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.

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.