Bonus chapter #12. Doctor Who – The Androids of Tara (2022)

Synopsis: Count Grendel has ambitions to rule Tara. He possesses the greatest android technician in the land, he holds Princess Strella captive in his castle and his personal army outnumbers that of his rival, Prince Reynart. Soon, the sickly prince will die and Grendel will take his place. Just so long as an itinerant Time Lord doesn’t arrive and interfere…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue – The Rhino Bear
  • I. The Doctor Goes Fishing
  • II. Princess Strella
  • III. The Pavillion of the Summer Wind
  • IV. The Duel
  • A Note on the Text(s) – by Steve Cole

Background: This novelisation is again taken from David Fisher’s audiobook adaptation, released in 2012, and based on his scripts for the 1978 TV serial.

Notes: Fisher provides plenty of back-story for the families of Tara, in particular the lineage of Count Grendel of Gracht, beginning with Zagreus Gracht, who married into a noble family then poisoned them all and stole their land and castle. The Gracht family motto is ‘All Shall Fear’.

Madame Lamia was a peasant who was bought by the Gracht family at a market. She eventually became the property of Grendel, who later took her as his mistress. Thanks to her skills as an engineer, she now holds the highest position a woman could achieve in Tara ‘where “the gentle sex” had always been subservient to the male’. Divorce is frowned upon in Tara – they prefer to wall up their ex-wives in the catacombs.  

A century earlier, a plague wiped out much of the peasant population which also devastated the agricultural economy. A peasant called Septimus Hornland invented a kind of tractor, which was how peasants developed skills as robot builders. Inevitably, the ingenuity of the peasants merely inspired the aristocracy to seize their assets as their own. 

The Taran Wood Beast becomes a ‘rhino-bear’, which we first see in the form of one of Madame Lamia’s robots, which Grendel uses to practice hunting. Fisher matches Dicks’ temptation to improve upon the rather sorry creature we see on telly:

The creature stood at least eight feet tall on its hind legs, but seemed taller still because both forepaws were upraised to strike. The paws were four times the size of Romana’s hands and equipped with razor-sharp claws. Set within the animal’s massive head was a huge jaw with the teeth of a large carnivore and tusks like those of a wild boar. The creature was covered in short black fur, and in all was like nothing she had ever seen before. 

The robot has been programmed to react to the safe word ‘excelsior’; the fact that the one attacking Romana doesn’t halt to Grendel’s command alerts him to the fact that it’s not a robot but the real thing.

The TARDIS has clothes from the planet Aardo and Zoguna, the latter of which once presented a fish-related problem for the Doctor. There are few animals of any kind on Gallifrey. The Doctor claims that his scarves are knitted for him by an arachnoid on Altair Three’, though we’re also warned that this might be a lie. Romana is a ‘Time Lady’. The Doctor boasts that he was taught how to fence by ‘Chevalier d’Éon’. When Zadek and Farrah first encounter the Doctor, they charge him with fishing without a license; Farrah repeatedly asks Zadek if he can kill the stranger (on TV, it happens just the once).

Tara has three moons [which would account for the unconvincing ‘day-for-night’ scenes in the TV version, at least]. The spear that Gracht propels at the robot Reynart has an explosive tip that rips the android to pieces. Grendel and Strella played together as children – Grendel tied Strella up and tried to burn her as a witch. There’s a useful flashback to the moment when Grendel kidnapped Strella immediately prior to this adventure.

A huge bell in a tower of Castle Gracht is introduced early on as the traditional signal that the current master of Castle Gracht has died; the Doctor later uses it as a distraction to help the Prince’s forces to storm the castle. As revealed in the wedding ceremony, Taran myth states that Kong the Creator made man, then the animals, then, ‘as an afterthought, he created Woman’.

Grendel swims across the moat, is confronted by K-9 and flees to the pavilion, where he finds a clean set of clothes,money and weapons. He vows to make his return, enact revenge on Reynart and retake his castle. As thanks for the Doctor’s efforts, Zadek awards him a fishing license.

Cover: Anthony Dry gives us the Fourth Doctor, Count Grendel and a segment of the Key to Time with Romana’s / Strella’s face reflected in it.

Final Analysis: Fisher really gets his teeth into the family of Gracht, teasing us with tales of generations of rogues, thieves and murderers. While Grendel is every bit the nasty piece of work we had on TV, this novel is critical of the whole notion of an aristocracy that survived a great plague by locking the doors of their castles and waiting for the peasants to die out. The survivors faced starvation as the agricultural economy floundered until they discovered a talent for technology – a neat explanation for why android maintenance is considered a ‘peasant skill’.

The critique of the supposed noble class extends to the Prince and Princess who, on TV at least, we’re supposed to be rooting for. Prince Reynart is a rather unsympathetic aristocrat who believes peasants to be incapable of finer feelings such as love and picks fault in Romana’s suggestion to offer free pardons to Gracht’s men because it would be ‘irregular’ and ‘demeaning’; Princess Strella is equally beastly. Far from battling to maintain the status quo, the Doctor and Romana merely wish to extricate themselves from the problems of Tara as swiftly as possible. The final chapter suggests that Grendel plans on returning to take Reynart’s castle – and the Doctor speculates, without much sense of regret, that this is exactly what will happen.

Steve Cole provides a note on editing the novel, providing examples from the audiobook of some of Fisher’s improvements on both the original script and how it turned out on screen once it had been filtered through Tom Baker. Overall, this is so much richer than Terrance Dicks’ previous effort, it’s the novelisation this much loved story deserves.

David Fisher died in 2018, aged 88.

I’ve cheated a bit, as there’s one more novel I want to cover. So let’s meet back next time, just for fun, to bring this project to a close.

Bonus chapter #11. Doctor Who – The Stones of Blood (2022)

Synopsis: Continuing their quest for the six segments of the Key to Time, the Doctor and Romana arrive on Earth near a stone circle. They learn that an ancient cult is performing blood sacrifices in honour of the Celtic goddess the Cailleach. The Cailleach is not what she seems. Then again, neither are the stones in the circle. And furthermore, neither is the space ship, hidden in hyperspace…

Chapter Titles

  • Forward by Nick Fisher
  • I. The Tor
  • II. Professor Rumford
  • III. The British Institute of Druidic Studies
  • IV. Inside the Circle
  • V The Manor
  • VI. Joselito
  • VII. A Theoretical Absurdity
  • Interlude: A Short Guide to Justice Machines
  • VIII. The Megara
  • IX. The Secret of Vivien Fay
  • X. Execution
  • XI. A Meeting on the Moor
  • Afterward by Michael Stevens

Background: Adapting scripts from the 1978 adventure, the book uses the text from the 2011 audiobook by David Fisher, with minor tweaks for the print edition by editor Steve Cole.

Notes: The book opens with the legend of a shaman tormented by visions of a demanding goddess who sent birds to pluck out his eyes. The shaman’s tribe erected six stones in a circle, which were then joined by three more stones that were said to drink the blood of the tribe’s sacrifices. The legends also tell of the inhabitants of Bodcombe Manor, built in the 18th century by Lord George Montcalm for his second wife, who was rumoured to be a witch. Lord Montcalm and his children died mysteriously from plague and his widow went on to marry three more times, each husband dying in suspicious circumstances. When it looked like she might be brought to justice, Lady Montcalm disappeared. The house then fell into the ownership of the reclusive Mrs Trefusis and, much later, her distant relative, Senhora Camara. The current owner, Anton de Vries, is ‘a gentleman of Anglo-Indian descent’.

The scene where the Doctor tells Romana the truth about their mission for the White Guardian is cut, replaced by a summary of events so far. The second segment was found on the planet Calufrax, and not Zanak (repeating the same mistake Terrance Dicks made in his version, misinterpreting a line from Fisher’s scripts that also seems to suggest the heroes visited Calufrax). Back on Gallifrey, Romana lived mostly indoors with almost no experience of wide open spaces. She had tried skating on the frozen moons of Platos and climbing the volcanoes of Ignos, which she’d found ‘moderately enjoyable’. In a later interlude about the justice machines, we learn of the cloud creatures of Neri as well as the giant amoebas of Amphitrite, whose identity keeps changing with a constant division of their cells 

De Vries is a ‘plump man sporting a wisp of a beard’ and Martha Vickers is, rather cruelly, described as ‘a middle-aged lady with the face of a discontented bulldog’. Martha was a member of the Women’s Institute in nearby Bodcombe Parva but grew bored of it. She joined the druid circle after meeting de Vries two years earlier. She was a hunter in her youth, encouraged by her game-hunting father, so is not worried by the sight of blood from animals sacrificed in the cult’s rituals.  There’s a suggestion that Martha’s Daddy issues might have prompted her attraction to de Vries; such is her infatuation, she’d once hoped in vain that he might one day choose her over his beliefs. She has a brother who has a flat ‘on the Hoe’ in Plymouth.

De Vries claims the portrait of Lady Montcalm might have been painted by Van Dyke. His house is home to the British Institute of Druidic Studies and the manor has been fitted out with numerous classrooms. De Vries mentions that he’s expecting a group from Liverpool to arrive next week:

The Doctor stopped in his tracks. ‘Not The Beatles?’ He grinned broadly. ‘Wouldn’t The Rolling Stones be more appropriate?

The Doctor’s mention of John Aubrey is more explicitly a memory from personal experience, the Doctor having met him several times. As she clings to the cliff face, Romana is attacked by a flock of seagulls. The birds, not the band. Fisher corrects Dicks’ mistake about the ‘Cornish fogous’ (Dicks mistook this for the name of a person, rather than the iron-age subterranean buildings particular to the region). The Doctor tells Emilia that robot pets are all the rage in the USA, where they also do cats, rabbits and peacocks.

We learn about Emilia’s two brothers: Hector was a colonel in ‘the Sappers’ (the Royal Engineers) before being blown up by a bomb in Northern Ireland: Jasper was ‘the fool of the family’ so, rejected by Sandhurst, he entered the clergy. On the hyperspace ship, Romana is incarcerated in a cell with the dead body of an ‘octopoidal creature’ with horns. The two campers are here named Pat Blount and Zac Hardcastle. The stones completely absorb the couple before ejecting their bones and shoes ‘like pellets from an owl’. The Megara are shining silver globes that float in mid air. The Doctor ends the adventure by setting up a chess set – which leads nicely into the next story….

Cover: Anthony Dry, once again taking inspiration from Chris Achilleos, places the Cailleach, the Doctor, the TARDIS and a segment of the Key to Time within a right-angle formed by a bolt of electricity.

Final Analysis: So the story goes, David Fisher was never that happy about Terrance Dicks’ novelisation of The Stones of Blood. BBC Audio producer Michael Stevens commissioned Fisher to revisit his TV scripts for a new adaptation as an audiobook, which was subsequently released in 2011, narrated by actress Susan Engels, who played Vivien Fay on telly. BBC Books range editor Steve Cole made minor tweaks to the audiobook script for both this novelisation and The Androids of Tara, but it’s essentially Fisher’s work. The book benefits from a delightful forward by David’s son, Nick, which reveals some of the author’s influences and interests. Of particular note is Nick’s belief that his father regretted that he hadn’t been an academic, something that we might bear in mind when we come to Professor Emilia Rumford later in the tale. 

While Fisher delivers a faithful adaptation of his original work, he also fulfils the mission of improving on Terrance Dicks’ rather skimpy version. The first chapter is a joyfully bloodthirsty history of Bodcombe, while an interlude brings us a summary of the development of the Justice Machines, both of which have a gossipy style that inevitably remind us of Douglas Adams. It’s a comparison I made in discussing both of Fisher’s previous Target books, but there’s a maturity to the writing this time, with less of the manic over-explaining of The Leisure Hive. Much as I usually love Dicks’ straightforward approach, this now usurps his novelisation as the definitive adaptation.

Chapter 158. Doctor Who and the Pirate Planet (2021)

Synopsis: When the Doctor and Romana land on the planet Zanak, apparently by mistake, they discover a world where young men are tormented by haunting visions and where the people are so wealthy that they leave rare gems lying in the street. High up in the mountains sits their ruler, the Captain, half-man, half machine. The Doctor is appalled to discover that the Captain has found a way to pilot the entire planet around the galaxy, absorbing other worlds. But that’s nothing to how outraged he becomes when he finds out why…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Sky with Diamonds
  • 2. Right Place, Wrong Planet
  • 3. Meeting with Unusual Minds
  • 4. Late to the Party
  • 5. The Normally Delicious Smell of Pork
  • 6. Dark Satanic Mills
  • 7. The Death of Calufrax
  • 8. The Trophy Room
  • 9. Life’s Fleeting, but Plank’s Constant
  • 10. An Immortal Queen
  • 11. Dinner with Newton
  • 12. The Captain’s Plan

Background: James Goss rewrites his earlier, longer novel, adapting scripts by Douglas Adams for a story broadcast in 1977. At 43 years and six months, this once and for all is the story with the longest gap between broadcast of the original story on TV and eventual novelisation as a ‘Target’ book.

Notes: For the first time since Doctor Who and the Sunmakers, we have a ‘Doctor Who and the…’ title! The Doctor is still concerned about Romana’s lack of experience (in fact, he’s slightly afraid of her). Their quest to find the second segment of the Key to Time is officially ‘Day Two’ and only Romana’s second trip in the TARDIS. At the start, Romana’s gown flows behind her ‘with a slithering grace that tended to scare furniture’

The Captain is an impressive giant of a former man:

It was hard to tell where the chair ended and the Captain began. Nestled amongst it all were the remains of a very large man. Half of his face was covered with a metallic plate,. A green eye patch glowed dangerously, metal lips sneered and even half of his beard was iron. Things got worse beneath the neck. A vast robotic arm, two artificial legs, synthetic lungs that hissed with effort, and, at the end of a velvet-covered sleeve, the rather pathetic remains of a human hand twitched.

His parrot is more birdlike than on TV, with metallic feathers and a habit of hopping from foot to foot. The Nurse wears a pale green dress rather than a white one. Calufrax has two suns. K9 plugs himself into a streetlamp to access Zanak’s information network. The planets in the Captain’s trophy room float inside their glass cabinets. Romana tells Kimus that there is a ‘vast space’ on Gallifrey ‘where the memories of dead Time Lords gathered to grumble’ [which could be either something inside the Matrix, or the Cloister Wraiths seen in Hell Bent].

Cover: The Doctor, Romana and the Captain are dominated by an oversized Polyphase Avatron, courtesy of Anthony Dry.

Final Analysis: While this story was previously adapted as a hefty hardback novel, James Goss was working from Douglas Adams’ original scripts, so there were more diversions from what made it to screen. This is a leaner, more faithful adaptation of the TV episodes, but it’s still on the thicker end of the Target scale. As with City of Death, the main impression is one of joyful chaos as the Doctor comes to terms with having a new companion foisted upon him, while Romana is surprised to find herself placing a lot of trust in a man she’s only known for a day. As on TV, it’s the story of the rebellious kid from the wrong side of the time tracks trying to impress a woman of a different class and Goss adds little asides to show us how the relationship develops. By close of play, Romana seems to have got the measure of the Doctor.

Leaving the Doctor alone with the largest bomb in creation was like leaving a child with a toy and expecting them not to play with it.

One element retained from the fuller novel is the narrator’s suggestion that Kimus is a fraud, full of high ideals and hot air, but still just as timid as the rest of the citizens to prevent him from ever actually doing anything. It’s rare that a non-villainous character is shown such justifiable contempt, personifying the general apathy of an entire civilisation that has grown accustomed to obscene decadence and become tolerant of oppression in barely a generation. Little details like this really make the continuation of the Target novelisations worthwhile.

Chapter 157. Doctor Who – City of Death (2018)

Synopsis: An emergency take-off on a barren world sees a spaceship explode, wiping out the last of the Jagaroth. Millions of years later, the Doctor and Romana are enjoying a holiday in Paris when they bump into a detective investigating a group of art thieves. What appears to be a simple heist turns out to have implications that echo through Earth’s history – and which will ensure it has no future.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue: Escapes to Dangers
  • 1. Decision for the Doctor
  • 2. The Deadly Arrivals
  • 3. In the Hands of the Enemy
  • 4. Meeting with a Monster
  • 5. Sentenced to Death
  • 6. The Doctor Disappears
  • 7. The Face of the Enemy
  • 8. An Army of Monsters
  • 9. Return to Peril
  • 10. In the Power of Scaroth
  • 11. The Doctor Fights Back
  • 12. The World Destroyed
  • Epilogue: A Kind of Victory

Background: Despite the misleading credit on the cover, this is by James Goss, rewriting his longer novel, which was based on various drafts of scripts written by Douglas Adams, based on a storyline by David Fisher, as televised in 1979. All of the chapter titles are new to this edition, which is a slight shame as there were some corkers in the original.

Notes: The old ‘Changing Face of Doctor Who’ blurb is resurrected on the title page with the explanation that the Fourth Doctor’s appearance later changed ‘when he lost an argument with gravity’. We’re also told that the cover shows ‘the 12th incarnation of Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth’. The prologue has the glorious title ‘Escapes to Dangers’. Scaroth’s ship is called Sephiroth. Romana made use of the TARDIS food machine before reaching Paris. K9 chose not to accompany his Master and Mistress on their jaunt around Paris due to the many cobbled streets he detected. After 40 novels, it’s an utter joy to find an author creating a new way of describing the Fourth Doctor: ‘The overall impression was of someone who had been completely knitted’. 

The earliest Scaroth splinter –  the Primary Fragment – is a caveman who brings fire to a tribe of primitives who worship him as a God. The Primary Fragment is closer in time to the disaster, so is able to direct the course of his future selves; this becomes harder with those splinters that are further forward in time, which is why the final Scarlioni-Scaroth is initially ignorant of his real identity, blindly following his sense of purpose for a greater goal. It’s only when an itch leads him to peel away Scarlioni’s face in ribbons that he finally learns the truth. The face mask is self-repairing and is a ‘pan-polymeric protoplasm’, the product of alien technology that was recovered by Phidias, a previous incarnation of Scaroth. Phidias gave the material to a sculptor, who used his own face as a model. In addition to Tancredi, the other fragments are: A pope in the Vatican; a crusader in Jerusalem (whose resemblance to Richard the Lionheart must have been confusing – see The Crusades); an Irish martyr burned at the stake; a senator in a Byzantium court; an English nobleman in Venice; the architect of the Great Pyramid at Cheops; an astronomer in Babylon; and the inventor of the first wheel, living on the banks of the Euphrates. 

Countess Scarlioni’s first name is Heidi, while the tour guide at the Louvre is Madame Henriette. The Doctor namedrops Catherine de Medici and Oscar Wilde in addition to Shakespeare. It’s made explicit that the seven names in Duggan’s address book who are interested in buying the Mona Lisa were the same people who hired him to investigate Scarlioni. The TARDIS is parked in an art gallery owned by a Monsieur Bertrand (on TV, it’s not clear that this isn’t just another wing of the Louvre).

Romana is surprised by the Doctor’s fury as he rebukes her for helping Scarlioni build his time machine (he later apologises for his rudeness). She sees Scarlioni as a better class of villain than Davros, whom she struggles to imagine offering her a fruit platter. She counts among her achievements the triple-first she got from the Time Academy, her position as ‘favoured scion of the House of Heartshaven and her skills in the ‘trans-temporal debating society’ – but her only reaction when the Doctor explains the extent of Scaroth’s plans is ‘Huh?’

Trapped inside the time bubble, Kerenski lives out his life completely; from his perspective, it’s the other inhabitants of the cellar who are frozen in time and he eventually dies of boredom as much as old age. Romana sets the time bubble reset for three minutes, not two. Scaroth doesn’t die in the implosion, but is cast into the vortex, where he experiences the sensation of his past selves all turning their backs on him. The Doctor places the surviving Mona Lisa into Duggan’s hands for it to be returned to the Louvre. The detective waves the Doctor and Romana off and then sees them depart in the TARDIS.

Cover: Anthony Dry’s artwork shows the Doctor, Romana, Scaroth and the Jagaroth spaceship.

Final Analysis: For the first time since The Crusades, we have a Target book making its debut in a different imprint. As referenced in the ‘background’, Doctor Who novelisations took an interesting turn in the 21st Century; almost certainly inspired by the success of JK Rowling’s boy-wizard books, and with the added attraction of being based on scripts by Douglas Adams, Gareth Roberts’ novel of the great lost work Shada came out in hardback in 2012 to critical acclaim. The first edition of The City of Death, published in 2015, was a similarly weighty 320-page hardback volume. Three years later, James Goss condensed and rewrote his previous novel into a 185-page novel with a Target logo – at last!

The Target edition is less meandering, much more faithful adaptation of the TV story, Iosing some of the extended backstories (notably Heidi and Hermann, but also the entire subplot of the critics, which seemed to make little sense until the exact moment it slotted into the scene from the broadcast episode, at which point it became the Best Thing Ever). Luckily, it retains the sheer seductive joy of Goss immersed in a Douglas Adams mindset – as the opening paragraph of the prologue illustrates: 

It was Tuesday and life didn’t happen.

Wednesday would be quite a different matter.

Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth, was in for a surprise. For one thing, he had no idea he was about to become the last of the Jagaroth

The destruction of the Jagaroth’ ship, Sephiroth, is presented as one of the universe’s little ironies – an entire species wiped out and leaving nothing behind of any significance except a trail of death. It’s a tiny observation, but it underlines the twist of fate that sees Scaroth fated to accumulate some of Earth’s greatest cultural artefacts while failing to appreciate their value, aside from how much they can be flogged on the black market to greedy collectors. 

At the beginning of the first chapter, the scene is set in such a knowing, cheeky way:

A man and a woman stood on top of the Eiffel Tower, every inch in love, if not with each other then certainly with life itself.

As in his previous version – and in the grand tradition of Terrance Dicks – James Goss smooths out some of the TV story’s plot wrinkles. The revelation of Scaroth’s true form, which is dramatic but slightly ludicrous on TV, is beautifully horrific here, as the artificial skin shreds away in ribbons to reveal a monstrous single eye set into a writhing mass of tentacles. The relationship of the Count and Countess Scarlioni is justified, making sense of exactly how an attractive wife can fail to be aware of her husband’s true nature – and in turn uncovering something altogether more unsettling about wealth, greed and human nature. Goss makes sure we never see the Countess as a victim – the truth is, she has a sickening taste for violence.

Admittedly, it helps that the story came from David Fisher and Douglas Adams – both fine minds with the skills to present the universe as basically absurd. While Goss captures the breathless energy of Adams especially, there’s never a sense that he’s showboating; he’s merely serving the story in an appropriate style. As a result, this may well be elbowing its way into my all-time top-five Target books. Just don’t tell Ghost Light.

Chapter 81. Doctor Who – The Five Doctors (1983)

Chapter 81. Doctor Who – The Five Doctors  (1983)

Synopsis: The Death Zone on Gallifrey – once the location of cruel games in the old times of the Time Lords, before it was closed down. A sinister figure has reactivated it and the Doctor has been dragged out of time from different points in his life. Though one of his incarnations is trapped in a time eddy, four others work together, joined by old friends and obstructed by old enemies. Their joint quest points towards an imposing tower that legend says is also the tomb of the Time Lord founder, Rassilon. A deadly new game is afoot, and the prize is not what it seems…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Game Begins
  • 2. Pawns in the Game
  • 3. Death Zone
  • 4. Unexpected Meeting
  • 5. Two Doctors
  • 6. Above, Between, Below!
  • 7. The Doctor Disappears
  • 8. Condemned
  • 9. The Dark Tower
  • 10. Deadly Companions
  • 11. Rassilon’s Secret
  • 12. The Game of Rassilon

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts his own TV script in a novel that was published before it was broadcast in the UK – pushing the record for the gap between broadcast and publication into minus figures.

Notes: The book opens in ‘a place of ancient evil’ – the Game Room – where a black-clad Player is preparing for the game to begin. The Doctor has a fresh stalk of celery on his lapel. Tegan is still considered to be ‘an Australian air stewardess’ despite having been sacked by the time of Arc of Infinity. The Doctor has remodelled the TARDIS console room after ‘a recent Cybermen attack’ (is this Earthshock or an unseen adventure?). Turlough is introduced as a ‘thin-faced, sandy-haired young man in the blazer and flannels of his public school.’ He’s also ‘good-looking in a faintly untrustworthy sort of way’.

The First Doctor is said to have ‘blue eyes […] bright with intelligence’ (William Hartnell had brown eyes so this is definitely the Hurndall First Doctor) and a ‘haughty, imperious air’. He’s aware that he’s near the end of his first incarnation and is living in semi-retirement to prepare himself for the impending change. The Brigadier’s replacement is called ‘Charlie Crighton’ [Charles Crighton, as in the film director?]. The Second Doctor has ‘dark brown eyes’ (not blue – or even green as previously) which appear ‘humourous and sad at the same time’. We find the Third Doctor test-driving Bessie on private roads, which is how he can drive so fast without fear of oncoming traffic. On leaving the TARDIS, Sarah-Jane Smith had felt ‘abandoned and more than a little resentful’; at first, she thinks the capture obelisk is a bus rounding a corner – until it’s too late. There’s a new scene depicting life on future Earth for Susan Campbell – formerly Foreman – whose husband David is part of the reconstruction government and they have three children together. 

Strangely, she calls her grandfather ‘Doctor’, which is what alerts the Dalek to the presence of its enemy  (this was fixed for the TV broadcast). The obelisk tries to capture the Fourth Doctor and Romana by lying in wait under a bridge. The Master recognises that the stolen body he inhabits will wear out, so the offer of a full regeneration cycle is especially appealing. The slight incline that Sarah tumbles down on TV becomes a bottomless ravine here. The First Doctor is much more receptive to Tegan’s suggestion that she accompanies him to the Tower. As the Castellan accuses the Doctor of ‘revenge’, we’re reminded of the events in Arc of Infinity, while there’s also a summary of the events with the Yeti in London that led to the Doctor and the Brigadier’s first meeting. The ‘between’ entrance to the tower has a bell on a rope, not an ‘entry coder’ and the First Doctor, realising the chess board has a hundred squares, applies the first hundred places of ‘Pi’ as coordinates (which explains how he translates the measurement of a circle to a square!).

Sarah Jane tries to launch a rock at a Cyberman to keep it away (‘I missed!’) and on meeting the Third Doctor, Tegan tells Sarah ‘My one’s no better’ and they compare notes – scenes that were reinstated for the special edition of the story on VHS and DVD. When the Brigadier helps to disarm the Master, the Doctors pile onto him. The Fourth Doctor and Romana are returned to the exact moment they left, still punting on the river Cam. Though the Second Doctor departs by calling his successor ‘Fancy pants’, the ‘Scarecrow’ response is cut. The Fifth Doctor tells a confused Flavia that Rassion ‘was – is – the greatest Time Lord of all’.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter creates the central image of a diamond containing the five Doctors in profile, surrounded by the TARDIS, Cybermen, a Dalek and K9. All of this on a very swish-looking metallic-silver background with a flash in the bottom right-hand corner proclaiming the book ‘A Twentieth Anniversary First Edition’. Alister Pearson’s art for the 1991 reprint features the story’s five Doctors (Hurndall stepping in for Hartnell and an off-colour Tom Baker) against a backdrop of elements that evoke the interior decor of the Dark Tower with a suggestion of the hexagonal games table.

Final Analysis: Apparently Terrance Dicks completed this in record time, so understandably there are a couple of mistakes (Susan calling her grandfather ‘Doctor’, Zoe and Jamie labelled as companions of the ‘third Doctor’), but otherwise he juggles the elements of his already convoluted tale very well, even resorting to his trick from the previous multi-Doctor story of calling them ‘Doctor One’, ‘Doctor Two’ and ‘Doctor Three’. It’s not just nostalgia working here, Terrance Dicks does such a good job with the shopping list he was given and makes something that both celebrates the past and catapults the series into the future.

Chapter 75. Doctor Who – Meglos (1983)

Synopsis: Caught in a time trap, the Doctor, Romana and K9 have to find the key to break out of a repeating cycle of actions. When they eventually reach their destination, the jungle planet Tigella, the Doctor is immediately accused of stealing the Dodecahedron, the source of the Tigellans’ power and a holy relic to the religious Deons. It seems there’s a doppelganger on the loose and the Doctor must pay for the crimes of Meglos – the last Zolpha Thuran.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Abduction of an Earthling
  • 2. The Deons
  • 3. The Screens of Zolfa-Thura
  • 4. Time Loop
  • 5. The Double
  • 6. The Impossible
  • 7. Prisoner of the Gaztaks
  • 8. The Attack
  • 9. The Sacrifice
  • 10. The Reprieve
  • 11. The Ultimate Weapon
  • 12. Final Countdown

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts for the 1980 serial by John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch. This release completes the stories in Target’s library for Season 18, also making it the shortest gap between first and last stories to be novelised in a season (ten books). Furthermore, that’s the last novelisation of a Fourth Doctor TV story we’ll see this century.

Notes: The first chapter takes a disturbing turn as it speculates that the results of numerous gangland killings have been buried underneath various newly built motorways. It also introduces ‘the Earthling’, who’s named George Morris; a predictable, mild-mannered assistant bank manager of a country branch who finds himself kidnapped by a band of aliens. For (almost) the final time [see The Five Doctors], Terrance Dicks gives us a lovely little description of this Doctor:

At this time in his lives, he was a very tall man with wide staring eyes and a mop of curly hair. Much of the time he wore a long elegant coat, something between overcoat and smoking jacket, made of some reddish, velvety material and cut in a vaguely Edwardian style.

Romana is ‘a fair-haired, classically good-looking young woman with an impressively high forehead and an air of aristocratic hauteur’. At the start, K9 is still out of action after his ‘rash dip in the sea’ in The Leisure Hive.

Oops! Terrance Dicks describes the dodecahedron as ‘five-sided’ (the clue’s in the name) so that it correlates with the five screens of Zolpha Thura – each face has five edges, which isn’t the same thing. Zolpha Thurans were ‘scientists of a particularly brilliant kind’ who developed the ability to take control of other beings and disguise their own vegetable forms and explore the universe. For once, the Doctor is able to steer the TARDIS successfully, so George Morris makes it home on time and decides not to tell his wife what happened. As she started hitting the sherry 20 minutes before he stepped through the door, this is probably a good idea.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter gives us another very straightforward but moody composition of Bill Fraser as General Grugger and Tom Baker as a thorny Meglos; it’s rather beautiful in its simplicity. There have been a few close calls with Chris Achilleos, but Andrew Skilleter here grabs a record as the first artist to provide a first-edition cover for every story in a single season. Alister Pearson’s cover for the 1993 reprint is a much brighter affair, with Meglos and the Doctor hovering above the Dodecahedron.

Final Analysis: So farewell then, Fourth Doctor, as we reach the end of your Target library [but see book 153]. Terrance makes a few adjustments and explains the bigger gulfs in logic to make this a rather jolly adventure; even the threat of being crushed under huge rocks seems rather mild. It successfully maintains the feeling of mild jeopardy where the main threat comes not from the malignant cactus but the blind obedience to dogma and plain stupidity. Dicks’ depiction of Brotodac as almost childlike is a particular highlight, though sadly he omits the scene where Grugger gives K9 a savage kick.

Chapter 71. Doctor Who – Full Circle (1982)

Synopsis: The TARDIS falls into another universe – Espace – and lands on Alzarius, a planet with the exact same coordinates as Gallifrey, except in negative. They meet a young boy called Adric and discover a small and terrified community housed in an ancient spaceship. The people of Alzarius are preparing for a cataclysmic event called ‘Mistfall’ when the air becomes unbreathable and strange creatures emerge from the marshes. The marsh creatures lead the Doctor to uncover a secret that has been hidden for generations.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. ‘I Have Lost Control of the TARDIS’
  • 2. ‘I’m an Elite’
  • 3. ‘Master – Alert’
  • 4. ‘We’re Taking Over Your Ship’
  • 5. ‘We Don’t Know What’s Out There’
  • 6. ‘You Will Answer the Questions, Doctor’
  • 7. ‘A Little Patience Goes a Long Way’
  • 8. ‘I Am Beginning Surgery’
  • 9. ‘One Secret Our Ancestors Kept for Themselves’
  • 10. ‘We’ve Come Full Circle’
  • 11. ‘We Cannot Return to Teradon’
  • 12. ‘We’re Trapped’

Background: Andrew Smith adapts his own scripts from the 1980 story. At just 20 years old at the time, Andrew remains the youngest author of a Target novel.

Notes: A prologue tells of the arrival to Alzarius of the original inhabitants of the Terradon starliner, the demise of Commander Yakob Lorenzil and the hostile environment that greets the survivors of the crash, led by Sub-Commander Damyen Fenrik. This might feel like a spoiler until the exact moment that we realise it’s a clever deception. There’s an interlude with the full verses of a poem by First Decider Yanek Pitrus, a ‘tenth generation starliner’, setting out the legends of mistfall. 

First Decider Exmon Draith is accompanied by Decider Ragen Nefred and Decider Jaynis Garif. After Draith dies, Halrin Login is elevated to Decider level. As he takes on the role of First Decider, Nefred connects his brain to the System Files, which monitor the well-being of all Deciders; this is how Nefred confirms that Draith has died, as well as becoming exposed to the starliner’s darkest secret.

Adric and Varsh lost their parents when they were young; they were killed in a forest fire and the boys were taken in by family friends. Varsh is three-and-a-half years Adric’s senior. As this is Adric’s introduction (despite featuring in four novels by now), his creator gives us the best insight yet into who he is:

Adric’s diminutive stature and his youth belied the fact that he had one of the keenest intelligences on the starliner, an intelligence marred only by the occasional lapse into the naive mannerisms of the juvenile. 

Adric only lets go of Draith because he panics after a hand clasps his ankle underneath the marsh water. The other Outlers are here named Refnal, Gulner, Hektir and Yenik. 

As with all authors showing off their creations, Andrew Smith presents the giant Marshmen as much more impressive than TV would allow:

They flexed their scaly arms, allowed their mouths, dribbling with hungry saliva, to gape. Scaly, metallic-looking eyelids slid back over black evil eyeballs, which then scanned the surroundings. They started climbing from the marsh, mud slithering down their tall, horrible frames, heavy clawed feet finding a secure hold in the soil by the marsh. 

The Marshchild follows the Doctor onto the starliner and the Doctor takes it under his wing when he protects it from a frightened mob (on TV, he’s knocked out and the child is taken away screaming). The Doctor recalls once failing to save a young girl from a ‘witch trial’ in 17th-Century England and vows not to allow the Marshchild to suffer a similar fate. 

There is a pitch-black ‘spatio-temporal void’ between the TARDIS’s inner and outer doors! Romana utters a mild swearword (‘damn’, which is still the naughtiest word a series regular has said so far!). The Doctor’s mission to collect Romana and the broken K9 is interrupted by clusters of spiders swarming over him (shudder!). The Marshmen enjoy a level of shared minds and the brief involvement of Romana allows them insight into the starliner citizens. The ‘people of the marsh’ see themselves as guardians of the planet, ‘to serve and to protect nature’ from the alien technology of the starliners, who they consider ‘non-people; but the Marsh leader still pauses to lament the deaths they have caused: as they return to the marsh, he asks his brethren ‘… why does the maintaining of beauty always have to require the taking of lives? It is so very sad.’

Cover: Andrew Skilleter gives us a trio of Marshmen emerging from the mists. Unkind observers have noted that there appear to be pockets on the creature’s chest.

Final Analysis: This is how to do it! The third of four consecutive stories to be adapted by their original authors, Andrew Smith combines mythology and SF in an exercise in world-building that feels lived in and real. His version of the Doctor is, as with Warriors’ Gate, closer to the Fourth Doctor we recognise than the more sombre version of season 18, cracking jokes that reveal the Doctor as equally pompous and contemptuous towards assumed authority – but still with the righteous fury when confronted with the experiments on the Marshchild, or touching compassion for Tylos when he finds his body, killed during the Marshmen attack:

The Doctor knelt beside the boy. They had never spoken, yet he felt a sense of real loss. The taking of life was always to be mourned, the taking of a young life even more so.  

There are some solid horror elements – particularly the emergence of the Marshmen, the spiders hatching from the river fruit, Dexeter’s murder at the hands of the defiant Marshchild and Romana’s possession. Perhaps because he was a teenager himself when he wrote the TV scripts, Smith also presents Adric sympathetically, not blind to his awkward, precocious adolescence, but recognising how the boy feels he doesn’t fit in with either the inhabitants of the starliner or the Outlers; like many of the viewers, he identifies with the ‘otherness’ of the Doctor and Romana. We all love it when a novel presents new material or deeper insights into the characters, but this achieves a new high for the range.

Chapter 69. Doctor Who and the Leisure Hive (1982)

Synopsis: The people of Argolis are survivors of a terrible war. Dedicating themselves to the technology of Tachyonics, their home is a destination for pleasure seekers keen to try out the latest trends in entertainment. The Argolins are dying, the last child born on the planet was Pangol. While his mother only wishes for peace with their former enemies, the Foamasi, Pangol believes it is his birthright to lead his people towards a new dawn with an army created from tachyons to eradicate the Foamasi once and for all… 

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Brighton
  • 2. Argolis
  • 3. Brock
  • 4. The Generator
  • 5. Intruders
  • 6. Hardin
  • 7. Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall
  • 8. The Foamasi
  • 9. Rebirth

Background: David Fisher adapts his own scripts for the 1980 serial.

Notes: The opening sequence of the Doctor and Romana on the frozen beach is observed by a deckchair attendant and a candy-floss seller. Chapter 2 is a detailed history of the wartorn history of Argolis and their brief battle with a race of reptiles from the planet Foamas. The third chapter is introduced by a discussion between two journalists observing Mena and Hardin at the spaceport. Mena is the ‘consort’ of the ‘Heresiarch’, Morix. It’s heavily implied that Hardin and Mena had an affair back on Earth, a relationship that they both know cannot continue now. The Captain and second-officer on the Earth-to-Argolis shuttle discuss more Argolin history, specifically the first and second Precepts of Theron the Terrible: ‘Sorrow, pain and fear are weaknesses in a warrior… eliminate them’ and ‘War is the right and duty of every Argolin’. Later on, as Pangol seizes the Helmet of Theron, we learn three more Precepts of Theron: The Tenth is ‘An Argolin knight never refuses an order’; the Eleventh is ‘An Argolin knight obeys his leader without question’; while the final Precept declares that ‘To die gloriously in battle against the enemies of Argolis is the greatest joy an Argolin knight can hope to experience’.

The Doctor immediately irritates Pangol by interrupting his presentation with inconvenient questions. The incriminating statue that carries the Doctor’s scarf represents the great Argolin hero ‘Lismar the Champion’. Much more is made of the elderly Doctor’s senility. ‘Flesh suits’ – a standard piece of equipment for assassins – are banned on Foamas, though it’s possible to pay huge amounts for one. 

No Foamasi has ever actually met an Argolin before, their war was fought remotely. Most of the Argolin survivors were members of Morix’s crew (Mena was the communications officer). After the Argolin War (which the Argolin call the ‘Foamasi War’), the survivors on Foamas were split into ‘White’ and ‘Black’ clans. While the White families were small, they were united, whereas the Black clans splintered further, allowing the White families to pick them off until only two Black houses remained – the ‘Twin Suns’ and the ‘West Lodge’, a group of embezzlers who have successfully scammed the inhabitants of other planets prior to this. While Brock is arrested as shown on screen, Klout is captured separately, caught in the act of setting an explosive charge; he throws an unprimed grenade and then draws an electric stiletto (presumably the knife, not a shoe) before he’s tied up by the Foamasi agent’s instant-cocoon device.

As in Creature from the Pit, Romana is described as ‘an experienced Time traveller [who] had journeyed vast distances through Time and Space’, so there are definitely unseen adventures prior to this (cue Big Finish!). When the Doctor leaves the Randomiser behind on Argolis, Romana is concerned that it means they’ll never know where they’re going next – which is surely the point of the Randomiser…

Cover: Andrew Skilleter shows us the Leisure Hive merging on the horizon with Pangol and a Foamasi. Alister Pearson’s cover for the 1993 reprint is of a similar desert hue, with the Hive accompanied by a Foamasi and the elderly Doctor. 

Final Analysis: David Fisher returns and writes a densely packed adaptation that feels in earlier chapters like a less manic Douglas Adams script. It soon settles down though and the historical asides occur only where they fall naturally in the plot. It’s a shame Fisher never chose to do a Terrance Dicks and take on anyone else’s stories, I was starting to like him.

True fact, when the elderly Tom Baker was revealed in the TV episode, my library buddy was hugely disappointed, thinking Baker was going to play the next Doctor too. And this was about a month before it was announced he was leaving!

Chapter 67. Doctor Who and Warriors’ Gate (1982)

Synopsis: The Tharils were once a proud race, masters of the time winds with an empire forged on slavery. Then the robot Gundans came. Now the Tharils themselves are slaves, sold as mere components to be plugged into space ships as unwilling navigators. One such ship is the Privateer, fashioned from dwarf star alloy, captained by the dictatorial and stubborn Rorvik… and currently mired in a white void near a mysterious gateway. As the Doctor, Romana and Adric search for a way out of E-Space, their encounters at the gateway promise freedom at last for the Tharils… and Romana.

Chapter Titles

None! It’s just one big run of text. 

Background: Steve Gallagher adapts his own 1981 TV scripts under the pen-name of John Lydecker to avoid confusion with his other novels. This followed State of Decay on TV, so that’s another pair of stories to be released consecutively.

Notes: The opening scenes introduce a member of The Antonine Killer clan, a methodical, maverick Tharil in pursuit of Privateers trying to evade a blockage. The clan is part of the anti-slavery alliance and they’ve already targetted four privateer vessels. The actions of this Killer result in the Privateer being disabled and stranded outside of normal space. Early on, we’ve given an explanation of the Tharils’ time-sensitivity that really helps make sense of the entire story:

Time-sensitivity was the Tharils’ curse; from an infinite range of possible futures they could select one and visualise it in detail as if it had already happened. Sometimes in moments of extreme trance their bodies would shimmer and glow, dancing between those possible futures and only loosely anchored in the present. It took intense concentration to bring a Tharil back into phase with the Moment.

As K9’s health ails, we’re told that even though he could be rebuilt, ‘there was no way of reproducing its personality with any exactness… a copy would never be any more than just that’, so either the author has forgotten that this unit is the second model, or each K9 has its own individual personality that can’t be recaptured. Meanwhile, Romana departs with Lazlo, not Biroc, while we lose the final scene with Adric and the Doctor. There’s something of Brief Encounter or The Empire Strikes Back in the way the Doctor and Romana say goodbye:

‘I can only wish you good luck. It’s not likely we’ll meet again.’

‘I know,’ Romana said.

Cover: An ethereal composition by Andrew Skilleter showing the Tharil Biroc, the gateway and the Privateer in front of a blue hazy background.

Final Analysis: The most radical departure from the Target house style so far, Gallagher really dives deep into the story and his characters. It’s all the more impressive considering his first delivered version was much longer and had to be condensed (that longer version was later released as an audiobook). It’s a complete rewrite of the TV episodes and Gallagher’s style is more mature than we’re used to – and that doesn’t mean the kind of violence or language that Ian Marter employs, but in Rorvik we get a much more sadistic character than Saturday tea-time TV could allow. Surprisingly for someone writing for Season 18 setting, Gallagher also adds a lot of comic sequences – actually capturing the Fourth Doctor that we know, rather than the muted version we got that season (I’m reliably informed the jokes were in the original scripts, so we can work out what happened there!).

Rorvik cut across the diffident denial with another blast into the ceiling, another snowfall of plaster. 

‘This could be a listed building for all you know,’ the Doctor warned, but Rorvik’s sense of humour seemed to have been suspended. 

‘You’ll be listed as a former human being if you don’t play straight.”Human being? Are we descending to cheap insults now?’

And just a couple of pages later:

‘Can you hear me, Doctor? I’ve got a message for you. I hate you. Did you get that? Of everybody I’ve ever met, you’re my least favourite!’ And he hammered his fists on the mirror’s surface in frustration. 

On the page, Rorvik is one of the most sadistic monsters we’ve encountered so far – we’re told of the atrocities he’s committed to other Tharils even during Biroc’s short time on the Priveteer and Rorvik himself admits to others – yet Gallagher remembers that pomposity can actually be hilarious when the subject isn’t in on the joke. One tiny criticism, but it’s an obvious one, is that this is a very dense, detailed story with some very heavy SF themes and motifs; it would have really helped to have had chapter titles. I’m a traditionalist at heart.

Chapter 66. Doctor Who and the State of Decay (1982)

Synopsis: Exploring more of E-Space, the Doctor and Romana land on a planet where a small village lies in the shadow of a huge, sinister-looking tower, home to The Three Who Rule. A growing suspicion leads the Doctor to realise that the rulers are vampires, the mortal enemies of the Time Lords. As the pair try to form a plan to defeat them, they are unaware of a complication. A boy called Adric stowed aboard the TARDIS during their last landing and now he is about to become a servant of the Great Vampire…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Selection
  • 2. The Strangers
  • 3. The Stowaway
  • 4. The Messengers of Aukon
  • 5. The Tower
  • 6. Tarak’s Plan
  • 7. The Secret Horror
  • 8. The Resting Place
  • 9. Escape
  • 10. The Vampires
  • 11. The Traitor
  • 12. Attack on the Tower
  • 13. The Arising
  • 14. Departure

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts his own scripts from the 1980 serial, which in turn were adapted from scripts he originally wrote for the series in 1977 before they were cancelled. This is a completely separate adaptation to the one he wrote for an audiobook published by Pickwick the previous year.

Notes: Habris introduces us to this world, the village, the tower and the Lords who ‘weren’t quite human’. There’s no trace of any references to the original title, ‘The Wasting’, which had survived to the broadcast version. Adric is introduced as ‘a small, round-faced, dark-haired youth’. The Doctor sticks around ‘well into the next day’ to help with explanations and clearing everything up. Ivo and Kalmar jointly agree to set up a new government, using the old rebel headquarters as its base.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter creates a composition of the Doctor, Aukon, a bat and more bats flying across a moonlit sky.

Final Analysis: This is the fourth complete version of the story that Terrance Dicks wrote – preceded by the abandoned one for Season 15, the broadcast one for Season 18 and that Pickwick audiocassette version from 1981. The Pickwick edit was significantly abridged, so this is a much more faithful adaptation and Terrance even borders on Ian Marter-style violence towards the end. The desiccation of the vampire Lords is particularly effective:

Grouped in front of him in a semi-circle, the three vampires paused for a moment, as if to savour their final triumph. Eyes flaring red, teeth gleaming, hands outstretched like claws, they lunged forwards in unison — and then froze. 

Their faces seemed to dry up, to wither and crack, like sun-baked earth. 

The dessicated flesh crumbled from their bodies and for one horrible moment, three gorgeously robed skeletons stood leering at the Doctor, bony fingers reaching out, as if to rend him. Then the skeletons, too, crumbled, leaving three huddled heaps of clothes resting on scattered dust piles on the floor of the cave.