Chapter 127. Doctor Who – Time and the Rani (1988)

Synopsis: The Doctor has regenerated after an accident in his TARDIS, and his enemy the Rani is exploiting his post-regenerative confusion to gain his assistance with one of her experiments. As Mel explores the planet Lakertya and encounters the bat-like Tetraps, the Doctor seems to have forgotten something… who is he?

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Regeneration
  • 2. The New Doctor
  • 3. Death is Sprung
  • 4. Identity Crisis
  • 5. Collaborators All
  • 6. On With The Fray
  • 7. Haute Couture
  • 8. Visions of Greatness
  • 9. Face To Face
  • 10. A Kangaroo Never Forgets
  • 11. When Strangers Meet
  • 12. ‘You Know, Don’t You!’
  • 13. Rendezvous With a Tetrap
  • 14. The Centre of Leisure
  • 15. Exchange Is A Robbery
  • 16. The Twelfth Genius
  • 17. Selective Retribution
  • 18. Too Many Cooks
  • 19. Star Struck!
  • 20. Holy Grail
  • 21. A Dangerous Break
  • 22. Countdown
  • 23. Goodbye Lakertya

Background: Pip and Jane Baker adapt their own scripts for a story from 1987.

Notes: The opening chapter is a gift – the final scene featuring the sixth Doctor. As Mel is exercising, the Doctor finds he can’t control the TARDIS. There’s mention of the Hostile Action Displacement System [see The Krotons], which the Doctor has forgotten to set. His regeneration seems to be caused when he falls head first against the TARDIS console. Or ‘tumultuous buffering’ as the authors have it.

Lakertyans still have the remnants of tails under their clothes. They have yellow skin and patches of mother-of-pearl-like scales on their arms and face. The Rani is a ‘Time Lady’ who, we’re told, the Doctor considers to be ‘more brilliant than himself’. As well as Einstein, the Rani’s collection of genii includes Charles Darwin, the physicist Niels Bohr and Louis Pasteur as well as figures from other planets such as Za Panato and Ari Centos. While the previous Doctor was six feet tall, the new one has to get used to being five feet six, hence all the falling about. He studied thermodynamics at university while the Rani specialised in chemistry. Unlike the Doctor, the Rani has never regenerated, having led a life of extreme caution. She escaped the predicament of a Tyrannosaurus Rex rapidly growing to full size due to time spillage in her own TARDIS when the creature grew too big and its spine snapped against the ceiling of the TARDIS [see Mark of the Rani].

Mel went to school in Pease Pottage, Sussex (it’s not just where she lived when she met the Doctor, she grew up there) and she once played the third witch in a production of Macbeth. As she confronts the stranger who is the new Doctor, she improvises a weapon with an acetylene torch; the Doctor uses a stool as a shield, until the seat catches fire. Later, the Doctor steps aside as a Tetrap falls into a bubble trap (on TV, he actively pushes it). He uses a penknife to release himself from the Rani’s cabinet. A Tetrap steps on a phial that Mel has dropped, accidentally smashing it and releasing a rapid-action fungus that engulfs the creature and suffocates it. At university, the Doctor and the Rani had enjoyed ‘many an academic battle of wits’ in debates. Instead of dismantling an ornamental decoration, Ikona pulls some cable from a videogame and hands it to Mel to strip for wire. When she’s finally captured by the Tetraps, the Rani is suspended upside down from the ceiling of her TARDIS.

Cover: A final photographic cover and it’s one that actually shows something interesting from the story – namely the Tetraps hanging upside down (a publicity release with an early rejected cover used the neon logo and artwork by Tony Masero of the Tetrap lair, but printed the wrong way up, to show the Tetraps, er, not upside-down). We have the introduction of the Oliver Elms logo. Alister Pearson painted a much more traditional cover for the 1991 reprint, with the Rani, a Tetrap, the new Doctor, the planet Lakertya, the space brain and a lump of strange matter all jostling for space. 

Final Analysis: A huge improvement from Terror of the Vervoids, this novelisation is less giddy and much less overwritten. A good job, as it has one of the most insane plots of any Who adventure (and I have always utterly adored it). While the Bakers used lots of words to create their Vervoids on the page, the description still didn’t successfully build a mental picture of what it was supposed to look like (a difficult task without saying ‘a mash of genitals’!). The summary of the Tetrap follows the slow build to what we saw on TV – multiple points of vision, the odd claw or foot – before the final reveal as Urak jumps out and surprises Mel:

The vulpine, rodent-like face was covered with a gangrenous, oily down. Splayed, moist nostrils and thin sucking lips were dominated by a single luminous eye that glared unblinkingly from beneath a cockscomb of bristle. The veined, bloodshot orb had an enlarged pupil with a green halo.

As if this did not create an ugly enough apparition, above each delicately pointed pink ear, a similar eye bulged.

A fourth eye adorned the back of the Tetrap’s skull. These four eyes were the reason for the three hundred and sixty degree perspective: the quadview.

A predatory grimace exposed razor-sharp cuspids as the repulsive half-ape-half-rat leered at Mel. Then a venomous forked tongue spat at her!

That isn’t to say the authors are not at their verbose best, just that it’s a lot more easy to take in this time. The decision to make the alien language of Tetrapyriarban just… English backwards is hilariously dumb though. Especially when, having come up with this idea, they then explain it. Madness! Similarly, the miraculous substance the Rani seeks is called ‘Loyhargil’, a fact revealed in a chapter called ‘Holy Grail’. Haha – marvellous.

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

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

Chapter Titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 123. Doctor Who – The Rescue (1988)

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

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • Chapters One to Fifteen
  • Epilogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 122. Doctor Who – The Macra Terror (1987)

Synopsis: When the Doctor and his three friends visit a colony on a distant world, they find a community of cheerful, contented people who are free to enjoy life. There are machines for pampering and relaxation and nobody is unhappy or scared. Especially Medok, who is ill and needs to be taken care of, because he is shouting nonsense and disturbing the peace. The Doctor and Polly aren’t convinced, but Ben and Jamie know the truth – there is no such thing as Macra men! No such thing as Macra men!

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Interference on the Scanner
  • 2. A Wash and Brush-up
  • 3. The Man Who Suffered from Delusions
  • 4. There’s Really Nothing There
  • 5. A Voice in the Night
  • 6. The Colony by Night
  • 7. Down the Pit
  • 8. Escape
  • 9. A Breath of Fresh Air
  • 10. One of the Dancers
  • 11. Forbidden Territory
  • 12. Four Minutes to Countdown

Background: Ian Stuart Black adapts his own scripts for the 1967 story.

Notes: The time travellers have seen something on the TARDIS scanner. The Doctor tries to pass it off as mere ‘atmospherics’:

‘Atmospherics cause interference. A build-up of forces. Electrical discharges. A thunderstorm. A number of things can cause the normal pattern to be broken, and then a radio signal or a television picture suddenly is broken into, and you get an alien signal. We have checks and balances on board the TARDIS to counteract such interference, but every now and again a message or picture breaks through from another point in space and we pick it up.’

He fails to convince his young friends and while Polly refuses to discuss it any further, Jamie makes sure to grab a big branch as he leaves the TARDIS (as he did on TV). The TARDIS scanner has ‘vision control’, an automatic program that scans for items of importance and allows the travellers to see into the colony before they arrive. The Controller initially orders that ‘There is no such thing as Macra men’, though Medok hears ‘There is no such thing as Macra’ during his later programming and Ben chants ‘There is no such thing as the Macra’.

Medok says the Macra are ‘horrible to look at… like insects…. like huge crabs’, while Jamie notes its ‘scaly flanks’, ‘long feelers’ and a ‘rope-like tentacle’. The creature has heavy eyelids (so not like an insect) and it moves at ‘the speed of a tortoise’. The Doctor gives a multi-sensory observation:

It was more horrible than he had visualised, more nauseating – giving off a suffocating odour – a very alien creature; moonlight glinting on its hard shell, a skin that glistened, prehistoric, giving the Doctor a feeling it was already dead… Yet moving slowly, with the speed of a gigantic slug, towards them.

He speculates to Polly that the Macra lived on the unnamed planet for millions of years, but that maybe the atmosphere changed, the natural gases that the creatures thrive on dried up, or ‘some other factor altered’, so they had to bury underground where the gases were available. There’s no direct correlation between the changing atmosphere and the arrival of the colonists, which is something we’d instantly assume nowadays [and see Gridlock for how that played out].

Medok survives his encounter with the Macra and is present to witness the departure of the four strangers in the TARDIS but decides on not ‘pushing his luck’ by telling anyone about it. Strangely, Medok doesn’t recall ever seeing the TARDIS before, even though he ran past it at the start of the book (presumably he was too distracted or distressed to remember it).

Cover: Tony Masero takes great artistic license in creating a slavering, oozing Macra that still bears a strong resemblance to what was seen on screen. 

Final Analysis: Another solid novelisation from Ian Stuart Black with very little changed from what we can gather from the surviving footage and audio tracks (although apparently the author worked solely from the scripts, so any changes made by the actors and director during rehearsals would have been absent anyway). The nature of the Macra remains non-specific – even the Doctor can’t be drawn as to whether they’re crabs, insects or overgrown bacteria – and they’re often described as being ‘alien’ despite the likelihood that they’re an indigenous lifeform. In 2021, we’re a little more sensitive to post-colonial views and this does stand out as an unresolved gap in the text, from a time when monsters were fought and destroyed, rather than understood and accommodated – and perhaps not even thought of as ‘monsters’.

Chapter 121. Doctor Who – The Massacre (1987)

Synopsis: The Doctor decides to explore 16th-Century Paris and leaves Steven to fend for himself. Steven soon befriends a group of men and a servant girl who are Protestant Huguenots persecuted by the ruling Catholics. A visiting abbot bears a striking facial resemblance to the Doctor, enough for Steven to believe he is really his friend in one of his disguises. But then the abbot is murdered and the public mood makes Paris a dangerous place for the Huguenots – and anyone who has been seen with them, like Steven… 

Chapter Titles

  • Author’s Note
  • Dramatis Personae
  • Prologue
  • 1. The Roman Bridge Auberge
  • 2. Echoes of Wassy
  • 3. The Apothecary
  • 4. Double Trouble
  • 5. The Proposition
  • 6. Beds for a Night
  • 7. Admiral de Coligny
  • 8. The Escape
  • 9. A Change of Clothes
  • 10. The Hotel Lutèce
  • 11. The Royal Audience
  • 12. Burnt at the Stake
  • 13. The Phoenix
  • 14. Talk of War
  • 15. Face to Face
  • 16. A Rescue
  • 17. Good Company All
  • Epilogue

Background: John Lucarotti adapts his own scripts for a story from 1966.

Notes: The book features a Dramatis Personae that is very useful for working out who everyone is. The novel deviates significantly from the TV version, being neither an adaptation of the broadcast story, nor the author’s original submitted storyline; instead, it’s a new story that uses the same characters and basic plot points, but making much more of the Doctor’s similarity to the Abbot of Amboise. The Prologue presents the Doctor, clutching a copy of the diary of Samuel Pepys, in a garden that reminds him of the Garden of Peace that he visited with Susan, Ian and Barbara in the time of the Aztecs. There, he meets with a group of Time Lords (with whom he has resolved his previous ‘differences’) to explain his actions in 16th-Century France. Other than the Doctor being male, there is no indication that this is the first Doctor, or indeed any specific incarnation. We only know that the Time Lords still exist and that the Doctor considers himself in semi-retirement, having brought his travels in the TARDIS to ‘a temporary halt’.

There’s no reference to the Doctor and Steven’s recent quest to defeat the Daleks [see Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan part II: The Mutation of Time]. Instead, the duo arrives in the TARDIS and they check a ‘time/place orientation print-out’ on the TARDIS console with a faulty yearometer reading. Neither of them elects to wear period clothing until much later (the Doctor while impersonating the Abbot, Steven after he steals clothing from Preslin’s empty house). While training to become an astronaut, Steven performed in plays, including Hamlet, which is how he understood the phrase ‘shriving time’, which he overhears being said by two clerics. The Doctor finds himself joining a band of rebellious Hugenots who at first mistake him for the Abbot of Amboise, but later they force him to pose as the Abbot for a meeting with Catherine de Medici, the Queen Mother. 

The TARDIS is found and brought into the Bastille, where it becomes a talking piece among Parisian society (a locksmith receives an electric shock when he tries to gain entry). They inform the Doctor that the object is to be burned at the stake, which he finds hilarious – and the subsequent pyre leaves the TARDIS looking ‘ impeccably clean, even shiningly so’.

The Doctor and the Abbot meet and the Doctor has to stand by as the Abbot is killed by his loyal secretary Duval, believing him to be an imposter. The Doctor then usurps the Abbot to address the Royal Court and beseech them to stop their religious wars. Anne is sent to safety along with her brother and aunt. There is no surprise arrival of Dodo at the end. Instead, in the Epilogue, we return to the Doctor’s meeting with the Time Lords, where he rebuffs their charges that he interfered with established history, including their claim that his companion Dodo, who he met after this adventure, was proof that he had saved the life of Anne Chaplet. The Doctor recalls that Dodo had been ‘the spitting image of Anne’.

Cover: Tony Masero paints the Abbot of Amboise standing in front of the TARDIS atop a burning pyre. Alister Pearson’s 1992 reprint cover shows two faces of William Hartnell (suggesting one is supposed to be the Abbot), plus Peter Purves as Steven, Joan Young as Catherine de Medici and David Weston as Nicholas Muss, all in front of a church in sunset. Weston previously appeared in character as Biroc on the cover of Warriors’ Gate.

Final Analysis: So the legend goes, John Lucarotti’s first submission to the Doctor Who production office was said to lack historical detail. He more than makes amends here (as his author’s note attests), and as with The Aztecs, he creates a sense of being immersed in a real, lived-in world. Unlike, say, Time Flight, where Peter Grimwade wastes no opportunity to show off his Concord-related research, Lucarotti threads his fact-finding to improve the narrative. The Doctor and Steven explore Paris at the start, prior to making their way to the tavern, and the Doctor’s guided tour serves to help them pin down the approximate year in which they find themselves but also to sketch in the world around them. When we reach the catacombs where the rebels are hiding, we’re shown their peculiar mode of transport around the city – dog carts! I’d have loved to have seen William Hartnell zooming off stage left in one of those! One other addition from Lucarotti is Raoul, Anne’s 14-year-old brother. While the author might have felt that his addition would provide a little more logic to the revelation that future companion Dodo might have inherited the family name, the fact that she is said to be identical to Anne leaves some rather uncomfortable incestuous conotations that we’re best not to unravel.

Bonus chapter #6. The Companions of Doctor Who: K9 and Company (1987)

Synopsis: Journalist Sarah Jane Smith used to travel for a while, companion to an eccentric man with an unpredictable manner. Her journeys ended as abruptly as they began and she never heard from him again – until one Christmas when she paid a visit to her Aunt Lavinia. Lavinia was nowhere to be found, but waiting for her instead were her Aunt’s ward, a schoolboy called Brendan, and a present from her old friend – a computer in the shape of a dog. Together, the trio uncover a terrifying demonic cult hidden away in an English village.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Exit Aunt Lavinia
  • 2. Enter Sarah Jane
  • 3. An Invitation
  • 4. A Gift from the Doctor
  • 5. The Black Art
  • 6. A Warning
  • 7. K9 Blunders
  • 8. A Confrontation
  • 9. Brendan is Taken
  • 10. K9 Goes Undercover
  • 11. Human Sacrifice
  • 12. Halstock
  • 13. Evil Under the Moon
  • Epilogue

Background: Terence Dudley adapts his own scripts for this one-off Christmas special from 1981 (or 1982 if you’re from the north-west of England, where a technical fault with the Winter Hill transmitter took BBC One off the air for a night and Northerners had to wait until the following year for a repeat).

Notes: Aunt Lavinia’s house, Bradleigh Manor, is in Hazelbury Abbas, Dorset, not Moreton Harwood, Gloucestershire as on TV; she inherited the manor from ‘Uncle Nicholas’, who Sarah Jane used to visit every summer when he was alive (it’s not clear if Nicholas was Lavinia’s husband or just a mutual relative). Coven member Vince Wilson regrets that the ceremony couldn’t be performed naked to ‘release more cosmic force’ and ‘increase bodily strength’. Doctor Lavinia Smith is ‘a strikingly handsome woman and, undoubtedly, middle-aged’. She’s specifically an ‘anthropologist’, not a ‘virologist’ [see Planet of the Spiders]. Juno Baker is in her late thirties and ‘blessed with a dark, ageless beauty with more than a hint of the voluptuary flowing from her well-poised head to the tips of her Gucci shoes’. 

Sarah Jane Smith had been sent to report on the famine in Ethiopia but after infiltrating rebel forces she was briefly stranded at a North African outpost [presumably after leaving Ethiopia in the east] before she was able to return home. It’s three years since she last saw the Doctor (remember, there’s none of this ‘1980’ stuff in the novel timeline). She’s managed, rather, conveniently, to be commissioned by Harper’s on ‘the revival of English village life’. On her way to her aunt’s house, she finds herself stuck behind a car that prompts her to complain about ‘Women drivers!’ Sarah currently lives in a flat and her friend Ann has keys to enable her to check on Sarah’s mail whenever she’s away (we don’t get any other explanation for Ann, though). Brendan is 14 years old and claims to be able to drive a car. 

At the Post office, Lily Gregson tells Sarah about the (real-life) landmark of the Cerne Abbas Giant chalk man – which she calls ‘ever so rude’  – and warns her that the locals consider anyone not born there before the Roman invasion to be a ‘foreigner’; she herself is a newcomer, her family having moved there after the civil war in the 17th Century (and we later learn that George Tracey is a descendant of Publius Trescus of the Tenth Legion). Brendan and K9 debate the process of peeling potatoes and their relationship is openly antagonistic rather than instantly enthusiastic as on screen. Henry Tobias admires a witch’s sacrificial knife, which Juno Baker says was a gift from Lavinia Smith. George Tracey resents Lavinia Smith and her family, considering their land to be his after all his work on it. He and his son Peter kidnap Brendan by clamping a pad over his mouth before tying him up. There are a few extra scenes of Peter taking care of Brendan and apologising for the situation (including one where Brendan realises that Peter is as much a captive as himself and ponders why he’s not also tied up).

Sarah Jane is greatly concerned that K9 might be seen and ‘finish up in some scrap metal yard’, so she carries him around in a holdall, rather than just propping him up on the back seat of her car. Sarah is a confident driver with a strong sense of direction:

Sarah Jane was afflicted by a curious neurosis when driving which amounted to an unreasonable fear of losing the way. She had a profound distrust of signposts which indicated that her destination lay to the left when she knew, without doubt, that it lay to the right. She drove by the compass which bore little relation to a local authority’s layout of highways.

Bill Pollock distracts Sarah by claiming he’s contacted the police, which she doesn’t expose as a lie for a whole day. Her hunt for a suitable church for a black mass passes East Coker, which she dismisses as it’s the resting place of the writer TS Eliot (‘A great poet and a man of the Church. No witch would dare to go near there, I’m sure,’ she tells K9), and Trent, where the 99th Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, is indeed buried. Instead of an inconvenient tractor blocking her route, Sarah has a terrifying encounter with a white TR7 driven by an unidentified  young man who might be in the employ of the coven, or could just be a particularly aggressive road-rager intent on recreating the film Duel. Her quest includes stopping off at a pub asking about nearby ruins, before K9 confirms that the site they are looking for is back where they began, in the grounds of Bradleigh Manor! As part of the ceremony, the coven members strip Brendan naked. In the Epilogue, as everyone recovers at the Bakers’ home, Brendan discusses how the cultists might have disposed of his body and Howard Baker suggests a lime pit ‘or a section of motorway’. Sarah has at least one glass of Howard’s brandy [see The Ark in Space for why this might be odd]. Back at the manor, K9 attempts to sing While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night, rather than We Wish You a Merry Christmas. 

Cover: Peter Kelly airbrushes a very sleek-looking K9 under an arched logo.

Final Analysis: Any problems with the story – and there are a fair few – are present in the TV story (are teenage boys really that excited by the minutiae of market gardening?). What is really missing is the natural warmth of Elisabeth Sladen, who delivered the rather snippy dialogue with at least a little humour, so she remained immensely likeable. That aside though, it’s a beautifully written book with richly drawn characters and a lovely child-friendly flavour of folk horror, while Dudley fulfils the old ‘educate and inform’ remit by name-dropping literary figures such as TS Eliot and WB Yeats

… and that’s it for the Companions of Doctor Who sub-range. Such as shame, because despite a very poor start, the other two have been very entertaining indeed. There were further novels in various stages of discussion, including one written by Janet Fielding about Tegan and a sequel to Harry Sullivan’s War that sadly never came to pass.

Chapter 120. Doctor Who – The Ambassadors of Death (1987)

Synopsis: As a tracking station on Earth awaits the return of a Mars capsule and its crew, the rocket’s inhabitants are kidnapped and hidden away. Liz Shaw discovers that the astronauts are not the ones that left Earth but alien ambassadors. Someone is conspiring to use the aliens for their own means – and start a war in the process…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. ‘Something Took Off From Mars…’
  • 2. ‘That Sound – It Was Some Kind Of Message…’
  • 3. ‘They’ll Never Survive…’
  • 4. ‘Recovery Seven – It’s On The Way Back!’
  • 5. ‘The Capsule Has Landed.’
  • 6. ‘They’ve Started To Crack The Code…’
  • 7. ‘You Must Feed Them Radiation – Or They’ll Die!’
  • 8. ‘We’ve Got To Get That Rocket Up!’
  • 9. ‘Someone’s Threatening To Kill Miss Shaw!’
  • 10. ‘An Attack On The Space Centre?’
  • 11. ‘Do You Really Think They’re Not Human?’
  • 12. ‘Large Unidentified Object Approaching On Collision Course…’
  • 13. ‘The Capsule Will Be Smashed To Fragments…’
  • 14. ‘Your Doctor Friend Is As Dead As A Doornail…’
  • 15. ‘We May Not Have Much More Time!’
  • 16. ‘We’re Being Invaded!’

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1970 story credited to David Whitaker (but which also included passes by Malcolm Hulke and Trevor Ray), completing the run of Season 7 stories – and the Third Doctor’s era as a whole – that began with Target’s first original adaptations back in 1974.

Notes: The TV reporter’s name is given on screen as ‘John Wakefield’, but here it’s now ‘Michael’, while astronaut Charles Van Lyden becomes ‘Van Leyden’. Ralph Cornish at Mission Control is said to be ‘quite literally tall, dark and handsome’. Dicks is not as snide as he was about Chorley in Doctor Who and the Web of Fear, but he still makes a few sly digs at the TV reporter; he’s small, neat and bearded with a ‘low, throbbing, earnest voice that seems to be the exclusive property of a certain kind of TV journalist’. 

It was a voice that conveyed expertise, sympathy, concern and a sort of muted reproach. The implication was that somehow Michael Wakefield already knew all the answers. Luckily for him, he never had to provide them. He only asked the questions, and passed along the background information assembled for him by an expert team of researchers, all kept firmly behind the camera.

For the final time, we have Dicks’ standard description of the third Doctor, with a face that is ‘neither young nor old’, and that Bessie is ‘an Edwardian roadster’ (and I’ve waiting until now to point out that it’s not actually a Roadster, it’s a four-seater Tourer, but Roadster is such a fun word). It’s still early days for the Doctor and Liz, having only had ‘two dangerous adventures’, and we’re reminded of the incident with the Silurians. 

In the assault on the ‘enemy’ in the warehouse, the Brigadier notices that they are ‘simply better than his own men, better shots, better trained in this kind of house-to-house fighting’. It’s the fact that none of his troops has been shot that draws the Brigadier’s suspicions – accurate shots knock the guns away but nobody is actually hit, and he notes that there’s ‘something rather humiliating about fighting an enemy who weren’t even trying to hit back’. The Doctor’s trick with the disappearing tape is ‘a Time Lord technique somewhere between telekinesis and conjuring’. 

The scientist Heldorf had been a refugee and still had a trace of an accent. Reegan was born in Ireland but spent most of his life in America, among other countries, evading the law. He’d been a bank robber for the IRA until they’d discovered he’d been stealing from them. He set himself up as a professional, specialising in ‘kidnapping, extortion and murder for hire’.  

Cover: The Doctor smiles as two ambassadors in space suits approach him from behind. Tony Masero’s original cover had a much more shadowy depiction of Jon Pertwee, but this was changed in response to a request from the actor. This is the first cover to feature the Third Doctor prominently on the initial cover since The Claws of Axos (1977), or on any cover since the 1978 Three Doctors reprint (aside from a small profile as part of a montage on The Five Doctors).

Final Analysis: We begin with a deceptively simple opening line: ‘Far above the Earth, in the infinite blackness of space, two metal capsules were converging.’ That ‘infinite blackness of space’ leapt out at me as a quote from something and a quick survey on Twitter led to Paul Rhodes supplying a flurry of suggestions for a possible source. Nasa’s own public information office LB Taylor Jr appears to have coined the phrase in his commentary around the Apollo 11 moon landings, which is appropriate considering the subject of The Ambassadors of Death. An earlier reference can be found in The Transcendent Man, a 1953 novel by future Star Trek and Twilight Zone writer Jerry Sohl, while the earliest I’ve found is a 1920 edition of the handbook of the Boy Scouts of America. It’s a phrase that crops up across science fiction from Star Trek to Marvel Comics’ Silver Surfer but as yet, I’ve not found an origin. Any suggestions?

There are some other lovely turns of phrase here: The warehouse where Carrington’s crew are hiding out has ‘row upon row of arched windows, every one methodically broken by the industrious local vandals’. The little extra biographical details for Heldorf and Reegan feel like something Malcolm Hulke would have added (appropriate considering he wrote a substantial amount of the scripts). We’ve come a long way from the days where Terrance was bashing these out one a month and as we reach the end of the third Doctor’s TV adventures, this stands out as one of the author’s very best.

Chapter 119. Doctor Who – The Romans (1987)

Synopsis: The time travellers enjoy a relaxing time in a villa just outside Rome. As the Doctor and Vicki head off on a trip to the city, Ian and Barbara are kidnapped by slave traders. Barbara is bought by a slave-master working for the Emperor Nero, but Ian’s fate is to be placed at the oars of a slave ship. Can the Doctor solve some of the mysteries surrounding Nero without affecting established history?

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • I First Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • II First Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • III First Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • IV Second Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • V Second Extract from the journal of Ian Chesterton
  • VI Second Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • VII Third Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • VIII Third Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • IX Third Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • X Fourth Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • XI First Extract from the Commonplace Book of Poppea Sabina
  • XII Fourth Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • XIII First Selection of jottings from Nero’s Scrapbook
  • XIV Fourth Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • XV Fifth Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • XVI Fifth Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • XVII Second Extract from the Commonplace Book of Poppea Sabina
  • XVIII A Poisoner Remembers
  • XIX Letter from Barbara Wright
  • XX Second Selection of Jottings from Nero’s Scrapbook
  • XXI Sixth Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • XXII Third Extract from the Commonplace Book of Poppea Sabina
  • XXIII Fifth Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • XXIV Sixth Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • XXV Seventh Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • XXVI Seventh Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • XXVII Sixth Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • XXVIII Third Selection of Jottings from Nero’s Scrapbook
  • XXIX Eighth Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • Epilogue

That ‘most number of chapters in a novelisation’ record (previously held by The Myth Makers) gets smashed here with 29, plus a prologue and epilogue.

Background: Donald Cotton’s adaptation of scripts by Dennis Spooner for a story from 1965 arrives 22 years and two months after it was broadcast on TV. It’s the only time Cotton approaches scripts originally written by someone other than himself.

Notes: Consistent with his previous novels, this version of The Romans is narrated by Tacitus, the great Roman historian. Here though, Tacitus’s role is that of a framing narrative, within which appear certain documents that have fallen into his hands – diaries and letters written by Ian, the Doctor and Barbara, among others (as the chapter listing above shows). As a consequence, this is the first novel to be narrated in part by Ian Chesterton since the very first one. His chapters are addressed to his headmaster (who might or might not be the same one we’ll actually meet in a later story) and he fears his employer assumes that he and Barbara have eloped, which might affect their pensions. In the Doctor’s journal, he confesses that he intends to leave the school teachers behind when he visits Rome, due to his concerns that Ian’s politics might get him into trouble in the heart of an Empire, while Barbara is being punished for spending their money so freely on ‘feminine fal-lals’. He learns from his companions of a passing scholar who they encountered in a nearby town, and who performed ‘a rambling iambic account of the Rape of Lucretia’, which he considers to be inappropriate for ‘a mixed audience’ (a view with which Vicki later agrees). 

We learn more of the scholar in a legionary’s letter to his mother, in which he reveals that he has been ordered to kill said scholar, who is ‘in the running for the Golden Rose Bowl at the Senate Song Contest’, an accolade his employer wishes for himself. Ian learns from the home invaders that Barbara carelessly asked about the conversion rate from pounds to lira in the market, alerting the locals that she and Vicki must be Britons. Ian recalls he’d once contemplated a sailing holiday that would have been roughly the same stretch of water on which he now finds himself after being press-ganged into the rowing crew of a ship. He played rugby as an ‘Old Boy’, which once again suggests he’s a former pupil of Coal Hill School. He also reminds his headmaster that he was deputised as games master after Farthingale ‘lost an ear during a hockey scrimmage’. Ian references the hugely successful American comedian Jack Benny.

Nero sketches out an ode to Barbara – it’s terrible – and he uses the word ‘anapaest’ (incorrectly). There’s an unfortunate scene in the Doctor’s diary where he refers to a character as ‘deaf and dumb’ (very much frowned upon nowadays, but a common enough term even when the book was written); he claims to be ‘well acquainted with the rudiments of sign language’, but as he also calls it ‘mime’, we can take from this that the Doctor knows nothing about sign language (as we later see on TV in Before the Flood), least of all that there is not one universal sign language – not even in English-speaking territories. Let’s hope his efforts are more effective than we see on telly with the Zarbi!

The lions, which the Doctor accidentally frees during the gladiatorial games, find their way into Nero’s suite, where they settle down for a nap. Having embarked upon his adventure solely to disprove the legend that Nero ‘fiddled while Rome burned’, the Doctor leaves with Nero’s lyre and his plans for a new Rome in his hands; he sets fire to the plans, which then causes a major fire in the city and, happy that he has not made any effect on established history, departs while playing the lyre. In the epilogue, Tacitus lays the blame for the fire squarely on the Doctor’s shoulders. He names the tale ‘The Quo Vadis TARDIS Affair’ and also reveals that the failed assassin Ascaris eventually ended up in Britain, causing mayhem and disruption during the construction of Hadrian’s Wall.

Cover: As Nero looks out to a burning Rome, the Doctor stands dressed in a toga. Tony Masero coincidentally uses the same photo reference of Hartnell that Andrew Skilleter used on The Gunfighters.

Final Analysis: Where to start with this? It’s likely that Donald Cotton has seen the BBC’s I Claudius. He might even have read Robert Graves’ original Claudius novels, too; as with Graves’ notation of the events of the Roman Empire, there’s a sly nod to the modern reader in the way Cotton suggests that his work is too contentious and should be left unpublished until… say, 1987. He definitely watched the historical farce Up Pompeii! though. His Tacitus straddles the centuries, just like Frankie Howerd did as Lurcio, with puns and sly winks that would make little or no sense to the Romans. Indeed, there’s one sequence where the Doctor, in his diary, observes that his would-be assassin was ‘getting away with the lute’, a joke that clearly gives him great satisfaction, until the character (and writer) begin to dissect it and he realises that the musical ‘lute’ wouldn’t be invented for four centuries and the word ‘loot’ wasn’t popularised until the 1920s. 

While the story remains largely the same, Cotton’s use of multiple epistolary narrators leads to some deviations in the telling. The assassin Ascaris is a recurring narrator and adds greatly to the sense that the Doctor is in fact a bloody nuisance. The poor Legionary accidentally kills his own superior, is set upon by lions and eventually emerges from his hiding place when the Doctor throws burning documents into the sewers, setting Ascaris alight. This is Cotton’s final novel for the range and it’s a shame. Each of his novels provides an education, not so much in the history, which is wilfully unreliable, but in the sheer unlimited joy of writing. I’ve loved every unbelievable word of these.