The Time Travellers is the type of novel that I rarely find. I love reading, but there are few books where I can say that it was actually relaxing to read. The Time Travellers was like that, where laying down and cracking open the book was akin to being with a good friend and sharing a quiet dinner.
The novel’s premise is this: the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara land in 2006, but find it to be one very different from what we know. England is at war, London is a mess, and multiple instances of the same person keep appearing out of nowhere. This eventually ties in to an experiment gone wrong, as well as some interesting back story involving the history of this world and elements from Doctor Who history.
Fans of the Doctor Who novel range will decry the novel’s use of an alternative history, considering it was heavily used in the range in 2003 (and on and off since). It is a good thing, then, that I read this almost a year after release, so that I could read the novel distanced from any such hype. Quite frankly, the use of alternative history does not bother me as long as it is used well.
In this case, it is not the centerpiece of the novel. Rather, it is the narrative backdrop against which out characters must investigate and deal with the fallout of what has gone awry (without giving any spoilers away). Guerrier takes his time and focuses on the characters, particularly Ian and Barbara. We are treated to an examination of their feelings for each other, and are witness to how some of the trials faced here bring out unexpected emotions and reactions. There is a scene where Barbara believes the Ian she is interacting with is not her own but an alternative one.
Her nitpicking and doubt over Ian’s identity is brilliantly presented, and provides a beautiful irony. Another great moment is a conversation between the Doctor and Barbara later in the novel, where he fears that whatever is happening in this time will be “noticed” (referring to the Time Lords), and that it may not be safe for Susan and himself. Seeing how this novel takes place before The Dalek Invasion of Earth, that scene wonderfully sheds light on the Doctor’s decision to leave Susan behind in that television story.
Guerrier’s prose is sparse in places, particularly in the beginning. However, he interweaves fine details, and in a few spots changes tenses, putting it to solid dramatic use (particularly the second-tense section near the end of the novel). Probably one of the best aspects of this novel is how it feels very true to the William Hartnell’s era, yet the story feels fresh and dynamic. This novel is a wonderful example of how to function within the “limitations” of using preexisting characters in a media tie-in.
Another bright spot is how Guerrier uses continuity in a way that is not obtuse for the reader. While not giving too much away, the world the TARDIS crew lands in is a result of the aftermath of another Doctor Who story. Guerrier is able to use that story in a mythological sense, not referring to the events and character(s) by name, but rather by what they would have come to be known in folklore. This makes it easier for the reader to understand, and no prior knowledge is needed. It also makes for a bit of an Easter egg for long-time fans.
If there is anything that can be said against this novel, it would be that it moves along at a slower pace than most others. Some will not mind it, as the time is used to study the characters and the world in which they find themselves. Others may not find it appealing. Also, the finer details of what is really going on, as revealed in the last forty or so pages, may require close attention by readers (and re-reading), although it does reveal another Easter egg for sharp-eyed readers.
In all, The Time Travellers is recommended for any fan of smart, character-driven science fiction. It is a must for any First Doctor fan, and for those willing to overlook the use of alternative history (if you feel that concept has been driven into the ground).