Review – Doctor Who: Ghosts of India

Mark Morris, Doctor Who: Ghosts of India (BBC Books, 2008)

I have just re-watched “Planet of the Ood” on the CBC, and have begun to pick up on the things that seemed meaningless on first viewing, but make more sense (and even become very, very relevant) in context of the season finale. I only mention that here because this novel is best placed between “Planet of the Ood” and “Sontaran Strategem”.

This is the first original Doctor Who novel I’ve read since the BBC ended the series of novels featuring the first eight Doctors, and focused on those featuring the 9th, then 10th Doctor. I particularly adore any Doctor Who historical story (pseudo- or otherwise), which was the primary reason I picked up this book on the day it was released in the UK.

Donna Noble has a curry craving, and the Doctor indulges her by taking her to colonial India. Of course, he gets the timing off slightly, and manages to land in Calcutta in 1947, in the middle of the upheavals that will eventually lead to India’s independence from the UK. But in addition to the Indians rebelling against their British overlords, there are the “half-made men” roaming about, shadows where their eyes would have been.

Just like in the TV stories set in the past, the Doctor encounters a significant historical figure, in this case, Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi. And just like in those TV stories, the Doctor just gushes when he meets Gandhi for the first time. But in that same sequence, there is a moment of gravitas when the Doctor and Gandhi wax philosophical about how similar, and yet how vastly different, their belief systems are. The genuine camaraderie between Gandhi and the Doctor, and later, Donna, is handled well, although I think Gandhi seems to accept the otherworldly events happening around him a bit too casually.

As for those otherworldly events, the main antagonism in Ghosts of India is not what it seems, and I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting a role reversal when the real threat is exposed. The way this threat is neutralized is handled well, as is the Doctor handing some responsibility to Donna to help out a lot of Calcuttans caught in the alien machinations.

Mark Morris seems to have his characterizations down, from the Doctor’s usual manic self (although I couldn’t get used to having the sonic screwdriver reduced to the single, first word) to Donna’s in-your-face attitude, especially when being handled by colonial administrators and military types. The minor characters (particularly the Campbell family) were also given enough background and description for you to be invested in them for the story, but could easily forget them afterwards. However, I was expecting just a bit more between Adelaide and Edward beyond their strict professional relationship.

Ghosts of India is definitely worth a read, if you can find it on this side of the Atlantic. I don’t think I could have picked a better novel to restart my forays into original Doctor Who fiction. I should start going back into the back catalogue. Anyone with good suggestions?

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