Doctor Who
Amorality Tale

Author: David Bishop
BBC Books
RRP 5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53850 3
Available now

Between 4,000 and 12,000 Londoners died within four days during the killer smog of December 1952. Sarah Jane Smith persuades the Third Doctor to take her back in time to discover exactly what happened. The travellers are soon caught up in the dangerous world of East End gangsters. But a far deadlier threat is waiting to make its move...

The Third Doctor/Sarah team have been rather under-represented in the realm of original Who novels. So far they have only appeared as guests in three of Lawrence Miles' Eighth Doctor novels. True, they also starred in the Virgin Books Missing Adventure, The Ghosts of N-Space, but this was of course an adaptation of the second of Barry Letts' two scripts for BBC radio during the 1990s.

As a matter of fact, the character of gangland boss Tommy Ramsey would not have seemed out of place in one of Letts' radio plays. He is established as an exaggerated and stereotypical bully who, just like the infamous Krays, is fiercely loyal to his dear old mum. As the plot develops, however, so does Ramsey, and he gradually reveals a more vulnerable side of his personality to Sarah. Like Tony Soprano's psychiatrist, Sarah Jane puts the gangster in touch with his feelings.

The author sets up a comparison between the earthbound mob and an extra-terrestrial foe known as the Xhinn. What the smaller- and larger-scale dominions have in common are their euphemistic job descriptions: the mob offers "protection", while the Xhinn describe themselves as "missionaries". When the police force is effectively put out of action, it falls to the mob to live up to their job description.

I fail to see how the title of this book is particularly relevant to its plot, even though the Third Doctor does plenty of his trademark moralising. In fact, his soul-searching with regard to the extreme measures that he is forced to take against the Xhinn seems a little excessive. The Doctor has taken such extreme measures against alien aggressors before, and will do so again in stories that take place after this one. Perhaps it's just a sign of this incarnation's world-weariness, which Bishop plays upon as a prelude to the Doctor's imminent regeneration in Planet of the Spiders.

An undemanding but very enjoyable tale.

Richard McGinlay

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