Chapter 58. Doctor Who and the Armageddon Factor (1980)

Synopsis: Two planets locked in war, Atrios and Zeos. A princess tries to help her people while her zealous Marshal fights to win the war. Unseen, a shadowy figure is manipulating events as he awaits the final pawns in his game. The Doctor, Romana and K9 arrive on Atrios in search of the final segment of the Key to Time, and help comes from an unexpected source as the Doctor is reunited with an old friend. Soon, the Key to Time will be assembled – and the hidden enemy will be revealed. 

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Vanishing Planet
  • 2. Missile Strike
  • 3. Kidnapped
  • 4. A Trap for K9
  • 5. The Furnace
  • 6. Behind the Mirror
  • 7. The Shadow
  • 8. Lost on Zeos
  • 9. The Armageddon Factor
  • 10. The Planet of Evil
  • 11. Drax
  • 12. The Bargain
  • 13. Small World
  • 14. The Key to Time

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1978 scripts by Bob Baker and Dave Martin. This is now four stories to be released consecutively in the order they were broadcast on TV.

Notes: The first TARDIS scenes are condensed and moved to the beginning of the first chapter, with an additional explanation of the on-going mission to find the Key to Time. The Marshall’s description is a love-letter to actor John Woodvine:

Tall and broad shouldered, straight-backed with iron-grey hair, he wore a magnificent scarlet tunic with gold epaulettes, the eagle of Atrios emblazoned in silver on the breast. His stern face was rugged and handsome, his voice deep and commanding. 

Merak is apparently the son of one of Atrios’ oldest families and has secretly been in love with Astra since they were both children. They are both members of an underground peace party.  Drax is from the ‘Class of Ninety-Three’ (not Ninety-Two) and has heard that the Doctor ‘got done by the High Court’ for stealing a TARDIS and ‘served a stretch’ on Earth – Drax himself bought a TARDIS second hand and he agrees to stop calling the Doctor ‘Thete’ (short for Theta Sigma, which we’re told was a ‘Time Lord coding’), though he’s sensitive that, unlike the Doctor, he didn’t get his degree. Once exposed, the Black Guardian contorts into a demonic creature and it’s both his callousness about Princess Astra and his inability to set things right with the Key already assembled that alerts the Doctor to his true identity.

Cover: Bill Donohoe paints the Doctor (using a surprising photo reference from The Seeds of Doom) and Romana with the Key to Time locator core in her hand, with the red bird motif from the War Room on Atrios in the background. Apparently producer John Nathan-Turner didn’t like this cover – he was wrong though.

Final Analysis: Yet another fairly straightforward adaptation, with the only major omissions being those scenes with the Marshall preparing to fire on Zeos that are repeated on TV, which don’t need to be replayed here.

And so ends a long, long journey towards this point. There have been trials, tribulations and many disappointments on this quest, but finally we’re done… we’re out of the worst run of books in the series so far – perhaps ever. A combination of poor original stories and a very lacklustre approach to adapting them makes me so glad we’ve got a treat coming up next.

I hope…

Chapter 56. Doctor Who and the Androids of Tara (1980)

Synopsis: The Doctor has gone fishing, leaving Romana to hunt down the next segment of the Key to Time. She completes her hunt with surprising ease, but just as quickly she becomes a prisoner of the scheming Count Grendel. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s holiday is interrupted by guards who serve Prince Reynart, a sickly monarch-in-waiting, whose reign is about to be cut short by Grendel. The Prince has an android duplicate of himself, which he hopes to use as a decoy long enough to ascend the throne. The android, however, doesn’t work. Separately, the Doctor and Romana work from opposite sides to fix the state of Tara. 

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Doctor Goes Fishing
  • 2. Count Grendel
  • 3. The Double
  • 4. The Princess
  • 5. The Prisoner of Gracht
  • 6. The Android King
  • 7. Invitation to an Ambush
  • 8. The Android Killer
  • 9. Flag of Truce
  • 10. Count Grendel plans a Wedding
  • 11. Attack by Night
  • 12. Victory

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts by David Fisher for his second story from 1978. This followed The Stones of Blood on TV, so that’s another pair of stories to be released consecutively.

Notes: The statue that transforms into the Key to Time segment depicts ‘a vaguely dragon-like heraldic beast, thrusting time-blunted claws towards the blue summer sky’. The very-much-alive creature that attacks Romana is a very generous evolution of the short, comedic beast seen on telly:

The monster was a good eight feet tall – and it walked upright like a man. It had coarse black fur, slavering jaws filled with yellow, pointed teeth and a stubby horn projecting from the centre of its forehead. A mixture of bear, ape and boar, with the nastiest features of all three. 

Count Grendel is said to possess a ‘darkly handsome face’ which is ‘marred only slightly by a fiercely jutting beak of a nose’ – an unflattering description of actor Peter Jeffrey. At the end, the Doctor rescues the adrift K9 – and Romana jokes that he ‘managed to catch a fish on Tara after all’ – before the time travellers depart in the TARDIS.

Cover: A scene painted by Andrew Skilleter shows the Doctor inspecting a segment of the Key to Time, watched by Romana (in her Ribos costume), appearing on a cover for the first time. In the background, K9 makes his first appearance on a book cover too, looking up at the Prince on his throne. The back cover announces ‘THE ANDROIDS OF TARA is a novel in the Key To Time Sequence. Read THE RIBOS OPERATION and THE STONES OF BLOOD available now.’ (said books didn’t carry this linking text).

Final Analysis: Around the time that this book was published, Shredded Wheat had an advertisement campaign that boasted that the product had ‘nothing added, nothing taken away’. Aside from the exaggerated details of the beast in the woods, this is all we get here. I still think it’s not fair to dismiss Dicks’ writing simply as just adding ‘he said / she said’ to the script, as he paints a vivid picture of the castles and woodlands of Tara, but this is a great example of Dicks at his most perfunctory. Everything that we might like about this came from David Fisher.

Chapter 55. Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood (1980)

Synopsis: A stone circle in southern England, known locally as ‘The Nine Travellers’. Which is strange, as clearly there are more than nine stones. This is just one of many legends from the region. Another speaks of a woman who lives for centuries, who might have been a Celt goddess called ‘The Cailleach’. And then there’s the tale of two time travellers who expose a galactic criminal and discover a spaceship hidden in another dimension… 

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Awakening of the Ogri
  • 2. The Circle of Power
  • 3. De Vries
  • 4. The Sacrifice
  • 5. The Ogri Attack
  • 6. The Cailleach
  • 7. The Vanished
  • 8. The Prison Ship
  • 9. The Victims
  • 10. The Trial
  • 11. Surprise Witness
  • 12. Verdict

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts by David Fisher for a story from 1978.

Notes: As The Pirate Planet wasn’t scheduled to be novelised at this point (or indeed, at any point in the foreseeable future), the first chapter explains that the second segment of the Key to Time was found on the planet Calufrax, which is almost right. As on TV, Romana learns that she wasn’t assigned to the Doctor by the President of Gallifrey but by the White Guardian, which amends the alternative continuity established by Ian Marter in The Ribos Operation. The Key to Time pieces are kept in the TARDIS control room inside a ‘wall-locker’ that opens to the Doctor’s palm-print. Professor Amelia Rumford mistakes the Doctor for Doctor Cornish Fougous (rather than an academic who specialised in Cornish fogous). Martha had been a school teacher before she met De Vries and she joined the druid cult to liven up an otherwise dull life. The doomed campers are newly-weds. The Megara are floating silver spheres about the size of a football. The Doctor namedrops Tacitus and Julius Caesar, who he was particularly pally with even though he refused to accept advice and the Doctor had to dress up as a soothsayer to warn him about the ‘ides of March’.

Cover: A composition by Andrew Skilleter featuring the Doctor, the Cailleach and some cult members among the flame-lit stones.

Final Analysis: Possibly Dicks’ most straightforward adaptation of a TV story so far, though he does offer up an delightful description of Professor Rumford: 

The woman was quite old, though her back was straight, her eyes clear and alert. Her straggly hair was a snowy white, her face a mass of lines and wrinkles. It was the face of a woman of formidable character.

He’s clearly more interested in her than Vivien Fay, who is ‘a tall, strikingly attractive dark-haired woman in her forties’ but doesn’t really receive much more attention. This is particularly odd when we consider that the last time she’s described at all in the book, she’s dressed as a bird-faced Celtic goddess and on TV she arrives on the space-ship in a silver gown with metallic skin to match.

Chapter 52. Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation (1979)

Synopsis: The White Guardian compels the Doctor (on pain of nothing… ever) to undertake a mission to find the six segments of the Key to Time. As part of the mission, the Doctor is given a new companion in the form of Romana. On the planet Ribos, a pair of grifters called Garron and Unstoffe are setting up an elaborate con, assuming the locals are too primitive to see through their scheme. Unfortunately, they have underestimated a visiting despot by the name of the Graff Vynda Ka .

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Unwelcome Strangers
  • 2. The Beast in the Citadel
  • 3. A Shaky Start
  • 4. Double Dealings
  • 5. Arrest and Capture
  • 6. Unlikely Allies
  • 7. Escape Into the Unknown
  • 8. The Doctor Changes Sides
  • 9 .Lost and Found
  • 10. Conjuring Tricks

Background: Ian Marter adapts the 1978 scripts by Robert Holmes.

Notes: The opening scene has the Doctor and K9 being rather snarky with each other. The Doctor suggests ‘Occhinos’ as a holiday destination.The TARDIS doors are opened from the inside by a brass handle. The Guardian sits within an exotic garden that features huge orchids and fountains. The garden disappears along with the Guardian, leaving the Doctor teetering on the edge of space and he has to propel himself backwards into the TARDIS. The Guardian makes no mention of a new companion for the Doctor; it’s left to Romana to introduce herself. Her tracer device is presented as the ‘Locatormutor Core’ and she knows of the existence of the Guardian (on TV, she’s left under the belief that she was selected for the mission by the President of the Time Lords). She graduated from the Academy with a ‘Triple Alpha’ and claims the Doctor achieved a ‘Double Gamma… on [his] third attempt’. The initial destination is Cyrrhenis Minimis (not ‘Minima’). 

We learn that, while he was away fighting campaigns alongside his Cyrrhenic allies, the Graff Vynda Ka (‘not ‘K’) was deposed by his half-brother on the Levithian throne; his alliance forgotten, he received no help from his former allies and he now lives in exile (we lose the rest of his back story from the TV episodes). Thanks to its elliptical orbit, Ribos’s summer (the ‘Sun Time’) lasts 11 years. The Doctor refers to Garron and Unstoffe as ‘Laurel and Hardy’ before apologising to Romana for the reference. When the Doctor is searched, Sholakh finds ‘an ear trumpet. a corkscrew, string, marbles, a magnifying glass, a paper bag with a few jelly babies melted into a lump…’ – some of which have been referenced by Marter in his previous books. There are many Shrivenzales living in the catacombs under the city. The Seeker is…:

… a scrawny hag dressed in long strips of crudely dyed remnants. Her frizzled grey hair was parted on the crown of her domed head, and it reached almost to her feet in a thickly tangled cascade.

She survives the knives of the Graff Vynda Ka and crawls off towards the Hall of the Dead, only to be caught in the blast of the Shrieve’s cannon. Despondent after the cave-in, Garron wonders if it would be possible to commit suicide with the Locatormutor Core. 

Chapter 7 brings Ian Marter’s take on a popular title, ‘Escape into the Unknown’, almost the same one Terrance Dicks used in Death to the Daleks. 

Cover: John Geary created an atmospheric shot of the Doctor, a shrivensale and some moody candles.

Final Analysis: It wasn’t one of Robert Holmes’ greatest scripts and sadly it’s not one of Ian Marter’s best books either. There’s little room for Marter’s violent imagery here and it’s all a bit flat. Without the performances to help sell the characters, Garron and Unstoffe lack any depth beyond their grift, while the Doctor is a horrific bully to Romana (something that was thankfully phased out on screen within a couple of stories, but which comes across as much more savage here). Marter is able to make the lumbering TV shrivenzale into a fearsome beast with claws that make sparks against the catacomb walls and he takes on the death of Sholakh and makes it a little bloodier, but… no, this is largely as dull as I’d expected.

I’ve got to be honest, this is the beginning of a run of books I’ve been dreading.