Chapter 120. Doctor Who – The Ambassadors of Death (1987)

Synopsis: As a tracking station on Earth awaits the return of a Mars capsule and its crew, the rocket’s inhabitants are kidnapped and hidden away. Liz Shaw discovers that the astronauts are not the ones that left Earth but alien ambassadors. Someone is conspiring to use the aliens for their own means – and start a war in the process…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. ‘Something Took Off From Mars…’
  • 2. ‘That Sound – It Was Some Kind Of Message…’
  • 3. ‘They’ll Never Survive…’
  • 4. ‘Recovery Seven – It’s On The Way Back!’
  • 5. ‘The Capsule Has Landed.’
  • 6. ‘They’ve Started To Crack The Code…’
  • 7. ‘You Must Feed Them Radiation – Or They’ll Die!’
  • 8. ‘We’ve Got To Get That Rocket Up!’
  • 9. ‘Someone’s Threatening To Kill Miss Shaw!’
  • 10. ‘An Attack On The Space Centre?’
  • 11. ‘Do You Really Think They’re Not Human?’
  • 12. ‘Large Unidentified Object Approaching On Collision Course…’
  • 13. ‘The Capsule Will Be Smashed To Fragments…’
  • 14. ‘Your Doctor Friend Is As Dead As A Doornail…’
  • 15. ‘We May Not Have Much More Time!’
  • 16. ‘We’re Being Invaded!’

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1970 story credited to David Whitaker (but which also included passes by Malcolm Hulke and Trevor Ray), completing the run of Season 7 stories – and the Third Doctor’s era as a whole – that began with Target’s first original adaptations back in 1974.

Notes: The TV reporter’s name is given on screen as ‘John Wakefield’, but here it’s now ‘Michael’, while astronaut Charles Van Lyden becomes ‘Van Leyden’. Ralph Cornish at Mission Control is said to be ‘quite literally tall, dark and handsome’. Dicks is not as snide as he was about Chorley in Doctor Who and the Web of Fear, but he still makes a few sly digs at the TV reporter; he’s small, neat and bearded with a ‘low, throbbing, earnest voice that seems to be the exclusive property of a certain kind of TV journalist’. 

It was a voice that conveyed expertise, sympathy, concern and a sort of muted reproach. The implication was that somehow Michael Wakefield already knew all the answers. Luckily for him, he never had to provide them. He only asked the questions, and passed along the background information assembled for him by an expert team of researchers, all kept firmly behind the camera.

For the final time, we have Dicks’ standard description of the third Doctor, with a face that is ‘neither young nor old’, and that Bessie is ‘an Edwardian roadster’ (and I’ve waiting until now to point out that it’s not actually a Roadster, it’s a four-seater Tourer, but Roadster is such a fun word). It’s still early days for the Doctor and Liz, having only had ‘two dangerous adventures’, and we’re reminded of the incident with the Silurians. 

In the assault on the ‘enemy’ in the warehouse, the Brigadier notices that they are ‘simply better than his own men, better shots, better trained in this kind of house-to-house fighting’. It’s the fact that none of his troops has been shot that draws the Brigadier’s suspicions – accurate shots knock the guns away but nobody is actually hit, and he notes that there’s ‘something rather humiliating about fighting an enemy who weren’t even trying to hit back’. The Doctor’s trick with the disappearing tape is ‘a Time Lord technique somewhere between telekinesis and conjuring’. 

The scientist Heldorf had been a refugee and still had a trace of an accent. Reegan was born in Ireland but spent most of his life in America, among other countries, evading the law. He’d been a bank robber for the IRA until they’d discovered he’d been stealing from them. He set himself up as a professional, specialising in ‘kidnapping, extortion and murder for hire’.  

Cover: The Doctor smiles as two ambassadors in space suits approach him from behind. Tony Masero’s original cover had a much more shadowy depiction of Jon Pertwee, but this was changed in response to a request from the actor. This is the first cover to feature the Third Doctor prominently on the initial cover since The Claws of Axos (1977), or on any cover since the 1978 Three Doctors reprint (aside from a small profile as part of a montage on The Five Doctors).

Final Analysis: We begin with a deceptively simple opening line: ‘Far above the Earth, in the infinite blackness of space, two metal capsules were converging.’ That ‘infinite blackness of space’ leapt out at me as a quote from something and a quick survey on Twitter led to Paul Rhodes supplying a flurry of suggestions for a possible source. Nasa’s own public information office LB Taylor Jr appears to have coined the phrase in his commentary around the Apollo 11 moon landings, which is appropriate considering the subject of The Ambassadors of Death. An earlier reference can be found in The Transcendent Man, a 1953 novel by future Star Trek and Twilight Zone writer Jerry Sohl, while the earliest I’ve found is a 1920 edition of the handbook of the Boy Scouts of America. It’s a phrase that crops up across science fiction from Star Trek to Marvel Comics’ Silver Surfer but as yet, I’ve not found an origin. Any suggestions?

There are some other lovely turns of phrase here: The warehouse where Carrington’s crew are hiding out has ‘row upon row of arched windows, every one methodically broken by the industrious local vandals’. The little extra biographical details for Heldorf and Reegan feel like something Malcolm Hulke would have added (appropriate considering he wrote a substantial amount of the scripts). We’ve come a long way from the days where Terrance was bashing these out one a month and as we reach the end of the third Doctor’s TV adventures, this stands out as one of the author’s very best.

Chapter 102. Doctor Who – The Time Monster (1986)

Synopsis: Experiments in a Cambridge laboratory have created instability in the web of time. The Master is using a trident-shaped crystal to summon Kronos, a creature from legend that ‘eats’ time itself. Recognising the origin of the crystal, the Doctor and Jo travel back to the time of Atlantis with the hope of stopping the Master but instead find themselves caught in his trap. When Kronos finally arrives, however, it is the Master who has to plead for his life…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Nightmare
  • 2. The Test
  • 3. The Summoning
  • 4. The Ageing
  • 5. The Legend
  • 6. The Ambush
  • 7. The High Priest
  • 8. The Secret
  • 9. Time Attack
  • 10. Take-Off
  • 11. The Time-Eater
  • 12. Atlantis
  • 13. The Guardian
  • 14. The Captives
  • 15. The Return of Kronos

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Robert Sloman’s scripts for the 1972 serial, completing the run of stories from Season 9 in Target’s library.

Notes: Professor Thascalos (not ‘Thascales’) is…:

… a medium-sized, compactly but powerfully built man, this Professor Thascalos, with sallow skin and a neatly-trimmed pointed beard. His dark burning eyes radiated energy and power.

A familiar description, but it’s not until he hypnotises Doctor Charles Perceval (not ‘Percival’) that Thascalos is revealed to be the Master. Percival’s predecessor was ‘over-fond of the bottle’ and so ‘an easy man [for the Master] to impress and to deceive’. The Master’s TOMTIT apparatus recreates ‘the powers of the legendary Timescoop of the Time Lords, forbidden by Rassilon in the Dark Time’, something only revealed eleven years later (or three years ago in book terms) in The Five Doctors.

The Doctor’s TARDIS sniffer-outer’ is ‘rather like a table tennis bat’ (it looks a lot ruder on telly!). Young Atlantean councillor Miseus is renamed ‘Myseus’. Perceval is accidentally confused with Humphrey Cook when he’s called ‘Humphrey Perceval’ seconds before his final moments. Weirdly, Dicks references the new TARDIS control room design and why we don’t see it again, as Jo notes that ‘from time to time, the Doctor altered some detail of the TARDIS interior. More often than not he decided he didn’t like what he’d done and reverted to the original.’ After the Master has captured Jo and disappeared in his TARDIS, Queen Galleia frees the Doctor and admits that she was wrong to trust the Master, just as she accepts that the people of Atlantis cannot be saved.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter paints a multilayered piece depicting the female eyes of Kronos, the winged Kronos creature and the trident crystal. It might be my favourite Skilleter cover.

Final Analysis: In the 1990s, when the Pertwee backlash was in full swing in some fanzines, The Time Monster came in for a particularly hard time. Compared to the Master’s previous exploits, it feels a little lightweight and it suffers from wading in the same pool as The Daemons, which concluded the previous season. There are ancient myths, the Master posing as a member of a community and resurrecting a godlike being. Sadly, we also get a load of nonsense with the Doctor balancing house-hold rubbish on a wine bottle before playing matador with a real, live minotaur, while the whole narrative purpose of UNIT seems a long way from its origins as an organisation investigating serious alien threats to Earth. The Brigadier is particularly dim while Benton’s reward for being the only member of UNIT with any brains is to be left standing before his peers in a nappy.

I’m not here to review the TV stories of course, but it’s difficult to avoid doing so when the book sticks so closely to the transmitted version. All of these excesses are present and correct in this book and, for once, Terrance Dicks’ methodical approach doesn’t work quite so well. It can be summed up by this underwhelming description of the final destruction of the TOMTIT machine:

… the result was nothing more serious than a loud bang, a shower of sparks and a lot of smoke.

Just one other observation: In the descriptions, the Brigadier’s number two is ‘Captain Yates’ or ‘Mike Yates’, but never ‘Mike’. Always the full name.

Chapter 98. Doctor Who – The Invasion (1985)

Synopsis: International Electromatix is a world leader in developing popular electrical devices. The head of the company is the charming and persuasive Tobias Vaughn. But Vaughn’s company is merely a front for a much grander scheme. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe accidentally find themselves party to an investigation into Vaughn by an organisation called UNIT. Soon, friends old and new help the Doctor uncover the secret behind Vaughn and his partners, who also know the Doctor of old…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Home Sweet Home?
  • 2. Old Friends
  • 3. Cat and Mouse
  • 4. Hitching Lifts
  • 5. Skeletons and Cupboards
  • 6. Secret Weapons
  • 7. Underground Operations
  • 8. Invasion
  • 9. Counter Measures
  • 10. The Nick of Time

Background: Ian Marter adapts scripts from the 1968 serial by Kit Pedler and Derrick Sherwin.

Notes: The TARDIS pulls itself together and the Doctor’s companions reappear after the ‘disintegration of the TARDIS in their previous adventure [which] had been a horrifying experience’ [we might assume this follows on from The Mind Robber, but it could also be from some unseen adventure]. Jamie is ‘a robust young Highlander clad in faded kilt and sporran, tattered sleeveless sheepskin waistcoat and sturdy boots’, while Zoe is ‘a bright-eyed teenager with a large face, wide mouth and short black hair and she was wearing a tomboyish trouser-suit’ (not the sparkly catsuit seen on screen or the gaudy mini-skirt and stockings she picks up at Isobel’s apartment). The Doctor has ‘small hands’ apparently, and he looks like ‘an old-fashioned fairground showman’. Later, he’s said to chew the ‘frayed edge of his cravat’.

International ‘Electromatics’ becomes ‘Electromatix’ and its logo is a ‘zig-zag of lightning in the grip of a clenched glove’ rather than the letters ‘IE’ on screen. The introduction of Tobias Vaughn is extraordinarily precise:

The combination of swept-back silver hair and thick black eyebrows gave the older man a disturbing appearance. His right eye was permanently half closed, but his left gazed wide open with chilling pale blue iris and huge black pupil. His clothes were coldly elegant: a plain suit with collarless jacket, round-necked shirt and gleaming black shoes with chrome buckles.

(The detail of his half-closed eye is that of the actor, Kevin Stoney, not the character!)

When Vaughn asks ‘whom I have had the pleasure..?’ the Doctor replies, ‘Not Whom… Who…’ – the closest reminder we’ve had in a while of his proper, official, no-arguments surname. Vaughn  opens the hidden panel in his office with a control disguised as a pen. The machine behind the panel – referred to as the Cyber Unit or Cyber Module – claims to recognise the Doctor and Jamie from ‘Planet Sigma Gamma 14’. The Module is about two metres high, resembling ‘a gigantic radio valve’. 

Bristling electrodes sprouted from a revolving central crystal suspended within a delicate cage of sparking, fizzing filaments. Cathode tubes were arranged like a belt of glass ammunition around the base of the cage and the whole sparkling mechanism was supported in a lattice of shimmering wires and tubes. The planes of the crystal flickered with millions of tiny points of intense blue light and the apparatus possessed a sinister beauty as it hovered in the darkness.

The Brigadier is introduced as a ‘tall officer’ with a ‘strong square-jawed face and neatly clipped moustache suggesting calm and confident authority.’ The communications device he gives to the Doctor is a ‘Polyvox’ with a range of 100km – slightly more powerful than the onscreen ‘TM-45’, which could cover 50 miles (about 80km). He becomes increasingly irritated by the Doctor’s insistence of signing off a radio transmission with a cheery ‘Under and off” and later ‘Down and out’! Jamie writes ‘Kilroy was here’ in the dust on the top of a lift; it’s a nice reference to a bit of graffiti that Frazer Hines wrote on the lift shaft wall on TV, but it’s odd that Jamie even knows the phrase, while the Doctor doesn’t recognise it. Two of the workmen in the IE complex are named ‘Sangster and Graves’ (as far as I know, this is the only time my surname appears in a Target book, but I suspect it’s more a reference to the Hammer horror writer-director than a teenage me). Major-General Rutlidge becomes ‘Routledge’; he addresses the Brigadier as ‘Alistair’ (the Brig’s first name wasn’t revealed on screen until Planet of the Spiders).

Marter’s description of an emerging Cyberman matches that of the ones he himself saw in Revenge of the Cybermen:

It stood about two metres high, with a square head from which right-angled loops of hydraulic tubing protruded on either side. Its rudimentary face comprised two blank viewing lenses for eyes and a rectangular slit for a mouth. The broad chest contained a grilled ventilator unit which hissed nightmarishly. Thick flexible tubing ran along the arms and down each leg and was connected into a flattened humplike unit on the creature’s back. Faint gasping and whirring noises inside the silvery body accompanied every movement.

It’s a ‘young constable’ who follows the crazy kids down into the sewers to his death (he’s a little older on TV). Gregory is shot dead during the rescue of Professor Watkins, rather than by a rogue Cyberman in the sewers. When Vaughn dies, his screams sound like a Cyberman. There are a few name changes along the way: Watkins’ machine is called the ‘Cerebration Mentor’ (not ‘Cerebraton’); ‘Henlow Downs’ becomes ‘Henlow Flats’ (echoes of Quatermass II there); Major Branwell and Sergeant Peters become ‘Squadron Leader Branwell’ and flight lieutenant Peters; and, famously, the Russian missile base is called ‘Nykortny’ after Ian Marter’s good friend Nicholas Courtney (and I suspect the final chapter title is a tribute to him as well). The missiles target a single Cyber-mothership, rather than an entire fleet. Jamie spends two days in hospital before the time travellers depart – and the Brigadier joins Isobel and Captain Turner in waving them off.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter’s original cover has a Cyberman holding a flaming gun in front of a red UNIT emblem. For the 1993 reprint, Alister Pearson paints the Doctor musing in front of two symmetrically positioned Cybermen.

Final Analysis: We reach peak Marter here, as the author goes all out with gruey violence: Having been compelled to shoot himself, Routledge ‘vomited a stream of blood and pitched forward onto his face at Vaughn’s feet’ while the Cybermen are destroyed by the Cerebration Mentor ‘with smoke and black fluid-like pus oozing from their joints and grilles’. There’s also the return of a singular swearword, as Packer vows ‘We’ll kill the bastard this time’. On publication, this more adult approach was received with some concern, but it does at least make the stakes feel really high. Weirdly, it also makes the Cybermen feel more of a threat, even though they’re possibly even less of a physical presence here than on TV. As in Marter’s Earthshock, the horror of the Cybermen is a sensual experience, from the electric fizzing of the Module to the ‘nightmarish mechanical rasp’ of their breath, ‘rubbery’ with ‘sickly, oily exhalations’. When one of them is struck in the chest unit by an exploding grenade, ‘thick black fluid pump[s] copiously out of the severed tubes’. And, having made Packer even more violent and sadistic than his TV counterpart, it’s satisfying that he gets a particularly gruesome exit:

The Cyberman’s laser unit emitted a series of blinding flashes and Packer’s body seemed to alternate from positive to negative in the blistering discharge. His uniform erupted into flames and his exposed skin crinkled and fused like melted toffee papers. 

Chapter 96. Doctor Who – The Mind of Evil (1985)

Synopsis: The Doctor and Jo attend a presentation at Stangmoor Prison, where a pioneering new machine for treating violent criminals is being tested. UNIT is providing security at an international conference while also overseeing the transportation of a missile. A series of seemingly unconnected deaths at the prison and among the peace conference are further complicated by a riot breaking out at the prison. The chaos is another scheme by the Master and the Doctor has it in his power to bring it all to an end – but is the price too high even for him?

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Sentence
  • 2. The Terror
  • 3. The Inferno
  • 4. The Listener
  • 5. The Pistol
  • 6. The Dragon
  • 7. The Hostage
  • 8. The Mutiny
  • 9. The Test
  • 10. The Mind Parasite
  • 11. Hijack
  • 12. The Escape
  • 13. The Attack
  • 14. The Reunion
  • 15. The Mind of Evil
  • 16. The Farewell

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts by Don Houghton for the 1971 serial, completing Target’s run of stories from Season 8.

Notes: A few characters gain additional back-stories. The governor of Stangmore is named ‘Victor Camford’; he’s ‘a massive, heavy-featured man with dark hair and bushy eyebrows’. Professor Kettering is revealed to be completely out of his depth, adept at politics but completely ignorant of the workings of the Keller machine. He was hired personally by Emil Keller and it’s clear the eminent scientist (who is the Master of course) was exploiting Kettering’s personality flaws. Barnham ‘choked the life out of a security guard’ who disturbed him during a robbery. Harry Mailer has ‘a weathered, corrugated look, as if made of leather rather than normal skin’. A gang leader who organised a ‘highly successful’ protection racket in London, Mailer was arrested and convicted after killing someone within sight of witnesses. It’s suggested that he might have been responsible for many other murders, bodies that have never been found as they’re ’embedded in the foundations of bridges and motorways all over England’ (see also Meglos for another example of hiding bodies in motorway constructions). 

Captain Yates is ‘a thin, sensitive-looking young man, a good deal tougher than he looked’. Benton relishes the opportunity for some plain-clothes work and imagines himself as ‘James Bond’. We’re treated to the best description of him so far:

The Sergeant had many excellent qualities. He was a burly, handsome young man, a fine figure in his military uniform. He was completely fearless and utterly loyal. But he wouldn’t have been the Brigadier’s first choice for an undercover assignment. For one thing, he was just too big. Benton lurking in a doorway with his raincoat collar turned up, was about as inconspicuous as an elephant at a tea party. 

The Brigadier nods off at his desk and he dreams he is a young subaltern again, with a young lady called Doris [see Planet of the Spiders and Battlefield]. The Doctor eventually recalls that the parasite inside the machine comes from a planet from which ‘no expedition had ever returned’. As it begins an attack on the Master, the Keller Machine is said to be ‘fully aroused’.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter paints a portrait of the Master with the missile.

Final Analysis: Considering how those mid-to-late Tom Baker books saw a surfeit of Dicks, it really is a treat to find one of his books is next on the list. Terrance dominated the first 100 releases, but there are few of them left by this point. We can rejoice in this one being the second and last of Don Houghton’s scripts to be novelised, from an era where, along with producer Barry Letts, Terrance was king of Doctor Who. There’s a sense that the story is made up largely of three ‘episode two’s sandwiched between an opening and closing episode; Terrance does little to change this, but it’s enjoyable to see a few additional bits of detail that sketch in the lives of our supporting characters.

On TV, Professor Kettering reacts against the Doctor at his most obnoxious, whereas here, we find out he is completely winging it and the Doctor is (unconsciously) correct to pick apart his claims. Barnham and Mailer are both revealed to be extremely violent thugs, so the contrast between them after Barnham has been processed is even more stark – and Mailer is immediately as threatening a presence as he is on screen. A surprise and disappointment comes with the arrival of the Chinese dragon, which kills the delegate. While it provides an appropriate point to conclude a chapter, Dicks doesn’t make much of it or make any attempt to make it more dramatic than the ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ that so failed to impress the production team as it waddled onto set. For once, he chooses just to say ‘it happened’ and move on. Whether this was down to word-count or he was just trying not to resurrect painful memories of the costume, we’ll never know.

Chapter 89. Doctor Who – Inferno (1984)

Synopsis: UNIT has been invited to provide security for a top secret drilling project to find a new energy source from the Earth’s core. Hoping that the facility might help with his repairs to the TARDIS, the Doctor immediately becomes an irritation for the project’s director and instigator Professor Stahlman, who is determined to see the project to undoubted victory, whatever the risk. Then a freak accident sees the Doctor transported to a parallel world where Stahlman’s project is much further advanced – and the dangers more apparent. Can the Doctor save this world and make it back to his own in time?

Chapter Titles

  • 1 Project Inferno
  • 2. The Beast
  • 3. Mutant
  • 4. The Slime
  • 5. Dimension of Terror
  • 6. The Nightmare
  • 7. Death Sentence
  • 8. Countdown to Doom
  • 9. Penetration-Zero
  • 10. The Monsters
  • 11. Escape Plan
  • 12. Doomsday
  • 13. Return to Danger
  • 14. The Last Mutation
  • 15. The Doctor Takes a Trip

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts for the 1970 serial by Don Houghton.

Notes: The Stahlman Project is ‘the greatest scientific project that England had ever known’; it’s predicted to be ‘more technologically advanced than nuclear power’ and, more importantly, ‘far more lucrative than North Sea Oil’, promising ‘limitless free energy for everyone’. We’re reminded that these are still the early days of the Doctor’s exile by the Time Lords to Earth. The complex that houses the project is in ‘a messy, unattractive-looking area’ – and this will be relevant later.

Professor Stahlman’s first name is Eric and he grew up ‘in the ruins of post-war Germany’ (which means he’s either only in his late twenties or he grew up in post-First-World-War Germany – unless Terrance Dicks is maintaining the idea of UNIT stories being set in a ‘near future’).  Sir Keith Gold observes Professor Stahlman’s ‘bulky broad-shouldered body and massive close-cropped head’, with a neat beard; in his mind, Sir Keith compares him to a gorilla in a lab coat – and immediately feels guilty for being so uncharitable. It’s an interesting choice to make Stahlman physically strong, ‘powerfully built man’, as this accentuates his early encounter with the Doctor, who restrains him with just two fingers and freezes him to the spot.

Liz Shaw is a ‘serious-looking girl with reddish-brown hair’ dressed in ‘a rather incongruously frivolous-looking mini-skirt’ – details which help to provide contrast with the parallel-world version. We’re reminded that Liz is ‘a scientist of some distinction in her own right’ and that she had been brought into UNIT from Cambridge ‘some time ago’. Petra Williams is ‘an attractive white-coated young woman, with a pleasant open face’ – yes, just like the Fifth Doctor – ‘framed by long fair hair’. Greg Sutton is said to be ‘a burly, broad-shouldered man’ and he has ‘a pleasantly ugly face’ (a bit unfair on Derek Newark there, Terrance!)  and ‘a sun-baked, wind-weathered complexion’. 

The Doctor witnesses Stahlman stealing the microcircuit and exclaims ‘Jumping Jehosophat’, as he does when he sees the Master in The Five Doctors. When he finally escapes limbo and lands in the parallel world, the Doctor is aware that he’s not where he’d previously been because the hut is tidy (the Doctor likes ‘a bit of clutter’). The neatness extends to the rest of the surrounding area, which has also been ‘tidied up’. Without the moustache of the Brigadier, the Brigade Leader’s mouth looks ‘thin-lipped and cruel’. The Doctor begins to speculate as to the cause of the parallel world and guesses that it might be down to a different outcome for the Second World War. The savage beasts are simply mutants (they’re called ‘Primords’ on the end titles of the TV episodes, but the word isn’t used in dialogue or in the novel). The novel retains the radio broadcasts that were cut from the original transmission (but retained for overseas broadcast). The Doctor checks his pulse and it’s ‘normal’ at 70 (it’s 170 on TV). The Doctor realises that he was so ‘haunted by that nightmarish vision of an exploding Earth’ that his violent outburst at Stahlman will have damaged his credibility.

Cover: Nick Spender’s fiery illustration shows a likeness of Ian Fairbairn as technician Bromley beginning to transform into an atavistic beast on the roof of a cooling tower beneath a burning sky. It’s quite the scariest cover since Alun Hood’s 1979 piece for the Terror of the Autons reprint.

Final Analysis: The first of two Don Houghton stories adapted by Terrance Dicks and it’s a real treat. It benefits from the increased page-count that’s gradually crept in since Terrance’s middle-period, plus it’s the sort of story that really plays to Terrance’s strengths as his economic thumbnail-sketch descriptions help us remember who’s who and what’s different about them in the other world. We also get an insight into the Doctor’s thought process, initially fascinated by the opportunity to explore a parallel world until he begins to treat the people he encounters as real, and not just disposable alternatives of the ones he knew on the other Earth. His horror at realising he has to give up on the alt-world to gain the chance to save his own Earth stays with him, even down to him accepting his desperation has alienated the very people he’s trying to save. And as we’ll discover, it’s a devastating decision that will haunt him for… well, at least as long as Don Houghton’s other story.

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.

Bonus Chapter #1. Junior Doctor Who and the Giant Robot (May 1979)

Synopsis: A giant robot created by evil scientists stalks through the night, smashing everything in its path, while the Doctor recovers from changing his body. It’s the same plot as Doctor Who and the Giant Robot, but much, much faster!

Chapter Titles

Almost identical to the original novel, apart from an edit to chapter two.

  • 1. Killer in the Night
  • 2. More than Human
  • 3. Trouble at Thinktank
  • 4. Robot!
  • 5. The Killer Strikes Again
  • 6. Trapped by the Robot
  • 7. The World in Danger
  • 8. In the Hands of the Enemy
  • 9. The Battle at the Bunker
  • 10. The Countdown Begins
  • 11. The Kidnapping of Sarah
  • 12. The Giant Terror

Background: Terrance Dicks rewrites his previous adaptation of the story for ages 5-8.

Notes: The whole story is streamlined down to very simple descriptions and dialogue. Harry’s entire James Bond subplot is reduced down to two lines before he’s knocked out (and he calls the Brigadier on a radio rather than finding a telephone). The story ends with the Doctor watching as the robot turns to rust and is blown away. He muses whether he can tempt Sarah off on another adventure – but there’s no mention of Harry joining them.

Cover & Illustrations: The cover by Harry Hants has a slightly caricatured Tom Baker with a very detailed side-on view of K1 and an army truck. Peter Edwards provides 46 line illustrations that aren’t exactly flattering to their subjects but are still better likenesses of the guest cast than most of the early Target books had (they’re reminiscent of the kind of illustrations Terrence Greer used to do for Penguin, or it might remind modern adult readers of the grotesque characters in BBC Three’s animated comedy Monkey Dust). There’s a joyful picture of the Doctor emerging with a beaming grin from the TARDIS in a Viking outfit, while the scene of the virus being flung at the robot is gleefully epic. Kettlewell is, surprisingly, more refined than on telly, a bespectacled bald man, lacking the TV version’s crazy hair.

Final Analysis: Writing for younger children, Dicks manages to get all the details lined up in the correct order and rushes through the story with lots of energy. As the original novel was also the first not to have any illustrations, Peter Edwards’ ink drawings are a real treat that really help to tell the story rather than just break up the text.

Chapter 44. Doctor Who and the Android Invasion (1978)

Synopsis: The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Sarah to an English village where something is wrong. The locals seem cold and machine-like, while a group of blank-faced astronauts patrol the area and shoot at the new arrivals. The Doctor tries to piece together the clues around him, but it’s Sarah who reveals the truth; the village isn’t a real village, this isn’t really Earth – and Sarah is not the real Sarah! The whole thing is an elaborate copy created by Styggron – chief scientist of the Kraals. And the real invasion has already begun…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Strange Arrival
  • 2. Village of Terror
  • 3. The Watcher
  • 4. Hunted
  • 5. Captured
  • 6. The Test
  • 7. The Countdown
  • 8. Braindrain
  • 9. Blastoff
  • 10. Hero’s Return
  • 11. Takeover
  • 12. Death of a Doctor

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Terry Nation’s 1975 scripts, completing the run of Season 13 stories for Target.

Notes: Sarah wears ‘casual late-twentieth-century clothes, with a brightly coloured scarf at her throat’. The army soldier who throws himself off the cliff isn’t from UNIT and the android Sarah finds inside the capsule by the TARDIS is an old lady. Chased by patrol dogs, the Doctor has a curious thought that anyone who thinks foxes enjoy being hunted should try being chased across country by dogs themselves. Styggron is described thusly:

The face hovering over her was broad and flat with leathery greenish skin. It was heavily jowled with a squashed pig-like snout, underhung jaw, and enormous ears set flat against a massive skull. Huge eyes glowed in cavernous sockets beneath the jutting brows. 

The calendar in the Fleur de Lys only shows the month of September (on TV, it’s a day-by-day calendar with solely ‘Friday July 6th’ pages). The entrance to the Kraal bunker is hidden inside an empty barn. When Styggron says ‘There is no time for pleasantries’, the Doctor asks rudely: ‘How about unpleasantries, pig face?’ Haha!

Benton has promised to take his sister to the village dance (not The Palais). It’s not exactly clear on TV, but the android Benton is found leaning over Benton’s body. Here’s the paragraph:

The kneeling man turned and looked up at him and Adams gave a gasp of astonishment. The soldier leaning over Benton, was Benton… He opened his mouth to shout an alarm, and a savage blow struck him down from behind. The android technician caught the falling body and laid it down beside the body of the real Benton. The android Benton got to its feet, and gave a nod of satisfaction. ‘Good. Have them taken away…’

That’s not just ‘the unconscious Benton’, it’s ‘Benton’s body’. Eek!

It’s the Benton android, not the Doctor Android, that points out that there’s ‘much to do’. Once the Doctor has bluffed his way past Android Benton, the scene is not repeated with the android Doctor. We don’t get the final scene of the Doctor and Sarah leaving in the TARDIS; instead, the Doctor plans to collect up all the androids and dismantle them before the scanner beam can be switched off. Marshal Chedaki, meanwhile, waits in vain for Styggron’s signal to begin the invasion. ‘With Styggron dead, his master plan had come to nothing. The android invasion was over.’

Cover: Another brilliant cover by Roy Knipe, it’s just the Doctor being tied to the village memorial by spacemen while Styggron looks off into middle distance, but it’s so effective.

Final Analysis: Often dismissed as lightweight because of the grittier stories that surround it, I’m very fond of The Android Invasion. Here, Dicks adds a little to the playfulness between Sarah and the Doctor where, in the past, that might have been trimmed. Chedaki is more of an antagonist to Styggron, as a disgruntled leader of the military wing, and he’s more threatening a presence than the subservient TV version. Dicks then tidies up all the loose ends in a final section that unfortunately stresses just how rushed the conclusion was on telly.

And just in case we’re in any doubt – it’s Benton’s BODY! Not so lightweight now, eh?

Chapter 42. Doctor Who and the Time Warrior (1978)

Synopsis: Scientists have disappeared from across the country. In an attempt to keep them safe, the remaining experts have been brought to a research centre under the guard of UNIT – but still they continue to vanish. The Doctor identifies the cause must be someone with access to time travel. Following the trail in the TARDIS back to the Middle Ages, the Doctor discovers the time-hopping kidnapper is a Sontaran warrior – unaware that the TARDIS has brought alomg a 20th-Century stowaway aboard in the form of intrepid journalist Sarah Jane Smith. 

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1.  Irongron’s Star
  • 2. Linx’s Bargain
  • 3. Sarah’s Bluff
  • 4. Irongron’s Captive
  • 5. The Doctor Disappears
  • 6. A Shock for Sarah
  • 7. Prisoner in the Past
  • 8. The Robot Knight
  • 9. Linx’s Slaves
  • 10. Irongron’s Wizard
  • 11. The Rescue
  • 12. The Doctor’s Magic
  • 13. Counter Attack
  • 14. The Robot’s Return
  • 15. Shooting Gallery
  • 16. Return to Danger
  • 17. Linx’s Departure

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Robert Holmes’ scripts for the 1973-4 serial, except from the prologue, which Holmes wrote himself before handing the task over to Dicks.

Notes: Three years after the word ‘Sontaran’ first appeared in a Target book [see Terror of the Autons], we finally meet one – in the most exciting prologue ever, written by Robert Holmes! We join Sontaran Commander Jingo Linx as his ship faces certain obliteration after an unsuccessful battle against the Rutans in their third galactic war. We learn that the Sontarans come from the planet Sontara and he listens to the ‘sweet strains of the Sontaran Anthem’ (presumably the same one that accompanies Linx’s flag when he erects it in front of Bloodaxe) as his ship makes a last desperate escape from the black, dart-shaped Rutan pursuit ships. Sontarans are cyborgs, thanks to implants in the back of their neck that allow them to draw energy through a ‘probic vent’. The procedure that allows this is undergone on entry to the Space Corps and although it gives him a rush of energy, Linx always dreads taking a ‘power burn’.

The flood of power through his tissues was like a roaring madness, a chaotic maelstrom of colour and sound depriving him of all sentient knowledge of the outside world. He felt himself clinging like a limpet within some solitary crevice of consciousness, aware only that he still existed… still existed… still… 

His cruiser is destroyed, driven into a sun as a diversion to allow him to escape the Rutans in a small scout ship. As the ship heads towards a little blue planet orbiting the sun, Linx allows himself a smile usually reserved for the ‘ the death throes of an enemy’. Most of the details here have been forgotten by subsequent authors, even Holmes himself [see The Two Doctors], but it should be mandatory reading for any hopeful Sontaran scribes. 

Irongron and his band of men had once ‘roamed the forest like wolves’ before stumbling upon a castle abandoned by a lord away ‘at the wars’. His group attacked the castle at night, its inhabitants massacred, and the castle became his. His nearest neighbour, Sir Edward Fitzroy, is sickly, having returned from the Crusades with a fever. Sir Edward’s son and most of his soldiers are still fighting the king’s crusades overseas, leaving him with a depleted defence. His young squire, Eric, is given a splendid introduction, riding through the forest, wary of being too close to Irongron’s castle and falling victim to a simple trap laid by Bloodaxe.

When he first addresses Irongron, Linx speaks with ‘a booming metallic voice… strangely accented but clearly understandable English’ and the suggestion is that this is due to a translation device, not his natural voice.

The Brigadier brings the Doctor in to investigate the missing scientists and equipment to distract him as he’s missing Jo since she had got married and has refused a new assistant ever since. The Doctor is described as ‘a tall man with a lined young-old face and a shock of white hair’ (we’ll be seeing this description regularly from now on). He insists on having the TARDIS brought to the research centre in case there’s an alien influence he needs to trace. Sarah Jane Smith is introduced, ‘an attractive dark-haired girl’ who is a freelance journalist (the ‘freelance’ bit is new to the book) who has been ‘making her own way in a man’s world for some years now, and she strongly resented any suggestion that her sex doomed her to an inferior role’. The Doctor tells Rubeish that ‘Lavinia Smith’ is a woman in her ‘late sixties’ as well as being in America. The Brigadier reminds the Doctor about his failed attempts to reach Metabelis III (‘I got there eventually’, says the Doctor defensively). We get Sarah’s first reaction to the inside of the TARDIS and she hides inside a wardrobe when the Doctor enters. Realising that the wardrobe is bigger than the police box she entered – and the central control room even bigger again – she quickly forms a theory that the Doctor is an alien responsible for kidnapping the scientists. She also watches the switch the Doctor uses to open the door and uses the same switch to escape.

Linx rides on horseback for the attack on Sir Edward’s castle. The attack on Linx, the destruction of Irongron’s castle and the Doctor’s departure with Sarah all happen at night. Although Hal’s arrow kills Linx, the hand of the dead warrior hits the launch button and his ship escapes the burning castle to be returned with Linx’s corpse to the war in the stars. And hurrah for Hal as he rescues Squire Eric from the dungeon!

Oh and there’s a chapter title called ‘Return to Danger’ – so close!!

Cover: Linx the Sontaran strikes a dramatic pose before his globe-shaped craft, a superb photorealistic portrait by Roy Knipe. The cover for the 1993 reprint by Alister Pearson places the Doctor, Sarah and Irongron in square tiles behind Linx, who’s side on and holding his helmet by his side.

Final Analysis: It might be heresy but I’m not a fan of this story on TV and reading this story I can put it down to Alan Bromly’s static, leaden direction. But look at all the notes in this chapter and join me in wondering if Terrance Dicks was spurred on by his friend Holmes’ wonderful opening prologue – top three in the series so far*. Compare the two descriptions of Linx’s face – the first is by Holmes, the second by Dicks, picking up the baton:

… the heavy bones, the flat powerful muscles, the leathery, hairless epidermis, the calculating brain.… little, red eyes that were like fire-lit caves under the great green-brown dome of a skull…

The face beneath was something out of a nightmare. The head was huge and round, emerging directly from the massive shoulders. The hairless skull was greenish-brown in colour, the eyes small and red. The little nose was a pig-like snout, the mouth long and lipless. It was a face from one of Earth’s dark legends, the face of a goblin or a troll. 

This extends to the major and minor characters – how Sir Edward waits for his wife to ‘run out of words’ and on the very next line ‘It was a considerable wait.’ It’s clear Dicks enjoyed this. I know I did. 

* – See also Doctor Who and the Crusaders and Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks.

Chapter 31. Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos (1977)

Synopsis: A strange object from space lands on Earth near a nuclear power station. Inside are Axons, a family of golden beings who offer unlimited power in return for help with their damaged spacecraft. While the Doctor tries to keep an open mind, an ambitious politician rushes to seize the Axon’s power for his own interests. Deep inside the alien craft, the Master is being held captive – and as Jo Grant discovers, that’s not the only secret the Axons are keeping…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Invader from Space
  • 2. The Landing
  • 3. The Voice of Axos
  • 4. Enter the Master
  • 5. The Doctor Makes a Plan
  • 6. Escape from Axos
  • 7. The Axons Attack
  • 8. The Power Robbers
  • 9. The Sacrifice
  • 10. Brainstorm
  • 11. The Feast of Axos
  • 12. Trapped in Time

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts by Bob Baker and Dave Martin from the 1971 production.

Notes: As it soars towards Earth, the Axos ship has a ‘constantly changing’ shape and glows with a ‘myriad of colours’ – its intention is to be noticed. The first scene with the two radio operators is expanded here; they’re not UNIT operators here, but personnel at the tracking station – Ransome and his assistant, Harry – who work down the list of people they need to contact and find ‘something called UNIT’. The first interaction between the Brigadier and Chinn also provides background information – the minister in overall charge of Chinn’s department cannot stand him, and as the Brigadier is also a problem, he decides to set the two men against each other in the hope that the winner will eliminate one or the other. Although UNIT is governed from Geneva, the Brigadier’s operations are part-funded by the British Government. Corporal Bell is not part of this story, her role is given to a nameless male technician.

We get an introductory scene where Bill Filer is on the hunt for a man called ‘Joe Grant’ – and Jo corrects him. Bill is described as having ‘closely trimmed brown hair and a pleasantly ugly face’ – wow, that’s a pretty mean swipe at the reasonably handsome Paul Grist who played him.

The Doctor and Jo drive to the landing site in Bessie (yay!). 

The Axon who first frightens Jo subsequently appears as a male identical to the Axon leader. The Axon leader does not assume that the toad is livestock, but spells out the potential, had it been a ‘food animal’. The process transforms the toad into a huge form that overwhelms Chinn and makes him scream. Later, as Axos reacts to the Doctor’s experiment, the Eye of Axos is said to be ‘lashing wildly to and fro on its stalk’, which is much more fluid a movement than the TV prop could manage.

Jo overhears the Doctor speculating about Axonite’s potential for time travel and suspects he has selfish intentions early on. The Doctor spots straight away that the Axon-Filer is a fake thanks to his experience of the Autons replicating humans. He also baffles a sentry to gain access to the arrested Brigadier: ‘Good heavens, man, I know the Brigadier’s incommunicado. I’m incommunicado myself. There’s no reason why we can’t talk to each other.’ Delightful!

The Master enters the Nuton complex disguised as a visitings scientist and recalls the time he broke into UNIT HQ dressed as a ‘humble telephone engineer’. The Master’s TARDIS is a white dome, not a filing cabinet.

To the Eye of Axos’s surprise, the Doctor reveals that he’s deduced that Axos already has some limited ability for time travel; he realised that Axos reached Earth before the missiles were fired and Axos confesses that they can ‘move only moments in Time.’ Hardiman’s assistant (credited on screen as ‘Technician’) is named ‘Ericson’.

Cover: Achilleos gives us an eerie female Axon with rays of light coming from her eyes while an Axon monster looms behind her and the Doctor (taken from a photo from Frontier in Space) is pictured inset looking concerned. A 1979 edition had a cover by John Geary showing the adult male Axon and two very green Axon monsters.

Final Analysis: I’m hugely fond of The Claws of Axos TV episodes, one of those comfort stories I can bung on while I decide what I’d sooner be watching and then settle down and enjoy it. Terrance Dicks captures all of the conflicted loyalties that the Axons draw out of our heroes – are they victims in need, or should they have been blasted into bits from the start? –  but he enhances the suspicion that the Doctor is solely interested in using Axos to escape Earth and relishes in making Chinn hated by absolutely everyone he encounters. The Master once again enjoys the thrill of the adventure, deciding on a whim to jump from a bridge onto a UNIT truck and then exploiting his good fortune when it turns out to be going where he wants to be. The ending is also less rushed than on TV, as Bill Filer says his goodbyes and jokes that he’d thought England would be ‘dull’, Chinn scampers back to the Minister to try framing the success as his own, while the operation to rescue the TARDIS and get it onto the back of a UNIT truck turns into a huge argument, which Jo welcomes as things getting ‘back to normal’.