THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
OFFICIAL VIRGIN 'NEW
RELEASED IN JANUARY
March 1941: Britain's
darkest hour. Nazis
occupy British soil
and British citizens
are being deported to
Six thousand people
a month are dying in
air raids on London.
AND The United States
IS showING no sign of
Doctor, this isn't a
it isn't an alternate
is running according
But now something
has gone wrong. The
Nazis are building a
secret weapon, one
that will DECIDE the
outcome of the War.
Chris thinks it's a
UFO; Roz believes It'S
the largest bomber
ever built. Only Benny
may have seen the
mysterious craft -
but she's disappeared
off the face of the
I don’t think anyone can argue that Lance Parkin’s debut novel is anything other than an absolute triumph. You will certainly be hard-pressed to find a Doctor Who novel that is any better than Just War. In fact, the only thing keeping it from being generally regarded
as the best is that it isn’t overtly traditional - there are no aliens to be found here; no parallel universes or brain-crunching paradoxes. It’s just about stiff upper-lipped Brits, nasty Nazis,
and brave Channel Islanders. It’s just about war. Just about the Doctor trying to fix the most stupid of blunders that he made long ago.
I’d have to go all the way back to Paul Cornell’s Timewyrm: Revelation to find a new author that I’ve been so instantaneously impressed with. Parkin’s novel has a crisp, clean darkness to it; somehow he makes the Second World War seem new. And from a purely Doctor Who perspective, I suppose that it is. The television series never truly explored either World War; fair dues, there were a couple of serials like The War Games and The Curse of Fenric that touched upon them lightly, but they weren’t about the wars (and The War Games didn’t even show us the genuine Great War). Believe it or not, in the entire history of Who only Terrance Dicks has actually told a story grounded in the Second World War, but even that was literally worlds apart from Parkin’s brutal novel.
I think I found Just War so compelling because, although towards the very end of the book the Doctor and Chris find the Nazis in possession of a ‘change the course of the war’ kind
of weapon, for the most part the story told is a small one. There is no Winston Churchill; no Adolf Hitler - in fact, I don’t think that the name of the German Chancellor is even mentioned once in the text. Just War focuses on one backwater island and its relatively low-ranking Nazis and scientists. Parkin’s novel is a small and subtle character story. A microcosm. A snapshot.
The writer has to be given a lot of credit for how he masterfully handles the large TARDIS crew. Each character is given roughly equal ‘screen time’, and each is used terrifically. Roz enjoys a very strong story; one her best to date, in fact. Within 254 pages she manages to overcome the racism and sexism of her fellow officers, get engaged to a British Lieutenant, and then gauge out the eye of a Nazi war criminal. Awesome.
And as for her partner in (preventing) crime, he may not be the most popular companion in the world but I like him. Granted, he’s not as appealing as Roz or Bernice, but he’s funny at least, and in this book offers some much-needed comic respite. Two words sum up Chris’ war – moustache and planes. Without Chris and his diverting antics, this novel would have perhaps been just that little bit too dark.
“Tomorrow belongs to us, not you.
If you were really from the future, Miss Summerfield, you would be a Nazi.”
It is Bernice though who steals the show. From the way in which the opening passages of
the novel are written, Parkin evidently wants the reader to think that they are reading about
a character called ‘Celia’, an inhabitant of occupied Guernsea. Gradually the writer drops enough hints for the proverbial penny to drop, and we realise that Celia is Benny, working undercover.
Spending months living in wartime Guernsea has changed Bernice Summerfield markedly. She’s still the Benny we love, but the fear of living with a gun to her head has taken its toll. When finally given the chance to resume her ‘normal’ life, she’s forced to kill a sixteen year-old German soldier. She’s arrested and she’s tortured. Horribly. Just War might not feature any creatures or demons, but here there be monsters.
Wolff is one of the most despicable characters that I’ve ever read about - he doesn’t have any redeeming features whatsoever. He’s not misguided. His ends do not justify his means. He isn’t doing what he thinks is right. He isn’t mad. He’s just evil. And as he tortures Benny you want her to stand up to him. You silently cheer when she throws her knickers and bra at him, unashamed of her enforced nudity. You don’t want her to break but then, reality bites, and she does.
Drugged, beaten and deprived of sleep for days. In the end Benny doesn’t even know if the Doctor is real anymore. Parkin’s gritty prose really hammers home the psychological terror of what she’s going through. There’s one truly harrowing scene that sticks in my mind where Wolff threatens to shave Benny’s head, and she just can’t bear the thought of it. Her hair is
all she has left. That’s what breaks her.
Finally, we have the Doctor. In marked
contrast to how Benny is treated by the
Nazis, the Doctor is deemed valuable
by his captors and as such enjoys a life
of comparative luxury. Parkin dusts off
all the old democracy versus fascism
debates, with the Doctor on the one side and the quite fascinating character of Steinmann on the other. I love how Parkin portrays Steinmann as being most rational, and even quite convincing. Parkin taps into something fascinating here – particularly in the Doctor / Mel scenes. In the 1930s and 1940s normal, everyday people were members of the Nazi party; clear-thinking and intelligent people. Steinmann personifies all these ‘good’ people who were tragically led into political hell. He even gives us a bit of insight into the hows and whys.
Towards the end of the book we learn that the Nazi’s inventing a ‘super bomber’ has been caused by the Doctor’s negligence. Not by one of his master plans coming to fruition – his carelessness. In one scene the Doctor is preaching to Chris about how they can’t simply wipe out the Nazis and alter history, and then in the next he is desperately trying to destroy
a Nazi super weapon that a verbal slip he made (when visiting 1936 with Mel earlier in his life) created. It’s certainly a refreshing and remarkable take on Time’s Champion! Careless talk, Doctor…
Ultimately Just War is just wonderful. Superb characters, a gripping plot, and proof positive that the New Adventures can showcase the very, very best of Doctor Who. I look forward to hearing more from Mr Parkin.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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