THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVEL "THE PIRATE
LOOP" AND THE
OF THE JUDOON."
OFFICIAL BBC HARDBACK
RELEASED IN DECEMBER
The peace and quiet of
a remote homestead
in the American West
is shattered by the
arrival of two
searching for 'the
healer'. When the
farmer refuses to
help them, they raze
the house to the
ground using guns
that shoot bolts of
energy instead of
Doctor and Martha
learn of a snake-oil
cure his patient. But
when the Doctor and
they discover the
truth is stranger and
far more dangerous.
Caught between the
law of the gun and
the deadly plans
Doctor and Martha
discover just how
wild the West can
Including this one, I’ve now written well over a hundred Doctor Who reviews this year. Now whilst this astonishing feat is most likely down to me suffering with some peculiar and preposterously specific form of mental illness, I do actually enjoy rattling off my thoughts about all the latest stories – well, at least for the most part. You see, for some reason, I find reviewing these new series tie-in novels a relatively arduous process. Often there is not all that much to say about them; indeed, a great deal of them are instantly forgettable – lovely little tie-ins, little more.
And so on occasion, I’ve considered not reading or reviewing any further tie-ins novels but then, every time that I’m on the brink of giving up on them, an absolutely spellbinding novel like The Pirate Loop or Peacemaker comes along to remind me what I could potentially miss out on. It’s like when you want to stay in of a night, but you force yourself to go out “just in case anything good happens”.
Suffice it to say, then, that the last of 2007’s tie-
in novels is one of the best of the whole range, if
not the best. The American West of the 1880s
serves as a spectacular backdrop to a fast and
action-packed story that managed to hold my
attention from the start of the first page to the
end of the last. With his long brown coat and his confident swagger, David Tennant’s Doctor is far more at home in the Wild West than William Hartnell’s ever was; indeed, the proverbial “man with no name” slots perfectly into the setup here.
Steampunk veteran James Swallow’s first Doctor Who novel is chock-full of some really wonderful characters. Redwater’s folk, whilst slightly (and somewhat justifiably) cliché, are each memorable in their own way and are, I would argue, a damned sight more real than
the characters usually seen littering most spaghetti westerns. The schoolmistress, Jenny, and the Sheriff’s boy, Nathan, are the most prominent examples; Jenny in particular comes across as kind, down-to-earth and unmistakably real. Even the more minor characters like Teague - who starts off Peacemaker as the town scoundrel and finishes up as the Sheriff – leaves a lasting impression.
The story itself revolves around a ‘medicine man’ who finds an alien knick-knack which he discovers can be used to cure the sick, turning a tidy profit in the process. The trouble is,
this trinket is far more than just a “cure-all” – it’s a sentient life form with the potential to inflict far more harm than it can remedy and, worse still, its big brothers are coming looking for it…
Swallow’s plot is certainly a fascinating one, and what’s more it is fleshed out well across the 238 pages and paced flawlessly. The author manages to really eke out the mystery over the first half of the book, throwing in a fair old slice of misdirection to boot, before hammering the reader in the second half with the big reveal together with some great set pieces and even a few truly harrowing moments for the regulars.
In fact, the facet that makes Peacemaker stand head and shoulders above its peers is that
it doesn’t just feel like some trivial story sandwiched into a gap between televised episodes. Although Swallow has to put all his toys back in the box when he is done, he is able to really do some good work with and develop these toys before he puts them away. Take Martha,
for example. Towards the end of the book she is shot. Now due to her medical training, she knows exactly how badly she is hurt and that the chances are she is going to die a very slow and painful death. This dreadful experience definitely changes her, so much so that at the end of the story she has to seriously consider whether or not she wants to continue travelling with the Doctor, setting up the final three televised episodes of the 2007 run exquisitely.
“The sounds of the past thundered in his ears.
The roaring of a million Battle TARDISes.
The screeching of a sky full of Dalek saucers.
The resounding drum of his own twin heartbeats
as he made that most terrible of choices…”
The Doctor, for his part, probably has an even worse experience than Martha. The alien ‘Peacemakers’ that he must face – the Clade – know of him. They know what he did in the Time War, and they confront him with the same in front of Martha. Here, Swallow explores the Doctor’s guilt over his “war crime” in such a way that I don’t think television ever could. Much like the Clade, the author allows us a fleeting but enlightening glimpse into the last of the Time Lord’s psyche.
Furthermore, as you would have thought, Peacemaker refers to the 1966 four-parter The Gunfighters repeatedly, but not so much that it would befuddle a reader with no knowledge of that old serial - the great advantage of the Doctor’s penchant for namedropping is that occasionally fans of the classic series will understand exactly what he’s banging on about! However, Swallow does perhaps go a little overboard with the continuity references for
some people’s tastes - Movellans; Racnoss; even the old “klokeda partha menin klatch, harun harun harun” Venusian lullaby rears its head at one point. All the same, the foregoing only serves to make Peacemaker stand out yet further.
And so all told, reading this book is certainly not the test of endurance that watching The Gunfighters can be. In fact, this is the one new series novel that I would have to recommend above all others at the moment, and it is certainly the one that I feel would have made the best episode.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
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