The Turing Test.

TuringBooks  I placed the book on the table and glanced out of the window.  The train seemed to be moving too slowly into the countryside, and I also didn’t remember there even being countryside so close to Manchester.  Yet there it was, rolling fields of corn, windmills and even a tractor.  Something was wrong, I knew, but I just put my head back and enjoyed the view.

Only then did I realise someone was watching me.  I shifted my eyes from the window and let them dart across the carriage before stopping on the man sitting opposite me, staring at me in a way which I suspect he always looked at people.  I could feel my eyebrows register surprise.  It couldn’t be, could it?  What would he be doing here, and why would he addressing me so intently?

I tried to ignore him, something I never thought I could do, yet he continued simply staring at me to the point that I wondered if I’d spilled coffee on my t-shirt.  I looked down just in case but thankfully all I could see was brilliant white.  As I tilted my head upwards I could see that he was still there and he was grinning at me.  I heard myself apologising.

“That’s quite alright.” He said.

I thought for a moment.  That wasn’t the accent I was expecting.  Surely he only dropped the scouse lilt for voiceover work and film (unless he was playing someone from around my parts).  What was surreal was that I hadn’t become jelly, asked for his autograph or wondered if he was going to be in any of the 2009 Specials.  Instead, I was mildly irritated by the attention.

Which is when it dawned on me.  The green eyes glowing with intelligence, the long Bryronic hair, the velvet green coat.  This wasn’t Paul McGann.  This was someone else entirely.  Now, I was become rather nervous, because it meant I was also becoming rather delusion.  I sat bolt upright in my seat.

“You’ve worked it out then.”  He said.

“But, but, but…”

“Yes.”

“Except.”

“Yes, that too.”

By now I was sweating visibly.  The landscape hadn’t changed for quite some time.  The train carriage was almost empty too, which was entirely unlikely at quarter past five on a Wednesday afternoon.

“This can’t be a dream.”

“Well if it isn’t” He said nodding his head towards the aisle “Explain that.”

I titled my head too.  Katherine Heigl was at the other end of the train buying a cup of tea from the refreshment trolly.  She held up a packet of digestives and shook them in my direction.  “Honey?” She mouthed.  I looked behind to see who she wasn't talking to.  There wasn’t anyone there.  Katherine rolled her eyes at me and scowled.  Now evidently she wasn’t talking to me.

“Dream.” I said, trying desperately to rise to the challenge of being in fiction.

“Yes.”  He said brightly.

“So you’re a figment?”

“If you like.” He leaned forward ever so slightly. “Or not.”

It was my turn to roll my eyes.

“Whoever … whatever you are, what are you doing in my head?”

“Well…” He pointed at the book. “I rather wondered what you thought of that.”

I looked down at the small red paper back still sitting on the table where I left it.  On the cover in big blue writing was a name, then The Turing Test, an illustration of an enigma machine and at the bottom the author’s name Paul Leonard.  I unconsciously reached down and picked it up and began fidgeting with the pages, letting the edges skip past the tip of my thumb.

“It’s quite good.  I haven’t finished it yet.”

“Yes, you have.”  He said.

He was right.  I had.  The night before, whilst listening to Rachmaninoff on the radio.

“Yes, I have.”  I agreed reluctantly.
“And…”

What was I supposed to tell him …

“The truth.” He said, finishing the thought for me.

I considered the question for a moment, and then another moment just in case.  I breathed deeply.

“Well” I said,  “I can’t.  Well, I can but to be honest I’m so freaked out by the fact I’m the middle of appears to be a lucid dream, talking to a fictional character about a book in which he’s a character whilst an actress who's far too tall and for all I know too young for me is buying tea and biscuits at the other end of the carriage as we swoop through a European landscape and I’ll doubtless wake up (assuming I’m napping) or wake up in the morning (assuming I’m in bed) and choose to use a similar first person technique as appears in the novel to produce a piece of writing which will in the end be something of a non-review should tell you everything you need to know about what I thought of the book.” 

I was happy to get that off my chest.  In hindsight, what I could have said was that though the idea was sound, the execution was muddled.  That having three of the great figures of the forties, Alan Turing, Graham Greene and Joseph Heller writing about an adventure with the Doctor was a fun way of relating what’s now referred to as a celebrity historical.  That the section described by Greene and Heller were very reminiscent of their own fiction, The Third Man and Catch 22 respectively (an idea very much like The Unicorn and the Wasp, in fact) but that however well written, however authentic the atmosphere, at no point did you feel as though you were reading a Doctor Who story, that in experimenting it stretched the format too far even to the point of making whatever the story is supposed to be too incoherent and the aliens involved too underdeveloped.  That there’s mystery and then there's a kind of willful obscurity which drains away much of the excitement.  But I couldn’t tell him any of that because I had an idea what was going to happen next.

“Yes, but Stu, Stu, Stu, Stu, how do you know that you’ve been reading fiction?” He became agitated.  “How do you know I’ve not used an imbalance between your universe and my own to come through and talk to you about the book, the events of which really happened to me, because I want to see if there’s anything I’ve missed, something I could have done differently?”

“I don’t of course, but that would be the stuff of science fiction.”

“Touche.” He grinned.  “But truly.  Could I have done anything differently?"

"Why are you asking me?"

"I like what you did for Elizabeth.  I thought you might be able to help me too."

Given that I hadn’t really understood what I had happened with the aliens or his role in their demise and that the Elizabeth of which he spoke was also someone I hadn't really met except in an unorthodox book review (!), I didn’t have an answer.  So I simply said:


“You probably just did what you felt was right at the time.”

“Thank you.”  He seemed genuinely becalmed by that. “Thank you very much.”

At the other end of the carriage, I heard a perky American accent repeat the gratitude presumably to someone else.

“She’s on her way back.  I hope the tea’s better here than the last place I visited.”

“Where was that?” I asked, just as a rampant ringing sound filled the train.

“Time to wake up.” He answered.  And it was.

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