Promising at first, but ultimately unsatisfying by Robert Smith? 12/11/00
Casualties of War has much to recommend it. After a drought of new voices in the range, the Richards editorship brings us two in one month. While it's clear that Festival of Death is the superior novel, pretty much by default, Casualties is a good attempt. It's frustrating that it isn't better, but I'm very glad it was published.
There are lots of great things about this book. The scenery is gorgeously painted. Some of the characters are nicely drawn. For once, the horror elements aren't boring to a non-horror fan like me. It's a quiet little novel, but I think that adds to its strengths. It plays out slowly, perhaps a little too slowly, but the first half is quite intriguing.
There are also some really nice images. The tree full of dead animals, Cromby's barn ablaze, the TARDIS standing untouched amid a pile of bricks. I thought we might be in for something really special about a third of the way through.
However, ultimately I came away rather bored. I think that's got a lot to do with the lacklustre ending, but there are bigger problems. Up until the point where Private Corey dies for no good reason, I was really intrigued. After that, though, things quickly degenerate into a sloppy finale. Unforgivably, we don't even see the Doctor's climactic battle with the villain. I would have thought this is an obvious point, but Timelash is not the story whose resolution you want to be emulating.
The book seems to be trying so hard to be a television story that it turns the limitations of the TV format into weaknesses in the book. Sure, nobody would have been able to convincingly film the extra-dimensional battle inside the clay creature, but that's no reason at all why it couldn't have been portrayed in a novel. And certainly not a novel that shows it has the ability to be sophisticated when it wants to be.
Dr Banham starts out as the potential villain, but a very nice scene shows his competency. I really liked that and it had me honestly convinced for a while that he wasn't the problem. However, once we find out that he is, he degenerates into a raving loony far too quickly for my liking. I like the nature of the menace, but I think Banham's monstrous side could have been actually interesting had it been developed to any degree. Instead we get a pale imitation of Yet Another Stock DW Villain. That's a real shame.
On the other hand, Briggs and Cromby are fabulous. They're really nicely drawn, without being overdone. Cromby's stomping around is great and Briggs fulfils the very necessary pseudo-companion role that the Earth arc books are requiring. I'd have liked to have seen more of Iris, but unfortunately she's not in it enough to make an impact.
The Doctor is also reasonably good. He's less dark than he was in The Burning, which is understandable, but I think I'd have rather seen him learning some lessons in humanity during the books, rather than between them. However, I did like Mary's discovery of the two notes in the Doctor's jacket. The faded and yellowing note from Fitz is a really nice touch and gave a great sense of just how much time has passed already. The Doctor's Mulderesque method of finding the action is also quite fun.
One of my biggest problems was Mary Minnett, however. Not so much the character, although she didn't really grab me. Instead, it's the non-relationship with the Doctor that bugs me. Specifically, I can't for the life of me see why we didn't get to explore this possibility a bit more. The Earth-Doctor has lost his memory, he thinks he's human, so why isn't he interested in a relationship? The book never asks these questions, let alone answers them. Instead it just skirts around the issue. Yes, the old Doctor was asexual, but was that an integral part of his nature or the result of past history (as the collected works of Lance Parkin imply)? I wouldn't mind the conclusion that it's part of his nature, but I think we would have been in far more interesting territory had the book been willing to experiment. I'd have loved to have seen the Doctor actually dealing with the issues, or trying to get involved in a relationship and ultimately realising it wasn't for him. As it stands, it seems like the novel is shying away from a potentially interesting subject for no good reason that I can figure out.
There are some problems with the writing too, that don't help matters. Specifically, Emmerson uses dangling modifiers all over the place, tacking them on to perfectly good sentences whenever he can. Doing this a few times doesn't bother me at all. Doing it all the time is annoying. And on at least two occasions the intended meaning is obscured because of this. I know it's a first novel, but it bugged the hell out of me. I'm also not sure about the last page's attempt to link things to the flu outbreak. I just don't buy it and the book offers me no reason why I should.
I wanted to like Casualties of War a lot more than I did. It's got a lot that's worthy, but it's also incredibly frustrating. It's the type of book where the problems are all so superficial that you want to grab a red pen and make the changes yourself. I know I'm being way too harsh on a first novel, but it has some problems that just seemed to hit all my buttons at once. I understand why a lot of people really like this one, but it left me a bit bored. However, it still had enough of interest that I'm keen to see what Emmerson can produce next time around, with a bit of maturity in the writing.
A Review by Elsa Frohman 13/11/00
I just finished CoW this evening, and I think I agree with Robert? on pretty much all counts.
I had great hopes for the Mary character early on. But in the final analysis, why set up the relationship then do absolutely nothing with it? There seems to be a shying away from letting anything have an effect on the Doctor here. I agree that it would have been much better to let the relationship thing sneak up on the Doctor and then force him to deal with it. Instead we get a very flat ending.
But I did enjoy the way Steve Emmerson writes characters. Most of the people in this story were very well-drawn. I'd like to read his next book.
What I didn't like was a second book in a row with a poorly defined "horror" conflict. Emmerson writes his walking dead well, but at the end of the day, they are still central casting zombies. I'd like to see a little more imagination put into the Doctor's foes.
And the final bit about the flu epidemic adds nothing.
Four out of Five by Jamas Enright 5/2/01
The premise of this book is a simple mad scientist plot. There isn't an incredible amount of depth here, neither in the story nor the characters. Yet Casualties of War is an easy, and pleasant, read. Maybe it's the continuing breath of fresh air after the previous books prior to The Burning, but Steve Emmerson delivers an enjoyable tale of simple country life involving such easy-going ideas as the dead coming back to life.
The character of the Doctor continues as a distinctly odd human. I'll be interested to see how he handles the problem of aging, or rather not aging. He has some close moments with Mary Minett where it looks like he might be more human than we think, and, given the TV Movie, might not have been as bad as one might think. In fact, they might have worked well. I'm pretty sure that later novels will go into this area, so I shall wait and see.
Mary Minett herself is a well-written character. Not too deep, but quite engaging. Indeed all the characters here keep the interest, which is good given the number of people that Steve Emmerson moves through. My favourite would be Constable Albert Briggs, a policeman out of his depth. Steve Emmerson does some nice touches here, and I found myself caring about what happened to him.
What does happen? The story is built up slowly, with one thing revealed and explored fully, before moving onto the next thing. This doesn't make for the most dramatic tale, but it does allow time for character development, including important aspects like motive. But don't worry action fans, there are grisly moments to keep the horror alive. It's a sedate horror, admittedly, but it keeps the atmosphere nicely unsettled.
My favourite scene would be the Doctor examining the bodies. It shows how the Doctor feels he must get involved in what is happening, it shows how Mary wants to be with him, and it shows others' reactions to the Doctor. It also shows the detail Steve Emmerson goes to with each scene, even if its overall importance is minimal.
So, for a story that's light on plot but heavy on characterisation, you'd do well to read Casualties of War. Reminds me of what was said about The Also People. We'll see if Steve Emmerson is the next Ben Aaronovitch.
A Review by Dominick Cericola 2/3/01
Ah, a new Review, after such a long time.. Well, with all that is going on in my Life (new job, my expanding social life, my comic series actually close to becoming a reality), my time on here is limited. But, I did find time to read, and well, I felt a review of this one was necessary.
However, for this review, I am opting to work ass-backwards, going with the Character Reviews first, then dipping into the story review. And, with that out of the way, read away..
MARY MINETT: A well-crafted WHO-niverse character.. No whining, none of that "Oh, what is it, Doctor?" or "Oh no, Doctor!" nonsense. She was strong-willed, with a certain, tho' not exaggerated sense of adventure about her. Also notable was her somewhat open-mind, allowing for her to accept (?) a lot of the horror from Hawkswick, especially at the end.
And, of course, she was still very Human at heart, finding herself attracted to The Doctor. BUT, Emmerson saves himself some fanwank-esque embarassment, as the motivation behind her "crush" seems to be The Doctor exudes the best traits and elements of her father and brother, both of whom she loved deeply. I believe that this is why she is able to hold herself together at the end, as opposed to becoming a brooding, mopey mess. The old Romantic in me believes that she and Briggs may actually begin a romance of sorts.. :D
ALBERT BRIGGS: A real likeable sort of fellow. A man who, with his wife's passing, became set in his ways, as he watched the land while the young and able-bodied fought in the War to End All Wars… Internally, he seems at odds with himself - he misses his wife, yet I got the impression he'd be better off in the armed services, keeping busy with the War Effort, giving his mind time to heal over. But, there is the other side of that argument, saying that being in the heart of the War, could have pushed him, too, over the edge.
I enjoyed his interaction with The Doctor.. At first, he seemed not too sure of this fellow - he accepted the Ministry connection, but the man himself seemed a bit unorthodox in his methods and procedure. Still, as the adventure progressed, I think he actually took a liking to him, and I believe that The Doctor will long be the topic of many a conversation between he and Mary Minett..
Dr. BANHAM: A weird fellow.. Downright creepy!! Despite the difference in size between the two, I could still see him being played by someone like either Sam Neill or Anthony Hopkins (not like he'd ever do WHO!). Despite his demeanor in the story, I didn't seem him as 100% Villain. He may have had a good idea in the beginning, but somewhere along the lines, he couldn't deal with that much Dark Matter without being affected by it.
And what of..
THE DOCTOR: He is still an Enigma-in-the-Making, yet his memories are s-l-o-w-l-y (!!) restoring themselves here and there. His Past creeps up on him at the damnedest moments - like when he made the remark "About twenty kilos of nitro-nine, by the feel of it.." to Briggs after his run in with the dead soldiers. I wonder how he'd react to seeing Ace what with his mind in the state it is..
But, what about my whole opinion regarding the "remaking of an Icon"? I like it.. I may catch flak for thie but, hey, everyone's entitled to his/her own opinion.. I was unsure of this at first, based on my dislike of everything that Justin Richards had done Who-related up to, but not including The Burning. However, he appears to be keeping a close watch on the whole project, ensuring the entire arc maintains consistancy.
I don't want to say The Doctor was becoming too Powerful or even Omnipotent.. But, something was definitely amiss. The stories were missing something, as BBC Books tried to avoid any ties to the Virgin run, yet certain authors (who were in Virgin's stable previously) thought it a good and clever move to sneak in little references to their past works at Virgin. So, it became something of a mess instead of helping the situation. With this "new" (I wish I had a better word at the moment, but I don't so there!) Doctor, we have a grand canvas to work with and several talented artists waiting to embellish their mark on his Life. Paint away, paint away..
Okay, with the characters out of the way, what did I think of the story? Damned peculiar..!! I was always under the impression that Magic and monsters didn't really exist in the context of Who. Yet, at the end of the 7th Doctor's televised adventures, we were shown that Evil had a face (RE: Curse of Fenric), and thus everything we knew was shattered, and it was cool to be scared again!
With Casualties of War and Richards' The Burning, we are reacquired with the Dark Matter of the WHO-niverse, letting us see that not EVERYthing can be explained away by Science! And, this is good, as it allows for further exploration of this aspect, opening the path for future stories, adding another, previously-ignored aspect of Doctor Who. So, long story short, I liked this one very much, and recommend it whole-heartedly to all the open-minded members (I know they're out there) of Who fandom.. Cheers, gang..
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 27/4/01
The Burning had left me wanting more. The much heralded “new direction” had raced off to a brilliant start. The next book was by Steve Emmerson – a new writer. Could it carry on the excitement The Burning had begun?
The Doctor has lived in England now for a decade and a half. In 1914 he arrives at Hawkswick, A small sleepy hamlet. World War One has just begun. The Doctor’s memories are still absent, but his inquisitiveness and charm remain. This Doctor is firmly established now, thanks to the BBC range. Richards re-invented it for sure, and Emmerson continues that trend, this is definitely McGann.
Hawkswick is populated by some great characters. Briggs – the local Bobby. Banham – the strict Director of the local convalescent home. Mary Minett – the local midwife. The Doctor has dealings with all in due course, but it his relationship with Mary that stands out. The Doctor stays with her – in her house! The subtle interplay between the Doctor and Mary is wonderful. The cosiness of Mary’s house surrounds the reader in a warm glow.
This book , whilst telling a separate story, is very much a sequel to The Burning. It builds on the same themes. The monsters are similar – the setting is similar. I feel strongly that Doctor Who has returned to is natural place – this book (and the previous) contain all the good points that make Who great. It is traditional, the stage on which the drama unfolds is familiar.
And so to answer my question I posed at the start – Could it carry on the excitement The Burning had begun? YES. It’s not quite as good as that book, but it almost is – and that puts it firmly at the top end of the 8th Doctor range. Very good indeed. 9/10
Theatre of "War" by Jason A. Miller 16/8/01
Casualties of War is a book with the joke title already slipped in. After 65 pages and a 2-month break from reading, I fretted that calling it Casualties of Bore seemed too obvious to elicit even a smile.
Luckily, I returned to the book and now I'm happy to give it high marks. Casualties takes DW touchstones such as World War I and mindless zombies (think Toy Soldiers, Human Nature, and Theatre of War, good sources all) and rewrites them in an original, unpredictable way.
This Doctor, fresh off a year of excesses in the Faction Paradox arc, is streamlined and amnesiac, with only the stray continuity reference or "Terminator" quote to guide him. He doesn't just recite Shakespeare -- he'll perform an entire play on command, with manic intensity. He'll seem to fall in love, but vanish without a trace, making friends easily, but seemingly unwilling to keep them.
The three main supporting characters -- Briggs, Cromby, and Mary, are unique in DW that they all survive the book. Cromby's private battles against the mud men are increasingly funny and it's good to see him win at the end of the day -- in most other books, this guy is cannon fodder by Chapter 10.
There are lots of other characters who show up briefly and then vanish, but at least manage to shine when they're around. The late-night conversation between two nurses, apropos of nothing, rings true to life. This is good.
A word on the prose. Way, way too many adjectives. And adverbs. And sentence fragments. But at least the prose is internally consistent and allows for some decent POV tricks. One chapter ends with Cromby, Briggs and Mary staring at the same horrific sight -- Emmerson shows us what all 3 characters think, in successive passages. All in all Casualties's prose manages to linger with the reader, and is thus above-average for this kind of book.
The plot has holes, and it shows. I was never sure if the dead soldiers were actual corpses, or made entirely of primordial mud, or some combination of both. The coda about the flu epidemic seems misplaced. Every third passage ends with either a cocked pistol or a blinding white light --. Private Corey reminds Emma of "her brother", and yet she falls in love with him. Yay.
When all's said and done, Casualties of War surpasses The Burning in terms of plot, character, and writing style. The Doctor may no longer know who he is, but at least he has things to tell us still.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 20/11/01
Casualties of War is a bit of a mixed bag, though ultimately its good points more than outweigh its flaws. On the surface, it has quite a few similarities to the previous book, The Burning, though a closer inspection reveals some very interesting differences. The plot is explained slightly more reasonably here. Some of the characters fall into clichs, but the ones that Steve Emmerson really cares about are very realistically drawn. Overall, I though that it while there were several flaws, this was quite a worthwhile book.
The plot is relatively slow in building, but that works well here, as Emmerson is quite good at building up the tension without going overboard. We see more of how the events impact upon the characters rather than a lot of details about the particulars themselves, and I feel that this attitude really paid off well. That said, however, the plot is almost paper-thin, with more effort going into characterization and tone. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course, but one wishes that as much time had been spent on plot as on the rest.
Unlike The Burning, I felt that the details of the alien supernatural threat were explained well enough. In the previous book, the particulars were left so unexplained that by the time one got to the end of the story several elements still remained dangling. This gave the impression (rightly or wrongly) that the author hadn't thought things through all the way and not bothered to come up with an explanation. While there were a few minor, annoying gaps left in Casualties of War (and one major one at the end), I felt the explanations and the framework that we got here were much more satisfying.
The reworking of the Doctor seems to be a gamble that is paying off well (at least at this point in the Earth Arc). He's moved a little bit beyond the alien, unknowable figure who showed up unannounced at a dinner party in The Burning, yet he is still the unapproachable, slightly aloof person who doesn't know who he is and where he came from. Emmerson is quite good at telling different parts of the story through different narrative voices, and that really brings the Doctor to life. Through the villain's eyes, we see the dangerous, Sherlock Holmes figure who is gathering evidence and getting closer to the truth. Through the policeman's eyes, we see someone almost at home in tales of the supernatural, yet grounded enough to suggest practical solutions. And through the eyes of Mary Minnett, we see a confused, passionate, and almost romantic figure.
Casualties Of War does exactly what it sets out to do, and it does it rather well. The story is well told, effective in its realistic feel, and quite entertaining. The Doctor continues his journey of a hundred years, learning more about himself as we also learn more about him. Despite a few portions where the action begins to drag, this is definitely a worthy read.
It gets better... by Joe Ford 24/12/01
After the unexpected delights of The Burning I turned my attention immediately to this book and I wasn't let down. Another sleepy village, the perfect location for horror Who and another look at this wonderful hero whose had a personality shift of late.
I have to admit after the first chapter I was not impressed. Two old yokels spouting out 'ooh ahhs' about some dead animals and a mysterious Man from the Ministery...it was standard stuff to be honest but you only have to read on a few chapters further and it's another to fit into the 'unputdownable' catagory.
Whilst the setting wasn't as rich as The Burning I have to say I warmed to the characters more in this book. One in particular, Mary Minnet, was perfectly written, I enjoyed her stubborness and affection for the Doctor and her bravery in assiating his enquiries, both in the creepy and wood and the freak-house manor. She and the Doctor had some marvellous dialouge between them, especially the late night scenes in front of the fire...it is a shame these are isolated books as I feel she would have made an excellent companion. That fact that she apologised to him for trying to take advantage was exquistely done.
Cromby and Briggs too after my initial reactions happened to subvert their stereotypes and became compelling figures. Cromby in particular with his ingenious soloution to his troubles in the barn!
Banham was another top villan, maybe not as compelling as Nepath but his frustrations at the Doctors continual interference left me chuckling.
I think the best part of this book was that it was spooky....don't laugh at me, if you'd read it how I did, over several evenings in front of a roaring fire in an old country house in the middle of no-where you would have been creeped out too. Two moments made me really shudder...the first was the old guy discovering the tree of dead animals only to be suurrounded by walking corpses...brrr....and the other was Mary, trapped in the gun store...with something moving in the darkness! Great stuff, Steve Emmerson is clearly a name to watch out for as his pace was perfect and his prose quite grotesque in places (that's a compliment!).
Any disapointments...sure, the ending was a bit rushed but even that had some moments to chill the bone, the last page left me scratching my head to be frank and I would have liked to have seen more of Iris Cromby (honestly!) in the action because she was cool. But on the whole this was excellent fright-stuff, careful doses of charming character work and more wonderful Doctor work.
This IS the guy you want saving the Universe...he quotes The
Terminator's 'I'll be back' and thinks it was Napoleon who said it...need
I say more?
What is most shocking about re-reading the second chapter of the Caught on Earth saga is just how small scale the story is. It is thrown into immediate contrast with the latest two 8th Doctor books, The Last Resort and Timeless which concern the entire universe at jeopardy. In Casualties of War all the focus of the book is one very small village and we don't even get to see much of that, a few houses, Hawkswick Hall and some countryside... that's about it. An extremely tight nit cast it manages to make this one of the most intimate Doctor Who books yet.
Another unusual element is the clear cut narrative. There is no attempt to hide who the villain of the piece is, in fact it is blindingly obvious from page one that Dr Banham is responsible for the horrors the village is facing. The answers as to how are, however a long time coming and for much of the book the scenes of grotesque horror are left unexplained.
Makes it sound like a terrible bore doesn't it? But it isn't, it's probably the third best of the arc. That's not to sound like faint praise but The Turing Test and Father Time are just too good to be beaten. Steve Emmerson should be very proud of what he has achieved here. Given its place in the Doctor's one hundred year stay on Earth it manages to effectively continue the story of his memory loss, his character being just one of the reasons the book is so effective. In The Burning the Doctor is cold, calculating and violent, Steve returns him to his more cuddly roots here albeit with a sadistic streak that has left him so compelling since. This is the point where it should have gone tits up, where the audience should have been fed up of his amnesia and wanted him to get his memories back so he can fight Daleks and Cybermen again but it carries the momentum of the first story superbly and leaves not only liking this new, spikier Doctor but wanting to see a heck of a lot more than him.
Another strength of this quiet, charming novel is how Emmerson explores his characters in relation to his setting. The First World War is a setting Doctor Who could do with exploring a little more, it is a mostly forgotten slice of history as far as the show is concerned so Steve has the advantage of first pickings (can't really include The War Games) and exploits the fact, giving us a first hand account of how the village is affected by the ghastly conflict. He chooses his words carefully, one story about a man who befriends a German who was very similar to himself and gets to see the man shot down in cold blood because of it, is heartbreaking. There are lots of touches, reminders of how the war affects those who are not directly involved, the pocket watch Mary's (now) dead brother gave her, the aggressive psychosis of the troopers at Hawkswick Hall, Briggs' tired determination to be patriotic. I love a story that knows how to bleed the drama from its setting.
Steve Emmerson IS a character writer, in both of his books (the underrated, quietly haunting Dark Progeny being his other) he takes much more time on them than the plot. The actual events in Casualties of War are quite predictable after a couple of sightings of the ghostly soldiers. It is the characters that remain unpredictable and where Emmerson puts his heart. Cromby and Briggs are like an early day Jago and Litefoot, not really meeting much in the book and assisting the Doctor's inquiries. They are firmly characterised and instantly recognisable. Cromby's plethora of "Bloody queer!" is genuinely amusing and his breathless vigour in solving the mystery of his dead animals is very enjoyable to follow. Briggs is given enough history to make him sympathetic without feeling too manipulated, the horrors he experiences in the book are enough to remind him why life is so important despite his wife's death.
Everybody seems so involved with Mary Minett (including me if you read my review above) but after my second reading it is Banham who stands out the most with the Doctor's eternal dance around him being a particular joy. He knows Banham is responsible and Banham knows he knows he's responsible and their dialogue is loaded with subtext and gathering suspicion and loathing. It all climaxes superbly in a scene where they both lose their temper in spectacular fashion and Banham calls the Doctor's bluff and manages to prove him wrong. A superb sequence. With his shadowy smiles and false politeness, Dr Banham makes one of the most sinister bad guys for a while. His fate is quite appropriate.
Not to take away the impact of the Doctor's almost-romance with Mary. Unlike other reviewers, especially Robert Smith?, I have to disagree whole heatedly with the expressed disappointment that the Doctor did not indulgence in a spot of nookie. I think it was judged just right. I'm not one of those sad fans who gets in a frenzy at the thought of the Doctor having a bit pleasure (wink wink) but i'm just glad Steve managed to restrain from indulging here. His kiss with Grace in The TV Movie was tasteful and understandable (and with a leading man as gorgeous as Paul McGann who wouldn't want to give him a snog?). But in Casualties of War one of the greatest pleasures is watching the Doctor struggle with his feelings for Mary, it adds another layer of tension to an already discomforting book. He knows he is leading her on and that she is absolutely gagging for it and yet something, something holds him back, something that won't let him express his love for her. And it's devastating and tragic and sad and just helps to make this new Doctor even more compelling.
As for Mary, a strong, independent woman is just what this book calls for. I love how she is willing to face the sickening sights just to impress and stay close to the Doctor. It was her willingness to explore up at the hall on her own and help him search through the remains of the bodies that helped make her stand out. Plus quieter, more reflective scenes such as the one where she gets drunk and thinks of her brother are equally riveting. But it's her unrequited love that impresses the most and any scene where she is trying to figure out the shy guy and tries to get close to him linger in the memory long after the book is back on the shelf.
Finn Clark states above that he feels the book is almost apologetic about its horror trappings but I never felt that at all. While I agree he is spot on with his feeling that this is a book about people, the disturbing, disquieting scenes of dead troopers attacking the village, monsters stirring in Cromby's barn, the tree full of dead animals, shadowy investigations around the hall, the poacher meeting his grisly fate and the double whammy ending (real visceral and psychological horror) felt very assured to me. The horror creeps into the novel and gives it a haunting edge. Plus the characters' reactions to these events makes for some good drama.
I will admit I did not find this as instantly gripping as the first time I read it but such is the way with books, when you know much of what is coming it just doesn't have the same impact. I still found much to admire and enjoy here and feel this story definitely has an impressive second (and possibly even third) reading in it. There are too many subtle character scenes to relish in one read so I suggest you return to it a few years later if the universe spanning events of later novels makes you yearn for a gentler, more intimate piece of work.
Strong stuff and another clear indication of the treasures in the years ahead.