Chapter 101. Doctor Who – The Gunfighters (1986)

Synopsis: In the old town of Tombstone, the Doc’s name’s in doubt / He wanted a dentist but his luck ran out / Now the Clantons are coming – they’ll all be here soon / There’ll be blood on the piano at the Last Chance Saloon…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Landfall in Tombstone
  • 2. The Last Chance
  • 3. The Brief Career of Dead-shot Steve
  • 4. A Funeral is Arranged
  • 5. Notice to Quit
  • 6. Identity Parade
  • 7. Open Mouth Surgery
  • 8. An Offer Refused
  • 9. A Pardonable Error
  • 10. A Little Night Music
  • 11. And Some Durn Tootin’
  • 12. Arrest Is As Good As A Change
  • 13. The Red Hand of Tradition
  • 14. The Law and Doc Holliday
  • 15. A Very Nasty Little Incident
  • 16. Wyatt Plays It By The Book
  • 17. Pa Clanton Keeps a Welcome
  • 18. Ringo in the Morning
  • 19. Post Mortem
  • 20. Thought For Feud
  • 21. Dodo Draws a Bead
  • 22. The Entry of the Gladiators
  • 23. Come Sun-Up…
  • Epilogue

Background: Donald Cotton loosely adapts his own scripts from 1966.

Notes: You know I love a prologue! We open with a journalist called Ned Buntline, who made his name writing biographies of notable Wild West legends. Having previously spoken to Wyatt Earp, who refused to be drawn on certain inconsistencies in the myths surrounding the OK Corral, Buntine now comes to a sanatorium at Glenwood Springs, Colorado, to meet an elderly Doc Holliday, who is in his last days with tuberculosis. Holliday speaks freely about the TARDIS, ‘a kind of four-wheel buggy designed for ridin’ every sort of direction through eternity, without much decent respect for the laws of physics’.

Aboard the TARDIS, Steven reminds the Doctor of the time when they encountered ‘great, nebulous jelly-fish things… with poisonous what-nots’. Dodo claims she took a first-aid course, but didn’t do very well. When the TARDIS lands in Tombstone, it’s raining heavily. Behind the bar of the Last Chance Saloon is a, er, well as Buntine tells it, it’s…

…a shot-up oil-painting of a fat blonde in her birthday rig. Sitting on a cloud, she was being molested by a bunch of tear-away cherubs, who looked as if they’d been up several nights round a stud-game, and passing the nectar pretty free, at that.

… and then he gives us two verses of that song (only one of which was heard on TV). 

Dodo is wearing ‘a little number made up of scarlet furbelows and flounces trimmed with black lace’ with an oversized hat (or as Buntine claims, like ‘the proprietress of a broken-down cat-house in one of the less select quarters of New Orleans’). Steven has, according to the Doctor, ‘disguise[d] himself as Billy the Kid’. He took his advanced astronaut course at Cape Canaveral, where he learned to play ‘America the Brave’ on the piano. Dodo sees a poster for real-life star of the stage Eddie Foy – who makes a brief cameo towards the end of the story (and whose son, Eddie Foy, was a Hollywood movie star who Dodo might conceivably have seen). Kate’s surname is ‘Elder’, not ‘Fisher’ as on TV (and in the 1957 movie); the real-life Kate was formally ‘Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings’, but she was also known by the deeply unflattering ‘Big Nose Kate’. 

Doc Holliday’s new dentist’s chair had previously seen service at ‘the Death House in San Quentin’. Pa Clanton is standing for mayoral election and hopes taking up said office will result in free drinks for life at the Last Chance Saloon. Johnny Ringo is a keen student of the Classics and is, at the time of the gunfight, partway through the ten-volume edition of Caesar’s Gallic Wars. The Doctor’s discomfort with a gun results in him accidentally shooting two bystanders, though eventually he is said to have begun to ‘enjoy himself’. The Doctor and his friends leave in the TARDIS, its dematerialisation witnessed by Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and a few others. In the epilogue, Holliday concludes telling his story to Buntine, necks a bottle of whisky … and dies.

Doc Holliday did indeed die in 1887, staying at Glenwood Hotel, Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He was 36 years old (Anthony Jacobs, who played him on TV, was 48 at the time of broadcast).

Cover: Andrew Skilleter paints the Doctor with a stetson while Wyatt Earp walks down the street of Tombstone with smoking guns. 

Final Analysis: There are people who’ll still tell you that The Gunfighters is a ‘bad story’ or that it was the lowest-rated story ever (it really wasn’t). There’s even a sly dig at the production in the text of this book, where a passage begins ‘Meanwhile, at the Last Chance Saloon, the stage was already set – as if by an incompetent director.’ Fan elders have shaped opinion to the point where many people who haven’t even seen it know what they think of it. And they’re wrong. Utterly. They’re very quick to remind us that Doctor Who can tell ‘any kind of story’, but seem to bristle when the genre isn’t one they personally like or – worst of all – if the story veers into the realm of comedy!

While the historical adventures did tend to be outperformed on original transmission by the often less ambitious efforts featuring silver sets on alien worlds, as we’ve seen with these novelisations, the writers tried much harder to engage the brain with their characters, perhaps mindful that they’d be representing figures who’s actually lived, or possibly just because they preferred history to SF. In the best Reithian tradition, Donald Cotton clearly realised that the best way to ‘educate and inform’ was to entertain. In this adaptation, he once again relies upon a narrator who casts doubt upon the factual accuracy of other versions of the legend; in other words, he’s excusing and exploiting any historical mistakes in both the TV serial and all other conflicting adaptations. We’re presented with a further myth rather than a text-book account of the real events, yet Cotton’s characters feel like they might have actually lived and breathed. More importantly though, Cotton’s retelling of the tale is very, very funny. My favourite joke in the whole thing is where he describes the drunk Ike Clanton as speaking ‘blotto voce’. There’s also a lovely description of the Doctor operating the TARDIS controls: 

… clutching at an apparently haphazard selection of levers with the air of a demented xylophonist, who finds he’s brought along the wine list instead of the score.

There are some instances of swearing – two uses of ‘bastard’, eight ‘goddam(ned)’ and sixteen uses of ‘damn’. As the notes above illustrate, there’s also a degree of bawdiness to this not seen before (mainly involving Kate’s profession). 

Finally, it’s become a popular game in modern stories (including The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn and the Wasp) to crowbar in as many metatextual references as possible, but we can trace this back directly to Donald Cotton. While some of these might have reasonable claims to be accurate contemporary phrases, the modern reader can play ‘Spot the Film Title’ throughout the text. To start you off, here are just a few: For a Few Dollars More (1965); The Wild Bunch (1969); Calamity Jane and Sam Bass (1949); Terror of the Plains (1934); Death Valley (1946); The Golden West, (1932); … and The Right Stuff (1983). 

Chapter 97. Doctor Who – The Myth Makers (1985)

Synopsis: The beauty of a woman is the spark that fires up a bloody and lengthy war between Greece and Troy. Though many of the figures in the battle have entered into legend, a version of the story as recounted by the great poet Homer reveals the involvement of three travellers who emerged from a blue box and changed the course of the war. 

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Homer Remembers
  • 2. Zeus Ex Machina
  • 3. Hector Forgets
  • 4. Enter Odysseus
  • 5. Exit the Doctor
  • 6. A Rather High Tea
  • 7. Agamemnon Arbitrates
  • 8. An Execution is Arranged
  • 9. Temple Fugit
  • 10. The Doctor Draws a Graph
  • 11. Paris Draws the Line
  • 12. Small Prophet, Quick Return
  • 13. War Games Compulsory
  • 14. Single Combat
  • 15. Speech! Speech!
  • 16. The Trojans at Home
  • 17. Cassandra Claims a Kill
  • 18. The Ultimate Weapon
  • 19. A Council of War
  • 20. Paris Stands on Ceremony
  • 21. Dungeon Party
  • 22. Hull Low, Young Lovers
  • 23. A Victory Celebration
  • 24. Doctor in the Horse
  • 25. A Little Touch of Hubris
  • 26. Abandon Ship!
  • 27. Armageddon and After
  • Epilogue

This now nabs the record from Marco Polo for the most number of chapters in a novelisaton, with 27 chapters and an epilogue.

Background: Donald Cotton adapts his own scripts for the 1965 serial.

Notes: Yep, the story is narrated in the first person by the great author Homer, who apparently was just out of shot in every scene.

The Doctor had promised his young companions a trip to London in the 1960s. Homer claims that he has met the Doctor on many occasions (and that he is now younger than he was the first time they met), knows that the TARDIS is a time machine – and that the Doctor is specifically a ‘Time Lord’! Vicki has a very loose grasp of Earth history, much to Steven’s despair, but knows enough to recognise the importance of the Trojan Horse. Steven is concerned about his absence from the ‘Space-Research Project’, where he had been an amateur athlete during his training and it’s suggested he might have played football (he compares the prospect of fighting Odysseus with ‘the second eleven on a Saturday knock-about’, so that’s definitely football and not the completely different ‘American Football’). We discover how ‘Cyclops’ lost his eye and gained his name [but see Final Analysis below]. There’s no explanation for how Steven is wounded by the start of the next story. Instead, we learn that Vicki – as Cressida – remained with Troilus and the pair took care of their blind friend Homer. The epilogue reveals that the elderly poet has been telling his story to the Doctor, who, it turns out, has popped back to look in on Homer on many occasions throughout his eventful life.

Cover: The TARDIS materialises in front of the wooden horse, painted by Andrew Skilleter.

Final Analysis: Donald Cotton tore up the rule book for his TV stories and he revolutionises the Doctor Who novel here. Cotton’s habit of using witty episode titles continues with the novel’s chapter titles ‘Zeus Ex Machina’ ‘Temple Fugit’ and of course ‘Doctor in the Horse’, which was his original title of episode 4. He really strains with chapter 22’s ‘Hull Low, Young Lovers’; I wonder how many eager readers would know the song ‘Hello, Young Lovers’ from the 1951 musical (or 1956 film) The King and I, so might this be a reference pitched at a prospective parent reading this for a young fan a chapter a night at bedtime?

Casting Homer as the narrator gives us insight into the politics of the time, while also contriving increasingly outlandish reasons for him to be party to private conversations, ‘concealed in a clump of cactus I wasn’t too fond of’, accompanying the TARDIS into Troy and, after being jabbed in the eye and being dubbed ‘Cyclops’, he passed out and wakes up ‘covered in fish-scales and crabs’ legs’. Homer is aware that the Doctor is a time traveller too, making much merriment with details he shouldn’t know anything about:

… how do you describe a time-machine to a man who has never even heard of Euclid, never mind Einstein? Of course, up till then, I’d never heard of them myself, but I must say I found the whole concept fascinating. 

Cotton – through Homer – has a delightfully waspish style. We’re told that Cassandra is a fearsome woman who looks like ‘her brother Hector in drag’, while Achilles ‘had that look of Narcissistic petulance one so often sees on the faces of health fanatics, or on male models who pose for morally suspect sculptors’, adding ‘I believe the Greeks have a word for it nowadays’. It’s when he comes to explain the causes of the siege of Troy that we might feel certain attitudes from the mid-1980s are guiding his hand. His description of Paris appears to be a commentary on more modern Royal events that resonate just as much in 2021 as 1985:

… the second sons of Royal Houses – especially if they are handsome as the devil – have a lot of temptation to cope with. And then, the unlikelihood of their ever achieving the throne does seem to induce irresponsibility which – combined, of course, with an inflated income – how shall I put it? – well, it aggravates any amorous propensities they may have…. Well, we all know about princes and their libidinous ways: their little frolics below stairs – their engaging stagedoor haunting jaunting? 

Trigger warning here: Among many anachronistic terms Homer uses, the phrase ‘a coon’s age’, which dates from the early 19th-century and referred to racoons, but for many readers this may have racial connotations.

As one of the missing TV historicals, it’s not a story I know that well, having only heard the soundtrack and watched a telesnap reconstruction. Cotton pulls out all the stops to bring the period alive and make it like a gossip between old friends, a tale told with tongue firmly in cheek and a knowing wink at the reader (this is especially evident in the audiobook with a delicious reading by Stephen Thorne). Even in providing us with what must be the first celebrity historical featuring an author (something modern fans might be more likely to expect), he’s smart enough to leave himself plenty of escape routes. Homer himself tells us the effect of adopting many guises to avoid being trapped into supporting one side or the other. Like the Doctor, his name lives on in legend:

I’ve always found it a very good rule to be a bit cautious about handing out the label unless unavoidable – which is why, I’m told, to this day, nobody is entirely convinced that Homer ever existed […]

Chapter 94. Doctor Who – Marco Polo (1985)

Synopsis: The Venetian explorer Marco Polo meets four travellers stranded with their strange blue caravan – a box that that he immediately realises will make a splendid gift for the great Kublai Khan. On their long journey, the strangers become friends as they share stories of many cultures, but their journey is fraught with danger, not only from a hostile environment but also from within the party as a traitor schemes against them.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Roof of the World
  • 2. Emissary of Peace
  • 3. Down to Earth
  • 4. Singing Sands
  • 5. Desert of Death
  • 6. A Tale of Hashashins
  • 7. Five Hundred Eyes
  • 8. Wall of Lies
  • 9. Too Many Kan-Chow Cooks
  • 10. Bamboozled
  • 11. Rider from Shang-Tu
  • 12. Runaway
  • 13. Road to Karakorum
  • 14. Mighty Kublai Khan
  • 15. Gambler
  • 16. Best-Laid Schemes
  • 17. Key to the World

Background: John Lucarotti adapts his own scripts for the series broadcast in 1964, so stealing the record from himself and The Aztecs for the biggest gap between broadcast and novelisation at 20 years, eight months and a week.

Notes: A new opening scene sees Susan give a temperature in centigrade and Ian calculates the fahrenheit equivalent. Ian opens the TARDIS door, then shuts it quickly (suggesting that the doors are the same as those on the exterior of the ship) and jokes that they can’t be in the Alps because there’s no yodelling. The Doctor also gives a clearer reason for staying outside of the ship (it will act like a ‘cold storage room’ and kill them). He introduces his granddaughter as ‘Susan Foreman’ (!) and both she and Ping-Cho are 15 years old (not 16 like on TV). Once again, the Doctor uses a pen torch [see The Aztecs]. Susan mentions the TARDIS ‘water producer’. Surprisingly, the device of Marco’s journal is not used; instead, some of the events he describes are expanded upon. 

Ping-Cho learns of the death of her husband-to-be as soon as she arrives at the Imperial Palace. The Empress notices exchanged glances between Ping-Cho and the Captain, Ling-Tau; she urges Kublai Khan to promote the captain so he might be of sufficient rank to be a husband to Ping-Cho. Tegana doesn’t get to commit suicide; he’s shot dead by Ling-Tau with an arrow that kills him instantly. There’s no swift escape to the TARDIS at the end either. Kublai Khan invites the Doctor to stay as his personal secretary, but he declines and says a relaxed goodbye to him, Marco and Ping-Cho before leaving in the TARDIS. Kublai Khan dubs the key to the TARDIS the ‘Key to the World’ and has it placed on a gold chain (unaware that it’s the Doctor’s spare). The Key is said to lie in a museum that was once the imperial palace.

Cover: David McAllister returns with a painted composition of Marco Polo, Tegana, Pingo Cho and Kublai Khan, along with some other elements that apparently come from an entirely different production called Marco Polo from the 1980s. It’s nice to see accurate resemblences to actors Mark Eden, Zienia Merton and Derren Nesbitt here.

Final Analysis: John Lucarroti’s second novel and it’s as much of a jolly history lesson as the first, with additional highly detailed descriptions of various menus. Obviously, each of the locations is grander than the sets in Lime Grove could have allowed and also we get a real sense of the time passing, as each chapter adds days onto the journey, which lasts around 40 days in all. It might lack the fun and melodrama of monsters of robots, but it’s a rare story that truly allows us to step into a culture and enjoy various aspects of it.

Chapter 90. Doctor Who – The Highlanders (1984)

Synopsis: In the aftermath of the battle of Culloden in 1745, a group of Jacobite rebels try to evade capture by the English army. The Doctor, Ben and Polly help a wounded laird but are then captured by an incompetent English officer. The Doctor adopts a fun disguise as Polly uses guile to free her new friends and escape. One young Scot in particular impresses the time-travelling trio – a piper by the name of Jamie McCrimmon.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Where are We?
  • 2. The Cottage
  • 3. The Captives
  • 4. The Handsome Lieutenant
  • 5. Polly and Kirsty
  • 6. Polly’s Prisoner
  • 7. The Water Dungeon
  • 8. Blackmail!
  • 9. The Doctor’s New Clothes
  • 10. Aboard the Annabelle
  • 11. At the Sea Eagle
  • 12. The Little Auld Lady
  • 13. A Ducking for Ben
  • 14. Where is the Prince?
  • 15. The Fight for the Brig
  • 16. Algernon Again
  • 17. A Return to the Cottage

Background: Gerry Davis adapts the scripts he co-wrote with Elwyn Jones for the 1967 serial.

Notes: The bonhomie of TV’s Ben and Polly is replaced by something closer to the bickering of 1980s companions; Ben insists on calling Polly ‘Princess’ (not ‘Duchess’) and thinks she is ‘uppity and toffee-nosed’. He also thinks the sounds of battle drifting over the moor are just celebrations from ‘the Spurs Supporters Club’ (ahem, a reference to the er, London-based football team Tottenham Hotspurs) or a historical society. Polly resents Ben’s ‘big brother’ protectiveness, especially as she is ‘about a head taller than he was’; later, it’s confirmed she’s an ‘independent girl from the sixties’ – so her ‘seventies’ origins have been properly reset from previous Gerry Davis novels. The Doctor admits to Polly that the discovery of a cannon ball makes him afraid. There’s a dump of history at the start too, as we’re told of the battle for the British monarchy between the Scottish Stuarts and the ‘Hanoverian German Georges’. The Scots had been booted out 40 years ago and we join the story in the aftermath of the battle of Culloden Moor. As this wasn’t taught in English schools in my day, this is especially welcome and helpful.

As the Doctor inspects a tam-o’-shanter, we’re told it’s a ‘standing joke in the TARDIS that he could never resist trying on any new hat he came across’; as this is the first TV story where his hat fetish became a regular thing, this suggests the trio have had a fair few offscreen adventures since the Doctor’s regeneration. He adopts the pseudonym ‘Doctor von Verner’ (not the more obvious meta-joke ‘von Wer’ on telly). Algernon Ffinch stammers ‘in a way approved by the London dandies of the time’, which could mean it’s an affectation for fashionable purposes. The Sergeant’s name is spelled ‘Klegg’, not ‘Clegg’. While in the prison, Jamie plays a mournful tune on his bagpipes before the Doctor creates a disruption in the gaol by playing the Jacobite ‘Lillibulero’ on his recorder. The name of the pub where Solicitor Grey has installed himself is called the Sea Eagle Inn. As Jamie boots Trask overboard during the final battle, Ben tries to regain some composure as he claims he was about to use karate to save himself. There’s a more pressing reason for Jamie to join the travellers; having escorted them to the TARDIS, Jamie boasts that he’ll be fine on his own as they hear the sound of muskets being fired nearby. We then join Jamie as he sees the inside of the TARDIS for the first time (see below).

Cover: A smashing portrait by Nick Spender of Jamie, accompanied by Alexander, a Saltire flag and the TARDIS. Unusually for this period, there are likenesses of recognisable actors here!

Final Analysis: Gerry Davis returns to adapt a script that he originally oversaw to production. It was the last of the pure historicals on TV, yet it’s the second one we’ve had in novel form in the space of a year. The Highlanders is often overlooked in favour of the more monster-focused stories of the era and, perhaps it won’t come as a surprise to learn that this is the first time I’ve read this particular book. Davis keeps things light, even with the threat of violence and a very sudden death early on. The stakes are high, but so’s the sense of adventure and Polly in particular has a rare old time running rings around every man she encounters. Effectively, she gets her own companion in the form of Kirsty and it’s easy to forget that this is the debut of Jamie, even though his future role as a companion isn’t foreshadowed at all, he’s just one of a number of likeable characters that we meet. Poor Ben’s experience in Scotland isn’t quite so thrilling. Despite having spent very little time with Jamie, Polly takes an immediate shine to him and the final scene sees him adopted as a fully-fledged TARDIS member at last:

As he hesitated, Polly turned back and grasped his hand. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ she said, ‘it’s much nicer inside than it is out. There’s so many wonderful surprises waiting for you, you’ll see.’

Jamie allowed himself to be drawn through into the small police box. The door closed behind him and he saw to his astonishment the large, hexagonal, brightly-lighted interior of the time-machine.

Chapter 88. Doctor Who – The Aztecs (1984)

Synopsis: Emerging from a hidden doorway in a temple, Barbara is mistaken for the Aztec God Yetaxa and finds it difficult to refuse the role. As the Doctor tries to regain access to the temple and return to the TARDIS, Barbara learns the difficult lesson that she cannot change history. Not one line of it!

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Coiled Serpent
  • 2. Yetaxa the God
  • 3. Chosen Warriors
  • 4. Sacrifice to Tlaloc
  • 5. Perfect Victim
  • 6. Thorn of Doom
  • 7. No Holds Barred
  • 8. Cups of Cocoa
  • 9. Bride of Sacrifice
  • 10. Offence and Retribution
  • 11. Crawl, Swim, Climb
  • 12. Wall of Deception
  • 13. False God
  • 14. Day of Darkness
  • 15. Eclipse

Background: John Lucarotti adapts his own scripts for the series broadcast in 1964. Published a week after its 20th anniversary, The Aztecs now holds the crown for the biggest gap between first transmission and novelisation. It’s also the first historical story to be adapted since The Crusaders, some 19 years earlier.

Notes: We begin with a new scene inside the TARDIS with little explanation of who the characters are or what the TARDIS is. Susan is said to be still 15 years old, while Ian is 28 and a ‘scientist’ (not a science teacher’). When the Doctor asks for a screwdriver (a normal screwdriver!) to fix a panel on the TARDIS ‘control desk’, Ian jokes that they might land on Earth in the 1980s and get help form an aerospace factory; it’s a curiously specific reference for a man from 1963. Barbara specialised in Aztec history at university and her brief summary for Susan of Mexican civilisation is a lot more heavy-handed than it is on screen. She guesses that they’re at some point in history between 1430 and 1519, and the Doctor is able to confirm it’s 17 May, 1507. We might pause to ponder how the TARDIS can produce a date so accurate when it’s 75 years before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, but this story’s already threatening us with a huge history lesson, so let’s just ignore the issue and move on. 

Cameca is ‘a grey-haired, pleasant-faced, plumpish woman in her mid fifties’. The architect of the temple, Topau, is renamed ‘Chapal’. On the night that he meets the Doctor in the garden, Ian wears ‘only a warrior’s loin-cloth and sandals’. Ixta is startled by the Doctor’s electronic torch when he sees Ian use it, wondering if it’s ‘magic’. It was Ixta’s ‘father’s father’ who originally built the secret tunnel that is used to irrigate the garden (it’s his father on TV – and see later). Ian has a much more arduous trek through the secret tunnel, including a climb up a vertical shaft using crumbling footholds. He finds the remains of a body – which he correctly assumes is that of Ixta’s father – in the tunnel and soon discovers that the man must have fallen to his death when a foothold in the shaft gave way beneath his foot; Ian also correctly deduces that he himself was at risk of drowning because of Ixta deliberately opening the sluice. The Doctor tells Barbara of his suspicion that Ian has drowned, shortly before Ian finds them both (on telly, Barbara already knows Ian is safe by the time the Doctor reaches her). 

It’s a lot clearer that the Doctor feels utterly wretched for exploiting Cameca’s affection purely to gain access to the temple. As Cameca offers to help restore Autloc’s faith in Barbara, the Doctor is moved by her devotion and muses ‘in another world, in another time’ – but it’s definitely not the romantic relationships some fans imagine. Barbara has a long discussion with Autloc about the ‘schizophrenic’ nature of the Aztecs and her words remind him of a legend he has heard of a man from a foreign land who spoke of a ‘gentleness and love’ who was crucified, as the Aztecs do with their criminals. The climactic fight scene between Ixta and Ian is replaced by something wittier but also just as brutal, as Ian reflects light into his opponent’s eyes, which makes Ixta topple backwards and fall to his death. The scene leading into The Sensorites is, unsurprisingly, cut.

Cover: Featuring the last appearance of the coloured Target logo, Nick Spender’s first cover depicts a man with a dagger (Tlotoxl possibly?), a temple and a giant golden mask, as the TARDIS materialises. A 1992 reprint cover uses Andrew Skilleter’s VHS cover art, showing Tlotoxyl and the Doctor amid some Aztec pyramids.

Final Analysis: John Lucarotti provides a fairly loose adaptation of his own story, clearly written from the original scripts but with a relaxed approach to sticking rigidly to the text. He’s also done a lot of research and is happy to let us know it, but unlike some of the authors from the early 80s, there’s no showboating here; we’re just exposed to the history of an ancient and brutal culture – even the cuisine – of a time in Earth’s history that’s as alien to the modern reader as that of Peladon or Skaro. The descriptions of torture are particularly graphic; at one point, Tlotoxyl tells Barbara that Susan will have her eyes gouged out. I might lament that the original TV version didn’t give us the chance to hear how WIlliam Hartnell might have approached a name like ‘Huitzilipochtli’ but Lucarotti’s undiluted approach makes the story all the richer. I read this novel for the first time here and we’re now entering a period where I suspect there are more books I’ve not previously read than I have. 

Chapter 65. Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child (1981)

Synopsis: A thing that looks like a police box, standing in a junkyard. Home to a secretive old man and his strange granddaughter. Two schoolteachers allow curiosity to lead them into a terrifying journey back to a time where the greatest power is the ability to make fire, and the second greatest is merely to survive.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Girl Who Was Different
  • 2. Enter the Doctor
  • 3. The TARDIS
  • 4. The Dawn of Time
  • 5. The Disappearance
  • 6. The Cave of Skulls
  • 7. The Knife
  • 8. The Forest of Fear
  • 9. Ambush
  • 10. Captured
  • 11. The Firemaker
  • 12. Escape into Danger

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Anthony Coburn’s scripts for the very first TV story. At 17 years, ten months and three or so weeks, this is now the record holder for the longest gap between broadcast of a story and release of the novelisation. Though this record will be broken a few times more in the future, this book can lay claim to another odd record in that the novelisation was released 18 days prior to being repeated in full for the first time.

Notes: We learn from the policeman in the opening scene that the old man who recently became the proprietor of the junkyard in Totter’s Lane has disappeared, along with his granddaughter and two teachers from a local school – so the rest of the story here is told in flashback (and the later flashback to Susan in the classroom is flashing even further back!). We briefly meet Susan in the first Coal Hill School scene as she waits for Miss Wright to fetch the book, and she’s ‘tall for her age, with short dark hair framing a rather elfin face’. Apparently Barbara Wright doesn’t ‘stand for any nonsense’ and Terrance Dicks gives her a rather balanced but critical appraisal: 

Someone had once said, rather unkindly, that Barbara Wright was a typical schoolmistress. She was dark-haired and slim, always neatly dressed, with a face that would have been even prettier without its habitual expression of rather mild disapproval. 

There was undeniably some truth in the unkind remark. Barbara Wright had many good qualities, but she also had a strong conviction that she knew what was best, not only for herself but for everyone else. It suited her temperament to be in charge. 

Ian in contrast is said to be ‘a cheerful, open-faced young man… about as different in temperament from Barbara Wright as could be imagined.’ Ian teaches Science and Mathematics, which explains why he sets his class a problem involving the dimensions ‘a, b and c’. When Barbara tells Ian about Susan’s mistake over decimal currency, she adds that ‘The United States and most European countries have a decimal system’, but Susan then claims ‘You’ll change over in a few years’ time!’ Susan explains that TARDIS stands for ‘Time and Relative Dimension in Space’ (singular) as on TV [see The Daleks, The Time Meddler and others]. As he removes his jacket in the TARDIS control room, the Doctor has the impression of ‘a family solicitor from some nineteenth-century novel’. When Barbara calls him ‘Doctor Foreman’, the Doctor confesses that he stole that name from the gates of the junkyard and suggests ‘It might be best if you were to address me simply as Doctor’. Most helpful of him, even if he then acts as if he’s never heard the name when Ian uses it in the next chapter!

It’s confirmed that Za is the son of Old Mother, who he saved from being cast out by the Tribe (as is their custom) after the death of his father, Gor after (it’s presumed, but not confirmed) a hunting accident. This act of kindness was viewed by the old woman as weakness, hence why she undermines him at every opportunity.

The final chapter is called ‘Escape into Danger’. It ends with a foreshadowing of the next adventure, on a wartorn planet called Skaro – home of the Daleks!

Cover: The first cover to use the Sid Sutton-designed ‘neon’ logo from the TV show, with metallic foil effect on the first edition’s logo, and with a red flash across the corner to tell us this is the ‘First publication of the very first Doctor Who story’. It’s such a simple cover really, as Andrew Skilleter recreates the set of the junkyard from a photo now believed to be lost. It could have done with being set at night, but the details are very satisfying as this cover is now our best view of that very cluttered set. A 1990 reprint used Alister Pearson’s VHS cover and it’s beautifully simplistic. Taking its inspiration from the cover art for Queen’s The Miracle (1989), Pearson merges the Doctor and Susan so they share an eye, positioned above a rocky landscape where the TARDIS is materialising.

Final Analysis: Terrance had just two weeks to complete this, to tie in with the ‘Five Faces of Doctor Who’ repeats, on the suggestion of producer John Nathan-Turner. It was also the first novelisation in six months, due to a writers’ strike that Terrance felt compelled to honour. There’s a Reithian hand at work here, as Terrance guides the young Target reader through some fairly alien concepts: Through the police officer in the opening scene, we learn that police boxes used to be a common sight on British streets and the policeman speculates that they might soon be phased out in favour of individual walkie-talkies; Ian tries to remember what kind of animals might have existed in the time of the cavemen, such as mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers, but making the point that there’d be no dinosaurs as ‘that was a common mistake’; and of course, Anthony Coburn’s original script included a means to make fire that every eager Scout or pyromaniac should know.

One other lovely detail is how Dicks describes Kal as having a ‘short jutting beard’. It’s the kind of description Malcolm Hulke might have used for the same purpose, as later, when the time travellers’ escape route is cut off by tribesmen, their leader is said to have a ‘short jutting beard’ – the viewers would recognise him as Kal, but the travellers wouldn’t, yet – so the reader is given this subtle clue. There’s one small issue with the first edition though – as Za enters the clearing and hears a low growl behind him; it’s such an amazing paragraph that it was repeated a few lines later… oops!

So we now have a novel of the first story, which leads directly into the next – the novel of which is hugely contradictory as we’ve already seen. Heaven help anyone trying this pilgrimage in broadcast order. Much better this way!

Chapter 50. Doctor Who and the War Games (1979)

Synopsis: The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe between the trenches of the worst war in Earth’s history – World War I. Yet just a few miles away, the war is against Roman soldiers – and here it’s the American Civil War. As the time travellers make their way to the centre of the warzones, they discover a group of aliens controlling the battles as part of a hideous game. All too soon, the situation becomes too great even for the Doctor to handle. With no other choice, he is forced to confront his greatest challenge yet – his own people, the Time Lords…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Sentence of Death
  • 2. Escape
  • 3. The Time Mist
  • 4. Back to the Château
  • 5. The War Room
  • 6. The Process
  • 7. The Security Chief
  • 8. Battle for the Château
  • 9. The Trap
  • 10. Fall of the War Chief
  • 11. Trial of Doctor Who

Background: Malcolm Hulke adapts the 1969 scripts he co-wrote with Terrance Dicks.

Notes: The prologue is a mission statement from the ‘Chief War Lord’ (so the aliens are the War Lords, who aren’t named on TV; the War Lord is the leader of the aliens). They identify Earth as ‘the most war-like planet known to us’ and their project is called ‘The War Games’. Off the back of their last (unseen?) adventure, the Doctor has promised to take Jamie for a visit to his own time. On their arrival, he explains to his young friends the origins of barbed wire (the invention of ‘an American’ for the purpose of penning in cattle). He goes into detail about the purpose of trenches during World War I, in a time before the tank was invented, and the great loss of life involved in trying to capture ground from the enemy. ‘That’s a daft way to run a war,’ says Jamie, rather pertinently. The Doctor also explains the causes of the American Civil War to Zoe who, coming from the far future, has never heard of the United States.

General Smythe is ‘a huge man with a square jaw and cheeks like cliffs’. Captain Ransom reports to him that they have lost ‘twenty-nine thousand men in the past month’ and Smythe tells him that they’re fighting a ‘war of attrition’. Alone in his room, Smythe uses the hidden video monitor to report to a ‘fellow War Lord’ and request ‘five thousand more specimens’. 

Carstairs’ first name is Jeremy and his father is a factory owner in Yorkshire (but he chooses not to admit this to Lady Jenifer). Head of the military prison, General Gorton, can’t remember if he was born in Wiltshire, Oxfordshire or Berkshire. Two deserters, Willi Müller from Berlin and George Brown from London, witness the shelling of the ambulance and the vehicle’s sudden disappearance in the mist. In the Roman zone, Drusus Gracchus and Brutus Sullas also see the ‘square elephant’ vanish and assume it’s a ‘Gaulish trick’. Drusus vows that he’ll sacrifice ‘three goats, two pigs and a human slave’ in honour of the God of War. 

The War Chief is tall, with a uniform of ‘black with gold and red piping’. His fellow War Lords use a transport device called a ‘Space and Inter-time Directional Robot Allpurpose Transporter’, or ‘SIDRAT’ – a ‘tall black box similar in shape and size to the TARDIS’ (it’s mentioned only once on screen, by the War Chief, who pronounces it ‘Side-Rat’). The machines can deliver hundreds of soldiers to the various timezones and they are powered by green crystals that come from the ‘planet of the Time Lords’ (which the War Chief doesn’t name), but as these have worn out, the War Lord has used other materials that lead to a decreased lifespan. The Alien soldiers wear silver uniforms. The Security Chief does not like people to see how short he is, so he usually stands; he wears a ‘simple black uniform without braid or piping’ that makes him look ‘very sinister’. Foreshadowed before his arrival, the War Lord suddenly appears in the war room alongside the Security Chief and the War Chief and is not described at any point.

At one point, Lieutenant Carstairs wonders ‘just how many wars they have going on in this place’ – and it’s a fair few, as well as his own 1917 Zone: There’s an English Redcoat, taken from the battles of the Jacobite Rebellion of Jamie’s time; we learn of a ‘French Deserter’ from Napoleon’s army in Gorton’s prison; General Smythe references zones from the Dakota War / Sioux Uprising (from 1862), the Korean War (from 1951), the American War of Independence (from 1776), the ‘Punic Wars’ between Rome and Carthage and the ‘Mongolian Invasion’ of the 13th Century; the War Lord known as Count Vladimir Chainikof oversees the Russian side of the Crimean zone (at some point between 1853-56); there’s a zone from 1936 with Chinese and Japanese combatants, though this predates the second Sino-Japanese war by a year and would possibly have been the tail-end of the Chinese Civil War; in the Central Zone, the Doctor and Zoe see a mix of soldiers, including Aztec warriors, a Roundhead from ‘Oliver Cromwell’s time’, soldiers from the Franco-Prussian War (1870),, an Austro-Hungarian officer from the Boxer Rebellion (from where we later meet a Chinese soldier who joins the resistance), two women soldiers from the Spanish Civil War zone, a soldier from Catherine the Great’s army (presumably the The Russo-Turkish War of 1768–74), a Japanese Samurai warrior and a soldier in a suit of armour from an undisclosed period; Jamie joins soldiers from the Boer War from 1899 and a Chinese revolutionary from 1911. The zone for the American Civil War (or the ‘War Between the States’) is from 1862 and Hulke uses the term ‘Negro’ to describe an unnamed resistance soldier, which is period-appropriate but which may jolt the attention of modern readers (also, the role of Harper is absorbed into that of Russell). Arturo Villar claims that all of Mexico is ‘all war’, but he’s probably from the Mexico-American War of 1846-48. Another resistance soldier, Boris Ivanovich Petrovich, is from the Russian Revolution of 1812. 

For the first time, Jamie begins to wonder who the Doctor really is and when he finally raises the question, the Doctor is about to tell him when they’re interrupted. It’s the Security Chief, and not the Chief Scientist, who first uses the term ‘Time Lords’. The War Chief reveals that the Doctor stole his TARDIS (The War Chief also has a TARDIS of his own, stolen like the Doctor’s and hidden somewhere). When the Doctor confirms this to Zoe, he admits that ‘it’s not one of the best models. The chameleon effect doesn’t work’ (Hulke previously referred to the TARDIS’s chameleon feature in The Doomsday Weapon and its use here still predates it being said on screen). During his trial, the Doctor mentions the Daleks, Cybermen, Quarks, Yeti and the Krotons. The Time Lords wear long white robes and they tack on an additional charge to the Doctor’s crimes of stealing a TARDIS, which is consistent with the version told in The Auton Invasion. Back on the Wheel, Zoe meets an unnamed man (not Tanya Lernvov as on telly). After the Doctor disappears, the prosecuting Time Lord admits that the Doctor ‘would never have fitted in back here.’ His colleague agrees, but laments: ‘It’s a pity. He would have brightened the place up no end.’ 

Cover: John Geary creates a mishmash of eras as the TARDIS stands in a battlefield where a Roman centurion approaches a British army officer. The 1990 reprint used Alister Pearson’s elegant monochromatic VHS cover with Troughton, the War Lord and a Time Lord in a grid of warzone triangles, accompanied by an American Civil War soldier, a Roman chariot and Lieutenant Carstairs.

Final Analysis: This is the longest novel since Doctor Who and the Cybermen, four years earlier. In condensing the ten-part epic from 1969, by necessity, Hulke makes it less of a Terrance-Dicks-style scene-by-scene adaptation, more a top-to-toe rewrite of the story with each chapter roughly covering a single episode. Although a lot of the beats are the same, Hulke is more concerned with creating the world for the reader than recapturing exact memories of a programme broadcast once a decade earlier. 

Hulke’s human characters are, as ever, multi-faceted and they reveal much about the societietal attitudes of their respective times: Carstairs is a loyal and patriotic officer who struggles to accept the deception of his superior officer, but also unpicks the inconsistencies of the Doctor’s Court Martial (and considering the horrific injustices he must have witnessed already, this is saying a lot); he also reveals a degree of inverted snobbery, choosing not to reveal much about his background to Lady Jennifer; Zoe reveals a fierce feminist conviction, stating her opinion that things would be better if women were in charge. Lady Jennifer disagrees, saying that, aside from periods of war, a woman’s place is in the home, a view that seems to be introduced to undermine her belief that ‘new socialists… believe in a lot of nonsense’ (though she later tells Russell that she believes that women should have the vote, so she’s quite complex too).

Hulke sums up the brutality of the First World War effectively through a combination of the Doctor’s mini-lectures and the reactions of the soldiers to newcomers, immediately accusing them of being spies and threatening them with being shot. Lieutenant Carstairs observes that the average lifespan of a British officer on the front line is only three weeks. As they part company on No Man’s Land, he asks the Doctor ‘Did my side win?’

‘Was all the death and misery for nothing?

‘You have answered your own question, Lieutenant. War is always death and misery, and both sides lose. I hope that one day you humans will find another way to settle your arguments.

This adaptation covers so much ground that in some ways it damaged the reputation of the TV episodes it was based on. Terrence Dicks’ natural modesty (and the pressures under which he and Hulke wrote the story) always led him to underplay its success, but some readers were entertained enough by the novel to assume that all the stuff cut from the TV episodes must have been needless padding. The DVD release restored its reputation as one of the best stories of that decade, but this novelisation is also a magnificent undertaking. Some characters are missing, some scenes truncated, but none of this leaves us feeling short-changed. We’re lucky enough to have both the TV and novel versions and both of them stand among the very best of their respective genres.

Malcolm Hulke died in July 1979, aged 54. This book was published two months later.

Chapter 42. Doctor Who and the Time Warrior (1978)

Synopsis: Scientists have disappeared from across the country. In an attempt to keep them safe, the remaining experts have been brought to a research centre under the guard of UNIT – but still they continue to vanish. The Doctor identifies the cause must be someone with access to time travel. Following the trail in the TARDIS back to the Middle Ages, the Doctor discovers the time-hopping kidnapper is a Sontaran warrior – unaware that the TARDIS has brought alomg a 20th-Century stowaway aboard in the form of intrepid journalist Sarah Jane Smith. 

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1.  Irongron’s Star
  • 2. Linx’s Bargain
  • 3. Sarah’s Bluff
  • 4. Irongron’s Captive
  • 5. The Doctor Disappears
  • 6. A Shock for Sarah
  • 7. Prisoner in the Past
  • 8. The Robot Knight
  • 9. Linx’s Slaves
  • 10. Irongron’s Wizard
  • 11. The Rescue
  • 12. The Doctor’s Magic
  • 13. Counter Attack
  • 14. The Robot’s Return
  • 15. Shooting Gallery
  • 16. Return to Danger
  • 17. Linx’s Departure

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Robert Holmes’ scripts for the 1973-4 serial, except from the prologue, which Holmes wrote himself before handing the task over to Dicks.

Notes: Three years after the word ‘Sontaran’ first appeared in a Target book [see Terror of the Autons], we finally meet one – in the most exciting prologue ever, written by Robert Holmes! We join Sontaran Commander Jingo Linx as his ship faces certain obliteration after an unsuccessful battle against the Rutans in their third galactic war. We learn that the Sontarans come from the planet Sontara and he listens to the ‘sweet strains of the Sontaran Anthem’ (presumably the same one that accompanies Linx’s flag when he erects it in front of Bloodaxe) as his ship makes a last desperate escape from the black, dart-shaped Rutan pursuit ships. Sontarans are cyborgs, thanks to implants in the back of their neck that allow them to draw energy through a ‘probic vent’. The procedure that allows this is undergone on entry to the Space Corps and although it gives him a rush of energy, Linx always dreads taking a ‘power burn’.

The flood of power through his tissues was like a roaring madness, a chaotic maelstrom of colour and sound depriving him of all sentient knowledge of the outside world. He felt himself clinging like a limpet within some solitary crevice of consciousness, aware only that he still existed… still existed… still… 

His cruiser is destroyed, driven into a sun as a diversion to allow him to escape the Rutans in a small scout ship. As the ship heads towards a little blue planet orbiting the sun, Linx allows himself a smile usually reserved for the ‘ the death throes of an enemy’. Most of the details here have been forgotten by subsequent authors, even Holmes himself [see The Two Doctors], but it should be mandatory reading for any hopeful Sontaran scribes. 

Irongron and his band of men had once ‘roamed the forest like wolves’ before stumbling upon a castle abandoned by a lord away ‘at the wars’. His group attacked the castle at night, its inhabitants massacred, and the castle became his. His nearest neighbour, Sir Edward Fitzroy, is sickly, having returned from the Crusades with a fever. Sir Edward’s son and most of his soldiers are still fighting the king’s crusades overseas, leaving him with a depleted defence. His young squire, Eric, is given a splendid introduction, riding through the forest, wary of being too close to Irongron’s castle and falling victim to a simple trap laid by Bloodaxe.

When he first addresses Irongron, Linx speaks with ‘a booming metallic voice… strangely accented but clearly understandable English’ and the suggestion is that this is due to a translation device, not his natural voice.

The Brigadier brings the Doctor in to investigate the missing scientists and equipment to distract him as he’s missing Jo since she had got married and has refused a new assistant ever since. The Doctor is described as ‘a tall man with a lined young-old face and a shock of white hair’ (we’ll be seeing this description regularly from now on). He insists on having the TARDIS brought to the research centre in case there’s an alien influence he needs to trace. Sarah Jane Smith is introduced, ‘an attractive dark-haired girl’ who is a freelance journalist (the ‘freelance’ bit is new to the book) who has been ‘making her own way in a man’s world for some years now, and she strongly resented any suggestion that her sex doomed her to an inferior role’. The Doctor tells Rubeish that ‘Lavinia Smith’ is a woman in her ‘late sixties’ as well as being in America. The Brigadier reminds the Doctor about his failed attempts to reach Metabelis III (‘I got there eventually’, says the Doctor defensively). We get Sarah’s first reaction to the inside of the TARDIS and she hides inside a wardrobe when the Doctor enters. Realising that the wardrobe is bigger than the police box she entered – and the central control room even bigger again – she quickly forms a theory that the Doctor is an alien responsible for kidnapping the scientists. She also watches the switch the Doctor uses to open the door and uses the same switch to escape.

Linx rides on horseback for the attack on Sir Edward’s castle. The attack on Linx, the destruction of Irongron’s castle and the Doctor’s departure with Sarah all happen at night. Although Hal’s arrow kills Linx, the hand of the dead warrior hits the launch button and his ship escapes the burning castle to be returned with Linx’s corpse to the war in the stars. And hurrah for Hal as he rescues Squire Eric from the dungeon!

Oh and there’s a chapter title called ‘Return to Danger’ – so close!!

Cover: Linx the Sontaran strikes a dramatic pose before his globe-shaped craft, a superb photorealistic portrait by Roy Knipe. The cover for the 1993 reprint by Alister Pearson places the Doctor, Sarah and Irongron in square tiles behind Linx, who’s side on and holding his helmet by his side.

Final Analysis: It might be heresy but I’m not a fan of this story on TV and reading this story I can put it down to Alan Bromly’s static, leaden direction. But look at all the notes in this chapter and join me in wondering if Terrance Dicks was spurred on by his friend Holmes’ wonderful opening prologue – top three in the series so far*. Compare the two descriptions of Linx’s face – the first is by Holmes, the second by Dicks, picking up the baton:

… the heavy bones, the flat powerful muscles, the leathery, hairless epidermis, the calculating brain.… little, red eyes that were like fire-lit caves under the great green-brown dome of a skull…

The face beneath was something out of a nightmare. The head was huge and round, emerging directly from the massive shoulders. The hairless skull was greenish-brown in colour, the eyes small and red. The little nose was a pig-like snout, the mouth long and lipless. It was a face from one of Earth’s dark legends, the face of a goblin or a troll. 

This extends to the major and minor characters – how Sir Edward waits for his wife to ‘run out of words’ and on the very next line ‘It was a considerable wait.’ It’s clear Dicks enjoyed this. I know I did. 

* – See also Doctor Who and the Crusaders and Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks.

Chapter 40. Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock (1978)

Synopsis: A lighthouse off the coast of England at the start of the 20th Century. A light in the sky heralds the arrival of an alien warrior separated from its fleet, far from the battlefield. It explores the lighthouse, examines and dismembers one of its staff – and takes his form. The Doctor and Leela arrive shortly before they are joined by the survivors of a shipwreck. When the body of the lighthouse crewman is discovered, the Doctor realises they are locked inside the lighthouse with a murderer…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. The Terror Begins
  • 2. Strange Visitors
  • 3. Shipwreck
  • 4. The Survivors
  • 5. Return of the Dead
  • 6. Attack from the Unknown
  • 7. The Enemy Within
  • 8. The Bribe
  • 9. The Chameleon Factor
  • 10. The Rutan
  • 11. Ambush
  • 12. The Last Battle

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts his own scripts from the 1977 serial.

Notes: A prologue! Dicks sets up the location, a craggy rock in a furious sea, upon which stands a lighthouse. He tells of the legends of Fang Rock, the historic deaths and the glowing beast said to inhabit the waters that surround it. The Doctor wears a soft floppy hat and not the bowler hat he sports on the cover. Reuben, Vince and the Doctor help the survivors of the shipwreck from their lifeboat onto the shore of the east crag. As Leela ponders Reuben’s tale about the ‘Beast of Fang Rock’, the Doctor tries to rationalise the story, surmising that two men fought, one was killed, the other jumped into the sea, full of remorse, the third man was sent ‘out of his mind’ after spending weeks with a corpse for company. When Skinsale mocks Leela for sensing the temperature drop, Adelaide enters the room and complains about suddenly feeling cold. After Palmerdale’s death, Vince realises that he has his Lordship’s money and coded message in his pocket. Worried that it might incriminate himself in Palmerdale’s death, Vince sets fire to the evidence. There’s a detailed description of the Rutan that’s not quite what we see on screen.

In place of Reuben’s form there was a huge, dimly glowing gelatinous mass, internal organs pulsing gently inside the semi-transparent body. Somewhere near the centre were huge many-faceted eyes, and a shapeless orifice that could have been a mouth.

The Rutan’s habit of speaking in the first-person plural isn’t an affectation; Rutans don’t have individual identity, but are just one element of the whole race. It can move with ‘appalling speed’. The Doctor’s improvised rocket launcher is backed with ‘nuts and bolts, nails, cogs and other engineering debris’, as opposed to coins from various pockets. 

Cover: For the first edition, Jeff Cummins paints a superbly creepy scene of the Doctor standing in front of the lighthouse (which Clayton Hickman later mimicked for the DVD cover). Such a shame that the reprints were canceled, as we lost Alister Pearson’s cover, featuring a lesser-seen Doctor pic with a Rutan and the lighthouse.

Final Analysis: The legend goes that Robert Holmes insisted Terrance Dicks researched lighthouses for this one and it’s possible some of his studies ended up in the novelisation (such as the description of each room on each level in the tower). I suspect that Terrance Dicks might have been working from an earlier script version for this, with a couple of scenes that feel like they might have been abandoned for the final TV edit. Vince’s disposal of Palmerdale’s bribe and message is a welcome addition, especially how it conveys Vince’s conflict, not just in doing the right thing but also in protecting himself from accusation:

It was more money than he’d ever see again in his lifetime – but there was nothing but relief in Vince’s heart as he watched it burn.

One thing that’s missing is a sense of the Rutans point of view – literally how we see many scenes on TV – Dicks creates a sense of menace through a ‘faint crackling sound’ that denotes the Rutan’s presence, but we get little sense of how it feels, how it considers the humans and their environment.

Chapter 38. Doctor Who and the Masque of Mandragora (1977)

Synopsis: A chance encounter with the Mandragora Helix results in the Doctor unwittingly transporting sentient and malevolent energy to 15th-Century San Martino. The energy quickly takes hold of Hieronymous, an influential astrologer and leader of a sinister cult. As the Doctor and Sarah try to limit the damage their arrival has caused, they find themselves snared in the fraught politics of San Martino. Can they help a young prince evade the murderous ambitions of his uncle, Count Federico? Will Hieronymous’s new-found power bring a dark and bloody end to the Renaissance?

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Mandragora Helix
  • 2. The Brethren of Demnos
  • 3. Execution!
  • 4. Sacrifice
  • 5. The Prince Must Die
  • 6. The Secret of the Temple
  • 7. The Spell of Evil
  • 8. Torture!
  • 9. The Invasion Begins
  • 10. Siege
  • 11. Duel to the Death
  • 12. The Final Eclipse

Background: Philip Hinchcliffe adapts scripts from 1976 by Louis Marks.

Notes: Sarah has now been travelling with the Doctor for ‘several years’ but this is the first time she’s been allowed to explore deeper within the TARDIS. She is ‘Five feet five and a quarter’ – so an inch and a quarter taller than she is on telly, unless she’s counting the heel of her boots.  She apparently finds Giuliano attractive. Swit swoo!

Hinchcliffe tells us that it’s been a long time since the Doctor rode a horse (which might make you wonder when the last time might have been). As he finds the altar within the catacombs, he experiences a vision of the ‘Ghostly Temple of Demnos’:

He was filled with an unaccountable urge to escape, but as he ran towards the tunnel exit a large wall materialised in front of him with a deafening crash. Blindly he stumbled towards the other side of the cavern and a second wall blocked his path. The ghostly Temple of Demnos had sprung up before his very eyes! Panic-stricken he turned this way and that seeking escape but all around him thick stone walls seemed to be hemming him in. He was trapped.

Cover: Mike Little gives us a rather spooky composition for the first edition cover – the Doctor’s face is surrounded by darkness (as with The Deadly Assassin) and four faces of Hieronymous’s mask. A 1991 reprint had a cover by Alister Pearson showing Hieronymous sat on a throne alongside a rather cheery-looking Doctor.

Final Analysis: There can’t have been a fan in any of the libraries of the UK who didn’t mispronounce the title of this until they saw it on VHS or DVD, just as readers will have done when the same word ‘Mandragora’ appeared in the Harry Potter books (‘Man-DRA-gora’, not ‘MAN-dra-GOR-a’). It’s Philip Hinchclcffe’s second novel and another from his ‘golden era’, but it’s not one that allows for showboating. What we get is a straightforward retelling of the script with a few lines to explain the thought processes of the characters. We share the experience of Sarah’s falling under Hieronymous’s spell as her mind tries to make sense of the twisted logic it’s presented with, while her total lack of reaction to the possibility of meeting Leonardo Da Vinci is what first alerts the Doctor that something is wrong. Giuliano reacts beautifully to witnessing the departure of the TARDIS, inspecting the ground where it once stood, ‘puzzled but not afraid’:

‘There is a reason for everything,’ he said to himself. ‘Even this. One day science will explain it all.’