Chapter 91. Doctor Who – Frontios (1984)

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

Chapter Titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 86. Doctor Who – The Dominators (1984)

Synopsis: An island in an ocean on the planet Dulkis. Survivors of war, the Dulcians are now complete pacifists. They have no concept of aggression, no understanding of what it takes to defend themselves. They are ill equipped to deal with the Dominators. Accompanied by their murderous robot servants the Quarks, the invaders see Dulkis merely as a resource to be exploited. And the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe must stop them.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Island of Death
  • 2. The Radiation Mystery
  • 3. The Assessment
  • 4. Heads in the Sand
  • 5. Slavery
  • 6. Fighting Back
  • 7. Buried Alive
  • 8. Clues
  • 9. Last Chances
  • 10. Desperate Remedies

Background: Ian Marter adapts the 1968 scripts credited to Norman Ashby (a pseudonym for Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln).

Notes: Dulkis is immediately diminished in importance; it’s  ‘pale, ochre-coloured’, and ‘an insignificant little planet which orbited an isolated minor star’. In contrast, everything about the Dominators is heightened to make them appear impressive:

They were human in form but towered more than two and a half metres in height. Their leathery features were starkly chiselled, with thin bloodless lips and deeply set red-rimmed eyes which burned with a cold green light beneath heavy brows. Their short hair was black and sleeked back, like a skullcap, from their shallow foreheads.The creatures were clad in protective suits consisting of black quilted material like rubber, armoured with small overlapping plates and built up around the shoulders so that they appeared to have no necks.

The Quarks too are much taller than the schoolboy-sized ones we see on telly, about two metres tall. The surface of their ball-shaped heads is covered with ‘a network of eyes and sensors’, while their arms have hand-like endings ‘bristling with sensors, sockets and implements’. They’re also a little bit more talkative.

Inside the War Museum, Jamie inspects a laser gun and it accidentally discharges, punching a hole into a door . There are four figures sat around a circular table (not two at a desk as on screen):

… their bodies frozen into grotesquely contorted positions. Their clothing was charred and rotten, here and there fused into a glassy lump with their roasted and flayed flesh. The eyeless faces were burned beyond recognition.

The Dulcians measure years in ‘annos’ and months in ‘lunars’. ‘Cully’ becomes ‘Kully’; at one point, he attempts to impersonate Jamie’s accent.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter gives us a Dominator and a Quark operating drilling equipment, while a huge oversized Quark fills the skyline. The 1991 reprint cover reuses Alister Pearson’s VHS artwork, with the Doctor flanked by pairs of Dominators and Quarks.

Final Analysis: It’s surprising that one of the most unsettling visual effects of its time – the fiery bubbling of Tolata’s skin as she’s blasted by a Quark – is reduced to an energy burst and a bloodless murder. I’d have expected Ian Marter to go all out on this, considering the gruesome description he gives to the dummies in the war room in a later scene. But this is a subtle work: Marter’s introduction places the impressive Dominator battleships soaring across space in formation near to quite the most boring-looking planet ever. In Chapter 4, we finally reach the Dulcian Capitol, where its citizens enjoy warmth from the planet’s ‘modest yellow sun’, there are galleries filled with ‘lush green vegetation’, small fountains that cast ‘fine shimmering sprays of purified water in myriad colours’. The Council Chambers are pastel shades, the elderly Councillors lounge in ‘padded reclining chairs’ with cushions, everything is soft, soothing and entirely non-threatening. In the space of a couple of paragraphs, we’re shown that Dukis has absolutely no defence against the trigger-happy invaders. It’s so much better than the story deserves, being a little one-note and thin on TV.

Chapter 85. Doctor Who – Enlightenment (1984)

Synopsis: As the Black Guardian tightens his grasp on the terrified Turlough, the time travellers find themselves taking part in a race across the solar system. The players are a race of Eternals and the prize is ‘enlightenment’, though nobody seems too sure what that means. As one of the eternals tries to cheat their way to victory, the finish line offers a surprising choice for Turlough.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Winner Takes All
  • 2. The Race
  • 3. Here She Blows!
  • 4. Marker Buoy
  • 5. One Down!
  • 6. The Officers
  • 7. Man Overboard!
  • 8. The Buccaneer
  • 9. The Grid Room
  • 10. Spy!
  • 11. Focus Point
  • 12. The Prize

Background: Barbara Clegg adapts her scripts from the 1983 serial. She’s the first woman to write for Target’s Doctor Who range.

Notes: As on TV, Turlough and Tegan play chess as a foreshadowing of the battle between the Guardians; significantly, on TV, Turlough chooses to play as white, but here he’s black. The Black Guardian doesn’t appear after the White Guardian at the beginning. The Doctor reviews a newspaper to discern that it’s 1901 (the newspaper on TV is from a year later). In her quarters aboard Striker’s ship, Tegan is startled to see the dress that Lady Cranleigh gave her among her things [see Black Orchid]. Striker’s ship is unnamed (although it’s only named on screen on a lifebelt). Turlough’s communication crystal for the Black Guardian is, once again, a cube. 

Quick trigger warning: Aboard the Buccaneer, Turlough sees ‘Persian rugs and a negro statue holding a great candelabra’. Mansell is a much bigger man than on telly: 

… his brocaded coat flashed with gold thread, but it appeared to have belonged once to someone else, for it fitted him poorly. His broad shoulders were nearly bursting the seams. He walked with the lithe power of a black athlete…

The Doctor speculates that Eternals don’t have a human form, but simulate it based on the minds of their ‘ephemeral’ crews. Wrack’s deadly jewels include crystals and sapphires as well as the ruby gems seen on TV; they’re all described as ‘capuchon’, so they’re polished, not cut like more modern gems.When activated by Wrack, the gem in Tegan’s tiara turns black and as the Doctor tries to destroy it, they can all hear the voice of the Black Guardian saying ‘Focus… focus…’ (this happens on TV, but it’s not clear if it’s diegetic sound or just a theatrical device). As the ‘Enlighteners’ (the two Guardians) reveal the prize of the race, the Doctor tells Turlough that he wasn’t sure who the boy would push overboard on the Buccaneer; Turlough confesses, neither did he.

Cover: That daft cutout of the Doctor is still blocking the logo, but Andrew Skilleter captures that beautiful image of the sailing ships floating through space towards the glowing Enlightenment.

Final Analysis: Again, the original scriptwriter novelises the story and it’s a cracker. Barbara Clegg brings a level of nuance that I’m not sure we’d have got with Terrance Dicks. While other writers have highlighted Tegan’s brashness, Clegg delves a little deeper: When Marriner corners Tegan and appears ‘inexperienced’ in his pursuit, Tegan feels she can cope with the situation: 

There had been other young men boringly concerned about her in the past. She was on home ground…. She did hate emotional scenes, particularly when she could not return the emotion.

Clegg also chooses to hide the Black Guardian’s involvement until very late on, so for any reader who’s missed Turlough’s previous adventures so far, his involvement with the Doctor’s enemy will come as quite a shock.

Chapter 84. Doctor Who – Snakedance (1984)

Synopsis: The Doctor allows Tegan to choose their next destination to cheer her up after a series of bad dreams. A seemingly random selection takes them to Manussa, which was once home to a great empire. Little of it survives, except in ritual, the true meaning of which has long been forgotten. As the Doctor and his friends explore, a realisation dawns on them. Their arrival at this time and place is no coincidence. Manussa was once home to the Mara – and through Tegan it will return.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Nightmare
  • 2. Cave of the Snake
  • 3. Voice of the Mara
  • 4. Hall of Mirrors
  • 5. The Sign of the Mara
  • 6. Dinner with Ambril
  • 7. Dojjen’s Journal
  • 8. The Origin of Evil
  • 9. Death Sentence
  • 10. The Escape
  • 11. Dojjen
  • 12. The Becoming of the Mara

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts from 1983 by Christopher Bailey.

Notes: Nyssa claims she can’t remember who read out the coordinates to the Doctor, but she actually remembers very clearly that it was Tegan and doesn’t want to get her into trouble. The Fortune Teller is named ‘Zara’. On counting the Faces of Delusion, Chela realises the Doctor’s point before it’s spelled out to Ambril. Finding herself alone with Chela in Ambril’s study, Lady Tanha feels his presence is ‘very soothing’ and soon begins to confide in him in a way that is politically indiscrete and which makes Chela ‘petrified with fear and embarrassment’. She later chats with Ambril and learns that the scholar has no family of his own; ‘Children can be very disappointing,’ she confesses. Wanting to avoid explanations, the Doctor guides his friends back to the TARDIS and departs, while in his mind’s eye, he sees Dojjen waving goodbye to him.

Cover: A pearl-like planet hovers between the jaws of a snake, its tail tightly coiled. An eerie concept from Andrew Skilleter somewhat spoiled by the photo of a smiling Peter Davison that’s been shoved into the logo at the top of the frame, making it read ‘Do-or Who’. Hmm…

Final Analysis: Just a reminder that my mission here is to review the books, not the stories, and this is another difficult Terrance Dicks adaptation that leaves us with very little to examine that isn’t on TV. Again, I can’t help but wish that Christopher Bailey had written this one, just to give us more than the enticing myths and half-truths we learn about the old Manussan empire. Still, Terrance Dicks gives us the solid, steady approach and I know this is one of the stories he didn’t feel he wanted to embellish because it’s so very good. It’s the sign of a good yarn if we’re left wanting more.

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.

Chapter 75. Doctor Who – Meglos (1983)

Synopsis: Caught in a time trap, the Doctor, Romana and K9 have to find the key to break out of a repeating cycle of actions. When they eventually reach their destination, the jungle planet Tigella, the Doctor is immediately accused of stealing the Dodecahedron, the source of the Tigellans’ power and a holy relic to the religious Deons. It seems there’s a doppelganger on the loose and the Doctor must pay for the crimes of Meglos – the last Zolpha Thuran.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Abduction of an Earthling
  • 2. The Deons
  • 3. The Screens of Zolfa-Thura
  • 4. Time Loop
  • 5. The Double
  • 6. The Impossible
  • 7. Prisoner of the Gaztaks
  • 8. The Attack
  • 9. The Sacrifice
  • 10. The Reprieve
  • 11. The Ultimate Weapon
  • 12. Final Countdown

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts for the 1980 serial by John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch. This release completes the stories in Target’s library for Season 18, also making it the shortest gap between first and last stories to be novelised in a season (ten books). Furthermore, that’s the last novelisation of a Fourth Doctor TV story we’ll see this century.

Notes: The first chapter takes a disturbing turn as it speculates that the results of numerous gangland killings have been buried underneath various newly built motorways. It also introduces ‘the Earthling’, who’s named George Morris; a predictable, mild-mannered assistant bank manager of a country branch who finds himself kidnapped by a band of aliens. For (almost) the final time [see The Five Doctors], Terrance Dicks gives us a lovely little description of this Doctor:

At this time in his lives, he was a very tall man with wide staring eyes and a mop of curly hair. Much of the time he wore a long elegant coat, something between overcoat and smoking jacket, made of some reddish, velvety material and cut in a vaguely Edwardian style.

Romana is ‘a fair-haired, classically good-looking young woman with an impressively high forehead and an air of aristocratic hauteur’. At the start, K9 is still out of action after his ‘rash dip in the sea’ in The Leisure Hive.

Oops! Terrance Dicks describes the dodecahedron as ‘five-sided’ (the clue’s in the name) so that it correlates with the five screens of Zolpha Thura – each face has five edges, which isn’t the same thing. Zolpha Thurans were ‘scientists of a particularly brilliant kind’ who developed the ability to take control of other beings and disguise their own vegetable forms and explore the universe. For once, the Doctor is able to steer the TARDIS successfully, so George Morris makes it home on time and decides not to tell his wife what happened. As she started hitting the sherry 20 minutes before he stepped through the door, this is probably a good idea.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter gives us another very straightforward but moody composition of Bill Fraser as General Grugger and Tom Baker as a thorny Meglos; it’s rather beautiful in its simplicity. There have been a few close calls with Chris Achilleos, but Andrew Skilleter here grabs a record as the first artist to provide a first-edition cover for every story in a single season. Alister Pearson’s cover for the 1993 reprint is a much brighter affair, with Meglos and the Doctor hovering above the Dodecahedron.

Final Analysis: So farewell then, Fourth Doctor, as we reach the end of your Target library [but see book 153]. Terrance makes a few adjustments and explains the bigger gulfs in logic to make this a rather jolly adventure; even the threat of being crushed under huge rocks seems rather mild. It successfully maintains the feeling of mild jeopardy where the main threat comes not from the malignant cactus but the blind obedience to dogma and plain stupidity. Dicks’ depiction of Brotodac as almost childlike is a particular highlight, though sadly he omits the scene where Grugger gives K9 a savage kick.

Chapter 73. Doctor Who and the Sunmakers (1982)

Synopsis: The planet Pluto has been colonised and made habitable by the addition of artificial suns. But life for the citizens is hard with astronomically high taxes that keep everyone in constant debt to the Company. When the Doctor, Leela and K9 arrive in the city Megropolis One, they quickly fall in with a band of inept rebels. Soon, they come up against the Gatherer, who controls the city’s finances, and the head of the Company, the slimy Collector.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Cost of the Golden Death
  • 2. The Fugitive
  • 3. The Others
  • 4. The Collector
  • 5. The Reprieve
  • 6. The Trap
  • 7. The Rebels
  • 8. The Prisoner
  • 9. The Steaming
  • 10. Revolt
  • 11. The Confrontation
  • 12. Liquidation

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts for Robert Holmes’ 1977 serial The Sun Makers (slight change of title there), completing the run of Season 15 stories for Target. This is also Leela’s final adventure to be novelised and they’ve all been written by Terrance!

Notes: Leela is unsettled when she discovers three people awaiting erasure on their ‘death day’; Condo tells her it’s called ‘business economy’ and Leela says ‘I call it murder’. When Mandrel threatens him with a poker, the Doctor responds: 

‘You’re really not very good at this sort of thing, are you Mandrel? I don’t think you’re really nasty enough at heart. I can see it in the eyes – no conviction.’

Although they’re named in the TV episodes, Terrance makes sure we pick up on the names of two technicians – ‘Synge and Hakit’ – surely a reference to the popular drag performers ‘Hinge and Bracket’, who were emerging radio stars around the time of the TV broadcasts.  On screen, Hade is thrown from the top of a building with a cheer; here, it’s with shame and disgust:

There was a general feeling things had got out of hand, gone a bit too far. But there wasn’t very much that they could do about it now. From the top of a thousand-metre building, it’s a very long way down.

Cover: The last novelisation to have ‘and the’ in the title. Andrew Skilleter’s cover art is an effective portrait of the Collector. It’s very subtle, but the spotlights behind him represent Pluto’s six suns.

Final Analysis: There’s almost a reworking of The Dalek Invasion of Earth with the opening line: ‘In a drab and featureless corridor, a drab and featureless man stood waiting before a shuttered hatch.’ It’s otherwise a predictably solid adaptation from Terrance, which is becoming a rare thing around this time, though as the above quote about Gatherer Hade’s demise shows, he still has room to add a tinge of dark humour that’s very much in the spirit of his friend Robert Holmes’ original scripts.

Chapter 72. Doctor Who – Logopolis (1982)

Synopsis: A sudden whimsy to reconfigure the TARDIS’s chameleon circuit leads the Doctor to confront a terrifying and certain future. The Master has returned and his new scheme puts the entire universe at risk. Surrounded by companions he didn’t choose and forced to enter a partnership with his oldest enemy, the Doctor has finally reached the end – and it really has been prepared for…

Chapter Titles

The chapters are simply numbered one to twelve. As Neil Corry suggested, Bidmead could have at least done them in binary!

Background: Christopher H. Bidmead adapts his own scripts from the 1981 story. Making good use of his past life as an actor, he also reads the audiobook, making him the first credited author to do so (although Barry Letts read The Daemons, the scripts were co-written and credited to ‘Guy Leopold).

Notes: The police officer killed by the Master is named Donald Seagrave. The police box he investigates is on the Barnet bypass (not specified on screen). Aunt Vanessa lives in ‘a cottage house in a quiet village-like street’ less than 50 miles from the Barnet bypass.  The Doctor recalls that Romana is ‘at the Gateway with Biroc and the Tharils’ (though we’re not told what this actually means for any reader who didn’t yet catch Warriors’ Gate). Adric is said to have a badge for mathematical excellence, but his ‘grasp of physics wasn’t very good’. As he inspects the real police box, he queries the wording on the telephone hatch:

Adric had seen identical wording on the outside of the TARDIS, and had taken it to be some sort of joke of the Doctor’s. Officers and Cars had never, to his knowledge, responded to Urgent Calls, although there were several occasions when he and the Doctor could have used a little extra help.

This is his first time on Earth, so it’s possible that the only encounters Adric has had with ‘officers’ is Proctor Neman on Traken – that pillar of the community who accepted bribes. The Doctor has cause to recall the recent events on Traken and is reassured that Tremas and his daughter are ‘happy’ but begins to worry that the Master might have escaped. Adric refers to the ‘console room’ (the first time this phrase has been used – it doesn’t even appear in the TV version). 

Tegan is ‘barely twenty years old’. When he sees Tegan on the TARDIS scanner, Adric has a feeling he has known her very well; he observes that her face ‘looked rather beautiful, framed by that dark red hair under the severe purple cap that matched her uniform.’ Tegan’s plane ‘back home’ is a Cesna. 

The TARDIS cloisters have a ceiling with an ’emulation of the sky, even as far as the suggestion of clouds’. The Doctor gives Adric a copy of The Complete Poetry of John Milton and the boy observes a similarity between a fallen angel and the Master. The Doctor hovers the TARDIS above Logopolis to give the Logopolitans advance notice of his arrival. As viewed from above, the City of Logopolis looks like ‘a giant brain’. 

The Master’s (unnamed) weapon is silver and leaves a whiff of ozone after discharge. The Doctor falls from the telescope when the cable he’s hanging from snaps. Adric realises the Doctor is ‘regenerating’, as he and Nyssa confirm their suspicions that the Watcher was the Doctor all along. The new Doctor has a ‘smoother, younger face’ and beams ‘somewhat vacuously’ at his friends. We’re presented with his first words::

‘Well, that’s the end of that,’ said a voice they had not heard before. ‘But it’s probably the beginning of something completely different.’ 

Cover: Andrew Skilleter paints a simple composition of the Master in front of the Pharos project. Alister Pearson’s 1991 cover has the Doctor looking tired, Tegan and Nyssa grinning, leaving the Monitor and Adric to look at the shrinking TARDIS.

Final Analysis: The opening paragraph warns us that…

When some great circumstance, hovering somewhere in the future, is a catastrophe of incalculable consequence, you may not see the signs in the small happenings that go before.

Accordingly, Bidmead progresses to foreshadow events: Tegan is about to embark on a journey that ‘she would never forget for the rest of her life’; Adric hears the cloister bell for ‘the first but not the last time’;  … and so on.

As with The Visitation, there’s no introduction for or description of the Doctor or Adric, but there’s a palpable enthusiasm for showing off Bidmead’s knowledge of modern science, such as Maxwell’s Second Law of Thermodynamics and ‘Mr Heisenberg’. The assumption is that the reader already knows who the Doctor and Adric are (which I’ve grumbled about with other writers), but we at least get a clear idea of the new arrival, Tegan. The best bit is the conclusion of Chapter 5:

Tegan’s voice exploded like a shrapnel-bomb in the quiet of the console room. ‘I demand to see whoever is in charge of this ship.