Chapter 158. Doctor Who and the Pirate Planet (2021)

Synopsis: When the Doctor and Romana land on the planet Zanak, apparently by mistake, they discover a world where young men are tormented by haunting visions and where the people are so wealthy that they leave rare gems lying in the street. High up in the mountains sits their ruler, the Captain, half-man, half machine. The Doctor is appalled to discover that the Captain has found a way to pilot the entire planet around the galaxy, absorbing other worlds. But that’s nothing to how outraged he becomes when he finds out why…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Sky with Diamonds
  • 2. Right Place, Wrong Planet
  • 3. Meeting with Unusual Minds
  • 4. Late to the Party
  • 5. The Normally Delicious Smell of Pork
  • 6. Dark Satanic Mills
  • 7. The Death of Calufrax
  • 8. The Trophy Room
  • 9. Life’s Fleeting, but Plank’s Constant
  • 10. An Immortal Queen
  • 11. Dinner with Newton
  • 12. The Captain’s Plan

Background: James Goss rewrites his earlier, longer novel, adapting scripts by Douglas Adams for a story broadcast in 1977. At 43 years and six months, this once and for all is the story with the longest gap between broadcast of the original story on TV and eventual novelisation as a ‘Target’ book.

Notes: For the first time since Doctor Who and the Sunmakers, we have a ‘Doctor Who and the…’ title! The Doctor is still concerned about Romana’s lack of experience (in fact, he’s slightly afraid of her). Their quest to find the second segment of the Key to Time is officially ‘Day Two’ and only Romana’s second trip in the TARDIS. At the start, Romana’s gown flows behind her ‘with a slithering grace that tended to scare furniture’

The Captain is an impressive giant of a former man:

It was hard to tell where the chair ended and the Captain began. Nestled amongst it all were the remains of a very large man. Half of his face was covered with a metallic plate,. A green eye patch glowed dangerously, metal lips sneered and even half of his beard was iron. Things got worse beneath the neck. A vast robotic arm, two artificial legs, synthetic lungs that hissed with effort, and, at the end of a velvet-covered sleeve, the rather pathetic remains of a human hand twitched.

His parrot is more birdlike than on TV, with metallic feathers and a habit of hopping from foot to foot. The Nurse wears a pale green dress rather than a white one. Calufrax has two suns. K9 plugs himself into a streetlamp to access Zanak’s information network. The planets in the Captain’s trophy room float inside their glass cabinets. Romana tells Kimus that there is a ‘vast space’ on Gallifrey ‘where the memories of dead Time Lords gathered to grumble’ [which could be either something inside the Matrix, or the Cloister Wraiths seen in Hell Bent].

Cover: The Doctor, Romana and the Captain are dominated by an oversized Polyphase Avatron, courtesy of Anthony Dry.

Final Analysis: While this story was previously adapted as a hefty hardback novel, James Goss was working from Douglas Adams’ original scripts, so there were more diversions from what made it to screen. This is a leaner, more faithful adaptation of the TV episodes, but it’s still on the thicker end of the Target scale. As with City of Death, the main impression is one of joyful chaos as the Doctor comes to terms with having a new companion foisted upon him, while Romana is surprised to find herself placing a lot of trust in a man she’s only known for a day. As on TV, it’s the story of the rebellious kid from the wrong side of the time tracks trying to impress a woman of a different class and Goss adds little asides to show us how the relationship develops. By close of play, Romana seems to have got the measure of the Doctor.

Leaving the Doctor alone with the largest bomb in creation was like leaving a child with a toy and expecting them not to play with it.

One element retained from the fuller novel is the narrator’s suggestion that Kimus is a fraud, full of high ideals and hot air, but still just as timid as the rest of the citizens to prevent him from ever actually doing anything. It’s rare that a non-villainous character is shown such justifiable contempt, personifying the general apathy of an entire civilisation that has grown accustomed to obscene decadence and become tolerant of oppression in barely a generation. Little details like this really make the continuation of the Target novelisations worthwhile.

Chapter 157. Doctor Who – City of Death (2018)

Synopsis: An emergency take-off on a barren world sees a spaceship explode, wiping out the last of the Jagaroth. Millions of years later, the Doctor and Romana are enjoying a holiday in Paris when they bump into a detective investigating a group of art thieves. What appears to be a simple heist turns out to have implications that echo through Earth’s history – and which will ensure it has no future.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue: Escapes to Dangers
  • 1. Decision for the Doctor
  • 2. The Deadly Arrivals
  • 3. In the Hands of the Enemy
  • 4. Meeting with a Monster
  • 5. Sentenced to Death
  • 6. The Doctor Disappears
  • 7. The Face of the Enemy
  • 8. An Army of Monsters
  • 9. Return to Peril
  • 10. In the Power of Scaroth
  • 11. The Doctor Fights Back
  • 12. The World Destroyed
  • Epilogue: A Kind of Victory

Background: Despite the misleading credit on the cover, this is by James Goss, rewriting his longer novel, which was based on various drafts of scripts written by Douglas Adams, based on a storyline by David Fisher, as televised in 1979. All of the chapter titles are new to this edition, which is a slight shame as there were some corkers in the original.

Notes: The old ‘Changing Face of Doctor Who’ blurb is resurrected on the title page with the explanation that the Fourth Doctor’s appearance later changed ‘when he lost an argument with gravity’. We’re also told that the cover shows ‘the 12th incarnation of Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth’. The prologue has the glorious title ‘Escapes to Dangers’. Scaroth’s ship is called Sephiroth. Romana made use of the TARDIS food machine before reaching Paris. K9 chose not to accompany his Master and Mistress on their jaunt around Paris due to the many cobbled streets he detected. After 40 novels, it’s an utter joy to find an author creating a new way of describing the Fourth Doctor: ‘The overall impression was of someone who had been completely knitted’. 

The earliest Scaroth splinter –  the Primary Fragment – is a caveman who brings fire to a tribe of primitives who worship him as a God. The Primary Fragment is closer in time to the disaster, so is able to direct the course of his future selves; this becomes harder with those splinters that are further forward in time, which is why the final Scarlioni-Scaroth is initially ignorant of his real identity, blindly following his sense of purpose for a greater goal. It’s only when an itch leads him to peel away Scarlioni’s face in ribbons that he finally learns the truth. The face mask is self-repairing and is a ‘pan-polymeric protoplasm’, the product of alien technology that was recovered by Phidias, a previous incarnation of Scaroth. Phidias gave the material to a sculptor, who used his own face as a model. In addition to Tancredi, the other fragments are: A pope in the Vatican; a crusader in Jerusalem (whose resemblance to Richard the Lionheart must have been confusing – see The Crusades); an Irish martyr burned at the stake; a senator in a Byzantium court; an English nobleman in Venice; the architect of the Great Pyramid at Cheops; an astronomer in Babylon; and the inventor of the first wheel, living on the banks of the Euphrates. 

Countess Scarlioni’s first name is Heidi, while the tour guide at the Louvre is Madame Henriette. The Doctor namedrops Catherine de Medici and Oscar Wilde in addition to Shakespeare. It’s made explicit that the seven names in Duggan’s address book who are interested in buying the Mona Lisa were the same people who hired him to investigate Scarlioni. The TARDIS is parked in an art gallery owned by a Monsieur Bertrand (on TV, it’s not clear that this isn’t just another wing of the Louvre).

Romana is surprised by the Doctor’s fury as he rebukes her for helping Scarlioni build his time machine (he later apologises for his rudeness). She sees Scarlioni as a better class of villain than Davros, whom she struggles to imagine offering her a fruit platter. She counts among her achievements the triple-first she got from the Time Academy, her position as ‘favoured scion of the House of Heartshaven and her skills in the ‘trans-temporal debating society’ – but her only reaction when the Doctor explains the extent of Scaroth’s plans is ‘Huh?’

Trapped inside the time bubble, Kerenski lives out his life completely; from his perspective, it’s the other inhabitants of the cellar who are frozen in time and he eventually dies of boredom as much as old age. Romana sets the time bubble reset for three minutes, not two. Scaroth doesn’t die in the implosion, but is cast into the vortex, where he experiences the sensation of his past selves all turning their backs on him. The Doctor places the surviving Mona Lisa into Duggan’s hands for it to be returned to the Louvre. The detective waves the Doctor and Romana off and then sees them depart in the TARDIS.

Cover: Anthony Dry’s artwork shows the Doctor, Romana, Scaroth and the Jagaroth spaceship.

Final Analysis: For the first time since The Crusades, we have a Target book making its debut in a different imprint. As referenced in the ‘background’, Doctor Who novelisations took an interesting turn in the 21st Century; almost certainly inspired by the success of JK Rowling’s boy-wizard books, and with the added attraction of being based on scripts by Douglas Adams, Gareth Roberts’ novel of the great lost work Shada came out in hardback in 2012 to critical acclaim. The first edition of The City of Death, published in 2015, was a similarly weighty 320-page hardback volume. Three years later, James Goss condensed and rewrote his previous novel into a 185-page novel with a Target logo – at last!

The Target edition is less meandering, much more faithful adaptation of the TV story, Iosing some of the extended backstories (notably Heidi and Hermann, but also the entire subplot of the critics, which seemed to make little sense until the exact moment it slotted into the scene from the broadcast episode, at which point it became the Best Thing Ever). Luckily, it retains the sheer seductive joy of Goss immersed in a Douglas Adams mindset – as the opening paragraph of the prologue illustrates: 

It was Tuesday and life didn’t happen.

Wednesday would be quite a different matter.

Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth, was in for a surprise. For one thing, he had no idea he was about to become the last of the Jagaroth

The destruction of the Jagaroth’ ship, Sephiroth, is presented as one of the universe’s little ironies – an entire species wiped out and leaving nothing behind of any significance except a trail of death. It’s a tiny observation, but it underlines the twist of fate that sees Scaroth fated to accumulate some of Earth’s greatest cultural artefacts while failing to appreciate their value, aside from how much they can be flogged on the black market to greedy collectors. 

At the beginning of the first chapter, the scene is set in such a knowing, cheeky way:

A man and a woman stood on top of the Eiffel Tower, every inch in love, if not with each other then certainly with life itself.

As in his previous version – and in the grand tradition of Terrance Dicks – James Goss smooths out some of the TV story’s plot wrinkles. The revelation of Scaroth’s true form, which is dramatic but slightly ludicrous on TV, is beautifully horrific here, as the artificial skin shreds away in ribbons to reveal a monstrous single eye set into a writhing mass of tentacles. The relationship of the Count and Countess Scarlioni is justified, making sense of exactly how an attractive wife can fail to be aware of her husband’s true nature – and in turn uncovering something altogether more unsettling about wealth, greed and human nature. Goss makes sure we never see the Countess as a victim – the truth is, she has a sickening taste for violence.

Admittedly, it helps that the story came from David Fisher and Douglas Adams – both fine minds with the skills to present the universe as basically absurd. While Goss captures the breathless energy of Adams especially, there’s never a sense that he’s showboating; he’s merely serving the story in an appropriate style. As a result, this may well be elbowing its way into my all-time top-five Target books. Just don’t tell Ghost Light.