Bonus Chapter #4. Doctor Who – Slipback (1986)

Synopsis: On board the survey ship Vipod Moor, Captain Slarn is losing patience with his crew, a murderer is on the loose and the ship’s computer seems to be on the verge of insanity. As the Doctor and Peri explore the ship, they have no idea of the danger they are in, nor of the threat Slarn and his vessel pose to the entire universe.

Chapter Titles

  • Part One: In the Beginning…
  • 1. The Vipod Mor
  • 2. The Life and Times of Shellingborne Grant
  • 3. Something Nasty in the Ducting
  • 4. ‘This Is the Captain of Your Ship…’
  • Part Two: … Goodnight and Amen
  • 5. The Dissolute Time Lord
  • 6. Bath Time
  • 7. The Voice Within
  • 8. ‘Mr’ Seedle and ‘Mr’ Snatch
  • 9. The Search Begins
  • 10. The Meeting of the Minds
  • 11. The Search Ends

Background: Eric Saward adapts his scripts from the 1985 Radio 4 serial.

Notes: The first chapter boldly claims that only two planets in the Milky Way can boast of intelligent life, while the galaxy of Setna Streen had seventeen. While this does clash with much of galactic lore as established in Doctor Who, the chapter also claims that civilisation is impossible without the discovery and production of wine, which is so indisputable as to make everything else in the opening section easy to accept as fact. There’s also mention of a creature called a Voltrox [see Revelation of the Daleks] and the revelation that the ship Vipod Mor was named after a visiting Time Lord, who spoke portentously about the dangers of time travel. In a lengthy biography for Shellingborne Grant, we learn that he’s partial to Voxnic [see The Twin Dilemma]. We also learn more of the speelsnape [Revelation of the Daleks again]; it weighs ‘approximately fifty-five kilos… a little bigger than a large dog’, but with ‘the speed of a cheetah,the temperament of a psychopathic crocodile on a bad day’. It has razor-sharp teeth and can tear through anything. They live to eat and reproduce – and can mate with any species of its own size. Once born, a baby speelsnape always devours his mother (they are always male). They are also very beautiful and the pelt of a speelsnape is a highly prized fashion item, often used on seat covers.

We learn of the reason why the Doctor rarely sleeps:

As a rule, Time Lords require far less sleep than most humanoid life forms, usually managing to survive quite happily on three hours a day. What’s more, they also have the advantage of not requiring to take their rest in bulk. A ten minute doze here, a half hour snooze there, is a valid contribution to their three hour quota. 

While trying to cope with a drunken Doctor, Peri’s helped by a nearby Terileptil [see The Visitation] and there’s mention of the tinclavic mines on Raaga [see The Awakening]. The Doctor once again references the explorer Rudolph Musk [see the novelisation of The Twin Dilemma], who it turns out was swallowed whole by a splay-footed sceeg (though he survived, by reciting poetry, which made the sceeg vomit him back up). This story’s featured creature is the Maston, which apparently has a very distinctive scent, like rotting flesh (a smell that becomes deadly during the act of mating). They have sharp claws and a hairy, bulky body. 

Peri spent one term studying Kafka. Apparently the Doctor has never met ‘a computer with a thriving dual personality’ [but see The Face of Evil]. Captain Slarn is shot by his steward, Velsper, who then throws himself into a fire to prevent the crew from contracting mors immedicabilis. The public voice of the computer also allows the crew to abandon ship. The Time Lord who stops the Doctor is revealed to be the renegade Vipod Mor (in the radio production, he is not named).

Cover: Paul Mark Tams imagines a repulsive green face for Slarn as the TARDIS hovers nearby.

Final Analysis: Does this count? Well, it isn’t a numbered volume in the Target Doctor Who library (hence why this is a bonus chapter), but it was broadcast on a BBC channel and adapted as a novelisation, so here I am. Taking the tone of The Twin Dilemma to the next level, Eric Saward continues his Douglas Adams-esque meandering around his own universe – no, really, there’s a whole section about people who are followed around by rain, which will be familiar to Adams fans. We might also compare this to Tony Attwood’s Turlough spinoff, in that Saward cannot pass a character, location or beast without providing a potted biography, history or reproductive cycle for each one. Unlike Attwood though, each of the elements are at least quite funny or whimsical enough to be entertaining in their own right. However, this is a Doctor Who book and it’s painfully obvious that Saward is reluctant to introduce the lead characters and has little interest in them once they appear. You’ll have to wade through four chapters of backstory, diversion and, well, waffle, before you get sight or sound of the TARDIS. Still, well done on bulking the slight radio scripts into something approaching a novel.

One thought on “Bonus Chapter #4. Doctor Who – Slipback (1986)

  1. Good review. I enjoyed it more than the radio play which was too “bitty”, maybe hampered by the breaks/short episodes. And it’s always good to have more sixth doctor fiction from his television-active years, as his small number of TV stories are bulked out a little by this and the “missing season 23” books,

    Liked by 1 person

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