Doctor Who
Casualties of War

Author: Steve Emmerson
BBC Books
RRP 5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53805 8
Available now

1918: Hawkswick Hall is a psychiatric hospital for First World War victims of shell shock. When the Doctor arrives to investigate why certain patients have been behaving murderously, mutilating local livestock and domestic pets, he realises that an unseen force is at work...

What is it with ghost stories just lately? Taking into account Big Finish's recent audio adventures The Spectre of Lanyon Moor and Winter for the Adept, as well as BBC Audio's re-release of The Ghosts of N-Space, Doctor Who fans have been experiencing a surfeit of spooky stories of late. This novel is no exception, depicting a rural English community menaced by the gruesome "ghosts" of soldiers recently killed in the Great War.

But these so-called corpse soldiers are not the only casualties to which the title of this book refers. Injuries can be mental as well as physical, as is the case with the inmates of Hawkswick Hall. Their afflictions are echoed by that of the Eighth Doctor, who is still suffering from amnesia following his own traumatic battle in The Ancestor Cell.

It's not all doom and gloom, however. A touching romantic subplot sees local nurse Mary Minett developing feelings for the Doctor. A real sense of sexual chemistry is allowed to develop, which is aided no end by Paul McGann's "touchy-feely" performance in the 1996 TV movie. The relationship is tastefully handled, thanks in part to the fact that the Time Lord doesn't even realise that he is not of this Earth. In later scenes, however, the Doctor proves amusingly unresponsive to Mary's feminine charms.

My main criticism of this book (by another first-time author) is that the plot progresses rather slowly. The Doctor's role is largely investigative and he has minimal contact with the monsters of the piece, the corpse soldiers, until very late in the day. Then - boom! - explanations and resolution follow in rapid succession.

Aside from that structural flaw, however, Casualties of War is an engaging story that is rich in human interest.

Richard McGinlay