Caught on Earth
The Turing Test
|ISBN||0 563 53806 6|
|Synopsis: Alan Turing, the Second World War's critical code-breaker, is called in to break a mysterious new cypher. But his new friend, The Doctor, knows far too much about the code. To find out the truth, the Doctor must cross the front line and travel through occupied Germany - into the firing line of the bloodiest war in history.|
A Review by Sean Gaffney 7/10/00
Coming in quick, aren't they? I've no idea why I've read the past two books so quickly... better enjoy it while it lasts, I suppose. In any case, Paul Leonard's latest book is rather short. And reads even shorter. It flies off the page. But is it any good?
You bet your sweet ass it is. This book manages to be even better than The Burning and Casualties of War, despite having far less Doctor in it. This is a dark, emotional book filled with spies, gutwrenching speeches, and lots of math. I really didn't follow the math. But that's OK, I'll just avoid making it a category.
PLOT: Rather obtuse, actually. The book is written in three first- person narratives, each of whom know a bit of what's going on, but the three tales don't add up to tell us everything. As a result, there's a lot of behind-the-scenes feeling to the book, a feeling that secret stuff just happened that we don't know about. This helps lend another air of breathlessness to the book as well.
THE DOCTOR: Getting darker and darker all the time. The loss of memory is really starting to get on his nerves, and it's driving him half-mad - literally. This is the 8th Doctor taken to a total extreme. He's far scarier to those of us who do know his past than to people like Turing and Greene. The ending scene, and his desperate cry, is really harrowing. REALLY want to read Endgame now.
TURING: As a narrator, he's written very well, moves the book along, and Paul's style of mathematical comparisons is very well thought out. I just don't like him much. He strikes me as really quite foolish - luckily, he strikes a lot of others in the book that way too, so it's not just me.
GREENE: See Turing. OK, they're totally different, but both affected me the same way - really well-written, stylized characters that I simply didn't get along with. Greene's a bit of an asshole, to be honest.
HELLER: Yay! Here we go! Gets the least amount of screen time, but is utterly sensible, and seems to actually be seeing things the way... well, the way a companion would see them. He's essentially taking the Fitz role, but that doesn't mean he's any less Joseph Heller. My favorite.
OTHERS: Elgar was a very nice villain - or was he a villain? Anyway, he was one of those characters who was meant to have a big neon ALIEN GUY sign over his head, but as such worked nicely - you kept wondering when everyone else would admit it. The other aliens were a little too nebulous - in keeping with the book's ambiguity, but it did make for a really quick, abrupt ending.
STYLE: That may be my only complaint - this book needed a bit of an epilogue, maybe from the editor's POV. As is, it's as if the Target novel hit page 144. ^^;; Apart from that, Paul uses the triple narrative to great effect, and made me want to read more about the period and the historical figures.
OVERALL: Really, really nice. The Earth series gets a little darker, and expands its worldview. Each book is self-contained, but after this one it's REALLY going to be hard not to see what the Doctor will do next.
A Review by Finn Clark 24/10/00
It's tempting to wonder if something happened to Paul Leonard shortly before he wrote Revolution Man. That "something" could have been co-writing Dry Pilgrimage with Nick Walters, but whatever it is has left him a changed writer. His last two BBC Books have been very different to the rest of his oeuvre, being resolutely Earthbound and humanocentric with nary a painstakingly realised alien point of view in sight. They've been quite short, but well written in a way that goes beyond competent sentence construction. In my opinion, The Turing Test is really rather good.
It feels like a proper novel, basically. It's not the usual cartoonish "let's knock out the guard and escape, Doctor!" fare, but a realistic and convincing story that happens to revolve around the Doctor. We have three first-person narrators, all of whom existed in real life. Alan Turing is well evoked, with his feelings for the Doctor immediately taking the book somewhere new (and perhaps slightly uncomfortable) for the long-time Who reader. It's mature instead of being childishly "adult", if you know what I mean. I'm unfamiliar with the works of Graham Greene so can't comment on how well Paul Leonard captures his voice, but Joseph Heller's section is enjoyably Helleresque. It's not as all-out as Catch-22, but then it couldn't have been. We get a flavour of the man's worldview rather than the full force of its insanity, which is exactly as it should have been given that (despite appearances) this is a Doctor Who book. Beneath the rock-solid evocation of wartime Europe, there's a traditional Who plot quietly ticking away. We never get an expository info-dump, but how much do such things normally add to the story anyway?
As with last month's Casualties of War, the backdrop is painted impeccably. One gets the feeling of a world out there, not a couple of cardboard corridors and an afternoon of hasty OB filming. Instead of playing spot-the-next-plot-development, you're drawn into empathising with the characters and their dilemmas. Blimey, who'd have guessed it? After four years, at last we're getting some real novels!
This is a short review, because I honestly don't have a single criticism. Our three narrators get more of the limelight than the Doctor himself, but he's so important to the workings of the plot that you hardly realise unless you stop and think about it. And besides, those three central portrayals are just so darn good. This book feels like it's had far more time than usual spent writing it - either that or Leonard's been a pastiche genius all along and never told us. Very impressive indeed.
A Review by Steve Crow 7/11/00
Hmmm, I don't get it. No, really. I don't get it. I've never been a fan of Paul Leonard, I guess, and Turing Test doesn't change my opinion. I can't really say that he's a boring writer. I just don't find his material very involving, somehow. I hate to criticize without more specifics, but every time I read one of his books I find it goes on interminably. The societies presented (alien or late-WW2 Germany or whatever) are very detailed, but they don't seem to be very involving. To me, at any rate.
I have the disadvantage of not having read Ancestor Cell or The Burning. Like Casualties of War, Turing Test presents a different type of Doctor. But I guess it's not one I find particularly involving. I'm not sure I buy into "different = good."
While reviewer Finn Clark above is correct in that Turing's feelings towards the Doctor take it somewhere new, again, I'm not sure that "new=good". I guess I found his soap-operaish mawking-about rather tedious, rather than uncomfortable. But then, I felt the same about Mary in Casualties of War, too. Didn't we get enough of Sam's romantic feelings towards the Doctor? Why does the fact that he's now amnesiac (albeit still asexual) mean we have to go through it again?
The other two narrative points of view are okay. I enjoyed Heller, who seemed to be presenting the everyman POV (or Fitz stand-in, if you prefer). When his third of the narration came up my interest perked up a bit. But too late by then.
I'm loathe to say Turing Test is a bad book. It stands up well as a "serious" novel. But I'm not sure how much I want a "serious" novel. I want a Doctor Who novel. Combining Paul Leonard, an author who rarely succeeds in getting me involved with his novels for whatever reason, with an amnesiac Doctor who mostly...isn't the Doctor and thus isn't involving to me, seems like a bad combination. looking back over other reviews, I found Robert Smith's comments on Genocide interesting, in that Leonard wrote a rather generic 8th Doctor. There are bits of McGann's Doctor that shine through (no one's going to mistake him for an amnesiac 1st Doctor!), but mostly an amnesiac Doctor is as generic as you can get.
Obviously others differ on their opinions of Leonard. But I think Sean Gaffney sums up my opinion of Turing Test best in his review of Toy Soldiers: "It's not a bad book, it's just."
Actually, looking back over other reviews of Paul Leonard's works bring home to me one overall point. Turing Test is about the same as his other books. The problems that others have seen in those novels, seem to exist here. The strengths others have seen previously are in Turing Test as well. In my case, I guess I found those problems to result in a somewhat uninvolving story.
A Review by Tammy Potash 19/11/00
If this book were a Tenchi Muyo episode, it would have been called, "No Need For Explanations." In the series, the "No Need for..." titles are highly ironic. But Paul Leonard seems to have taken it as a literal command. The identity of the threat the Doctor and his temporary allies must confront is never made clear. This is frustrating, but as he is probably the only one who could have identified them, and in his current condition he simply can't, we'll just have to accept it. What is the device the Doctor uses against one of the beings? (Is it the sonic screwdriver?) Leonard won't say.
But the prose is so stylish and graceful, you may not even notice. First-person Who books are rare, but they are inevitably very strong tales: Eye of Heaven, All-Consuming Fire, parts of Blue Angel and Parallel 59, Frontier Worlds, Scarlet Empress. Leonard leaves his alien societies behind (or does he?) and creates 3 very deep, memorable narrators based on their historical counterparts.
The only one I know about myself is Heller; his section will hopefully spur more people to read Catch-22, as it is a brilliant pastiche. Turing has much in common with Dr. Judson from Curse of Fenric, but here we see a man who is as far removed from normal human emotions and reactions (save for how he relates to the Doctor) as is the Doctor himself. His entire frame of reference is mathematics-based; one wonders if Adric ever saw the world this way. Greene's perspective is tainted with the paranoia of a man who has spent too long in the spy business. All of them are driven nearly to their wits' end in trying to deal with the Doctor, whose alienness is made clear in his speech, which is understandable by humans but does not seem to be produced by one, or by human thought-patterns. (Could this have anything to do with the loss, or possible restoration, of the translation circuits in the TARDIS?)
The Doctor, last seen as a wistful, melancholy sort in Casualties of War, is now emotionally fragile, and seems on the verge of madness. Some of this stems from his beginning to realize that he does not belong on Earth, yet is stuck here. Would the 3rd Doctor have come to this point if his own exile had not been revoked? Some of it comes from his amnesia, which earns a very post-modern remark by Greene. It is fascinating to watch the Doctor's character actually grow and develop through this arc; I absolutely cannot wait for Endgame. It is a hard-hearted reader indeed who will be unmoved by the climax of the book. Some of the most intriguing events happen off-stage; the Doctor's rescue of Turing from certain death, the discovery of his own nature in a hospital ward. The Doctor is central to events; things would have turned out far differently without him, and no one else could have resolved things (as much as they are resolved).
This book could almost have been marketed as a mainstream book instead of a Who one, it's that well-written. The best thing about this story arc is that it will not confuse the more casual reader; no book is dependent on a prior one. And the cover is neat, too, with a clever touch (look closely at the keys). We are truly witnessing a rebirth of the Doctor and of the EDAs. Tell your friends. Glorious. More like this, please.
There seems to be an in-joke to Human Nature here, and while I may be reading too much into these things, I nearly choked when someone referred to Dorothy, his mistress. (Given that she's still got that timehopper, hmmm...)
A Review by Elsa Frohman 23/11/00
This book is a grand conceit, as Leonard tries to speak with the voices of three great men, two of them great writers. He doesn't quite pull it off, though the book did hold my interest.
Of the three, Alan Turing is the one I know the least about in real life. So, I can't really comment on whether Leonard captured his voice. However, I've read several of Greene's novels and two by Heller. Leonard doesn't actually manage to duplicate the style or power of either of those two writers, though his attempt is not bad by any means.
This book might have been a home run -- if -- Leonard had had a story to tell. The Turing Test turns out like too many EDAs of the past year, all style and no substance.
Our three narrators don't really know what happened, so it's no surprise that when I finished the last page, neither did I.
I'm sure someone is going to argue that the exact nature of the conflict isn't important, because this is a book about comparing three philosophical points of view. Well, yes... but if I want that, I can read the writings of Turing, Heller and Greene... the REAL writings of Turing, Heller and Greene.
While the philosophical discussions are interesting, they don't make a story. And when it was all said and done, I was unsatisfied.
My score for The Turing Test: 5/10
So, for the first half of the six books that make up the Bold New Direction, I can say, I'm only slightly impressed. Things certainly aren't as bad as they were. I've finished all three of these books, and I can't say that for three EDAs in a row sampled out of any time after the first four books in the line.
However, all three of the books so far were deficient in plotting. The Burning was a pulp plot barely fleshed out into anything readable. The villian was poorly defined, and the characters were just fodder for killing. The ending didn't follow logically from anything that preceded it.
Casualties of War featured strong characterizations and an encouraging move way from the "kill anyone who has a speaking part other than the Doctor" philosophy that has marred so many of the BBC books I've read. Even though it remains in the rather over- used horror genre, it was a noble effort. It was, unfortunately, let down by a plot that didn't hold up to the end, and a resolution that takes place off screen. The started out to be built around the relationship between the Doctor and Mary Minnet, but backs off of actually doing anything with it.
Then we get Turing Test, which is in it's weaknesses much like what is worst about Paul Magrs -- without the pomposity and pretentiousness that drags Magrs' work down. Turing Test is strongest in Leonard's sharp characterization of his three narrators. Too bad they didn't actually know anything worth telling us.
I would say Casaualties of War was the best of the three, though I can't say I disliked Turing Test. It wasn't that I disliked it. Its just that it ended without taking me anywhere I wanted to go.
I can't say I liked The Burning at all.
A Review by Mike Morris 29/11/00
Sometimes, when you buy a Doctor Who book, you know pretty much what you're going to get, and sometimes you don't. Paul Leonard, for me, has always fallen into the former category. Things you will get from a Paul Leonard book; a large-scale setting, solid SF ideas, serious themes, and an all-round sense of worthiness. He's damn similar to Jim Mortimore, of course, but rather more reined-in.
The other thing I've always got from Paul Leonard novels is the nagging sense that this should be just a little bit better, and the even more nagging realisation that I haven't got a clue why it isn't. To this day I don't know why Genocide and Revolution Man aren't all-time classic novels, but they just aren't (I'm open to suggestions why not, if anyone's got any ideas).
This was one thing that meant I wasn't wildly hopeful about The Turing Test. Another reason was my general mistrust of novels when the Doctor meets historical figures - they always seem a bit silly to me, somehow (I'll elaborate when I get round to reviewing Endgame, probably). And then there was the back cover blurb, with its talk of WWII and codes with hidden meanings. Oh god, I thought, they're redoing The Curse of Fenric and adding a history lesson.
I was wrong. The Turing Test isn't remotely like The Curse of Fenric. Nor is it silly. And - and this is the most important bit, folks - Paul Leonard has finally done what he's been threatening to do for so long. He has written a great Doctor Who book.
To quote the philosophical minefield that is The Seeds of Doom, "I use the term with precision". A great Doctor Who book.
The key to this is the way The Turing Test approaches the concept of the historical novel. It is historical, with, like, real people in it and stuff; and it does take place during WWII. But it's not historical in the ordinary Doctor Who sense, that is, the Doctor turning out to be responsible for the burning of Rome or the Fire of London or Hitler's failure to win WWII. WWII is beautifully evoked, sure, but it's only there as a background, to evoke an atmosphere. This isn't about WWII, it just happens to take place during the war. And the war provides a dangerous, death-filled and yet oddly beautiful backdrop (don't worry, I'll explain that statement later).
And we do meet historical characters, but they aren't the usual sort. They're footnote people in history; Alan Turing, code breaker; Graham Greene, novelist; Joseph Heller, another novelist. And, unusually, the Doctor doesn't help Turing crack the ENIGMA code, nor does he turn out to be an inspiration for Catch 22. It's telling that we meet Turing after he's solved ENIGMA. These three people are treated as they should be; three of the most fascinating characters ever to grace a Doctor Who novel.
We open with Alan Turing, and I could quite happily have read his account until next February, it's that good. He's simply fascinating, a man who is at once mercurial and deeply passionate, and yet a slave to logic and rationality. The Turing narrative is basically a tragic love-story, one that we know is doomed from the moment it's mentioned on the first page. Watching Turing fall for the Doctor is like watching a car-crash in slow-motion. This is the great advantage of first-person narrative, because we see Turing's inner turmoil behind the perfectly rational exterior. People call him a robot, and only Turing and the reader know it isn't true.
We then cut to Graham Greene, who has for me always been stuck in the category of Authors I Must Try Sometime But Haven't Got Round To Yet. It doesn't stop him from being an engrossing character. Greene is the antithesis of Turing, a man who makes snap judgements and won't retreat from them. It's odd how, seen from Turing's eyes, Greene is hugely dislikeable, and when the point of view changes Turing becomes the dislikeable one. The two characters counterpoint each other beautifully, and the way they react to the Doctor in completely different ways is wonderful. I could say more about that, but it'd ruin the book, so I won't. Just trust me; it's clever.
The characters mesh beautifully with the theme that The Turing Test plays with, the question of "when is a machine a man?". Greene, in his instinctiveness, is excessivley human; Turing might fail his own test of the title. Having been inside Turing's head, and seen that he really is an emotional being, made me far more receptive to a theme that's essentially an old SF question. Okay, so the machine-creatures in the book fail to show any emotion, but then, so does Turing... and he's human. And, if Greene's the 'human' one, why is he so less forgiving than Turing is?
Joseph Heller comes in for the last couple of chapters. He's really there to provide a wrap-up from a neutral standpoint, as both Turing and Greene are involved in events too deep. Oddly, although he's easily the most likeable of the three narrators, he'd also the least interesting... mainly because he's too well adjusted, the one sane man in a world gone mad, and there's much less there to wrap your head around. As such, he's perfectly suited to the role he plays, balancing Greene and Turing's different viewpoints and coming up with a balanced view of events.
Oh, did I mention that the prose is deliciously, quietly gorgeous? Again, this is something that Paul Leonard has always been nearly great at. Lots of lovely writing, and it would all be going wonderfully,
-the fractured sentence was in italics it was-
and then the odd irritating narrative trick that would be used over and over again...
-a flashback as a substitute for character development it was-
Maybe it's because Leonard is speaking with other people's voices this time out, but The Turing Test is beautifully written. It's the type of unshowy writing you don't even notice as the pages flow by. I'm not sure if I can recall a single sentence from The Turing Test, but my head's still full of those beautiful images I mentioned before. Paris in the winter, a disused church hounded by dropping bombs, and that lovely early scene of the Doctor talking to a griffin, his hair shining in the sun. We're surrounded death, but all the imagery is just beautiful - without ever seeming sanitised.
It's true to say that this is simple story obliquely told, and we never really find out who the aliens in question are (but again, they provide some stonking images). This is something you either like or don't. Personally, I feel that any more detail of this would have just distracted from the real guts of the story. As it is, they're a beautiful mystery. Yeah, so there's no real plot; but (and I'm sorry for the cliche) that's not what The Turing Test is about.
What it is about, and don't let all my previous waffle fool you, is the Doctor. We never see anything from his point of view, his motives are never explained, but this is the Doctor's book. We get a portrait of him through other people's reactions, meaning that a lot of his motives and methods are disturbingly ambiguous. It's not clear, for example, whether the Doctor is completely unaware of Turing's feelings, or whether he's using them to keep Turing on his side. Uncomfortable reading for sure. And the last passage, like so much of The Turing Test, ties all this up with a bittersweet beauty. "It's time for the killing to stop"... that's as simple and as good as it gets.
There's not much more I want to say. The Turing Test says everything it wants to, all by itself. There are ambiguities, but they're carefully crafted anbiguities, that pop up and hit you long after you've finished reading. Does the finale indicate that what The Turing Test is saying is that being alive is defined by the capacity to feel pain, or not? Even the title is deceptively ambiguous; is it really named after an "ideal" test, or is it a hint that Alan Turing himself was a test, one that the Doctor failed?
Oh, and a thousand thanks to Tammy Potash, without whose review I'd never have spotted that thing with the typewriter keys on the cover... it really is a damn good cover, by the way.
To summarise, as you may have gathered, I quite liked this book.
To summarise further, I found this novel (and the word seems appropriate, here) to be a very rare thing indeed; a Doctor Who book that's absolutely flawless. The Turing Test is a magnificent piece of work. Buy it. Now.
A Review by David Miller 30/3/01
I had heard quite a few nice things about this book going into it, so I was excited to read it. An above average cover didn't hurt my anticipation either. The book, as you may know, is divided up into three sections; one "written" by Alan Turing (a famous code-breaker), one by novelist Graham Greene and the by Joseph Heller (author of Catch 22 among others). Each section reveals the "authors" view of the Doctor and moves the story (such as it is) forward.
This works quite well with Turing, whom Paul Leonard gives an interesting voice. Turing is believable, he is a geeky mathematician and code-breaker who falls in love with the Doctor and it's all handled well. Well enough that we get into Turing's personality and don't care if there isn't a very interesting plot behind all of this because it's fun enough to read without one.
However once Greene comes in as the storyteller things don't fare so well. It all seems so forced, from the views of the divinity and flaws of humanity to his affair with one of the secondary characters. I haven't read Greene so I can't say how good a job Leonard does capturing his "voice", but if this is what Greene's fiction reads like it's a wonder he's survived the test of time. Once the book lost an interesting voice I looked to the plot for satisfaction, but there isn't much of one and what there is, isn't very interesting. Rival factions of aliens, none of whom have much in the way of personality, a Saving Private Ryan backdrop and lots of globe-trotting run-arounds, it all feels rather standard, no exciting ideas to pull us through and keep us reading. Greene goes so far to mentions on several occasions that one of the aliens speaks as though he's reading lines out of a bad B-Movie. I find lines like this only crop up in blandly written books and it is used as an excuse for the author having not done a good job with a character.
Once we get to Heller's section I'm aching for the book to be over and the forced "dark comedy" of the third part does nothing to change my mind. This is a book that tries to be a great "message" book but, for me, at least, fails in that. The first 100 pages (the Turing section) are quite enjoyable but after that it becomes something worse than bad (bad can be enjoyable), it becomes tedious.
A Review by Dominick Cericola 22/4/01
This is easily the most difficult, definitely the most unusual review I will have written thus far.. Difficult, in that I neither hated nor loved the book -- it was more of a "Oh, I sort of like this bit, and this bit here, but not that it's finished, well...". I will try to do my best, but it may come off a bit awkward. If it does, bear with me, okay? It should get better from here on (or so the others have said)..
Let me start this review by saying I think Paul Leonard is quite a good writer, offering enough detail to visualize but not to drown in the imagery. His characters are always well-defined, allowing us to view them both from Outside as well as Within. And stories are generally well-crafted, granting the Reader a Beginning, Middle, and End that all seem to go together. So, what went wrong here?
Wrong is probably a bit harsh, inappropriate even. What I should say is "What didn't work?". And, to answer that, I have to look at it from a couple different ways..
[FIRST]: The Characters. Everyone is given enough depth, so that they transform into something other than Historical Characters or throwaway faces. I have never met any of the people in this adventure, but I have enough faith in Mr. Leonard that if I had the opportunity to meet them, they may have been like they were here.
The only character who comes off as a bit off is The Doctor, and I believe this is because he is detailed from three entirely different personalities: Turing, Greene, and Heller. So, this almost enigmatic, not-altogether-definable Person was intentional -- both on Leonard's part, as well as new Editor, Justin Richards. BUT, while a good idea, it seems to lose appeal quickly, as the book isn't so much about the Doctor, as the people has interacted with and the effect he seemed to have on each of them and their Lives.
[SECOND]: The Story. Maybe it's just me, but hasn't "The Doctor vs. The Nazis" theme been well-tread? I mean, we had the 7th Doctor deal them a blow twice (in Terrence Dicks' Timewyrm: Exodus as well as Lance Parkins' debut NA, Just War), surely that should have been enough! We all know that the Evil the Nazis exposed the world to was quite horrible, and that nothing in history (except perhaps the Jonestown Massacre) has equaled it. Yet, it also is a case of we know it happened, let's not milk it, either.
BUT, I must give Leonard points for his take on it. Here we have a Doctor who is still not all there in the Memory Dept.; a TARDIS that is still not quite a TARDIS; and interaction with three historical figures who he has no idea about, only vague thoughts. This is probably the biggest reason I finished the book -- I wanted to see how they all parted and would they remember the Doctor.
[THREE]: The Doctor. As I have said in the other points, he was a bit off. I had a lot of trouble visualising him as Paul McGann, as the words from his mouth seemed distant, almost undefined. But, as I said, I think this was intentional, as the loss of memory is having an effect on the redefining of his Persona. Even considering that, it still makes for awkward reading..
One aspect that Leonard played out well was the current Doctor's physical features (in part., his fetching good looks!), and the effect they have on those around him -- in this case, Alan Turing. Turing pulled no punches about his homosexuality, and upon first contact with the Doctor, he was immediately attracted to him as quickly as any woman. But, the Doctor is, and always has been, an assexual fellow -- tho' I image one Dr. Grace Holloway would argue that point.. (G).. Still, it works well here, allowing some expansion on his effect on the world around him -- something that didn't always translate well to the screen.
We've reached the end, and that leaves just one last bit: Is It Worth Seeking Out? I'd say yes, most definitely. Despite any nigglings or quabbles I may have brought up, or chose not to mention, it is an important book, further illustrating the redefining of the Doctor, allowing for more growth and bolder adventures. So, cutting to the chase, if you haven't picked it up or were hestitating, hestitate no longer..
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 10/5/01
The 3rd segment of the Stuck on Earth season brings a novel written from 3 different perspectives.
The 3 men in question – the writers of this reminisce – are Alan Turing, Graham Greene and Joseph Heller. It is refreshing to see different approaches to writing Doctor Who Books. I remember when the TARGET books were big – Myth Makers was so memorable, because it was different than the rest up till that time. Turing Test is like that – it stands out, because of its written style.
Knowing little about these 3 men I can’t comment on whether they are true to their personalities. But I do know they come across wildly different than one another. All credit to Leonard here for achieving this. Turing is timid, analytical, unsure of the world he lives in. Greene is brash, arrogant and untrusting. Heller is cowardly and selfish.
This book is basically a spy story. It involves all the intrigue, secret liaisons and travel round the world associated with that genre. It is set in late 1944, the end of the second world war. The Doctor is written excellently again. This time, after nearly 50 years stranded on earth, he is more confused. Clearly frustrated about his memory loss, this is a more sympathetic portrayal of the McGann Doctor.
The blue box that he is taking everywhere with him is slowly evolving. It is a wardrobe in this. The Doctor’s breakdown following the discovery that it is smaller on the inside than the outside, is a poignant moment – and sums up the heart found within the pages.
My favourite segment of the 3 was Turings. 2 confused individuals together (Doctor and Turing), latching onto one another, makes for much eccentricity and uncertainty. Overall a well-told story. The best Leonard book I have read. 8/10.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 10/10/01
Three famous figures of the Twentieth Century, Alan Turing, Graham Greene and Joseph Heller, each take their turn describing their part of an adventure with the Doctor, who seems driven to meet with a group of aliens broadcasting a signal from Dresden near the end of World War Two.
Leonard uses an unusual literary device -- three first person narrators -- to tell a very different Doctor Who story. Each voice is well distinguished. Turing kicks off the story, telling a story of mystery and unrequited love. Greene picks up the next thread, where paranoia and guilt run hand in hand while he tells of strange deaths in Africa and Paris. It's left to Heller to finish the tale, a man on the verge of self-destruction, but with a smile on his face.
The plot itself is straightforward, despite the shifts in viewpoint. Turing is pressed back into code-breaker duty when a strange signal is received from Dresden near the end of the war. The Doctor manages who slip into Turing's life and work, as he is as fascinated with the signal as the code breakers are. From there, the novel makes its inevitable progress to Dresden, where events come to a climax during that cityıs literal firestorm.
Leonard shows a gift for character. All three narrators come across as three dimensional, damaged people trying to do their best in surreal times. The Doctor comes across as very alien -- a concept most authors have had a hard time trying to communicate. And although he is in the background, this is very much the Doctor's tale. The aliens -- unexplained in an X-Files fashion -- benefit from their mysteriousness. The cast might be small, but each character has their moment to shine.
Leonard also deserves considerable praise for basing a Doctor Who story during this time period, and avoiding the now-cliche action of having the Doctor getting involved with Hitler and other upper-echelon Nazis. Instead, Leonard is very interested in how this most famous -- and violent -- of conflicts affects the characters. He lets their mood and actions show the insanity of war, instead of bludgeoning the theme over the reader's head.
Overall, this is an excellent tale, well written in all aspects. Leonard has crafted something special that rises above the constraints of normal sci-fi and into something more literate. If you'd like to show a non fan what makes good Doctor Who, give them a copy of The Turing Test.
9 out of 10.
The Talons of Li Hsen Chang by Jason A. Miller 12/11/01
Whenever I open a Paul Leonard Doctor Who novel of late, I feel dread in the pit of my stomach. I've come to expect short books that open with 200 pages of terrific writing. Then comes a false sense of security -- "Maybe this will be the one that breaks the streak." Finally, the letdown: 40 pages of a haphazard, sloppy conclusion -- something you can imagine was scrawled in the margins of a newspaper while the author was getting his shoes shined in an airport. At Christmas.
The Turing Test comes at a critical time for the Eighth Doctor, so it was even more vital than ever that Leonard deliver a book that actually concluded. In the third book of the Caught-On-Earth arc, our Doctor, sans memory, friends, and TARDIS, has been stranded for 45 years, and is only just beginning to piece together that he's not human. It's Leonard's task to portray the Doctor's first attempt at breaking his exile -- and also the return of bona-fide outer space aliens, last seen before the Doctor's amnesia.
Oh, and it's World War II, just in case you thought the book would be simple. Can any author juggle all of these tasks in 240 pages and come out a winner?
Leonard's narrative choice is interesting. For the first book to seriously wrinkle the Tabula Rasa Doctor of The Burning and Casualties of War, the wrinkling is done without any scenes from the Doctor's POV. There are three different first-person narrators: Alan Turing, Graham Greene, and Joseph Heller. Each narrator tells a bit and piece of the story, dies, and hands off to the next man. Classic Paul Leonard on two grounds -- he gets to kill characters off, and he gets to leave a story unfinished not just once, but, how gratifying, to do it three times over!
The Turing sections are seemingly written in the man's final minutes, before his suicide. Hence the endless self-deprecations, and asides on appearance and hygiene. A curious angle, at best, and weird at worst. But, being weird, this was probably the best way to open the story. When the Greene portion begins, there comes the book's only lull. I was dreading the final Joseph Heller segment, but to my surprise and delight, this is the best of all, the most manic writing and (arguably) the most sensible standpoint of the three narrators. Typical that Leonard would save the best for last, knowing that there would be so much less of it than the earlier narratives.
The Doctor's final revelation -- that, like Li Hsen Chang, and so many other stooges and collaborators we saw in TV Doctor Who, he's been duped and left behind by the aliens he tried to help -- is a fascinating one. It contrasts nicely with the genially enigmatic Doctor of Burning and Casualties of War. For once, you worry about this character. It's also nice that the Doctor himself doesn't have to spend pages and pages moaning about his fate. The book ends on this sharp note.
Some of the endless recitations on religion and morality and, even worse, science, are rubbish. So is the final segment, with our heroes playing out a silly game of "Tag" as Dresden burns. If the manuscript hadn't presumably been delivered on the final day of September, just in time for the October release, that portion would've been sent back, and lengthened. On the whole, however, the ending of The Turing Test fits in well with the rest of the story. Maybe I won't dread the final chapters of Paul Leonard's next book.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 22/11/01
The Turing Test is one story told by three authors. Mathematician Alan Turing begins the tale, novelist Graham Greene continues it to the best of his abilities, and finally CATCH-22 author Joseph Heller completes the story. Long time readers of the Doctor Who line will no doubt be quaking in fright throughout the final sections - not because of the writing or fear of a manic Yossarian, but from prior exposure to Paul Leonard's books where the endings are often short, hurried or just plain missing in action. Fortunately, this is a book that holds together extremely well throughout its entire 242 page run.
This is an extremely well crafted story. Since this is essentially one story told from three separate viewpoints, there is a certain (albeit small) amount of overlapping. At many times in later sections, I would be eagerly flipping back to earlier portions to revisit an event that had previously been described. Every time I did, I would be rewarded by the new insight or the different perspective (or just the wonderful bickering between the narrators). It's constructed very well and is quite clever once you realize some of the stuff that Leonard is subtly slipping into the story. The attention to detail is quite good and certainly very impressive.
As in Casualties Of War, we get a slightly different view of the Doctor depending on which narrator is in control of the story's pen. Each one sees the man differently based on their own prejudices and background. This arc is being handled rather well, and the ending of this particular book is powerful in terms of the individual story being told, and also in the larger context. I'm fairly surprised with how effective it ended up being.
As with the previous two books, the story doesn't end with everything totally spelled out for the reader. But I think this works to much better effect here in The Turing Test than in either of those two tales. Here, we have exactly enough framework constructed in order to form one's own conclusions without going into too much detail. As this is a completely character based story, the specifics are entirely irrelevant to the narrative. The book ends exactly where it should, with the Doctor confused and ultimately alone, frustrated at the very last.
All in all, this is a very impressive piece of writing. Each of the three narrators have interesting voices that serve the story well. While the book drags a bit during parts of the middle Greene section, the rest more than makes up for them. Highly recommended, as this is something that the books should be doing more of.
Three voices... by Joe Ford 23/3/04
I read this in a post on Outpost Gallifrey by a man called 'ajd' (aka Andrew D) and I couldn't agree with it more...
"Which is why I prefer the BBC Books to the NA's... while the NA's had some interesting ideas, on the whole they're pretty poorly written books. Wretched prose, unrealistic dialogue, erratic pacing, and interminable fannish references. Re-reading them recently I realized how unprofessional the bulk of them are, with some worthy exceptions. Under Richards, I have to say that on the whole they are much more successful as novels. Whilst I bleat on about the amnesia, I have to admit that from a literary standpoint, nothing the NA's put out can match the quality of the writing and structure since Richards took over the EDA's.It was during The Turing Test that I realised how far Doctor Who fiction had come. This is as damn close to perfection as literary Doctor Who comes and I cannot think of a single Virgin adventure that I have enjoyed this much. Leonard during the Darvill-Evans/Levene stage was a substandard author, writing interesting novels for sure but lacking sorely in the prose and ending departments. There were signs of improvement during the early EDA stages, Dreamstone Moon and Revolution Man showing a marked improvement but hardly reaching the heights of The Turing Test. I find it hard to believe this isn't something to do with switching to a superior editor. It makes me ache with anger when I think the books are heavily criticized when they are producing works as magnificent as this (and Year of Intelligent Tigers, City of the Dead, The Crooked World, Camera Obscura, Sometime Never... etc, etc).
It is a rather short novel but it never feels hurried or lacking, it is an intelligent, perceptive piece that is written intimately in the first person. Or three first persons. I love how Leonard has the nerve to have Greene comment that he would never dare change a narrator in one of his books because readers find that sort of thing irritating. Had this book been written in the third person narrative it would have been an astonishing read, a gripping trip through WWII but by allowing us to get this close to the characters, the narrators, it is experimental too in a way that we needed during this fresh new phase in the Doctor's life. The Earth arc was all about new beginnings for the EDA range and books such as this prove what an asset it was to shift the direction of the series so differently. This would have been a fine achievement had Leonard chosen to narrate the story from any three characters' POV but instead he has the audacity to explore his story through three historical figures, Turing, Greene and Heller. And somehow, somehow he manages to pull it off spectacularly.
Without trying to dish out faint praise we are simply not used to anything this astounding from Paul Leonard and it comes as a wonderful surprise that he is capable of creating something this good.
Dealing with the sections in turn (which is only fair since Leonard has gone to so much trouble to ensure the book never stops giving) I found the Turing sections to be the most gripping despite the fact that the least amount of ground is covered. The first three chapters of The Turing Test are just magical, the magic surrounding the Doctor and Turing's meeting, Turing's reluctance to trust him despite his aching attraction, the Doctor's terrifying scream, Turing's betrayal of his friend... it is such an absorbing introduction to the story.
Turing is such a fascinating character, both in hearing his thoughts (which endear him to the reader) and in how the other two narrators perceive him (which is far from endearing). I love a writer that dares to tread in murky territory and Leonard brilliantly tempts fate with the fans as he writes an almost gay romance for the Doctor. The text swings in close to the two characters, the Doctor clearly using Turing for his mind whilst willingly leading him on to ensure his co-operation and yet enjoying his company and companionship. On an intimate level this is much closer to love than the Doctor reached in Casualties of War because Turing is so clearly besotted and the amnesiac Time Lord clearly uses that to his advantage, hugging him, standing arm in arm, begging him to come to Dresden with him. It is wonderful moment where the Doctor dismisses Greene's homophobia, suggesting Turing has a deeper sense of loyalty than him. A thousand million times better than Craig Hinton's "I'm still a human being!" moment in Millennium Rites.
Listening to Ian Briggs' commentary on The Curse of Fenric DVD it surprised me to learn that he initially wanted to deal with Turing and his homosexuality in that story but Doctor Who's status as a kids show forced him to disguise him as Judson and his sexuality hidden as his disability. It is another example of the huge leap the novels have made with the series where a gay character can be highlighted, his feelings explored, cherished and criticized.
There is much more to Turing than his attempts to seduce the Doctor however. His sections are written in a gripping analytical style that befits the man, the way he takes apart every problem, every person is captivating, trying to break down all human behaviour into an equation, a decipherable understanding. Since the Doctor is pretty much the most unpredictable force in the universe it comes as no surprise that he should feel attracted to the one force he cannot understand or analyse.
Which leads to a plot of conspiracy and paranoia, all set against the comfortable backdrop of Turing's life during the war. Being a man of intelligence and status Turing was not exposed to the chaos, bloodshed or sacrifice, he is sent to Paris to break codes and discusses the losses. Interesting that we don't see any of the action until Greene's section, the introduction to the story far more concerned with the relationships, the coded message and the Doctor's strange obsession with getting involved.
On my first read of this story I was disappointed when the book switched narrator, Greene's aggressive dismissal of Turing seemed a little harsh considering we had spent the first one hundred pages close to the man. But it is clear that Greene makes a valuable contribution to the book, branching out the story considerably. Suddenly we are in Africa and introduced to the aliens the book is centred around, the Doctor's association suddenly a lot clearer (as he clearly knows a lot more than he tells Turing on their initial meeting) and we get some valuable answers as to why he was disguised as Mr White and who the mysterious Elgar is.
Greene's story is also one of passion and in painful contrast to Turing's yearnings he actually manages to get his end away but with the worst of consequences. Both men are driven by their obsession with their chosen loves, Daria proves to be the perfect bait for Greene and she expertly manipulates his involvement. Soon he is travelling through war torn Germany with Elgar, avenging his lost love that he thinks the Doctor has deliberately killed.
Greene is a bit of a bastard all told and Leonard writes him so, pessimistic, aggressive and shallow. It is a terrific contrast to Turing's childlike musings, this man has seen what the War has to offer and it has hardened him so. The middle section rolls on excitingly; the way the plot dovetails with Turing's is quite skilful. I love the journey to Dresden, the War has rarely been conjured up this well in any book I have read, the Germans lost but refusing to surrender their dignity, the Allies bombing the railway lines indiscriminately, the taste of cordite in the air... it's all very atmospheric and gripping and plants you right in the action.
Which brings us to Heller's section, easily the funniest part of the whole book despite the dynamic ending. As he says himself his prose is gappy and hurried, the musings of an old man with better things to do with his time. Maybe he does hurry the story along a bit but it is still hilarious, his "Quack Quack" attempts to prove he is insane to escape the War, his Court Marshal (where the mad Colonel is determined to see him shot) and how he is expertly co-erced by the Doctor into helping fly him to Dresden.
Heller is the most human of the three because he is driven by a very realistic desire, to stay alive. To this end the Doctor uses him as he uses everybody in the book, even to the point of having him kill somebody. It is through Heller's eyes that we see the Doctor at his most damning.
The climax of the book is worth major discussion for the implications it places on the Doctor's NEW character. Taking place half in Greene's story and half in Heller's, the shocking bombing of Dresden is captured a little too uncomfortably. During which the private affair between these four men and the aliens plays to its conclusion. In the most dramatic of twists it is the Doctor who is revealed as the most unsavoury contributor, his every act in the book all conspiring to achieve the selfish climax of leaving the Earth with the aliens. Along the way he has lied, killed and played with people's feelings. His sudden realisation of what he has done, how far he was willing to go in order to escape is gob-smacking, for him and the reader. This is a dangerous man, one who is willing to sacrifice his principles in order to achieve his goals. Once again the Doctor is an unpredictable force...
There is just too much here that is good. The Doctor's note that suggests he and Turing meet by their friend the Griffin. Their being ejected from the pub because the landlord thought they were banging each other when it was just the Doctor having a fit over the empty TARDIS. Standing on the train together with their champagne glasses ready to embark on an adventure in Dresden. Greene's final submission to passion as he betrays his wife and mistress and sleeps with Daria. Her shock death at the hands of the Doctor's device. Greene and Elgar discussing the morals of the War during their journey to Dresden. Heller being offered his own vote as to whether he should be shot or not. His initial belief that the Doctor had killed the three bodies shot down by German border guards. And of course the final act in Dresden, the streets burning, a dramatic backdrop to the private events taking place between the narrators.
As Finn Clark puts it, there is nothing to critisize about the book. As Mike Morris puts it, a Doctor Who book that is absolutely flawless. As Rob Matthew puts it, a fantastic evocation of three irreconcilably different voices. I mean c'mon, would you argue with these three?