Una McCormack’s The Way Through the Woods unburies that old storytelling yore of the dark woods that seemingly swallows people whole, for all those who enter the woods will never be seen again… It’s a device that I myself have utilised in my own short stories. So, on first appearances, The Way Through the Woods appears quite hackneyed. Although men and women from the town of Foxton have vanished in the woods over the centuries, Una McCormack just concentrates on a few women who have disappeared in this manner, and to be honest, on first reading, I lost track of which woman was which, and wasn’t all that involved in the narrative. In addition to this, the story pivots around an abandoned and broken down spaceship, a motif that’s really been done to death in Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who. So, it seemed to me (on first impressions) that The Way Through the Woods was rather a let-down when compared to Una McCormack’s Doctor Who debut, The King’s Dragon, which was quite good.

Such was the quality of her Gallifreyan debut however, that I decided to give The Way Through the Woods a thorough re-read, and I’m very glad I did. For one thing, Una’s characterisation of Rory is spot on (the Doctor and Amy not quite so, but nearly), and for another, her references to the 2005 series of Doctor Who were very good (I particularly liked her cogent explanation of the fact that Rory both is and isn’t the Auton Roman centurion who guarded Amy while she was trapped in the Pandorica). There’s also a nice scene later on when an image of a Roman soldier causes Rory to blush (although he’s not quite sure why, as he’s lost his memories), as this is something will appeal to adult readers. The Way Through the Woods is also very educational; for instance, I’d never heard of the nickname ‘Conchie’ before reading this book (short for ‘conscientious objector’), and I’d previously thought that the pub closing hour introduced during World War I was 11pm (Una points outs that it was actually the far more restrictive 9.30pm). The theme of the First World War also runs through the narrative in a much more subtle way than in did in it did in the 2007 episode of Doctor Who called The Family of Blood. At first, I also thought the naming of the alien as a ‘Werefox’ to be quite old hat, and redolent of the overabundance of anthropomorphic creatures that have faced the Doctor in the recent past. However, I then read Una McCormack’s acknowledgement at the end of the book to Fairport Convention “for recording Reynardine”. Since ‘Reyn’ is the name of the aforementioned Werefox, I had to look this up, and discovered that there are actually ancient tales of a Werefox called Reynardine that steals away maidens to his castle in British folklore. This explains why so many women feature in this book – which, of course, is not a fault – the fact that I lost track of who was who was down to my not paying adequate attention when I first read The Way Through the Woods. So, if Una McCormack is guilty of anything with regards to this book, it’s that she’s perhaps a bit too subtle, and too modest to point out just how clever she’s been in this very good book.

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