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!
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…