PERT-WEEK - Doctor Who: The History Collection - Amorality Tale

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Christopher Morley delves into the history behind Amorality Tale...

The Third Doctor is dying and he knows it. Which gives Amorality Tale a certain poignancy - one of his last pre-Planet Of The Spiders outings seeing he & Sarah-Jane Smith arriving in the London of 1952 in the midst of a killer smog which slowly chokes the city.

The Ramsey Mob is in control of all illegal activity in the area, the Doctor himself seemingly the only man brave enough to stand up to them, refusing their "protection" for his watchmenders' shop Fixing Time.

His sideline is of course an elaborate cover for the real reason he's here! After finding a photograph of himself alongside Tommy Ramsey, the Mob's leader, dated back from 1952 in the present day, course is set for our nation's fair capital in a bid to find out how he found himself there in the first place..........

Its all part of what has gone down in history as the Great Smog or Big Smoke of December 1952. There's a simple scientific explanation courtesy of an Edinburgh University paper on the subject-
"The fog was triggered by the formation of a static layer of cooler air close to the ground as the night time temperature dropped. This is known as temperature inversion. Normally, air closer to the ground is warmer than the air above it, and therefore rises. Inversions are frequent on winter nights after the ground has cooled down so much that it begins to chill the air closest to it often causing mist to form as water vapour precipitates on dust particles.

Normally the morning sun swiftly breaks through the mist and heats the ground, which warms the air above it, breaking the inversion. But in December 1952 the accumulation of smoke close to the ground was so great that the sun never broke through, and the air stayed cool and static.

The term ''smog'' simply describes fog that has soot in it. Winter smog in which smoke, sulphur dioxide from the city’s chimneys, accumulated in the foggy air had been a feature of London life since at least the 17th century. However the industrial revolution of the 19th century in Britain’s major cities gave a dramatic increase in air pollution.

On 5th December 1952 hanging in the air were thousands of tonnes of black soot, sticky particles of tar and gaseous sulphur dioxide, which had mostly come from coal burnt in domestic hearths. Smoke particles trapped in the fog gave it a yellow-black colour. The water from the fog condensed around the soot and tar particles. The sulphur dioxide reacted inside these foggy, sooty droplets to form a solute sulphuric acid creating in effect a very intense form of acid rain."
But what if some malign alien influence also had a hand in it? Author David Bishop makes no secret of his love of London in his introduction to the History Collection reprint of the book, with many real-life locations key to the plot. Perhaps the most important is St Luke's Church, now home to the London Symphony Orchestra. Back then though, it was a regular place of worship for the committed Christians of the East End. As tells us:
"St Luke's began as a quiet parish set among the fields and marshlands that lay to the north of London. The parish was formed from part of the existing parish of St. Giles Cripplegate after the construction of St. Luke’s church in 1733. Londoners flocked to this peaceful location to escape the stench and stress of the city, passing through the old city wall at Moorgate.

The relationship between Londoners and locals wasn't always neighbourly: in the 15th century there were skirmishes around the nearby village of Hoxton, as villagers objected to hordes of townies trampling over their fields. In the end the crowds prevailed, and, like other villages on the outskirts of the fast-expanding city, St Luke's was inevitably drawn into London's powerful orbit."
And the parish priest, Father Xavier Simmons, is a man with a secret. Years ago, before he saw the light, he murdered a man on the steps of the very church he now serves. In the aftermath he saw the light, which he believed to be a sign from God. Of course, this being Doctor Who its never that simple. The heavenly light was in fact a sign from the Xhinn, warlike aliens seeking to colonise Earth, and every one of the Father's good deeds has been manipulated by them!

But does that make him or indeed any of the supporting cast, whom the book's very title invites the reader to judge, good or bad? It seems we are meant to judge them by their actions in a spin on the morality play. For while Ramsey is a gangster, with much blood also on his hands, he is hardly immoral, community-orientated with a sensitive mind hidden under bluster. Most of which Sarah-Jane sees at first hand having gone undercover in a sense among the Mob, the pre-feminism attitudes towards women almost shocking her more than whatever else goes on! Some of which would be barely believable to the Father's flock. But as Plunging Into History goes on to add:
"Due to their historical location outside City of London jurisdiction, St Luke's and Clerkenwell had long been regarded as a little 'beyond the Pale,' on the outer edge of civilised society, associated with religious nonconformists, political radicals and other subversives. From the late 18th century it was also linked to insanity."
Insanity brought about by the Xhinn as part of their plans. And its apt that the Mob should find itself here, too. According to Hidden London:
"From medieval times until the slum clearance programme of the 1870s its position on the edge of the City made the St Luke’s locality a haven for all kinds of prohibited activities, from astrology and wizardry to bear-baiting and prostitution. Thieves and pickpockets could make regular forays into the City and then lose any pursuer in the maze of courts and alleyways around Whitecross Street, which nowadays has a more respectable weekday market. The reputation of St Luke’s as a ‘rookery’ – a zone of criminality – reached a peak in the first half of the 19th century. ‘Flash houses’ – drinking dens and lodging houses where criminal plans were laid and stolen goods fenced – were more numerous here than anywhere else in London."
Just what the Doctor ordered, eh?

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