Synopsis: The Doctor, Vicki, Barbara and Ian explore a museum on an alien world, only to find versions of themselves already standing as exhibits. It seems the TARDIS has jumped a track in time, so is this just a possible future or is it certain? As the Doctor encounters the leader of the planet’s rulers, the Moroks, Vicki leads a revolution!
- 1. AD 0000
- 2. Exploration
- 3. Discovery
- 4. Capture
- 5. Rescue
- 6. The Final Phase
Background: Glyn Jones adapts his scripts for a story from 1965, taking the record for the biggest gap between transmission and publication, at 21 years and eight months… but he won’t have it for long.
Notes: The novel retains the plot element of the travellers changing out of their ‘crusading clothes’, meaning this follows on directly from Doctor Who and the Crusaders; here, it’s Vicki who points out that their clothes have changed, instead of Ian as on TV. Ian is disappointed that they’ve landed in another sandy desert and longs for the TARDIS to land somewhere leafy, like Hampstead or Wimbledon Common, or a Yorkshire dale or Welsh mountain. The Doctor has a ‘space-time clock’ aboard the TARDIS, which he claims has only ever caused him trouble once before, when Augustus Caesar dropped a day from the calendar that the Doctor claims to have been designing. At one point, the Doctor adopts a pose holding his hand out and inclining his head slightly to buy himself time to think; he recalls that it was a pose he once saw adopted by the great Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu. Ian wonders if his bio-rhythms are ‘at rock bottom’ (which doesn’t seem all that scientific).
Barbara finds a NASA spacesuit whose former occupant was ‘David Hartwell’, which I’m assuming is a sneaky namecheck of the prolific science fiction editor and publisher. There’s also a space shuttle named after Robert E Lee, the Confederate general in the American Civil War, which at the very least suggests a divergent timeline for the US space program. Vicki bumps her head on a display case that contains ‘an upright creature of saurian ugliness’. The Doctor is repeatedly referred to as a ‘Time Lord’. During a sarcastic rant about calling the AA to pick them up, Ian says that it will take ‘about a hundred light years’ for any help to arrive – a unit of distance mistakenly used as a unit of time [might we assume that Ian knows the difference, even if the author doesn’t, and that he’s joking here?]. Vicki confidently explains the concept of ‘time dimensions’ to an amused Ian.
While still in limbo, the travellers witness a massacre as Xeron rebels are gunned down by Moroks – but then the bodies disappear. They realise that they’ve returned to the correct dimension when they’re unable to pass through objects. Once they finally ‘exist’ in this dimension, Ian triggers an automated audio guide that informs him he’s looking at a weapon from the planet Verticulus; Vicki notes that the announcement is in English, to which the Doctor observes ‘There will be an explanation for that’ – and offers nothing more (though we later learn that the Moroks have devices that recognise a language within a few words and provide instant translations). Vicki sees an exhibit of ‘a small furry creature, very cuddly, like a teddy bear, except that its teeth would have snapped off a man’s leg with one bite’
Moroks have two hearts and measure time in ‘metones’. Lobos was sent to Xeros, which he considers to be ‘the dullest planet in the Empire’, after a ‘tiny indiscretion’. He has a favourite robot – Robot 9284 – which he calls ‘Matt’ and against which he likes to play – and lose at – chess. Lobos’s second in command is called ‘Ogrek’, while among Lobos’s forces is Mort, a ‘one-eyed mercenary from Kreme’, while the sympathetic Morok who helps Ian is called ‘Pluton’. Among the rebels are a couple of new members, Bo and Gyar, as well as a ‘cherubic’ child called Jens, who requests a gun; he is refused and told to go back to ‘the Colony’ to prepare himself in case the revolution fails and he has to be part of a future wave. The Xenons can see in the dark but have neither a sense of smell nor an awareness of what a sense of smell is. Inspired by Barbara, Dako tells Tor about the concept of the Trojan Horse.
As usual, there’s no link into the next TV adventure, so no grand unveiling of the Time-Space Visualiser; instead, the Doctor reveals the tiny crystal that has somehow been responsible for their dimensional issues, before the TARDIS departs ‘to leave Xeros to the Xerons’.
Cover: Using a photo reference of Hartnel from An Unearthly Child, David McAllister paints the Doctor, a space rocket and a pair of misleadingly cheeky Daleks.
Final Analysis: It’s a curious thing, releasing this in 1987, where the recent trend on TV had been for the Doctor and his companions to constantly bicker and snipe at each other. In the novel, the regular characters seem much more like 80s characters than the mild-mannered exchanges they had on TV in the 60s. Ian has a particularly fractious relationship with the Doctor, rebuking him for making jokes, which is at odds with how they appear on screen, but is in keeping with the memory of the Doctor as a grumpy old man. It’s also worth remembering that, when interviewed many years later, Glyn Jones revealed that he’d written the original scripts as a satire and was disappointed when his more comedic elements were removed at editing stage. Back in the hands of the author, the dialogue has the back-and-forth of a screwball comedy – just not the pace of one. Considering this is one of the least well-regarded stories of the period, Jones manages to add depth to his characters and a sense that they’re part of a wider universe without over-explaining every single reference like some authors. He gets a huge minus point for failing to give Barbara anything significant to do (Vicki is the star of the show here, as on telly), but at least he retains the infamous line about ‘arms fallen into Xeron hands’, proving it was very much intentional and not the goof some have assumed it to be.