Chapter 35. Doctor Who and the Mutants (1977)

Synopsis: When the Doctor receives a mysterious object, it leads him and Jo to the planet Solos, a colony in Earth’s future empire ruled by a cruel and sadistic Marshal. The native Solonians are fighting for their rights to independence while also battling something far more puzzling – some of them are transforming into hideous insect-like creatures…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Hunters
  • 2. Mutant on the Loose!
  • 3. Assassination!
  • 4. Hunted on Solos
  • 5. The Experiment
  • 6. Escape
  • 7. The Attack
  • 8. The Trap
  • 9. The Fugitive
  • 10. The Crystal
  • 11. Condemned
  • 12. The Message
  • 13. The Investigator
  • 14. The Witness
  • 15. The Change

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts from a 1972 story by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.

Notes: Solos is a ‘planet of jungles’, but still looks grey from orbit due to the mists. Varan’s son is called ‘Vorn’. Dicks writes that the Doctor was exiled by the Time Lords ‘for some unknown offence’; obviously Dicks himself knows why – he co-wrote the story that saw the Doctor exiled (and so do we), but Jo actually doesn’t – the closest she gets is in The Doomsday Weapon, where the Doctor explained that he used to roam the universe before the Time Lords caught him and trapped him on Earth – but he never explains to her precisely why!

Professor Jaeger is ‘a vain and unprincipled man, desperate for scientific recognition, but without the talent to attain it on his own’; he’s disgraced back on Earth after some scandal involving results stolen from a junior colleague. The Marshal, meanwhile, came to Solos as a security guard and slowly climbed his way up the ranks to his current position; he sees himself as the supreme power over Solos, which is why he is so desperate not to lose his position. Standing at the mouth of the caves, the Marshal uses a device with a ‘directional microphone’ to overhear Stubbs and Cotton talking to the Doctor to uncover their treachery. The Marshal has a secret exit behind the desk in his office, which Cotton knows about.

Cover: Jeff Cummins makes his first appearance with a splendid photorealistic cover. A mutant leers into frame just as the TARDIS materialises in a red-lit cavern. As with Doctor Who and the Space War, the title page in early editions of this book claimed that the front cover showed ‘the third DOCTOR WHO, whose physical appearance was altered by the Time Lords when they banished him to the planet Earth in the Twentieth Century’. Er…

Final Analysis: Despite being a huge fan of the Third Doctor, this has always been my least favourite of his stories, largely because the Marshal is such a relentless bully. He’s still that here, but it’s at least useful to get the perspective of every character working around him. Even Jaeger, who is enabling his ‘scorched Solos’ policy, is doing so for scientific glory, not for anything that might benefit the marshal politically. Dicks manages to edit down the six episodes in a tidy fashion, so even though some speeches are summarised or cut back, all the beats are there in the right order.

Chapter 34. Doctor Who and the Planet of Evil (1977)

Synopsis: An expedition party on the remote planet Zeta Minor has been devastated by unexplained deaths and a rescue mission finds only one survivor. The arrival of the Doctor and Sarah provides convenient suspects for the murders, but the Doctor realises there’s another possible culprit – the planet itself…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Killer Planet
  • 2. The Probe
  • 3. Meeting with a Monster
  • 4. Tracked by the Oculoid
  • 5. The Lair of the Monster
  • 6. The Battle for the Spaceship
  • 7. The Creature in the Corridor
  • 8. Marooned in Space
  • 9. Sentenced to Death
  • 10. The Monster Runs Amok
  • 11. An Army of Monsters

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Louis Marks’ 1975 scripts.

Notes: The plaque marking the grave reads ‘Edgar Lumb’ (not Egard as on TV). We’re reminded that this follows on from The Loch Ness Monster and on leaving the TARDIS, Sarah is not ‘in the least surprised to find that they’d arrived in the middle of a particularly sinister-looking alien jungle’, which might just be a comment on Sod’s Law, but this is the first alien jungle she’s ever visited – and, on TV at least, she doesn’t visit any others!

Ponti is said to be ‘tall and dark’ (played onscreen by Gambian actor Louis Mahoney) and De Haan is a ‘stocky fair-haired’ chap (unlike the dark-haired Graham Weston on TV). The Morestran advance party are transported to Zeta Minor by ‘force beam’, disintegrated in a capsule and reassembled on the planet’s surface. The Doctor’s descent into the Black Pool is surrounded by ‘many coloured swirling currents’, while the anti-matter beast appears to resemble a dragon at many points. We learn that Vishinsky returns home to a hero’s welcome and a much-deserved promotion, while Sorenson becomes ‘the most famous scientist in the Morestran Empire’. 

Cover: The first edition has a cover by Mike Little, which again lacks the sophistication of the previous artists, showing the Doctor (inset) cowering from a fanged, snarling Anti-Man in the jungle. Andrew Skilleter uses the same photo reference of the Anti-Man for the 1982 reprint but to a much higher standard.

Final Analysis: Continuing the horror theme of this period is a mash-up of The Tempest and Stephenson’s perennial Jekyll and Hyde. Dicks takes the time to create backstories for Vishinsky (overlooked for promotion but very experienced) and Salamar (ambitious with friends in high places, but under-qualified) that really enhance the characterisation. Other than this though, it’s a fairly consistent adaptation from screen to page.

Chapter 33. Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius (1977)

Synopsis: The planet Karn is home to a secret Sisterhood who administer a sacred flame that can provide the secret to everlasting life. It’s also home to Dr Solon, a scientist with a very singular purpose – the resurrection of a Time Lord war criminal called Morbius. Only his brain survives, but Solon, with the help of his brutish servant Condo, has fashioned a monstrous new body to house the brain. All it needs is a compatible head – and the Doctor and Sarah have just dropped in for a visit…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. A Graveyard of Spaceships
  • 2. The Keepers of the Flame
  • 3. The Horror Behind the Curtain
  • 4. Captive of the Flame
  • 5. Sarah to the Rescue
  • 6. The Horror in the Crypt
  • 7. Solon’s Trap
  • 8. The Doctor Makes a Bargain
  • 9. The Monster Walks
  • 10. Monster on the Rampage
  • 11. Deathlock!
  • 12. A Time Lord Spell

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts his own scripts, which were hurried rewrites of scripts by Robert Holmes and broadcast in 1976 under the name ‘Robin Bland’.

Notes: The alien in the first scene is not specifically a ‘Mutt’ from The Mutants, but is identified as Kriz, a member of ‘The Race’, who are six-limbed mutant insects who ‘colonise, not conquer’ as they are a moral species, led by a ‘Great Mother, Goddess and Queen in one’. 

The sisterhood are dressed in black, not various shades of red as on screen. Maren uses a crystal ball. She enjoys immortality like the rest of the Sisterhood, but when they first discovered the secret of the flame, she was already old – hence why she looks ancient. Solon has made many clay busts of Morbius, destroying each one for not being right (yet he feels enthusiastic about his body for Morbius; maybe he just can’t draw fingers…).

The mind-wrestling battle skims over the other faces on the screen (you know the ones) without explanation, merely covered by Sarah having ‘a confused impression of even more faces on the screen’. Read after the events of The Timeless Children, it’s handy that Dicks saw not to lock down the identities of those other faces one way or the other. 

Cover: New artist Mike Little has a large portrait of the Fourth Doctor (using a photo reference from Robot) with Solon facing down the Morbius creature, all three outlined with a thick red line and electrical crackle (the red is dropped for later reprints). It’s a bit… basic compared to earlier efforts. The 1991 reprint cover used Alister Pearson’s gorgeously moody VHS cover, which shows the Doctor (as seen in Seeds of Doom) plus Solon, Maren, Sarah and the Morbius creature.

Final Analysis: It’s surely just a coincidence, or maybe just a product of the era being adapted, but Terrance Dicks follows Ian Marter’s debut with another horror novel. Considering the original script that Dicks wrote differed greatly from what became The Brain of Morbius, he resists the temptation to make sweeping changes to Robert Holmes’s transmitted version. What we get is a straightforward but sombre adaptation, not shying away from the more visceral descriptions, yet not quite reaching the levels of violence we enjoyed with Marter.

Chapter 32. Doctor Who and the Ark in Space (1977)

Synopsis: In the distant future, shielded from a long-past disaster, the entire population of Earth lies asleep in a wheel-shaped space-station. When the Doctor, Sarah and Harry arrive at the station, they discover that its inhabitants have overslept due to interference from an invading alien insect – a Wirrrn. As the parasite grows, it threatens not just the lives of the waking senior crew of the station, but the entire human race…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue: The Intruder
  • 1. The Second Invasion
  • 2. Sarah Vanishes
  • 3. Sabotage!
  • 4. A Fatal Wound
  • 5. The Wirrrn
  • 6. Time Running Out
  • 7. A Tight Squeeze
  • 8. A New Beginning

Background: Ian Marter adapts Robert Holmes’ 1975 scripts. He was the first and, to date, only actor to novelise a story he was in. 

Notes: Yes – Wirrrn! Marter gives the Wirrrn an extra ‘r’ as well as much more flexibility than their TV counterparts; the first invader Wirrrn is able to arch ‘its segmented tail up over its head’ as it grips ‘ the cables in its huge claw and sever[s] them cleanly with a single slice.’ Later, the Doctor suggests the Wirrrn grub might be a ‘multi-nucleate organism’ to explain how it passed through a grill. When Harry and the Doctor find the dessicated husk of the Wirrrn Queen in the cupboard, Marter gives us an interesting description of the insect:

He stared at the enormous ‘insect’ which lay crumbling at his feet. The surface of its segmented body was a glossy indigo colour; here and there were patches of twisted and blackened tissue, like scorched plastic. The six tentacular legs bristled with razor-sharp ‘hairs’. The creature’s octopus head contained a huge globular eye on each side, and each eye was composed of thousands of cells in which Harry saw himself reflected over and over again. The creature was fully three metres long from the top of its domed head to the tip of the fearsome pincer in which its tail terminated.

On arrival, Sarah is wearing a denim trouser suit and woolly hat, similar to items she wore during Robot on TV. In the prologue, the Ark is not in orbit around the Earth but in the outer reaches of the solar system [as it also is in Revenge of the Cybermen]. The autoguard is renamed an ‘Organic Matter Detector Surveillance System’ – or OMDSS – and the space station is renamed ‘Terra Nova’ (was the Ark expected to reach New Earth??). The Ark includes full-sized blue whales, elephants and palm trees. The support struts contain moving walkways, leading to the outer ring. Vira is over two metres tall with short, dark hair, while Noah is ‘a tall, slim but powerful man with short black hair and a trim beard.’

The Doctor’s journey to the solar plasma cells reveals a multitude of tacky, silver trails across every surface. The gestating Wirrrn lie somewhere high up above the catwalks of the solar stacks in the form of ‘clusters of pustular matter’. On her tight-squeezed journey through the ducts of the space station, Sarah reaches a clear section where she’s attacked by a Wirrrn. The Doctor, Sarah and Harry depart in the TARDIS, not via the transmat booths.

Cover: Chris Achilleos’s final cover for the range is a simple design, with the Doctor looking worried inset while a Wirrrn dominates the frame (which is bordered in the same yellow as Carnival of Monsters). The 1991 reprint cover by Alister Pearson has the same Nerva wireframe border motif as Revenge of the Cybermen, with a Wirrrn centre and a second, smaller Wirrrn in the foreground, making the perspectives look off. Perhaps this would have been better to have a semi-converted Noah, or a Wirrrn grub in the foreground instead? A 2012 BBC Books edition reuses an edited version of the original Achilleos cover, placing the Wirrrn and the Doctor on a white background to match the new house style.

Final Analysis: As mentioned in the introduction, this was one of four books I received as a Christmas present in 1980, the first Target books I owned, rather than loaning from the library. I might have seen it at the time (I was definitely watching the series by the time of the repeat of Planet of the Spiders) but my main memory comes from this novel – and then pirate videotapes that were circulating in the mid-1980s. Ian Marter brings a joyful flavour of pulp horror to this, which – considering this adaptation predates Alien, The Thing, The Fly etc – makes me wonder what his influences were: HP Lovecraft, is an obvious one; maybe R. Chetwynd-Hayes or Guy N Smith’s Night of the Crabs? It’s a definite conscious step towards horror fiction here though, and not even a child-friendly version either. 

The prologue details the first intrusion by a Wirrrn with foreboding (while an announced ‘second invasion’ turns out to be the Doctor, Sarah and Harry) and the bubble-wrap grub from TV becomes an amorphous ‘glob’ that drips from the ceilings and sparks with energy. Noah’s transformation is particularly gruey:

… with a crack like a gigantic seed pod bursting, his whole head split open and a fountain of green froth erupted and ran sizzling down the radiation suit, burning deep trenches in the thick material. 

I’m not giving stars or scores for these books, but this one really feels like it’s elevating an already excellent story. This Marter bloke is one to watch out for…