THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE TV
STORY "THE MONSTER OF
PELADON" AND THE
NOVEL "ISLAND OF
PAPERBACK (ISBN 0-
IN APRIL 2002.
East End gangster
emerges from prison
in 1952, determined to
retake control of his
territory on the
streets of Shoreditch.
But new arrivals
theaten his grip on
all illegal activity in
minister at St Luke's
Church is persuading
people to seek
redemption for their
sins. A new gang is
claiming the streets
for their own. And a
Doctor John Smith is
leading a revolt
against the Ramsey
strikes back against
his enemies, a far
threat is revealed.
Within hours the
city's air begins
turning into nerve gas
and thousands are
killed by the choking
fumes. London is
As a third Doctor story set during the 1950s, “Amorality Tale” should stand out like a sore thumb. Somewhat remarkably though, it does not. Indeed, both Sarah Jane Smith and Jon Pertwee’s ‘Watchmaker’ Doctor seem remarkably at home in their undercover roles, twenty years or so before their time.
“Those people that die must die.
It’s history, it’s already happened and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it, Sarah.”
David Bishop’s novel is certainly built on a fascinating premise, albeit not an altogether original one. In what is, for Sarah Jane, the present day, she is researching the smog that killed somewhere in the order of 12,000 Londoners around twenty years previously. Her dogged investigations unearth a photograph featuring notorious East End mobster Tommy Ramsey with the Doctor, who looks exactly the same as he does at the moment. When Sarah confronts the Doctor with this, he reasons that he must go back to December 1952 London as he was – or rather, will be – a part of the events there. Naturally Sarah accompanies him.
Now in itself, this is a brilliant starting point for a story. The real-life smog that cost the lives
of so many is the perfect breeding ground for a good Doctor Who story, and the fact that the smog is established history means that the Doctor cannot act to save the lives of the victims, as to do so would be in breach of the laws of time.
But what makes “Amorality Tale” so remarkable is that rather than just re-hash the issues raised in “The Aztecs” (the first Doctor Who story to deal with meddling in history) or even
put a slightly new spin on the same, here Bishop manages to get right to the crux of why the Doctor feels that he must visit these fixed ‘disaster’ points in history even when he can do nothing to change what has happened. This is perhaps illustrated best by the Doctor’s impassioned speech to Sarah Jane in the early part of the book:
“We came from the future, where the events of the next few days have already happened. Thousands died and I had my picture taken alongside Tommy Ramsey.
But I believe something far more terrible could happen in the coming days.
That’s why I have to be here, to try and prevent it.
The photograph proves I will be here – I just don’t know what my role is to be.”
As you may gather from the above, the exceptional situation in which the Doctor finds
himself makes for some very interesting drama. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the third Doctor – a Doctor that I am not all that fond of, comparatively speaking – is portrayed magnificently here by Bishop. The author captures Pertwee’s sprightly and exuberant physicality, for instance, as well as his dry wit, whilst also managing to break new ground for the incarnation. The Doctor’s dilemma at the end of this story is not one that I recall this Doctor ever having to face, either before this story or even afterward. The strain on the Doctor clearly weighs heavily on him throughout; so much so that when, in the end, he is forced to take terrible action (detonating an illegal temporal weapon in order to mitigate the deaths as best he can) it almost comes as a relief.
For her part, Sarah Jane fares even better – “Amorality Tale” may well be her strongest outing in print to date. It is not so much that Bishop really shows us anything that is new here, as he does with the Doctor; it is more that he captures how Elizabeth Sladen played the character during her first series on television so very perfectly. Her plucky dealings with Ramsey are a particular a joy to read about.
Ramsey himself has been heavily criticised in other reviews that I have read, most palpably for his conforming to the popular ‘1950s mobster’ stereotype. Whilst I certainly agree with such sentiments, I cannot say that this bothered me at all whilst reading the book. If anything, I felt that Bishop’s characterisation of Ramsey was handled more or less exactly as it would have been on television, had “Amorality Tale” been a season eleven serial. That said, had “Amorality Tale” been a New Adventure or even an eighth Doctor novel, I think that I would have expected a little more depth in the characterisation.
Bishop’s alien protagonists, the Xhinn, bothered me more than Ramsey. I found them a little too nebulous to really get a handle on, and the author’s attempt to imbue them with Guardian / Eternal-like status only made them seem all the more hazy and unfathomable.
On balance though, “Amorality Tale” is a cracking read. It is certainly no “Who Killed Kennedy” by any means – I doubt Bishop will ever be able to top that magnum opus – but it is an enjoyable read nonetheless, particularly if approached with the right mindset.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Whilst its blurb offers no guidance as to placement, this story appears to take place between the television stories The Monster of Peladon and Planet of the Spiders. Within this gap we have placed it prior to the later novel Island of Death.
It is interesting to note that, in the version of history created by Faction Paradox’s biodata virus, this story never happened as the third Doctor regenerated on the planet Dust shortly after The Monster of Peladon.
Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are copyrighted to the BBC and are used solely for promotional purposes.
‘Doctor Who’ is copyright © by the BBC. No copyright infringement is intended.