Chapter 137. Doctor Who – Dragonfire (1989)

Synopsis: On a cold, distant planet lies the trading post known as Iceworld. Below the surface, the imprisoned criminal Kane hires mercenaries to find the key to his freedom. Deeper still, in the catacombs below Iceworld, lives a dragon, the guardian to a powerful crystal – the Dragonfire. While the Doctor joins his old acquaintance Glitz on a quest for the crystal, Mel makes a new friend called Ace – and gets a close encounter with the dragon!

Chapter Titles

Numbered One to Sixteen.

Background: Ian Briggs adapts his own scripts from the 1987 serial, completing the stories from Season 24. This is the first (and indeed only) time that a season’s stories have been novelised in order of transmission. 

Notes: Glitz’s former crew consists of four men and two women (one of whom is called Winterbottom). Chapter Two sees the Doctor and Mel inside the TARDIS. Mel is exercising, standing on her head, and the Doctor deliberately steers the TARDIS to knock her off balance. The Doctor pays Glitz’s bill at the Refreshment Bar. Ace’s boss is named Eisenstein (not Anderson). The small furry creature is an ambassador called Erick. A deleted scene in which the Doctor frees Glitz from a collapsed tunnel is reinstated. Glitz then deliberately gives the Doctor the slip to hunt for the treasure alone. He finds the Ice Garden and realises it’s a very out-of-date planetarium, featuring slightly distorted constellations like ‘the Great Lever, the Old Man, and the Waterfall’. The Doctor sees a ledge after 15 feet down the ice cliff, which is why he ends up hanging from his brolly (it does make more sense than it did on telly). The ‘dragon’ is ‘tall and skeletal, with greyish-white membranes instead of skin’. It had a ‘large bony skull on top of a long neck’ and its skeleton is visible beneath its skin. 

Mel challenges Ace’s plan to scale the ice cliff using her compact ladder, forcing Ace to confess she’s never actually used it, but has seen people do the same thing on TV. As they climb down the ladder, one of the nitro-9 canisters leaks and nearly knocks Ace out. Glitz’s ship, The  Nosferatu is a Nightcruiser Pacific, a model of craft once popular with business types. The lost urchin is a ‘Star Child’ called Stellar. Her best friend is ‘Milli-mind’, her teddy bear is simply ‘Ted’  and she enjoys popular culture, being able to recognise some of the celebrities visiting Iceworld, including a TV personality, a pop star, a woman who’s a ‘brilliant scientist’ and a woman who looks like the one her father now lives with. Her mother has brought a number of outfit changes with her.

Glitz often has trouble with ‘feminists’ – usually because they’re right and he’s wrong. Five hundred other craft are destroyed along with the Nosferatu. Ace explains to Mel that the ‘Ace 4 Wayne’ graffiti on a wall near her quarters is a dedication to her toy dog. Kane waits in Ace’s quarters, hiding inside her fridge. Mel adds a few words of explanation to her out-of-the-blue decision to leave the TARDIS: ‘I don’t belong here. I’m not a traveller, like you. I need somewhere I feel I can belong.’

Cover & Illustration: Another amazing piece of work from Alister Pearson, who really pushes the boat out on these Seventh Doctor covers. Against a backdrop of the ice cliff we see Ace and the Doctor (holding his question-mark umbrella) either side of the Dragonfire crystal, within which is the melting face of Kane. Ian Briggs directed Pearson not to include the Biomechanoid from the TV episodes on the cover as he had described the creature differently in the text.

In the ice is carved a phrase from the book, ‘ACE 4 WAYNE’, which also appears inside as an illustration, our first for a very long time. Also etched into the ice is ‘AH’, a tribute to fan Andy Holding, and ‘TH’, who is his friend (and mine) Toby Hadoke.

Final Analysis: Another solid adaptation that enhances the TV original and even though this introduces Ace, Mel doesn’t get completely abandoned as has often been the case for departing companions. Briggs also seems to understand this Doctor very well indeed, as the introduction to the final chapter shows.

In the TARDIS Console Room, the Doctor was busy checking the stabiliser settings at the control console. Mel watched him. She liked this new incarnation. He was still a bit grumpy at times, and occasionally he behaved like a fool, but he cared deeply about people – all people, not just his friends. 

‘Well, I suppose it’s time,’ she said…

The Biomechanoid is elevated, as we might expect, into something a little more elegant than it appeared on TV, but what’s surprising is how our sympathies are diverted to the two ‘ANT hunters’; with Bazin injured after being attacked by the dragon, McLuhan takes care of him, determined to finish their mission before they both die. And of course, we meet Ace and here, her creator takes the opportunity to make her a little more fallible, very defensive and quick to jump to conclusions – and as Mel discovers, she’s rather too keen to rush into danger. It’s a shame they never got more stories together on TV as Ace’s youth also informs Mel’s character, the (slightly) older woman seeing something of herself in the brash teen.

Chapter 71. Doctor Who – Full Circle (1982)

Synopsis: The TARDIS falls into another universe – Espace – and lands on Alzarius, a planet with the exact same coordinates as Gallifrey, except in negative. They meet a young boy called Adric and discover a small and terrified community housed in an ancient spaceship. The people of Alzarius are preparing for a cataclysmic event called ‘Mistfall’ when the air becomes unbreathable and strange creatures emerge from the marshes. The marsh creatures lead the Doctor to uncover a secret that has been hidden for generations.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. ‘I Have Lost Control of the TARDIS’
  • 2. ‘I’m an Elite’
  • 3. ‘Master – Alert’
  • 4. ‘We’re Taking Over Your Ship’
  • 5. ‘We Don’t Know What’s Out There’
  • 6. ‘You Will Answer the Questions, Doctor’
  • 7. ‘A Little Patience Goes a Long Way’
  • 8. ‘I Am Beginning Surgery’
  • 9. ‘One Secret Our Ancestors Kept for Themselves’
  • 10. ‘We’ve Come Full Circle’
  • 11. ‘We Cannot Return to Teradon’
  • 12. ‘We’re Trapped’

Background: Andrew Smith adapts his own scripts from the 1980 story. At just 20 years old at the time, Andrew remains the youngest author of a Target novel.

Notes: A prologue tells of the arrival to Alzarius of the original inhabitants of the Terradon starliner, the demise of Commander Yakob Lorenzil and the hostile environment that greets the survivors of the crash, led by Sub-Commander Damyen Fenrik. This might feel like a spoiler until the exact moment that we realise it’s a clever deception. There’s an interlude with the full verses of a poem by First Decider Yanek Pitrus, a ‘tenth generation starliner’, setting out the legends of mistfall. 

First Decider Exmon Draith is accompanied by Decider Ragen Nefred and Decider Jaynis Garif. After Draith dies, Halrin Login is elevated to Decider level. As he takes on the role of First Decider, Nefred connects his brain to the System Files, which monitor the well-being of all Deciders; this is how Nefred confirms that Draith has died, as well as becoming exposed to the starliner’s darkest secret.

Adric and Varsh lost their parents when they were young; they were killed in a forest fire and the boys were taken in by family friends. Varsh is three-and-a-half years Adric’s senior. As this is Adric’s introduction (despite featuring in four novels by now), his creator gives us the best insight yet into who he is:

Adric’s diminutive stature and his youth belied the fact that he had one of the keenest intelligences on the starliner, an intelligence marred only by the occasional lapse into the naive mannerisms of the juvenile. 

Adric only lets go of Draith because he panics after a hand clasps his ankle underneath the marsh water. The other Outlers are here named Refnal, Gulner, Hektir and Yenik. 

As with all authors showing off their creations, Andrew Smith presents the giant Marshmen as much more impressive than TV would allow:

They flexed their scaly arms, allowed their mouths, dribbling with hungry saliva, to gape. Scaly, metallic-looking eyelids slid back over black evil eyeballs, which then scanned the surroundings. They started climbing from the marsh, mud slithering down their tall, horrible frames, heavy clawed feet finding a secure hold in the soil by the marsh. 

The Marshchild follows the Doctor onto the starliner and the Doctor takes it under his wing when he protects it from a frightened mob (on TV, he’s knocked out and the child is taken away screaming). The Doctor recalls once failing to save a young girl from a ‘witch trial’ in 17th-Century England and vows not to allow the Marshchild to suffer a similar fate. 

There is a pitch-black ‘spatio-temporal void’ between the TARDIS’s inner and outer doors! Romana utters a mild swearword (‘damn’, which is still the naughtiest word a series regular has said so far!). The Doctor’s mission to collect Romana and the broken K9 is interrupted by clusters of spiders swarming over him (shudder!). The Marshmen enjoy a level of shared minds and the brief involvement of Romana allows them insight into the starliner citizens. The ‘people of the marsh’ see themselves as guardians of the planet, ‘to serve and to protect nature’ from the alien technology of the starliners, who they consider ‘non-people; but the Marsh leader still pauses to lament the deaths they have caused: as they return to the marsh, he asks his brethren ‘… why does the maintaining of beauty always have to require the taking of lives? It is so very sad.’

Cover: Andrew Skilleter gives us a trio of Marshmen emerging from the mists. Unkind observers have noted that there appear to be pockets on the creature’s chest.

Final Analysis: This is how to do it! The third of four consecutive stories to be adapted by their original authors, Andrew Smith combines mythology and SF in an exercise in world-building that feels lived in and real. His version of the Doctor is, as with Warriors’ Gate, closer to the Fourth Doctor we recognise than the more sombre version of season 18, cracking jokes that reveal the Doctor as equally pompous and contemptuous towards assumed authority – but still with the righteous fury when confronted with the experiments on the Marshchild, or touching compassion for Tylos when he finds his body, killed during the Marshmen attack:

The Doctor knelt beside the boy. They had never spoken, yet he felt a sense of real loss. The taking of life was always to be mourned, the taking of a young life even more so.  

There are some solid horror elements – particularly the emergence of the Marshmen, the spiders hatching from the river fruit, Dexeter’s murder at the hands of the defiant Marshchild and Romana’s possession. Perhaps because he was a teenager himself when he wrote the TV scripts, Smith also presents Adric sympathetically, not blind to his awkward, precocious adolescence, but recognising how the boy feels he doesn’t fit in with either the inhabitants of the starliner or the Outlers; like many of the viewers, he identifies with the ‘otherness’ of the Doctor and Romana. We all love it when a novel presents new material or deeper insights into the characters, but this achieves a new high for the range.