- Series: Doctor Who (BBC)
- Mass Market Paperback: 271 pages
- Publisher: BBC Pubns; paperback / softback edition (September 15, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0563538058
- ISBN-13: 978-0563538059
- Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 4.2 x 6.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,218,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Casualties of War (Doctor Who Series) paperback / softback Edition
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Top customer reviews
So why don't we drop in a Doctor who doesn't exactly remember who he is? Again.
I have to say this far in I'm not quite buying the portrayal of the amnesiac Doctor. He more or less acts like the regular Doctor we've all come to know and love, just without being as quick to reference Gallifrey or other stuff. By doing this and "The Burning" from points of view other than his it allows them to hedge their bets and make him like act he always did without having to really address what he knows and what he doesn't, because you can just blame it on him playing his cards close to his vest. But if you didn't know he had holes in his memory, then it wouldn't be really clear from the story. I do like the idea of him having to age forward in order to meet Fitz, so he's got to get to his friend via the slow route, the route that the rest of us have to take.
The setup is actually suitable creepy. In a village where all the able bodied young men have been taken off into war, a hospital is set up where a doctor can treat them for the psychological damage that the war inflicted on them. It should come as no surprise when not long after strange corpses start walking around, even while said doctor denies anything weird is happening at all.
What makes this work is that it's not clear what the heck is going on until really late in the story, giving the author a chance to effectively ratchet up the tension. This wouldn't work if he didn't have a deft hand with the supporting cast, but face with a lead character who has to be distant by editorial mandate, he manages to populate the book with a number of people who are at least interesting to read about. None of them may be very deep (he manages to give an element of sadness to the local vet who lost her brother, as well as the simple determination of the farmer) but their reactions to the situations seem both true to life and to their characters and help carry the novel as things get progressively darker and stranger. A number of chapters do end on a cliffhanger of people getting knocked out but if that's my worst complaint then I think we're doing okay.
It helps that Emmerson deals as best he can with the actual damage done by the war to the poor soldiers that are coming back and making it essential to the plot. It's a heavy topic for a SF book based on a TV show and he doesn't get super-deep with it, but neither does he flinch away from the fact that these are scarred men who are attempting to operate around the scars. Yes, there are apparent corpses walking around and killing people, but the bulk of the novel revolves around people learning to deal with each other and with a changed situation. In that medium, the Doctor almost floats above the entire affair, driving the plot if only because he's the one person who has the best chance of figuring out what's going on, while everyone else interacts beneath him. It's telling that there are sections where the Doctor does not take a part and those sections are quite okay. Yet when he's around he makes an impact, which is key as well.
It would help with a stronger villain, as we all know who is behind it and almost what the cause is way before the book decides to let us know. The actual cause, if you want to stretch out the metaphor, is the war itself, tearing a hole in the collective psyche of a nation, and all the rest of the action is just pantomime to disguise that fact. It gives a SF result to a very real cause and avoid being silly, which is no mean feat. You wind up with a very character driven stories that seems to have soldier-zombies and an evil doctor and a Doctor without a memory. There's no reason for this bucket of roving cliches in search of a story to work, but work it does. Most of this is probably due to Emmerson's skill at keeping things moving without getting too fancy. It won't set off any literary fire alarms and he won't dazzle you with bizarre concepts or off the wall plotting but it winds up being a solid and well told story. Maybe it's the lowered expectations coming off of "The Burning" (which admittedly had high expectations coming off "Ancestor Cell") since the book isn't so much introducing the new status quo as keeping the ball moving along. But whatever the reason, it made for a pleasant read in my hotel and in the airport. If they could figure out a way to alternate these solid little numbers with a game-changer every so often, I don't think I'd have too much room to complain.
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.