Chapter 92. Doctor Who – Planet of Fire (1985)

Synopsis: Peri Brown, a young American student, is rescued from drowning by Turlough. Among her belongings is a metallic object that the boy recognises as coming from his own world. The shape-changing robot Kamelion interferes with the TARDIS to take them all to a volcanic planet where a religious order revolves around a teenage boy who might be the key to Turlough’s secret past. A bewildered Peri discovers that Kamelion is being controlled by someone who knows the Doctor well, someone who calls himself ‘The Master’…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Mayday
  • 2. Message Received
  • 3. Destination Unknown
  • 4. Crisis on Sarn
  • 5. A Very Uncivil Servant
  • 6. Outsiders
  • 7. The Misos Triangle
  • 8. An Enemy in Disguise
  • 9. In the Heart of the Volcano
  • 10. The Blue Flame
  • 11. The Time of Fire

Background: Peter Grimwade adapts his own scripts for the serial broadcast seven months earlier.

Notes: The book begins aboard the ship of Captain Antigonas struggling in a storm. The vessel is weighed down by the treasures of Dimitrios, a fat merchant from Rhodes who is more concerned with the welfare of a marble statue of a boy than for his own life (or those of the crew). He’s last seen clinging to the statue  ‘as if it were a lover’, plummeting to the depths of the ocean. The ancient ways of the doomed mariners are contrasted with the similar fate of the crew of a Trion vessel caught in the gravitational pull of Sarn. Another captain, Grulen, eagerly awaits landing on the planet as several generations of his family once lived there before the volcanoes became overactive. A sudden surge of volcanic activity causes a magnetic storm. Realising they won’t be able to guarantee a safe landing, Grulen opens the security quarters of the ship so that his prisoners might have equal chance of survival as the rest of the crew. Having faced the threat of execution daily, two of the prisoners are resigned to their deaths and as the couple cradle their sleeping child, the father’s thoughts turn to Turlough.

There’s a shuffling of scenes at the start, with all of the scenes on Sarn shifted to chapter 4, and it all makes a lot more sense. We join the TARDIS in the immediate aftermath of Tegan’s departure. Turlough considered the Australian ‘argumentative, tactless, interfering, brainless and with a voice that could strip paint’; he also misses her terribly and so does the Doctor. Turlough suggests a holiday, and while the Doctor isn’t enthused with the idea, remembering the chaos that ensued after a trip to Brighton, Turlough recalls a holiday with his school chum Ibbotson and his family to Weston-super-Mare – and so is determined that they should find a ‘paradise island’ instead. Kamelion’s screams force the Doctor to realise he’d forgotten all about the robot shapeshifter and notes that he had ‘none of the cheerful loyalty of K9’. His voice is like a speak-your-weight machine. Turlough suspects Kamelion of working with the Custodians on Trion and when the robot advises him to take care under the hot sun (‘with your fair skin you will easily burn’) it sounds to Turlough more like a threat than advice.

Howard Foster speculates that the mysterious metal object might be debris from a Russian satellite. His assistant is Karl, not Curt. Peri mentions a ‘Doc Corfield’ and notes that she would ‘never trust a man with a toupee!!’ Howard is 41 next birthday. He says that Peri has travelled all her life but Peri moans that it’s mainly been a succession of Hilton hotels. She has a trust fund, left to her by her (presumably deceased) father, which will be released to her when she turns 21. The English guys she hopes to go travelling with are called ‘Trevor’ and ‘Kevin’. Peri acknowledges that she’s not a strong swimmer but it’s leg cramp that causes her to come into difficulty as she heads to the shore. Incidentally, Lanzarote is not mentioned at any point in the story; the story begins with the shipwreck off the coast of North Africa (‘the headland’) so Howard’s archeological excavation might take place in Gibraltar, which has easier access to Athens. But it’s probably still Lanzarote in anything but name.

Turlough has a more physical altercation with Kamelion before disabling the robot with a bombardment of waves and dumping him in a spare room. Sarn is a city, not the name of the planet, believed to be the last surviving community after the last earthquakes and firestorms a generation ago. Turlough appears to tell the Doctor the name of his home planet, Trion, for the first time, despite having asked to go there in previous stories. The Doctor quotes Paradise Lost and admonishes Turlough for not studying Milton at school. Misunderstanding Turlough’s intentions, the Doctor calls him a ‘little racialist’: ‘As Tegan had never been slow to point out, Turlough could be a rather nasty piece of work.’ There’s a summary of the Master’s exploits that led to his predicament, during which it’s confirmed that this is his fourteenth incarnation. Turlough and Malkon find a poorly tended grave near the wreck of the Trion ship, which confirms Turlough’s suspicions that Malkon is the only survivor of the crash. The Master’s final teasing line asking the Doctor to ‘show mercy to your own-‘ is cut, as is the final scene on TV where Peri received her proper invitation to join the Doctor.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter’s illustration depicts the Master and Kamelion in waves of blue flame.

Final Analysis: An elegant adaptation here. I particularly like the way Grimwade makes sure we know when we’re with the Kamelion version of any character as he undermines the illusion in every line: ‘the duplicate professor’; ‘the man in the dark suit who everyone believed to be Professor Foster’; ‘Kamelion in the guise of the American archaeologist’; ‘The robotic Master’. He also has a nice line in similes: The Doctor’s device squeaks ‘like an old lady who has turned her hearing aid up too high’; the volcano grumbled ‘like a sleeping giant with a touch of indigestion’; the Master announces himself to Peri ‘as if he were the Tsar of all Abe Russias’; the Doctor’s party works its way through the streets of Sarn ‘like rodents navigating the secret byways of the skirting board’; the Doctor arrives at the portico ‘like a royal bride’; Kamelion glitters ‘like a Maltese tinfoil Saint at Festa Time,’ and later the robot appears ‘blustered like an actor unsure of his lines’. It’s so much fun seeing which ridiculous comparison he’ll submit next. Though what we’re supposed to make of Peri delivering ‘a sharp kick at the Master’s shins that would have repulsed a Globetrotter’, I’m not so sure.

Chapter 82. Doctor Who – Mawdryn Undead (1984)

Synopsis: A chance reunion with the Brigadier at a boys’ school is just the beginning of the Doctor’s troubles. An alien seeks a cure for himself and his colleagues who are trapped in an eternal mutation. Tegan is lost in another time. And Turlough, one of the Brigadier’s pupils, has just made a terrible promise to a powerful being – the Black Guardian has returned. With Turlough’s help, the Guardian will have his revenge on the Doctor!

Chapter Titles

  • 1. An Accidental Meeting
  • 2. A New Enemy
  • 3. An Old Friend
  • 4. The Alien in the Tardis
  • 5. Return to the Ship
  • 6. Rising of the Undead
  • 7. Double Danger of the Brigadier
  • 8. All Present and Correct

Background: Peter Grimwade adapts his own scripts from the serial broadcast six months earlier.

Notes: The building that is now Brendan School was once the country seat of the Mulle-Heskith family. The school was founded in 1922 and the obelisk on the brow of the hill is a tribute to a late member of the former occupants, General Rufus Mulle-Heskith. By 1983, the headmaster of the school is a Mr Sellick, who owns a ‘smelly doberman’. The school medic, Dr Peter Runciman, is aided by the matron, Miss Cassidy. Turlough joined Brendan School at sixth-form level, so is at least 16 years old; as the story begins in summer, he can’t be more than 17, or else he’d be looking forward to being free of the school forever in just a month or so, so he must be in the lower-sixth with a full year to go before freedom – or his next enforced prison. He is ‘thin as a willow, his auburn hair, blue eyes and sharp-boned face investing him with an unworldly, pre-Raphaelite appearance’. His friend Ibbotson is ‘a lump’ and ‘a bore’. 

After Turlough’s antics with his new car, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart tells Dr Runciman that longs for the return of capital punishmen: As we discussed in the chapter about The Sea Devils, the death penalty was repealed in the UK for murder in 1965 (and for most other offenses except treason in 1969); while the Brigadier’s reaction is extreme (and not to be taken seriously), most schools in the UK still practiced corporal punishment (the entirely less terminal practice of beating or otherwise physically abusing children as punishment) until it was banned (thanks to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights) in 1986. However, at private schools such as Brendan, which possibly had no financial support from the government, corporal punishment was still permitted in England and Wales until 1998. So when Turlough and Ibbotson talk about a ‘beating’, it’s likely to have involved being hit repeatedly by either a length of wooden cane or a leather strap.

The identity of the main villain is revealed gradually; as on screen he introduces himself as Turlough’s ‘guardian’ and then ‘the voice of the man in black’ (a subtle nod for older readers to Valentine Dyall’s most famous radio persona) before finally being confirmed as the Black Guardian. Turlough’s bargain with his ‘guardian’ is left vague, as the boy can’t quite remember what he agreed to, and his various attempts to kill the Doctor are defined more clearly as being down to the Black Guardian’s possession of Turlough than conscious acts on the boy’s part. As in Terminus, the Black Guardian’s controlling device is a crystal ‘cube’. Very early on, he’s identified as the Doctor’s ‘new companion’ – if there were any doubt, having already met the character in two previous novels by this point. Turlough reveals his extra-terrestrial knowledge very swiftly too, which both makes Tegan suspicious and sends a very deliberate message to the Doctor that the boy is not from Earth without having to spell it out for him.

To distinguish the sunny 1983 setting, in 1977 it’s raining. The spherical capsule is said to be ‘dimensionally transcendental’ like the TARDIS – a further clue to the source of Mawdryn’s people’s curse. Tegan recalls the smell of ‘slaughtered cattle’ on her uncle’s farm when she was a child. Mawdryn is much more alien in his natural form, with ‘bulging reptilian eyes, his high domed forehead and slimy flesh that crept and quivered like a stranded fish’. Seeing the misery of Mawdryn reminds the Brigadier of an incident 35 years earlier when he was a lieutenant in Palestine, when a badly wounded young conscript begged him to ‘take his rifle and kill him’.

On his return to the school, the Brigadier reassures the headmaster that there will be no request to return Turlough’s fees; the headmaster is unperturbed by Turlough’s disappearance as such things are a regular occurrence. A mechanic from a nearby village has fallen in love with the Brigadier’s car and has offered to help make it roadworthy again, so to celebrate, the Brig goes to the pub.

Cover: Another really dull photo cover of the Doctor in the TARDIS. Alister Pearson’s 1991 reprint cover is so much better, another “floating heads’ design incorporating The Doctor, Mawdryn, the Black Guardian, the transmat pod and Turlough, all around a 1977 Queen’s Silver jubilee pin. 

Final Analysis: I said I was looking forward to Peter Grimwade’s next effort and this is a huge step up from Time Flight. The author attended a similar school to Brendan in the 1950s and he deftly captures the casual brutality of public-school life. Obligatory note for American readers: ‘Public school’ means it’s a private school with fees to be paid; the equivalent of the US ‘public school’ is a state school like Coal Hill. Grimwade depicts the Brigadier’s ‘flashback’ montage from TV in a beautiful way, with quotes of the Doctor from past adventures that start to swim into sharp focus as the Brigadier’s memory returns. He also explores the abject misery of Mawdryn and his people in a way that affects the Doctor’s friends in different ways. Turlough is shown to be sly and self-serving but with a glimmer of hope that he isn’t completely under the influence of the Black Guardian, and just in case there’s any doubt, Tegan’s intuition is proven to be right at every single stage of the story, from her suspicion of Turlough to her incredulity that the disfigured Mawdryn is the Doctor.

Chapter 74. Doctor Who – Time Flight (1983)

Synopsis: A supersonic aeroplane has disappeared. Retracing its last known flight path aboard another Concorde, the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are as surprised as the crew when they touch down on a prehistoric plateau. Nearby is a huge temple, the home to a strange wizard called Kalid, who seems amused by the time travellers’ plight…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Flight to Infinity
  • 2. An Unauthorised Police Box
  • 3. The Doctor Goes Supersonic
  • 4. The Coming of the Plasmatons
  • 5. The Magic of Kalid
  • 6. The Doctor and the Magician
  • 7. The Enemy Unmasked
  • 8. The Power in the Sanctum
  • 9. On a Wing and a Prayer
  • 10. In Transit

Background: Peter Grimwade adapts his own scripts for the 1982 serial.

Notes: The first TARDIS scene is, if anything, even briefer than the one on screen, although in the aftermath of Adric’s death, the companions at least acknowledge that the Doctor might be grieving too, in his own way – and they also realise they didn’t know the boy all that well at all. Does the Doctor’s mention of Adric’s brother Varsh come as news to them? Tegan identifies their landing site as ‘London Airport’ (so assumes they’ve arrived in 1966?). Kalid has a ‘thin, strangulated voice’ and a:

… yellow oriental face, bloated like the body of a drowned dog and gangrenous with age and excess, with broken teeth and rotting gums that contorted his mouth into a permanent leer. His height too, for a Chinaman – if that was his race – was remarkable, and his girth, concealed by a bright coat of damask, as monstrous as the force he invoked.

When he emerges from Kalid’s body like ‘a pupating beetle’, the Master is introduced without any further explanation or description (as is the Tissue Compression Eliminator, which makes its debut in the books here!). I’m beginning to suspect this is perhaps a new house style. Having stolen the Doctor’s TARDIS, the Master is indignant that it’s typical of the Doctor to ‘travel in a machine that was unserviced, unsafe, and light years out of date!’ As she helps to change the wheels of Concord, Tegan remembers the wheels on her Aunt Vanessa’s car.

Cover: A drab photo of Peter Davison next to a Concorde.

Final Analysis: Another original author steals food from Terrance Dicks’ plate.The opening chapter suggests that Grimwade is keen to show off all of the extra research into Concord that remained unused from his TV scripts and he has a fondness for bizarre similes that somehow work, such as ‘The Professor’s lips moved silently like an elderly goldfish that has just been fed’. I look forward to reading something from the author that’s based on something a little more substantial.