Saturday, 4 December 2010
Amorality Tale by David Bishop
Plot: Gang war is breaking out in the East End. A fog is descending which is killing thousands of innocents. The Doctor and Sarah travel back to 1952 and realise with growing horror that there is nothing they can do to save them…
Good Grief: Why has nobody else thought to set a book in season eleven for the BBC? It is the least explored period of the third Doctor’s life and potentially the most fascinating. He is reaching the end of his life in this body, tired and frail and missing his old creature comforts of UNIT. It is a melancholic third Doctor, and an intriguing side to his flamboyant character.
You have got to love a book that opens with the Doctor having set up a watchmakers shop in the 1950’s being visited by the local gang offering ‘insurance’ and the Doctor kicking his butt and propelling him on to the street! Lately the Doctor’s mood has been bleaker, more introspective. He narrowly escaped death on Peladon and Sarah feels his brush with his own mortality was weighing heavily on his thoughts. He explodes when Sarah suggests they save the lives of the people they know will die: “Those people that die, must die. It’s history, its already happened and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it, Sarah.” He is scared – he doesn’t want to play God with peoples lives. He is not a buffoon despite the extravagant gestures and supercilious accent. He’s curious and caring; yet willing to be ruthless when the need arose. His eyes are rich and strange, as thought they had seen more than most. There was a sadness about them too, borne of deaths and disappointments and too many goodbyes. A significant opponent and a powerful ally. He gets a great speech on pages 258-259. At the story’s conclusion he hopes he never has to resort to such a terrible weapon again.
Who’s Best Friend: Isn’t it odd that Sarah travelled with the fourth Doctor for two and a half seasons and yet the two books published by the BBC feature her against the seventh and third Doctor’s? With characterisation as good as this, I’m not complaining.
Sarah never failed to be shocked by the level of sexism and male domination – and had to remind herself that women’s liberation was alien in this time and place. Brilliantly she holds Tommy Ramsey’s gaze, refusing to be intimidated by an East End gangster. She cannot hide her quiet terror but there is an implacability about her that is to be admired. No matter how many times she entered the TARDIS the first moment stepping over the threshold left her disorientated.
She didn’t need to know how it worked, just that it would get her to the destination safely. Tommy’s bashfulness around Sarah is lovely – the effect that she has on these men! All of Sarah’s life she had been a city dweller, moving in time with the metropolis. London 1952 is a massive culture shock for her. She missed television and good coffee and the sexism and racism is startling. It was as alien as Peladon and Exxilon. In a devastating sequence Sarah stays with neighbour Mary as her daughter dies and later she is shocked by Mrs Ramsey’s unchristian attitude to the woman. In another life Sarah could have been attracted to Tommy. I really liked the scene where Sarah admitted the truth about herself and the Doctor to Tommy; it is honest and thoughtful, like much of the book.
Foreboding: The Doctor’s weariness is a portent to his coming regeneration.
Twists: The Doctor shaking hands with a London gangster? – it is this photograph that kick starts the story and prompts them to head backwards in time. Pages 78-79 – Jack Cooper killed his mother, a great example of how David Bishop manages to carve out believable characters with convincing history with very few words. Tommy slashes off Callum’s arm only for him to transform into a Xhinn. They are a much-feared species that colonise other worlds. They strip planets of their natural resources and either subjugate or exterminate the native species all to fuel the colonisation and plunder of more worlds. The fog descends, triggered by the Xhinn; London poisoning itself and the grim task of collecting the dead and dying begins… In a tragic sequence Rose and Frank Kelly are hoarded into a space with the other evacuees and crushed to death – their impending deaths remind them of how much they love each other (and how they have forgotten). Brick’s reaction to his pigeon’s dying is similarly affecting. The bread Father Simmons has been making for his parishioners is revealed to be poisoned with a drug that makes people susceptible to hypnotic suggestion –
hence the police on the streets killing people. Simmons is revealed to be a Xhinn with implanted memories. Mary hides her daughter under the stairs – sacrificing her own life so they can live. Jack, dousing himself with petrol and burning himself alive, is horrific. The Doctor uses an outlawed chronometric device to accelerate time and murder the Xhinn. Hodge, devastated at the deaths he has caused at the hands of an alien influence, shoots himself.
Result: A superb quick read. What could be more Doctor Who than dead policemen lurching from a toxic mist on the streets of London in the 1950’s? Whilst the aliens of the story are okay, it’s the humans that make it so vital. People moan about David Bishop’s economic prose (which is light on description) but the amount of pathos and genuine emotion he manages to conjour up with so few words I feel deserves credit. Both the characters and the setting are evoked beautifully, with lots of thoughtful and heartbreaking scenes. It is an unusual period and genre for Doctor Who to venture into, 1950’s East End gangland territory, but it provides an intriguing backdrop for what is a pretty familiar Doctor Who story. The choice of the third Doctor and Sarah is the cherry on the cake, a combination I have always been fond of but rarely seen written as well as here. A bit rushed in places, but otherwise a damn fine PDA: 8/10