I live my life by a handful of simple rules. Well... I say a handful, but it's more like a phone book full. And I say simple but, if subjected to the cold calculating logic of a telesales executive, they appear to be quite idiotic in places. It has to be said that they're probably no worse than anyone else's. Anyone, that is, who not so much harbours OCD tendencies as regularly entertains them in the full glare of the public. Take, for example, curries. I never eat a curry that begins with the letter 'Z'.
So that's Zygon Biryani right off the menu.
Doctor Who: Ghosts of India
It doesn't stretch to the other letters down the Polish end of the alphabet... that would be crazy. Talking to yourself on a crowded bus crazy. No, it's just the 'Z' list curried dishes. Perhaps I shouldn't be so blinkered when it comes to new experiences and new taste sensations. But once you've been burned by a bad curry (both metaphorically and, I'm sorry to say in this case, physically) you're loathed to dip your naan bread in anything exotic ever again. It's time to face facts - chef's specialties aren't for you. They're really intended for the more adventurous gastronaught. The ones who don't feel embarrassed when they're offered the wine to taste and who can compete with arrogant waiters on a level playing field. No, you stick with your Iceland Jalfrezi for One and we'll say no more about it.
Sometime after Carry on Up The Khyber but sometime before Shilpa Shetty.
All these weighty topics are completely ignored by Mark Morris in his second Tenth Doctor novel, Ghosts of India. It's probably for the best too. Now, I normally pass on novel reviews quicker than it takes a Republican to shoot themselves in both feet so I thought it was about time to bite the bullet. I'm not a big fan of written fiction, as a child I would prefer a couple of entries from the Encyclopedia of Space for a bedtime story than The Hungry Caterpillar, but I went through this entire story in only a couple of sittings. And it got me thinking about who these novels are actually aimed at. They're easily digestible and, given the time it took to read from cover to cover, I should probably be under a Government exclusion order not to open up one of the Doctor Who Quick Reads for fear that I might actually finish the book before I started it forcing the creation of a swirling wordy causal nexus to open up in the middle of Borders' Jeffrey Archer remnant bin, thus destroying the Universe (and bad fiction) as we know it.
The time lines survive intact enabling Ben Kingsley's career to take off as planned.
Ghosts of India takes the India of 1947 as its setting. An India in chaos, at the arse end of the British Raj. We're talking sometime after Carry on Up The Khyber but sometime before Shilpa Shetty. Bow before my masterful command of world history, oh puny mortal. With violence sweeping across the country, strange half-made figures roaming the streets and random disappearances if the peoples of the Indian Sub Continent weren't having a hard enough time of it Donna Noble pitches up on the promise of a curry. Of course, you know how it is, no sooner have you started hankering after a curry than you're pitched headlong into a fight to the death with aliens who've read the novelization of Time-Flight, disturbing apparitions and plague turning people (and animals) rabid. Whilst that could, theoretically, describe any evening out at a Yates's Wine Lodge, you'd not normally get thrown into the mix a man in what looks suspiciously like an adult diaper. No, not Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond in his moth eaten long johns, but India's great spiritual leader, Gandhi.
He [Morris] does sail perilously close to Cruise of the Gods territory.
And this is where I feel the issue of the readership's age plays a part. There are a couple of passages in the book where the Doctor and Gandhi discuss the latter's philosophy when it comes to fighting for a just cause - the rights of his people under the rule of the British. Non-violent, non-confrontational, non-cooperation protest. Not willing to see violence in his name, but still willing to die for what he believed in. In a more adult story, for a more New Adventures type of readership, this would probably have played a much more pivotal role in the story, been explored deeply and, in all probability, would have ended up with the Doctor slashing his wrists because next to Gandhi he'd look more like Radovan Karadizic and finished with Gandhi bedding the Doctor's companions. Still, Gandhi's role in the climax remains key, and the time lines survive intact enabling Ben Kingsley's career to take off as planned. Who knows where he'd have been without that role, probably free to take the part of a crippled Skaro scientist.
Morris' story is a perfectly good slice of Who (although the wafts of Plasmaton I was getting, as the Gelem Warriors appeared and disappeared, were somewhat off putting). He conveys the characters of the Doctor and Donna perfectly - to the extent you can almost feel Tennant Forsything his way, at some considerable speed, through the dialogue. And whilst, in my opinion, he does sail perilously close to Cruise of the Gods territory in the naming of some of his dishes... er... I mean aliens, it's still an enjoyable read. And Lee Binding's cover appears to have captured perfectly the very soul of Sharwood's microwaveable poppadoms.
Pass the lime pickle, I'm off to finish last night's curried Skarasen.
Doctor Who: Ghosts of India by Mark Morris
Released: 4th September 2008