The novel “Ghosts of India” by Mark Morris was published for the first time in 2008.
When Donna feels a great craving for curry, the Tenth Doctor decides to take her to India, to a very special restaurant. Upon arrival, he realizes that the year is not the scheduled one but 1947. The restaurant sought by the Doctor was destroyed during the riots caused by the divisions within the Indian population.
The Doctor and Donna are also in danger of being involved in the chaos that hit India. As if that weren’t enough, many people in Calcutta seem to be suffering from a strange disease and others disappear. The Doctor realizes that there’s an alien presence behind those strange events and the danger could even concern Gandhi, with incalculable repercussions on the future of India.
“Ghosts of India” is part of a series of novels connected to the new “Doctor Who” series. They’re targeted to a wide audience by being linear enough to be appreciated even by very young readers but sophisticated enough to interest more mature readers.
Pseudo-historical adventures, set on Earth in a past era with the inclusion of an alien presence, have existed since the days of the classic “Doctor Who” series. In this case, the setting is India in 1947 with the independence followed by the chaos caused by religious clashes between Hindus and Muslims that ended up leading to the separation of Pakistan.
In some ways, the part relating to the alien presence is rather elementary. It represents an alien version of colonialism and the cynical exploitation of ordinary people as cannon fodder in wars that, on Earth or elsewhere, benefit only a few and cause pain for many. From this point of view, there’s a transparent parallel with the situation of India, which had just gained independence.
Mark Morris could also have explored the historical element further, from the independence of India to the subsequent religious tensions with their consequences on that area. Of course, these are themes that have been developed in big historical essays while in these “Doctor Who” novels the length is limited. However, sometimes, it seemed to me that the author included only the minimum elements necessary to define that setting.
The strong point of “Ghosts of India” is undoubtedly the presence of Gandhi. Important historical figures have appeared in many stories in the course of the “Doctor Who” saga, in television episodes and in literary works. Sometimes, they just make brief appearances, other times they’re functional to the plot but in some cases, they’re central figures and that’s the case of Gandhi.
Gandhi’s presence is used in various ways within the plot. “Ghosts of India” is set in 1947, in the last period of his life, so the possible alterations of history caused by an alien presence wouldn’t necessarily have had serious consequences.
In some ways, Gandhi’s presence is mainly used to make him interact with other characters and in particular with the Doctor to show the similarities and differences between them. There’s great respect for Gandhi, so much so that even Donna is definitely less of a pain in the ass than usual in his presence.
Considering how it’s centered on Gandhi’s figure, “Ghosts of India” seemed to me above all, a novel with an educational purpose in the original “Doctor Who” tradition. For this reason, it seems to me especially suitable for fans of the saga and younger readers, who can have fun and at the same time learn something about an important figure in recent history.