By DJ Forrest
Written by Martin Day
For BBC Books
Published in 2001
I have to confess that this is my first ever First Doctor novel, but I think I chose wisely. Bunker Soldiers written by Martin Day, who I’ve been informed is a really good writer of Who, and quite rightly so, given the detail and the content, and most definitely not the run of the mill NuWho category that often appears on a children’s level, is packed full of history, with a sci fi twist. That’s not to say I dislike NuWho novels, what I mean by that first paragraph is that, when you open the first page of text, it’s small font, and fairly hard going, and you get the feeling that this story is directed more for an older fan/adult, rather than a young child, waiting to see where the Tardis will take him next, or which alien he’s going to give no second chances to.
Bunker Soldiers is written in different fonts in the story and told from a few quarters. In one part it’s third person omniscient, in another it’s first person, and told by Steven, who travels with the First Doctor and young Dodo. They’re in Kiev, before the invasion of the Mongol army. They’re inside the city walls and can only view the TARDIS but never venture in, as the ship proves to be a weapon the Russian army could use in their defence against the soldiers marching towards them.
As with much of the First Doctor stories, it’s a history lesson for children, told by an alien traveller in a blue box.
At first I was a little confused by the third involvement in the story. It almost feels as if it’s not part of this story but another. It comes in at a later stage, of an age far into the future, of which the Doctor explains near the end, when it all begins to make sense, even to me.
There’s an awful lot of confusion in the story that had me lost a few times until it began to make sense to me, but I must admit, I was in the same boat as Steven when the Doctor fathomed out who the antagonist really was, and why it only attacked some people and not others. It reads like a horror story about vampires except, targeting only some of the characters and not all of them, that intrigued me enough to want to continue reading and find out why.
It's by no means a children’s book on the level of the newer Who stories, which carry larger font and seem to be directing the story to a bunch of 11 year olds. I love children’s books like the next man or woman and it has to be said, that as much as the story is a history lesson about the battle of Kiev in the year 1237, it would probably not keep a child focused on a history lesson in this day and age, unless it came with electronic gadgets and wifi.
It is a difficult story to get into and it’s taken me almost three years before I finally picked up the book and willed myself to read it. But you know what, I’m glad I did. Not only do I feel a tad more educated on historical events, bar the odd sci fi element, it was well worth the read, and if I only managed a chapter a day (during work breaks), elements of the story still live in my head, and I now wish to find more stories that involve Steven and the First Doctor.