Doctor Who
The Turing Test

Author: Paul Leonard
BBC Books
£5.99 (US$6.95)
ISBN 0 563 53806 6
Available now

Towards the end of the Second World War, a mysterious new coded signal is detected coming from Germany. British code-breaker Alan Turing is called upon to decipher it. A new acquaintance of Turing, an eccentric amnesiac known as the Doctor, seems suspiciously well informed about the code...

The author, who is known for his detailed depictions of convincingly alien cultures, makes the surprising move of revealing very little about the "strangers" behind the mysterious signal. Instead, he writes a very human story, told from the perspectives of three very different participants in the war.

In addition to Turing, Leonard also adopts the standpoint of the novelist and spymaster Graham Greene, as well as US Air Force pilot Joseph Heller, who wrote Catch 22 in 1961. Turing's narrative is full of the dispassionate language of the mathematical theorems that brought him fame (he first observes the Doctor standing in a "polygon of sunlight"). Yet he does feel compassion, especially for the Doctor, though in his naivety he remains deeply confused about human feelings and morality. Heller sees the contradictory nature of Turing, and of war itself, which he sees as enforced recruitment for the purpose of wholesale murder, and quite rationally seeks any means to avoid causing or suffering death. I found Greene's narrative to be the least enjoyable, possibly because I have little interest in his novels, and also because his chapters feature very little of the Doctor.

Unlike Andy Lane and Justin Richards' The Banquo Legacy, wherein two opposing accounts were collated into some semblance of a sequence, the narratives of Turing, Greene and Heller are regimented into separate sections. This makes for some abrupt breaks in the story, where one account ends and the next jumps back to an earlier point in time, told from a different point of view. This device challenges the attention of the reader, but is effective in the way in which it establishes certain basic assumptions before turning them completely on their heads.

While not as satisfying as some of the more recent Eighth Doctor novels (but then, the overall standard of this series has risen considerably of late), this book is nonetheless well worth a look.

Richard McGinlay