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.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 123. Doctor Who – The Rescue (1988)

  1. I’ve loved this book more and more each time I’ve come back to it (and the cover is much more accomplished than Tony Clark’s Space Pirates one). There’s an interesting mystery about the two “Didoi” in the TV version – that they might indeed be ghosts (or whatever energy-being form the aliens might adopt after the villain supposedly killed them all off – a bit like Blakes 7’s “Duel” where Terry Nation has the two “weird ladies” reveal that their entire race had zero survivors).

    It is depressing to think how Ian Marter’s work might’ve continued had he been spared. If he’d written Virgin NAs then I might have bought more of them at the time – from the sound of Nigel Robinson’s talking about the “innuendo” stuff he was already pathfinding that area, maybe aware of the increasing age of the child readers of the 70s and early 80s now being teenagers or twenty-somethings. Will you read/review any of them after finishing with the Targets?

    Liked by 1 person

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