Chapter 122. Doctor Who – The Macra Terror (1987)

Synopsis: When the Doctor and his three friends visit a colony on a distant world, they find a community of cheerful, contented people who are free to enjoy life. There are machines for pampering and relaxation and nobody is unhappy or scared. Especially Medok, who is ill and needs to be taken care of, because he is shouting nonsense and disturbing the peace. The Doctor and Polly aren’t convinced, but Ben and Jamie know the truth – there is no such thing as Macra men! No such thing as Macra men!

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Interference on the Scanner
  • 2. A Wash and Brush-up
  • 3. The Man Who Suffered from Delusions
  • 4. There’s Really Nothing There
  • 5. A Voice in the Night
  • 6. The Colony by Night
  • 7. Down the Pit
  • 8. Escape
  • 9. A Breath of Fresh Air
  • 10. One of the Dancers
  • 11. Forbidden Territory
  • 12. Four Minutes to Countdown

Background: Ian Stuart Black adapts his own scripts for the 1967 story.

Notes: The time travellers have seen something on the TARDIS scanner. The Doctor tries to pass it off as mere ‘atmospherics’:

‘Atmospherics cause interference. A build-up of forces. Electrical discharges. A thunderstorm. A number of things can cause the normal pattern to be broken, and then a radio signal or a television picture suddenly is broken into, and you get an alien signal. We have checks and balances on board the TARDIS to counteract such interference, but every now and again a message or picture breaks through from another point in space and we pick it up.’

He fails to convince his young friends and while Polly refuses to discuss it any further, Jamie makes sure to grab a big branch as he leaves the TARDIS (as he did on TV). The TARDIS scanner has ‘vision control’, an automatic program that scans for items of importance and allows the travellers to see into the colony before they arrive. The Controller initially orders that ‘There is no such thing as Macra men’, though Medok hears ‘There is no such thing as Macra’ during his later programming and Ben chants ‘There is no such thing as the Macra’.

Medok says the Macra are ‘horrible to look at… like insects…. like huge crabs’, while Jamie notes its ‘scaly flanks’, ‘long feelers’ and a ‘rope-like tentacle’. The creature has heavy eyelids (so not like an insect) and it moves at ‘the speed of a tortoise’. The Doctor gives a multi-sensory observation:

It was more horrible than he had visualised, more nauseating – giving off a suffocating odour – a very alien creature; moonlight glinting on its hard shell, a skin that glistened, prehistoric, giving the Doctor a feeling it was already dead… Yet moving slowly, with the speed of a gigantic slug, towards them.

He speculates to Polly that the Macra lived on the unnamed planet for millions of years, but that maybe the atmosphere changed, the natural gases that the creatures thrive on dried up, or ‘some other factor altered’, so they had to bury underground where the gases were available. There’s no direct correlation between the changing atmosphere and the arrival of the colonists, which is something we’d instantly assume nowadays [and see Gridlock for how that played out].

Medok survives his encounter with the Macra and is present to witness the departure of the four strangers in the TARDIS but decides on not ‘pushing his luck’ by telling anyone about it. Strangely, Medok doesn’t recall ever seeing the TARDIS before, even though he ran past it at the start of the book (presumably he was too distracted or distressed to remember it).

Cover: Tony Masero takes great artistic license in creating a slavering, oozing Macra that still bears a strong resemblance to what was seen on screen. 

Final Analysis: Another solid novelisation from Ian Stuart Black with very little changed from what we can gather from the surviving footage and audio tracks (although apparently the author worked solely from the scripts, so any changes made by the actors and director during rehearsals would have been absent anyway). The nature of the Macra remains non-specific – even the Doctor can’t be drawn as to whether they’re crabs, insects or overgrown bacteria – and they’re often described as being ‘alien’ despite the likelihood that they’re an indigenous lifeform. In 2021, we’re a little more sensitive to post-colonial views and this does stand out as an unresolved gap in the text, from a time when monsters were fought and destroyed, rather than understood and accommodated – and perhaps not even thought of as ‘monsters’.

Chapter 121. Doctor Who – The Massacre (1987)

Synopsis: The Doctor decides to explore 16th-Century Paris and leaves Steven to fend for himself. Steven soon befriends a group of men and a servant girl who are Protestant Huguenots persecuted by the ruling Catholics. A visiting abbot bears a striking facial resemblance to the Doctor, enough for Steven to believe he is really his friend in one of his disguises. But then the abbot is murdered and the public mood makes Paris a dangerous place for the Huguenots – and anyone who has been seen with them, like Steven… 

Chapter Titles

  • Author’s Note
  • Dramatis Personae
  • Prologue
  • 1. The Roman Bridge Auberge
  • 2. Echoes of Wassy
  • 3. The Apothecary
  • 4. Double Trouble
  • 5. The Proposition
  • 6. Beds for a Night
  • 7. Admiral de Coligny
  • 8. The Escape
  • 9. A Change of Clothes
  • 10. The Hotel Lutèce
  • 11. The Royal Audience
  • 12. Burnt at the Stake
  • 13. The Phoenix
  • 14. Talk of War
  • 15. Face to Face
  • 16. A Rescue
  • 17. Good Company All
  • Epilogue

Background: John Lucarotti adapts his own scripts for a story from 1966.

Notes: The book features a Dramatis Personae that is very useful for working out who everyone is. The novel deviates significantly from the TV version, being neither an adaptation of the broadcast story, nor the author’s original submitted storyline; instead, it’s a new story that uses the same characters and basic plot points, but making much more of the Doctor’s similarity to the Abbot of Amboise. The Prologue presents the Doctor, clutching a copy of the diary of Samuel Pepys, in a garden that reminds him of the Garden of Peace that he visited with Susan, Ian and Barbara in the time of the Aztecs. There, he meets with a group of Time Lords (with whom he has resolved his previous ‘differences’) to explain his actions in 16th-Century France. Other than the Doctor being male, there is no indication that this is the first Doctor, or indeed any specific incarnation. We only know that the Time Lords still exist and that the Doctor considers himself in semi-retirement, having brought his travels in the TARDIS to ‘a temporary halt’.

There’s no reference to the Doctor and Steven’s recent quest to defeat the Daleks [see Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan part II: The Mutation of Time]. Instead, the duo arrives in the TARDIS and they check a ‘time/place orientation print-out’ on the TARDIS console with a faulty yearometer reading. Neither of them elects to wear period clothing until much later (the Doctor while impersonating the Abbot, Steven after he steals clothing from Preslin’s empty house). While training to become an astronaut, Steven performed in plays, including Hamlet, which is how he understood the phrase ‘shriving time’, which he overhears being said by two clerics. The Doctor finds himself joining a band of rebellious Hugenots who at first mistake him for the Abbot of Amboise, but later they force him to pose as the Abbot for a meeting with Catherine de Medici, the Queen Mother. 

The TARDIS is found and brought into the Bastille, where it becomes a talking piece among Parisian society (a locksmith receives an electric shock when he tries to gain entry). They inform the Doctor that the object is to be burned at the stake, which he finds hilarious – and the subsequent pyre leaves the TARDIS looking ‘ impeccably clean, even shiningly so’.

The Doctor and the Abbot meet and the Doctor has to stand by as the Abbot is killed by his loyal secretary Duval, believing him to be an imposter. The Doctor then usurps the Abbot to address the Royal Court and beseech them to stop their religious wars. Anne is sent to safety along with her brother and aunt. There is no surprise arrival of Dodo at the end. Instead, in the Epilogue, we return to the Doctor’s meeting with the Time Lords, where he rebuffs their charges that he interfered with established history, including their claim that his companion Dodo, who he met after this adventure, was proof that he had saved the life of Anne Chaplet. The Doctor recalls that Dodo had been ‘the spitting image of Anne’.

Cover: Tony Masero paints the Abbot of Amboise standing in front of the TARDIS atop a burning pyre. Alister Pearson’s 1992 reprint cover shows two faces of William Hartnell (suggesting one is supposed to be the Abbot), plus Peter Purves as Steven, Joan Young as Catherine de Medici and David Weston as Nicholas Muss, all in front of a church in sunset. Weston previously appeared in character as Biroc on the cover of Warriors’ Gate.

Final Analysis: So the legend goes, John Lucarotti’s first submission to the Doctor Who production office was said to lack historical detail. He more than makes amends here (as his author’s note attests), and as with The Aztecs, he creates a sense of being immersed in a real, lived-in world. Unlike, say, Time Flight, where Peter Grimwade wastes no opportunity to show off his Concord-related research, Lucarotti threads his fact-finding to improve the narrative. The Doctor and Steven explore Paris at the start, prior to making their way to the tavern, and the Doctor’s guided tour serves to help them pin down the approximate year in which they find themselves but also to sketch in the world around them. When we reach the catacombs where the rebels are hiding, we’re shown their peculiar mode of transport around the city – dog carts! I’d have loved to have seen William Hartnell zooming off stage left in one of those! One other addition from Lucarotti is Raoul, Anne’s 14-year-old brother. While the author might have felt that his addition would provide a little more logic to the revelation that future companion Dodo might have inherited the family name, the fact that she is said to be identical to Anne leaves some rather uncomfortable incestuous conotations that we’re best not to unravel.

Bonus chapter #6. The Companions of Doctor Who: K9 and Company (1987)

Synopsis: Journalist Sarah Jane Smith used to travel for a while, companion to an eccentric man with an unpredictable manner. Her journeys ended as abruptly as they began and she never heard from him again – until one Christmas when she paid a visit to her Aunt Lavinia. Lavinia was nowhere to be found, but waiting for her instead were her Aunt’s ward, a schoolboy called Brendan, and a present from her old friend – a computer in the shape of a dog. Together, the trio uncover a terrifying demonic cult hidden away in an English village.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Exit Aunt Lavinia
  • 2. Enter Sarah Jane
  • 3. An Invitation
  • 4. A Gift from the Doctor
  • 5. The Black Art
  • 6. A Warning
  • 7. K9 Blunders
  • 8. A Confrontation
  • 9. Brendan is Taken
  • 10. K9 Goes Undercover
  • 11. Human Sacrifice
  • 12. Halstock
  • 13. Evil Under the Moon
  • Epilogue

Background: Terence Dudley adapts his own scripts for this one-off Christmas special from 1981 (or 1982 if you’re from the north-west of England, where a technical fault with the Winter Hill transmitter took BBC One off the air for a night and Northerners had to wait until the following year for a repeat).

Notes: Aunt Lavinia’s house, Bradleigh Manor, is in Hazelbury Abbas, Dorset, not Moreton Harwood, Gloucestershire as on TV; she inherited the manor from ‘Uncle Nicholas’, who Sarah Jane used to visit every summer when he was alive (it’s not clear if Nicholas was Lavinia’s husband or just a mutual relative). Coven member Vince Wilson regrets that the ceremony couldn’t be performed naked to ‘release more cosmic force’ and ‘increase bodily strength’. Doctor Lavinia Smith is ‘a strikingly handsome woman and, undoubtedly, middle-aged’. She’s specifically an ‘anthropologist’, not a ‘virologist’ [see Planet of the Spiders]. Juno Baker is in her late thirties and ‘blessed with a dark, ageless beauty with more than a hint of the voluptuary flowing from her well-poised head to the tips of her Gucci shoes’. 

Sarah Jane Smith had been sent to report on the famine in Ethiopia but after infiltrating rebel forces she was briefly stranded at a North African outpost [presumably after leaving Ethiopia in the east] before she was able to return home. It’s three years since she last saw the Doctor (remember, there’s none of this ‘1980’ stuff in the novel timeline). She’s managed, rather, conveniently, to be commissioned by Harper’s on ‘the revival of English village life’. On her way to her aunt’s house, she finds herself stuck behind a car that prompts her to complain about ‘Women drivers!’ Sarah currently lives in a flat and her friend Ann has keys to enable her to check on Sarah’s mail whenever she’s away (we don’t get any other explanation for Ann, though). Brendan is 14 years old and claims to be able to drive a car. 

At the Post office, Lily Gregson tells Sarah about the (real-life) landmark of the Cerne Abbas Giant chalk man – which she calls ‘ever so rude’  – and warns her that the locals consider anyone not born there before the Roman invasion to be a ‘foreigner’; she herself is a newcomer, her family having moved there after the civil war in the 17th Century (and we later learn that George Tracey is a descendant of Publius Trescus of the Tenth Legion). Brendan and K9 debate the process of peeling potatoes and their relationship is openly antagonistic rather than instantly enthusiastic as on screen. Henry Tobias admires a witch’s sacrificial knife, which Juno Baker says was a gift from Lavinia Smith. George Tracey resents Lavinia Smith and her family, considering their land to be his after all his work on it. He and his son Peter kidnap Brendan by clamping a pad over his mouth before tying him up. There are a few extra scenes of Peter taking care of Brendan and apologising for the situation (including one where Brendan realises that Peter is as much a captive as himself and ponders why he’s not also tied up).

Sarah Jane is greatly concerned that K9 might be seen and ‘finish up in some scrap metal yard’, so she carries him around in a holdall, rather than just propping him up on the back seat of her car. Sarah is a confident driver with a strong sense of direction:

Sarah Jane was afflicted by a curious neurosis when driving which amounted to an unreasonable fear of losing the way. She had a profound distrust of signposts which indicated that her destination lay to the left when she knew, without doubt, that it lay to the right. She drove by the compass which bore little relation to a local authority’s layout of highways.

Bill Pollock distracts Sarah by claiming he’s contacted the police, which she doesn’t expose as a lie for a whole day. Her hunt for a suitable church for a black mass passes East Coker, which she dismisses as it’s the resting place of the writer TS Eliot (‘A great poet and a man of the Church. No witch would dare to go near there, I’m sure,’ she tells K9), and Trent, where the 99th Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, is indeed buried. Instead of an inconvenient tractor blocking her route, Sarah has a terrifying encounter with a white TR7 driven by an unidentified  young man who might be in the employ of the coven, or could just be a particularly aggressive road-rager intent on recreating the film Duel. Her quest includes stopping off at a pub asking about nearby ruins, before K9 confirms that the site they are looking for is back where they began, in the grounds of Bradleigh Manor! As part of the ceremony, the coven members strip Brendan naked. In the Epilogue, as everyone recovers at the Bakers’ home, Brendan discusses how the cultists might have disposed of his body and Howard Baker suggests a lime pit ‘or a section of motorway’. Sarah has at least one glass of Howard’s brandy [see The Ark in Space for why this might be odd]. Back at the manor, K9 attempts to sing While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night, rather than We Wish You a Merry Christmas. 

Cover: Peter Kelly airbrushes a very sleek-looking K9 under an arched logo.

Final Analysis: Any problems with the story – and there are a fair few – are present in the TV story (are teenage boys really that excited by the minutiae of market gardening?). What is really missing is the natural warmth of Elisabeth Sladen, who delivered the rather snippy dialogue with at least a little humour, so she remained immensely likeable. That aside though, it’s a beautifully written book with richly drawn characters and a lovely child-friendly flavour of folk horror, while Dudley fulfils the old ‘educate and inform’ remit by name-dropping literary figures such as TS Eliot and WB Yeats

… and that’s it for the Companions of Doctor Who sub-range. Such as shame, because despite a very poor start, the other two have been very entertaining indeed. There were further novels in various stages of discussion, including one written by Janet Fielding about Tegan and a sequel to Harry Sullivan’s War that sadly never came to pass.

Chapter 120. Doctor Who – The Ambassadors of Death (1987)

Synopsis: As a tracking station on Earth awaits the return of a Mars capsule and its crew, the rocket’s inhabitants are kidnapped and hidden away. Liz Shaw discovers that the astronauts are not the ones that left Earth but alien ambassadors. Someone is conspiring to use the aliens for their own means – and start a war in the process…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. ‘Something Took Off From Mars…’
  • 2. ‘That Sound – It Was Some Kind Of Message…’
  • 3. ‘They’ll Never Survive…’
  • 4. ‘Recovery Seven – It’s On The Way Back!’
  • 5. ‘The Capsule Has Landed.’
  • 6. ‘They’ve Started To Crack The Code…’
  • 7. ‘You Must Feed Them Radiation – Or They’ll Die!’
  • 8. ‘We’ve Got To Get That Rocket Up!’
  • 9. ‘Someone’s Threatening To Kill Miss Shaw!’
  • 10. ‘An Attack On The Space Centre?’
  • 11. ‘Do You Really Think They’re Not Human?’
  • 12. ‘Large Unidentified Object Approaching On Collision Course…’
  • 13. ‘The Capsule Will Be Smashed To Fragments…’
  • 14. ‘Your Doctor Friend Is As Dead As A Doornail…’
  • 15. ‘We May Not Have Much More Time!’
  • 16. ‘We’re Being Invaded!’

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1970 story credited to David Whitaker (but which also included passes by Malcolm Hulke and Trevor Ray), completing the run of Season 7 stories – and the Third Doctor’s era as a whole – that began with Target’s first original adaptations back in 1974.

Notes: The TV reporter’s name is given on screen as ‘John Wakefield’, but here it’s now ‘Michael’, while astronaut Charles Van Lyden becomes ‘Van Leyden’. Ralph Cornish at Mission Control is said to be ‘quite literally tall, dark and handsome’. Dicks is not as snide as he was about Chorley in Doctor Who and the Web of Fear, but he still makes a few sly digs at the TV reporter; he’s small, neat and bearded with a ‘low, throbbing, earnest voice that seems to be the exclusive property of a certain kind of TV journalist’. 

It was a voice that conveyed expertise, sympathy, concern and a sort of muted reproach. The implication was that somehow Michael Wakefield already knew all the answers. Luckily for him, he never had to provide them. He only asked the questions, and passed along the background information assembled for him by an expert team of researchers, all kept firmly behind the camera.

For the final time, we have Dicks’ standard description of the third Doctor, with a face that is ‘neither young nor old’, and that Bessie is ‘an Edwardian roadster’ (and I’ve waiting until now to point out that it’s not actually a Roadster, it’s a four-seater Tourer, but Roadster is such a fun word). It’s still early days for the Doctor and Liz, having only had ‘two dangerous adventures’, and we’re reminded of the incident with the Silurians. 

In the assault on the ‘enemy’ in the warehouse, the Brigadier notices that they are ‘simply better than his own men, better shots, better trained in this kind of house-to-house fighting’. It’s the fact that none of his troops has been shot that draws the Brigadier’s suspicions – accurate shots knock the guns away but nobody is actually hit, and he notes that there’s ‘something rather humiliating about fighting an enemy who weren’t even trying to hit back’. The Doctor’s trick with the disappearing tape is ‘a Time Lord technique somewhere between telekinesis and conjuring’. 

The scientist Heldorf had been a refugee and still had a trace of an accent. Reegan was born in Ireland but spent most of his life in America, among other countries, evading the law. He’d been a bank robber for the IRA until they’d discovered he’d been stealing from them. He set himself up as a professional, specialising in ‘kidnapping, extortion and murder for hire’.  

Cover: The Doctor smiles as two ambassadors in space suits approach him from behind. Tony Masero’s original cover had a much more shadowy depiction of Jon Pertwee, but this was changed in response to a request from the actor. This is the first cover to feature the Third Doctor prominently on the initial cover since The Claws of Axos (1977), or on any cover since the 1978 Three Doctors reprint (aside from a small profile as part of a montage on The Five Doctors).

Final Analysis: We begin with a deceptively simple opening line: ‘Far above the Earth, in the infinite blackness of space, two metal capsules were converging.’ That ‘infinite blackness of space’ leapt out at me as a quote from something and a quick survey on Twitter led to Paul Rhodes supplying a flurry of suggestions for a possible source. Nasa’s own public information office LB Taylor Jr appears to have coined the phrase in his commentary around the Apollo 11 moon landings, which is appropriate considering the subject of The Ambassadors of Death. An earlier reference can be found in The Transcendent Man, a 1953 novel by future Star Trek and Twilight Zone writer Jerry Sohl, while the earliest I’ve found is a 1920 edition of the handbook of the Boy Scouts of America. It’s a phrase that crops up across science fiction from Star Trek to Marvel Comics’ Silver Surfer but as yet, I’ve not found an origin. Any suggestions?

There are some other lovely turns of phrase here: The warehouse where Carrington’s crew are hiding out has ‘row upon row of arched windows, every one methodically broken by the industrious local vandals’. The little extra biographical details for Heldorf and Reegan feel like something Malcolm Hulke would have added (appropriate considering he wrote a substantial amount of the scripts). We’ve come a long way from the days where Terrance was bashing these out one a month and as we reach the end of the third Doctor’s TV adventures, this stands out as one of the author’s very best.

Chapter 119. Doctor Who – The Romans (1987)

Synopsis: The time travellers enjoy a relaxing time in a villa just outside Rome. As the Doctor and Vicki head off on a trip to the city, Ian and Barbara are kidnapped by slave traders. Barbara is bought by a slave-master working for the Emperor Nero, but Ian’s fate is to be placed at the oars of a slave ship. Can the Doctor solve some of the mysteries surrounding Nero without affecting established history?

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • I First Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • II First Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • III First Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • IV Second Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • V Second Extract from the journal of Ian Chesterton
  • VI Second Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • VII Third Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • VIII Third Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • IX Third Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • X Fourth Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • XI First Extract from the Commonplace Book of Poppea Sabina
  • XII Fourth Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • XIII First Selection of jottings from Nero’s Scrapbook
  • XIV Fourth Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • XV Fifth Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • XVI Fifth Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • XVII Second Extract from the Commonplace Book of Poppea Sabina
  • XVIII A Poisoner Remembers
  • XIX Letter from Barbara Wright
  • XX Second Selection of Jottings from Nero’s Scrapbook
  • XXI Sixth Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • XXII Third Extract from the Commonplace Book of Poppea Sabina
  • XXIII Fifth Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • XXIV Sixth Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • XXV Seventh Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • XXVI Seventh Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • XXVII Sixth Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • XXVIII Third Selection of Jottings from Nero’s Scrapbook
  • XXIX Eighth Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • Epilogue

That ‘most number of chapters in a novelisation’ record (previously held by The Myth Makers) gets smashed here with 29, plus a prologue and epilogue.

Background: Donald Cotton’s adaptation of scripts by Dennis Spooner for a story from 1965 arrives 22 years and two months after it was broadcast on TV. It’s the only time Cotton approaches scripts originally written by someone other than himself.

Notes: Consistent with his previous novels, this version of The Romans is narrated by Tacitus, the great Roman historian. Here though, Tacitus’s role is that of a framing narrative, within which appear certain documents that have fallen into his hands – diaries and letters written by Ian, the Doctor and Barbara, among others (as the chapter listing above shows). As a consequence, this is the first novel to be narrated in part by Ian Chesterton since the very first one. His chapters are addressed to his headmaster (who might or might not be the same one we’ll actually meet in a later story) and he fears his employer assumes that he and Barbara have eloped, which might affect their pensions. In the Doctor’s journal, he confesses that he intends to leave the school teachers behind when he visits Rome, due to his concerns that Ian’s politics might get him into trouble in the heart of an Empire, while Barbara is being punished for spending their money so freely on ‘feminine fal-lals’. He learns from his companions of a passing scholar who they encountered in a nearby town, and who performed ‘a rambling iambic account of the Rape of Lucretia’, which he considers to be inappropriate for ‘a mixed audience’ (a view with which Vicki later agrees). 

We learn more of the scholar in a legionary’s letter to his mother, in which he reveals that he has been ordered to kill said scholar, who is ‘in the running for the Golden Rose Bowl at the Senate Song Contest’, an accolade his employer wishes for himself. Ian learns from the home invaders that Barbara carelessly asked about the conversion rate from pounds to lira in the market, alerting the locals that she and Vicki must be Britons. Ian recalls he’d once contemplated a sailing holiday that would have been roughly the same stretch of water on which he now finds himself after being press-ganged into the rowing crew of a ship. He played rugby as an ‘Old Boy’, which once again suggests he’s a former pupil of Coal Hill School. He also reminds his headmaster that he was deputised as games master after Farthingale ‘lost an ear during a hockey scrimmage’. Ian references the hugely successful American comedian Jack Benny.

Nero sketches out an ode to Barbara – it’s terrible – and he uses the word ‘anapaest’ (incorrectly). There’s an unfortunate scene in the Doctor’s diary where he refers to a character as ‘deaf and dumb’ (very much frowned upon nowadays, but a common enough term even when the book was written); he claims to be ‘well acquainted with the rudiments of sign language’, but as he also calls it ‘mime’, we can take from this that the Doctor knows nothing about sign language (as we later see on TV in Before the Flood), least of all that there is not one universal sign language – not even in English-speaking territories. Let’s hope his efforts are more effective than we see on telly with the Zarbi!

The lions, which the Doctor accidentally frees during the gladiatorial games, find their way into Nero’s suite, where they settle down for a nap. Having embarked upon his adventure solely to disprove the legend that Nero ‘fiddled while Rome burned’, the Doctor leaves with Nero’s lyre and his plans for a new Rome in his hands; he sets fire to the plans, which then causes a major fire in the city and, happy that he has not made any effect on established history, departs while playing the lyre. In the epilogue, Tacitus lays the blame for the fire squarely on the Doctor’s shoulders. He names the tale ‘The Quo Vadis TARDIS Affair’ and also reveals that the failed assassin Ascaris eventually ended up in Britain, causing mayhem and disruption during the construction of Hadrian’s Wall.

Cover: As Nero looks out to a burning Rome, the Doctor stands dressed in a toga. Tony Masero coincidentally uses the same photo reference of Hartnell that Andrew Skilleter used on The Gunfighters.

Final Analysis: Where to start with this? It’s likely that Donald Cotton has seen the BBC’s I Claudius. He might even have read Robert Graves’ original Claudius novels, too; as with Graves’ notation of the events of the Roman Empire, there’s a sly nod to the modern reader in the way Cotton suggests that his work is too contentious and should be left unpublished until… say, 1987. He definitely watched the historical farce Up Pompeii! though. His Tacitus straddles the centuries, just like Frankie Howerd did as Lurcio, with puns and sly winks that would make little or no sense to the Romans. Indeed, there’s one sequence where the Doctor, in his diary, observes that his would-be assassin was ‘getting away with the lute’, a joke that clearly gives him great satisfaction, until the character (and writer) begin to dissect it and he realises that the musical ‘lute’ wouldn’t be invented for four centuries and the word ‘loot’ wasn’t popularised until the 1920s. 

While the story remains largely the same, Cotton’s use of multiple epistolary narrators leads to some deviations in the telling. The assassin Ascaris is a recurring narrator and adds greatly to the sense that the Doctor is in fact a bloody nuisance. The poor Legionary accidentally kills his own superior, is set upon by lions and eventually emerges from his hiding place when the Doctor throws burning documents into the sewers, setting Ascaris alight. This is Cotton’s final novel for the range and it’s a shame. Each of his novels provides an education, not so much in the history, which is wilfully unreliable, but in the sheer unlimited joy of writing. I’ve loved every unbelievable word of these.

Chapter 118. Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror (1987)

Synopsis: The TARDIS lands on Earth and the Doctor is keen to rid himself of the schoolteachers at last. Ian, however, wants assurance that the time is correct as well as the location. He’s right to be cautious as the travellers soon learn they have arrived in France in the 18th Century, when a bloody revolution is sweeping through the country. Separated from the Doctor, his fellow travellers Ian, Susan and Barbara are arrested and face execution, before they receive a surprising offer of help – and face betrayal from a new acquaintance.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. So Near And So Far
  • 2. Under Siege
  • 3. Prisoners Of The People
  • 4. The Diggers
  • 5. Liberty
  • 6. Sanctuary
  • 7. The Tyrant Of France
  • 8. Betrayal Everywhere
  • 9. Illusions Shattered
  • 10. A Hard Bargain
  • 11. A Glimpse Of Things To Come
  • 12. Escaping From History

Background: Ian Marter adapts scripts from a 1964 story by Dennis Spooner. The book was published 10 months after Marter’s death and 22 years and six months after the story originally aired, narrowly missing out on the record for biggest gap between transmission and novelisation by just two weeks. This followed The Sensorites on TV, so that’s another pair of stories to be released consecutively.

Notes: The Doctor apparently has ‘sharp grey eyes’ (and is described as being a ‘Time Lord’!) while Susan is said (rather wonderfully) to have ‘Joan of Arc features’. The TARDIS scanner has a ‘telephoto’ setting. The Doctor has a normal body temperature of ‘sixty degrees fahrenheit’ (which is about 15 degrees celsius). Ian can speak basic, halting French, Barbara is a little better but of course the Doctor is fluent (so, no ‘Time Lord gift’ in play here). On hearing that the French Revolution is the Doctor’s favourite period of Earth history, Barbara realises that this was why Susan had wanted to borrow the book on that particular topic on the night that the two teachers were abducted. We’re reminded repeatedly of the teacher-pupil relationship between Barbara and Susan. Confronted by the innkeeper of The Sinking Ship Inn, Ian pretends that he and Barbara are a married couple (and a generation of fans experience a momentary glow of emotion). It’s Barbara, not Ian, who tells James Stirling about Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power as ‘one of three Consuls’, despite assuring Ian that she learned how impossible it is to change history during their encounter with the Aztecs. Once the travellers have made it safely back to the TARDIS, the Doctor tells the two teachers that their involvement in this period of history will have no effect:

‘The mainstream of history is fixed and immutable,’ he reminded them. ‘I think you’re all rather belittling the subject. Our own lives are important in themselves. To us, at present. As we experience things, so we learn.’

The Doctor’s final line on TV is removed here, replaced by an exchange where Ian asks where they’re heading next and the Doctor replied ‘Who knows? Because I certainly don’t!’

Cover: The Doctor in that famous tricolor-adorned outfit stands in front of citizens and a guillotine, in a painting by Tony Masero.

Final Analysis: Everyone expected Ian Marter to approach The French Revolution as if it were a Roger Corman adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe story. While there is a particularly graphic depiction of Robespierre being shot (‘blood, teeth and fragments of jawbone spurted out between his clawing fingers’), Marter is otherwise remarkably restrained. Here, without oily Cybemen to provide the gore, he instead dwells upon the expectorations of the characters: The roadside foreman spits into a hedge; the gaoler spits before wiping his nose on a sleeve; during the fire in the farmhouse, even the Doctor succumbs to ‘bubbling acid mucus’, which he spits out during ‘a spasm of nauseous coughing’. Marter spares us none of the squalid details of life in the past, where food is poor, medicine involves leeches and everyone’s rather smelly. Our regulars really suffer too, with abrasions to their hands and wrists from all the digging and being chained up. You have to wonder though – why would the Doctor consider a time of mass public executions his favourite period of Earth history? Maybe if Susan had actually brought back that book from school he might have known better…