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.
- 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
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.