Synopsis: The Doctor and Peri meet the revolutionary engineer George Stephenson, still some years before he achieved fame. Stephenson has organised a meeting of some of the greatest minds of the age, but the event is threatened by a series of attacks from Luddites intent on wrecking any chance of progress. In reality, the attackers are victims of the Rani, an amoral Time Lord. Wanting to be left alone to her experiments, the Rani is instead coerced into joining forces with the Master against the Doctor…
1. House Of Evil
2. The Scarecrow
3. The Old Crone
4. Death Fall
5. Enter The Rani
6. Miasimia Goria
7. A Deadly Signature
8. Face To Face
9. Triumph Of The Master
10. A Change Of Loyalty
11. Fools Rush In
12. An Unpleasant Surprise
13. Taken For A Ride
14. The Bait
16. Life In The Balance
17. More Macabre Memorials
19. Birth Of A Carnivore
20. The Final Question
Background: Pip and Jane Baker adapt their own scripts from 1985. Jane Baker becomes only the second woman to have her name on the front of a Target novel. Due to Vengeance on Varos being delayed, the book numbering skips from 105 to 107; it’ll be a couple of years before 106 makes an appearance.
Notes: A prologue full of foreboding and an added TARDIS scene where the Doctor is said to possess an ‘unruly mop of fair curls’ and considers visiting Napoleon while Peri tries to avoid a debate with her travelling companion about English grammar. It’s honestly much funnier than that might sound. It’s Peri who speculates the Daleks might be behind the TARDIS veering off course, despite not having met them at this point (it’s the Doctor on TV). Peri has apparently proven in the past that she’s an expert ‘marksman’. In the Epilogue, we learn that the Doctor finally manages to take Peri to Kew Gardens, but the botany student is distracted, after her experience in Redfern Dell, every flower she looks at appears to have a human face…
Cover: Andrew Skilleter gives us the Rani disguised as an unidentifiable old crone, accompanied by the Rani’s TARDIS flying through the vortex and in the distance a coal mine. Apparently the unused cover, which used a likeness of Kate O’Mara, was also the one Skilleter was paid the most for. This is the last book to feature his original artwork, although his covers for the VHS releases were also on a selection of Target reprints.
Final Analysis: What a way to start a book: ‘Evil cannot be tasted, seen, or touched.’ Glorious hyperbole from the traditionally understated (!) Pip and Jane as they make the bold claim that the small mining community is so saturated in evil that ‘[if] allowed to flourish, the poisonous epidemic could reduce humankind to a harrowing role that would give a dung beetle superior status.’ Right from the off, P&J’s depiction of the Sixth Doctor is the most likeable and charming we’ve seen so far; his relationship with Peri is teasing but affectionate – he wants to make sure they reach Kew Gardens because it’s somewhere Peri really wants to visit. Knowing the writers’ propensity for sesquipedalian language, we might expect an exuberance for prose of a purple hue. Joking aside, this is refreshingly elegant, neither as florid as some of its recent predecessors nor as basic as a traditional Terrance Dicks. We also know that the Bakers, like Malcolm Hulke, were left-wing and they take great pains to disillusion the reader from imagining this historical trip as a jolly fantasy. Facing the prospect of being abandoned by the Doctor, Peri takes a morose turn:
Sooty eight year old urchins, scavenging for coal, tottered past with heavy baskets. Why weren’t they at school, she wondered, then remembered George Stephenson saying he was working down the mine at the age of nine. How romantic the prospect of this visit had been only a short while ago! Now she thought of the mean streets, cramped dwellings and the lack of hygiene. Hygiene? What if she were ill? Medical science didn’t exist. Depression making her morbid, she gazed at her leg. Suppose she had an accident and it had to be amputated? Anaesthetics hadn’t even been dreamt of! She’d just have to – what was the phrase? – bite on the bullet…
Synopsis: Two spacecraft lie in ruins on an otherwise deserted planet. The Doctor and his friends must decide who to help – the beautiful Drahvins and their leader Maaga, or the hideous Rills and their robot servants. Their choice is made all the more difficult when the Doctor learns that the planet is about to explode…
1. Four Hundred Dawns
2. Trap of Steel
4. The Exploding Planet
Background: William Emms adapts his own 1965 scripts for a serial generally known as ‘Galaxy 4’, 20 years and one month after the story aired.
Notes: The book is divided into four chapters that pretty much match the TV episodes. The Doctor brings the TARDIS ‘back into time and space’, though we’re not told from where. Steven is said to have fair hair. The unnamed planet’s surface is black, like tarmac, and the Doctor identifies it as being in ‘Galaxy Four’ (getting in an early title check and providing better context for the title than the TV serial had). When Steven ponders which of the three suns they might be revolving around, the Doctor suggests it’s ‘quite possible that they revolve around us’.
The Drahvins have…
… long, blonde hair and would have been considered extremely attractive by any man were it not for the total lack of warmth in their faces which were straight and set, reflecting no emotion whatsoever.
They carry weapons like machine guns. When held at gunpoint, the Doctor notes that there appears to be ‘something of a surplus of weapons on this planet’, which he doesn’t care for. He notices that the Drahvins are not identical, so are not physical clones, but he speculates that they might have cloned minds.
Fleeing the Chumbleys, the Doctor has ‘hearts’ (plural) and he wishes that he ‘had found a younger body to inhabit’ as ‘there was not a lot to be said for this one’. Initially, this might just be interpreted as flippancy, but in Chapter 2, the Doctor has an interesting train of thought:
[Steven] had been wrenched into it by unforeseeable circumstances and had borne up gamely whereas he, the Doctor, had learnt to adapt since time immemorial. Human life wasn’t long enough, he thought, no sooner given than taken away, with insufficient time to learn what was necessary or do what had to be done. He dismissed the thought. There was nothing he could do about it. He wasn’t God, simply something of a clown in his own eyes, trolling about through time and space seeking the final truth as he inhabited one body after another, and yet with the dull feeling that that final truth would remain forever beyond his reach.
So either he’s predicting his future incarnations, or he’s recognising that he’s had past lives. Also, Emms’ understanding of regeneration makes it seem more like possession! Later, he has the Doctor claim to be ‘five feet nine or ten’ (William Hartnell was 5’8″), adding ‘I’ve never measured this body. It’s enough that I inhabit it.’ Steven is six feet tall. The Doctor and Steven fall into a pit and manage to tempt a poor Chumbley over to the pit and pull it over so they can use it to step out to safety. The Doctor paraphrases philosopher Bertrand Russell’s assertion that a belief that the sun has always risen is no guarantee that it will rise tomorrow.
Maaga is certain that she was sent on this mission as a political act by the Minister for Offensive Research, a member of the elite on Drahva, like herself; Maaga had insisted that soldiers were not suitable for space exploration but she was overruled and she now feels she’s not expected to return. There is only one political party, but they hold elections anyway.
The Rill who speaks to Vicki has ‘huge, heavily-lidded eyes’ like ‘soft pools of concern, dark brown and gentle’ and ‘a scaly coat resembling that of a lizard’. They also have tentacles, ‘six of which have hands’. Vicki has apparently always felt uncomfortable with reptiles (her late pet Sandy seemingly forgotten). We’re told some of the Rill way of life and evolution; they developed thick skulls that helped them survive their natural predators (though some female Rill undergo skull-thinning as a preference). Like the Drahvins, the males aren’t considered to be especially important: ‘Anyone who happened to be passing could and did fertilise an egg’. As usual, the book ends without the lead-in to the next story.
Cover: Andrew Skilleter goes full B-movie with two gun-wielding Drahvins in front of a boiling planet.
Final Analysis: Apparently the idea to make the Drahvins female came from Verity Lambert, so William Emms’ original storyline was even more generic than this. So what do you do when you adapt your cliche-ridden scripts after 20 years for an audience who might have seen 2001 or Planet of the Apes and have definitely seen Star Wars? You take your time, work your way through the script and give it an extra layer of polish as you go. As he progresses through the story, Emms introduces backstory and extra information that make the alien societies seem much more credible and rich. The tone also darkens as we approach the climax, slowly ramping up acts of violence (Steven’s painful asphyxiation is particularly distressing).
For the ardent Doctor Who fan, the bonus comes in Emms’ iconoclastic depiction of the Doctor. By 1986, we’d had six TV Doctors, all of whom had been seen on TV within the living memory of your average seven-year-old (plus a different ‘original’ in The Five Doctors and a recent repeat of the two Peter Cushing movies). So while we might think of ‘The First Doctor’ here, Emms depicts him as just one of many – and not necessarily even the earliest incarnation. At the time of writing, Emms was the same age that the ‘elderly’ Hartnell had been when he first played the role and there’s a sense that both writer and character feel frustration over growing old. In one passage, the Doctor longs to replace his form for something more agile, foreshadowing his eventual regeneration rather beautifully..
Sooner or later renewal would come and he prayed that when the time came he would be better served. Something comfortable and capable was what he longed for, something able to do more of what he asked of it. He mused and pondered on the whimsical ways of Fate.
Galaxy 4 was William Emms’ sole contribution to both the TV series and the Target novels, though he did also write a ‘Make Your Own Adventure’ book called Mission to Venus, published by Severn House just a few months after Target’s Galaxy Four. He died in 1993, aged 63.
Synopsis: Peri has just witnessed her new friend die and be replaced by a completely different man. Unstable after the trauma of regeneration, this new Doctor is loud, violent and self-obsessed – and Peri is terrified of him. Deciding to become a hermit on a barren moon, the Doctor instead becomes entangled in a policeman’s investigation into the kidnapping of hyper-intelligent twins. The culprit is someone the Doctor once knew, but is now enslaved by a megalomaniacal slug with mind-boggling ambitions.
1. Home Time
2. The Maladjusted Time Lord
3. Enter Professor Edgeworth
4. Mestor the Magnificent
5. Titan Three
6. An Unsafe Safe House
7. The Reunion
8. Jaconda, the Beautiful!
9. End Game, Part One
10. End Game, Part Two
Background: Eric Saward adapts the scripts by Anthony Steven for a 1984 serial.
Notes: Professor Archie Sylvest is a university lecturer who lives with his wife, Nimo, and their 12-year-old twin sons live at 25 Lydall Street, the only Georgian terrace left standing in a metropolis of ‘mirror-smooth’ and ‘flameproof, plastic buildings’. He has an android babysitter for the boys, which he knows they hate. Sylvest is scared of his children, something the boys exploit. He takes solace in harbouring murderous thoughts towards them (a strategy suggested by his therapist to help suppress his fears) while drinking too much Voxnic in the company of an attractive computer programmer called Vestal Smith. When Sylvest returns home drunk and discovers his sons’ disappearance, his concern is less that they might have been hurt and more that they might be used in some nefarious scheme or other.
The Time Lord process of regeneration is the work of a hormone called ‘lindos’, which works at lightning speed to repair every cell in the Time Lord body. An illustration of regeneration’s random nature comes in the story of Councillor Verne, whose stunning beauty distracted his peers from his unsuitability to office; his subsequent regenerations saw him grow increasingly unattractive until he became a ‘hideous monster’ who so distressed the then-Lord President that he ordered the Verne creature to be destroyed.
The new Doctor initially misunderstands Peri’s distress, but then apologises to her as he realises how terrified she must be. Peri is relieved and reassured – until she sees his new costume:
… each panel of the coat was quite different in texture, design and colour. This wouldn’t have mattered quite so much if the colours had blended, but they seemed to be cruelly, harshly, viciously at odds with each other. In fact, the coat was so gawdy it would have looked out of place on the back of a circus clown…. The whole ensemble was finished off with a waistcoastwhich looked as though someone had been sick on. (For all Peri knew, someone had.) The final touch was a livid green watch chain that at some time must have been stolen from a public lavatory.
Delightful! As she fights off the Doctor’s frenzied attack, Peri grabs the mirror in the hope of smashing it to use as a weapon against him.
The personal history of Professor Bernard Edgeworth – aka the Time Lord Azmael – is recounted: Like the Doctor, Azmael grew tired of life among the Time Lords and chose to retire; unlike the Doctor, the High Council decided Azmael was too dangerous to be allowed to escape their control and chose instead to kill him; they despatched ‘Seedle Warriors’ to assassinate him, only for the bloodthirsty squad to massacre the inhabitants of Vitrol Minor, where Azmael was hiding; Azmael brought legal proceedings against the High Council, who retaliated by framing him for their own crimes; Azmael’s last course of action was to gun down the High Council in their chambers and flee to the planet Jaconda. The specific species of gastropod that lays waste to Jaconda is the Sectoms. We also learn of the history of Titan Three, formerly home to the Mastons of Maston Viva, who fell victim to the generally bleak atmosphere of the planet and committed mass suicide, leaving behind their research equipment for Azmael to find.
‘Mestor the Magnificent’ is nearly two metres tall and considered ugly even by other gastropods. To allow him to stand upright, Mestor has grown two small legs that make him wobble as he walks, and two tiny arms, which serve ‘no particular function’ except to gesticulate as he speaks.
His face, what there was of it, was humanoid in form. As he did not have a neck, head or shoulders, the features had grown where what would have been the underside of a normal slug’s jaw. As though to add to the peculiarity of a gastropod with a human face, the features were covered in a thin membrane.
Peri observes that the Doctor’s delusions lead him to act like Sherlock Holmes, Hern the Hunter (a dig at Doctor Who’s ITV rival Robin of Sherwood?), an explorer called Musk and a country squire. She apparently ‘never even grasped the fundamentals of the microwave oven’. The issue of the time delay with the matter transporter is removed; although Peri dematerialises first, the pair return to the TARDIS at the same time.
The planets that form part of Mestor’s plans are called Muston and Seniel The Doctor recalls his past companions, including a rather brutal summation of Adric and his ‘childish antics’, a desperation ‘to be loved and accepted for what he was’, which prevented the Doctor (or at least, this incarnation) of ‘ever being able to fully praise, help or ultimately like him’. The Doctor’s first meeting with Mestor is delayed until the climax – their prior conversations conveyed via a hologram link.
Cover: Due to a breakdown in negotiations, an earlier cover showing Colin Baker was rejected (the actor’s agent enquired how much his fee might be for using his likeness and the publisher, misunderstanding the enquiry as a demand for payment, panicked and cancelled the already completed artwork). Andrew Skilleter’s second painting offers up a very green cover featuring a Jacondan, Mestor and some gastropod eggs. The 1993 reprint used Andrew Skilleter’s art for the VHS, again showing a Jacondan and Mestor, but this time joined by the Doctor.
Final Analysis: This is more than just an adaptation; its position in the history of Doctor Who offers us a little insight into events behind the scenes. It was written and published before the increasingly public fall-out between Eric Saward and producer John Nathan-Turner, but the causes of Saward’s dissatisfaction can be seen here in his depiction of the lead character. Even though it’s the post-regenerative monster that he’s writing, and even though he turns the self-serving and cowardly acts into something more whimsical (thinking he’s Sherlock Holmes etc), some of Saward’s negativity is still very much evident. In the final confrontation with Mestor, he frames this Doctor as sounding ‘more like a street bully than a Time Lord negotiating with a creature capable of taking over the universe’ and his pleading with the despot is ‘foolish, almost childish’. The conclusion to the tale is much less confident and reassuring than on TV. Peri even tells the Doctor she just wants to go home.
‘… whatever else happens, I am the new Doctor. This is me whether people like it or not.’
The statement was as bland and as sterile as it sounded.
Peri hoped that she had caught a glimpse of a smile as he uttered it.
If she hadn’t, this particular incarnation of the Time Lord would prove to be a very difficult person indeed.
Hugo Lang is also subject to a character assassination, the dogged and determined police officer becoming a self-serving and ruthlessly opportunistic man who pursues the twins only for personal glory and who decides to stay on Jaconda to extort money from Mestor’s chamberlain.
This is still a diverting read though, as Saward tries hard to make it more entertaining than he managed to make it on screen. As with the fox in The Visitation, Saward once again uses the form of an animal to witness events; the arrival of Azmael’s ship and his kidnapping of the twins goes undetected by anyone on Earth except a ginger cat, who prides himself on knowing what is happening before anyone else and vows to tell nobody about what he’s seen. His telling of the circumstances of Hugo Lang’s crash on Titan Three make for a scene straight out of Star Wars and, as the quote above shows, he succeeds in making Mestor a horrifying and fearsome presence.
We’re now in the period where authors were encouraged to attempt something other than a straight retelling of the TV show and for many readers, the episodes would still be fresh in the memory. Saward attempts something in the style of Douglas Adams as his narrative regularly drifts off to discuss various tangentially related topics: A mention of Azmael’s revitalising modulator leads to a detailed history of the life and convoluted death of the machine’s inventor, Professor James Zarn, as well as the results of his other great scientific success, involving the Social and Sexual Life of the Veedle Fly; the acid that the Doctor uses to attack Mestor is Moston acid, which ages its victims to death and which is a product of Professor Vinny Mosten, about whom we also discover more than we’d ever hoped; even the floor of Mestor’s chamber, decorated with a celebrated Jacondan mosaic, inspires a further condensed history lecture. Whether or not this is a successful approach is down to personal taste. Personally, I rather enjoyed it, even if I was slightly worried every time a new brand name or invention popped up. Stop trying to make ‘Voxnic’ happen, Eric. It’s not going to happen.
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…
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
11. The Time-Eater
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.
Synopsis: In the old town of Tombstone, the Doc’s name’s in doubt / He wanted a dentist but his luck ran out / Now the Clantons are coming – they’ll all be here soon / There’ll be blood on the piano at the Last Chance Saloon…
1. Landfall in Tombstone
2. The Last Chance
3. The Brief Career of Dead-shot Steve
4. A Funeral is Arranged
5. Notice to Quit
6. Identity Parade
7. Open Mouth Surgery
8. An Offer Refused
9. A Pardonable Error
10. A Little Night Music
11. And Some Durn Tootin’
12. Arrest Is As Good As A Change
13. The Red Hand of Tradition
14. The Law and Doc Holliday
15. A Very Nasty Little Incident
16. Wyatt Plays It By The Book
17. Pa Clanton Keeps a Welcome
18. Ringo in the Morning
19. Post Mortem
20. Thought For Feud
21. Dodo Draws a Bead
22. The Entry of the Gladiators
23. Come Sun-Up…
Background: Donald Cotton loosely adapts his own scripts from 1966.
Notes: You know I love a prologue! We open with a journalist called Ned Buntline, who made his name writing biographies of notable Wild West legends. Having previously spoken to Wyatt Earp, who refused to be drawn on certain inconsistencies in the myths surrounding the OK Corral, Buntine now comes to a sanatorium at Glenwood Springs, Colorado, to meet an elderly Doc Holliday, who is in his last days with tuberculosis. Holliday speaks freely about the TARDIS, ‘a kind of four-wheel buggy designed for ridin’ every sort of direction through eternity, without much decent respect for the laws of physics’.
Aboard the TARDIS, Steven reminds the Doctor of the time when they encountered ‘great, nebulous jelly-fish things… with poisonous what-nots’. Dodo claims she took a first-aid course, but didn’t do very well. When the TARDIS lands in Tombstone, it’s raining heavily. Behind the bar of the Last Chance Saloon is a, er, well as Buntine tells it, it’s…
…a shot-up oil-painting of a fat blonde in her birthday rig. Sitting on a cloud, she was being molested by a bunch of tear-away cherubs, who looked as if they’d been up several nights round a stud-game, and passing the nectar pretty free, at that.
… and then he gives us two verses of that song (only one of which was heard on TV).
Dodo is wearing ‘a little number made up of scarlet furbelows and flounces trimmed with black lace’ with an oversized hat (or as Buntine claims, like ‘the proprietress of a broken-down cat-house in one of the less select quarters of New Orleans’). Steven has, according to the Doctor, ‘disguise[d] himself as Billy the Kid’. He took his advanced astronaut course at Cape Canaveral, where he learned to play ‘America the Brave’ on the piano. Dodo sees a poster for real-life star of the stage Eddie Foy – who makes a brief cameo towards the end of the story (and whose son, Eddie Foy, was a Hollywood movie star who Dodo might conceivably have seen). Kate’s surname is ‘Elder’, not ‘Fisher’ as on TV (and in the 1957 movie); the real-life Kate was formally ‘Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings’, but she was also known by the deeply unflattering ‘Big Nose Kate’.
Doc Holliday’s new dentist’s chair had previously seen service at ‘the Death House in San Quentin’. Pa Clanton is standing for mayoral election and hopes taking up said office will result in free drinks for life at the Last Chance Saloon. Johnny Ringo is a keen student of the Classics and is, at the time of the gunfight, partway through the ten-volume edition of Caesar’s Gallic Wars. The Doctor’s discomfort with a gun results in him accidentally shooting two bystanders, though eventually he is said to have begun to ‘enjoy himself’. The Doctor and his friends leave in the TARDIS, its dematerialisation witnessed by Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and a few others. In the epilogue, Holliday concludes telling his story to Buntine, necks a bottle of whisky … and dies.
Doc Holliday did indeed die in 1887, staying at Glenwood Hotel, Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He was 36 years old (Anthony Jacobs, who played him on TV, was 48 at the time of broadcast).
Cover: Andrew Skilleter paints the Doctor with a stetson while Wyatt Earp walks down the street of Tombstone with smoking guns.
Final Analysis: There are people who’ll still tell you that The Gunfighters is a ‘bad story’ or that it was the lowest-rated story ever (it really wasn’t). There’s even a sly dig at the production in the text of this book, where a passage begins ‘Meanwhile, at the Last Chance Saloon, the stage was already set – as if by an incompetent director.’ Fan elders have shaped opinion to the point where many people who haven’t even seen it know what they think of it. And they’re wrong. Utterly. They’re very quick to remind us that Doctor Who can tell ‘any kind of story’, but seem to bristle when the genre isn’t one they personally like or – worst of all – if the story veers into the realm of comedy!
While the historical adventures did tend to be outperformed on original transmission by the often less ambitious efforts featuring silver sets on alien worlds, as we’ve seen with these novelisations, the writers tried much harder to engage the brain with their characters, perhaps mindful that they’d be representing figures who’s actually lived, or possibly just because they preferred history to SF. In the best Reithian tradition, Donald Cotton clearly realised that the best way to ‘educate and inform’ was to entertain. In this adaptation, he once again relies upon a narrator who casts doubt upon the factual accuracy of other versions of the legend; in other words, he’s excusing and exploiting any historical mistakes in both the TV serial and all other conflicting adaptations. We’re presented with a further myth rather than a text-book account of the real events, yet Cotton’s characters feel like they might have actually lived and breathed. More importantly though, Cotton’s retelling of the tale is very, very funny. My favourite joke in the whole thing is where he describes the drunk Ike Clanton as speaking ‘blotto voce’. There’s also a lovely description of the Doctor operating the TARDIS controls:
… clutching at an apparently haphazard selection of levers with the air of a demented xylophonist, who finds he’s brought along the wine list instead of the score.
There are some instances of swearing – two uses of ‘bastard’, eight ‘goddam(ned)’ and sixteen uses of ‘damn’. As the notes above illustrate, there’s also a degree of bawdiness to this not seen before (mainly involving Kate’s profession).
Finally, it’s become a popular game in modern stories (including The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn and the Wasp) to crowbar in as many metatextual references as possible, but we can trace this back directly to Donald Cotton. While some of these might have reasonable claims to be accurate contemporary phrases, the modern reader can play ‘Spot the Film Title’ throughout the text. To start you off, here are just a few: For a Few Dollars More (1965); The Wild Bunch (1969); Calamity Jane and Sam Bass (1949); Terror of the Plains (1934); Death Valley (1946); The Golden West, (1932); … and The Right Stuff (1983).
Synopsis: When the Doctor and Peri land on a space station filled with a stench of death, they find a sole survivor – the Doctor’s old companion, the Highlander Jamie! The Doctor follows a trail across time and space to find his former self, Jamie’s Doctor, who is being held captive in a Spanish villa by a fanatical scientist, his Androgum servants and a pair of Sontarans. This unlikely team has ambitions to unlock the secrets of time travel – and their experiments on the Doctor’s past incarnation threaten his future self and the safety of the universe…
1. Countdown to Death
2. Massacre on J7
3. Tomb in Space
4. Adios, Doña Arana
5. Creature of the Darkness
6. The Bell Tolls
7. The Doctor’s Dilemma
8. Company of Madmen
9. A Song for Supper
10. Shockeye the Donor
11. Ice Passage Ambush
12. Alas, Poor Oscar
Background: Robert Holmes adapts his own scripts for the serial broadcast five months earlier. This is the 100th Target novelisation, so it comes with a congratulatory introduction from producer John Nathan-Turner.
Notes: The J7 station was designed by ‘architneers’ who exploited zero gravity to create ‘an ethereal tracery of loops and whorls and cusps that formed a constantly changing pattern as the station rotated slowly upon its axis’. Jamie recalls that he and the Doctor had been in a garden, where the Doctor had greeted ‘chieftains’ who wore yellow cloaks with high collars’ (clearly Time Lords) – and then remembers nothing else prior to their arrival in space near the J7 station. The Doctor hopes that undertaking this mission might improve his relations with ‘the High Council’. There’s no mention of Victoria’s whereabouts here. Jamie provides our viewpoint in the early chapters, so it’s through his eyes that we first see an Androgum:
Shockeye’s sparse thatch of ginger hair topped a heavily boned face that sloped down into his body without any apparent necessity for a neck. His skin was grey and rugose, thickly blotched with the warty excrescences common to denizens of high-radiation planets…. every line of [his body], from the mastodon shoulders and over the gross belly to the tree-trunk legs, spoke of a frightening physical strength.
The Second Doctor quotes The Book of Job before telling Jamie to run. Chessene has a ‘cap of short, jet-black hair’ and wears ‘a long, dark dress’; she’s later described as a ‘well-built, dark-haired woman’ who is ‘tall and dark with a broad, heavy forehead’ (suggesting she looks closer to the intended casting of Elizabeth Spriggs, rather than the more elegant Jacqueline Pearce, who eventually played the role on telly). Before departing the station, she has a brief meeting with Sontaran Group Marshal Stike, who has gold braiding on his shoulders. Studying Stike next to his underling, Varl, Chessene wonders how Sontarans tell each other apart.
When the Sixth Doctor tells Peri about the joys of the gumblejack, the narrator informs us that he’s making it all up. Peri believes the Doctor to be 760 years old and remembers the events of the Doctor’s regeneration on Androzani Minor [see The Caves of Androzani], while the Doctor confesses that his latest incarnation ‘isn’t 100% yet’. When the feral Jamie attacks Peri, she manages to fend him off as ‘her muscles had been honed by years as a campus sports star’. By the time the Doctor and Peri reach the J7 station, it’s a lot clearer that some time has passed for Jamie, whose mind has snapped due to the trauma of believing he’s witnessed the Doctor’s death. As he observes the hologram of his second self – a ‘rather scruffy person in an ill-fitting tailcoat and black string necktie’ – the Doctor notes that he might recognise the Brigadier or Leela but he had ‘scarcely any recollection of how he himself had appeared in past forms’. He recalls spending ‘a delightful afternoon’ with Archimedes, before quoting himself from The Ark in Space.
As Chessene’s craft, The Delta-Six, approaches Earth, it knocks out communications and radar equipment around the planet and nearly instigates World War III. Shockeye’s hunger pangs make him consider eating Varl, but he knows the flesh of clone species is ‘coarse and lacking in flavour’. We’ve told some of the 90-year-old Doña Arana’s past, her late husband Don Vincente and their three children, shortly before she is swiftly and brutally killed by Shockeye; Chessene commands that the old lady’s body be incinerated.
Jamie and Peri have to wake the Doctor from his temporal plain trance as a fire breaks out in Dastari’s office. The Second Doctor recalls a time when he attended a banquet in honour of a Dominator on Bellaphores, a planet where they don’t make wine, their delicacy is ‘a fermented slurry of clay and animal faeces’, which the locals suck through ‘colloidal membranes’; the experience made the Doctor sick for days after. Oscar Botcherby runs a restaurant called ‘La Piranella’ (not Las Cadenas), which he claims he’s doing as a favour while he’s ‘between roles’ (Anita notes to herself that Oscar has been working there for at least three years). As he gets dressed up in Don Arana’s old clothes, Shockeye sings an old Androgum lullaby that begins ‘Go to sleep my little grey lump of fun’ and later composes his own ditty about the joys of cooking a Tellurian (in the chapter ‘A Song for Supper’).
On hearing Jamie call his new friend ‘Doctor’, Stike assumes it’s a common Time Lord title, rather than the same Time Lord; the Doctor mocks the Sontaran habit of having grand military ranks: ‘I’ve never met a Sontaran private yet,’ he goads. Revealing that she has acquired three canisters of coronic acid, Chessene states that the Rutans used coronic acid shells and ‘decimated’ [sic] the Sontarans at Vollotha (which the Doctor later confirms is a weapon that specifically targets cloned races); this revelation alerts Dastari to the fact that Chessene has secretly and independently been in contact with the Sontarans’ greatest enemy. Varl flatters Stike with a discussion about his superior’s prospective military career, just as Chessene attacks them with the chronic acid. Varl takes the full blast, and Stike, crawling away to safety, vows to recommend Varl for inclusion in ‘the Golden Roll of Sontaran Heroes’.
The Androgum’s bill at Oscar’s restaurant tallies up a different selection to the items on TV, including quenelles, ortolon, crevettes, truffled goose with almonds, wild boar with Grand Veneur sauce, saddle of venison with chocolate, eight T-bone steaks and ‘an entire fieldfare pie’ for twelve. The Second Doctor tries to pay for the meal with a five-dollar bill in Confederate currency. Shockeye stabs Oscar, draws the knife up to the man’s breastbone and throws him across the restaurant. As he dies, Oscar asks Maria to take care of his teddy bear [possibly a reference to actor James Saxon’s teddy-bear-obsessed character in the popular ITV sitcom Brass]. When the Doctor prepares to kill Shockeye, he tears some of the lining from his coat (yes, he’s been wearing that through all that running about in the Spanish heat!). He dispatches the Androgum but doesn’t make his ‘just desserts’ quip; instead he considers the death to be ‘one back for Oscar’. His declaration for a life of vegetarianism is removed. The body of Doña Arana remains undiscovered for some time as her visiting priest has been ill; local police file her death and the destruction of her home next to the unsolved murder of Oscar Botcherby.
Cover: It’s a shame the trend at the time was to avoid paying for the likenesses of actors, but this is quite a clever cover as a Sontaran and the Spanish villa are interrupted by two TARDISes zooming off together in symmetry. To mark the book’s position as the 100th Target release, the neon logo is printed in gold foil.
Final Analysis: This is of course Robert Holmes’ only full novel for the range (having provided just the prologue for The Time Warrior, uncredited), so it’s appropriate that we’re also celebrating book 100 here. It contains all of the dark humour and relish for violence that we saw on telly and Holmes’ take is more graphic than even Ian Marter’s greatest excesses: The computer operator on the J7 station dies with ‘his tongue protruding thickly, like a bursting plum’; the scientist shot in front of the second Doctor ‘dance[s] into the room in a grisly pirouette, the tiny rheon shells ripping open sagging red holes in his body as though the flesh concealed a dozen zip-fasteners’; there’s a particularly nasty depiction of the Doña Arana’s final seconds (in a chapter called ‘Adios, Doña Arana’) as Shockeye snaps her neck, while the smell of her burning carcass merely makes her killer hungry; and there’s a particularly vivid description of how to prepare a cat for cooking. This is definitely not one for the squeamish – and I love it.
There’s also poetry in some of the prose. When the Doctor is lost in reverie at the thought of the end of the universe, he considers all the innocent life forms that will be affected by his projected catastrophe and debates with himself whether the blame lies with ‘intelligent species, driven by the unquenchable fires of ambition’:
… it was the intelligent species who, by observation and deduction, pieced together the cosmic jigsaw, who saw the connection between a clod of mud and a moonbeam and could descry orderly patterns in the swirling sands of life…. Without intelligence, no chasms would have been bridged. There would have been no cathedrals, no symphonies, no sonnets, no equations. And the pathways to the stars would never have been traversed.
While appreciation of the story itself is of course a matter of personal taste, it can’t be denied that the level of additional detail and character insight is exactly what we might want from a Target novelisation. Just a shame Robert Holmes never wrote any more.
Synopsis: Educated by computers, the Gonds submit their best students to join the Krotons as their favoured companions inside their machine. The students are never seen again. When the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe witness the death of a student and rescue another from a similar fate, they try to convince the Gonds that their loyalty to the Krotons is based on a terrible lie. Then Zoe takes a test on the Krotons’ teaching computer and records their highest ever score. ‘Zoegond’ is duly summoned to join the Krotons. As Jamie tries to prevent the young students from rioting, the Doctor must take the same test to accompany Zoe as a companion of the Krotons.
1 A Candidate for Death
2 The Rescue
3 The Rebels
4 The Genius
5 The Companions
6 The Krotons Awake
7 The Militants
8 The Attack
9 The Second Attack
10 Battle Plans
11 Eelek’s Bargain
Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Robert Holmes’s scripts for the 1968 serial. This is the first time we’ve had two second Doctor stories released in succession (and, technically, the next book makes it three!) – and it’s the only time we’ll get two Second Doctor stories published in broadcast order (not that they follow on from one another in any way).
Notes: A new description for this Doctor, who is ‘on the small side, with a thatch of untidy black hair and a gentle, rather humorous face’. When the Doctor tells Zoe that he’s not a ‘doctor of medicine’, we’re reminded by Dicks that this is a little unfair ‘since he was in fact a doctor of almost everything’. Zoe’s surname is spelled ‘Herriot’ here.
The creatures were enormous, almost twice the size of a man. They had huge barrel shaped torsos, high ridged shoulders and a solid base on which they seemed to slide like hovercraft. The massive arms ended in giant clamps. The most terrifying of all were the heads, blank, many faceted and rising to a point in a shape like that of a giant crystal.
I’m not sure anyone ever felt that the Krotons were ‘terrifying’, but it’s lovely that Terrance tries to convince us. Dicks labels the aliens ‘Commander’ and ‘Kroton two’. When Beta orders Vana to escape to the hills, she reminds Beta that she’s ‘a scientist too’, though it’s still the threat of her fainting that persuades Vana to let her stay. When Eelek confronts a Kroton in the Learning Hall, he has to fight back ‘an impulse to fall down and worship’.
Cover: Andrew Skilleter paints a gleaming Kroton against a simple honeycomb-patterned background. The 1991 edition uses Alister Pearson’s VHS cover art, showing Jamie, Zoe and the Doctor behind a Kroton wielding its cumbersome gun.
Final Analysis: Apparently, Vana’s ‘outstanding beauty made it hard to believe that she was among the most gifted of her generation of students’. Really, Terrance? Or is this a sly dig at actress Madeleine Mills? This is an adaptation of Robert Holmes’ first script for the series and it was a bit of a rush after other scripts fell through. It lacks much of Holmes’ wit and it’s a bit of a generic SF trope really, but many fans have a lot of fondness for it as it was the first chance they got to see a Second Doctor story, thanks to the Five Faces of Doctor Who repeats. It’s worth remembering all this, as Terrance Dicks does his usual workmanlike job of pulling everything together, but he doesn’t take the opportunity to give us anything more.
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…
1. Home Sweet Home?
2. Old Friends
3. Cat and Mouse
4. Hitching Lifts
5. Skeletons and Cupboards
6. Secret Weapons
7. Underground Operations
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 saw as an actor 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 his own brand of sticky, smelly 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.
Synopsis: The beauty of a woman is the spark that fires up a bloody and lengthy war between Greece and Troy. Though many of the figures in the battle have entered into legend, a version of the story as recounted by the great poet Homer reveals the involvement of three travellers who emerged from a blue box and changed the course of the war.
1. Homer Remembers
2. Zeus Ex Machina
3. Hector Forgets
4. Enter Odysseus
5. Exit the Doctor
6. A Rather High Tea
7. Agamemnon Arbitrates
8. An Execution is Arranged
9. Temple Fugit
10. The Doctor Draws a Graph
11. Paris Draws the Line
12. Small Prophet, Quick Return
13. War Games Compulsory
14. Single Combat
15. Speech! Speech!
16. The Trojans at Home
17. Cassandra Claims a Kill
18. The Ultimate Weapon
19. A Council of War
20. Paris Stands on Ceremony
21. Dungeon Party
22. Hull Low, Young Lovers
23. A Victory Celebration
24. Doctor in the Horse
25. A Little Touch of Hubris
26. Abandon Ship!
27. Armageddon and After
This now nabs the record held so briefly by Marco Polo for the most number of chapters in a novelisaton, with 27 chapters and an epilogue.
Background: Donald Cotton adapts his own scripts for the 1965 serial.
Notes: Yep, the story is narrated in the first person by the great author Homer, who apparently was just out of shot in every scene.
The Doctor had promised his young companions a trip to London in the 1960s. Homer claims that he has met the Doctor on many occasions (and that he is now younger than he was the first time they met), knows that the TARDIS is a time machine – and that the Doctor is specifically a ‘Time Lord’! Vicki has a very loose grasp of Earth history, much to Steven’s despair, but knows enough to recognise the importance of the Trojan Horse. Steven is concerned about his absence from the ‘Space-Research Project’, where he had been an amateur athlete during his training and it’s suggested he might have played football (he compares the prospect of fighting Odysseus with ‘the second eleven on a Saturday knock-about’, so that’s definitely football and not the completely different ‘American Football’). We discover how ‘Cyclops’ lost his eye and gained his name [but see Final Analysis below]. There’s no explanation for how Steven is wounded by the start of the next story. Instead, we learn that Vicki – as Cressida – remained with Troilus and the pair took care of their blind friend Homer. The epilogue reveals that the elderly poet has been telling his story to the Doctor, who, it turns out, has popped back to look in on Homer on many occasions throughout his eventful life.
Cover: The TARDIS materialises in front of the wooden horse, painted by Andrew Skilleter.
Final Analysis: Donald Cotton tore up the rule book for his TV stories and he revolutionises the Doctor Who novel here. Cotton’s habit of using witty episode titles continues with the novel’s chapter titles ‘Zeus Ex Machina’ ‘Temple Fugit’ and of course ‘Doctor in the Horse’, which was his original title of episode 4. He really strains with chapter 22’s ‘Hull Low, Young Lovers’; I wonder how many eager readers would know the song ‘Hello, Young Lovers’ from the 1951 musical (or 1956 film) The King and I, so might this be a reference pitched at a prospective parent reading this for a young fan a chapter a night at bedtime?
Casting Homer as the narrator gives us insight into the politics of the time, while also contriving increasingly outlandish reasons for him to be party to private conversations, ‘concealed in a clump of cactus I wasn’t too fond of’, accompanying the TARDIS into Troy and, after being jabbed in the eye and being dubbed ‘Cyclops’, he passed out and wakes up ‘covered in fish-scales and crabs’ legs’. Homer is aware that the Doctor is a time traveller too, making much merriment with details he shouldn’t know anything about:
… how do you describe a time-machine to a man who has never even heard of Euclid, never mind Einstein? Of course, up till then, I’d never heard of them myself, but I must say I found the whole concept fascinating.
Cotton – through Homer – has a delightfully waspish style. We’re told that Cassandra is a fearsome woman who looks like ‘her brother Hector in drag’, while Achilles ‘had that look of Narcissistic petulance one so often sees on the faces of health fanatics, or on male models who pose for morally suspect sculptors’, adding ‘I believe the Greeks have a word for it nowadays’. It’s when he comes to explain the causes of the siege of Troy that we might feel certain attitudes from the mid-1980s are guiding his hand. His description of Paris appears to be a commentary on more modern Royal events that resonate just as much in 2021 as 1985:
… the second sons of Royal Houses – especially if they are handsome as the devil – have a lot of temptation to cope with. And then, the unlikelihood of their ever achieving the throne does seem to induce irresponsibility which – combined, of course, with an inflated income – how shall I put it? – well, it aggravates any amorous propensities they may have…. Well, we all know about princes and their libidinous ways: their little frolics below stairs – their engaging stagedoor haunting jaunting?
Trigger warning here: Among many anachronistic terms Homer uses, the phrase ‘a coon’s age’, which dates from the early 19th-century and referred to racoons, but for many readers this may still have racial connotations.
As one of the missing TV historicals, it’s not a story I know that well, having only heard the soundtrack and watched a telesnap reconstruction. Cotton pulls out all the stops to bring the period alive and make it like a gossip between old friends, a tale told with tongue firmly in cheek and a knowing wink at the reader (this is especially evident in the audiobook with a delicious reading by Stephen Thorne). Even in providing us with what must be the first celebrity historical featuring an author (something modern fans might be more likely to expect), he’s smart enough to leave himself plenty of escape routes. Homer himself tells us the effect of adopting many guises to avoid being trapped into supporting one side or the other. Like the Doctor, his name lives on in legend:
I’ve always found it a very good rule to be a bit cautious about handing out the label unless unavoidable – which is why, I’m told, to this day, nobody is entirely convinced that Homer ever existed […]
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?
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
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.