Chapter 88. Doctor Who – The Aztecs (1984)

Synopsis: Emerging from a hidden doorway in a temple, Barbara is mistaken for the Aztec God Yetaxa and finds it difficult to refuse the role. As the Doctor tries to regain access to the temple and return to the TARDIS, Barbara learns the difficult lesson that she cannot change history. Not one line of it!

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Coiled Serpent
  • 2. Yetaxa the God
  • 3. Chosen Warriors
  • 4. Sacrifice to Tlaloc
  • 5. Perfect Victim
  • 6. Thorn of Doom
  • 7. No Holds Barred
  • 8. Cups of Cocoa
  • 9. Bride of Sacrifice
  • 10. Offence and Retribution
  • 11. Crawl, Swim, Climb
  • 12. Wall of Deception
  • 13. False God
  • 14. Day of Darkness
  • 15. Eclipse

Background: John Lucarotti adapts his own scripts for the series broadcast in 1964. Published a week after its 20th anniversary, The Aztecs now holds the crown for the biggest gap between first transmission and novelisation. It’s also the first historical story to be adapted since The Crusaders, some 19 years earlier.

Notes: We begin with a new scene inside the TARDIS with little explanation of who the characters are or what the TARDIS is. Susan is said to be still 15 years old, while Ian is 28 and a ‘scientist’ (not a science teacher’). When the Doctor asks for a screwdriver (a normal screwdriver!) to fix a panel on the TARDIS ‘control desk’, Ian jokes that they might land on Earth in the 1980s and get help form an aerospace factory; it’s a curiously specific reference for a man from 1963. Barbara specialised in Aztec history at university and her brief summary for Susan of Mexican civilisation is a lot more heavy-handed than it is on screen. She guesses that they’re at some point in history between 1430 and 1519, and the Doctor is able to confirm it’s 17 May, 1507. We might pause to ponder how the TARDIS can produce a date so accurate when it’s 75 years before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, but this story’s already threatening us with a huge history lesson, so let’s just ignore the issue and move on. 

Cameca is ‘a grey-haired, pleasant-faced, plumpish woman in her mid fifties’. The architect of the temple, Topau, is renamed ‘Chapal’. On the night that he meets the Doctor in the garden, Ian wears ‘only a warrior’s loin-cloth and sandals’. Ixta is startled by the Doctor’s electronic torch when he sees Ian use it, wondering if it’s ‘magic’. It was Ixta’s ‘father’s father’ who originally built the secret tunnel that is used to irrigate the garden (it’s his father on TV – and see later). Ian has a much more arduous trek through the secret tunnel, including a climb up a vertical shaft using crumbling footholds. He finds the remains of a body – which he correctly assumes is that of Ixta’s father – in the tunnel and soon discovers that the man must have fallen to his death when a foothold in the shaft gave way beneath his foot; Ian also correctly deduces that he himself was at risk of drowning because of Ixta deliberately opening the sluice. The Doctor tells Barbara of his suspicion that Ian has drowned, shortly before Ian finds them both (on telly, Barbara already knows Ian is safe by the time the Doctor reaches her). 

It’s a lot clearer that the Doctor feels utterly wretched for exploiting Cameca’s affection purely to gain access to the temple. As Cameca offers to help restore Autloc’s faith in Barbara, the Doctor is moved by her devotion and muses ‘in another world, in another time’ – but it’s definitely not the romantic relationships some fans imagine. Barbara has a long discussion with Autloc about the ‘schizophrenic’ nature of the Aztecs and her words remind him of a legend he has heard of a man from a foreign land who spoke of a ‘gentleness and love’ who was crucified, as the Aztecs do with their criminals. The climactic fight scene between Ixta and Ian is replaced by something wittier but also just as brutal, as Ian reflects light into his opponent’s eyes, which makes Ixta topple backwards and fall to his death. The scene leading into The Sensorites is, unsurprisingly, cut.

Cover: Featuring the last appearance of the coloured Target logo, Nick Spender’s first cover depicts a man with a dagger (Tlotoxl possibly?), a temple and a giant golden mask, as the TARDIS materialises. A 1992 reprint cover uses Andrew Skilleter’s VHS cover art, showing Tlotoxyl and the Doctor amid some Aztec pyramids.

Final Analysis: John Lucarotti provides a fairly loose adaptation of his own story, clearly written from the original scripts but with a relaxed approach to sticking rigidly to the text. He’s also done a lot of research and is happy to let us know it, but unlike some of the authors from the early 80s, there’s no showboating here; we’re just exposed to the history of an ancient and brutal culture – even the cuisine – of a time in Earth’s history that’s as alien to the modern reader as that of Peladon or Skaro. The descriptions of torture are particularly graphic; at one point, Tlotoxyl tells Barbara that Susan will have her eyes gouged out. I might lament that the original TV version didn’t give us the chance to hear how WIlliam Hartnell might have approached a name like ‘Huitzilipochtli’ but Lucarotti’s undiluted approach makes the story all the richer. I read this novel for the first time here and we’re now entering a period where I suspect there are more books I’ve not previously read than I have. 

Chapter 65. Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child (1981)

Synopsis: A thing that looks like a police box, standing in a junkyard. Home to a secretive old man and his strange granddaughter. Two schoolteachers allow curiosity to lead them into a terrifying journey back to a time where the greatest power is the ability to make fire, and the second greatest is merely to survive.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Girl Who Was Different
  • 2. Enter the Doctor
  • 3. The TARDIS
  • 4. The Dawn of Time
  • 5. The Disappearance
  • 6. The Cave of Skulls
  • 7. The Knife
  • 8. The Forest of Fear
  • 9. Ambush
  • 10. Captured
  • 11. The Firemaker
  • 12. Escape into Danger

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Anthony Coburn’s scripts for the very first TV story. At 17 years, ten months and three or so weeks, this is now the record holder for the longest gap between broadcast of a story and release of the novelisation. Though this record will be broken a few times more in the future, this book can lay claim to another odd record in that the novelisation was released 18 days prior to being repeated in full for the first time.

Notes: We learn from the policeman in the opening scene that the old man who recently became the proprietor of the junkyard in Totter’s Lane has disappeared, along with his granddaughter and two teachers from a local school – so the rest of the story here is told in flashback (and the later flashback to Susan in the classroom is flashing even further back!). We briefly meet Susan in the first Coal Hill School scene as she waits for Miss Wright to fetch the book, and she’s ‘tall for her age, with short dark hair framing a rather elfin face’. Apparently Barbara Wright doesn’t ‘stand for any nonsense’ and Terrance Dicks gives her a rather balanced but critical appraisal: 

Someone had once said, rather unkindly, that Barbara Wright was a typical schoolmistress. She was dark-haired and slim, always neatly dressed, with a face that would have been even prettier without its habitual expression of rather mild disapproval. 

There was undeniably some truth in the unkind remark. Barbara Wright had many good qualities, but she also had a strong conviction that she knew what was best, not only for herself but for everyone else. It suited her temperament to be in charge. 

Ian in contrast is said to be ‘a cheerful, open-faced young man… about as different in temperament from Barbara Wright as could be imagined.’ Ian teaches Science and Mathematics, which explains why he sets his class a problem involving the dimensions ‘a, b and c’. When Barbara tells Ian about Susan’s mistake over decimal currency, she adds that ‘The United States and most European countries have a decimal system’, but Susan then claims ‘You’ll change over in a few years’ time!’ Susan explains that TARDIS stands for ‘Time and Relative Dimension in Space’ (singular) as on TV [see The Daleks, The Time Meddler and others]. As he removes his jacket in the TARDIS control room, the Doctor has the impression of ‘a family solicitor from some nineteenth-century novel’. When Barbara calls him ‘Doctor Foreman’, the Doctor confesses that he stole that name from the gates of the junkyard and suggests ‘It might be best if you were to address me simply as Doctor’. Most helpful of him, even if he then acts as if he’s never heard the name when Ian uses it in the next chapter!

It’s confirmed that Za is the son of Old Mother, who he saved from being cast out by the Tribe (as is their custom) after the death of his father, Gor after (it’s presumed, but not confirmed) a hunting accident. This act of kindness was viewed by the old woman as weakness, hence why she undermines him at every opportunity.

The final chapter is called ‘Escape into Danger’. It ends with a foreshadowing of the next adventure, on a wartorn planet called Skaro – home of the Daleks!

Cover: The first cover to use the Sid Sutton-designed ‘neon’ logo from the TV show, with metallic foil effect on the first edition’s logo, and with a red flash across the corner to tell us this is the ‘First publication of the very first Doctor Who story’. It’s such a simple cover really, as Andrew Skilleter recreates the set of the junkyard from a photo now believed to be lost. It could have done with being set at night, but the details are very satisfying as this cover is now our best view of that very cluttered set. A 1990 reprint used Alister Pearson’s VHS cover and it’s beautifully simplistic. Taking its inspiration from the cover art for Queen’s The Miracle (1989), Pearson merges the Doctor and Susan so they share an eye, positioned above a rocky landscape where the TARDIS is materialising.

Final Analysis: Terrance had just two weeks to complete this, to tie in with the ‘Five Faces of Doctor Who’ repeats, on the suggestion of producer John Nathan-Turner. It was also the first novelisation in six months, due to a writers’ strike that Terrance felt compelled to honour. There’s a Reithian hand at work here, as Terrance guides the young Target reader through some fairly alien concepts: Through the police officer in the opening scene, we learn that police boxes used to be a common sight on British streets and the policeman speculates that they might soon be phased out in favour of individual walkie-talkies; Ian tries to remember what kind of animals might have existed in the time of the cavemen, such as mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers, but making the point that there’d be no dinosaurs as ‘that was a common mistake’; and of course, Anthony Coburn’s original script included a means to make fire that every eager Scout or pyromaniac should know.

One other lovely detail is how Dicks describes Kal as having a ‘short jutting beard’. It’s the kind of description Malcolm Hulke might have used for the same purpose, as later, when the time travellers’ escape route is cut off by tribesmen, their leader is said to have a ‘short jutting beard’ – the viewers would recognise him as Kal, but the travellers wouldn’t, yet – so the reader is given this subtle clue. There’s one small issue with the first edition though – as Za enters the clearing and hears a low growl behind him; it’s such an amazing paragraph that it was repeated a few lines later… oops!

So we now have a novel of the first story, which leads directly into the next – the novel of which is hugely contradictory as we’ve already seen. Heaven help anyone trying this pilgrimage in broadcast order. Much better this way!

Chapter 59. Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus (1980)

Synopsis: A huge pyramid surrounded by a sea of acid. Inside is Arbitan, sole protector of the Conscience of Marinus, a powerful computer that can control minds. The Doctor and his fellow travellers agree to help Arbitan locate a set of keys for the machine, which have been hidden in different locations across the planet. So begins a deadly quest for the time travellers that will involve mind-controlling brains in jars, killer plants, a frozen tundra and a trial for murder. All the while, they are unaware that Arbitan’s enemy, Yartek, leader of the Voord, has captured the pyramid and now lies in wait for their return with the keys…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Sea of Death
  • 2. The Marble City
  • 3. The Velvet Web
  • 4. The Brains of Morphoton
  • 5. The Screaming Jungle
  • 6. The Whispering Darkness
  • 7. The Snows of Terror
  • 8. The Demons
  • 9. Sentenced!
  • 10. The Mystery of the Locked Room
  • 11. The Missing Key
  • 12. Arbitan’s Revenge
  • 13. Final Goodbyes

Background: Philip Hinchcliffe adapts Terry Nation’s 1964 scripts, during a period when the story titles for Hartnell’s stories had not been agreed on by consensus, so the title page states that this is an adaptation of Terry Nation’s ‘The Sea of Death’.  So far, this is the biggest gap between the broadcast of a story and its release as a novel, at 16 years, three months and one week. It’s also been three years and 29 books since the publication of a First Doctor story under the Target banner.

Notes: Time is measured in zeniths in inter-galactic time. The Voord submersible pods are BXV sub-oceanic assault craft. Apparently, Barbara suffers from space-time travel sickness and she believes human bodies are not built for time travel – or at least hers isn’t. Hinchcliffe describes the inside of the TARDIS thus:

They were inside a large hexagonal-shaped control room with white hexagonal-patterned walls. A hexagonal console in the middle of the room supported a transparent cylindrical column which moved slowly up and down when the ship was in flight. 

The Doctor has ‘mischievous blue eyes’ (unlike Harnell’s own, which were brown). Barbara and Ian’s first meeting with the Doctor and Susan is summarised and we’re told that the TARDIS can ‘change its appearance like a chameleon’. Ian is still wearing a ‘Chinese jacket’ that he picked up ‘the court of Kublai Kahn’ [sic], which we’re told ‘undermined his air of schoolmasterly interest’. 

The Voord have webbed hands and feet, they’re the same shape as a man, but stronger and more agile:

Its skin was dark and rubbery, its bulletshaped head smooth and devoid of features except for two frog-like eyes and a snoutish protuberance like corrugated piping. The head was flanked by two flat, pointed lugs. The face as a whole faintly resembled that of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of Egyptian mythology. The creature, however, was far from being any sort of god. It was, in fact, a Class I Voord Assault Trooper, programmed to kill enemy life-forms on sight!

The word ‘programmed’ suggests at least some degree of robotic or artificial intelligence. Yartek developed an immuniser that enabled the Voord to ‘rob and cheat, kill and exploit’; Arbitan’s people were helpless as the Conscience made them incapable of violent resistance. Susan calculates that Arbitan’s temple is a couple of miles all round, while Barbara’s comparison from the TV version of the temple to those of the Egyptians and South Americans is given to Ian for some reason. Vasor is said to be like a ‘Breughel peasant’, which suggests he should have been down an alley, puking. Yartek is said to smile and his face has ‘bulbous eyes’, so he doesn’t quite look like his TV counterpart.

Cover: David McAllister’s first contribution to the range is both beautifully painted and disappointingly bland – the TARDIS hovers in space above a generic planet. Were they too squeamish to attempt one of the Brains of Morphoton for this? As the policy of the time was to avoid having older Doctors on the cover, this might have limited their options, so having the iconic TARDIS might have seemed more marketable, but it’s a shame as we could have had something rivalling Alun Hood’s Terror of the Autons cover for sheer horror.

Final Analysis: This was one of four books I received as a Christmas present in 1980, the first Target books I owned, rather than loaning from the library. Aside from maybe an episode at a convention in the mid-1980s, I’m not sure if I saw the TV story for more than a decade later, so it’s Hinchcliffe’s version that was imprinted on my mind, alongside The Daleks, as what Hartnell’s Doctor was really like. Good going, considering the Doctor himself is missing for half of the story and Ian is, as on TV, very much the lead character. This is Hinchcliffe’s final novel for the range and it’s such a weird choice for him, but it’s every bit the Boy’s Own adventure that was at the heart of his time as producer (including what feels very much like the belittling of Barbara to elevate Ian more), so it’s perhaps not as surprising as it first appears. It faithfully adapts Terry Nation’s scripts, which acted as a template for what the series would quickly become. It has a quest (although after all those Key to Time novels, that’s not necessarily a positive); four alien lands with hostile environments; repulsive monsters; selfish antagonists who are more than a bit rapey; and a trial! At the end, the Big Bad Wolf-style villain is revealed to be rather disappointing, but as this is Hinchcliffe, the description of Yartek’s demise is much, much nastier than the fade-to-white we saw on TV.

Chapter 1. Dr Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks (1964)

aka Doctor Who and the Daleks (1973)

Synopsis: Ian Chesterton meets Barbara Wright and searches a foggy Barnes Common for her missing student, Susan. The pair bump into a mysterious old man near a police box and inside they find Susan, a huge white control room and the beginning of a terrifying adventure in another universe…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Meeting on the Common
  • 2. Prisoners in Space
  • 3. The Dead Planet
  • 4. The Power of the Daleks
  • 5. Escape into Danger
  • 6. The Will to Survive
  • 7. The Lake of Mutations
  • 8. The Last Despairing Try
  • 9. The End of the Power
  • 10. A New Life

Background: David Whitaker adapts Terry Nation’s scripts from the second Doctor Who serial, broadcast in 1963-4. Published by Frederick Muller Ltd in November 1964, first reprinted as a Target book in 1973. 

Notes: David Whitaker’s novelisation begins with a reworking of the first ever episode, with some significant changes. Ian is a science teacher, but is applying for other jobs and recently lost out on a position as an assistant research scientist. Barbara has recently taken up personal tuition as a side-line to her secretarial work; and her pupil is called Susan English. Also, Ian smokes, which would have been handy if this had been a mere rewrite of the rest of An Unearthly Child. As it is, he’s longing for a ciggie as he awaits the Thals to warn them of the Dalek trap, but that’s the last we hear of that! 

Across the first two chapters, Whitaker introduces the four lead characters and the ‘Tardis‘ through the eyes of the narrator, Ian, who doesn’t know Barbara as they’re not teachers at the same school. After they board the Tardis, Barbara tells him that she grew curious about her pupil as she seemed extremely knowledgeable on the subject of Robespierre, even down to ‘what walks he took and the measurements of some of his clothes.’ The mistakes that give Susan away differ from the TV episodes: ‘She thought Australia was in the Atlantic Ocean… she thought the Spanish Armada was a castle… she had written that Japan was a county in Scotland.’ When Ian and Barbara find Susan inside the Tardis, she’s described as wearing a ‘most extraordinary scarf’ on her head with ‘thick red and yellow stripes on it and made her look like a pirate’ [See The Edge of Destruction]. Ian’s description of her is clearly from a more innocent age, though it does foreshadow events that the very first readers wouldn’t see on TV for another month or so.

I imagined from what Barbara had said that Susan was aged about fifteen but silhouetted there as she was, with her dark, short cut hair against the white rocks behind her, she looked like a young woman in her twenties, very attractive and vivacious. I wondered briefly what would happen when she met a man she wanted to marry and decided not to travel in the Tardis with her grandfather any longer [See The Dalek Invasion of Earth].

The Doctor’s initially as unhelpful as his screen counterpart, though his mild scuffle with Ian becomes a full-on wrestle to the floor. But he becomes a charmer much quicker as he patiently explains his reasoning to an indignant Ian. By the end of chapter 3, The Dead Planet, Ian realises that they don’t even know the Doctor’s real name or what he does. ‘Perhaps that’s what we ought to call him. “Doctor Who?”.’ The Doctor reveals that he and Susan are ‘cut off from our own planet and separated from it by a million, million years of your time’. Ian noticed that the old man has a kindly smile even when Ian threatens him and later, while Susan and Barbara take his words at face value, he thanks Ian for not exposing his lie about the fluid link.

The Tardis control room is described loosely as we saw on TV, but ‘twenty feet in height and with the breadth and width of a middle-sized restaurant’. One corner contains ‘a row of at least twenty tape-recording spools’ beneath which are ‘a similar number of barometric needles [that] zig-zagged uneven courses across moving drums of paper’, all of which must have seemed futuristic in 1964. Susan provides the explanation of the name ‘Tardis‘ as ‘Time and Relative Dimensions [sic] in Space’, less than a year after the TV version gave us a more singular ‘dimension’ [See An Unearthly Child]. Tardis is said to contain a shower room that pummels the body with oils and warm water jets, a headset that’s programmed to give Ian a haircut and a device the size of a marshmallow that gives him a smooth shave. When using the scanner, the Doctor claims that the Tardis has ‘very strong searchights accompanying the picture… they’re quite invisible outside of the Tardis, of course. They merely serve to make a picture possible at night-time.’ The food machine provides Ian’s bacon and eggs (which looks like a Mars Bar ‘the colour of white icing’), while the Doctor enjoys ‘Venusian Night Fish’, while the next morning, Ian is served a drink that ‘looked like tomato juice and tasted of melon’ that Susan tells him is a concentrate of ‘the winter berries of Mars’.

Initially, Ian tells us the Daleks are ‘a round metal thing about three feet in height, like an upturned beaker with a domed top’ – but when climbing into a casing later, he revises this to ‘four feet three inches’. The Daleks refer to chemicals in the air but don’t mention radiation (is this Whitaker simplifying the science or just trying not to frighten children?), and while the Doctor speculates that the Daleks harness static electricity, this isn’t actually confirmed. 

It’s outside the Dalek city that Whitaker allows himself poetic license by improving on what we saw on telly. The Thal males are all well over six feet tall, while Dyoni is nearly six feet and all of them are ‘perfectly proportioned’. During the expedition to the mountains, the swamp creature from the TV show (two glowing eyes on a bladder with rubbery legs)  is much more impressive: 

Its very size was enough to dry up my mouth as tons of water cascaded off its scaly back and plunged back into the lake. With a body the thickness of a house, its head seemed to be all teeth and on the short neck I could see two pairs of claws… I could see it had six webbed feet on either side of its body, which propelled it forward through the water at a frightening speed.,, I saw one terrible red eye glaring malevolently at me…

As they leave the scene, twenty or more of the beasts devour the body of the one they have just defeated.

The other famous inclusion is the Glass Dalek, which seems to suggest the mutant creature looks like a one-armed Mekon:

The Dalek looked totally evil, sitting on a tiny seat with two squat legs not quite reaching the floor, The head was large, and I shuddered at the inhuman bumps where the ears and nose would normally be and the ghastly slit for a mouth. One shrivelled little arm moved about restlessly and the dark-green skin glistened with the same oily substance that had revolted me before.

Though Ian’s relationship with the Doctor thaws into growing mutual respect, it’s strange to see that he and Barbara are at loggerheads for much of the book. While Ian tries and fails to work out what he’s done wrong, it’s only after the final battle when he overhears Barbara talking to the Thal Kristas that he begins to understand: ‘He hates me. I know he does. I was stupid. Trying to fight… the way I felt…’

The Doctor explains to the pair that he cannot promise to ever get them home, but he and Susan would value their company, Ian gallantly invites Barbara to make the choice for them. As she holds Ian’s hand, he wonders if she seeks ‘comfort? Affection? I still didn’t dare hope it might be love. Only time could tell.’ Blimey! That escalated quickly!

Cover & Illustrations: There have been many covers for this story, the first was a line drawing in the style of the illustrations, while the Armada release in 1965 had a painting showing some bloke in a cloak and a massive non-canonical logo declaring “Dr. Who. Its most famous cover, the first Target-branded version by Chris Achilleos, is a beautiful combination of pointillism shading with colour washes, with Daleks that look straight out of the pages of the TV Century 21 comic strips. Alister Pearson provided a disappointing montage for the 1992 reprint, depicting a pensive Ian. a Dalek and the Doctor, inset – all expertly painted but lacking drama. The first edition I saw though was the 1975 White Lion hardback issued to libraries, depicting a stylised psychedelic Tom Baker on the cover! Inside, there are 12 illustrations by Arnold Schwartzman, all faithfully reproducing on-set photos and none of them try to elaborate or embellish what appeared on screen. The best of these, the third, is an odd one as it just shows the Doctor and Ian. It’s supposed to be inside the Tardis, but it’s taken from the side-room with the geiger counter in the Dalek laboratory, and the lighting effect is rather marvellous.

Final analysis: Even though Whitaker is writing this for younger readers, it never feels that he’s talking down to them. I’m still not sure why there are so many changes to the origins of the characters as it creates almost as many problems as it solves. As it was presumably intended to be a stand-alone novel though, Whitaker improves where he can – his Doctor may have alien motivations, but he’s a lot more likeable than his TV counterpart was at this stage. He’s authoritative and commanding, but defers to Ian on occasion as a sign of respect. Barbara comes off as badly as on screen, despite matching the moves of the rest of the party at every step. At the time of writing, Whitaker may not have known the future of the series itself beyond the next six months or so, let alone any potential sequels in print, so the ending is enticing enough for us to want more without writing himself (or other writers) into a corner.