Chapter 54. Doctor Who and the Invasion of Time (1980)

Synopsis: The Doctor has returned home to claim the Presidency of the Time Lords. As the Gallifreyan elite is driven to panic by this shocking development, this is just the first in a chain of horrific events as the new President banishes senior figures to the barren wastelands of Gallifrey – including his friend Leela. And then the Vardans arrive. This is all part of a trap created by the Doctor to defeat the invaders, but the trap backfires when the Vardans are vanquished and in their place arrive the Sontarans!

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Treaty for Treason
  • 2. The President-Elect
  • 3. Attack from the Matrix
  • 4. The Fugitive
  • 5. The Betrayal
  • 6. The Invasion
  • 7. The Outcasts
  • 8. The Assassin
  • 9. The Vardans
  • 10. False Victory
  • 11. The Sontarans
  • 12. The Key of Rassilon
  • 13. Failsafe
  • 14. The Chase
  • 15. The Wisdom of Rassilon

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1978 scripts attributed to David Agnew (Anthony Read and Graham Williams).

Notes: Leela has brown eyes again [see The Horror of Fang Rock]. There are many references back to The Deadly Assassin that provide clarification or other information that wasn’t revealed in the onscreen Invasion of Time. There’s a summary of the events that led to the Doctor assuming the position of President by default, including the Doctor’s previous encounter with the Matrix, as well as an explanation that as there was no other candidate available, and the Doctor was absent, Borusa took on the role of acting President as well as Chancellor, making him extremely powerful. Castellan Spandrel has retired and his very recent replacement, Kelner, quickly established a Bodyguard Squad to protect himself; Kelner took possession of a suite of offices that are… :

… of transparent plastic and gleaming metal, with complex control consoles and brightly flickering vision screens everywhere. It was over-technological even by Time Lord standards, but Kelner, the new Castellan felt it helped to maintain his image. 

Kelner is ‘thin-faced, nervous, rather insecure Time Lord’ who gained his position thanks to ‘good birth and political intrigue’. He has a bodyguard who is ‘very big, very brave, and very stupid’. Terrance Dicks maintains the impression given in The Deadly Assassin of the ceremonial chamber at the centre of the Panopticon and the scale of the Time Lord ensemble, which could never be achieved on TV:

The grand hall of the Panopticon is an immense circular chamber used by the Time Lords for all their major ceremonies. It is one of the largest and most impressive chambers in the known universe. The immense marble floor is big enough to hold an army, the domed glass roof seems as high above as the sky itself. Row upon row of viewing galleries run around the walls, and on the far side of the hall an impressive staircase leads down to a raised circular dais. By now the hall was filled with rank upon rank of Time Lords, all wearing the different-coloured robes and insignia of the different Chapters, the complex social family and political organisations that dominated Time Lord Society. 

The Great Key of Rassilon is just a lost artefact on TV, but Dicks ties it to the one named in The Deadly Assassin; the one the Master stole was a replica and the real one is kept in the possession of the Chancellor; also unlike on TV, the Doctor deduces which one of Borusa’s keys is the correct one without Borusa first offering a decoy. The buildings on the edge of the Capitol have ‘sheer white walls’ and the gleaming towers can be seen many miles away. 

Rodan is described as a ‘Time Lady’. The Outsiders live in log huts. Nesbin was expelled from the Capitol for an unprecedented violent attack upon another Time Lord. Ablif is a ‘burly young man’ and is the Outsiders who first captures Leela and Rodan – and gains a scratch across his face for his troubles. Jasko is also a ‘burly young Outsider’ who isn’t ‘especially bright’ but is ‘brave and strong’ and obedient. While these two Outsiders appeared on TV, a third member of the assault party is called ‘Jablif’ and it’s he who is fatally wounded but manages to kill a Sontaran before he dies.

Dicks’ description of Stor echoes that from Robert Holmes’ prologue for The Time Warrior:

The head was huge and round and it seemed to emerge directly from the massive shoulders. The hairless skull was greeny-brown and small red eyes were set deep in cavernous sockets. The nose was a snubby snout, the wide mouth a lipless slit. 

Stor calls our hero ‘Dok-tor’ as if it’s his name, which is lovely.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter paints a much-minicked design of the Doctor and Stor smothered by metal cogs.

Final Analysis: Terrance Dicks guides us through what was actually quite a complicated script and helps it make sense along the way. Even Leela’s sudden departure is given a little assistance (in Leela’s tribe, it turns out, the women choose the men and Andred’s fighting skills and bravery clearly impressed her). He also succeeds in making the Vardans seem impressive: 

The space ship was enormous, terrifying, a long, sleek killer-whale of space. Its hull-lines were sharp and predatory and it bristled with the weapon-ports of a variety of death dealing devices. Everything about it suggested devastating, murderous power. 

… so that when their human forms are revealed, it’s more dramatic and less underwhelming as they’d already been fairly disappointing before the reveal. We’re still in this dry period where the books largely transcribe what happened on TV, but here, this at least prevents everything from feeling as cheap and improvised as it does on home video.

Chapter 53. Doctor Who and the Underworld (1980)

Synopsis: A group of space travellers seek the lost gene banks of the Minyans, a race of beings with tragic connections to the Time Lords. When their space craft becomes surrounded by a planet, the Minyan travellers discover a subjugated race – the Trogs – who live in underground tunnels as the slaves of the Seers and the god-like Oracle. Could these slaves be the descendants of the lost Minyans? The answers rest with the Oracle – and the quest is the quest…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. The Nebula
  • 2. The Minyans
  • 3. The Intruders
  • 4. The Quest
  • 5. Buried Alive
  • 6. The Trogs
  • 7. Skyfall on Nine
  • 8. The Smoke
  • 9. The Mouth of the Dragon
  • 10. The Sword of Sacrifice
  • 11. The Crusher
  • 12. The Battle
  • 13. Doomsday
  • 14. The Legend

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1978 scripts by by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.

Notes:  We begin with a prologue (how I love a prologue!) that details the events that led to the loss of Minyos and the isolation policy of the Time Lords. Back in The Invisible Enemy, the Doctor complained that the TARDIS control room is such a boring colour – ‘No aquamarines, no blues. No imagination!’ – and here, he’s trying to paint the control room aquamarine and getting paint everywhere (but in the final scene, he’s painting it white again). On learning of the sword ritual, the Doctor reminds Leela that her own tribe had a similar trial by ordeal. Leela suggests that they return to the TARDIS and leave the Minyans to their fate but the Doctor wants to solve the mystery of the P7E.

Cover: Bill Donohoe combines two photo reference from this story to create something rather like a pulp sex book you’d find in the saucy rack in a 1970s newsagent – the Doctor looks pensive  while Herrick carries a near-death Tala – as if we’ve just walked in on a scene we don’t really want to be a part of.

Final Analysis: This would always be a tricky one, a real clunker from Bob Baker and Dave Martin (the kings of overambition) and it’s one that’s always been unpopular for good reason. Devoid of the visibly low budget of the TV version, we’re left with a story with no recognisable human interaction, just mythology that gets a bit repetitive. It’s a relief that Terrance Dicks finds a way to highlight that humanity: The father who grieves for his lost wife and daughter after they’re killed in a landfall is a rare highlight. Something I’ve noticed though is that the Fourth Doctor in this period is brash and often his overconfidence borders on bullying, which makes it hard to like him. The real highlight is that Dicks makes great use of K9 for his comedy potential, the wilfully over-literal explanations are hilarious.

Chapter 49. Doctor Who and the Image of the Fendahl (1979)

Synopsis: Time experiments in an old priory resurrect an ancient evil. The Doctor and Leela arrive just as the manifestations begin – an image of the Fendahl, a legend from the Doctor’s own people that brings with it death – but how can they kill death itself?

Chapter Titles

  • 1 The Skull
  • 2 Dead Man in the Wood
  • 3 Time Scan
  • 4 Horror at the Priory
  • 5 The Fendahleen
  • 6 The Coven
  • 7 Stael’s Mutiny
  • 8 The Missing Planet
  • 9 Ceremony of Evil
  • 10 The Priestess
  • 11 Time Bomb
  • 12 The End of the Fendahl

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts from 1978 by Chris Boucher.

Notes: We start with an introduction to the fated walker, who recalls a rhyme about a ‘frightful fiend’ on a ‘lonely road’. It’s not exactly confirmed onscreen but Colby is a professor, while Professor Fendelman has become ‘Fendleman’. Thea Ransome is described as being ‘strikingly attractive’, while Max Stael has ‘stiff Germanic good looks’ and ‘rather woodenly handsome features’ (which feels like a dig at actor Scott Fredericks). 

We’re reminded where K9 came from, although this story doesn’t necessarily follow on immediately from The Invisible Enemy, as K9 has ‘developed some mysterious ailment’. Leela (or maybe just the narrator) wonders if the Doctor’s love of Earth wore off when he was exiled there by the Time Lords (let’s hope it’s the narrator as Leela wouldn’t know this) and Leela recalls her trip to a music hall [See The Talons of Weng Chiang]. Dicks explains the joke behind calling Colby’s dog ‘Leakey’, a tribute to ‘the famous anthropologist’. 

Security Team leader Mitchell’s first name is Harry. By the way, in both the TV serial and this book, Stael is ordered to call ‘Hartman’ in London to send a security team to the priory; I’m calling this now with zero evidence – Hartman works for Torchwood.

Cover: John Geary paints the Doctor being menaced by a fendahleen in front of a grandfather clock in a wooden-panelled room.

Final Analysis: I remember reading this accompanied by a fan-made audio recording of the TV episodes and I managed to pretty much keep time with the programme. It’s a slim volume, possibly the slimmest, and it’s by no means as gory as Ian Marter might have made it, but Dicks maintains the horror levels rather nicely for a children’s book: The Doctor considers his first view of an adult fendahleen to be ‘the nastiest looking life-form he had ever seen’.

In shape it was vaguely like an immensely thick snake, though the segmented front gave a suggestion of a caterpillar. It was green, and glistening, and it seemed to move on a trail of slime, like a shell-less snail.

Later, the ‘green slimy skin’ of a dead fendahleen is said to have ‘burst in several places like rotting fruit’ – nice!

Chapter 48. Doctor Who and the Robots of Death (1979)

Synopsis: Aboard a mining vessel, the crew consists of indolent humans who allow robotic servants to do all the work. When one of the crew is found murdered just as the Doctor and Leela arrive, suspicion naturally falls upon the strangers. But as the murders continue, the crewmembers begin to suspect each other. Leela wonders why the killer couldn’t be the mechanical men, but it’s against their programming – robots cannot kill… can they?

Chapter Titles

  • 1 Sandminer
  • 2 Murder
  • 3 Corpse Marker
  • 4 Death Trap
  • 5 Captives
  • 6 Suspicion
  • 7 The Hunter
  • 8 Sabotage
  • 9 Pressure
  • 10 Robot Detective
  • 11 Killer Robot
  • 12 Robot Rebellion
  • 13 The Face of Taren Capel
  • 14 Brainstorm

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Chris Boucher’s scripts from 1977, completing Target’s adaptations of Season 14 stories and the first three seasons of the Fourth Doctor.

Notes: The vessel is called ‘The Sandminer’ (it’s ‘Storm Mine 4’ on TV) and Dicks describes it as ‘a massive metal crab on an immense, multi-coloured sea of sand’. Cass is said to be ‘young and muscular, dark-skinned like Zilda’ (he’s also rather difficult to kill as he’s accidentally included in the assembled crew scene in Chapter 6 that takes place after his death. Oops!).

The robots are all silver (not shades of green as the onscreen versions), have ‘high, polished boots’ (not bacofoil moccasins) and their numbers are denoted on a collar around the neck, rather than on the chest. When Uvanov says it’s some consolation that the murders have increased their own share of the takings, it’s Toos, not Zilda who corrects him that it’s ‘no consolation’. ‘Lucanol’ is the rarest mineral of all. Poul clarifies that Chub’s weather balloons contained helium, which sets up the trap that catches Dask at the end.

As the ore threatens to drown him, the Doctor goes full-on Sherlock Holmes to work out a solution to the problem:

In any kind of emergency, the first thing to do is think. Wrong action can be worse than no action at all. 

… and dismisses a number of options before settling on breathing through the tube. 

There were 20 families who came from Earth to colonise the planet and it’s their descendants who are known as ‘Founding Families’.  Poul reveals that many of the crewmembers on this tour were working for Uvanov on the tour that featured the death of Zilda’s brother. Robophobia is known as Grimwold’s syndrome (not ‘Grimwade’ as on TV). Dask’s ‘robot upbringing’ is expanded upon, laying the blame for his madness on the ‘lack of parental love’. The Doctor and Leela stay long enough for the survivors to send a distress satellite and request a rescue ship.

Cover: John Geary joins the family of target artists with a surprisingly golden Voc and a lovely illustration of the Doctor holding a Laserson probe. The 1994 reprint was one of the very last Target publications and it had a painting by Alister Pearson showing the Doctor, a Voc face (as well as a full-length Voc) and the Sandmine, with a background inspired by the sandminer decor.

Final Analysis: Terrance Dicks continues to provide us with a pre-home-video copy of the broadcast story, but he doesn’t get anywhere near enough recognition for the way he paints each scene, not just what we might have seen, but how it should have made us feel, as in this paragraph where the Doctor meets the mine crew for the first time:

He studied the people around him, the elaborate robes and head-dresses, the complex designs of the face paint. It was a form of dress typical of a robot-dependent society, in which no human needed to perform any manual labour.

Efficient, precise and slightly critical. And then he turns his attentions to Uvanov:

There was something pathetic about Uvanov. A middle-aged man pretending to be young, a weak man trying to be strong.

Yet just a few pages later, we’re told:

At times like this, there was something curiously impressive about Uvanov. Whatever his other faults, he was the complete professional when it came to his job.

Chris Boucher’s scripts were already among the best of the series up to this point (and, dare I say it, beyond), but it’s down to Dicks that this opportunity isn’t wasted. 

Even if he does accidentally resurrect one of the murder victims…

Chapter 47. Doctor Who and the Invisible Enemy (1979)

Synopsis: The Doctor is unwell, fighting off an alien virus that is trying to possess him. Heading to a hospital in deep space, the Doctor meets Professor Marius and his robot dog K9, who eagerly assists Leela in fighting off an army of infected people. Realising they need to take the fight to the cause of the infection, the Doctor and Leela are cloned, miniaturized and injected inside the Doctor’s brain to find the nucleus of the virus before it can take hold permanently and use the Doctor to spread its swarm throughout the galaxy.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Contact
  • 2. The Host
  • 3. Death Sentence
  • 4. Foundation
  • 5. Counter-Attack
  • 6. The Clones
  • 7. Mind Hunt
  • 8. Interface
  • 9. Nucleus
  • 10. The Antidote
  • 11. The Hive
  • 12. Inferno

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the scripts for a 1977 story by Bob Baker and Dave Martin; that’s three consecutive books to be based on their scripts.

Notes: Terrance Dicks was using the very latest information available, so the reference to Saturn having ten moons is based on the discovery of Janus in 1966. In 1978, it was suspected that Janus shared its orbit with another moon – named Epimetheus – a theory confirmed two years later by the Voyager probe, which also revealed three more moons. It’s now believed that Saturn has over 80 satellites, plus many others embedded within its rings. Considering the definitions of ‘Moon’ and ‘Planet’ have shifted repeatedly in the last 40 years, we can therefore accept that the narrator of this book is using a classification of a significant size of satellite that was common in the year 5000. Or that something terrible happened to Epimetheus or Janus. So there.

The Doctor has high regard for Leela, despite his teasing of her as a savage, and has apparently shown her the basics of TARDIS piloting – and she’s retained the training enough to input coordinates, despite otherwise struggling with general levels of technology. Professor Marius came to the BI-AL foundation from the New Heidelberg University. Growing bored waiting for news of the Doctor, Leela explores the station, bypassing the lifts because she doesn’t trust them and scaling numerous flights of stairs before she finds the Doctor’s ward.

We’re introduced to the legendary K-9, who is a ‘squat metallic creature’ that looks like ‘a kind of squared-off metal dog’, with a ‘computer display screen for eyes, and antennae for ears and tail’.

Dicks manages to work around the visuals of the nucleus of the swarm, which, at micro-scale has ‘waving antennae, glistening wet red flesh, and a bulbous black eye that seemed to swivel to and fro’, while the version in the macro-world is rather unpleasant:

A horrible, incredible shape [which] was filling the booth. It was blood-red in colour and was as big as a man with a bony glistening body and lashing tentacles. The huge black bulbous eyes swivelled malevolently around the ward.

… and definitely not a giant prawn.

The virus tries to reinfect the Doctor through Marius and when it fails, the Doctor is full of glee. Marius gains help from the entire surviving staff at the Foundation in preparing the antidote samples. Back on Titan, the nucleus swells to an enormous size while its hatching brood look like ‘huge, malevolent dragonflies’.

Cover: A rather lovely portrait of the Doctor with the nucleus of the swarm in the background, courtesy of Roy Knipe.

Final Analysis: The opening scene adds a very subtle message that the people of the future are trained for their jobs, but then their environments are controlled so extensively by technology that they’re never required to put any of that training into practice. We also get a decent paragraph that explains the back-history behind Marius’s casual use of the term ‘spaceniks’. Once again though, it’s the little details added to give the monster of the week a greater sense of scale and menace than they could have achieved onscreen.

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 39. Doctor Who and the Face of Evil (1978)

Synopsis: In the village of the Sevateem, the great god Xoanon speaks through his High Priest, Neeva, and his word is law. When he uncovers a lack of faith in a young huntress called Leela, Neeva banishes her under threat of death. In the jungle that surrounds the village, Leela encounters a stranger called The Doctor. She shows him a nearby mountain into which is carved a huge bust of Xoanon – and it bears the face of the Doctor…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Outcast
  • 2. The Invisible Terror
  • 3. Captured
  • 4. The Face on the Mountain
  • 5. Attack
  • 6. Danger for Leela
  • 7. The Test of the Horda
  • 8. Beyond the Wall
  • 9. The Tesh
  • 10. The Summons
  • 11. Xoanon
  • 12. The Trap
  • 13. The Last Battle
  • 14. Recovery
  • 15. Departure

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts 1977 scripts by Chris Boucher.

Notes: Tomas is in love with Leela and it’s expected that he will father many children with her, but after the verdict of her trial, he consoles himself that there are ‘other women’ in the tribe (you might spot the other one in film sequences in the original series). The Doctor arrives fresh from his adventure on Gallifrey fighting the Master [See The Deadly Assassin] and immediately misses having Sarah Jane Smith by his side; he recalls that he chose not to bring her to Gallifrey in respect for Time Lord law, and that she’s now back on Earth with Harry Sullivan and the Brigadier. The Doctor’s heading for Earth when the TARDIS brings him to the unnamed jungle planet. Leela is introduced on the first page and it’s a handsome description unlike that for any other companion, capturing her distinctive appearance and overall character in just three lines:

She was tall, with brown hair and dark eyes, a broad clear forehead and a firm chin. Her arms and legs, exposed by her brief skin costume, were brown and smoothly muscular. She stood before her accusers wary but unafraid, like a captured wild animal.

There’s a cheeky namecheck for the story title as Leela explains that the Tesh ‘set the Face of Evil on the mountain’ with their ‘magic’. A Horda is a ‘white, snake-like creature, rather like a giant slow-worm’, (unlike the purple bug / fish-like creature on telly).

Dicks places the Doctor’s first meeting with Xoanon within the haze of his last regeneration, a trip from some point in between his first and second appearances in The Giant Robot. It’s an unseen adventure that his recuperating mind has forgotten until now. Xoanon speaks in three voices – the Doctor’s, that of a woman and a ‘young man’ (so not a child). The Sevateen village is wrecked by the invisible monsters, forcing the villagers to seek refuge in the jungle, explaining why Calib’s assault force is so depleted. The Doctor and Leela work their way through a foil tray of concentrated food cubes (not chocolates). The final scene takes place inside the TARDIS as Leela willfully ignores the Doctor and pulls a ‘large important-looking lever’ that closes the doors and sets them off on their next adventure together.

Cover: The original release has one of the very best covers ever, thanks to Jeff Cummins, with Leela stepping out of the jungle through a circular frame, while the face of the Doctor looms large in the background, all against a blue background. The 1993 reprint has a very jolly-looking Leela in front of two faces of the Doctor.

Final Analysis: Another basic adaptation and, around this time, Terrance Dicks was beginning to receive criticism from fans for his ‘script-to-book’ approach, but I think this is unjustified – at least here. While the prose lacks some of the depth we might expect from Malcolm Hulke or even newcomer Ian Marter, there’s still a lot of subtlety at play. The simple scene where Leela knocks out a Tesh guard gains a little from being told from the guard’s point of view, getting excited by the thought of capturing the aliens and the expectation that ‘he would win great praise from Jabel if he destroyed them’. We get a much better sense of Calib’s ambitions and of course Leela is well served in the way she begins to trust the strange Doctor precisely because his actions are at odds with her understanding of what Xoanon should be like. Readers had already met Leela just two books earlier, but as the text on the back of the 1993 edition states proudly, this is ‘the creation of one of the TV Series’ most memorable teams’.

Chapter 37. Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng Chiang (1977)

Synopsis: A London music hall in the late 19th Century is the setting for murder. Its proprietor, Mr Henry Gordon Jago, has just secured the services of a master magician of Chinese origin while a mortician called Litefoot examines a body fished from the Thames and covered in huge bite marks. The Doctor and Leela follow the clues that lead them into the lair of a Chinese God…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Terror in the Fog
  • 2. The Horror in the River
  • 3. Death of a Prisoner
  • 4. The Monster in the Tunnel
  • 5. The Quest of Greel
  • 6. The Tong Attacks
  • 7. The Lair of Weng-Chiang
  • 8. The Sacrifice
  • 9. In the Jaws of the Rat
  • 10. A Plan to Kill the Doctor
  • 11. Death on Stage
  • 12. The Hunt for Greel
  • 13. The House of the Dragon
  • 14. The Prisoners of Greel
  • 15. The Firebomb

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1977 scripts by Robert Holmes, just seven months after they were broadcast.

Notes: The ghoulish woman on the dockside who (on telly) discovers the body of the cabby, Alf Buller, becomes an old man who wants his reward – until he sees the state of the mutilated body. The young woman who Leela saves from becoming a victim of Magnus Greel is named Teresa Hart and Dicks explains that she’s up in the small hours of the morning because she’s employed as a waitress in a gambling club across London in Mayfair – just in case there’s any possibility of some other reason why a woman might be walking the streets alone at that time of night.

As he did with the cuddly Yeti in The Abominable Snowmen, Dicks also solves the basic failure of the giant rat on TV, too clean and plodding in its original form, but now ‘huge and savage’ with red eyes’, a ‘trumpeting scream’ and ‘yellow fangs bared in fury’. 

The Doctor taunts Greel by offering him a jelly baby (although North American editions change this for a jelly bean – utter sacrilege!). On TV, the Doctor recalls that Mr Sin – aka ‘the Peking Homunculus’ – was given to the Icelandic Commissioner’s children as a toy, but ‘something went wrong’ and the thing was ‘almost’ the cause of World War Six, but here there’s a little more more detail: the homunculus was really a programmed assassin, which ‘massacred the Commissioner and all his family’, which then ‘set off’ the World War. We later learn that Magnus Greel was the inventor of Mr Sin and that he triggered the war intentionally. As part of a ‘Supreme Alliance’ of dictators, he was defeated at the Battle of Reykjavik and, branded a war criminal, used the time cabinet to flee with Mr Sin to 19th-Century China.

There’s a slight addition to the last scene, as Jago invites Litefoot to a ‘little tavern’ for a ‘celebratory libation’. And it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Cover: Jeff Cummins provides a wonderful composition of the Doctor in his Holmesian gear, holding a shotgun, while behind him are Mr Sin, a giant rat and a circular design evoking the sewer. This is his first cover for Target, even though The Mutants was published earlier – and apparently it was later stolen from his portfolio, never to return. The 1994 reprint boasted Alister Pearson’s final reprint cover (as this was also the final release of the original Target books run), featuring the Doctor, Greel, Mr Sin and the head of the ornate dragon-shaped ray gun.

Final Analysis: Recently, this story has come under attack for the unsettling undertones inherent in the very racist genre it takes its inspiration from. While much of the problems are still here – an assumption that all the Chinese population of Limehouse are opium addicts, Irish Casey having ‘a weakness for the bottle’ as well as the general racism of characters from the time – there’s one section that suggests Dicks was at least aware of certain ironies; as Jago appraises the great magician Chang, Dicks makes a dig at the casting in the TV serial:

Perhaps he really was from China as he claimed. After all he really was Chinese, unlike most Oriental magicians who were usually English enough once the makeup was off. 

But Dicks also spells out that Chang’s own stage persona, speaking in pidgin English, is an artifice he employs solely to appease his English audience’s expectations; in this version, it’s the audience who are very much at fault. 

The opening chapter feels like Malcolm Hulke has stepped in to provide some social context by focusing on the different strata within the audience of the Palace Theatre:

The body of the theatre and the Grand Circle above were filled with local people, tradesmen and their wives and families, bank clerks and shop assistants. High above in the top-most balcony, known as the ‘Gods,’ the poorer people were crowded onto hard wooden benches. Labourers, dock workers, soldiers and sailors, even some of the half starved unemployed – they’d all managed to scrape together a few coppers for the big night of the week.

It’s an atypical observation for Dicks, but there’s plenty of social commentary throughout the story. Professor Litefoot is from a ‘wealthy upper-class family’ and his ‘aristocratic relations’ have ceased trying to get him to relinquish his calling to do proper work in the East End, instead of pampering ‘silly women’ in Harley Street. Chang considers the workers of London as ‘peasants’ – but presumably this is a description that places himself on an equal level to them – all subjects to higher powers.