Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Turing Shroud: a lost Doctor Who novel pitch

In August 2001 I pitched BBC Books an idea for a Doctor Who novel called The Turing Shroud, about a post-millennial Earth where the computer was never invented. [Confession: the idea was inspired by a Guardian article, plus a dash of Gilliam's Brazil.]

The Turing Shroud was intended as an Eighth Doctor narrative to fit an alt-history arc with temporal antagonist Sabbath. It did get commissioned, but was much changed from my original pitch. The resulting novel - The Domino Effect - is among my worst.

I stumbled across my original pitch for The Turing Shroud while going through old files. Despite its eventual fate, I'm still rather fond of this lost version. So here it is, presented warts and all, straight from the original word processing document...

Imagine an Earth where the computer was never invented.

A world blighted by a Brazil-like blizzard of paper and bureaucracy. No faxes, no email, no web, no modems. Vast telephone exchanges struggle to maintain a service. Long wave radio is the norm. Power shortages are common. No direct debits, no cash machines. Newspapers are still typeset.

No photocopiers, just carbon copies. No jumbo jets or air traffic control – instead intercontinental travel is by sea or by airship. A trip to hospital is a lottery from which many do not return, as there are no computerised patient monitors, no scanners. Chaos on the roads as there aren't computer-controlled traffic lights.

The year is 2003 and Earth is on the point of anarchy. Human development has been deliberately suppressed for more than sixty years. The British Empire still rules the waves and waives the rules to suit itself. Events are being manipulated from behind the scenes by a radical offshoot of the British Intelligence Service But this reality is coming apart, fraying at the edges. The myth that this is the way life should be cannot be maintained much longer…

Enter the Doctor. He quickly recognises that reality has been altered – someone has been tampering with Earth’s recent history, halting technological progress. The Doctor believes he must find the culprits and undo the damage being done to the fabric of history. He aligns himself with an underground movement that believes new technology is the only way forward.

There is talk of a holy relic, the Turing Shroud – a cloth into which a genius has etched the secrets of a device that could revolutionise human life, a thinking machine. The relic and its author are held captive in the Tower of London. The Doctor tries to rescue Turing, only to find Sabbath about to murder the old man.

Sabbath dismisses the Doctor’s moral objections to this act, believing Turing to be the key to the focal point for this fractured reality. Sabbath says Earth’s history has been damaged but the effects are too slight – the perversion of history must be huge to collapse the focal point centred on the planet. Sabbath kills Turing but it changes nothing. The answer lies in the past…

The Doctor and Sabbath engage in a race back through time to reach the moment when the planet’s true history was first perverted. They trace the source of it all to the 18th Century and the machinations of the Service’s Star Chamber, which is itself being manipulated and directed by a single individual.

This individual is a harbinger of the creatures that will invade time from beyond the Vortex, a glimpse of the impending catastrophe. It possesses an almost limitless ability to toy with time and space, warping reality on a whim. Sabbath recognises the individual as the shape of things to come and venerates it. The Doctor sees the being as the dark destiny that awaits eternity unless the focal point on Earth can be saved. He knows he must destroy the individual.

But the being is a seven-year-old boy, born of man (perhaps even of Sabbath himself), and has all the capriciousness of a child. Can the Doctor bring himself to slay a child to save the future? Sabbath would not hesitate, but the Doctor is torn by his own sense of morality – what price murder?

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