Synopsis: A dilapidated prison in space comes under attack as the Daleks try to recapture the prison’s sole inmate – their creator, Davros. On Earth in 1984, soldiers investigate strange objects found in an old warehouse. The Doctor, Tegan and Turlough are nearby and as they help the army with their search, the Doctor is slowly drawn into a trap…
Numbered one to Eleven, plus a Coda.
Background: This is a reprint of Eric Saward’s novel from 2019 with minimal corrections (though to be honest, I’m hard-pushed to spot exactly what), based on his scripts for a serial from 1984. This edition has the smallest type of any Target novel so far.
Notes: The old tramp’s name is Jones. We’re told a little of the history of Shad Thames. Raymond Arthur Stien is a quartermaster sergeant ‘although in charge of distributing the apparatus of war, he himself had always managed to avoid armed confrontation’. Tegan recognises the Cloister Bell – the ‘Campana Magna’.
The ship is called the Vipod Mor. It used to be a battlecruiser and it fought in the Hexicon Delta Zone Wars, when it was called the Fighting Brigand and captained by Andrew Smyth, known for his ability to drink vast quantities of Voxnik. Then it was sold to ‘the poet, explorer, scientist and lover, Fellion, Vipod Mor’ who, after being caught in a compromising position with his android assistant, was imprisoned in the ship for 97 years. After Fellion’s death, his ship was reclaimed and converted into an actual prison ship [and see the novelisation of Slipback for why this is interesting].
Lieutenant Tyler Mercer has been in space intelligence for eight years and is the youngest head of security in the intergalactic penitentiary service. He’s been in deep-space stasis for two weeks for his journey to the Vipod Mor. The current captain is another one fond of the Voxnik, hence why he’s already drunk when the crisis begins. The ship’s medical officer is Dr Elizabeth Styles. Her assistant is a beautiful android called Monda who is learning German and hopes to learn Terileptil [see The Visitation]. The ship has a cat called Sir Runcible. Ensign Fabian Osborn spends her spare time translating Terileptil poetry into Northern Hemisphere Earth English. She warns Mercer that most of what he learned at the academy doesn’t apply aboard the Vipod Mor. Senior Ensign Baz Seaton was thought to be the dimmest crew member until a computer glitch revealed he had the highest IQ of all. Later, we learn that Seaton is secretly in the employ of the Daleks and is also behind a minor subplot concerning Osborn’s stolen tools. Seaton shoots Osborn but is then shot by Lytton; the mercenary uses a Browning 9mm automatic, which he prefers to modern laser weapons.
The strange objects that (we later learn) contain the Movellan virus samples are hidden in the basement of the warehouse. The Doctor identifies a computer code running through the time corridor and eventually pins it down as Ciskinady, used by the Daleks (Turlough comes to the same conclusion and is sufficiently aware of the Daleks – and, it turns out, Davros! – to recognise their computer code). The Doctor schools Tegan in the basics of Dalek history and, while he believes they were all destroyed, he feels it’s his duty to hunt them down and eradicate them if they’ve returned. The Doctor still uses his half-moon spectacles and in his pockets he carries a wooden HB pencil, some jelly babies and a device to project maps onto surfaces.
The opposite end of the Dalek corridor emerges on board a Dalek battle cruiser in 4590 (though as the craft travels through the time continuum, this might just be when it arrived, rather than when it’s from originally). The cruiser is presumably stolen as the Daleks have modified it extensively. Most of the non-Dalek crew of the battle cruiser are Tellurian – ie human [a subtle nod to Robert Holmes – see Carnival of Monsters]. The station has two starfighters at its disposal; engaging with the approaching battle cruiser, they are destroyed in seconds.
According to Tegan, she and the Doctor met Sir Christopher Wren during the Great Fire of London when ‘those Terileptil things were around’. The Doctor reminds her that they met William Shakespeare. She isn’t much of a tea drinker and doesn’t ‘do colonial history’. Turlough is familiar enough with English literature to reference Christopher Robin and recognise a play by Oscar Wilde. He regards his old school as a place for ‘modern-day thuggery’ and abuse. Despite hating his old school, Turlough still wears the uniform as he hopes it will convince the Doctor’s enemies to underestimate a child; he knows this won’t work with Daleks. The Doctor runs like ‘a two-headed sangorstyk being chased by a hungry speelsnape’ (a creature that Saward references in many of his novels).
The Dalek Supreme looks larger than a normal Dalek and has a black body and white ‘nodules’. Gustav Lytton (not ‘Gustave’ as seen in Attack of the Cybermen) has worked with Daleks before and accepts their commissions because they improve his market rates. He finds them ‘noisy, aggressive and highly repetitive’, but this Supreme is quieter and – Lytton’s surprised to learn – a bit sarcastic, telling him ‘only a fool would expect an answer’ to his questions. The Alpha Dalek – the second in command – considers the Supreme ‘effete’.
The station is bombarded by Low-Impact Torpedoes that take out power substations and flood the corridors with acrid smoke before the gas canisters are released. When the mines in the airlock are detonated, 15 Daleks are destroyed (slightly more than the two on telly). The narrator tells us that ‘by now, almost everyone [the prisoner] had known would doubtless be dead’. Considering this is Davros, and he was in suspended animation for thousands of years before he was frozen, this might seem a little obvious, so we must assume that this is a viewpoint generally held by the crew and that they don’t necessarily know the details of his extended timeline:
His lower half, liveried much as a Dalek, was not only his transport but his life support system. On his top half, with its missing left arm, Davros was dressed in the inevitable leather jacket. With blind eyes he observed the world through a single, blue electronic eyeball set into his forehead.
The bomb disposal squad includes metallurgist Professor Sarah Laird, Sergeant Graham Calder, who is an explosives expert and also very good at making a decent pot of tea, and the group leader, Colonel Patrick Archer, who is an academic without much active field experience. The soldier killed by the Dalek in the warehouse is the first to die under Archer’s command, which unnerves the Colonel more than he expects. The soldier attacked by the Dalek mutant is Lance Corporal Miller.
Turlough has a compass given to him by the Doctor, which he regrets leaving behind in the TARDIS as he gets hopelessly lost aboard the Dalek ship. The Doctor feels uncomfortable killing the Dalek mutant with a handgun. A second Dalek arrives unnoticed at the warehouse, fails to find its fallen comrade and disappears via the time corridor.
Davros enlists help from Trooper engineer Dente Kiston (considering the character was played by future EastEnders star Leslie Grantham, should we wonder if his nickname among the crew was ‘Dirty Dente’?). It’s Lytton, not Kiston who suggests Davros must be ‘equally humane’ in his revenge. The Supreme and Alpha Daleks are aware of Davros’s betrayal from the very start, but the Supreme allows it to play out. Davros is compared to Florence Foster Jenkins attempting a high-C as he rants. A cultural reference for the kids there, Eric.
The TARDIS is said to be from the ‘Type 40 TT series’ but the Doctor has modified it extensively: There’s an art gallery where visitors can gain an insight into artworks by walking around in them; a cavernous wardrobe containing ‘oceans of conflicting garments’; the Explosion Emotion Chamber allows a person to relive sensations and memories; the library contains all of literature from throughout Earth’s history; the robot chef, Ooba-Doa, can conjure up any number of delectable dishes; and the gym, cinema, concert room, private allotment (with its own shed), rock collection and workshops are similarly beyond the realms of a TV budget. The Doctor’s favourite films include Chimes at Midnight (1965, Orson Welles), The Sea Hawk (1940, Michael Curtis) and The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed).
Lance Corporal Miller, controlled by the Dalek poison in his blood, runs off through Shad Thames until he finds a white lorry; he climbs into the back – where he joins his deceased colleagues. A squad of Daleks materialises inside the warehouse to send a high-frequency signal that activates the duplication process (the high-pitched whine that affects Laird on TV). The duplicates then emerge from the back of the white lorry. It’s the Alpha Dalek that intercepts the Doctor on his arrival (‘that’s a new title’, he notes). An officious Gamma Dalek is assigned to guard Davros. A Beta Dalek oversees the duplication room. The two Daleks who are conditioned to obey Davros are Delta and Epsilon.
Stien loses his stammer when his true identity is revealed and he calls everyone ‘dear boy’ (something Lytton finds especially annoying). The Doctor reveals that he previously met Lytton when he was running a ‘high-class jazz club in Old Compton Street’ (a part of London’s Soho district where Tom Baker spent a lot of the late 70s and early 80s and – presumably – inspired by the similar set-up of Philip Martin’s TV series Gangsters, which starred Lytton actor Maurice Colbourne). Styles is accompanied in the self-destruct chamber by crew member Zena. The Doctor has a lovely little rant at Beta Dalek.
Here we go again, thought the Doctor. ‘Trying to build empires on the back of the dead never works. Kill the Time Lords and you make war on Time itself – all you will get us chaos. And when there is chaos, disaster follows. Have you not learned that?’
The metal detectorist, PJ, was friends with Mr Jones, the tramp shot by the same fake policemen earlier that morning. Tegan is profoundly affected by his murder, a feeling that only increases as she finds the bodies of Colonel Archer and his men. It’s the moment when the Doctor announces his decision to kill Davros when it all becomes too much for her.
The duplication process triggers memories for the Doctor, regret at having been unable to save Adric and regret at not finding a way of halting the Terileptils in 17th Century London without letting them burn to death. He doesn’t appear to remember other companions although he does recall his fourth and second selves. Lytton tells the Supreme Dalek that the duplicates are failing because they keep remembering their past lives; he’s also aware that the Supreme is concerned by the depleted numbers of the Daleks after their defeat in the war. Davros is aware that the Doctor is a Time Lord and that he is capable of regeneration. As Davros’ Daleks assert that they are not traitors, Alpha accuses them of blasphemy as ‘the Supreme Dalek is your ruler’. Gamma and Alpha destroy each other in a blast of simultaneous gunfire. The Doctor moves the TARDIS up a level in the warehouse ‘like a lift in Henrik’s’ – yes, the same store Rose Tyler would work in 21 years later.
The Doctor vows to go after Lytton. Turlough also seems to know who Lytton is (and that he’s an alien too). Tegan wonders if she was too rash in leaving the Doctor. She has been with him for three years and saw many exciting places. She begins to feel strange, as if in possession of new powers. Followed to Tower Bridge by the two policemen, she evades them by dropping down from the bridge edge onto a passing barge. She decides to track down Lytton herself, ‘on her own terms’.
Cover: Anthony Dry’s artwork shows the Doctor with two grey-and-black Daleks.
Final Analysis: There’s something frustrating about Saward’s writing. He often surprises with an odd viewpoint or character insight that really lifts a scene but he also seems easily distracted. Like so many writers in SF, he succumbs too easily to the temptation of trying to make the most mundane, everyday things sound exotic and alien (watch Star Trek for some really bad examples of this), so it’s ‘Terileptil wine’ or ‘Siddion Quartz batteries’ or ‘Tellurian’ whatever, when we really shouldn’t be so focused on such details just as an alien horde is about to burst in. The historical detail about Shad Thames is a lovely piece of background detail that spotlights the history to the location, but when Stien enters the TARDIS and discovers its many rooms, Saward lacks any sense of discipline as he pads the job with giddy abandon to sketch out a hidden dimension of madness that has absolutely no bearing on the plot and adds nothing whatsoever to the characters. Such mind-blowing discoveries could have been the trigger that unlocks Stien’s conditioning, for example, but it just goes nowhere. Also, the tagged-on final sequence with Tegan might have struck Saward as empowerment, but it’s really rather silly.
That’s the negative critique out of the way. This really is the ‘expanded universe’ version of an already popular tale. The crew of the prison station (here named the Vipod Mor, for reasons that apparently completely escaped Saward) are even more disheartened and dejected than they appear on screen, but we’re shown why and how this comes about. The bomb squad are a keen group of experts with likeable personalities but a significant lack of experience in battle situations, so we feel Archer’s discomfort and sense of responsibility as the killings begin. Tegan’s growing distress at the violence that surrounds her is a subtle slow burn, which contrasts her memories of many otherwise uneventful trips to fantastical worlds that we never got to see, while Turlough’s alien nature is illustrated by his love of skulking, his casual knowledge of extra-terrestrial politics and the rather marvellous revelation that he only maintains his school uniform because he believes it will make him seem less of a threat to the Doctor’s enemies if they consider him to be just a mere schoolboy.
Like Robert Holmes, Saward loves using violence as a means to tap the blackly comic cruelty of the universe:
Enveloped by the gas, people started to die. Internal organs atrophied or erupted like massive boils, causing bodies to rapidly decompose. The truly unlucky developed a form of accelerated leprosy where flesh and sinew instantly started to rot. Whoever had designed the gas seemed to possess a highly warped obsession with reducing organic living beings too little more than puddles of acrid slime.
Unsurprisingly, Saward does Davros rather well. We might think of the character as a dry husk, but Saward depicts him as very wet – coughing, spluttering, gurgling and spitting throughout, ‘like a man with a sudden, intense bout of malaria’. He also achieves a minor miracle by giving each of his Daleks subtle characteristics and personalities. The Supreme is pompous and ‘effete’, Alpha is impetuous and full of scorn for the Supreme’s leadership and the conditioned Daleks genuinely don’t understand what the fuss is all about when all they want to do is serve their creator. Our narrator points out that this teetering on the brink of civil war is a recurring issue with Daleks (and having Daleks called Alpha and Beta might also remind us of a previous period of inter-factional hostility in Dalek history). They might not be strictly adhering to Terry Nation’s vision of a unified and logical race, but this is a very welcome addition to the Dalek DNA.