Tuesday, February 24, 2009

ghosts of india

The cover design team has done a fabulous job with this book. Some of the new BBC books’ covers are, in my opinion, a bit unimaginative. Back in the day, the EDAs and PDAs sometimes had drawing-ish covers, whereas now (for cost-effectiveness, according to Simon Guerrier), they have to feature photos. The photos here are perfect, though, because putting Donna in what she wore in “Fires of Pompeii” makes the cover all that more plausible (though strictly speaking Donna never dons Indian garb).

The simplistic way of describing Ghosts of India by Mark Morris is Donna Does India, which is great because as far as I know, there haven’t been any adventures actually set there (certainly none of the BBC books have come close, and it’s so nice when we leave the British Isles for America or further afield). The story is as simple as the Doctor and Donna meet Gandhi, which is such a good idea you wonder why no one did it before. The year is 1947, the British are about to pull out of India, and it’s a perfect place in which to introduce chaos and anarchy, which the Doctor is there to clean up. From just the Gandhi aspect, the book is exceedingly fun. The rest of the story, involving alien factions hunting each other for reward, has some scary images—the “half-made men” of the title remind uncannily of the 2001 sightings of the “Monkey Man” in New Dehli—but, like so many of the BBC books in my opinion, never kicks into highest gear. No matter, I still found the story quite enjoyable.

It is my first Donna book. It had been decided by the Powers That Be to do two series of Martha books, so that the writers of the books would have a chance to watch the “new” Donna in action on TV, or at least have some idea of her new character, before they started writing her. I agree with the decision for two reasons, because it obviously yields a more consistent Donna, and because I wanted more Martha books! For that reason, it’s a bit odd for me to admit that it took awhile for the gears to click into place that it was Donna saying certain lines. Strangely, I kept hearing her saying them with an Australian twang—that’s right, I was imagining Tegan saying the lines! (Which isn’t a stretch, really.) I think Mark Morris gets Donna basically right. He does a good job with Ten, as well, though he really pushes angsty!Tennant with about a thousand lines on how this Doctor is so unforgiving.

Getting the Doctor and Donna to Gandhi is a bit of a stretch. Donna wants a curry—in fact, she could ‘murder’ one—so they think they’re in 1937 Calcutta when the Doctor’s timed it a bit too late. Never mind, the way Donna gets separated from the Doctor—as all companions must!—is actually an exciting scene, nearly being trampled by a stampede of frightened villagers. Like in “Fires of Pompeii,” Donna encounters a nuclear family, though a bit more old-fashioned than James Moran’s hipsters. In fact, to my disappointment, the Campbells are caricatures of British imperialists, except for Cameron (who’s like the boy in Sting of the Zygons) and Adelaide, the daughter who does what she can by helping out in the refugee camp under the eye of Dr. Edward Morgan. I really wanted more from that relationship! Adelaide’s mother, however, is a total non-entity. Fair enough, I expect most of the British people left over from the Raj at this point were racist, nationalistic, Victorians (look at those presented in The Empire of Tea) but (as my research has shown; whistles innocently) at the time of the Mutiny in 1857, there were plenty of English people who weren’t like that. As usual, I flip to the acknowledgements page and wish Morris had left some sources.

If you thought Rose was a blunderer in history, Donna takes the cake. ‘We’re . . . er . . . hippies.’
‘You’re what?’ spluttered Sir Edgar.
Oops, thought Donna, wrong period.
But it’s Donna, so you accept it, especially when she gets in righteous lines like, ‘Coolies?’ said Donna. ‘What hole did you crawl out of? I’ll have you know that some of my best mates are from round here. My cousin Janice is married to a Sikh.’ I don’t know that Donna actually has that much to do, though, than mouth off. The Doctor spends a lot of the book telling the other characters he’s brilliant and only he can sort out of their problems.

Good thing, then, that Morris has captured Gandhi so perfectly. I have limited knowledge of Gandhi—we did study him for a short time in high school—but what Morris has written seems consistent with Gandhi’s pacifist beliefs, and it’s not that difficult to imagine Gandhi accepting aliens and the TARDIS with considerable aplomb. Here is a character who betters even the Doctor: ‘But what happens when you come up against an opponent who is incapable of respect? What happens when your opponent can only hate? What happens if by killing the one you can save the many?’
… ‘Then I suppose you must die in the knowledge that at least you have remained as merciful and pure as it possible for a flesh-and-blood creature to be.’
Donna’s reaction to Gandhi is so sweet and heartfelt, you realize this is what makes her a good companion. She resembles Rose’s “bleedin’ heart” mentality when she has a go at Lady Campbell for insisting on patronizing India and Indians.

Though the style in which the aliens and their reason for being in the picture is a bit gauche in my opinion, I do think Morris has got a great imagination. He has created the gelem, They were like Daleks without the intelligence, efficient but expendable. Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of all was that it took at least five members of a species to create each gelem warrior. There is something, therefore, very dark at the heart of this story, and when the Doctor, Cameron, and Gandhi are put into this gelem-machine . . . well, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it’s a memorable sequence and would surely be at home in any of the TV adventures. The ending is even a bit like “The Unquiet Dead.”

In terms of the basic gathering of characters and the setting, Ghosts of India was every bit as entertaining as I thought it would be. The rest, including the plot, was rather incidental!

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