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

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

Chapter Titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 91. Doctor Who – Frontios (1984)

Synopsis: In the far future, the TARDIS suffers a forced landing on the planet Frontios, where the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough find a colony of humans struggling to survive against the elements and the continual bombardments from an unknown aggressor. Then there are the strange unaccountable deaths and the threat of insurrection from citizens tired of rations and restrictions. But Turlough knows the truth. A distant memory from his own people that reveals the attacks are not coming from above, but below.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Refugees of Mankind
  • 2. The Unknown Invaders
  • 3. The Deadly Hail
  • 4. The Power of the Hat-Stand
  • 5. Downwardness
  • 6. Beneath the Rocks
  • 7. The Force Takes Hold
  • 8. Eaten by the Earth
  • 9. The Excavating Machine
  • 10. Prisoners of the Gravis
  • 11. The Price of Rescue
  • 12. Greed Sets the Trap

Background: Christopher H. Bidmead adapts his own scripts for a serial broadcast seven months earlier.

Notes: While Tegan tries in vain to read an unhelpful handbook, Turlough expresses his boredom by tying viciously tight knots into one of the Doctor’s scarves, which the Doctor later fails to unravel. There’s no follow-on from the previous story, so we’re just told that the Doctor has become ‘mysteriously reclusive’ since whatever time and place they last visited. Turlough sees a large portrait on a wall in the medical shelter and Mr Range tells him it’s of their recently deceased leader, Captain Revere (information that I’m sure will come in use later!).

When Norna describes the circumstances of the colony ship’s crash on Frontios, we’re told her grandparents died among many other casualties, but this was many years before she herself was born. Plantagenet is about the same age as Turlough with a ‘thin physique’ and a ‘head of thick, white hair’. There’s a useful paragraph that explains the scale of the crashed ship:

The propulsion chamber led them through into Causeway 8 that ran the length of the ship – a half hour’s brisk walk in the days Brazen was a boy and the ship was whole. Now most of the structure except the stern end was buckled and filled with silt, and only the part of the ship they walked in now was usable for the business of state and the storage of the precious resource reserves.

The Tractators are ‘silver creatures, each larger than a man. Their insect-like bodies were scaled like fish, and from their underbellies a pale luminescence emanated’. They have ‘two bulbous eyes on either side of the shrimp-like head’ with ‘glossy black mouths’. Their leader, the Gravis, rises up on ‘innumerable rear legs’ and he’s said to be larger than the other Tractators. As the creatures notice Norna, she experiences the sensation of them ‘threatening to drag her flesh from her bones’. Later, we’re told ‘her hair stood up on her head in spikes’… well, it was the 80s…

Norna and her father find a plaque, not a map, which tells them that Revere found no valuable minerals as of the year ‘Alpha 14404’. Brazen’s Deputy is introduced early on, accompanying him as he discovers the blue Police Box in the colony. It’s only when Mr Range faces the inquiry that we learn the Deputy is a woman. The Gravis has a translation machine and an excavation machine that utilise human body parts in very grizzly ways; the excavator is also vaguely the same shape as a Tractator. There are two colonists called ‘Kernighan’ and ‘Ritchie’, named after Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie, computer scientists who literally wrote the book on the subject of the programming language ‘C’.

The Gravis claims that they know of the Doctor ‘by reputation’ and explicitly states his belief that the Doctor has been sent by the Time Lords of Gallifrey to prevent their plans (and of course, he also knows what a TARDIS is, though not what it looks like). Much more is made of the Doctor’s ruse that Tegan is an android and as she recalls how she accidentally stumbled aboard the TARDIS and how she cared for the Doctor after his regeneration, she is outraged and not quite realising what the Doctor is doing until he gives her ‘a swift, barely perceptible wink’. He later claims to need his spectacles just to buy him enough time to explain his deception to Tegan. He uses the half-frame spectacles ‘when the print was very small, or the book unusually dull’, though he tells the Gravis that they have ‘poly-directrix lenses with circular polarising filters [to] reduce spectral reflection as much as seventy-five percent, without any perceptible deterioration of resolution’, which is ‘Gallifreyan technology – like the TARDIS’. Observing the wrecked excavation machine, the Doctor utters ‘a Gallifreyan word that is said in these circumstances’.

Cockerill appears to assume the post left vacant by Brazen as Plantagenet’s second in command, taking on an official uniform, giving tasks to the survivors and tempting the Retrogrades back into the community. The final scene where the TARDIS is caught in a plot device from the next story is omitted, though it’s hinted at by the closing line: ‘More serious trouble was on the way for the Doctor, nevertheless. But that was only to be expected.’

Cover: Andrew Skilleter’s illustration shows a rather dignified profile of the Gravis, with Frontios in the background during a bombardment.

Final Analysis: I’ve been gently critical of Christopher Bidmead’s arrogance leaking into his previous novels, so it’s a relief to see that aspect missing here. Instead, we get a slow-burning horror story that gives Ian Marter a serious challenge with some genuinely unsettling body horror. The Gravis’s translation device consists of ‘a tall narrow trolley that floated a foot or so above the ground… mounted on it was the head and one arm of a dead Colonist, connected by improvised metalwork to a swinging pendulum’. As it speaks, ‘its dead mouth moving to the click of the pendulum’. Then there’s ‘the machine’ – the excavator – which ‘needs a captive human mind to drive it’ and uses human hands to smooth the walls of their tunnels:

White bones tipped with metal cutters scraped against the rock, while rotting hands polished the surface smooth. Through illuminated windows in the body Tegan glimpsed more mechanically gesticulating human arms and legs in an advanced state of decay. It was a machine built from the dead.

While Marter likes his violence wet and gooey, this is more mechanical, playing on castration anxiety and the ‘vagina dentata’ folklore as much as Jaws, where the ground devours people and then the Tractators’ machines chew them up and reconstitute the parts as required. Just look at Bidmead’s description of the Doctor’s reaction here:

The Doctor was not very fond of tunnels at the best of times. They were frequently damp, dark, deep and dangerous, and as a method of transport ranked only a little higher than sitting absolutely still under water waiting for the right current. The best place to be in a tunnel was outside, and if you had to be inside, the less inside you were the better.

We don’t even need Dr Freud to explain this one, do we boys? No wonder 80s producer John Nathan-Turner kept reassuring his audience of quivering adolescents that there’d be ‘no hanky panky aboard the TARDIS’…

Chapter 87. Doctor Who – Warriors of the Deep (1984)

Synopsis: The Earth was once home to a race of intelligent reptiles who dominated the land and the sea. Having spent millions of years in hibernation, they are now preparing to awake and reclaim their planet. As the personnel of a nearby underwater military base run tests in preparation for a potential war, their paranoia and stress is being exploited from within by agents secretly working for a foreign power. The Doctor has failed to broker peace with the reptiles before, but now the Sea Devils and Silurians are working together to trigger a war that could eradicate humanity entirely.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Intruder
  • 2. The Traitors
  • 3. Hunted
  • 4. The Sea Devils Awake
  • 5. The Attack
  • 6. The Myrka
  • 7. The Breakthrough
  • 8. Sabotage
  • 9. The Hostage
  • 10. Captured
  • 11. Counterattack
  • 12. Sacrifice

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts by Johnny Byrne for the serial broadcast just four months earlier.

Notes: By 2084, Earth is divided into two power blocs, East and West (suggested on screen but not spelled out) and after space stations proved vulnerable to ‘spy-satellites and the searing blast of laser beams’, many of Earth’s defence systems are now housed under the sea. Commander Vorshak has ‘the rugged good looks of a recruiting-poster hero, much to his own embarrassment’. The hull of the Silurian vessel has an irregular surface, as if it were ‘grown rather than manufactured’. The Silurians are ‘immensely tall, robed figures’…:

… brown-skinned with great crested heads and huge bulging eyes. Their slow, almost stately movements, their coldly measured speech-tones gave evidence of their reptilian origin.

Icthar is confirmed as the sole survivor of the ‘Silurian Triad’ and it’s made clear that the Doctor specifically remembers him as one of three Silurians from their origin story [see The Cave Monsters for Okdel, K’to and Morka – thought he could be one of the other bystanders who survives the end of the story only to be entombed]. He led the return to hibernation and awoke over a hundred years later. The Sea Devil warriors are in suspended animation in a chamber in the bowels of the Silurian ship (not in their own base as on TV), which is where Icthar found them, frozen under a polar ice cap (so Sea Devils and Silurians presumably had an alliance at some earlier point, considering the Sea Devils are piloting a craft that the Doctor recognises as specifically Silurian). There’s a handy addition to the backstory of the Earth Reptiles, summarising their two previous appearances. Apparently, many of them had developed’ almost mystic powers, the Silurian ‘third eye’ being ‘the source of psychic energy that enabled some Silurians to dominate lesser races by sheer mental force’.

Terrance Dicks still considers Tegan to be an ‘air-hostess’; she hasn’t been one for some time now, after she was sacked, and hadn’t actually started work prior to Time Flight, so it might be time to accept that she’s ex-flight crew now and let her move on, eh?

Doctor Solow was recruited by Nilson to the cause of the Eastern Bloc. She was ‘disappointed in her career, left alone by the death of her husband and her parents’ so she fell ‘an easy prey to Nilson’s arguments’. Icthar found the Myrka along with Sauvix’s ship and revived it. The beast is ‘like a kind of pocket dinosaur’ with a ‘hideous dragon-like head’ and ‘a long tail’ that is agile enough to use as a weapon against its attackers.

The Doctor climbs out of his stolen sea base uniform as soon as he’s handed the gun over to Vorshak. The charred bulkhead door reminds Turlough of toast, which triggers a memory of ‘study teas’ at his public school, ‘with a terrified fag to make the toast’; for non-English readers, this isn’t quite as offensive as it sounds, referring to the public-school practice of forcing the younger boys to work as servants (or fags) for older boys. The fact that he finds himself running towards the sound of battle with a gun in his hand strikes Turlough as odd. Later, he and Preston shoot down two Sea Devils to rescue the Doctor and Tegan; Turlough reminds Preston to ‘Aim for the head’. Tegan is surprised by Turlough’s change of heart but decides to give him the benefit of the doubt. As the Doctor laments that there ‘should have been another way’, he also recognises that Bulic won’t be the sole survivor and maybe he can lead the others and get the base running again.

Cover: The first release boasts a straightforward portrait of a Sea Devil warrior by Andrew Skilleter. Alister Pearson’s 1992 cover is really classy, with the sea base and the Doctor between a Silurian and a Sea Devil. There’s also a new brand logo, the colourful target is dropped in favour of a hollow, white line drawing.

Final Analysis: Terrance Dicks has form for improving on the limitations of what could be achieved in a studio: Adapting a story that was famously overlit because of external pressures, he tells us here that the whiteness of the sea base is intentional, a design choice to counter the blackness of the deep sea; while the Silurians walk and speak slowly not because of restrictive costumes but because it’s dignified to do so; the heavy bulkhead door lands on Tegan, whose foot is ‘only trapped, not mangled’; and the Myrka is a horrific beast with a lithe and deadly tail! In truth, I’ve always loved this story, so it’s gratifying to see Terrance do it justice, even if some of the enhancements are tongue in cheek, it at least allows him to pay tribute to his friend Malcolm Hulke in reminding new readers of the origins of the Sea Devils and Silurians.

We should remember also that this novel, like the story it retells, was released in 1984, the year that Ultravox released Dancing with Tears in My Eyes and Frankie Goes to Hollywood topped the charts with Two Tribes. While the TV episodes and the novel both predate the harrowing drama Threads this was the peak year for anxiety of mutual annihilation from a nuclear attack, the most ‘1984’ story we could have got, short of a celebrity historical where the Doctor meets George Orwell.