Chapter 37. Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng Chiang (1977)

Synopsis: A London music hall in the late 19th Century is the setting for murder. Its proprietor, Mr Henry Gordon Jago, has just secured the services of a master magician of Chinese origin while a mortician called Litefoot examines a body fished from the Thames and covered in huge bite marks. The Doctor and Leela follow the clues that lead them into the lair of a Chinese God…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Terror in the Fog
  • 2. The Horror in the River
  • 3. Death of a Prisoner
  • 4. The Monster in the Tunnel
  • 5. The Quest of Greel
  • 6. The Tong Attacks
  • 7. The Lair of Weng-Chiang
  • 8. The Sacrifice
  • 9. In the Jaws of the Rat
  • 10. A Plan to Kill the Doctor
  • 11. Death on Stage
  • 12. The Hunt for Greel
  • 13. The House of the Dragon
  • 14. The Prisoners of Greel
  • 15. The Firebomb

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1977 scripts by Robert Holmes, just seven months after they were broadcast.

Notes: The ghoulish woman on the dockside who (on telly) discovers the body of the cabby, Alf Buller, becomes an old man who wants his reward – until he sees the state of the mutilated body. The young woman who Leela saves from becoming a victim of Magnus Greel is named Teresa Hart and Dicks explains that she’s up in the small hours of the morning because she’s employed as a waitress in a gambling club across London in Mayfair – just in case there’s any possibility of some other reason why a woman might be walking the streets alone at that time of night.

As he did with the cuddly Yeti in The Abominable Snowmen, Dicks also solves the basic failure of the giant rat on TV, too clean and plodding in its original form, but now ‘huge and savage’ with red eyes’, a ‘trumpeting scream’ and ‘yellow fangs bared in fury’. 

The Doctor taunts Greel by offering him a jelly baby (although North American editions change this for a jelly bean – utter sacrilege!). On TV, the Doctor recalls that Mr Sin – aka ‘the Peking Homunculus’ – was given to the Icelandic Commissioner’s children as a toy, but ‘something went wrong’ and the thing was ‘almost’ the cause of World War Six, but here there’s a little more more detail: the homunculus was really a programmed assassin, which ‘massacred the Commissioner and all his family’, which then ‘set off’ the World War. We later learn that Magnus Greel was the inventor of Mr Sin and that he triggered the war intentionally. As part of a ‘Supreme Alliance’ of dictators, he was defeated at the Battle of Reykjavik and, branded a war criminal, used the time cabinet to flee with Mr Sin to 19th-Century China.

There’s a slight addition to the last scene, as Jago invites Litefoot to a ‘little tavern’ for a ‘celebratory libation’. And it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Cover: Jeff Cummins provides a wonderful composition of the Doctor in his Holmesian gear, holding a shotgun, while behind him are Mr Sin, a giant rat and a circular design evoking the sewer. This is his first cover for Target, even though The Mutants was published earlier – and apparently it was later stolen from his portfolio, never to return. The 1994 reprint boasted Alister Pearson’s final reprint cover (as this was also the final release of the original Target books run), featuring the Doctor, Greel, Mr Sin and the head of the ornate dragon-shaped ray gun.

Final Analysis: Recently, this story has come under attack for the unsettling undertones inherent in the very racist genre it takes its inspiration from. While much of the problems are still here – an assumption that all the Chinese population of Limehouse are opium addicts, Irish Casey having ‘a weakness for the bottle’ as well as the general racism of characters from the time – there’s one section that suggests Dicks was at least aware of certain ironies; as Jago appraises the great magician Chang, Dicks makes a dig at the casting in the TV serial:

Perhaps he really was from China as he claimed. After all he really was Chinese, unlike most Oriental magicians who were usually English enough once the makeup was off. 

But Dicks also spells out that Chang’s own stage persona, speaking in pidgin English, is an artifice he employs solely to appease his English audience’s expectations; in this version, it’s the audience who are very much at fault. 

The opening chapter feels like Malcolm Hulke has stepped in to provide some social context by focusing on the different strata within the audience of the Palace Theatre:

The body of the theatre and the Grand Circle above were filled with local people, tradesmen and their wives and families, bank clerks and shop assistants. High above in the top-most balcony, known as the ‘Gods,’ the poorer people were crowded onto hard wooden benches. Labourers, dock workers, soldiers and sailors, even some of the half starved unemployed – they’d all managed to scrape together a few coppers for the big night of the week.

It’s an atypical observation for Dicks, but there’s plenty of social commentary throughout the story. Professor Litefoot is from a ‘wealthy upper-class family’ and his ‘aristocratic relations’ have ceased trying to get him to relinquish his calling to do proper work in the East End, instead of pampering ‘silly women’ in Harley Street. Chang considers the workers of London as ‘peasants’ – but presumably this is a description that places himself on an equal level to them – all subjects to higher powers.

Chapter 36. Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin (1977)

Synopsis: The Time Lords of Gallifrey enjoy immense power, living in isolation from the rest of the universe. On the day that the President of the Time Lords is expected to announce his successor, security is tight! Yet somehow, an obsolete and unauthorised time capsule – a TARDIS – has landed right in the heart of the Capitol. Its owner, a criminal called the Doctor, is nowhere to be found. Then the President is assassinated – and the Doctor is found holding the gun. But could there really be two rogue Time Lords at play? Soon, the future of the Time Lords will depend on a battle of wits between two bitter rivals – and it will be a fight to the death.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Vision of Death
  • 2. The Secret Enemy
  • 3. Death of a Time Lord
  • 4. Trapped
  • 5. The Horror in the Gallery
  • 6. Into the Matrix
  • 7. Death by Terror
  • 8. Duel to the Death
  • 9. The End of the Evil
  • 10. The Doomsday Plan
  • 11. The Final Battle
  • 12. The End – and a Beginning

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Robert Holmes’s 1976 scripts.

Notes: That epic crawl from the start of the TV version is dropped, though its main details are absorbed into the rest of the book. In his youth, the Doctor trained for a seat on the High Council on Gallifrey, but he grew frustrated at the ‘never-ending ceremonials and elaborately costumed rituals’ and the ‘endless accumulation of second-hand knowledge that would never be used’. The Doctor recalls ‘boyhood memories of forbidden games, of hide-and-seek’, while the spark that sent him to flee Gallifrey is described as ‘a final crisis’. Dicks builds in vague gaps in the story deliberately, as none of this completely contradicts other explanations for why he left Gallifrey, but it does add to his possible reasons. There are a few references to ‘the Omega crisis’ and the ‘Omega file’ [see The Three Doctors]. The Doctor’s TARDIS control room is in the more traditional configuration, with a console that has a column at the centre (the one on telly is the wooden one without a central column).

The large dome at the heart of the Capitol (not actually seen on TV until 2007) houses the Panopticon. Spandrell is ‘unusually broad and muscular for a Time Lord’ and Goth is ‘tall, handsome, immensely impressive in his elaborate robes’. Goth is now head of the Prydonians, with Borusa elevated to the status of ‘High Cardinal’. The captain of the Guard is Hildred (not Hilred). Runcible and the Doctor had been at school together, where Runcible had been ‘utterly fascinated by rituals and traditions’. Now, he’s a ‘small plump figure’ unlike his onscreen depiction. When the hypnotised guard, Solis, tries to wreck the APN cables, Spandrell shoots him repeatedly. 

The villain at the heart of the tale was revealed in the end credits but it wasn’t spelled out until the Doctor saw the shrunken corpse of the cameraman and realised who he was up against. For the reader, Dicks teases the identity and after his accomplice calls him ‘Master’, he starts to use this as the villain’s title, but it’d still be fairly easy for a new reader to wonder if this is the Master, or just a master, especially as this Master is even more gruesome than on telly:

The cracked, wizened skin, stretched tight over the skull, one eye almost closed, the other wide open and glaring madly. It was like the face of death itself.

Later, the Master’s ‘bloodless lips [draw] back in a smile of hatred. The Doctor describes his enemy to Borusa thus:

He was always a criminal, sir, throughout all his lives. Constant pressure, constant danger. Accelerated regenerations used as disguise… He was simply burnt out.

During the trial, the Doctor interjects to confirm that the witness, an elderly Time Lord, can hear loud voices, thereby disputing the prosecution’s claim that he misheard the Doctor’s cries of ‘They’ll kill him’.

The final chapter uses a variation of a Terrance Dicks favourite – ‘The End – and a Beginning’.

Cover: The decaying Master leers from the top of the cover, while a stern-looking Doctor, flanked by two Time Lords in ceremonial robes and collars, looks off to the side. I can scarcely believe this is by Mike Little, it’s a huge step up from his previous efforts. 

Final Analysis: Not much to add to this, to be honest; it’s a straightforward adaptation, which is going to be the norm for a while now. Dick adds a few little details here and there, so as is often the case, it’s just a matter of scale – the Panopticon houses many more Time Lords from many other chapters than we could see on telly – but doesn’t change anything too much. When he’s working from scripts by his pal Robert Holmes, perhaps he doesn’t feel the need or the inclination.

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.

Although it’s purely transferring the TV characters to the page, we can note here that this story boasts by far the largest number of roles for women in this era (a period of three years where the ratio of female to male is roughly 1:6, excluding Sarah Jane, but where six entire stories feature no women guest characters at all). This is especially relevant as a reworking of the Frankenstein story, where the underlying subtext, created by a woman writer, was a man trying to create life by completely removing women from the process. Here, we have a man failing to create an authentic lifeform, hiding out mere feet from a community of women who have survived for centuries entirely without men. Our leading lady runs around literally blind to the horrors around her but the hero only survives thanks to a sacrifice on the part of the main female guest character.

Solon’s laboratory lacks the traditional lightning converters and sparks we might expect, the Sisterhood’s own future is assured thanks to a ‘spark’ (in the form of a firework that clears a blockage in the flue of the sacred flame). All of this is present in the book too, but we’ll have to wait a while for the best adaptation of this. Clue: It’s aimed at much younger readers…

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…