THIS STORY TAKES
SIX YEARS AFTER THE
AND SEVEN YEARS
PRIOR TO THE NOVEL
OFFICIAL BBC 'EIGHTH
RELEASED IN OCTOBER
The Second World
War is drawing to
a close. Alan Turing,
the code-breaker who
has been critical to
the allied war effort,
is called in to break
a mysterious new
cypher. It’s coming
from Germany, and
everyone assumes it
is German – everyone
except Turing’s new
friend, the Doctor.
Indeed it seems the
Doctor knows too
much about the code,
and the code-makers.
AND when people die,
even Turing wonders
if the Doctor is the
one to blame.
Greene has also MET
the Doctor, but in
a remote African
village he has ALSO
MET something far
To find out the truth,
they must all TRAVEL
THROUGH Germany –
right into the firing
line of the bloodiest
war in history. What
they find there has no
human explanation –
and only the Doctor
has the answers. Or
maybe they’re just
The Turing Test
There are now almost three hundred original Doctor Who novels out there that have seen publication, and of them all, very few possess any true literary worth. Fans of the series love them, but generally speaking they aren’t going to be winning any prizes or facing dissection in the classrooms of the future. The Turing Test, however, is a devastating piece of literature in its own right. At just over 240 pages, it’s compact for an old-school Who novel, yet almost every page is crammed with colour and character; every other line resonant with meaning. Through three different narrators and one disjointed narrative, here Paul Leonard takes us on a tortuous journey to discover what it really means to be human. Or, as the case may be, not.
Since being stranded on Earth at the end of The Ancestor Cell, the amnesiac Doctor has apparently roamed the planet in an increasingly-desperate attempt to unravel the mystery of himself. The blue box that found in his coat pocket is now the size of wardrobe, both inside and out, his date with Fitz is still more than fifty years away, and he’s finally starting to accept the idea that he may not be human. All he has are questions, and there is no end in sight. As such, The Turing Test puts the Doctor under the microscope at a point during his residence on Earth where he’s at his lowest ebb, and thus at his most interesting. The masterstroke is that the three men with the microscope are all as flawed and as riddled with angst as he is.
In terms of plot, there is remarkably little to The Turing Test, Leonard focusing on character and intrigue over incident. The premise is straightforward: at the height of the Second World War, code-breaker Alan Turing is called in to crack a new German cypher. The trouble is, his newfound friend, the Doctor, doesn’t think that it’s German, and ever since he showed up on the scene people have started to die.
The first and largest section of the novel is narrated by the titular Turing, many years after the event, and focuses on the mathematician’s interplay with the Time Lord, who has unwittingly become the object of his affections. Turing’s chapters are without a doubt the highlight of the book as Leonard isn’t bound by the constrictions that come with trying to emulate the writing style of an eminent author. Instead, he gets right inside Turing’s troubled head and paints an unsettlingly romanticised portrait of the Doctor. The prose is suffused with “grey voids” and “aching confusion,” telling of seclusion and solitude offset by logic and order. The final scene of Turing’s section is particularly moving, carrying with it a crushing inevitably that seals his fate long before it is confirmed on the opening page of the next act.
The novel’s second perspective comes courtesy of novelist and spymaster Graham Greene, author of many a noted spy thriller. I’ve never read any of Greene’s work, and as such cannot comment on how effective an imitation Leonard’s is, but I am able to at least offer that these passages successfully capture the feel of the genre, not to mention the flavour of the period. The characterisation is also captivating, particularly as Green is such a contrast to Turing in almost every respect. Indeed, his disdain for his homosexual cohort is clear throughout, but
it doesn’t stem from anything as mundane as bigotry; at least, not entirely. Greene is a gung-ho patriot and wily adventurer, passionate about what he believes in and to hell with the rest. If he was alive today, he’d be presenting Top Gear. Turing, conversely, is an outwardly cold and dispassionate boffin; a “queer” whose reaction to Hitler’s gassing of the Jews is one of inquisitiveness rather than rage. Accordingly, through Greene’s eyes the Doctor is not some homoerotic idol but a player in a game – someone to be respected but distrusted; used but not used by.
The final section of the narrative,
voiced by pacifist Joseph Heller,
real-life author of the acclaimed
Catch-22, feels not only less su-
bstantial but also less successful
than the first two acts. Perhaps I
didn’t find these chapters quite
as inspiring as those that they
followed because, with his book rapidly approaching its end, Leonard had to draw his plot
threads together, focusing more on hows and whys than whos. As a result, Heller does not feel extraordinary in the way that Turing or Greene do, and as such his take on the Doctor
is far less polarised than theirs. Heller is the novel’s control element; a narrator whose only real bias is his own self-interest, and thus the perfect candidate to relay the narrative’s final blow.
The Turing Test’s conclusion is often criticised for its cloudiness, but in my view this is what makes it so very dramatic. As the curtain call approaches, the reader doesn’t have a clue as to where the aliens came from, or even as to the nature of the threat that they posed. Instead, he hears Heller telling of the Doctor’s rage against the machine, crushed by the weight of the atrocity that he’s committed on the off-chance that the aliens might have helped him unlock his past. He reads of Turing’s suicide, and infers that it was caused by some act (or, more likely, omission) of the Doctor’s.
And so as we prepare enter a new age of Doctor Who novels, with literary heavyweights the calibre of Michael Moorcock ready to throw voluminous, hardback tomes in the fray, there’s never been a better time to dust down your battered old copy of The Turing Test and read about the Doctor and Alan dancing the code.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This story begins approximately six years after the novel Wolfsbane, set in 1936, and concludes around seven years before the novel Endgame, set in 1951. Little is known of the Doctor’s intervening exploits.
A line of dialogue here suggests that “only twice before” had the Doctor had the opportunity to find out who
he really is, presumably a reference to the events of The Burning and Casualties of War. Within the fiction,
we must presume that he did not say “three times before” and include Wolfsbane as he didn’t encounter an extraterrestrial species per se in that novel. In reality, of course, Wolfbane was a belated addition to the arc.
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