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.

Chapter 69. Doctor Who and the Leisure Hive (1982)

Synopsis: The people of Argolis are survivors of a terrible war. Dedicating themselves to the technology of Tachyonics, their home is a destination for pleasure seekers keen to try out the latest trends in entertainment. The Argolins are dying, the last child born on the planet was Pangol. While his mother only wishes for peace with their former enemies, the Foamasi, Pangol believes it is his birthright to lead his people towards a new dawn with an army created from tachyons to eradicate the Foamasi once and for all… 

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Brighton
  • 2. Argolis
  • 3. Brock
  • 4. The Generator
  • 5. Intruders
  • 6. Hardin
  • 7. Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall
  • 8. The Foamasi
  • 9. Rebirth

Background: David Fisher adapts his own scripts for the 1980 serial.

Notes: The opening sequence of the Doctor and Romana on the frozen beach is observed by a deckchair attendant and a candy-floss seller. Chapter 2 is a detailed history of the wartorn history of Argolis and their brief battle with a race of reptiles from the planet Foamas. The third chapter is introduced by a discussion between two journalists observing Mena and Hardin at the spaceport. Mena is the ‘consort’ of the ‘Heresiarch’, Morix. It’s heavily implied that Hardin and Mena had an affair back on Earth, a relationship that they both know cannot continue now. The Captain and second-officer on the Earth-to-Argolis shuttle discuss more Argolin history, specifically the first and second Precepts of Theron the Terrible: ‘Sorrow, pain and fear are weaknesses in a warrior… eliminate them’ and ‘War is the right and duty of every Argolin’. Later on, as Pangol seizes the Helmet of Theron, we learn three more Precepts of Theron: The Tenth is ‘An Argolin knight never refuses an order’; the Eleventh is ‘An Argolin knight obeys his leader without question’; while the final Precept declares that ‘To die gloriously in battle against the enemies of Argolis is the greatest joy an Argolin knight can hope to experience’.

The Doctor immediately irritates Pangol by interrupting his presentation with inconvenient questions. The incriminating statue that carries the Doctor’s scarf represents the great Argolin hero ‘Lismar the Champion’. Much more is made of the elderly Doctor’s senility. ‘Flesh suits’ – a standard piece of equipment for assassins – are banned on Foamas, though it’s possible to pay huge amounts for one. 

No Foamasi has ever actually met an Argolin before, their war was fought remotely. Most of the Argolin survivors were members of Morix’s crew (Mena was the communications officer). After the Argolin War (which the Argolin call the ‘Foamasi War’), the survivors on Foamas were split into ‘White’ and ‘Black’ clans. While the White families were small, they were united, whereas the Black clans splintered further, allowing the White families to pick them off until only two Black houses remained – the ‘Twin Suns’ and the ‘West Lodge’, a group of embezzlers who have successfully scammed the inhabitants of other planets prior to this. While Brock is arrested as shown on screen, Klout is captured separately, caught in the act of setting an explosive charge; he throws an unprimed grenade and then draws an electric stiletto (presumably the knife, not a shoe) before he’s tied up by the Foamasi agent’s instant-cocoon device.

As in Creature from the Pit, Romana is described as ‘an experienced Time traveller [who] had journeyed vast distances through Time and Space’, so there are definitely unseen adventures prior to this (cue Big Finish!). When the Doctor leaves the Randomiser behind on Argolis, Romana is concerned that it means they’ll never know where they’re going next – which is surely the point of the Randomiser…

Cover: Andrew Skilleter shows us the Leisure Hive merging on the horizon with Pangol and a Foamasi. Alister Pearson’s cover for the 1993 reprint is of a similar desert hue, with the Hive accompanied by a Foamasi and the elderly Doctor. 

Final Analysis: David Fisher returns and writes a densely packed adaptation that feels in earlier chapters like a less manic Douglas Adams script. It soon settles down though and the historical asides occur only where they fall naturally in the plot. It’s a shame Fisher never chose to do a Terrance Dicks and take on anyone else’s stories, I was starting to like him.

True fact, when the elderly Tom Baker was revealed in the TV episode, my library buddy was hugely disappointed, thinking Baker was going to play the next Doctor too. And this was about a month before it was announced he was leaving!

Chapter 63. Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit (1981)

Synopsis: The Lady Adrasta is used to being obeyed and her word is law. If you disobey her, if you displease her in any way, you’ll be thrown into a pit that they call… The Pit. If you’re lucky, you’ll break your neck as soon as you reach the bottom. If not, you’ll encounter a terrifying creature they call… The Creature. With the help of a forgotten astrologer, the Doctor uncovers the truth about the creature – and Lady Adrasta.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Pit
  • 2. Wolfweeds
  • 3. The Doctor’s Leap to Death
  • 4. The Creature
  • 5. Organon
  • 6. The Web
  • 7. The Meeting
  • 8. The Shield
  • 9. Erato
  • 10. Complications
  • 11. Wrapping Up 

Background: David Fisher adapts his own scripts from the 1979 story.

Notes: Madam Karela secretly thinks the whole business with The Pit is a waste of time and would prefer to use her knife to cut the accused’s throat. Romana discovers a multi-dimensional store cupboard that contains a box labelled ‘Toys from Hamleys’, a lone ‘patent-leather dancing pump, signed on the sole “Love from Fred”’; an animal jawbone, an object that might be a musical instrument, a ball of string and a blonde chest-wig! The box containing the transceiver is stamped with the Seal of Gallifrey and the device should have been installed 12 years ago. Romana has clearly been with the Doctor for a long time now, as she reminds herself of her own travels through ‘umpteen galaxies’ and ‘hundreds of thousands of years’, which presumably also included an encounter with the ‘Mudmen of Epsilon Eridani’, which she cites in a moment of exasperation.

The bandits are rubbish because they’re really miners who were forced out of the mines when the creature arrived 15 years ago. Adrasta’s engineer Doran is a ‘not unattractive young man’. When the Doctor lands at the bottom of the pit, Doran’s crushed body breaks his fall. As the creature approaches, the Doctor notices a ‘strange metallic odour, like silver polish or a run-down battery’. 

Yes, this is the novel where sex is introduced for the first time as we are treated to a lengthy section on the life cycle of the Tythonians, including steamy, graphic descriptions of their sexual reproduction (no spoilers but at one point it involves two things about six inches long). Tythonians can live for around 40,000 years or more:

… longer, if they avoided any physical activity, like movement or worry, and devoted themselves exclusively to music and poetry.

The story ends with the Doctor’s joke about the lucky number, rather than with the goodbyes with Organon.

Cover: A final submission from Steve Kyte and it’s a cracker as the Doctor looks up fearfully at a sword while Adrasta lurks in the background. I have a strong suspicion that Kyte’s photo reference is the same one used for the cover of The Human League’s track Tom Baker.

Final Analysis: Terrance Dicks repeatedly said that he stopped writing quite so many books when the scriptwriters slowly realised that they could make all of the money if they also did the novelisation, and this is the beginning of that trend (Fisher having already missed out on his first two stories). Season 19’s script editor Douglas Adams, who commissioned the original serial, had just enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame thanks to the novelisation of his Hitch-Hikers radio serial and it’s clear that Fisher has read it (the section on the life cycle of the Tythonian and the asides about various flora and fauna on Chloris are hard to read without hearing Peter Jones’ voice) but Fisher at least has the common sense not to try to blindly copy everything Tom Baker brought to the screen (the sequence where the Doctor hangs onto the edge of the Pit loses the ‘Teach Yourself Tibetan’ jokes and instead involves him recalling the lessons of Sherpa Tensing).