Reviewed By: newt5996
Review Date: 5/3/19 4:13 am
3 out of 3 found this review helpful.
Events in the History of the United States of America are often overlooked when Doctor Who tackles historical adventures. It is then to my surprise that the Past Doctor Adventures premiere First Doctor novel, The Witch Hunters, not only brings back the tradition of the Hartnell historical, but takes readers tot the United States for a tale of witches in 1692 Salem. The plot of The Witch Hunters integrates the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan in the events of the Salem witch trials, the basis for Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. Lyons novel reaches great heights as he plays on the idea that as the TARDIS travelers are outsiders in the Puritan society, they are easily on the list of suspicion and persecution once the accusations begin. The tone of the novel is set from the first page as bleak: the reader knows that most of the likable characters, the accused, will not survive the end of the novel. Lyons does much more than an attempt to retell The Crucible with the Doctor Who cast placed in. Careful research has been done to restore some of the historical accuracy lost in the moments of dramatic license of Arthur Miller. Abigail Williams is returned to a twelve-year-old, and there is no affair with John Proctor present. John Proctor, the protagonist of The Crucible is almost a minor character here, appearing about 2/3 of the way through the novel as part of a plot with Ian to attempt to get Susan out of prison and put a stop to the trials.
While the TARDIS Wiki lists Samuel Parris and Abigail Williams as the main villains of the novel, there really cannot be a specific villain. The villain is the atmosphere and hysteria of Salem itself, tempting the TARDIS team to interfere with history, and just to save something, someone. The Witch Hunters serves as a reflection on The Aztecs and where it fits in with the rest of Doctor Who continuity. The novel maintains that there is absolutely nothing the TARDIS team can do about changing the events, as every attempt to educate the members of Salem on the idea that this is not actual witchcraft, just mass hysteria fails. It is almost a ‘crucible’ for Susan Foreman in particular, as from the beginning she has integrated herself with the girls of Salem. She participates in the ‘witchcraft’ with the girls and knows that it’s all just mumbo jumbo. There’s not a way to predict whom someone is going to marry, they aren’t actually conjuring up the Devil, and all the girls are lying about actual witchcraft in the village. The adults aren’t tormenting them and forcing them to sign the Devil’s book, they’re just play-acting. Susan over the course of the novel defies her grandfather’s wishes and attempts to no effect to save someone anyone. There is this subtle relationship developed between Mary Warren, portrayed as the oldest yet weakest accuser in the proceedings. The story is as much about Susan influencing her to become a stronger person, which while this may be a historical liberty as there really isn’t much known of Mary’s fate after the trials, Lyons takes care to make the relationship believable. Susan and the Doctor even offer her the chance to join them on their travels, though she refuses as not to change history.
This is also a novel where Steve Lyons takes the time to solidify the romantic relationship between Ian and Barbara. On arrival in Salem, they present themselves as husband and wife with Susan as their daughter and the Doctor implied as Barbara’s father (a potential reference to Dr. Who and the Daleks) as to integrate into the Puritan society of the time period. Of course their lack of devotion to religion compounded with the fact they are strangers makes them some of the first suspects when the strange goings on occur. Ian is taken prisoner near the end of the novel and any hope is stripped away as the TARDIS is burned and Barbara believed to immolated. Either that or worse, the Doctor left them to save him and Barbara as a last resort. This turn of events breaks Ian and there is this subtle description at the end of the novel where they reflect on events, the Doctor has taken them to Earth in the future as a ‘vacation’. Nothing is explicit but it is implied that this is one of the important moments in solidifying their relationship. Barbara Wright also gets quite a bit of her own story arc as being a woman in Salem is incredibly defeating for the strong woman. Men push her around throughout the novel and there is nothing she can do to retaliate for if she retaliates she will be accused. Having Susan taken away from her, as an almost surrogate mother figure throughout the novel, she breaks down and gets ready to attack Parris.
Finally, the Doctor here is also put to his limit. Lyons does not include much from the point of view of the Time Lord, but there is enough. The story is essentially told out of order with quite a few flash forwards to future events and flashbacks, which only helps in disorienting the reader. The point is to get you right in the middle of the action of Salem, 1692. Near the beginning of the novel we get a glimpse of a First Doctor travelling with Ben and Polly (just after The Five Doctors) giving Rebecca Nurse a glimpse of the future. While he is showing her that she is going to die, become a martyr for the community, she will be remembered, and it is this little act which gives her solace in her final moments. He shows her a performance of The Crucible where Lyons comments on the piece of entertainment, about the cruel distractions humans are prone to. A reading of the Salem witch trials can be that. The Witch Hunters as a novel is not The Crucible, but it is most definitely a crucible.