Synopsis: The TARDIS falls into another universe – Espace – and lands on Alzarius, a planet with the exact same coordinates as Gallifrey, except in negative. They meet a young boy called Adric and discover a small and terrified community housed in an ancient spaceship. The people of Alzarius are preparing for a cataclysmic event called ‘Mistfall’ when the air becomes unbreathable and strange creatures emerge from the marshes. The marsh creatures lead the Doctor to uncover a secret that has been hidden for generations.
- 1. ‘I Have Lost Control of the TARDIS’
- 2. ‘I’m an Elite’
- 3. ‘Master – Alert’
- 4. ‘We’re Taking Over Your Ship’
- 5. ‘We Don’t Know What’s Out There’
- 6. ‘You Will Answer the Questions, Doctor’
- 7. ‘A Little Patience Goes a Long Way’
- 8. ‘I Am Beginning Surgery’
- 9. ‘One Secret Our Ancestors Kept for Themselves’
- 10. ‘We’ve Come Full Circle’
- 11. ‘We Cannot Return to Teradon’
- 12. ‘We’re Trapped’
Background: Andrew Smith adapts his own scripts from the 1980 story. At just 20 years old at the time, Andrew remains the youngest author of a Target novel.
Notes: A prologue tells of the arrival to Alzarius of the original inhabitants of the Terradon starliner, the demise of Commander Yakob Lorenzil and the hostile environment that greets the survivors of the crash, led by Sub-Commander Damyen Fenrik. This might feel like a spoiler until the exact moment that we realise it’s a clever deception. There’s an interlude with the full verses of a poem by First Decider Yanek Pitrus, a ‘tenth generation starliner’, setting out the legends of mistfall.
First Decider Exmon Draith is accompanied by Decider Ragen Nefred and Decider Jaynis Garif. After Draith dies, Halrin Login is elevated to Decider level. As he takes on the role of First Decider, Nefred connects his brain to the System Files, which monitor the well-being of all Deciders; this is how Nefred confirms that Draith has died, as well as becoming exposed to the starliner’s darkest secret.
Adric and Varsh lost their parents when they were young; they were killed in a forest fire and the boys were taken in by family friends. Varsh is three-and-a-half years Adric’s senior. As this is Adric’s introduction (despite featuring in four novels by now), his creator gives us the best insight yet into who he is:
Adric’s diminutive stature and his youth belied the fact that he had one of the keenest intelligences on the starliner, an intelligence marred only by the occasional lapse into the naive mannerisms of the juvenile.
Adric only lets go of Draith because he panics after a hand clasps his ankle underneath the marsh water. The other Outlers are here named Refnal, Gulner, Hektir and Yenik.
As with all authors showing off their creations, Andrew Smith presents the giant Marshmen as much more impressive than TV would allow:
They flexed their scaly arms, allowed their mouths, dribbling with hungry saliva, to gape. Scaly, metallic-looking eyelids slid back over black evil eyeballs, which then scanned the surroundings. They started climbing from the marsh, mud slithering down their tall, horrible frames, heavy clawed feet finding a secure hold in the soil by the marsh.
The Marshchild follows the Doctor onto the starliner and the Doctor takes it under his wing when he protects it from a frightened mob (on TV, he’s knocked out and the child is taken away screaming). The Doctor recalls once failing to save a young girl from a ‘witch trial’ in 17th-Century England and vows not to allow the Marshchild to suffer a similar fate.
There is a pitch-black ‘spatio-temporal void’ between the TARDIS’s inner and outer doors! Romana utters a mild swearword (‘damn’, which is still the naughtiest word a series regular has said so far!). The Doctor’s mission to collect Romana and the broken K9 is interrupted by clusters of spiders swarming over him (shudder!). The Marshmen enjoy a level of shared minds and the brief involvement of Romana allows them insight into the starliner citizens. The ‘people of the marsh’ see themselves as guardians of the planet, ‘to serve and to protect nature’ from the alien technology of the starliners, who they consider ‘non-people; but the Marsh leader still pauses to lament the deaths they have caused: as they return to the marsh, he asks his brethren ‘… why does the maintaining of beauty always have to require the taking of lives? It is so very sad.’
Cover: Andrew Skilleter gives us a trio of Marshmen emerging from the mists. Unkind observers have noted that there appear to be pockets on the creature’s chest.
Final Analysis: This is how to do it! The third of four consecutive stories to be adapted by their original authors, Andrew Smith combines mythology and SF in an exercise in world-building that feels lived in and real. His version of the Doctor is, as with Warriors’ Gate, closer to the Fourth Doctor we recognise than the more sombre version of season 18, cracking jokes that reveal the Doctor as equally pompous and contemptuous towards assumed authority – but still with the righteous fury when confronted with the experiments on the Marshchild, or touching compassion for Tylos when he finds his body, killed during the Marshmen attack:
The Doctor knelt beside the boy. They had never spoken, yet he felt a sense of real loss. The taking of life was always to be mourned, the taking of a young life even more so.
There are some solid horror elements – particularly the emergence of the Marshmen, the spiders hatching from the river fruit, Dexeter’s murder at the hands of the defiant Marshchild and Romana’s possession. Perhaps because he was a teenager himself when he wrote the TV scripts, Smith also presents Adric sympathetically, not blind to his awkward, precocious adolescence, but recognising how the boy feels he doesn’t fit in with either the inhabitants of the starliner or the Outlers; like many of the viewers, he identifies with the ‘otherness’ of the Doctor and Romana. We all love it when a novel presents new material or deeper insights into the characters, but this achieves a new high for the range.