Chapter 158. Doctor Who and the Pirate Planet (2021)

Synopsis: When the Doctor and Romana land on the planet Zanak, apparently by mistake, they discover a world where young men are tormented by haunting visions and where the people are so wealthy that they leave rare gems lying in the street. High up in the mountains sits their ruler, the Captain, half-man, half machine. The Doctor is appalled to discover that the Captain has found a way to pilot the entire planet around the galaxy, absorbing other worlds. But that’s nothing to how outraged he becomes when he finds out why…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Sky with Diamonds
  • 2. Right Place, Wrong Planet
  • 3. Meeting with Unusual Minds
  • 4. Late to the Party
  • 5. The Normally Delicious Smell of Pork
  • 6. Dark Satanic Mills
  • 7. The Death of Calufrax
  • 8. The Trophy Room
  • 9. Life’s Fleeting, but Plank’s Constant
  • 10. An Immortal Queen
  • 11. Dinner with Newton
  • 12. The Captain’s Plan

Background: James Goss rewrites his earlier, longer novel, adapting scripts by Douglas Adams for a story broadcast in 1977. At 43 years and six months, this once and for all is the story with the longest gap between broadcast of the original story on TV and eventual novelisation as a ‘Target’ book.

Notes: For the first time since Doctor Who and the Sunmakers, we have a ‘Doctor Who and the…’ title! The Doctor is still concerned about Romana’s lack of experience (in fact, he’s slightly afraid of her). Their quest to find the second segment of the Key to Time is officially ‘Day Two’ and only Romana’s second trip in the TARDIS. At the start, Romana’s gown flows behind her ‘with a slithering grace that tended to scare furniture’

The Captain is an impressive giant of a former man:

It was hard to tell where the chair ended and the Captain began. Nestled amongst it all were the remains of a very large man. Half of his face was covered with a metallic plate,. A green eye patch glowed dangerously, metal lips sneered and even half of his beard was iron. Things got worse beneath the neck. A vast robotic arm, two artificial legs, synthetic lungs that hissed with effort, and, at the end of a velvet-covered sleeve, the rather pathetic remains of a human hand twitched.

His parrot is more birdlike than on TV, with metallic feathers and a habit of hopping from foot to foot. The Nurse wears a pale green dress rather than a white one. Calufrax has two suns. K9 plugs himself into a streetlamp to access Zanak’s information network. The planets in the Captain’s trophy room float inside their glass cabinets. Romana tells Kimus that there is a ‘vast space’ on Gallifrey ‘where the memories of dead Time Lords gathered to grumble’ [which could be either something inside the Matrix, or the Cloister Wraiths seen in Hell Bent].

Cover: The Doctor, Romana and the Captain are dominated by an oversized Polyphase Avatron, courtesy of Anthony Dry.

Final Analysis: While this story was previously adapted as a hefty hardback novel, James Goss was working from Douglas Adams’ original scripts, so there were more diversions from what made it to screen. This is a leaner, more faithful adaptation of the TV episodes, but it’s still on the thicker end of the Target scale. As with City of Death, the main impression is one of joyful chaos as the Doctor comes to terms with having a new companion foisted upon him, while Romana is surprised to find herself placing a lot of trust in a man she’s only known for a day. As on TV, it’s the story of the rebellious kid from the wrong side of the time tracks trying to impress a woman of a different class and Goss adds little asides to show us how the relationship develops. By close of play, Romana seems to have got the measure of the Doctor.

Leaving the Doctor alone with the largest bomb in creation was like leaving a child with a toy and expecting them not to play with it.

One element retained from the fuller novel is the narrator’s suggestion that Kimus is a fraud, full of high ideals and hot air, but still just as timid as the rest of the citizens to prevent him from ever actually doing anything. It’s rare that a non-villainous character is shown such justifiable contempt, personifying the general apathy of an entire civilisation that has grown accustomed to obscene decadence and become tolerant of oppression in barely a generation. Little details like this really make the continuation of the Target novelisations worthwhile.

Chapter 157. Doctor Who – City of Death (2018)

Synopsis: An emergency take-off on a barren world sees a spaceship explode, wiping out the last of the Jagaroth. Millions of years later, the Doctor and Romana are enjoying a holiday in Paris when they bump into a detective investigating a group of art thieves. What appears to be a simple heist turns out to have implications that echo through Earth’s history – and which will ensure it has no future.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue: Escapes to Dangers
  • 1. Decision for the Doctor
  • 2. The Deadly Arrivals
  • 3. In the Hands of the Enemy
  • 4. Meeting with a Monster
  • 5. Sentenced to Death
  • 6. The Doctor Disappears
  • 7. The Face of the Enemy
  • 8. An Army of Monsters
  • 9. Return to Peril
  • 10. In the Power of Scaroth
  • 11. The Doctor Fights Back
  • 12. The World Destroyed
  • Epilogue: A Kind of Victory

Background: Despite the misleading credit on the cover, this is by James Goss, rewriting his longer novel, which was based on various drafts of scripts written by Douglas Adams, based on a storyline by David Fisher, as televised in 1979. All of the chapter titles are new to this edition, which is a slight shame as there were some corkers in the original.

Notes: The old ‘Changing Face of Doctor Who’ blurb is resurrected on the title page with the explanation that the Fourth Doctor’s appearance later changed ‘when he lost an argument with gravity’. We’re also told that the cover shows ‘the 12th incarnation of Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth’. The prologue has the glorious title ‘Escapes to Dangers’. Scaroth’s ship is called Sephiroth. Romana made use of the TARDIS food machine before reaching Paris. K9 chose not to accompany his Master and Mistress on their jaunt around Paris due to the many cobbled streets he detected. After 40 novels, it’s an utter joy to find an author creating a new way of describing the Fourth Doctor: ‘The overall impression was of someone who had been completely knitted’. 

The earliest Scaroth splinter –  the Primary Fragment – is a caveman who brings fire to a tribe of primitives who worship him as a God. The Primary Fragment is closer in time to the disaster, so is able to direct the course of his future selves; this becomes harder with those splinters that are further forward in time, which is why the final Scarlioni-Scaroth is initially ignorant of his real identity, blindly following his sense of purpose for a greater goal. It’s only when an itch leads him to peel away Scarlioni’s face in ribbons that he finally learns the truth. The face mask is self-repairing and is a ‘pan-polymeric protoplasm’, the product of alien technology that was recovered by Phidias, a previous incarnation of Scaroth. Phidias gave the material to a sculptor, who used his own face as a model. In addition to Tancredi, the other fragments are: A pope in the Vatican; a crusader in Jerusalem (whose resemblance to Richard the Lionheart must have been confusing – see The Crusades); an Irish martyr burned at the stake; a senator in a Byzantium court; an English nobleman in Venice; the architect of the Great Pyramid at Cheops; an astronomer in Babylon; and the inventor of the first wheel, living on the banks of the Euphrates. 

Countess Scarlioni’s first name is Heidi, while the tour guide at the Louvre is Madame Henriette. The Doctor namedrops Catherine de Medici and Oscar Wilde in addition to Shakespeare. It’s made explicit that the seven names in Duggan’s address book who are interested in buying the Mona Lisa were the same people who hired him to investigate Scarlioni. The TARDIS is parked in an art gallery owned by a Monsieur Bertrand (on TV, it’s not clear that this isn’t just another wing of the Louvre).

Romana is surprised by the Doctor’s fury as he rebukes her for helping Scarlioni build his time machine (he later apologises for his rudeness). She sees Scarlioni as a better class of villain than Davros, whom she struggles to imagine offering her a fruit platter. She counts among her achievements the triple-first she got from the Time Academy, her position as ‘favoured scion of the House of Heartshaven and her skills in the ‘trans-temporal debating society’ – but her only reaction when the Doctor explains the extent of Scaroth’s plans is ‘Huh?’

Trapped inside the time bubble, Kerenski lives out his life completely; from his perspective, it’s the other inhabitants of the cellar who are frozen in time and he eventually dies of boredom as much as old age. Romana sets the time bubble reset for three minutes, not two. Scaroth doesn’t die in the implosion, but is cast into the vortex, where he experiences the sensation of his past selves all turning their backs on him. The Doctor places the surviving Mona Lisa into Duggan’s hands for it to be returned to the Louvre. The detective waves the Doctor and Romana off and then sees them depart in the TARDIS.

Cover: Anthony Dry’s artwork shows the Doctor, Romana, Scaroth and the Jagaroth spaceship.

Final Analysis: For the first time since The Crusades, we have a Target book making its debut in a different imprint. As referenced in the ‘background’, Doctor Who novelisations took an interesting turn in the 21st Century; almost certainly inspired by the success of JK Rowling’s boy-wizard books, and with the added attraction of being based on scripts by Douglas Adams, Gareth Roberts’ novel of the great lost work Shada came out in hardback in 2012 to critical acclaim. The first edition of The City of Death, published in 2015, was a similarly weighty 320-page hardback volume. Three years later, James Goss condensed and rewrote his previous novel into a 185-page novel with a Target logo – at last!

The Target edition is less meandering, much more faithful adaptation of the TV story, Iosing some of the extended backstories (notably Heidi and Hermann, but also the entire subplot of the critics, which seemed to make little sense until the exact moment it slotted into the scene from the broadcast episode, at which point it became the Best Thing Ever). Luckily, it retains the sheer seductive joy of Goss immersed in a Douglas Adams mindset – as the opening paragraph of the prologue illustrates: 

It was Tuesday and life didn’t happen.

Wednesday would be quite a different matter.

Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth, was in for a surprise. For one thing, he had no idea he was about to become the last of the Jagaroth

The destruction of the Jagaroth’ ship, Sephiroth, is presented as one of the universe’s little ironies – an entire species wiped out and leaving nothing behind of any significance except a trail of death. It’s a tiny observation, but it underlines the twist of fate that sees Scaroth fated to accumulate some of Earth’s greatest cultural artefacts while failing to appreciate their value, aside from how much they can be flogged on the black market to greedy collectors. 

At the beginning of the first chapter, the scene is set in such a knowing, cheeky way:

A man and a woman stood on top of the Eiffel Tower, every inch in love, if not with each other then certainly with life itself.

As in his previous version – and in the grand tradition of Terrance Dicks – James Goss smooths out some of the TV story’s plot wrinkles. The revelation of Scaroth’s true form, which is dramatic but slightly ludicrous on TV, is beautifully horrific here, as the artificial skin shreds away in ribbons to reveal a monstrous single eye set into a writhing mass of tentacles. The relationship of the Count and Countess Scarlioni is justified, making sense of exactly how an attractive wife can fail to be aware of her husband’s true nature – and in turn uncovering something altogether more unsettling about wealth, greed and human nature. Goss makes sure we never see the Countess as a victim – the truth is, she has a sickening taste for violence.

Admittedly, it helps that the story came from David Fisher and Douglas Adams – both fine minds with the skills to present the universe as basically absurd. While Goss captures the breathless energy of Adams especially, there’s never a sense that he’s showboating; he’s merely serving the story in an appropriate style. As a result, this may well be elbowing its way into my all-time top-five Target books. Just don’t tell Ghost Light.

Bonus chapter #10. Doctor Who – The Ghosts of N-Space (1995)

Synopsis: While Sarah Jane and her colleague Jeremy enjoy a holiday in Italy, they’re surprised to find the Brigadier is also in the region. He’s offering support to a distant relative who’s being threatened by an American gangster determined to acquire the family home by any means. When the Doctor arrives to investigate a haunting, the old team comes together to solve a mystery that spans centuries.

Chapter titles

Numbered One to Twenty-Eight

Background: A number of firsts here, as Barry Letts adapts scripts for a BBC Radio drama that, at the time of publication, had yet to be broadcast. The old novelisation imprint having expired, this was released as the seventh book in Virgin’s Missing Adventures line. 

Notes: The back cover tells us that the story is set between Death to the Daleks and The Monster of Peladon; Sarah recalls her tangle with a Sontaran, there are various references to Paradise of Death and the Doctor and Sarah discuss their escapades in the Exxilon city. An opening scene helps to set up our new villain in a confrontation between Max Vilmio and head of a ruling family, Don Fabrizzio, which results in the brutal death of the Don.

As was common in the Virgin books, there’s some mild swearing – the Don’s henchmen are said to have been disrespected as if they were ‘the chicken‐shit bully‐boys of a Main Street Boss from the Mid‐West’, the Don considers Vilmio to be a ‘pezzo di merda’ (thank you Google Translate) and Vilmio later calls Fabrizzio a ‘two‐bit Godfather with cowshit between his toes’ (as in the radio serial!). Sarah mentally bestows Jeremy with the name ‘Tail‐Arse‐Charlie’ as he’s always last in line when the action starts. Letts outdoes Ian Marter for one specific expletive: Vilmio threatens Jeremy, ‘I’ll ask you once more, you little bastard’ and Jeremy recalls a boxing lesson at school where he cowered in the corner of the ring surrounded by cries of ‘You’ve got him now, boy, kill the bastard!’. After Max calls Maggie ‘an ignorant broad from Brooklyn’, she agrees, before adding ‘Great tits, though’; later, she’s said to stand ‘silent, hand on tilted hip, chin up, tits out, letting her body do its work’. Least offensive of all is Sarah asking herself ‘Why am I so knackered?’ – it’s an entirely appropriate phrase for someone who grew up in Liverpool, but any readers from the East of England may have another interpretation of the word, where ‘knackered’ can mean ‘sexually exhausted’. The book retains the use of the word ‘catamite’ from the radio scripts and refrains from explaining it. Max’s use of the term ‘dumb Polack hooker’ is, however, excised.

As a child, Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart had visited his uncle Mario and brought with him a set of story books (which his uncle kept to help him with his English) as well as a comforting teddy bear. Listening to the Doctor and the Brigadier talk, Sarah Jane thinks of them as ‘the grown‐ups’. The Doctor’s voice reminds Sarah of a childhood trip with her parents to stay at a caravan on the Gower coast. 

We’re treated to a number of ghastly animal combinations from the N-dimension: One is a ‘glowing creature half ape, half carrion bird, reaching out with impossibly extended scaly arms [and] vulture claws’; later, the Doctor provides the gang with a peek into N-space:

Sarah saw again a flash of the chimera of her living nightmare. She saw glimpses of creatures even more horrific: inside out creatures gnawing at their own entrails; gaping heads, all mouth and fangs, with a maw large enough to swallow a full‐grown pig – or a human; monstrous jellyfish with a hundred human eyes, staring, staring, staring; and more; and more; a menagerie of evil. 

The three creatures they encounter in the past resemble a thirty-feet-long whale with shark’s teeth and legs with ‘dinner‐plate‐sized hooves’, a ‘nimble slug a mere twelve feet in length’ and a ‘spiny sea urchin, a ball of yard‐long spikes’, with ‘blood-red eyes on stalks’.

The Doctor’s leaping to avoid the beast is compared to ‘Nureyev or Nijinsky’, which seems odd to think back to a time where there even was a ‘world-famous ballet dancer’ who everyone knew by name, let alone two.

We discover that Maggie’s backstory is even more grim than on radio: After the death of her mother, her violent and abusive father revealed that he expected Maggie to take her mother’s place ‘in every sense’. When she fought against his advances, her father beat her savagely and though he subsequently left her alone, he continued to violently terrorise her siblings. Despite this, we’re told that Maggie usually gets a ‘buzz’ from violence – ‘Bruised, cut cheeks and split lips could be quite a turn‐on’ – but even she finds Max’s beating of Jeremy distressing – hence why she helps him.

Uncle Mario has had a loaded gun on the premises ever since World War II (we’re told that he has been ‘indomitably anti‐fascist’ since the 1920s. Jeremy had an Uncle Teddy, with whom he used to go wild-fowling on trips to Norfolk. Having repeatedly compared his adventures with those of James Bond, Jeremy takes inspiration for his final assault from one of Uncle Mario’s books – one of the volumes that used to belong to young Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart.

Cover: Using the Slatter-Anderson design for the Missing Adventures range, Alister Pearson presents us with a Doctor in his costume first seen in The Green Death, with a Brigadier in what looks like his Mawdryn Undead civvies, while the main panel shows a ghostly monk passing through a brick wall.

Final Analysis: Commissioned as a sequel to The Paradise of Death, The Ghosts of N-Space fell foul of changes at Radio 5 as the station’s remit evolved towards solely news and sport, with no room for fiction. It shifted across a number of potential options before eventually airing on Radio 2 (not normally the home of drama, but Radio 4 had already passed) some two years after it had been produced. In the meantime, Virgin books decided to capitalise upon the success of their New Adventures range by commissioning a second strand of original fiction starring past Doctors and companions. Barry Letts had a ready-made script ripe for novelisation, so was invited to contribute to the Missing Adventures range with The Ghosts of N-Space with no confirmed airdate for the serial in sight. This book is the only Doctor Who adaptation to be presented as an original novel first rather than as part of the ongoing series of novelisations. It’s a distinction that initially led me to decide not to review it here as it, er, didn’t count. However, a last-minute Twitter poll forced my hand. So here we are!

As with the novel of The Paradise of Death, while I don’t wish to review the radio play, this is another instance where I hadn’t actually heard the original episodes before. For the novel, Barry Letts rejigs the order of some scenes and expands others. Mainly, it benefits hugely from the rewriting of scenes that were originally created through breathless dialogue (such as Sarah Jane or Jeremy explaining what they can see and the listener can only hear). The backstories of the various Italian families through the ages are fleshed out and the whole thing just makes a lot more sense than it does as an audio drama. Otherwise, it’s a fairly logical progression through the scripts, even down to a very conveniently jolly ending. 

At the time, there was a suspicion in some quarters that the BBC kept shunting the play around because nobody actually wanted it. Whether that was because of its quality, or just because no commissioner ever wants to inherit someone else’s stone-cold project is up for debate. Eventually, both the novel and the eventual broadcast received a lukewarm response from fans. 

The adventure itself isn’t that bad. It’s a complicated tale set across multiple points in time that might easily have been produced on TV during the Steven Moffat years. The main problem is one that blighted both Paradise of Death and almost all of the Missing Adventures at the time, a split in the readership between those who wanted the new stories to feel authentic to the productions they were supposed to slot between and others who wanted the kind of stories that could never have been achieved in a BBC Television Centre studio. The Ghosts of N-Space sits uncomfortably between the two. Like most early 1970s six-part adventures, it’s rather flabby in the middle and it all gets a little moralistic in its conclusion. But it’s also extremely atypical of the era it’s trying to recreate, so it feels like one of those feature films in the 1970s where the cast of a popular TV sitcom leave their familiar surroundings for a foreign holiday – with hilarious consequences.

In this case, the consequences aren’t that hilarious as Letts takes advantage of being able to write for an older audience: The Lovecraftian monsters are genuinely horrific; there’s the strong language and mild sexual terms mentioned earlier,; and he reveals an enthusiasm for particularly nasty death scenes:

With one last choking gasp, the wretched man was still. His eyes were popping from his head and his tongue extruded from his mouth, blood streaming from it. His jaw, clamped tight, had bitten it right through. He was, without a doubt, quite dead. 

By no means as ropey as I’d been led to believe, it’s still not quite authentic enough to satisfy traditionalists, nor revolutionary to appease the radicals. Even so, it’s disappointing that this is Barry Letts’ final novelisation. He later wrote two original Doctor Who novels for BBC Books, one co-written with Terrance Dicks, as well as contributing to Big Finish’s Sarah Jane Smith series of audio plays. He died on 9 October 2009, aged 84. His autobiography, Who and Me, was published posthumously the following month.

Chapter 156. Doctor Who – The Paradise of Death (1994)

Synopsis: When a body is found in the grounds of a new theme park, the Brigadier asks the Doctor to investigate. Sensing a story, Sarah Jane Smith calls in a photographer called Jeremy and discovers that the owners of the theme park are aliens hoping to negotiate trade deals with Earth. Nothing is as it seems, however, as the aliens have links to a political conspiracy on a far off world. Sarah and Jeremy are left to solve the mystery alone when the Doctor is declared dead!

Chapter Titles

Numbered One to Thirty-Three. Just missed out on that crown for most number of chapters, Barry.

Background: Barry Letts returns to the Doctor Who novelisation range for the first time since Doctor Who and the Daemons in 1974, to adapt his own scripts for the 1993 radio serial. Although the numbering has ceased to appear on the cover, the title page tells us that this is indeed book #156 in the Target Doctor Who Library.

Notes: The announcer on the Space World adverts is said to have an accent that’s ‘half-Cockney half-Yankee’ (a possible dig at actor Andrew Wincott’s delivery in the original broadcasts). Space World rivals Disneyworld ‘in size and the scope of its attractions’, covering ‘acres of London’s favourite open space’. Many of the Space World staff are out-of-work actors pretending to be robot guides.

For the first time ever, a swear word from an original broadcast is retained for the book (when Nobby discovers ‘a bleedin’ UFO’) rather than it being an addition for the novelisation. Sarah Jane Smith has a studio flat overlooking Hampstead Heath. She’s been a journalist in London for two years and is currently a feature writer for Metropolitan – a ‘glossy woman’s mag’ [as revealed in Planet of the Spiders]. As in the radio serial, Sarah Jane has had one adventure with the Doctor before returning to her normal life [so this comes before Invasion of the Dinosaurs, an idea supported by the opening scenes of the novelisation, The Dinosaur Invasion]. The Brigadier is surprised to learn Miss Smith is a journalist and not, as he’d been led to believe, a scientist specialising in ‘bugs’. The Doctor’s laboratory contains objects that Sarah thinks would look at home in a museum or a ‘junk shop’:

There were odd pieces of clothing – a hat with an ostrich feather plume; a piece of rusting armour; a very long knitted scarf; a pair of pointed Renaissance slippers – piles of dried vegetable matter, including some horribly twisted fungi. a dusty stuffed albatross with wings outstretched (she’d had to duck underneath to get into the room), a large photograph of a man with a shock of white hair and a bushy moustache, (Could it be…? It was, you know. Scribbled in the corner, it had, ‘Many thanks for all your help, old friend.’ and it was signed ‘Albert Einstein’) and so on and so on.

Jeremy Fitzoliver is a slight man dressed in a soft leather jacket and designer jeans with a ‘knife-edge crease’ that Sarah suspects must have cost ‘a bomb and a half’. He went to school at Hothorough, as did his uncle Edward Fitzoliver, who Sarah realises is a major shareholder in Metropolitan Magazine. The Brigadier went to school with ‘Teddy’ Fitzoliver and knew him affectionately as ‘Pooh’, as he was considered ‘a bear of little brain’. The Brigadier had also known a ‘Chuffy Knowles’ while at Sandhurst, who left the army to become an insurance salesman. Among the guests at the Space World opening is Septimus Hardiman, a columnist and TV personality who specialises in innuendo.

The alien Kamelius has a slight hump on the back of its armadillo-like body, with legs and weight like that of an African elephant. It has two rows of teeth that look designed to chew rocks, its crab-like claws look powerful enough to snap an arm or leg – and it makes a ‘a low chattering gobble’ noise. The Giant Ostroid looks like ‘an oven-ready turkey on stilts’ with saucer eyes and the habit of belching loudly. The Piranhatel Beetles number in their hundreds; they’re six inches long, with scarlet and black shells and ‘great tearing, biting thingies sticking out of their faces’ and can strip a cow’s carcass to the bone in under thirty-three seconds. Jeremy thinks that the most impressive exhibit is the Stinksloth, an extremely pungent creature that is housed in a pit of foul mud ‘or worse’ and looks like a cross between a sea lion and a jellyfish. The smell comes from the bodies of giant slugs, which the beast stores in the corner of its cell until its next meal. We’re also told of a ‘Flesh-Eating Gryphon’, a ‘Blue-Finned Belly-Flopper’ and a ‘Vampire Teddy Bear’ among the twenty one alien creatures in the park.

Having escaped from Tragan, Grebber decides that the chances of anything happening to him that night are ‘sweet FA’ (a swear word with a flexible level of offense depending on which interpretation you go for, so potentially the strongest we’ve seen in the range so far).

The Brigadier speaks to the Secretary General of the United Nations, a woman with a ‘mid-oceanic’ accent. He recalls his meetings with the Doctor, starting with the Yeti and the ‘uncanny Cybermen’ before recalling that he’d thought the Doctor to be dead once before, during the operation with the Daemon. The pathologist, Professor Mortimer Willow, ponders whether the Doctor and Grebber were ‘pissed or stoned’. He also asks his assistant about his love life, enquiring if Brian is ‘getting his oats’. The Doctor claims to have known General Clive of India (‘A thoroughgoing bad lot, but he knew his tea’) and Lucrezia Borgia. He learned the art of bone relaxation from a wise neanderthal. Jeremy speaks to Captain Yates, who is the duty officer back at UNIT.

The guard-dog creatures accompanying Tragan, later identified as Blestinu soldiers, are an evolutionary hybrid of reptile and canine:

Even more fearsome than the sabre-toothed rottweiler guessed at in the pathologist’s report, it stood nearer to seven foot than six. Its overall shape was dog-like, with the muscles of a pit-fighter rippling under a leather skin denuded of all but a few hairs. But its face, a mongrel mix of demon and dinosaur, could have been used as a model by Hieronymus Bosch in his most graphic depictions of the denizens of hell gnawing at the entrails of those eternally abandoned by God. Its eyes, blood red, seemed to glow with the fire of an internal furnace; its teeth, unlike any earthly creature’s, were jagged and long, each with a number of stiletto points to pierce and tear. It smelt of decay.

As revealed to Sarah, Tragan’s real face is ‘like a thick, purple soup’, his skin is covered with warts and ‘suppurating pustules’ as if ‘melted by some unburning flame’. 

Racing back to the TARDIS in Bessie, the Doctor is pulled over for speeding by a policeman; the Brigadier intercedes after the Doctor tried to justify driving at 140mph by baffling the officer with science. Tragan asks Sarah if she’s ever travelled through space before and she briefly wonders if time travel would count (so again, this is very early days for Sarah). The Brigadier is reminded of when he was a young subaltern [See the novel of The Mind of Evil], stationed in Leicestershire, where he had been invited to join ‘some of the fashionable hunts’. He also recalls leading a ‘cutting-out expedition’ (landing from canoes behind the enemy lines) when he was ‘seconded to the SAS as a captain’ and he alludes to an undercover mission that saw him flying from Kathmandu to Patna, where the jungle had, when viewed from above, looked like the ocean.

The Gargan is about the same size as a Tyrannosaurus Rex but with short, sturdy back legs. It walks on its knuckles, like a gorilla and it has a long curved neck so it can ‘hold his head close to the ground, like a bloodhound hot on the trail’ and its mouth contains rows of teeth like those of a crocodile.

A series of flashbacks fill in the backstory of Onya Farjen – back when she was called ‘Katyan Glessey’ and before she discovered her links to the Kinionyan tribe on the island of Lackan. When preparing to take on Jenhegger in combat, the Doctor removes the fancy dress that Tragan forced him to wear – leaving him in just his underpants (the broadcast version is not as specific, stating merely that he has removed the costume). Sarah has apparently been in love before and while she doesn’t think she is in love with Captain Waldo Rudley, his death leaves her full of regret and grief, ‘as if Waldo’s death had left a black hole in her heart’.

Cover: A tasteful trio of portraits of the Brigadier, Sarah and the Doctor (using a reference photo from Invasion of the Dinosaurs) in shades of blue that evoke the title sequence introduced for Season 11, all beautifully painted by Alister Pearson.

Final Analysis: Throughout this project, I’ve tried to avoid reviewing the TV stories or discussing things that aren’t specific to the adaptation. My assumption is, anyone who’s reading this is at least familiar with the source material, even if they’ve not read the book. With Paradise of Death, there was a point a few chapters in where I realised that I er… hadn’t actually heard the radio serial beyond the first episode, despite having it on CD for 20 years. So now I have!

It’s a strange one, this – broadcast on Radio 5 in the early years of the station, before it refined its output to focus on news and sport. It has the same production techniques as the established Radio 4 house style, so it surprised me to learn that most of the mild swear words that appear in the book came from the radio scripts. The book also falls into Doctor Who’s transition as an ongoing concern mainly in print, as the decade featured only three TV stories (a movie and two charity specials of dubious canonicity). So we have a few references that don’t really fit with the period the story is set, but the focus on virtual reality very much reflects the cultural obsessions of the early 1990s. There are a few examples of Barry Letts tipping his hat to social issues, but it’s much less heavy handed than in some of the much-loved serials he produced for TV. And one rather ugly reference from the radio serial is thankfully omitted, where the Doctor describes Experienced Reality addicts as being as hooked ‘as a junkie is on heroin’. 

Setting the story in the early days of Sarah Jane’s involvement with the Doctor allows for a little character development as she still doesn’t know what to expect and at first the Brigadier still thinks she’s a scientist, not a journalist with a fake ID. There’s a lovely line, retained from the broadcast version, where Sarah tries to explain to Jeremy that she’s only just met the Doctor, but news of his (apparent) death has left her more bereft than she can understand: ‘It’s silly, I know, but I feel as if – as if I’d lost my best friend.’ Later, when confronted with Tragan’s true face, her internal monologue betrays Barry Letts’ hand:

The pause gave Sarah the time to gather her shattered defences. After all, she thought, it didn’t really matter what he looked like, though she couldn’t stop herself from shuddering when she tried to look at him with an objective eye. It was sheer prejudice to judge people by their appearance.

Meanwhile, the Brigadier tries not to cause offense to his hosts by picking his way through an exotic buffet to find the alien items most closely resembling cheese and meats. It’s a nuanced portrayal of the Brig, at once showing him to be a man of simple tastes coupled with an awareness of his role in intergalactic diplomacy. Other authors fall into the trap of playing the Brigadier as either an obstinate military mind or a boorish idiot, so it’s good to see the character treated with respect.

And that’s that. After this run of Target books had ended (including the three Virgin publications), Doctor Who’s future in print would be in the form of all-new adventures, ‘too broad and too deep for the small screen’. And often too sexy, too sweary and too drug-referency as well. But I’m definitely not reading those.

Well – maybe just one…

Chapter 155. Doctor Who – The Evil of the Daleks (1993)

Synopsis: The TARDIS has been stolen and the Doctor and Jamie follow clues to an antiques shop where the items for sale appear to be both genuine yet brand new. Suddenly, the two men are gassed into unconsciousness and when they awake they find themselves a hundred years in the past. Two inventors, Theodore Maxtible and Edward Waterfield, ask the Doctor for help with their experiments, before revealing that they are prisoners of the Daleks. As Jamie tries to rescue Waterfield’s daughter, Victoria, the Doctor is forced to help his enemies in a project that will lead him back to the Daleks’ home planet, Skaro, where he will meet the Dalek Emperor at last.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. To Set A Trap
  • 2. The Old Curiosity Shop
  • 3. The Net Tightens
  • 4. Further Curiosities
  • 5. Curioser and Curioser
  • 6. Kennedy’s Assassination
  • 7. The Net Tightens
  • 8. The Better Mousetrap
  • 9 Portrait Of Innocence
  • 10. The True Enemy
  • 11. The Kidnapping
  • 12. Recovery
  • 13. A Trial Of Strength
  • 14. Friction
  • 15. Double Dealing
  • 16. The Test Begins
  • 17. A Test Of Skills
  • 18. Friend And Foe
  • 19. Terall’s Agony
  • 20. The Traitor
  • 21. Fencing
  • 22. Pawn Of The Daleks
  • 23. The Human Factor
  • 24. Awakening
  • 25. Dalek Superior
  • 26. Time Bomb
  • 27. Skaro
  • 28. Emergency!
  • 29. At Last!
  • 30. Waiting
  • 31. Transmutation
  • 32. The Dalek Doctor
  • 33. The End Of The Daleks?
  • Epilogue

With 33 chapters, a prologue and an epilogue, The Evil of the Daleks steals the crown for most number of chapters from Delta and the Bannermen. Even though two of the chapters have the same title!

Background: John Peel adapts the scripts from David Whitaker’s 1967 story, published by Virgin as a continuation of the Doctor Who novels range. It’s the longest novelisation so far, with 288 pages. At 26 years and a month, it doesn’t quite beat its immediate predecessor for the record of the gap between broadcast and novelisation, but it does complete the run of stories from Season 4, the Second Doctor’s era and the 1960s as a whole. The book also means that at this point, there’s a complete run of adaptations right up to The Ribos Operation

Notes: A prologue, set 1,000 years after the events of The Daleks’ Master Plan, sees the Dalek Emperor on the verge of defeat on all sides, as separate wars with the Earth Empire, Draconia and the Thals. The Emperor had been the very first of Davros’s creations – and the one that exterminated him. This Dalek became the Dalek Prime and conducted experiments on other lifeforms before releasing the resulting mutants into the petrified forest or the lake of mutations at the foot of the Drammankin Mountains [see Doctor Who and the Daleks]. Eventually the Prime began to experiment on itself to become ‘a hundred times greater than any other member of the race’ and inhabiting a new casing for its enlarged body.

The Doctor realises that at the very moment that Ben and Polly are returning to their old lives, across London they’re just about to disembark in the TARDIS with his previous self [see The Faceless Ones and The War Machines]. The Tricolour coffee bar plays French music like Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier (on telly, they play ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen’ by the Seekers and ‘Paperback Writer’ by the Beatles). The Doctor checks a selection of daily newspapers available in the Tricolour, which are filled with reports of the War Machines incident and the problems at Gatwick Airport (he’s relieved that his own involvement in both instances have been omitted). 

The Daleks permit Victoria to write letters to her father. Victoria’s captivity is introduced much earlier than on TV, explaining Waterfield’s prime motivation and making him a much more sympathetic character. Waterfield has agents who took the photos of the Doctor and Jamie; they also took pictures of Ben and Polly but Waterfield has been informed that the former companions have returned to their old lives so he discards their photos. In his photo, the Doctor is wearing the tall hat that he didn’t wear in any televised adventure on 1960s Earth, so that suggests an unseen adventure, although as he hasn’t worn that hat recently, the Doctor believes the photo might be alien in origin or from his own future.

Bob Hall flees his rented digs and drives north in his Ford Popular (on TV he’s said to have fled via Euston, presumably by train). Kennedy did National Service in the 1950s, which he considers to have been worse than prison. He plans on stealing money from Waterfield, confident that the antiques dealer won’t go to the police. When he discovers that Waterfield hasn’t locked his safe he utters a mild swear word (‘bloody hell!’ and later ‘for God’s sake’). He sees the Dalek and thinks it looks like something the BBC might have designed for the science fiction anthology Out of the Unknown or ‘one of those daft Quatermas serials’ (a Dalek did actually appear in a 1969 episode of Out of the Unknown – ‘Get Off My Cloud’ – which was the first time one of the props had been shown on TV in colour). Waterfield’s shop assistant Perry is plotting behind his back to steal some of Waterfield’s best clients for himself. Perry is an ‘avid viewer of Z-Cars and No Hiding Place’, so knows not to touch anything at the scene of a crime, such as the position of Kennedy’s corpse.

Jamie wakes up feeling like he’s been ‘partying for a week and left his brain somewhere in a Glasgow slum, where it was being stomped on by a party of hooligans on the rampage (we’ll have to assume this is the narrator’s interpretation, not Jamie’s, as none of those references would mean much to a Jacobite). After finally meeting Maxtible and Waterfield, the Doctor ponders as to why there’s a portrait of Waterfield’s late wife in Maxtible’s house and whether it’s on display to keep Waterfield in line (we later learn that it was placed in the house as an enticement specifically to lead Jamie to Victoria, a clever explanation on Peel’s part to resolve an issue from the TV version). The Doctor asks if the two scientists have read Edgar Allen Poe and Waterfield confesses he only reads textbooks while Maxtible reads ‘the financial papers’.

Jamie claims that he’s heard the Doctor talk about those ‘nasty wee creatures’ the Daleks before – and the Doctor once showed him a book from the future with ‘moving pictures’ of the Daleks (he’s also aware that Daleks use flying discs and wonders if this is how they reached the upper levels of Maxtible’s house). Victoria recalls how she and her father had been invited to live with Maxtible, who was funding Waterfield’s experiments. She and Maxtible’s daughter Ruth had become good friends but the strange change in mood of Ruth’s fiance Arthur Terrell has led her to suspect him of becoming obsessed with Victoria. Alongside the standard ‘grey’ Daleks, the operations in Maxtible’s house are overseen by a red Dalek, an ’emissary of the Supreme Council’. 

Kemel comes from the Tekir Dag [sic] mountains in Turkey, which is where he first met Maxtible, helping him to repair a broken carriage. Kemel has always been aware that Maxtible has assumed his muteness was also a sign of stupidity, but it’s the discovery that his employer has lied to him that finally tips him over the edge and he begins to actively work against him. Jamie quotes Macbeth to Kemel (‘Lead on, Macduff’) – is he copying something he’s heard the Doctor say or has he actually read Shakespeare or seen it performed since joining the TARDIS? Maxtible cites the Rothschilds as an example of the kind of successful family he wishes to be part of.

The Doctor takes a break from working on the experiment, explaining to the Dalek guard that if he doesn’t rest, he risks making mistakes. The freedom that he’s allowed to explore the house forces him to realise that the TARDIS cannot be inside the house and must have been taken elsewhere. With the experiment complete, he explains to Jamie how Daleks are ‘grown from the genetic basis of their being inside vast vats of nutrients’ and then, once the creature has reached maturity, it’s placed inside the ‘travel machine shells’, where the shell’s computer teaches them everything they need to know to be a Dalek. Identifying the three human-Daleks, the Doctor scratches the symbols for the Daleks’ names on the domes of each unit (on TV, he drew on their skirts).

Once Terrall collapses, the Doctor inspects him and discovers a metal collar around his neck and a small box on his chest, the Dalek control unit. It reminds him of the Robomen (on TV, the control unit is merely a box in Terrall’s pocket. The Doctor stops Maxtible from killing Waterfield. On their arrival on Skaro, the Doctor remembers how Ian and Barbara had fetched water from the Lake of Mutations and he tells Waterfield about the war between the Daleks and the Thals that left the planet desolate. Later, he recalls the Slyther [The Dalek Invasion of Earth] and the Varga Plants [Mission to the Unknown].

The Red Dalek leads Maxtible to a Dalek that is ‘almost entirely black’. The Doctor initially speculates that this might be the same one he destroyed on Kembel in an earlier point in time, until he sees more all-black Daleks in the approach to a chamber containing the Emperor:

It looked at first superficially like a Dalek, but it was over forty feet tall. The gigantic base rose upwards. There were few of the semi-circular sensors that covered the other Daleks’ lower halves. This part of the casing was honeycombed with panels. Above this section was a thick ‘neck’ made of metal struts supporting a vast domed head. This monstrous creature possessed neither arm nor gun, but it had a huge eye-stick that was trained on the captives. It appeared to be completely immobile, supported by huge struts; a web-like arrangement that filled the entire far wall of the control room. There were about a dozen huge tubes leading into the immense form: power supplies and nutrients, the Doctor assumed, for the creature within this casing.

We’re later told that the Emperor sacrificed mobility in favour of brain-power – a decision it comes to regret.

Among the various weapons being developed by the Daleks are a dust cannon – which can shatter asteroids into dust that clogs up the engines of enemy ships – a Magnetron that can ‘draw passing starships out of the sky’ and the Dreamwave, which projects ’emotional waves’ at other worlds, subjecting the population to ‘abject terror or dark, lingering, suicidal despair’ which makes resistance impossible. When they finally meet on Skaro, Victoria reminds the Doctor of Susan, while she sees in him ‘an underlying compassion, thoughtfulness and steel’. In the epilogue, the Doctor speculates whether other Daleks failed to return to Skaro from other times and worlds, but takes some comfort from knowing the Dalek Emperor is no more.

Cover: Alister Pearson’s majestic cover uses interlocking segments containing the Doctor, a black-domed Dalek and the Dalek Emperor centre.

Final Analysis: The last 60s story to be novelised and it’s an epic – closer in scale to a modern season finale. As he’s done with each of his books, John Peel builds upon the established history of the Daleks so far to create a sense that it’s all been leading to this point, while the prologue also connects the Emperor Dalek to the very first ‘Mark III Travel machine’ as seen in Genesis of the Daleks. 

It’s often been pointed out that the middle episodes involving Jamie’s quest sag a little and feel like padding, but here the events manage to maintain a decent pace. The entire subplot involving Arthur Terrall (including the characters Toby and Molly) might easily have been deftly omitted had this been a traditional novelisation, but with the increased word-count even these elements manage to serve the story well. Peel uses Toby to expand upon the theme of corruption through greed that’s introduced with Kennedy and, to a lesser extent, Perry, while Toby’s ultimate fate provides us with a reminder that, while they’re deliberately not attacking Jamie and Kemal, the Daleks are still a lethal force. Terrall’s role as a Dalek agent is developed as an additional mystery for the Doctor to solve, as well as to undermine Maxtible’s belief that he is invaluable to his new ‘partners’ (had he failed them, they might well have controlled him as they did Terrall). 

So that’s the final TV novelisation for some time – and John Peel has secured joint-fifth place with Gerry Davis among the most prolific authors to contribute to the Target library (even if, as with Power of the Daleks and the next entry, this has become an imprint of Virgin books and an actual Target logo is nowhere to be seen).

Chapter 154. Doctor Who – The Power of the Daleks (1993)

Synopsis: The Doctor is gone and a new man stands in his place. Polly suspects this person is the Doctor in a new form, but this is something Ben cannot accept. The TARDIS lands near a colony on the planet Vulcan, where the Doctor assumes the role of an investigator to help solve a murder. Instead, he discovers a nasty surprise – the colony has been infiltrated by Daleks. But none of the colonists will believe that the beings are evil, especially when all they want to do is serve the humans. Even the Doctor cannot imagine the scale of the Daleks’ deception as they work in secret to mass-produce more of their kind and take over the colony…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. We Must Get Back to the TARDIS
  • 2. It’s Beginning to Work Again
  • 3. I Think We’ll Make Some Changes
  • 4. So You’ve Come At Last
  • 5. They’re Not Going to Stop Me Working on the Capsule
  • 6. Why Have You Come to Vulcan?
  • 7. Alien? Yes – Very Alien
  • 8. Nothing Human, No
  • 9. You Don’t Half Make Mountains
  • 10. Plenty of Nuts
  • 11. They’ll be too Frightened to do Anything Else
  • 12. It’s Watching Me, Lesterson
  • 13. What Have you Done, Lesterson?
  • 14. I Obey
  • 15. You’ve Done Nothing But Meddle
  • 16. Keep Her in a Safe Place
  • 17. When I Say Run. Run Like a Rabbit
  • 18. Insanity
  • 19. These Things Are Just Machines
  • 20. We Want No Accidents
  • 21. The Doctor Was Right
  • 22. I’m Going to Wipe Out the Daleks
  • 23. I Can’t Stop Them
  • 24. The People Will Do Exactly as They Are Told
  • 25. Every One Must Be Killed
  • 26. You Have to Admire Them
  • 27. The Law of the Daleks is in Force
  • Epilogue
  • Author’s Note

Even with the author’s note, it’s not quite enough to beat Delta and the Bannermen‘s record for the most number of chapters in a novelisation.

Background: John Peel adapts the scripts from David Whitaker’s 1966 story, published by Virgin as a continuation of the Doctor Who novels range. At 26 years and seven months, this is now the holder of the record for biggest gap between broadcast and novelisation. It’s also the longest novelisation to date, with 256 pages, beating the previous record-holder, Fury from the Deep.

Notes: The story opens at the end of The Tenth Planet with Lieutenant Benton leading a team from ‘the English division of UNIT’ [so either he came out of retirement, or the Brigadier’s story about him becoming a second-hand car salesman in Mawdryn Undead was perhaps an official cover story]. UNIT comes with a scientific team headed up by Professor Allison Williams [Remembrance of the Daleks]. The operation was later summarised by Sarah Jane Smith, UNIT’s ‘official chronicler’, who described the contents of the cyber space ship as ‘The Aladdin’s lamp of applied technology’; as it turns out, that technology provides the means for Earth’s expansion beyond the stars and the Cybermen invasion was ‘both the greatest disaster and most astonishing blessing ever to have happened to the human race’.

The second chapter adapts the conclusion to The Tenth Planet. Ben Jackson spent his teens ‘barely keeping on the right side of the law’ (and he later tells Polly that he grew up opposite a brewery) before he joined the Navy. He’d read HG Wells’ The Time Machine prior to meeting the Doctor and since stepping aboard the The TARDIS he’s been to 17th-Century Cornwall and now 30 years into Earth’s future [in line with Gerry Davis”s Doctor Who and the Tenth Planet, Peel sets the arrival of Mondas in the 1990s]. He appreciates that Polly isn’t a snob. 

The Doctor is ‘tall, thin, with a pinched face and expression to match’. He has a ‘sergeant-major pay-attention-to-me-you-‘orrible-little-man voice’.  Inside the TARDIS, a ‘large octagonal device’ descends from the ceiling (neatly explaining why the similar hexagonal ceiling decoration is seen so infrequently after its appearance in An Unearthly Child). As the old Doctor begins to change, Ben wonders if he’ll crumble, like the Cybermen, or ‘like Christopher Lee did in those Dracula films’ (Lee’s cycle of Dracula movies for Hammer had begun in 1958 with Dracula, followed in 1966 with Dracula: Prince of Darkness)

 The new Doctor’s skin is ‘no longer pale and transparent, but almost tanned and thicker’ and instead of the silver mane, he has ‘a shock of jet-black hair’. Ben notes that he’s not only changed his face but ‘his tailor as well’:

The battered black coat and trousers were different. They were now a loose, stain-covered black jacket several sizes too large for the small man who wore it. The trousers were yellow, with a large chequered pattern on them. He wore a faded shirt with a very large bow tie that seemed to have been tied by a blind man in a rush to be somewhere else.

The renewal has left the new Doctor in ‘agony’ with ‘a burning sensation inside all of his bones’ and his new muscles and tissues are ‘filled with pain’. He senses the ringing of a ‘Cloister Bell’ but can’t remember where he heard it [see Logopolis]. He checks his pulses (plural) and notes they’re ‘quite far apart’. He tells Polly that the renewal is a painful process but ignores Ben when he asks if this is the first time he’s done it 

Exploring the chest in the TARDIS wardrobe room, the Doctor finds the gift from Saladin as well as a broach from the Aztec Cameca. The piece of metal, which prompts him to remember ‘extermination’ on TV, was found by his granddaughter Susan on their one visit to Skaro. Trying to explain his renewal in simpler terms, he challenges Ben to summarise his understanding of the mechanics of time travel and asks Polly to rationalise the dimensions of the TARDIS. He tells them that he left his home planet over 750 years ago. The Doctor’s old diary is written in High Gallifreyan [see The Five Doctors]. He knows how to measure in kroliks but not where that unit comes from. He considers taking some of the mercury as a supply for the TARDIS fluid links and he’s worried about losing consciousness in the swamp in case the agonising regeneration process starts again.

The capsule was found in the swamp when the colony was still being built; Lesterson ordered that his laboratory be built around the capsule so that it could be studied (this partly explains why Lesterson is unaware that the capsule is so much bigger inside than it appears – and how it happens to be inside a room without hangar-bay doors that it could fit through). The colony’s chief medical officer is Thane, a’ fortyish woman with short cropped blonde hair and a very efficient air’; she’s later revealed to be part of the rebel underground. According to Thane, the colony is wheel-shaped and was established to mine minerals that the ‘home world’ so desperately needs. The colony is only the third to be established and ‘quite a way out’ from the frontier. There are about 8,000 colonists, about a thousand of whom are in the main city. The planet Vulcan is surrounded by a network of satellites, each one with the power to ‘punch holes through the sub-ether’ and contact Earth with a minimal delay. The time travellers notice that the colony doesn’t appear to be affiliated to any one nation – there are no UK or US flags – and later Polly learns from Dr Thane that it’s funded by the International Mining Corporation [sic – see Colony in Space for what IMC originally stood for]. 

After the Doctor uses the piece of metal from Skaro to open the capsule, Polly asks him if the Daleks destroyed his home planet. He doesn’t think so, as he remembers leaving with Susan;  he tries to recall where his granddaughter is now, knowing only that it’s something else to do with Daleks. The old Doctor had mentioned his greatest enemy to his young companions before and Ben knows that they will invade Earth at some point in the future. Valmar sided with the rebels when he was demoted by Governor Hensell after an accident that killed four people. Lesterson asks the Doctor to help him and the Doctor says the best help he could offer would be to shoot him in the head. 

The Dalek mutant is more detailed than the shapeless blob seen on screen (as far as we can tell from the surviving off-air photos), possibly inspired by Ray Cusick’s unused designs for the mutant’s first appearance in The Daleks:

The thing was a writhing mass of tentacles, a bilious green in colour. Two of these limbs ended in bird-like claws that flexed and clicked. Some kind of slime enveloped the sickening bundle. It was pulsing slowly but regularly. Lesterson realized instantly that this, this whatever-it-was, was alive.

In the final showdown, it takes Valmar three shots to kill Bragan – the final one is to the head.

Cover: Alister Pearson’s cover art is working around a new template – the ‘Slatter-Anderson’ design similar to the one used on Virgin’s ‘Missing Adventures’ range. It’s a strange affair, a stunning portrait of the new Doctor in his Paris Beau hat (we all know it’s not a stovepipe now, don’t we?), which merges into a Dalek with two silhouettes echoing backwards, surrounded by electrical sparks. To the right lies the TARDIS, standing in a Vulcan swamp.

Final Analysis: At last! Thanks to his connections to Terry Nation and some frankly miraculous archiving on the part of David Whitaker’s widow, June Barry, John Peel gets to adapt the remaining Troughton Dalek stories. We’ve come a long, long way since the days of Whitaker’s own adaptations, written with a mass-market child audience in mind; these final entries were very much for the aging completist fans. 

Peel had already put some effort into ensuring his novels drew from wider references than just the individual scripts, creating a more cohesive universe where the Daleks view the Doctor as an ever-increasing threat and tararium is an essential mineral beyond The Daleks’ Master Plan. We’ll see more of this next time, but here the story is self-contained with few links to Dalek continuity. Instead, Peel looks to the end of The Tenth Planet, linking the events to UNIT, Counter Measures and Sarah Jane Smith. The references might feel gratuitous (the term ‘fanwank’ was growing in popularity around this time, personal tastes dictating whether it was meant to be abuse or celebration), but I’m not sure it is – certainly not as sure as I was when I first read the book in 1993.

Unlike David Whitaker – who was writing without any knowledge that the books or even the TV show that inspired them would have any kind of longevity – Peel has the benefit of hindsight; he knows these books are likely to be the closing chapters to the story, at least as far as Target’s readership is concerned. His references add to the wider universe (Benton lives!) while creating a really intelligent connection between two adjacent stories novelised decades apart. Just as we read An Unearthly Child knowing that Old Mother’s prophecy that ‘fire will kill us all’ would be echoed in the radioactive wastelands of Skaro, so the Earth’s ‘first contact’ with an alien invader leads to humanity’s expansion across the universe in colonies such as the one we encounter in Vulcan. Similarly, the discovery that the colony is run by IMC means nothing to Polly, but its connection to Colony in Space on TV (novelised as Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon) helps to explain why there’s a rebellion in the first place and add a greater level of jeopardy without spending pages detailing mining rights and the kind of ground already handled by Malcolm Hulke in his own novelisation, published 19 years earlier.

A couple of other items of note. The addition of Thane means that Janley isn’t the colony’s only prominent female (on TV she’s the Smurfette of Vulcan), but it also gives us a more balanced view of the rebellion. We know that the Governor is vain, lazy and self-serving, but on screen the rebels are fanatics, whereas here, they’re individuals motivated by wide-ranging concerns. They criticise the lack of support from IMC, the poor leadership from Governor Hensell and the stresses that come with a new colony on the frontier of known space; they also reveal more selfish desires – greed, lust, pride – which Bragen and Janley exploit to their cost.

Writing for a much older audience now, Peel is able to introduce a little violence, including one of the most graphic scenes to date, the death of Bragen: 

Bragen choked on his own blood and staggered forwards. Then his heart gave a final spasm. Valmar’s third bullet went through his brain, killing him instantly.

It’s not one of Ian Marter’s bubbling-pus corpses, but it comes suddenly and is so matter-of-fact that Peel doesn’t need to overdo it – it’s sufficiently shocking. Though the departure of the Doctor and his friends is just as abrupt as on TV, we’re given some reassurance as the new Doctor recalls that Vulcan eventually grows into something of a paradise:

The surface of Vulcan was unchanged. One day, the Doctor knew, the humans would remake the world. The bleakness would vanish under a canopy of green. The colony would become just the first of many cities. The humans would thrive. 

Chapter 153. Doctor Who – The Pescatons (1991)

Synopsis: The Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith witness the appearance of a hideous creature on the banks of the Thames. Seeking help at a nearby research station, they discover that a recent meteorite hidden underwater is actually a crashed spaceship. Its inhabitant, a Pescaton, heads for central London on the rampage before it eventually dies. But this is just the first, as soon hundreds of spaceships disguised as meteorites enter the atmosphere of Earth. The Pescaton invasion has begun!

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Darkest Night
  • 2. Into the Depths
  • 3. Panic!
  • 4. A Premonition
  • 5. While the City Sleeps
  • 6. The Terror Begins
  • 7. Pesca
  • 8. Creatures of the Night
  • 9. ‘Find Zor!’
  • 10. The Deadly Encounter

Background: Victor Pemberton adapts his scripts for a story released on LP in 1976. Although the range continues under Virgin Books and is later resurrected by BBC Books, this is the last of the original run of Target books. Just to be annoyingly inconsistent, while Slipback was treated as an extra novel outside of the numbered library, The Pescatons is given a number. 

Notes: The Doctor has a poor sense of smell but heightened hearing. Sarah Jane has ‘lovely’, ‘large brown eyes’. The travellers land a couple of miles down the coast from Westcliff, Essex, later confirmed to be  Shoeburyness. The Doctor guesses that they’re in the mid-1970s and while we’re later told that they’re reached ‘the seventh decade of the twentieth century’ (which is, er, the 1960s), Sarah Jane also notes that they’re about ten years or so from ‘the period in time she left behind’ – which would suggest the mid-1980s or an unseen adventure.

The first clue of the Pescaton’s approach is a strong smell of fish, then a hissing sound like ‘a jungle cat stalking its prey’.

… eyes glaring like giant emeralds. It was a huge, towering creature, over twelve feet tall, half-human, half fish, with shining silvery scales covering its sticky body, and hands like talons with sharp nails, and webbed feet which were veined in red, heavy and clumsy. Its face was weird, almost gothic; it was like a gremlin, a manifestation of the Devil itself.

A sticky green stuff blocks the route to the TARDIS so the travellers visit the Essex Coastal Protection Unit (ECPU) where they meet 28-year-old head of research Mike Ridgewell and his colleague and longtime girlfriend Helen Briggs. While Mike accepts the Doctor’s claims about an alien creature. Helen doesn’t trust him and is confused by his relationship with Sarah, wondering if she’s his daughter. Mike does the ‘Doctor who?’ joke (first time we’ve had that in a while) and the Doctor replies ‘if you insist’ and introduces Sarah Jane as his ‘assistant’. Mike is a little sharp with Sarah Jane and snaps at her (mild swear-word warning) ‘don’t talk crap!’

The Doctor is ‘not a good swimmer at the best of times’ but he finds the experience of diving to the depths of the estuary ‘awesome’ and reminiscent of walking in space. The Pescaton spaceship is made of a metal he doesn’t recognise. As he leaps from his recovery bed in the First Aid unit of the ECPU, we discover that the Doctor wears ‘long-leg underpants’! When Sarah Jane asks him how old he is, he replies ‘Trade secret’. The Doctor met Professor Bud Emmerson in a ‘previous generation’. Emmerson is in his mid-sixties, with almost white hair, cropped short, and he’s ‘just as fat as he always had been’, which makes his ‘tall, massive body’ look out of proportion with his ‘really quite small’ head. He was a comedy actor in the 1950s but fell into astronomy. He gained widespread recognition for his discovery of a cluster of planets and invested funding from global astronomical organisations and donations from fans to build the North London Observatory on Highgate Hill. The Doctor helped him identify Pesca and the Professor has been studying the planet ever since. Pesca has hardly any ‘ozone protection’ (a major environmental concern at the time of publication).

Mike and a young member of the team called Pete Conway find a beach hut covered in the green substance which has hardened into a shroud shape. Believing a teenage boy is trapped inside, they use a drill to crack open the cocoon, only to discover that Pescatons can mimic human voices – and from the cocoon emerge small, shrieking Pescaton hatchlings, each about eight inches long and instinctively vicious. Seeing a police presence on the banks of the Thames, Sarah gets through a cordon by flashing a press pass (that’s ten years out of date), then the Doctor claims to be from the Department of the Environment. The Doctor recognises a large cone containing thousands of Pescaton eggs, having seen something similar on a past visit to Pesca. The Doctor carries a mini-telescope, a dynameter for ‘tracing sonic direction’ and a flute (replacing the piccolo from the album).

We first encounter Zor in a flashback to the Doctor’s previous visit to Pesca:

A massive creature, with slanting, luminous green eyes bulging out of an oval head covered with shining, metallic scales. Its teeth were sharp and pointed, like needles, and the gills behind its head pulsated as it breathed. And the body! The fins of a killer shark, hands with sharp claws, and the legs of a human stretching down to veined webbed feet. The creature’s tail, which was long and tough, like that of a crocodile, stretched out behind its body but never seemed to move.

…. through those eyes the Doctor could see right inside the creature’s brain, a hideous mass of living energy, a great beehive shape, crawling with minuscule ‘thought worms’. 

The creature mimics the Doctor’s speech patterns (so, unlike on the record, it doesn’t have a gravelly North American accent that should be selling us aftershave or narrating movie trailers). Back on Earth, Zor is tracked down to an underground tunnel near Aldwych Station and is destroyed by bright arc lights (on the record, it’s found in a sewer and defeated by high-frequency sound).

At the end, Professor Emmerson watches ‘a small object rising up into space through his telescope’ as the TARDIS departs [in the manner it left in Fury from the Deep on TV]. 

Cover: Pete Wallbank uses a photo reference of the Doctor and Sarah from The Seeds of Doom for a composition that includes the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and a strange scaly creature that appears to be emerging from the Doctor’s coat.

Final Analysis: Slipback – a radio serial produced by the BBC and broadcast on Radio 4 – was novelised as part of the Target range but not part of the numbered library, putting it alongside the Missing Episodes and Companions of Doctor Who as an interesting side-step that’s not part of the official canon. As the programme itself ceased production in 1989 – and thanks to Nigel Robinson’s determination to fill in all those 1960s gaps – the number of TV stories available for novelisation had reached single figures by this point. Two of those stories were about to be ticked off and the rest would eventually join the Target range 25 years later. While Virgin Books editor Peter Darvill-Evans had successfully launched the New Adventures, starring the seventh Doctor, his past-Doctor range of Missing Adventures wouldn’t hit bookshelves until 1994. Aside from a stage play by Terrance Dicks, there was only one other full story that could be novelised.

Argo Records, a subsidiary of British Decca, released Doctor Who and the Pescatons on LP and cassette in 1976, hitting record stores between the TV broadcasts of Seasons 13 and 14. Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen recreated the Doctor and Sarah and it all felt rather like an official mini-episode (the duration for the entire story was just 46 minutes, so akin to a modern single-episode story). And while I listened to the cassette many times, this was the first time I’d read the novel.

Returning to Target after his poll-winning adaptation of Fury from the Deep, Victor Pemberton fleshes out what was quite a thinly sketched story into a full novel. In many ways, it’s a little old-fashioned compared to the later Target volumes. There are some over-familiar SF tropes here: The green, parasitical substance that carpets the south-east of England is straight out of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds, while we can look to John Wyndham for sinister meteor showers and a London devastated by monstrous alien beings. Also, possibly a result of adapting the largely narrated album, so much of the novel summarises events, rather than dramatising them – for instance, the Doctor’s previous trip to the planet Pesca and the very accurate and detailed locations around central London (which would make for an unusual walking tour). His approximation of Sarah Jane misses the mark somewhat, casting her mainly as a feed for the Doctor, although she does get to use her journalistic credentials to bluff her way through a police cordon. His depiction of the fourth Doctor is surprisingly accurate though, with a combination of abruptness and other-worldly strangeness.

Where Pemberton succeeds is in creating wholly new characters to populate his world. Mike and Helen take on some of the responsibilities of Professor Emmerson from the record and they have their own dangerous journey of discovery. Then there are the various victims of the Pescatons, who are given distinct personalities and motivations: An obstinate civil servant who ignores the Doctor and comes to a nasty end; the Scottish father and son whose barge is torn apart in a tragic vignette lifted from the pages of Peter Benchley’s Jaws; and a brave young boy and his remote control boat, who is part of a twist that elevates the Pescatons from merely being savage beasts into something much more Stephen King – monsters with sadistic intent. 

There’s also a trio of homeless people: Old Ben, who has been a familiar figure in the West End for over a decade; and two teenage boys who have been living rough for about a year. Jess is from Newcastle and he ran away from home because of disputes with his father about being ‘allowed to make his own decisions about how he wants to live‘ and Tommy had heard ‘what a great time teenage kids like himself could have if they moved into the big city’. The italics in both cases are mine and it strikes me that Pemberton uses coded language here to hint at a relationship between the boys that would have been impossible to suggest on TV but would become more overt in the New Adventures. Old Ben is immediately uncooperative with the police, but is more forthcoming with the Doctor and Sarah, which is how they learn of the fates of the missing teens. These three people represent the generational shift in the homeless that, along with ‘the ozone layer’, was becoming a notable social concern at the time Pemberton was writing this (the charitable magazine The Big Issue began publication in September 1991 as a means of both funding support for – and raising awareness of – the rising homeless population in the UK).

In the course of researching this, I fell down a bit of a rabbit hole looking into Canadian actor Bill Mitchell, who voiced Zor on the record. I particularly wanted to know how the man who was the promotional voice of Carlsberg beer, Denim aftershave and hundreds of movie trailers came to play a giant alien fish on a licensed Doctor Who record. This was actually Mitchell’s second role in Doctor Who; he had recorded a scene for Frontier in Space playing a newsreader, but his role was cut from the final edit due to the episode overrunning. As a voice-over artist in much demand in the mid-70s, he spent most of his days in London’s Soho at John Wood Studios and between jobs he could often be found at the Coach and Horses public house – which was also a regular haunt of such notable names as writer Jeffrey Bernard, the artist Francis Bacon – and an actor called Tom Baker…

Chapter 152. Doctor Who – Battlefield (1991)

Synopsis: Warriors from another dimension bring their fight to a lake reputed to be the last resting place of King Arthur. Nearby, a convoy of UNIT troops is transporting a nuclear weapon. The Doctor and Ace recover Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, observed by the witch Morgaine and the chained beast The Destroyer. But the invaders haven’t reckoned on an old soldier coming out of retirement for one final mission. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has arrived! 

Chapter Titles

Divided into Part One, Two, Three and Four, and subdivided by numbered chapters – eighteen in total.

Background: Marc Platt adapts scripts by Ben Aaronovitch for the 1989 serial, completing the run of stories for Season 26 and the seventh Doctor. This is also the last Doctor Who TV story to be novelised under the original Target banner.

Notes: The prologue details the final hours of Arthur as he and Bedivere leap across dimensions to flee from the war with Morgaine and Mordred. Bedivere casts Excalibur into a lake, before Mordred slits his throat. Arthur is taken to safety, where he’s reunited with Merlin, a man with an ‘avuncular face’ and ‘twin hearts’. He has ‘unruly red hair’ (is this why future Doctors are so excited by the prospect of being ‘ginger’?) and wears a ‘tatty embroidered Afghan coat’ and a floppy, brown felt hat with a saffron Katmandu bandana around the brim. Receiving Excalibur, he places it in the exact position that he remembers finding it in (so ‘Merlin’ is definitely a future Doctor).

Brigadier Bambera is lifted out of a mission in the Zambezi region to command operation ‘Dull Sword’, the name for the removal of ‘Salamander Six-Zero’, a ‘ground-launched cruise missile system, in breach of the Berlin Convention’. She arrives at UNIT HQ, a former ‘finishing school’ located ‘six klicks’ from Geneva; the base itself is 200 metres below ground. Her callsign is ‘Seabird One’. The signal sent by Excalibur to the TARDIS is much more powerful than on TV; it’s responsible for an electronics blackout that hits the south of England – and the TARDIS itself. Inside the darkened main control room, the Doctor has a lectern in the shape of an eagle (the one he had on TV in the 1960s). The electronics blackout is followed by a violent storm greater than the ones in ‘1987 and 1995’. The Doctor finds a copy of Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th-century work Le Morte D’arthur and pops it in his pocket. Mordred has a disappointing night of drinking at a tavern in a place called Gore; he leaves the inn at dawn and is taken by an ornithopter to meet with his mother, the Queen. All of the suits of armour from this other dimension are equipped with display screens in the visor and the ability to leap across the dimensions.

The events in England take place in the spring of 1999 (the tax disc of Peter Warmsly’s car is due to expire on 30 June ’99). Peter has a ‘northern accent’ (the actor who played him, James Ellis, did his best to disguise his Belfast accent, so that accent would be ‘Northern Irish’) and his companion is a large Irish wolfhound called Cerberus. Bambera attended lectures at Sandhurst (the military academy that trains all British officers) delivered by ‘Chunky Gilmore [see Remembrance of the Daleks] and she also remembers that UNIT’s ‘Zen Brigade’ at Aylesbury had been led by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. 

Doris is an economist and she inherited her mock-Tudor home from an aunt. She became reacquainted with Lethbridge-Stewart after seeing him in a TV documentary that insinuated he was keeping secrets from the British public:

‘We may never know what happened at the atomic installation at Wenley Moor, the fate of Mars Probe 7, the Styles Conference on disarmament or the terrible ecological accident at Llanfairfach. But we do know that Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart was a leading agent in the Government’s response to these crises.’

Doris arranged to visit Lethbridge-Stewart at his home in the grounds of the school where he taught Mathematics [see Mawdryn Undead] and, reminded of a previous encounter at a Brighton hotel, she suggested they get married. 

Shou Yuing is a student at Exeter University and is surprised by the sight of Ace’s 80s-style clothes. Her family name is ‘Li’ (she introduces herself to the Brigadier as ‘Li Shou Yuing’) and her grandmother, a great story-teller, spoke only Mandarin all her life, despite having been a British subject for 53 years (we might speculate that she was a refugee from the Chinese Civil War, which resumed in 1946). Her brother appears to be a mechanic and he gave her car a respray only a week before she came to the area. Her parents wait for her outside of the exclusion zone and she feels she’ll be in a lot of trouble when they find her (which is possibly why she sticks around long enough to be invited home with the Lethbridge-Stewarts at the end).

At the Gore Crow Hotel, Pat sells four flavours of crisps, ‘plain, roasted peanut, onion gravy or cauliflower cheese’. The Doctor has various units of currency in his pockets, including ‘Pallistratum Gromits’, ‘seven-and-three-eighth Rlarix Sovereigns’ and ‘something shaped like a small mechanoid crab’, but pays for the drinks with a ‘1998 five pound ecucoin’. It might be ten years into Ace’s future, but it’s more than 20 years in our past and £4.95 for half a cider, a lemonade and a packet of crisps is still extortionate in 2022.

Ace is still wearing the same shoes she had in Iceworld and they’re letting in water (even before she gets ejected into the lake!). She tells Bambera to ‘piss off’. Suspecting that his future self might have been ‘too clever for his own good’, the Doctor considers that ‘so many regenerations in so short a span could not be good for the brain.’ The knowledge of the future Merlin makes him suddenly and uncomfortably aware of the mortality of his current form. Morbid thoughts turn to a memory of the Time Lord academy. 

The Doctor and Ace discuss Clark’s Law – ‘Any advanced form of technology is indistinguishable from magic’; The Brigadier tactlessly addresses Ace as ‘the latest one’, which makes her immediately very snarky towards him; and Ace and Shou Yuing deduce that the legend of King Arthur came from the ‘real’ Arthur, and that Excalibur wasn’t inserted into the stone, it was plugged into the console of the ship in the lake – all of which were scenes deleted from original broadcast but restored for a Special Edition edit on the DVD release.

Elizabeth Rowlinson has been blind for 22 years. Her husband, Pat, goes to the crashed helicopter with a first aid kit and helps Lavel to escape; he was in the police force for 23 years before becoming the landlord of the Gore Crow (and Noel Collins, who played him on TV, played a police officer in Juliet Bravo for five years). Morgaine takes control of the UNIT officer and learns that she is ‘Francoise Eloise Lavel’ and that she grew up in Brittany. Morgaine enters Lavel’s mind to see a young Lavel running through a field, watching the birds and telling her mother she wants to fly ‘like a great arrow’. The Witch Queen says to her in French, ‘goodbye my little one. Now you are with me’, before turning her to ash.

Ancelyn was once a general in Morgaine’s army, but an ancient family oath compelled him to answer Arthur’s call and Morgaine branded him a traitor. Despite the switch in allegiances, Ancelyn refuses to share secrets with UNIT that might help them defeat Morgaine with dishonour.

The Doctor uses a dog whistle to summon Warmsly’s dog (recalling that the whistle would have once summoned K9). The Brigadier has never been allowed to use Bessie’s ‘superdrive facility’ before now. He recognises the Doctor’s term ‘interstitial’ from his encounter with ‘The Master with a Greek accent’ (the Doctor jokes ‘You should hear his French One!’, references to The Time Monster and The King’s Demons). Bambera is disappointed to discover ‘armour-piercing’ bullets have no effect on Mordred’s army, which is why she goes into battle with a sword. 

The Destroyer arrives in a different form to how we see it on telly:

Out of the great shadow stepped a figure. A man of aristocratic bearing, impeccably attired in a twentieth-century business suit. He was handsome; so handsome, he was almost ugly. Every beautiful feature on his face was slightly exaggerated, like a near-perfect mask, to conceal something very terrible beneath. His skin had a metallic blue sheen. He moved with a casual, predatory grace and was over seven feet tall. Behind him, the horned shadow traced his every movement.

The Destroyer’s appearance changes slowly as its power builds; small bumps appear at its temples and Ace sees a ‘reptilian eye’ beneath its mask. Finally released from Morgaine’s control, it grows to a monstrous size:

Its shape altered and grew. The tailored suit split as great thorns spiked out across its body like the armour of all Hell’s legions. Its head lost all human features; its skin hardened into scales of metallic blue; its goat horns twisted and blackened in thick murderous spires. As it rose up, its eyes narrowed and darkened into green pits of burning evil.

It finishes up so large that the Brigadier is dwarfed by its hooves.

At the missile camp, Bambera shouts for Zbrigniev to bring her coffee and discovers he has been killed, just as Mordred captures her. Ancelyn finds two more UNIT soldiers slain on his return to the camp. His battle with Mordred is brought to an end by Bambera knocking Mordred unconscious with a rifle butt. 

The Doctor taunts Morgaine by looping his umbrella over the blade of Excalibur. The material of the umbrella is shredded but by story end he fetches himself a new one (he also replaces his hat at one point). It will now be down to the Earth authorities to negotiate with Ancelyn’s world to decide the fate of Morgaine and Mordred. Back home, Doris asks the Doctor for help in arranging a reunion of old friends for Alistair; the Doctor suggests they meet at Christmas to give him time to collect everybody. Ace finds a bag of crusty jelly babies in Bessie’s glove compartment. Ancelyn presents Bambera with a crystal ring ‘inlaid with twining silver leaves, emblem of the House of Garde-Joyeuse’. The story concludes with the Brigadier telling the Doctor that he’s been offered a new job that he can’t turn down.

Cover: Alister Pearson combines the Brigadier, Morgaine, the Doctor and the Destroyer with deceptive simplicity. With this cover, he also steals a title from Andrew Skilleter as he becomes the only cover artist to provide the artwork for two complete seasons of stories. Including art for a reissue of Time and the Rani, he also painted artwork for every single Seventh Doctor story. A 2016 rerelease of Battlefield had cover art by Chris Achilleos that tried to mimic the style of his own 70s classics. A disappointing composition, it featured a fair likeness of Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, plus Morgaine, Excalibur and a strange, side-on pose for the Destroyer. The audiobook invited Alister Pearson back to create a revised version of his original art with new portraits of the principal elements.

Final Analysis: Full disclosure, I’ve never been a fan of Arthurian mythology, even less a fan of Arthurian science fiction. That this managed to keep my interest from beginning to end is a real credit to Marc Platt’s skill as a writer. It’s impossible to know how close this novel is to how Ben Aaronovich might have approached it, as Ben abandoned work on his version and handed everything over to Marc Platt. What we have though is a novel that immerses us in the legend and explains the backstory while drawing us towards the final confrontation in a war that has lasted for thousands of years. And the book makes it much clearer that none of this is actually what the story is about. 

Once again, this is a beautifully executed adaptation, from the introduction to the Old King and his war with Morgaine to the quieter moments where the supporting characters get time to reflect on the various life-changing revelations they’ve been forced to accept: Warmsly is overwhelmed by the discovery that the mythology that he has spent his life researching is real, teary-eyed while saying to Ancelyn ‘I keep thinking you’re true, young man. I think I’d like that. It’s better than reality, isn’t it?’ The same for the Rawlinsons, having to deal with the inexplicable return of Elizabeth’s sight:

Pat squeezed Elizabeth’s hand. He was looking the other way. She had seen something he had missed. Now she had her own secrets again, not just what she was told.

It was too much to take in. She closed her eyes.

As we might often hope for a novelisation, this is far and away the best version of Battlefield. But the sword-and-sorcery aspect is just a distraction from where Platt really wants to go. Confronted with the possibility that a future Doctor is playing the role of Merlin, our current Doctor is reluctant to accept the evidence that at some future point, his own time as the Doctor will end. To build on the inevitability, Part 4, Chapter 1 is told partly from Mordred’s point of view, where his adversary is very clearly ‘Merlin’. Coming in between this incarnation’s last regular TV appearance and his consignment to the pages of the New Adventures novels (the first of which was published the month before this volume), it’s all rather poignant – and nicely foreshadows a later Doctor’s reluctance to let go. There are other changes coming behind the scenes; although there are some novelisations still to come, this is the last televised story to be novelised under WH Allen’s Target banner.

… but it’s not the last entry for this blog. We still have a few more to come, including a couple of surprises! 

Chapter 151. Doctor Who – The Curse of Fenric (1990)

Synopsis: A World War II military base in North Yorkshire becomes the site for a battle between good and evil. All the pieces have come together: A British officer obsessed with Nazi memorabilia; his chief adviser, the creator of a powerful code-breaking machine; a squad of Soviet soldiers led by a captain driven by destiny; a bereaved young mother, left with a baby; a race of vampiric mutants from the future; and an ancient evil waiting for the arrival of a Time Lord… and his young friend, Ace. Now, the game can begin again…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue: Dusk
  • Chronicle I: Betrayal
  • Document I: The Wolf-time
  • Chronicle II: Dangerous Undercurrents
  • Document II: The Curse of the Flask
  • Chronicle III: Weapons within Weapons, Death within
  • Death
  • Document III: A Victorian Storyteller
  • Chronicle IV: Vampire City!
  • Document IV: The First Contest of Fenric
  • Chronicle V: Wind and Water, Earth and Fire
  • Epilogue: Dawn

Background: Ian Briggs adapts his own scripts from the 1989 serial, delivering the longest novelisation since Fury from the Deep.

Notes: The author bares the method in a prologue where he dwells on how to start the story. An unidentified woman stands on the beach signalling the Soviet submarine (we find out later who that might be). Sorin is a captain in the Red Army’s Special Missions Brigade and his mission is called ‘Operation Sea-Wolf’ (an echo of the story’s working title, The Wolves of Fenric). When the Soviet commandos reach the beach, it’s Trofimov who acts as look-out; he sees the evacuees and is reminded of his wife, Irene, who he sees dead in a vision. Sorin believes another young soldier, Petrossian, has special gifts that alert him to sounds and danger before everybody else.  

On arriving at the camp, the Doctor berates young Perkins: ‘What would happen if the Germans attacked now? We’d have to write to your mother and tell her you died in filthy boots!’ The Doctor’s forged authorisation documents from the War Office give his name as ‘Dr-‘ but the second name is smudged, while ‘Ace’ is listed as the code-name of his assistant. One of the evacuees, Jean, has cool blue eyes and blonde, tightly wound hair, while Phyllis has ‘a round, smiling face’, and her eyes are ‘a rich chestnut brown’. Ace complains that the Doctor doesn’t pay any attention to her because she’s ‘only the waitress’ (as opposed to ‘a mere mortal’ on TV). Ace goes rock climbing with the evacuees (using ropes instead of the usual ladder) and tells them she ‘gave up’ smoking after her Mum found out. Kathleen is initially nervous when the Doctor and Ace discover her baby. She tries to explain, but the Doctor reassures her: ‘Just as long as you can promise me she’s isn’t a German spy, sent to discover the secret of British nappies.’ 

The chapters are punctuated by four supporting documents, the first of which is an essay about the Viking gods, written by Millington when he was a schoolboy. A teacher’s comment at the end of the essay reads: 

Very good. An extraordinarily vivid piece of writing for a boy of only 12. It is almost as though young Millington really believes that these myths will come true one day.

The essay represents a lifelong obsession with Norse mythology that Millington carries into adulthood, unaware that this is part of Fenric’s curse. On learning from Judson about the new arrivals from ‘the War Office’, Millington assumes that they must be from Bletchley and orders that they should be killed as ‘the enemy’. He recalls an incident on the rugby pitch more than 20 years earlier:

The cold mud of a rugby pitch. The shouts and calls of adolescent young men as they ran and chased. The expression Millington saw on Judson’s face as Judson smiled across to one of the other players, a tall, blond boy with clear blue eyes and a strong body. The sharp, stabbing jealousy that surged through Millington. The black anger that filled him as he ran towards Judson. The hatred, as he drove his shoulder hard in Judson’s back. The cracking sound – the awful cracking sound – as Judson’s body bent backwards and his spine fractured. The expression in Judson’s face, an expression from hell, as he lay paralysed in the mud.

The second document tells of how a traveller from Sweden called Oslaf obtained the flask. He and his party journeyed from Constantinople, through Transylvania, their voyage blighted by black fog and mysterious deaths, before they reached the Baltic sea and were slain by pirates. The pirate leader, Hemming, seized the flask as part of their spoils, but his band of men experienced sudden and grisly deaths just like those of Oslaf’s party. Abandoning his wife, Hemming captured a beautiful villager called Ingelda, with whom he sired a daughter called Wulf-aga as she had shining eyes like a wolf. As his crew were killed off one by one, Hemming concluded that the flask he stole from Oslaf was to blame; he sent his mistress and their daughter to safety and hid the flask, before he and the last of his men were slain by the black fog.

Wainwright visits the graves of his parents and grandparents in the churchyard. His mother died the day after he was born and her gravestone has the wrong date on it; his father died two years ago. Unlike on TV, Wainwright is a young man in his twenties. Millington reveals to the Doctor and Ace his plan to use chemical weapons to bring the war to an end: ‘A few thousand will die. But hundreds of thousands will be saved.’

The Doctor and Ace speak to an agitated Miss Hardaker about her missing evacuees and they try to persuade her not to involve the Home Guard; as soon as they leave, she calls the Home Guard anyway. The six Home Guard soldiers find the girls on the beach but fail to persuade them to go home. When their patrol strays too close to the Soviet hideout, they are killed by Sorin’s men, as witnessed from the clifftops by Sergeant Leigh (a young soldier of just 20, but already ‘hard as stone’)… and Miss Hardaker, who the young sergeant orders to return home. There, she confronts the girls, blaming them for the deaths of the men. Sorin tries to comfort Trofimov, unaware that, having himself become a father back home recently, his sergeant’s trauma comes from killing men who were someone’s sons. 

The third Document is a letter from Bram Stoker to his wife, detailing a story he heard while visiting the area about Maiden’s Point, a murdered girl and vampires living in the waters nearby. He tells his wife ‘I begin to believe that the seeds of some greater story may lie in this tragic incident.’

Miss Hardaker has her own reason for fearing the wider reputation of Maiden’s Point: When she was just 19, she became pregnant out of wedlock. Though the child died aged just two, Miss Hardaker was shunned by her neighbours and she carried the shame with her throughout her life.

The Doctor calls the monstrous army that emerges from the sea ‘homo haemovorax’ and claims that the salt water in the area is similar to human blood plasma:

Their bodies were horrifying mutations of the humans they had once been. Their skin was slimy and slightly wrinkled, like huge white slugs with legs and arms. Their eyes were swollen and bulbous, closed like a foetus in its uterus. And their mouths had turned into large suckers for draining blood. 

Some of them still had traces of human origins – vestigial ears, or a skeleton that was vaguely humanoid – and these creatures still had scraps of recent human clothing hanging off them. But those that had been waiting for a century or more were now completely changed. Instead of clothing, they had thin strands of glistening filament that hung about their bodies. Among the filaments and linked with them were old metal objects – objects that had either been discarded in the waters down the centuries or taken from the creatures’ victims. Keys, locks, coins, scissor-blades were now welded by an iridescent coral into a kind of chain mail.

The assault on the church is a lot more dramatic than was possible on telly. Ace uses her rock-climbing ropes (rather than the ladder) to scale down the church tower. Haemovores scale down the side of the tower after her and Sorin stakes one of them to death. The Doctor remembers his travelling companions as a testament of faith to repel the haemovore attack: Susan, Ian, Barbara, Vicki and Stephen [sic], Jo and Sarah-Jane. He’s surprised that Ace can hear the sound of his faith and surmises that she is slightly telepathic.

The fourth of the quoted documents is a translation by Sir William Judson, recounting the tale-within-a-tale of a game of chess between another traveller, El-DokTar, and an evil dictator called Aboo-Fenran. After 40 days of stalemate, the traveller challenged the dictator to find a solution that could defeat him. Another 40 days and nights passed and, unable to solve the impasse, Aboo-Fenrir surrendered and was trapped inside a flask. A prince mentioned in this story is said to haved journeyed ‘along the Central Way from the Furthest Island of Dhógs to the White City’, which might hold additional meaning if you consider how a person might travel via the Central Line of the London Underground from East London to BBC Television Centre.

The eyes of the bodies that Fenric possesses glow red, not green. Fenric reveals that Nurse Crane is a Soviet agent reporting to Moscow (suggesting she was the figure signalling from the beach to the Russian submarine). The Ancient One is named Ingiger and its voice is said to be part female. Vershinin and Bates both die from being shot by Millington (they survived on TV); Millington allows himself to be engulfed in flames while holding the body of Judson.

In the epilogue, having departed the TARDIS some time before, ‘Dorothée’ is reunited with the Doctor in 1887, where she reveals she has fallen in love with Sorin’s grandfather.

Cover & Illustration: Against a chessboard background, Alister Pearson brings together a Doctor with a sickly green tinge, a haemovore, Ace in her 1940s costume and various symbols – a logic diagram, some ancient runes, a Soviet red star, a Nazi Swastika and a skull-and-crossbones poison label. Inside, for the first time in years, there’s an illustration – a map, captioned ‘The Journey of the Flask’.

Final Analysis: Back in the mid-1960s, the joke behind the Meddling Monk was that he was the sort of character who would deposit a small sum into a bank and then travel forward in time to collect the interest. In 1979 we had Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth, trying to pull off a similar stunt by influencing history to fund his time travel experiments in the 20th century. It was also the driving force behind this story on TV, an ancient evil manipulating individual family lines to ensure they all converge at one point in space and time. In retelling his adventure as a novel, Ian Briggs creates a multi-faceted tale that slowly pushes all the pieces onto the board and shows how they came to be part of Fenric’s trap. That the backstory is presented as a series of documents allows the reader to decide if any of them might be a reliable source: The Doctor really did trap an ancient evil in a flask because it couldn’t grasp that he was cheating at chess, or the scene is just symbolic of whatever it was that happened; Millington’s childhood obsession with Norse mythology was symptomatic of the curse, or just another facet of his obsessive guilt over the crippling attack on Judson; maybe the flask caused the deaths that followed the parties of Oslaf and Hemming, or perhaps they just lived in bloody times; and maybe Bram Stoker was driven by the legends that fuel this story to write one of his own, rather than Ian Briggs taking his inspiration from Stoker…

In the entire history of the Target books, few could be described as being sexually charged. Companions arrive and depart with dispassionate regularity and even the ones tempted by a promise of romance remain largely chaste. The first hints of sexual desires introduced by Ben Aaronovich in Remembrance of the Daleks are continued here. The subtlety of a bay called ‘Maiden’s Point’ is underlined when Ace appears to admit to her new evacuee friends that, like them, she’s not a virgin (even if it’s just a case of teenage bragging to fit in), but then there’s the revelation that Miss Hardaker also has a secret past. The undercurrents that engulf Ace at the end are said to represent ‘laughter, lechery and animal passion. A whorehouse of enjoyment’. Despite this, Ace’s seduction of young Sergeant Leigh is about as awkward as it was on TV and, frankly, the resolution is unpleasant:

‘Too hot,’ murmured Ace. ‘Clothes sticking to me, sticking to my skin, hot, damp…’

‘If they’re too sticky, you know what to do.’

… his cries of ‘You promised’ suggest he feels led on, more than just led away.

There’s also a subtext of sexual tension from Millington towards Judson, who he clearly found compelling when they were schoolboys; as an adult, Millington has no love for women, complaining that they even ‘smelled different’, which adds a little to his dismissal of Ace with ‘no girls’!

Sexual subtexts are all part and parcel of the horror genre, and while this remains teen-friendly, it’s clearly aimed at an older audience than, say, Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius. Infamously, the disintegration of the Haemovore Jean and Phyllis was shown on children’s TV in a behind-the-scenes feature but cut from the actual broadcast episode. Here, we can enjoy the moment in all its gory glory. The most graphic passage, however, comes during the assault on the church, when Sorin employs a stake to destroy one of the monstrous attackers:

The haemovore gave out a terrible, tortured cry that seemed to tear through the universe. Sorin pushed down on the stake with all his strength, driving it through the haemovore’s body until he felt it hit the slates beneath. The horrible, bloated face of the creature began to twist and change. The skin started to wrinkle and pull back on to the bones as though the creature were growing older by a hundred years every minute. The fleshy lips turned thin and dry and began to crack; the haemovore’s whole skeleton began to show through the thin membrane. Then the skin started to smoke and peel away. The creature’s cry slowly died away as all its flesh disappeared in smoke. Soon, all that was left was a smoking skeleton lying in a pool of slime and a charred wooden stake planted between two ribs.

As I noted just a few chapters ago, Remembrance of the Daleks is often cited by fans as the moment of conception for the New Adventures, but this story informs the tone of that range just as much. It’s a story as much about the companion as the villain, where sex and sexuality are acknowledged as something that actually exists and where the Doctor is manipulating people and events like a Grand Master chessplayer.

Chapter 150. Doctor Who – Survival (1990)

Synopsis: The Doctor brings Ace home to her own time and place. But the time is Sunday and the place is Perivale, the most boring place ever. Most of Ace’s friends have disappeared and the youth club has been taken over by a fanatical army type with a sadistic streak. On a distant planet, the Master waits for the Doctor’s arrival – only with the help of his oldest enemy can he hope to escape a world that is slowly turning him into a ferocious animal…

Chapter Titles

Numbered One to Eight, with a postscript.

Background: Rona Munro adapts her own scripts from the 1989 serial.

Notes: The man who’s abducted while washing his car is called Dave Aitken. His elderly neighbour who shoos away the cats is Mrs Bates. Ace and her gang used to listen to the music of ‘Guns and Roses’ [sic] and ‘Spondy Gee’. There’s a crack on the youth club door that was the result of a fight between Ace and Midge. They all used to hang around outside the local pub hoping they could persuade older kids to buy ‘cans’ for them. The Doctor puts a gold star-shaped coin from Psion B into Ange’s collection tin. Paterson is a police officer, not a sergeant in the territorial army as on TV (hence why he knows Ace was let off with a ‘warning’). After the sergeant criticises her for never phoning home, Ace recalls the events in 1945 that led to her meeting her mother as a baby. Still confused by the conflicting emotions the relationship with he rparents provokes, she feels distressed that the Doctor appears to be ignoring her in favour of his tins of cat food. This prompts her to walk off alone to gather her thoughts – watched by a kitling.

The kitlings (‘feline vultures’) can teleport from planet to planet in search of carrion and have been to Earth many times. They can ‘smell blood even across the vacuum of space’ – and the Cheetah People follow them in search of sport. Midge has posters for heavy metal bands in his room (on TV, he has a U2 album). 

Returning home in the early hours of Monday morning, Midge goes to the shop run by Len and Harvey and demands money. The Master releases a kitling in the shop, which transports the shopkeepers away. Midge kills both Paterson and Derek. After Karra is killed, Ace sees Shreela and tells her she won’t be staying in Perivale. Shreela helps her obtain some petrol and Ace lights a pyre for Karra and Midge, before walking off arm in arm with the Doctor (who does not deliver the speech we heard on TV). 

Cover: One of the most inventive covers ever, Alister Pearson paints a vista of the Cheetah people’s planet with portraits of a concerned Doctor, a possessed Ace and the Master’s black cat minion. The canvas has been slashed with four claw marks. An early pencil draft of this design also showed the Master’s face emerging from the cat’s torso, but this was dropped for the final painting.

Final Analysis: Another cracking novel, it’s largely what we saw on TV but with added violence and a generally more adult tone; as with Ghost Light, it’s beautifully written and visceral. The scene with Ange raising money for hunt saboteurs is enhanced by a shop window containing a dummy wearing a fur coat:

The Doctor pressed closer to the glass. Yellow fur, spotted fur, hung limp and soft on the dummy like the dead thing it was. There was no hint of the long muscles that had animated it, the bone, sinew, heart and lungs of the animal that had worn it as its own skin as it streaked across the dusty yellow savannah, the fastest creature on earth. There was only the barest reminder of the coat’s original owner, the animal that now reminded the Doctor so forcibly of the connection he had been looking for.

With just a couple of novels remaining, the Seventh Doctor era is shaping up to be the most consistent of the Target collection. At the back of this book, in a postscript, range editor Peter Darvill-Evans marked the fact that it appeared unlikely that Doctor Who was returning to our screens any time soon. He also revealed that as well as some remaining novelisations, plans were already underway to start publishing original novels – the continuing adventures of the Doctor and Ace.