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ReviewsReviews

Bunker Soldiers

Doctor Who: The BBC Past Doctor Adventures #39
Michael Baxter

I liked this book and found nothing to complain of as regards the writing style. The explanation re the alien was clever and well thought out, and I liked the idea of Steven wielding the pen, as it were, for parts of the story.

The historical background (medieval Kiev) seemed well-researched and provided an excellent backdrop for the tale. I wish the Doctor had shown more concern than he actually did over the soldier Mykola being tortured, or even made some attempt to save him - did I miss it or was Mykola's eventual fate never actually confirmed?

As always, I found Dodo irritating: Steven and the Doctor by themselves would have been preferable. Why is the gap between 'The Dalek Masterplan' and 'The Massacre' never utilised by the authors of these 'untold adventure' type novels? Oh, and Steven, as ever, was again denied any extra background, even in his narrating role. Overall, however, a worthwhile read.

Edward Funnell

Bunker Soldiers is likely to do very well with much of the PDA audience. It is a quintessential late Hartnell story with all the restraint of a fan staying within the confines of the period - both in terms of drama and in terms of budget. Recently the argument as to what the PDA range is all about has (again) raised its head over the city wall. Are PDA's the opportunity to improve the scope and imagination of established seasons giving colour by doing what the production team was unable to do (but perhaps would have liked to given more time and money)? Or are the PDA's the last bastion of established continuity - in essence a place to reflect on past glories and to revisit familiar friends and lines of approach and style? As ever with fandom the dichotomy is rich with argument and counter-argument. By adding something fresh one adds something new into the mix. By sticking to what many regard as the point of PDA's one substitutes this opportunity with sitting by the fire on a Saturday tea-time when these things mattered and Doctor Who was the sole point of focus after the football results.

If one looks at the type of reader that reads the PDA's (by all accounts quite a few less than read the EDA's) then one understands why novels like Bunker Soldiers are written. Hitting a target (sic) audience with anything more than their expectation is probably not good for sales. It is an old argument that this is not enough in the novels. This is best left at the bunker door. Day delivers on a particular type of expectation competently (if unexcitedly) and if that what keeps the range profitable then it is harmless enough.

Bunker Soldiers is bereft of any notion of surprise. Kiev is under siege by a peculiarly honourable representation of the Mongols. The city, its governor and advisers hope that the arrival of the TARDIS brings with it the magic that will save the city from the pillage to come. Some in the city do not believe this to be enough and awaken a 'dark angel' that they believe will fight on their side against the Tartars. The Doctor won't help Kiev to change history (so common in Hartnell). The 'dark angel' is anything but a protector and starts killing the citizens of Kiev. The Mongols show up and keep their bargain in terms of history. The 'dark angel' is explained. All go home.

The précis is necessary as for the all the little incident and very real sense of disaster that runs through Bunker Soldiers the plot is as clockwork, sensible and cosy as one can go. Dodo is pushed into the background because that is in her place in historical context. There is no room for emancipation here. Descriptive passages are weighted with attention to detail but this is often over-written making what should have been small nuggets feel somewhat over bloated. History is treated with respect - the story fits comfortably in place and time.

But it lacks bite. The main mystery - what is the bunker soldier (plural?) is a hop skip and a jump to revelation. Perhaps to a Sixties audience this may have been a spell-binding and a tense experience but in the twenty-first century brought up on a wholesome diet of bio-mechanoid war machines the concept is somewhat dulled. Perhaps there are readers out there who supress their knowledge of TV-Tie-in to experience what can only be put down to nostalgia. Perhaps not.

Whilst first-person narrative is always welcome in the range, one cannot help think Steven Taylor is a troublesome choice as narrator. The character does not have the bones (certainly if you stick rigidly to the TV model) to carry the tone of the piece. He comes across as somewhat naïve and more than a little hotheaded, but rarely do we catch a glimpse of anything underneath. Again, does one push the envelope to take the opportunity to flesh out the TV character or does one stay with a certain youthful caricature enabling more effective retrospection?

The other characters in the piece fair much better. Although most are very much to type (political Bishop; good adviser, bad adviser and gentle daughter of bad adviser in love with son of good adviser -shush) they exist as fleshed out creatures ready to accept whatever fate has in store for them. Isaac's faith and counsel is an interesting sub-theme.

Day attempts to liberalise the Mongols as well (minus random killing and death for those with no honour). This approach is again in the spirit of the time and probably matches sensibilities in both past and present. History paints the Mongols less kindly than Doctor Who, but then history is not the greater concern here.

Bunker Soldiers is an enjoyable if unchallenging way to spend time immersed in the PDA's. Whether it hits the right buttons depends on preference alone. It is utterly inoffensive, palatable but it has very little to say for itself over above being a revisit to a programme that, increasingly, seems farther and farther away.

Chad Knueppe

It was impossible to even estimate the number of men and horses that moved implacably across the terrain. There were thousands of soldiers, their horses throwing up a cloud of smoke that obscured still more. It was, in this distance, an army of ants in a haze of its own creation - and, though the Doctor could just make out the start of the massed procession far over to his left, to the right the Mongols simply faded into the horizon.

Bunker Soldiers is a solid First Doctor historical, entertaining without being overly compelling. Ogedei Khan, a descendant of the famous Genghis Kahn, leads the Mongol army in attack upon the city of Kiev at the dawn of the largest invasion in European history. The Doctor realizes that a bloodbath is upon the city and he attempts to do what he can without signifigantly intervening and changing established history.

The book doesn't innovate or push the envelope. It engages the reader in a straightforward and traditional way. The characters of the novel propel the narrative. At least half of the book is told in the First Person by Stephen. An odd choice, but it works. Admittedly, there were many times the voice didn't always ring true of being the Stephen's I knew, but I allowed it. In fact, Day's character seemed to me a richer one than the Stephen I'd known on television.

Day's characters are all enriching and all seem to be believable in the context of the era and the culture. Yevhen, the villain, is at once both melodramatic and yet very formal. Yevhen has very strong opinions on womanhood and considers his daughter Lesia a tramp for her freethinking and her love affair with Isaac's son Nahum. He objects to women doing and dressing as they please and believes it's better to have one good son than a thousand sluts as daughters. He believes that disease is God's reward for sexual misconduct. The liberated Dodo becomes his natural enemy.

Day is a wonderful writer and none of his characters are without depth and complexity. Yehven does care for his daughter, as Dodo eventually begins to recognize. He simply has a twisted and archaic logic and doesn't know how to express his love when his daughter acts outside what he considers Holy. Leisa's mother died in childbirth and Yehven's social skills began to falter ever since. His dreams are of their rapturous uniting which erupt into nightmares of chaos. When Stephen confronts him on the murder and treachery he has caused, Yehven admits that whatever pain he has caused is with a greater purpose in mind.

Isaac is a strong hero, a man of courage and humility. He stands proud by his people and his son, denouncing Yehven's views on the nature of the widespread disease. He admits that he and Yehven share the same God but that he, Isaac, believes differently in that the only monster he perceives is a man with such a cold heart. Heaven, he suggests, is being away from the company of one so intolerant. Isaac, though open minded and introspective, is truly a man of God. There is much debate about God and the Bible, especially between Governor Dimitri and Isaac on the nature of the Bible's political influence on the culture. Much of the novel is concerned with the conflict between spirituality and institutionalized religion.

Olexander makes a remarkable character. He refuses the chance to escape prison with Stephen until his name is cleared of false charges because bars don't make a true prison. Yet, he will side with his natural enemy, the man who framed him, if it means his name might be cleared in the process. Yehven promises to clear his name if he will convince the Dark Angel (not a FOX TV show) to help the people of Kiev.

Yes, there is a creature in the catacombs, an awakened Dark Angel that can take the manner and appearance of the humans in the story. Its natural face is a skull, its leech-like mouth full of razor sharp ivory teeth, its skin pale and skeletal, with stunted fingers and toes tapering to winged talons. Though the people of Kiev believe the Dark Angel to be the city's savior, it kills violently those it considers "impure" with gnawing teeth.

The Doctor's role is an interesting one. While he is typically "Hartnell" in initially wishing to avoid deliberately changing the future, he still does what he can to make the situation better for the doomed people of Kiev. He admits to his friend Mykola that though his vision of the future is grim he would not be attempting to approach the coming Mongol hoard if sparing the city were an impossibility. His contradictory position shows a level of humanity to the Doctor as he's torn between doing what is right and what is just.

There is much that is historical and educational. Day grants much attention to specific historical detail, sometimes overwriting a bit but always giving a definitive visual. Mongols wear silk shirts under their armor so that an arrow's head can be pulled into the wound and out the other side inflicting less damage. The Mongol dwellings are movable huts made of wool pulled taught over wooden frames like the original nomadic gers. The reader will learn how the Tartars were defeated by the Mongols, or the Mongogoli, sons of Magog. The attack on the city of Kiev is depicted with real horror and accurate details of arrows, screams and thousands of hooves bringing up blood red dust into the air. The only thing that seems the least bit inaccurate is the honorable nature the Mongols display but it works very well for the story.

After Dodo blunders with her big mouth, the people of Kiev launch their dead, inflicted with disease, over the city walls at the coming Mongols, an act history will see repeated in the future. Anything the Doctor has done to convince the Mongols to pursue peace is decimated when deadly bodies start flying over city walls. The Doctor lectures Stephen and Dodo on the fortunes of the future and reminds them that in this era people lived side by side with disease every day of their lives.

Bunker Soldiers is a novel rich in character, limited in surprises, filled with small detail. The story moves like clockwork and there isn't a whole lot of suspense surrounding the oncoming onslaught. The choice of Stephen as occasional narrator seems the most memorable aspect, even if, as I'd mentioned, it doesn't always seem like Stephen. As a previous Doctor adventure, it's really enjoyable.