Synopsis: When the Doctor and Peri land on a space station filled with a stench of death, they find a sole survivor – the Doctor’s old companion, the Highlander Jamie! The Doctor follows a trail across time and space to find his former self, Jamie’s Doctor, who is being held captive in a Spanish villa by a fanatical scientist, his Androgum servants and a pair of Sontarans. This unlikely team has ambitions to unlock the secrets of time travel – and their experiments on the Doctor’s past incarnation threaten his future self and the safety of the universe…
- 1. Countdown to Death
- 2. Massacre on J7
- 3. Tomb in Space
- 4. Adios, Doña Arana
- 5. Creature of the Darkness
- 6. The Bell Tolls
- 7. The Doctor’s Dilemma
- 8. Company of Madmen
- 9. A Song for Supper
- 10. Shockeye the Donor
- 11. Ice Passage Ambush
- 12. Alas, Poor Oscar
Background: Robert Holmes adapts his own scripts for the serial broadcast five months earlier. This is the 100th Target novelisation, so it comes with a congratulatory introduction from producer John Nathan-Turner.
Notes: The J7 station was designed by ‘architneers’ who exploited zero gravity to create ‘an ethereal tracery of loops and whorls and cusps that formed a constantly changing pattern as the station rotated slowly upon its axis’. Jamie recalls that he and the Doctor had been in a garden, where the Doctor had greeted ‘chieftains’ who wore yellow cloaks with high collars’ (clearly Time Lords) – and then remembers nothing else prior to their arrival in space near the J7 station. The Doctor hopes that undertaking this mission might improve his relations with ‘the High Council’. There’s no mention of Victoria’s whereabouts here. Jamie provides our viewpoint in the early chapters, so it’s through his eyes that we first see an Androgum:
Shockeye’s sparse thatch of ginger hair topped a heavily boned face that sloped down into his body without any apparent necessity for a neck. His skin was grey and rugose, thickly blotched with the warty excrescences common to denizens of high-radiation planets…. every line of [his body], from the mastodon shoulders and over the gross belly to the tree-trunk legs, spoke of a frightening physical strength.
The Second Doctor quotes The Book of Job before telling Jamie to run. Chessene has a ‘cap of short, jet-black hair’ and wears ‘a long, dark dress’; she’s later described as a ‘well-built, dark-haired woman’ who is ‘tall and dark with a broad, heavy forehead’ (suggesting she looks closer to the intended casting of Elizabeth Spriggs, rather than the more elegant Jacqueline Pearce, who eventually played the role on telly). Before departing the station, she has a brief meeting with Sontaran Group Marshal Stike, who has gold braiding on his shoulders. Studying Stike next to his underling, Varl, Chessene wonders how Sontarans tell each other apart.
When the Sixth Doctor tells Peri about the joys of the gumblejack, the narrator informs us that he’s making it all up. Peri believes the Doctor to be 760 years old and remembers the events of the Doctor’s regeneration on Androzani Minor [see The Caves of Androzani], while the Doctor confesses that his latest incarnation ‘isn’t 100% yet’. When the feral Jamie attacks Peri, she manages to fend him off as ‘her muscles had been honed by years as a campus sports star’. By the time the Doctor and Peri reach the J7 station, it’s a lot clearer that some time has passed for Jamie, whose mind has snapped due to the trauma of believing he’s witnessed the Doctor’s death. As he observes the hologram of his second self – a ‘rather scruffy person in an ill-fitting tailcoat and black string necktie’ – the Doctor notes that he might recognise the Brigadier or Leela but he had ‘scarcely any recollection of how he himself had appeared in past forms’. He recalls spending ‘a delightful afternoon’ with Archimedes, before quoting himself from The Ark in Space.
As Chessene’s craft, The Delta-Six, approaches Earth, it knocks out communications and radar equipment around the planet and nearly instigates World War III. Shockeye’s hunger pangs make him consider eating Varl, but he knows the flesh of clone species is ‘coarse and lacking in flavour’. We’ve told some of the 90-year-old Doña Arana’s past, her late husband Don Vincente and their three children, shortly before she is swiftly and brutally killed by Shockeye; Chessene commands that the old lady’s body be incinerated.
Jamie and Peri have to wake the Doctor from his temporal plain trance as a fire breaks out in Dastari’s office. The Second Doctor recalls a time when he attended a banquet in honour of a Dominator on Bellaphores, a planet where they don’t make wine, their delicacy is ‘a fermented slurry of clay and animal faeces’, which the locals suck through ‘colloidal membranes’; the experience made the Doctor sick for days after. Oscar Botcherby runs a restaurant called ‘La Piranella’ (not Las Cadenas), which he claims he’s doing as a favour while he’s ‘between roles’ (Anita notes to herself that Oscar has been working there for at least three years). As he gets dressed up in Don Arana’s old clothes, Shockeye sings an old Androgum lullaby that begins ‘Go to sleep my little grey lump of fun’ and later composes his own ditty about the joys of cooking a Tellurian (in the chapter ‘A Song for Supper’).
On hearing Jamie call his new friend ‘Doctor’, Stike assumes it’s a common Time Lord title, rather than the same Time Lord; the Doctor mocks the Sontaran habit of having grand military ranks: ‘I’ve never met a Sontaran private yet,’ he goads. Revealing that she has acquired three canisters of coronic acid, Chessene states that the Rutans used coronic acid shells and ‘decimated’ [sic] the Sontarans at Vollotha (which the Doctor later confirms is a weapon that specifically targets cloned races); this revelation alerts Dastari to the fact that Chessene has secretly and independently been in contact with the Sontarans’ greatest enemy. Varl flatters Stike with a discussion about his superior’s prospective military career, just as Chessene attacks them with the chronic acid. Varl takes the full blast, and Stike, crawling away to safety, vows to recommend Varl for inclusion in ‘the Golden Roll of Sontaran Heroes’.
The Androgum’s bill at Oscar’s restaurant tallies up a different selection to the items on TV, including quenelles, ortolon, crevettes, truffled goose with almonds, wild boar with Grand Veneur sauce, saddle of venison with chocolate, eight T-bone steaks and ‘an entire fieldfare pie’ for twelve. The Second Doctor tries to pay for the meal with a five-dollar bill in Confederate currency. Shockeye stabs Oscar, draws the knife up to the man’s breastbone and throws him across the restaurant. As he dies, Oscar asks Maria to take care of his teddy bear [possibly a reference to actor James Saxon’s teddy-bear-obsessed character in the popular ITV sitcom Brass]. When the Doctor prepares to kill Shockeye, he tears some of the lining from his coat (yes, he’s been wearing that through all that running about in the Spanish heat!). He dispatches the Androgum but doesn’t make his ‘just desserts’ quip; instead he considers the death to be ‘one back for Oscar’. His declaration for a life of vegetarianism is removed. The body of Doña Arana remains undiscovered for some time as her visiting priest has been ill; local police file her death and the destruction of her home next to the unsolved murder of Oscar Botcherby.
Cover: It’s a shame the trend at the time was to avoid paying for the likenesses of actors, but this is quite a clever cover as a Sontaran and the Spanish villa are interrupted by two TARDISes zooming off together in symmetry. To mark the book’s position as the 100th Target release, the neon logo is printed in gold foil.
Final Analysis: This is of course Robert Holmes’ only full novel for the range (having provided just the prologue for The Time Warrior, uncredited), so it’s appropriate that we’re also celebrating book 100 here. It contains all of the dark humour and relish for violence that we saw on telly and Holmes’ take is more graphic than even Ian Marter’s greatest excesses: The computer operator on the J7 station dies with ‘his tongue protruding thickly, like a bursting plum’; the scientist shot in front of the second Doctor ‘dance[s] into the room in a grisly pirouette, the tiny rheon shells ripping open sagging red holes in his body as though the flesh concealed a dozen zip-fasteners’; there’s a particularly nasty depiction of the Doña Arana’s final seconds (in a chapter called ‘Adios, Doña Arana’) as Shockeye snaps her neck, while the smell of her burning carcass merely makes her killer hungry; and there’s a particularly vivid description of how to prepare a cat for cooking. This is definitely not one for the squeamish – and I love it.
There’s also poetry in some of the prose. When the Doctor is lost in reverie at the thought of the end of the universe, he considers all the innocent life forms that will be affected by his projected catastrophe and debates with himself whether the blame lies with ‘intelligent species, driven by the unquenchable fires of ambition’:
… it was the intelligent species who, by observation and deduction, pieced together the cosmic jigsaw, who saw the connection between a clod of mud and a moonbeam and could descry orderly patterns in the swirling sands of life…. Without intelligence, no chasms would have been bridged. There would have been no cathedrals, no symphonies, no sonnets, no equations. And the pathways to the stars would never have been traversed.
While appreciation of the story itself is of course a matter of personal taste, it can’t be denied that the level of additional detail and character insight is exactly what we might want from a Target novelisation. Just a shame Robert Holmes never wrote any more.