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Amorality Tale [Mass Market Paperback]

David Bishop
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 April 2002 Doctor Who
Doctor Who disguises himself as a watchmender and visits 1950s London to discover the cause of a mysterious fatality in the East End. 4000 people died here - their deaths linked to a choking smog that blanketed the area.

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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: BBC Books (8 April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0563538503
  • ISBN-13: 978-0563538509
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 11.2 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 724,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, but not enough to ignore the faults 13 Aug 2008
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The standard of writing in Doctor Who novels doesn't seem to be a priority with the publishers, but Amorality Tale is certainly one of the better attempts.

It has an interesting historical setting of the East End of London in the early fifties. However, since it is based on a historical event in which thousands of people really did die, I found this tasteless.

Bishop creates a likeable anti-hero in Tommy Ramsey and the chemistry between him and his mysterious new assistant Sarah Jane Smith is excellent until Bishop ruins it later in the book. But while I care about Tommy and Sarah, the Doctor is very underused and has little interaction with characters, so by the time he starts getting involved, I don't care and there's no chemistry between the Doctor and Sarah. Big errors in a Doctor Who novel.

As for the other characters, there are too many names to remember, and they all wash into one amorphous mess, while most characters are only set up to make the death count more emotional. Far too many people die in this.

I don't enjoy the ending, feeling it cops out. It doesn't follow through on the plot and isn't very clever. Also, it deals with `historical fact', which is always confusing in time travel stories, especially Doctor Who.

The book is enjoyable, but there are several problems, which when added to a feeble ending, mean I won't be reading this again.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Guns, lots of guns 27 April 2009
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The Third Doctor and Sarah-Jane Smith star in this fifties gangland tale that is a pretty good fit for a 1970s Earth-based Doctor Who TV story. David Bishop at least knows his Doctor and how to write for him; the characterisation is first-rate and the story whizzes along. Despite some depressing aspects concerning death and destruction that are slightly over-egged, this remains a decent and accessible story.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars CAPTURES THE SPIRIT OF THE PERTWEE YEARS PERFECTLY 26 April 2002
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
What an excellent book! - i'm no literary critic, but i know what i like - David Bishop, in my opinion has managed to write a story that just jumps out of the page at you - ironically i bought this book as i just wanted something to read during a long day off and it was the only one in the store i hadn't read - talk about serendipity!! i could clearly picture how the BBC would've filmed this story and how i would've smiled at some of the special effects (if you've read this you'll guess what i'm talking about)- the characters of the doctor and sarah were incredibly clear and the whole thing captured the spirit of their season together and slots nicely between THE MONSTER OF PELADON and PLANET OF THE SPIDERS - thereby extending the relationship between sarah-jane and HER doctor which, again in my opinion, was one of the more interesting pairings in the show's history - anyway, to sum up (after far too much waffle - sorry!)you must read this book, it's rivetting from beginning to end and brings the child-like excitement that was doctor who very much into an adult world without losing any of the magic!
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "You aren't Interested?" 26 May 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
When Sarah Jane presented the Doctor with a picture of himself shaking hands with a noted gangland leader of the nineteen fifties, she's surprised to find him less than interested. He's even less interested in the number of people who had died in the smogs hat year. But a strangeness in the Church behind the men had him rushing to the Tardis. With the Doctor taking up a shop as a Watchmender and Sarah Jane taking up a position in a less than salubrious shop, the pair soon find themselves involved in the gangland culture. As the situation deteriorates, the Doctor and Ramsey have their own solutions but they have to come to an agreement as the full nature of the problem becomes apparent. But how will the authorities explain so many deaths?
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressively recreates the choking, heavy sensation that something has gone terribly wrong and you may not make it 26 Jun 2012
By Michael Battaglia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
A couple years back I was chatting with a friend and in the course of that conversation (for reasons that are sadly lost to memory) one of us wound up mentioning the London Particular, specifically the massive one that wound up killing thousands of people. I remember commenting how amusing I found it that only the British would name an event so horrific something so mundane, and being amazed that something as unglamorous as smog would wind up murdering tons of people. The idea that such a confluence of habits and pollution would combine to create a literal killing wind (albeit a slow one) is fascinating to me and probably worth exploring in novel form, if someone hasn't done it already.

Alas, if you wanted to see someone take that event and insert a bunch of aliens and gangsters, then look no further.

The book is harmless enough on its face, but the more I read it I found myself being increasingly disquieted. The Great Smog of 1952 was a serious event that more importantly was a man-made event, caused by everyone burning lots of low-grade coal at the exact wrong time, when the weather caused it all to hang over the city and mess with anyone who had the slightest problem breathing. Even the conservative estimate of deaths is about four thousand, a huge number from basically dirty smoke, and acknowledging people's part in that event while exploring our inability to foresee the consequences of all that coal burning is a worthy topic even for "Doctor Who" to explore, with its occasional forays into environmental concerns (especially with the Third Doctor, the man who once told us about the planet screaming out its rage). In a way its scarier than any alien invasion because we did it to ourselves and what's scarier is we didn't even realize we were doing it until well after it was too late and the bodies had already stacked up. There's a horror to it in its mundanity.

Thus, taking a serious, real event and saying "It was aliens!" really puts a bad taste in my mouth. In a way it belittles our own part in the cause by sidestepping it for the sake of entertainment, dumbing it down and giving us not only a simplistic explanation, but a ridiculous one. It attempts to co-opt the drama of it by piggybacking the alien stuff to a real event but then strips the real event of all its power, which to me completely misses the point. I know it's only silly stupid "Doctor Who" and the kids just want to see cool aliens but imagine it taking something like the Exxon Valdez oil spill and pinning it on wacky aliens, in a way that absolves the people and decisions involved from any consequences. Yeah, its only entertainment but at what point does the entertainment have a responsibility to at least pay some lip service to reality, especially if the novel is deriving some of its power, even indirectly, from a real historical event.

I don't know, maybe I think about this stuff too much. Maybe I wouldn't have to think about this stuff if the book was better. In a miracle of contrivance, the Doctor and Sarah Jane wind up in 1952 basically because Sarah sees a picture of the Doctor shaking hands with a local gangster and thinks he has to be there so that the picture can happen. Apparently wanting to just get it out of the way, the Doctor says "sure" and suddenly they're in London a few days before the smog hits. Meanwhile, we're treated to a vast array of characters, starting with said local gangster Tommy Ramsey and his crew of thugs, who spend the first hundred pages indulging in cliches (he's tough but nice to his mom! his enforcer is huge but gentle with birds! somebody likes fire! there's a crooked cop on the take!) while getting ready to war with a gang of young toughs who want to take over. Meanwhile Sarah Jane tries to get a job with Tommy for reasons that seem vague (he beats people for kicks so let's get close to him) while the Doctor putzes around waiting for the plot to happen. Oh, and there's a priest feeding people delicious bread but that's probably not relevant.

It's quite possible that the author was deciding on taking the route spearheaded by Connie Willis' great "Doomsday Book" which has a time travel stranded in Europe just long enough before the Black Plague hits that we get to know everyone in tender detail before the disease starts to slaughter everyone in sight (except the time traveler, who was immunized). That book was a slow motion slaughterhouse, featuring people we had spent the book getting to know as old friends dying horribly while we watch helplessly. It brought across the horror of the disease to the level of the personal and allowed us to extrapolate it to the whole continent. Not quite the case here, as we're treated to hordes of people who are given names and vague personalities in the vain hope we form some attachment to them before they're killed. It still would have been an interesting tactic to take.

Except around page one hundred that all goes out the window as the aliens show up.

Prior to that there aren't really any hints that aliens are even involved except that the cover says "Doctor Who", but instead of kicking it up to another level they just make things even more ridiculous because they are simply generic aliens, conquering earth simply because This is What They Do and giving the Doctor someone to rail against. The aliens speak in a three part voice, vaporize people (except when the plot can't let them die and thus they just get teleported) and mind control the police force all so they can . . . what? It's not clear how messing with a small section of London is going to help them take over the planet (why not just feed everyone the fantastic bread and skip the gassing and slaughtering?) and they have precious little personality beyond "destroy!" and "we will subjugate you!" so we're basically treated to a litany of horror as ordinary townspeople are taken away and subjected to horrible fates (the aforementioned gassing, crushed to death, etc) but with the stakes unclear and the people ciphers, its difficult to care. Meanwhile, the gangsters have all banded together because, hey, this is their town and if anyone is going to terrorize the populace, it's them.

People run, people shoot, people die, people cough as the fog gets thicker and none of it gets any better, in fact it only seems to get more generic as time goes on. In a last move of desperation, the book drags in zombies instead and then becomes like every other zombie movie you've ever seen, except British and foggy and with gangsters. But it doesn't help. Even worse, the book is a mixed bag ethically, bending over backwards to try to convince us that brutal gangsters are people too (Tommy Ramsey, after coldbloodedly shooting a man in the face, has the gall to tell the Doctor "You're not so different than me" because he's trying to kill the aliens murdering the entire population) and gain us some sympathy. I understand that certain concerns can be set aside in extreme situations and I'm not going to get hung up on the past of someone who is currently saving my life but there are moments when its like people didn't live through the early pages of the book where the gangsters are terrorizing everyone for the sheer sake of power. Later trying to convert this to "We're keeping our end of town safe" as a justification for their heroics while ignoring the fact we witness them wantonly beating and shooting people for kicks (Tommy's first act in the novel is to tie up someone and shove him out of a moving car, while other scenes are concerned with protection rackets, including destroying someone's shop) when we first meet them is a bit two-faced of the book, trying to have its entertainment cake while scraping off the moral icing, to totally mangle a metaphor. Like, they're helping us now, so that makes everything else okay because they're not bad people deep down inside. It reaches its nadir when Sarah Jane muses that in another time her and Tommy might be attracted to one another, as if the reason Tommy acts like a brutal thug is because of his era and environment, not because he's a monster given a little too much power.

I'd be okay with some of this if the book made some kind of attempt to acknowledge these contradictions, or at least try to resolve these people as complicated characters, trapped by the times or circumstance or peer pressure. But there's nothing, everyone acts bad until the plot requires them to stop acting bad, then its all "for Queen and country!", while the book keeps chugging along until the aliens are dealt with. In the meantime little kids are killed simply for pathos and to gain our sympathy, Sarah Jane gets one moment of feeling bad about history being so cruel (why even come then, its not like she didn't know that thousands were going to die, its a known event and its not like she's in the picture to begin with . . . it's like traveling to the Battle of Verdun and being surprised that everyone around you is dying in clumps) before everything is back to normal. They don't even travel ahead to make sure the aliens stay dead, despite knowing they might reemerge in fifty years. Maybe we'll have a sequel. Great.

It's rare that a book fails for me on this many levels, it barely works as SF, it barely serves as history and it's not even that exciting as action-adventure. Even the Doctor is hardly distinctive, just a checklist of tics that the author goes through so we know it's the Third Doctor (Venusian karate, neutron flow and the Brigadier all get name checked, just so we're clear). Just when the Eighth Doctor line is starting to pick up, we get this. *sigh* Listen, I normally mark every review as five-stars out of both habit and laziness and there are few times when I actively consider breaking that habit. It takes a lot. This is one of those times. Be warned.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Woke Up This Morning 8 Dec 2003
By Jason A. Miller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
It's not a very good book, but "Amorality Tale" is actually one of the rare Past Doctor novels that would translate well to television. Set in December 1952, when the East End of London was choked by a killer smog that took 10,000 lives, David Bishop's tale is populated with gangsters and a man of God. Some creative casting turns the book into that science-fiction episode of "The Sopranos" that never got written, and all of a sudden this annoying little novel becomes a winner.
Think about it. Tommy Ramsey (it's spelled as "Ramsay" too) is the head gangster in the run-down East End -- which, in United States terms, is clearly the New Jersey, to central London's New York -- so he's obviously Tony Soprano. Cast him as James Gandolfini and you've got a deal. Meanwhile, his gang is being eyed lustily from the outside by a big-time gangster named McManus (or, depending on the page, MacManus) who does side deals with Ramsey's lieutenants and wears a camel-haired coat. That's Johnny Sack, played on TV by Vincent Curatola. Ramsey's bodyguard is named "Brick", the big guy with the sensitive heart. That's Big P, of course, so get Vincent Pastore on the phone. Bob Valentine, the drunken detective on the Ramsey payroll... well, he's either John Heard's detective from Season 1 of "The Sopranos", or the Bobby Valentine who used to manage the New York Mets. Meanwhile, Ramsey's doting mom may actually try to kill him. Sound familiar? The rest of Ramsey's mob is pretty faceless, but if you randomly read their dialogue with the voices of Tony Sirico and Joe Pantoliano, it's palatable.
Why go through this elaborate casting exercise? Well, to avoid the pain of all the downbeat badly-written death. We learn from the very beginning that the body count will reach five figures, so we learn not to get too attached to the many one-dimensional secondary characters we meet. But there is a neat trick to figure out just when they'll die. These cardboards are lovingly introduced with just a name (sometimes a first and a last name, even), and a comedic physical description. But that's all we learn... until the character's entire backstory is dumped on us in a three-paragraph splunge. When you see that splunge.. duck! Someone is about to die horribly! It's the summer blockbuster tactic of not naming a supporting character... until the moment before his death, when his name is used four times.
Amorality Tale does well with its prose for about 100 pages. The Doctor and Sarah infiltrate themselves into the East End and watch Ramsey square off against an upstart kid named Callum. We know Callum doesn't belong, because he has pale skin and black eyes. We also know that the man of God, Xavier, doesn't belong -- he's a Catholic priest but his liturgy is entirely Pentecostal (on "The Sopranos", the Catholic priest was played by Paul Schulze, who also plays a good guy/bad guy on "24", so he fits in this cast too). Oh, and there's clearly something odd about the Bread of Life he's trying to sell. So those are the two mysteries. But on page 100, Callum's secret is revealed, and the novel falls apart with an annoying screech right there.
We're introduced to the inevitable alien race, given only a vague description as "creatures of light and darkness". What does that mean? Actulaly, they're also said to have "a hundred eyes". Yes, but there's a song that says the night has a thousand eyes! And a thousand eyes can't help but see. Top that one, will you?
The Pertwee years were characterized not by monsters, but by developed alien races. The Silurians, the Peladons, the Draconians... these were literate creatures, with a purpose. Event those aliens that wanted to conquer Earth -- Nestenes, Axons -- were given a twist (the Nestenes could manipulate plastic, and Axos came in friendship). The Xhinn, however, just want to grind up the humans into paste. Their "twist" is that they come in groups of three, and speak for pages at a time in single-sentence paragraphs. Boy, doesn't this eat up the word count 'til the cows come home.
By the book's final day, just about everyone is dead. I think only four named characters survive. There's an attempt at Pertwee-style morality when the villains are dispatched, or when Ramsey continues to kill after earning the Doctor's trust. Nothing ground-breaking. Finally, in the epilogue, a long-dead character comes back to life. O-kay. Thanks for playing. Time to store my copy of "Amorality Tale" in a bowling bag and spend a long weekend in the Pine Barrens with a Czechoslovakian interior decorator.
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly well written; hurts your heart in a good way 27 Oct 2011
By gfs - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the most well-written tie-in book I have ever read, for any fandom, not just Doctor Who. The action and mystery suck you in straight away (I devoured this book in one sitting.) David Bishop paints the setting so well you feel like you're there, in the grimy and smoggy streets. He somehow manages to juggle multiple original characters, giving each their due and reason for the reader to be interested in them and/or invested in their fate. Usually original characters annoy me and make me yearn to get back to the characters from the show (the reason I'm reading the tie-in book in the first place), but these characters grew organically from the world they were placed in, and were complex and morally ambiguous and made you want to know more. As a minor quibble, I will say that I feel the romantic tension between Sarah and the main gangster got a bit forced--it would have been more convincing if it had remained subtextual, rather than both parties admitting to themselves that in another time or place they might have pursued a relationship.

It's interesting too to see a Doctor Who storyline tackle a historical mystery that has nothing to do with famous people or events, but rather a forgotten event in which a great deal of "little people," poor and without influence, perished. It's a harsh bit of commentary on our collective memory, and one that the author makes sure strikes at your heart when you've gotten attached to many of the side characters.

The only real problem is that Bishop paints such a fascinating portrait of working class London and all the layers within, that once the aliens show up you can't help but feel let down. The sci-fi element feels a bit forced and simplistic, compared to the gritty detail of the historic side.

Is this a depressing story? Yes, very. I'm an angst junkie, and I like that kind of thing. If you're looking for something silly and happy-go-lucky, this one isn't for you. But if you like a little emotional pain in your reading material, I urge you to give this a try. You won't be able to put it down.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Smoggy Who 30 July 2002
By David Roy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Amorality Tale offers a very rare combination for the Who fan: a pairing of the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith. It's an intriguing combination and one I've been awaiting for quite awhile. The story, however, doesn't do them much justice. It suffers from a stock alien race, tired writing, and is damnably depressing to boot.
Don't start reading Amorality Tale if you're already down in the dumps. There is so much death, destruction, and evil atmosphere that it could bring down Kathie Lee Gifford. The book almost wallows in it at times. I see the intent behind it, which is to make the alien Xhinn a very vile race, worthy of what the Doctor has to do to stop them. However, it doesn't come off very well and just lies there like a lead balloon. Not only that, most of the people who die in this book are ciphers, so we don't really have anything invested in them. It's like reading death statistics in the newspaper. Sure, it's sad, but why should we care on an emotional level? Bishop tries to give humanity to some of them, but it's so superficial that it doesn't work.
The characters, for the most part, are a bunch of cliches. There's the couple who never really loved each other, but come together at the time of greatest crisis. The gangsters are mostly stock characters, speaking their gangster lines like in most movies of the type. Tommy's a mean guy, but loves his mom and has a few noble qualities. There's the hard-done-by woman across the street with three kids and no husband, with no prospects in life but getting by. There's the thug with the heart of gold, who really doesn't want to be doing what he's doing, but keeps it up out of loyalty. We've seen all of this before.
The regular characters don't suffer quite as much, though I thought Sarah was slightly out of character. A bit of a relationship develops between her and Tommy that I don't see the "real" Sarah allowing to happen. Sarah is an activist and a feminist. She realizes that she has to adapt to the time period she's in, but that shouldn't change her actual attitude. I don't buy the grudging respect that she develops for Tommy, even as she hates his exterior. I can see the "necessary evil" aspect of allying with him against the Xhinn, but not the rest of the relationship.
The Doctor and Sarah do have some good scenes together, however, and Bishop does get their relationship almost exactly right. The Doctor knows that he can't change history and that he has to balance stopping the Xhinn with allowing the people who actually died in the smog to carry out their destiny. Sarah initially resists this, feeling that the Doctor is being heartless, but she begins to understand the position the Doctor is in. It's a bit heartwrenching. While it does add to the general depressing atmosphere that clouds the book, in this case I think it's effective. The Doctor's character does suffer a bit from Bishop using too many of his mannerisms from the TV series, however. While the character should be recognizable, he shouldn't be just a collection of Third Doctor cliches. He uses the Venusian martial arts just a little too much for my taste. It's become a stereotype and I wish Bishop would have avoided it a little bit.
Finally, we come to the Xhinn. I am getting tired of monolithic races who want to invade Earth just for the sake of invading Earth. Here we have another race that just colonizes planets for the heck of it, with no real motivation otherwise. Again, this is a Third Doctor cliché (though the rest of the TV series suffered from it a bit too). Again, it's one that I wish Bishop would have avoided. They're almost like a force of nature rather than a race of intelligent beings. It's a bit more understandable in the TV series, but in novels, the villains should be fleshed out more. As it is, they're just in the book to be evil.
Ultimately, this book fails on a couple of levels. It isn't very entertaining, and it's not very interesting, either. There are lots of scenes of death if that's your bag. Otherwise, though, I'd avoid it. The Third Doctor and Sarah deserve a better story.
*Note: I did appreciate the historical note about the real London killer smog. I was intrigued by the idea enough to go do a little research on it, but then saw the note and didn't have to.
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