Steve Emmerson is a Doctor Who author who doesn’t quite have much information anywhere that I can find. He has a website, but that hasn’t been updated since 2007, and outside of Casualties of War, the book I’m looking at today, there is only one other book he wrote (another Eighth Doctor Adventure), and he published nothing outside of these two Doctor Who books. It’s odd, especially as Big Finish Productions was already publishing audio dramas at this point. This makes it an even more odd that Emmerson’s debut, Casualties of War, is an excellent examination of shell shock and World War I, all wrapped in a zombie style B-movie. The Doctor finds himself in a small Yorkshire village which has a hospital for shellshocked soldiers. He sets himself up as a man from the ministry, here to inspect things in the vaguest way possible, in actuality investigating strange, almost paranormal events. Emmerson’s setting of this village is incredibly evocative, with this deep dive into the mud and grime of the trenches without actually going to the trenches, but looking right at the aftermath and the effects of war. There isn’t a an idea of being bogged down with the actual fighting, but sending the soldiers home and the idea of soldiers wanting to go back.
Emmerson evokes German expressionism with sleepwalking soldiers overseen by a mysterious doctor who doesn’t cooperate with the Doctor. Charles Banham initially comes across as a kindly doctor genuinely trying to help these poor patients, letting them wander around at night with the idea being that it’s good therapy. It’s eventually revealed that there is something nefarious, but for much of the book it is importantly seen as ridiculous that these sleepwalking soldiers could be doing something bad. It makes the eventual reveal of the zombie like creatures, drawing from the Jewish Golem, rising from the mud to do its master’s bidding. There are some red herrings as to who is actually controlling the Golems, but the villain is almost sympathetic. There’s this definite idea of the horrors of war, there is this idea that Banham does want to have something good with stopping the people from their shellshock. The villain is a doctor, after all. It’s a story that evokes films like The Wicker Man with connections to ancient paganism and the Yorkshire setting tying in quite a lot with a woman, Mary Minnett, having connections to paganism. There is this red herring that she could be a villain, but she and Constable Briggs are essentially pseudo-companions for the Eighth Doctor. Mary has this relationship with the Doctor, not quite being romantic as the Eighth Doctor is asexual here (except one implication of a relationship with William Shakespeare), she is essentially the trope of a voodoo witch while the Doctor here is attempting to be as rational. There is this lovely conversation near the end about the meeting with Fitz in 2001 and the hope that the Doctor has to keep going on. The Doctor is still a wanderer, he doesn’t really fit in with the time, is questioned as to why he isn’t serving his time. The audience knows that the Doctor is ancient, but he looks like he should have been.
Overall, Casualties of War is a standout book from a first time author which only falls flat with some of the pacing having points where it is unable to keep going. The characters are utterly brilliant and the Eighth Doctor has just this new characterization which is a direct reaction to The Ancestor Cell and The Burning, as he has been waiting giving the reader something new and a new brilliant streak of books. 8/10.