Synopsis: The Tharils were once a proud race, masters of the time winds with an empire forged on slavery. Then the robot Gundans came. Now the Tharils themselves are slaves, sold as mere components to be plugged into space ships as unwilling navigators. One such ship is the Privateer, fashioned from dwarf star alloy, captained by the dictatorial and stubborn Rorvik… and currently mired in a white void near a mysterious gateway. As the Doctor, Romana and Adric search for a way out of E-Space, their encounters at the gateway promise freedom at last for the Tharils… and Romana.
None! It’s just one big run of text.
Background: Steve Gallagher adapts his own 1981 TV scripts under the pen-name of John Lydecker to avoid confusion with his other novels. This followed State of Decay on TV, so that’s another pair of stories to be released consecutively.
Notes: The opening scenes introduce a member of The Antonine Killer clan, a methodical, maverick Tharil in pursuit of Privateers trying to evade a blockage. The clan is part of the anti-slavery alliance and they’ve already targetted four privateer vessels. The actions of this Killer result in the Privateer being disabled and stranded outside of normal space. Early on, we’ve given an explanation of the Tharils’ time-sensitivity that really helps make sense of the entire story:
Time-sensitivity was the Tharils’ curse; from an infinite range of possible futures they could select one and visualise it in detail as if it had already happened. Sometimes in moments of extreme trance their bodies would shimmer and glow, dancing between those possible futures and only loosely anchored in the present. It took intense concentration to bring a Tharil back into phase with the Moment.
As K9’s health ails, we’re told that even though he could be rebuilt, ‘there was no way of reproducing its personality with any exactness… a copy would never be any more than just that’, so either the author has forgotten that this unit is the second model, or each K9 has its own individual personality that can’t be recaptured. Meanwhile, Romana departs with Lazlo, not Biroc, while we lose the final scene with Adric and the Doctor. There’s something of Brief Encounter or The Empire Strikes Back in the way the Doctor and Romana say goodbye:
‘I can only wish you good luck. It’s not likely we’ll meet again.’
‘I know,’ Romana said.
Cover: An ethereal composition by Andrew Skilleter showing the Tharil Biroc, the gateway and the Privateer in front of a blue hazy background.
Final Analysis: The most radical departure from the Target house style so far, Gallagher really dives deep into the story and his characters. It’s all the more impressive considering his first delivered version was much longer and had to be condensed (that longer version was later released as an audiobook). It’s a complete rewrite of the TV episodes and Gallagher’s style is more mature than we’re used to – and that doesn’t mean the kind of violence or language that Ian Marter employs, but in Rorvik we get a much more sadistic character than Saturday tea-time TV could allow. Surprisingly for someone writing for Season 18 setting, Gallagher also adds a lot of comic sequences – actually capturing the Fourth Doctor that we know, rather than the muted version we got that season (I’m reliably informed the jokes were in the original scripts, so we can work out what happened there!).
Rorvik cut across the diffident denial with another blast into the ceiling, another snowfall of plaster.
‘This could be a listed building for all you know,’ the Doctor warned, but Rorvik’s sense of humour seemed to have been suspended.
‘You’ll be listed as a former human being if you don’t play straight.”Human being? Are we descending to cheap insults now?’
And just a couple of pages later:
‘Can you hear me, Doctor? I’ve got a message for you. I hate you. Did you get that? Of everybody I’ve ever met, you’re my least favourite!’ And he hammered his fists on the mirror’s surface in frustration.
On the page, Rorvik is one of the most sadistic monsters we’ve encountered so far – we’re told of the atrocities he’s committed to other Tharils even during Biroc’s short time on the Priveteer and Rorvik himself admits to others – yet Gallagher remembers that pomposity can actually be hilarious when the subject isn’t in on the joke. One tiny criticism, but it’s an obvious one, is that this is a very dense, detailed story with some very heavy SF themes and motifs; it would have really helped to have had chapter titles. I’m a traditionalist at heart.