THE TURING TEST by Paul Leonard
Paul Leonard had an uphill task winning us over with The Turing Test. We're lukewarm about Earth stories in general and the trapped on Earth arc in particular, and we hate the commandeering of historical characters for fiction. But despite all this, we were impressed.
The Turing Test is the kind of Who book we'd like to see more of: a "real" novel, attractively written and with a satisfying depth. Although we still don't like the dragging of real people into fiction, the three first-person narrations work together nicely not only to view the Doctor through naive eyes and keep the reader at arm's length from the mystery of the aliens, but also to give different views of the central characters.
Leonard gives each of the narrators a distinctive voice: for Greene and Heller, this reflects their fictional works, complete with in-jokes such as Greene referring to the third man, but without going as far as pastiche. Turing also comes across as a very real character - the slight formality giving a sense of the period is particularly well handled - although we can't help feeling that it's a bit of an unkind portrait. Turing was notoriously underequipped with people skills, but Leonard emphasises this and his childlike aspects almost totally at the expense of his fierce intelligence and mathematical genius.
As for Turing's love for the Doctor, we were underwhelmed. Not, we hope we don't need to add, for so-called "moral" reasons, but because it seemed the most obvious and therefore the least interesting way to go. And there seems something ever so slightly offensive to the memory of the real man in implying that he committed suicide due to unrequited love for a fictional character.
Leonard handles the World War II background sensitively: he's very careful, for example, to steer away from the suggestion that there was alien involvement in the death camps. And despite the war background, there's a refreshing lack of body horror which makes us realise how repetitive and ineffective the body count in previous EDAs has become.
It's not, in fact, a war story, but the war backgrounds, both in Europe and Africa, make a very vividly realised setting. This, combined with the different perspectives on the action from the three narrators, pulled us effortlessly through the story: in contrast with our grim slog through many of the previous EDAs, we sailed through this, our attention never flagging for a second. A round of applause for the author, please.
There is, however, one major criticism that we have of the book, and that's that it doesn't give us enough explanation. We're not talking about the aliens: what's going on with them remains mysterious from start to finish, but we've got no quarrel with that. Would it really have added to the story for us to have found out that they were Brutons from the planet Crouton? The whole alien story is essentially a McGuffin: meaningless in itself and included only to throw light on the novel's real subject.
As to what this is, the clue's in the title: the Turing Test provides a way to distinguish human from nonhuman, and that's just what the Doctor is doing in this book. And given his amnesia and lack of usual Doctorly accoutrements, it's this that's the interesting bit for us readers - and also the bit that's most frustrating. Now, seeing that he's remained approximately the same age for the last fifty years and has two heartbeats, the fact that it's only just occurring to him that he might be differently humaned makes him a wee bit slow on the uptake, but this isn't our objection. As we've said, we're most interested in this novel in what's happening to the Doctor, but as with the previous books in this arc, all we get to see of this fascinating process are frustratingly ill-lit glimpses. We can't help feeling that it's a missed opportunity. This is a very strong book, but a little more insight into the Doctor would have made it better still.
Nonetheless, this is a very accomplished book. If they're all like this from now on, we'll be very happy campers. (Oh, and check out those illuminated letters on the cover.)