Chapter 137. Doctor Who – Dragonfire (1989)

Synopsis: On a cold, distant planet lies the trading post known as Iceworld. Below the surface, the imprisoned criminal Kane hires mercenaries to find the key to his freedom. Deeper still, in the catacombs below Iceworld, lives a dragon, the guardian to a powerful crystal – the Dragonfire. While the Doctor joins his old acquaintance Glitz on a quest for the crystal, Mel makes a new friend called Ace – and gets a close encounter with the dragon!

Chapter Titles

Numbered One to Sixteen.

Background: Ian Briggs adapts his own scripts from the 1987 serial, completing the stories from Season 24. This is the first (and indeed only) time that a season’s stories have been novelised in order of transmission. 

Notes: Glitz’s former crew consists of four men and two women (one of whom is called Winterbottom). Chapter Two sees the Doctor and Mel inside the TARDIS. Mel is exercising, standing on her head, and the Doctor deliberately steers the TARDIS to knock her off balance. The Doctor pays Glitz’s bill at the Refreshment Bar. Ace’s boss is named Eisenstein (not Anderson). The small furry creature is an ambassador called Erick. A deleted scene in which the Doctor frees Glitz from a collapsed tunnel is reinstated. Glitz then deliberately gives the Doctor the slip to hunt for the treasure alone. He finds the Ice Garden and realises it’s a very out-of-date planetarium, featuring slightly distorted constellations like ‘the Great Lever, the Old Man, and the Waterfall’. The Doctor sees a ledge after 15 feet down the ice cliff, which is why he ends up hanging from his brolly (it does make more sense than it did on telly). The ‘dragon’ is ‘tall and skeletal, with greyish-white membranes instead of skin’. It had a ‘large bony skull on top of a long neck’ and its skeleton is visible beneath its skin. 

Mel challenges Ace’s plan to scale the ice cliff using her compact ladder, forcing Ace to confess she’s never actually used it, but has seen people do the same thing on TV. As they climb down the ladder, one of the nitro-9 canisters leaks and nearly knocks Ace out. Glitz’s ship, The  Nosferatu is a Nightcruiser Pacific, a model of craft once popular with business types. The lost urchin is a ‘Star Child’ called Stellar. Her best friend is ‘Milli-mind’, her teddy bear is simply ‘Ted’  and she enjoys popular culture, being able to recognise some of the celebrities visiting Iceworld, including a TV personality, a pop star, a woman who’s a ‘brilliant scientist’ and a woman who looks like the one her father now lives with. Her mother has brought a number of outfit changes with her.

Glitz often has trouble with ‘feminists’ – usually because they’re right and he’s wrong. Five hundred other craft are destroyed along with the Nosferatu. Ace explains to Mel that the ‘Ace 4 Wayne’ graffiti on a wall near her quarters is a dedication to her toy dog. Kane waits in Ace’s quarters, hiding inside her fridge. Mel adds a few words of explanation to her out-of-the-blue decision to leave the TARDIS: ‘I don’t belong here. I’m not a traveller, like you. I need somewhere I feel I can belong.’

Cover & Illustration: Another amazing piece of work from Alister Pearson, who really pushes the boat out on these Seventh Doctor covers. Against a backdrop of the ice cliff we see Ace and the Doctor (holding his question-mark umbrella) either side of the Dragonfire crystal, within which is the melting face of Kane. Ian Briggs directed Pearson not to include the Biomechanoid from the TV episodes on the cover as he had described the creature differently in the text.

In the ice is carved a phrase from the book, ‘ACE 4 WAYNE’, which also appears inside as an illustration, our first for a very long time. Also etched into the ice is ‘AH’, a tribute to fan Andy Holding, and ‘TH’, who is his friend (and mine) Toby Hadoke.

Final Analysis: Another solid adaptation that enhances the TV original and even though this introduces Ace, Mel doesn’t get completely abandoned as has often been the case for departing companions. Briggs also seems to understand this Doctor very well indeed, as the introduction to the final chapter shows.

In the TARDIS Console Room, the Doctor was busy checking the stabiliser settings at the control console. Mel watched him. She liked this new incarnation. He was still a bit grumpy at times, and occasionally he behaved like a fool, but he cared deeply about people – all people, not just his friends. 

‘Well, I suppose it’s time,’ she said…

The Biomechanoid is elevated, as we might expect, into something a little more elegant than it appeared on TV, but what’s surprising is how our sympathies are diverted to the two ‘ANT hunters’; with Bazin injured after being attacked by the dragon, McLuhan takes care of him, determined to finish their mission before they both die. And of course, we meet Ace and here, her creator takes the opportunity to make her a little more fallible, very defensive and quick to jump to conclusions – and as Mel discovers, she’s rather too keen to rush into danger. It’s a shame they never got more stories together on TV as Ace’s youth also informs Mel’s character, the (slightly) older woman seeing something of herself in the brash teen.

Chapter 135. Doctor Who – Delta and the Bannermen (1989)

Synopsis: An unexpected holiday for the Doctor and Mel sees them joining a race of shape-changing aliens at a holiday camp in 1950s Wales. Also in the party is a beautiful woman on the run from bloodthirsty killers – and a spy only too happy to betray her. Soon, the holiday camp is the scene for a massacre, retribution… and romance.

Chapter Titles

The chapters are numbered One to Thirty-Two. With additional prologue and epilogue, this steals the record from The Romans for most number of chapters in a novelisation.

Background: Malcolm Kohll adapts his own scripts for a story from 1987. This followed Paradise Towers on TV, so that’s another pair of stories to be released consecutively.

Notes: A prologue reveals that the Doctor takes one sugar in his tea. The TARDIS is in need of a ‘major overhaul’. Now that he’s less burly than his previous incarnation, Mel has stopped forcing carrot juice upon him and is happy to offer him digestive biscuits (which he declines as he doesn’t like how they collapse into his drink – such a beautiful ‘Doctorish’ moment there that I don’t think has ever actually been noted anywhere else). The Doctor keeps a kitty for loose change, which baffles him as it’s always empty. The Tollmaster is ‘a scaly alien wearing a spangly jacket and party hat’; he has ‘a fine set of large white teeth’ (a lovely evocation of Ken Dodd, who played him so memorably on telly). Mel claims she hasn’t been to Earth in ‘ages’, though she’s previously visited the planet Zoth and recognises paintings at the tollgate of ‘Solterns, Giboks and those funny little creatures the Wormese, who, without the aid of appendages of any kind, propel themselves along by the sheer force of their exhalations’. The Navarinos from ‘the tri-polar moon Navarro’ are ‘squat hairy beings which resemble artichokes’; Murray, the Nostalgia Tours pilot, is ‘ a round, leafy, hairy creature’. 

The Chimeron homeworld is called Chumeria – also known as ‘the Garden Planet of the Universe’. Chimerons are ‘soft and pupa-like’ and have ‘silvery-green skin and vivid blue eyes’. The two American agents are Lex Hawk and Jerome P Weismuller; Weismuller’s wife is called May. The ‘soldier of fortune’, Keillor’, knows of ‘the traveller called the Doctor’ (on TV, he knows the Doctor is a ‘traveller in time’). The Doctor has heard of Gavrok and ‘his violent ways’ – is he really the acidental tourist he’s pretending to be?

Outside Delta’s cabin, Billy hears Mels’ scream and shoulders the door open to see the Chimeron baby emerging from its shell (the telly version has him arrive shortly afterwards). Burton was a major in the army twenty years ago, when Vinny had served as his batman; they’ve worked together ever since. Among the party of Navarinos are Adlon, Crovassi, Diptek, Ethnon, Frag, Gil and Herret. Two of the Bannermen are named Arrex and Callon. The Doctor once rode a vehicle similar to Ray’s motorbike on the planet Themlon that left him ‘TARDIS-bound for a week afterwards’. According to Weismuller, Gavrok is ‘about seven feet tall’, though this comes as part of his otherwise rather exaggerated summary of his role in the battle against the Bannermen. In Billy’s chalet is a record player with a copy of ‘Gamblin’ Man’ by Lonnie Donegan. By the time he leaves with Delta, Billy has become ‘pure Chimeron’.

In the epilogue, having safely installed Delta and her child on the Chimeron brood planet, Billy delivers the surviving Bannermen to a galactic court before returning to his new home. The Bannermen decide that, should they ever find themselves free, they’ll set up a weaving collective to make rugs they can sell across the galaxy. Ray takes the Vincent aboard a ferry intent on exploring the world, while, on board the TARDIS, Mel subjects the Doctor to an old recording of Rock Around the Clock.

Infamously, a typo on page 54 presents the Doctor as ‘peeing’ over a shelf. The credits at the front of the book list Michael Ferguson, not Chris Clough, as the director (a hint at the story coming up next). Worst of all though, the spine on the first edition presented the title of the story as ‘Delta and the Bannerman’ – singular. This is corrected for the reprint, which lists the book as number ‘153’ in the library.

Cover: Alister Pearson’s artwork has echoes of Jeff Cummins’ cover for The Face of Evil as the Doctor’s face appears inside a circular frame, with the Shangri-La sign arching above, a Bannerman bearing his gun and the Sputnik satellite and the Chimeron egg at the bottom. Wonderfully, the composition forms the inverted silhouette of Mickey Mouse (hinting at the intended destination of the Navarino bus).

Final Analysis: There are people who don’t love Delta and the Bannermen (I know, right?) and they should be pitied. For the rest of us, we can also enjoy Malcolm Kohll’s sole entry in the Target library. All the joyful craziness of the TV episodes is present and correct, but like all the best authors for the range, Kohll enhances little details as he goes and the epilogue is delicious. In particular, the rather unconvincing romance at the heart of the story is boosted and Billy in particular is shown to be a young man of integrity and decency (especially in his pleading for a little mercy on behalf of the Bannermen at the Galactic Court).

Just a sidenote – back in The Two Doctors we were presented with, er, two Doctors who were resolute in their belief that Androgums cannot be augmented and will always revert to their baser qualities. It’s a rather worrying colonial view of an entire race, though there are actually few examples of aliens having much nuance generally in Doctor Who (the Ice Warriors are a notable exception). Here, while he offers a note of caution towards Billy’s decision to become a Chimeron, ultimately he wishes him well. We have a much more liberal interpretaton of the Doctor here, which feels much more like a ‘modern’ version, willing to be more compassionate and making allowance for personal choices. Delta and the Bannermen might be a little light as Doctor Who stories go, but it’s also an utter gem. I’d have liked to have seen Kohll’s approach to someone else’s scripts.

Chapter 134. Doctor Who – Paradise Towers (1988)

Synopsis: The residents of Paradise Towers have divided into factions: The caretakers tackle their duties with strict adherence to an insanely restrictive rulebook; the youngsters have formed warring gangs vying for supremacy; the oldsters are supplementing their diets with unspeakable things; … and then there’s Pex, a lonely, frightened boy trapped in the body of a brave hero. But Pex isn’t brave – he’s a cowardly cutlet.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Last of the Yellow Kangs
  • 2. No Visitors
  • 3. Tea and Cakes
  • 4. The Chief
  • 5. This Way and That
  • 6. Brainquarters
  • 7. Come into My Parlour
  • 8. The Illustrated Prospectus
  • 9. The Basement
  • 10. The Pool in the Sky
  • 11. Kroagnon
  • 12. Farewells

Background: Stephen Wyatt adapts his own scripts for a story from 1987. This is the first book not to be published as a hardback – the ‘library editions’ were dropped due to falling sales.

Notes: Paradise Towers is, as the back cover first confirms, a man-made planet, accessible via space-faring ships. The Doctor also refers to ‘Mel’s Earth’, and Mel compares Pex’s performance to Karate experts ‘back on Earth’, spelling out that this isn’t her world – although it’s still unclear whether or not the inhabitants originally came from there. The Yellow Kang confirms something that’s fudged on TV, that the Kang wars are not to be taken seriously, they are just games. She’s alone now, after a period of returning to the Yellow Kang Brainquarters to depreciating numbers of her fellow Kangmates. Streets named in the story are Sodium Street, Potassium Street, Nitrate Street, Sunrise Square and Fountain of Happiness Square. 

The young caretaker has only recently taken on his patrol beat, replacing an older caretaker who was (according to the Chief Caretaker) ‘assigned to other duties’ and never seen again. The Kangs are around 15 or 16 years old and they remind Mel of Samurai warriors. The Rezzies are dressed in clothes made up of colourful patchwork (and Mel notes that Tabby has very sharp teeth like a rat). Pex is much more the traditional action hero than we get on screen. He’s not tall, but ‘an imposing figure with a rugged jaw, piercing eyes and a powerful, muscular body’. He has a tattoo on his neck, he wears a ‘commando-style outfit’ and his voice is ‘deep and strong’. Despite all this, Mel still recognises that he’s putting on a show and is an outsider from all of the sub-groups in the Towers.

The Chief is of ‘middle height’ and his uniform was once grand but is now ‘somewhat faded and dusty’. He’s not a vain man and considers his looks to be unimportant. He has a  ‘sallow complexion and drooping black moustache’, and ‘ bloodshot but alert eyes’. The Chief isn’t keen on fresh air or exercise, regarding such activities as ‘futile, even actively harmful’. Pex tries to ward off the Blue Kangs with martial arts poses before they ridicule him. While watching the Paradise Towers prospectus on the videoscreen (or ‘Picturespout’, as the Kangs call it), the Doctor responds to the boasts of the prospectus narrator by thinking he’d rather spend a night locked in a hotel with the Daleks than live here. The Kangs are amazed to learn that there are other worlds without Rezzies or Kangs and are keen to hear about them from the Doctor. The Blue Kang leader is called ‘Drinking Fountain’. Viewed by Kroagnon on the Chief Caretaker’s screen, the Doctor’s face is said to look ‘strange’ and ‘intelligent’, but also ‘impish and insolent’.

Cover: The Doctor looms large as a robot cleaner passes walls strewn with graffiti. It’s a bold composition from Alister Pearson that has a similar basic layout to some of Achilleos’ greats, but with a more photorealistic approach.  For those that are counting, this is the first cover to feature the ‘current’ Doctor prominently in the artwork since Creature from the Pit in 1981 (aside from the photographic covers, the Fifth Doctor appeared within a montage for The Five Doctors and there’s a smudge in the sky representing the regeneration on The Caves of Androzani). This would appear to be down to McCoy himself being impressed by Pearson’s artwork and the way he captured the actor’s likeness. We’ll be seeing a lot of his work from now on…

Final Analysis: This really does the job very well, creating an entire literal world out of the limited sets we saw in the televised episodes. Scenes have been moved around or joined together, avoiding the more frenetic chopping about on telly. It also helps to be able to read the dialogue and make better sense of the sometimes quite convoluted mixed-up phrases of the Kangs. Wyatt also delves a little deeper into the strange relationship between the Chief Caretaker and his pet, making it more explicit that the Chief is being controlled by Kroagnon without his knowledge. He has been ever since he discovered his ‘pet’ in the basement of the Towers. While this explains the ‘how’, it doesn’t seek to justify the ‘why’. The Chief Caretaker was simply a weak man from the start, obsessive and callous, which just made him an easy vassal for the Great Architect to steer and manipulate. Paradise Towers is the perfect proper introduction to this Doctor, toppling an entire society in just a few hours, and Wyatt presents him as almost Holmesian, piecing together clues and improvising effective escapes and solutions from items he finds lying around him.

Chapter 127. Doctor Who – Time and the Rani (1988)

Synopsis: The Doctor has regenerated after an accident in his TARDIS, and his enemy the Rani is exploiting his post-regenerative confusion to gain his assistance with one of her experiments. As Mel explores the planet Lakertya and encounters the bat-like Tetraps, the Doctor seems to have forgotten something… who is he?

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Regeneration
  • 2. The New Doctor
  • 3. Death is Sprung
  • 4. Identity Crisis
  • 5. Collaborators All
  • 6. On With The Fray
  • 7. Haute Couture
  • 8. Visions of Greatness
  • 9. Face To Face
  • 10. A Kangaroo Never Forgets
  • 11. When Strangers Meet
  • 12. ‘You Know, Don’t You!’
  • 13. Rendezvous With a Tetrap
  • 14. The Centre of Leisure
  • 15. Exchange Is A Robbery
  • 16. The Twelfth Genius
  • 17. Selective Retribution
  • 18. Too Many Cooks
  • 19. Star Struck!
  • 20. Holy Grail
  • 21. A Dangerous Break
  • 22. Countdown
  • 23. Goodbye Lakertya

Background: Pip and Jane Baker adapt their own scripts for a story from 1987.

Notes: The opening chapter is a gift – the final scene featuring the sixth Doctor. As Mel is exercising, the Doctor finds he can’t control the TARDIS. There’s mention of the Hostile Action Displacement System [see The Krotons], which the Doctor has forgotten to set. His regeneration seems to be caused when he falls head first against the TARDIS console. Or ‘tumultuous buffering’ as the authors have it.

Lakertyans still have the remnants of tails under their clothes. They have yellow skin and patches of mother-of-pearl-like scales on their arms and face. The Rani is a ‘Time Lady’ who, we’re told, the Doctor considers to be ‘more brilliant than himself’. As well as Einstein, the Rani’s collection of genii includes Charles Darwin, the physicist Niels Bohr and Louis Pasteur as well as figures from other planets such as Za Panato and Ari Centos. While the previous Doctor was six feet tall, the new one has to get used to being five feet six, hence all the falling about. He studied thermodynamics at university while the Rani specialised in chemistry. Unlike the Doctor, the Rani has never regenerated, having led a life of extreme caution. She escaped the predicament of a Tyrannosaurus Rex rapidly growing to full size due to time spillage in her own TARDIS when the creature grew too big and its spine snapped against the ceiling of the TARDIS [see Mark of the Rani].

Mel went to school in Pease Pottage, Sussex (it’s not just where she lived when she met the Doctor, she grew up there) and she once played the third witch in a production of Macbeth. As she confronts the stranger who is the new Doctor, she improvises a weapon with an acetylene torch; the Doctor uses a stool as a shield, until the seat catches fire. Later, the Doctor steps aside as a Tetrap falls into a bubble trap (on TV, he actively pushes it). He uses a penknife to release himself from the Rani’s cabinet. A Tetrap steps on a phial that Mel has dropped, accidentally smashing it and releasing a rapid-action fungus that engulfs the creature and suffocates it. At university, the Doctor and the Rani had enjoyed ‘many an academic battle of wits’ in debates. Instead of dismantling an ornamental decoration, Ikona pulls some cable from a videogame and hands it to Mel to strip for wire. When she’s finally captured by the Tetraps, the Rani is suspended upside down from the ceiling of her TARDIS.

Cover: A final photographic cover and it’s one that actually shows something interesting from the story – namely the Tetraps hanging upside down (a publicity release with an early rejected cover used the neon logo and artwork by Tony Masero of the Tetrap lair, but printed the wrong way up, to show the Tetraps, er, not upside-down). We have the introduction of the Oliver Elms logo. Alister Pearson painted a much more traditional cover for the 1991 reprint, with the Rani, a Tetrap, the new Doctor, the planet Lakertya, the space brain and a lump of strange matter all jostling for space. 

Final Analysis: A huge improvement from Terror of the Vervoids, this novelisation is less giddy and much less overwritten. A good job, as it has one of the most insane plots of any Who adventure (and I have always utterly adored it). While the Bakers used lots of words to create their Vervoids on the page, the description still didn’t successfully build a mental picture of what it was supposed to look like (a difficult task without saying ‘a mash of genitals’!). The summary of the Tetrap follows the slow build to what we saw on TV – multiple points of vision, the odd claw or foot – before the final reveal as Urak jumps out and surprises Mel:

The vulpine, rodent-like face was covered with a gangrenous, oily down. Splayed, moist nostrils and thin sucking lips were dominated by a single luminous eye that glared unblinkingly from beneath a cockscomb of bristle. The veined, bloodshot orb had an enlarged pupil with a green halo.

As if this did not create an ugly enough apparition, above each delicately pointed pink ear, a similar eye bulged.

A fourth eye adorned the back of the Tetrap’s skull. These four eyes were the reason for the three hundred and sixty degree perspective: the quadview.

A predatory grimace exposed razor-sharp cuspids as the repulsive half-ape-half-rat leered at Mel. Then a venomous forked tongue spat at her!

That isn’t to say the authors are not at their verbose best, just that it’s a lot more easy to take in this time. The decision to make the alien language of Tetrapyriarban just… English backwards is hilariously dumb though. Especially when, having come up with this idea, they then explain it. Madness! Similarly, the miraculous substance the Rani seeks is called ‘Loyhargil’, a fact revealed in a chapter called ‘Holy Grail’. Haha – marvellous.