Chapter 126. Doctor Who – The Mysterious Planet (1988)

Synopsis: The Doctor is on trial for his life and the prosecutor, the Valeyard, presents to a jury of Time Lords his first evidence, in which the Doctor and his friend Peri explore the planet Ravalox. There they meet the underground dwellers and their ruler, a robot called Drathro, the Tribe of the Free and their ruler, Queen Katryca, and a pair of intergalactic conmen called Glitz and Dibber, who confirm the Doctor’s suspicions, that the planet Ravalox has been moved across the universe from its original location – where it was known as ‘Earth’.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Trial Begins
  • 2. Underground
  • 3. Barbarian Queen
  • 4. The Stoning
  • 5. The Reprieve
  • 6. Meeting the Immortal
  • 7. Escape
  • 8. Captives of Queen Katryca
  • 9. The Attack of the Robot
  • 10. Hunt for the Doctor
  • 11. Secrets
  • 12. Tradesman’s Entrance
  • 13. The Big Bang
  • 14. End and Beginning

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts by Robert Holmes for episodes 1-4 of the 1986 serial The Trial of a Time Lord. Holmes had been slated to adapt this himself, prior to his death in 1986.

Notes: The space station that houses the courtroom is hidden within a junkyard floating in space. The Doctor is ‘a tall, strongly built man with a slight tendency towards overweight’ (!) and beneath the ‘mop of curly hair, the face was round, full-lipped and sensual, with a hint of something catlike about the eyes’. The ups and downs of the Doctor’s relationship with the Time Lords are summarised, including his time as a fugitive, his exile to Earth for ‘five years’ (during which he was the scientific adviser to UNIT) and the couple of times he briefly occupied the position of President. Sabalom Glitz is ‘a burly thick-set fellow with a tendency towards fatness’, while his lackey, Dibber, is ‘taller and brawnier with a hard face and coarse bristly black hair’. The final chapter uses a title variation of a Terrance Dicks favourite – ‘End and Beginning’.

Cover: Queen Katryca is dwarfed by the L3 Robot, along with the planet Ravalox and a beam of black light, courtesy of Tony Masero. As before, there’s a flash marking this as part of the Trial of a Time Lord season (and the title page lists this as ‘The Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet’.

Final Analysis: Terrance Dicks returns and passes a few milestones’ as he adapts his friend Robert Holmes’ final complete story, tackles the sixth Doctor for his one and only time and it’s also his last novelisation for anything from outside of the 1960s. He matches the impressive opening model shot of the TV version with one of the best single pages of description he’s done for a while. 

Massive, arrogant, invincible, the great complex hovered in space, dwarfing the shattered hulks that drifted around it, dominating its section of space like some enormous baroque cathedral. There was an eerie, almost mystical quality about it. It seemed to be brooding… waiting. 

This enthusiasm to capture everything we might have felt on screen continues with the Doctor’s arrival; the insanity of his costume has never been described so thoroughly but in particular the ‘multi-coloured coat that might have made Joseph himself feel a pang of envy’. I can imagine Terrance chuckling as he wrote about ‘the jutting beak that was his nose [which] seemed to pursue the Doctor through most of his incarnations’. So cheeky!

Some years ago, I was hired as a ‘talking head’ contributor for the Doctor Who DVD range (subsequently released on Blu-Ray). My role there was to represent the views of the contributors who were no longer with us, so my interjections were deliberately on the side of the producer and less supportive of his more vocal critics, who I knew would also be interviewed. My own opinions were put aside, partly so that I didn’t stand in the way of the people I was representing, but also because my feelings towards the overall story – and this segment in particular – are very conflicted. The huge disappointment I felt on first viewing was replaced at first by mockery (a friend used to act out a hilarious ‘Trial in 14 minutes’ routine that had us guffawing for months) and then a desperation to ‘fix’ the story in our minds – a process fans now call ‘head-canon’. I didn’t read this novelisation at the time and it’s rewarding after all these years to find Terrance Dicks trying his best to nudge the narrative a little, hinting at things the reader might discover later or enhancing the mood with a well-chosen description; that thing on the Valeyard’s head might well be a ‘skull-cap’, but coming between the ‘all in black’ ensemble and the ‘gaunt-faced’ description, it just adds to the idea that the Time Lord prosecutor is Death personified. He’s not breaking any new ground here, but Dicks is definitely putting the effort where it’s needed most.

Chapter 125. Doctor Who – The Time Meddler (1988)

Synopsis: New arrival in the TARDIS Steven Taylor cannot accept that he’s travelled in time, even when confronted with a Viking helmet in the year 1066. Landing on a beach, the Doctor and his friends explore the coastline and find themselves in a village near a monastery where the only inhabitant is a very furtive, very secretive monk. The Doctor immediately recognises him as one of his own people, but unlike the Doctor, he has no concerns about changing history, in fact, that’s what the Monk is determined to do.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1 The Watcher
  • 2 The Saxons
  • 3 The Monastery
  • 4 Prisoners of the Saxons
  • 5 The Vikings
  • 6 An Empty Cell
  • 7 Unwelcome Visitors
  • 8 The Secret of the Monastery
  • 9 The Monk’s Master Plan
  • 10 A Threat to the Future
  • 11 A Parting Gift
  • Epilogue

Background: Nigel Robinson adapts scripts by Dennis Spooner for a story from 1965.

Notes: A prologue offers a scene from The Chase not shown on TV as Steven Taylor flees the burning City of the Mechonoids and the ‘strange alien creatures who had come to this planet in search of four mysterious space travellers’. Clutching his stuffed panda and avoiding the Fungoid plants, he runs for hours in pursuit of the four travellers, who had helped him escape. Eventually, he finds a blue box in the jungle and makes his way inside before passing out. And a generation of fans cheer!

The Doctor has ‘sharp blue eyes’ [as we’ve established, the actor who played him had brown eyes]. Vicki is ‘little more than five feet tall’ and she has ‘elfin good looks and a mischievous little-girl smile’. The TARDIS control room contains a Louis Quatorze chair and an ormolu clock, which has stopped. We’re reminded that Vicki came from the 25th Century and that she is an orphan. She had assumed that Steven had died in the flames. 

Edith and Wulnoth have been married for 15 years, though it’s said that she has aged considerably more than her thirty years (a little harsh on actress Alethea Charlton there!). The Monk’s carefully prepared breakfast for the Doctor is a masterpiece in time-trolling: Using a ‘Baby Belling stove’, a non-stick frying pan and a steel spatula, he cooks bacon, sausage and fried eggs; charred toast is delivered from a rusty toaster, served up on a plate with a bottle of tomato ketchup and a mug of instant coffee; and as he approaches the Doctor’s cell, he whistles a tune that won’t be written for nine hundred years (so, around 1965; later, he returns to the monastery whistling a Beatles song, so maybe it’s Ticket to Ride, which had appeared in the previous story, although reading this after 1988, Yesterday would be funnier).

The Doctor spells out for Steven and Vicki the consequences of the Monk’s ‘master plan’ – that as they are both English (new information, by the way!), the chances are that somewhere in their lineage is someone of Norman blood, someone who might die because of the Monk’s interference, thereby wiping out their descendants. It’s a tidy way of making the Doctor’s role much clearer to his young friends and to the reader. After taking the dimensional stabiliser from the Monk’s TARDIS, the Doctor also ensures that the atomic cannon is removed from the clifftop (and Steven has to lug it back to the TARDIS). The Doctor’s line about not being a ‘mountain goat’ (which he so beautifully fluffs on TV) is moved to the end of the book. In the epilogue, we discover the ridiculous effort the Monk puts into messing up time: Fearing some kind of reprisals from his ever-growing list of enemies, the Monk decides to leave his TARDIS in the chapel and cross England on a stolen horse to keep his plan on track; he reaches the infamous battle too late and sees William of Normandy declared the victor; the Monk heads north again to find the Doctor has stranded him in 1066 with a broken TARDIS.

Cover: Jeff Cummins makes his final contribution to the series with a haunting portrait of the Monk lighting beacons on the cliff tops. The image was flipped for the 1992 reprint, for some reason, accompanied by a ‘NOW BACK ON TELEVISION’ exclamation to tie in with the repeats on BBC 2.

Final Analysis: I’m growing rather fond of Nigel Robinson. He’s taken Terrance Dicks’ approach of transferring the script faithfully to the novel format, just adding additional information and tidying as he goes. There’s a charming significance to the way he captures Vicki by pulling in a detail of Maureen O’Brien’s performance, in that she pacifies the Doctor the same way the actress had quelled the fractious temper of her co-star. That he’s also choosing to cover the less favoured stories himself really underlines the mission to create a complete library of adaptations.

Chapter 124. Doctor Who – Terror of the Vervoids (1988)

Synopsis: As the Time Lords conclude their case for the prosecution, the Doctor takes his place to deliver a defence using evidence from his own future. It concerns his response to a distress call from the Hyperion III, a luxury liner travelling from Mogar to Earth. Among the passengers are a trio of Mogarians and a group of scientists specialising in the propagation of plants. Down in the hold, in a secure area, is a collection of large pods containing… what? As the Doctor and his friend Mel discover on arrival, the ship also contains a murderer.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1 The Defence Begins
  • 2 Identity Crisis
  • 3 Welcome Aboard
  • 4 Limbering Up
  • 5 Tiger Trap
  • 6 The Booby Trap
  • 7 The Fateful Harvest
  • 8 The Demeter Seeds
  • 9 A Change of Course
  • 10 Death Of An Impostor
  • 11 A Plethora of Suspects
  • 12 The Isolation Room
  • 13 Quirky Phenomena
  • 14 The Enemy Within
  • 15 Deadly Disposal
  • 16 A Heinous Crime
  • 17 The Black Hole of Tartarus
  • 18 A Deadly Intruder
  • 19 A Whiff of Death
  • 20 Hijack
  • 21 A Sacrificial Goat
  • 22 Dénouement
  • 23 Philosophy of a Vervoid
  • 24 The Life Cycle
  • Epilogue

Background: Pip & Jane Baker adapt their scripts for episodes 9-12 of the 1986 serial The Trial of a Time Lord. This is the first ‘modern’ story in 19 books and the Sixth Doctor is no longer the incumbent.

Notes: Melanie, ‘known as Mel’, was a computer programmer when she joined the Doctor three months ago, her time; her background in computers is hinted at, but not specifically stated on screen until Time and the Rani (and her given surname, Bush, is never actually said onscreen or in print, only in character outlines from the production office). She is 22 years old, 4 feet 10 inches tall and has a 22″ waist. The Doctor has blue eyes. The authors draw our attention to the fact that, like the other two Mogarians, Enzu has a vowel at each end of his name and a ‘z’ in the middle.

The ‘waxy, olive, leaf-veined hands’ of the Vervoids are tipped with thorns, they have ‘vermillion features’ and their skeletons are formed from vines.

Walking upright, the biped’s head was sculpted like a closed ivory brown bud. It had sunken cheeks that projected forward an o-shaped, rubbery mouth. Curling, transparent sepals shielded ear-slits. Neither eyebrows nor lashes framed the lidless, staring eyes in the grotesque, noseless face. Noseless because, like plants, it breathed through its waxy leaves.

Defending himself from a Vervoid attack through a ventilation grill, Bruchner severs the creature’s brittle arm, which independently continues to attack him. After hijacking the bridge of the Hyperion III, Bruchner imagines an Earth ruled by Vervoids, where humanity Is driven to the deserts – and even there he suspects the creatures might somehow thrive. As one Vervoid falls victim to the garbage disposal, another Vervoid learns how to use a gun and shoots a guard dead. There are a few additional scenes of the Valeyard back in the courtroom, taunting the Doctor and leading the jury towards a guilty verdict. It’s clarified that the Mogarians are killed by acid that corrodes their suits and exposes them to the air that is toxic to them. As he borrows a gun, the Doctor slips a note to the Commodore warning him of his suspicions about Doland.

Mr Kimber wears a wristwatch given to him by his son, Peter; he’s travelling back to Earth to visit his son and four grandchildren, looking forward to spending time in the Yorkshire Dales. Lasky’s father, Hubert, was a celebrated scientist but she was closer to her mother, who died when Lasky was a child; her mother used to talk to house plants and it’s this that convinces the thrematologist to attempt mediation with the Vervoids – in vain. 

Cover: Tony Masero’s Vervoid is very stylised but not up to his usual work. It’s rather flat. The cover also features a flash on the bottom right explaining that this is part of The Trial of a Time Lord series. Or will be, when the other books are published (the title page lists this as ‘The Trial of a Time Lord: Terror of the Vervoids’).

Final Analysis: I was full of praise for Pip ‘n’ Jane’s first novel. Ah well…

I didn’t read this one at the time of publication, but I heard some wry comments about their writing style. One friend took great pleasure in telling me that they make a point of telling us that Mogarian names have vowels at either end and a ‘z’ in the middle. Certainly, though their tone of voice is very much for younger children than we’ve grown used to, their use of language veers towards the ridiculous, like a teenager armed with their first thesaurus. Why say ‘they were as stubborn as each other’ when you could come up with this?:

Obduracy was hardly a characteristic Mel could reasonably object to, being amply endowed with the same quality herself. She withdrew temporarily to the vionesium sunbed to await the granting of an audience with the autocratic academic.

There are a couple of attempts to provide additional backstory for their characters, but there’s less forward planning than we might have had from Hulke or Dicks; the details are placed immediately before their payoff (information about Kimber’s family is revealed on the page before he’s killed, and likewise Lasky’s). While this is a fairly straightforward transcription from screen to page, even down to how the scenes transitioned on TV, the enjoyment comes from the Bakers’ rather florid style as they strain to make every sentence as complicated as possible. It’s hard not to love them though, trying as hard as they can to inspire a passion for literature (as on telly, there are plenty of opportunities for eager readers to look up their cultural references if the desire grabs them). I have a suspicion though that this, rather than Mark of the Rani, will be more representative of their style going forward. It’s giddy, vibrant and eager to make even the dullest of elements exciting… but it still makes one yearn for the elegant simplicity of a Terrance Dicks.

Chapter 123. Doctor Who – The Rescue (1988)

Synopsis: A spaceship from Earth has crashed onto the planet Dido, the only survivors are Bennett, whose legs were crippled in the accident, and the orphaned girl Vicki. As Bennett spends most of his time locked in his room, it falls to Vicki to look after him and welcome occasional visits from a terrifying native of the planet called Koquillion. Then another craft lands, containing three travellers from Earth. Koquillion tells Vicki that the newcomers have been killed – but Vicki knows this isn’t true as one of them is hiding in her cabin. Why did Koqillion lie? 

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • Chapters One to Fifteen
  • Epilogue

Background: Published 15 months after his death, and with final amendments by range editor Nigel Robinson, Ian Marter’s final novel, an adaptation of David Whitaker’s 1964 scripts, came 22 years and seven months after the story’s broadcast. With his tenth book for the range (including Harry Sullivan’s War), Marter here became the second most prolific author of the novelisations after Terrance Dicks.

Notes: Range Editor Nigel Robinson writes a brief note at the start of the book to acknowledge the death of Ian Marter (which might have come as a shock to any fans who weren’t readers of Doctor Who Magazine). He dedicates the novel to Ian’s fans. A prologue reveals events prior to the start of the TV episode. The ship taking Vicki and the other passengers to Earth is renamed the Astra Nine. It crash landed on Dido three months ago and a rescue ship from Earth – The Seeker – is 69 hours away. Its crew, including an American called Weinberger, a young trainee called Oliphant and the Commander, Smith, are restless and playing games to pass the time, when a tall blue box narrowly avoids collision with them (and we’ll return to them later in the novel). Aboard the wreck of the Astra Nine, Vicki has ‘a pale, almost fragile face’:

She had huge eyes with fine eyebrows arched high at the outer corners giving her an air of alert surprise. Her short cropped hair, oval face and small mouth suggested Joan of Arc, and her nose was definitely Norman. Her simple short-sleeved dress and her dirty bare feet made her look even more like the Maid of Orleans.

The other survivor, Bennett, has ‘long black hair reached almost to his shoulders’ and his beard is ‘trimmed in the Spanish style’. 

The light on top of the TARDIS continues to flash dimly after landing (as it did on screen). The interior is ‘spotless’ and there’s a dark screen set into one of the walls. Barbara is described as a ‘slim shapely woman with a mass of thick black hair’ in the ‘high lacquered style of the 1960s’. She has ‘strong features’, ‘firmly arched eyebrows and a wide mouth’ while her ‘tightly fitting black cardigan and slacks’ give her ‘a rather formal, austere air which matched her direct, independent manner’. Ian is also slim, his short dark hair has a ‘neat parting in the mod style’. He looks ‘conventional’, but ‘his bright eyes suggested determination and a touch of mischief’. His short jacket and narrow tapered trousers make him look ‘like a bank clerk’.

The Doctor looks to be in his ‘late sixties’ (ie a decade older than the actor who played him!). 

His long, snow white hair was brushed severely back from his proud, hawkish face. His grey eyes were pale but fiercely intense and his thin lips drew down at the corners in a disapproving way. The imperious effect of his beaklike nose, which gave him a rather remote and superior air was accentuated by his hollow cheeks and his flaring nostrils. But his clothes were shabby. He wore a starched wing collar shirt with a meticulously-tied cravat, a brocaded waistcoat and a pair of sharply creased checked trousers.

He recalls that Susan is ‘no longer with us’ (hopefully a literal rather than existential description) while Ian and Barbara ponder how she’s getting on and are reassured that she was left in the care of David. The Doctor remembers that Dido is the thirteenth planet in the ‘rotating binary star system Proxima Gemini in the Galaxy Moore Eleven, Subcluster Tel’. Later, the Doctor describes the planet’s figure-of-eight orbit around its two suns, which accounts for repeatedly drastic reductions of the planet’s population, who he calls the ‘Didoi’.

Koquillian is blessed with an impressively detailed description from head to toe that hint at the true nature of the beast:

It walked on two legs like a human, but its horrific head was like the head of some gigantic bird of prey or some colossal insect combined into an almost mechanical hybrid by an evil genius. Its great globular eyes glowed red, protruding at the end of thick tubular stalks. Its domed skull bristled with stubby antennae, some sharply pointed like probes or stings, others gaping open like suckers. The creature’s beak was guarded by two enormous horizontal fangs curving inwards from the sides of its squat, segmented neck. The horny carapace of its body glistened as if it were sweating a viscous oily gum. Its long simian arms ended in vicious pincers like the claws of a crustacean, while its feet were also clawlike but much larger, scouring and ripping the sandy floor with convulsive ferocity. The thing’s raucous breath seemed to issue from flapping leathery lips, forced through congested chambers and strangled tubing deep within the armoured chest.

We’re also treated to the traditional ‘movie version’ of a creature that was less impressive on telly:

Its vast head was the size of a small room and it tossed savagely from side to side as if trying to tear the stale air apart... The enormous jaws were armed not with teeth but with curving scimitar gums as sharp as blades. On each side of the head was a giant luminous red eye whose dilated pupil enabled the beast to see quite easily in its dark habitat. Around the thick neck there was a kind of ruff of bony spines alternating with weblike plates. The creature’s massive body was plated and hinged like that of an armadillo or a rhinoceros, and its dry horny skin, pitted and grooved, was the colour of the sand itself. The monster’s thick legs were so short that its belly dragged perpetually along the ground and its long tail thrashed the sand like a whip.

The Doctor compares the noise of the sand beast below to a Wagnerian aria, but he doesn’t know Edgar Allan Poe when Ian references him. When they find the body of Vicki’s monstrous pet, the Doctor realises he knows the creature, a silicodon, a species found only on Dido and ‘a planet called Sokol in one of the Willoughby galaxies’. Unseen by Koquillian, a pair of Didoi appear much earlier than the finale – and with a much more alien physiognomy. They have long heads that taper to ‘narrow jaws set on slender necks’. Their faces are flat and smooth with ‘faintly sparkling flecks on the skin’ and their eyes look like large, circular green gleams. 

Asked why she and her father left Earth, Vicki explained that the planet was suffering because of the ‘greenhouse effect’, a notion that was ever present in the late-1980s but less so in Ian’s time (he makes a point of noting the information in case it might be useful if he should ever return home). As Ian and Vicki try to rescue Barbara, their progress is blocked by a huge worm, about 15 metres long, with a ‘glistening spherical head’, burning red eyes and yawning pink mouth. It leaves a sticky trail that attaches to Barbara’s shoes and makes a sound like ‘spitting fat in a pan’. As they continue into the caverns to find the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki discover the remnants of the Didoi civilisation made of glass and metal, including a colossal tower in the centre of an amphitheatre, surrounded by ‘dozens of slender bridges radiating out like the spokes of a gigantic wheel’. They follow the silver Didoi, who bring the Doctor to safety and leave him outside of the TARDIS. Unusually, the literal cliffhanger ending of the TV story is preserved.

The crew of The Seeker speculate that the blue cabinet that they saw might be of Chinese origin, knowing that there’s a mission from China on its way to ‘Geldof Eight’, which is less than a light year away from Dido. In the epilogue, it’s revealed that the Didoi (a male and a female) were ‘killed during encounter with support group personnel before any contact established’.

Cover: The first of two pieces of cover art by Tony Clark, this very green cover shows Koquillion and the Doctor with Sandy the Sand Beast, along with the face from a Didoan sculpture.

Final Analysis: He was the first author to tackle a two-part story and it’s fitting that another two-part adventure ends up being Ian Marter’s final entry for Target. According to Nigel Robinson, Marter’s original submission was riddled with innuendo and an obsession with the number ‘sixty nine’ (which survives only in the opening chapter). Following the lead of other authors, Marter makes the relationship between the Doctor and Ian much more antagonistic, not quite as affectionately teasing as on telly. It’s also clear that, unlike the other authors of the monochrome era, Marter has watched a videotape of the story before writing as he includes a few details (such as the TARDIS lamp flashing long after materialisation) that wouldn’t be evident from the script alone. As we’d hope, where he really succeeds is in making this the film version of what’s a particularly small-scale adventure, with the planet populated by huge, savage and drooling beasts and the tiny TV-studio caves replaced by vast caverns big enough to enclose the lost city of the Didoi. But it’s in the epilogue that he delivers a gut-punch, as a report from the Seeker back to Earth reveals the fate of those peaceful Didoi (yes, the Doctor was right all along). They conclude their report: ‘Happy Christmas. Peace on Earth. Goodwill to all persons.’

Heartbreaking. As is the fact that this is the last of Ian Marter’s novels. By this time, we’d lost Malcolm Hulke, Bryan Hayles and David Whitaker already, but somehow there’s a real sense that Ian would have continued his close connections to Doctor Who for years to come, perhaps as an author of the Virgin New and Missing Adventures. And 42 seems ridiculously young.