Bonus chapter #10. Doctor Who – The Ghosts of N-Space (1995)

Synopsis: While Sarah Jane and her colleague Jeremy enjoy a holiday in Italy, they’re surprised to find the Brigadier is also in the region. He’s offering support to a distant relative who’s being threatened by an American gangster determined to acquire the family home by any means. When the Doctor arrives to investigate a haunting, the old team comes together to solve a mystery that spans centuries.

Chapter titles

Numbered One to Twenty-Eight

Background: A number of firsts here, as Barry Letts adapts scripts for a BBC Radio drama that, at the time of publication, had yet to be broadcast. The old novelisation imprint having expired, this was released as the seventh book in Virgin’s Missing Adventures line. 

Notes: The back cover tells us that the story is set between Death to the Daleks and The Monster of Peladon; Sarah recalls her tangle with a Sontaran, there are various references to Paradise of Death and the Doctor and Sarah discuss their escapades in the Exxilon city. An opening scene helps to set up our new villain in a confrontation between Max Vilmio and head of a ruling family, Don Fabrizzio, which results in the brutal death of the Don.

As was common in the Virgin books, there’s some mild swearing – the Don’s henchmen are said to have been disrespected as if they were ‘the chicken‐shit bully‐boys of a Main Street Boss from the Mid‐West’, the Don considers Vilmio to be a ‘pezzo di merda’ (thank you Google Translate) and Vilmio later calls Fabrizzio a ‘two‐bit Godfather with cowshit between his toes’ (as in the radio serial!). Sarah mentally bestows Jeremy with the name ‘Tail‐Arse‐Charlie’ as he’s always last in line when the action starts. Letts outdoes Ian Marter for one specific expletive: Vilmio threatens Jeremy, ‘I’ll ask you once more, you little bastard’ and Jeremy recalls a boxing lesson at school where he cowered in the corner of the ring surrounded by cries of ‘You’ve got him now, boy, kill the bastard!’. After Max calls Maggie ‘an ignorant broad from Brooklyn’, she agrees, before adding ‘Great tits, though’; later, she’s said to stand ‘silent, hand on tilted hip, chin up, tits out, letting her body do its work’. Least offensive of all is Sarah asking herself ‘Why am I so knackered?’ – it’s an entirely appropriate phrase for someone who grew up in Liverpool, but any readers from the East of England may have another interpretation of the word, where ‘knackered’ can mean ‘sexually exhausted’. The book retains the use of the word ‘catamite’ from the radio scripts and refrains from explaining it. Max’s use of the term ‘dumb Polack hooker’ is, however, excised.

As a child, Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart had visited his uncle Mario and brought with him a set of story books (which his uncle kept to help him with his English) as well as a comforting teddy bear. Listening to the Doctor and the Brigadier talk, Sarah Jane thinks of them as ‘the grown‐ups’. The Doctor’s voice reminds Sarah of a childhood trip with her parents to stay at a caravan on the Gower coast. 

We’re treated to a number of ghastly animal combinations from the N-dimension: One is a ‘glowing creature half ape, half carrion bird, reaching out with impossibly extended scaly arms [and] vulture claws’; later, the Doctor provides the gang with a peek into N-space:

Sarah saw again a flash of the chimera of her living nightmare. She saw glimpses of creatures even more horrific: inside out creatures gnawing at their own entrails; gaping heads, all mouth and fangs, with a maw large enough to swallow a full‐grown pig – or a human; monstrous jellyfish with a hundred human eyes, staring, staring, staring; and more; and more; a menagerie of evil. 

The three creatures they encounter in the past resemble a thirty-feet-long whale with shark’s teeth and legs with ‘dinner‐plate‐sized hooves’, a ‘nimble slug a mere twelve feet in length’ and a ‘spiny sea urchin, a ball of yard‐long spikes’, with ‘blood-red eyes on stalks’.

The Doctor’s leaping to avoid the beast is compared to ‘Nureyev or Nijinsky’, which seems odd to think back to a time where there even was a ‘world-famous ballet dancer’ who everyone knew by name, let alone two.

We discover that Maggie’s backstory is even more grim than on radio: After the death of her mother, her violent and abusive father revealed that he expected Maggie to take her mother’s place ‘in every sense’. When she fought against his advances, her father beat her savagely and though he subsequently left her alone, he continued to violently terrorise her siblings. Despite this, we’re told that Maggie usually gets a ‘buzz’ from violence – ‘Bruised, cut cheeks and split lips could be quite a turn‐on’ – but even she finds Max’s beating of Jeremy distressing – hence why she helps him.

Uncle Mario has had a loaded gun on the premises ever since World War II (we’re told that he has been ‘indomitably anti‐fascist’ since the 1920s. Jeremy had an Uncle Teddy, with whom he used to go wild-fowling on trips to Norfolk. Having repeatedly compared his adventures with those of James Bond, Jeremy takes inspiration for his final assault from one of Uncle Mario’s books – one of the volumes that used to belong to young Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart.

Cover: Using the Slatter-Anderson design for the Missing Adventures range, Alister Pearson presents us with a Doctor in his costume first seen in The Green Death, with a Brigadier in what looks like his Mawdryn Undead civvies, while the main panel shows a ghostly monk passing through a brick wall.

Final Analysis: Commissioned as a sequel to The Paradise of Death, The Ghosts of N-Space fell foul of changes at Radio 5 as the station’s remit evolved towards solely news and sport, with no room for fiction. It shifted across a number of potential options before eventually airing on Radio 2 (not normally the home of drama, but Radio 4 had already passed) some two years after it had been produced. In the meantime, Virgin books decided to capitalise upon the success of their New Adventures range by commissioning a second strand of original fiction starring past Doctors and companions. Barry Letts had a ready-made script ripe for novelisation, so was invited to contribute to the Missing Adventures range with The Ghosts of N-Space with no confirmed airdate for the serial in sight. This book is the only Doctor Who adaptation to be presented as an original novel first rather than as part of the ongoing series of novelisations. It’s a distinction that initially led me to decide not to review it here as it, er, didn’t count. However, a last-minute Twitter poll forced my hand. So here we are!

As with the novel of The Paradise of Death, while I don’t wish to review the radio play, this is another instance where I hadn’t actually heard the original episodes before. For the novel, Barry Letts rejigs the order of some scenes and expands others. Mainly, it benefits hugely from the rewriting of scenes that were originally created through breathless dialogue (such as Sarah Jane or Jeremy explaining what they can see and the listener can only hear). The backstories of the various Italian families through the ages are fleshed out and the whole thing just makes a lot more sense than it does as an audio drama. Otherwise, it’s a fairly logical progression through the scripts, even down to a very conveniently jolly ending. 

At the time, there was a suspicion in some quarters that the BBC kept shunting the play around because nobody actually wanted it. Whether that was because of its quality, or just because no commissioner ever wants to inherit someone else’s stone-cold project is up for debate. Eventually, both the novel and the eventual broadcast received a lukewarm response from fans. 

The adventure itself isn’t that bad. It’s a complicated tale set across multiple points in time that might easily have been produced on TV during the Steven Moffat years. The main problem is one that blighted both Paradise of Death and almost all of the Missing Adventures at the time, a split in the readership between those who wanted the new stories to feel authentic to the productions they were supposed to slot between and others who wanted the kind of stories that could never have been achieved in a BBC Television Centre studio. The Ghosts of N-Space sits uncomfortably between the two. Like most early 1970s six-part adventures, it’s rather flabby in the middle and it all gets a little moralistic in its conclusion. But it’s also extremely atypical of the era it’s trying to recreate, so it feels like one of those feature films in the 1970s where the cast of a popular TV sitcom leave their familiar surroundings for a foreign holiday – with hilarious consequences.

In this case, the consequences aren’t that hilarious as Letts takes advantage of being able to write for an older audience: The Lovecraftian monsters are genuinely horrific; there’s the strong language and mild sexual terms mentioned earlier,; and he reveals an enthusiasm for particularly nasty death scenes:

With one last choking gasp, the wretched man was still. His eyes were popping from his head and his tongue extruded from his mouth, blood streaming from it. His jaw, clamped tight, had bitten it right through. He was, without a doubt, quite dead. 

By no means as ropey as I’d been led to believe, it’s still not quite authentic enough to satisfy traditionalists, nor revolutionary to appease the radicals. Even so, it’s disappointing that this is Barry Letts’ final novelisation. He later wrote two original Doctor Who novels for BBC Books, one co-written with Terrance Dicks, as well as contributing to Big Finish’s Sarah Jane Smith series of audio plays. He died on 9 October 2009, aged 84. His autobiography, Who and Me, was published posthumously the following month.

Chapter 156. Doctor Who – The Paradise of Death (1994)

Synopsis: When a body is found in the grounds of a new theme park, the Brigadier asks the Doctor to investigate. Sensing a story, Sarah Jane Smith calls in a photographer called Jeremy and discovers that the owners of the theme park are aliens hoping to negotiate trade deals with Earth. Nothing is as it seems, however, as the aliens have links to a political conspiracy on a far off world. Sarah and Jeremy are left to solve the mystery alone when the Doctor is declared dead!

Chapter Titles

Numbered One to Thirty-Three. Just missed out on that crown for most number of chapters, Barry.

Background: Barry Letts returns to the Doctor Who novelisation range for the first time since Doctor Who and the Daemons in 1974, to adapt his own scripts for the 1993 radio serial. Although the numbering has ceased to appear on the cover, the title page tells us that this is indeed book #156 in the Target Doctor Who Library.

Notes: The announcer on the Space World adverts is said to have an accent that’s ‘half-Cockney half-Yankee’ (a possible dig at actor Andrew Wincott’s delivery in the original broadcasts). Space World rivals Disneyworld ‘in size and the scope of its attractions’, covering ‘acres of London’s favourite open space’. Many of the Space World staff are out-of-work actors pretending to be robot guides.

For the first time ever, a swear word from an original broadcast is retained for the book (when Nobby discovers ‘a bleedin’ UFO’) rather than it being an addition for the novelisation. Sarah Jane Smith has a studio flat overlooking Hampstead Heath. She’s been a journalist in London for two years and is currently a feature writer for Metropolitan – a ‘glossy woman’s mag’ [as revealed in Planet of the Spiders]. As in the radio serial, Sarah Jane has had one adventure with the Doctor before returning to her normal life [so this comes before Invasion of the Dinosaurs, an idea supported by the opening scenes of the novelisation, The Dinosaur Invasion]. The Brigadier is surprised to learn Miss Smith is a journalist and not, as he’d been led to believe, a scientist specialising in ‘bugs’. The Doctor’s laboratory contains objects that Sarah thinks would look at home in a museum or a ‘junk shop’:

There were odd pieces of clothing – a hat with an ostrich feather plume; a piece of rusting armour; a very long knitted scarf; a pair of pointed Renaissance slippers – piles of dried vegetable matter, including some horribly twisted fungi. a dusty stuffed albatross with wings outstretched (she’d had to duck underneath to get into the room), a large photograph of a man with a shock of white hair and a bushy moustache, (Could it be…? It was, you know. Scribbled in the corner, it had, ‘Many thanks for all your help, old friend.’ and it was signed ‘Albert Einstein’) and so on and so on.

Jeremy Fitzoliver is a slight man dressed in a soft leather jacket and designer jeans with a ‘knife-edge crease’ that Sarah suspects must have cost ‘a bomb and a half’. He went to school at Hothorough, as did his uncle Edward Fitzoliver, who Sarah realises is a major shareholder in Metropolitan Magazine. The Brigadier went to school with ‘Teddy’ Fitzoliver and knew him affectionately as ‘Pooh’, as he was considered ‘a bear of little brain’. The Brigadier had also known a ‘Chuffy Knowles’ while at Sandhurst, who left the army to become an insurance salesman. Among the guests at the Space World opening is Septimus Hardiman, a columnist and TV personality who specialises in innuendo.

The alien Kamelius has a slight hump on the back of its armadillo-like body, with legs and weight like that of an African elephant. It has two rows of teeth that look designed to chew rocks, its crab-like claws look powerful enough to snap an arm or leg – and it makes a ‘a low chattering gobble’ noise. The Giant Ostroid looks like ‘an oven-ready turkey on stilts’ with saucer eyes and the habit of belching loudly. The Piranhatel Beetles number in their hundreds; they’re six inches long, with scarlet and black shells and ‘great tearing, biting thingies sticking out of their faces’ and can strip a cow’s carcass to the bone in under thirty-three seconds. Jeremy thinks that the most impressive exhibit is the Stinksloth, an extremely pungent creature that is housed in a pit of foul mud ‘or worse’ and looks like a cross between a sea lion and a jellyfish. The smell comes from the bodies of giant slugs, which the beast stores in the corner of its cell until its next meal. We’re also told of a ‘Flesh-Eating Gryphon’, a ‘Blue-Finned Belly-Flopper’ and a ‘Vampire Teddy Bear’ among the twenty one alien creatures in the park.

Having escaped from Tragan, Grebber decides that the chances of anything happening to him that night are ‘sweet FA’ (a swear word with a flexible level of offense depending on which interpretation you go for, so potentially the strongest we’ve seen in the range so far).

The Brigadier speaks to the Secretary General of the United Nations, a woman with a ‘mid-oceanic’ accent. He recalls his meetings with the Doctor, starting with the Yeti and the ‘uncanny Cybermen’ before recalling that he’d thought the Doctor to be dead once before, during the operation with the Daemon. The pathologist, Professor Mortimer Willow, ponders whether the Doctor and Grebber were ‘pissed or stoned’. He also asks his assistant about his love life, enquiring if Brian is ‘getting his oats’. The Doctor claims to have known General Clive of India (‘A thoroughgoing bad lot, but he knew his tea’) and Lucrezia Borgia. He learned the art of bone relaxation from a wise neanderthal. Jeremy speaks to Captain Yates, who is the duty officer back at UNIT.

The guard-dog creatures accompanying Tragan, later identified as Blestinu soldiers, are an evolutionary hybrid of reptile and canine:

Even more fearsome than the sabre-toothed rottweiler guessed at in the pathologist’s report, it stood nearer to seven foot than six. Its overall shape was dog-like, with the muscles of a pit-fighter rippling under a leather skin denuded of all but a few hairs. But its face, a mongrel mix of demon and dinosaur, could have been used as a model by Hieronymus Bosch in his most graphic depictions of the denizens of hell gnawing at the entrails of those eternally abandoned by God. Its eyes, blood red, seemed to glow with the fire of an internal furnace; its teeth, unlike any earthly creature’s, were jagged and long, each with a number of stiletto points to pierce and tear. It smelt of decay.

As revealed to Sarah, Tragan’s real face is ‘like a thick, purple soup’, his skin is covered with warts and ‘suppurating pustules’ as if ‘melted by some unburning flame’. 

Racing back to the TARDIS in Bessie, the Doctor is pulled over for speeding by a policeman; the Brigadier intercedes after the Doctor tried to justify driving at 140mph by baffling the officer with science. Tragan asks Sarah if she’s ever travelled through space before and she briefly wonders if time travel would count (so again, this is very early days for Sarah). The Brigadier is reminded of when he was a young subaltern [See the novel of The Mind of Evil], stationed in Leicestershire, where he had been invited to join ‘some of the fashionable hunts’. He also recalls leading a ‘cutting-out expedition’ (landing from canoes behind the enemy lines) when he was ‘seconded to the SAS as a captain’ and he alludes to an undercover mission that saw him flying from Kathmandu to Patna, where the jungle had, when viewed from above, looked like the ocean.

The Gargan is about the same size as a Tyrannosaurus Rex but with short, sturdy back legs. It walks on its knuckles, like a gorilla and it has a long curved neck so it can ‘hold his head close to the ground, like a bloodhound hot on the trail’ and its mouth contains rows of teeth like those of a crocodile.

A series of flashbacks fill in the backstory of Onya Farjen – back when she was called ‘Katyan Glessey’ and before she discovered her links to the Kinionyan tribe on the island of Lackan. When preparing to take on Jenhegger in combat, the Doctor removes the fancy dress that Tragan forced him to wear – leaving him in just his underpants (the broadcast version is not as specific, stating merely that he has removed the costume). Sarah has apparently been in love before and while she doesn’t think she is in love with Captain Waldo Rudley, his death leaves her full of regret and grief, ‘as if Waldo’s death had left a black hole in her heart’.

Cover: A tasteful trio of portraits of the Brigadier, Sarah and the Doctor (using a reference photo from Invasion of the Dinosaurs) in shades of blue that evoke the title sequence introduced for Season 11, all beautifully painted by Alister Pearson.

Final Analysis: Throughout this project, I’ve tried to avoid reviewing the TV stories or discussing things that aren’t specific to the adaptation. My assumption is, anyone who’s reading this is at least familiar with the source material, even if they’ve not read the book. With Paradise of Death, there was a point a few chapters in where I realised that I er… hadn’t actually heard the radio serial beyond the first episode, despite having it on CD for 20 years. So now I have!

It’s a strange one, this – broadcast on Radio 5 in the early years of the station, before it refined its output to focus on news and sport. It has the same production techniques as the established Radio 4 house style, so it surprised me to learn that most of the mild swear words that appear in the book came from the radio scripts. The book also falls into Doctor Who’s transition as an ongoing concern mainly in print, as the decade featured only three TV stories (a movie and two charity specials of dubious canonicity). So we have a few references that don’t really fit with the period the story is set, but the focus on virtual reality very much reflects the cultural obsessions of the early 1990s. There are a few examples of Barry Letts tipping his hat to social issues, but it’s much less heavy handed than in some of the much-loved serials he produced for TV. And one rather ugly reference from the radio serial is thankfully omitted, where the Doctor describes Experienced Reality addicts as being as hooked ‘as a junkie is on heroin’. 

Setting the story in the early days of Sarah Jane’s involvement with the Doctor allows for a little character development as she still doesn’t know what to expect and at first the Brigadier still thinks she’s a scientist, not a journalist with a fake ID. There’s a lovely line, retained from the broadcast version, where Sarah tries to explain to Jeremy that she’s only just met the Doctor, but news of his (apparent) death has left her more bereft than she can understand: ‘It’s silly, I know, but I feel as if – as if I’d lost my best friend.’ Later, when confronted with Tragan’s true face, her internal monologue betrays Barry Letts’ hand:

The pause gave Sarah the time to gather her shattered defences. After all, she thought, it didn’t really matter what he looked like, though she couldn’t stop herself from shuddering when she tried to look at him with an objective eye. It was sheer prejudice to judge people by their appearance.

Meanwhile, the Brigadier tries not to cause offense to his hosts by picking his way through an exotic buffet to find the alien items most closely resembling cheese and meats. It’s a nuanced portrayal of the Brig, at once showing him to be a man of simple tastes coupled with an awareness of his role in intergalactic diplomacy. Other authors fall into the trap of playing the Brigadier as either an obstinate military mind or a boorish idiot, so it’s good to see the character treated with respect.

And that’s that. After this run of Target books had ended (including the three Virgin publications), Doctor Who’s future in print would be in the form of all-new adventures, ‘too broad and too deep for the small screen’. And often too sexy, too sweary and too drug-referency as well. But I’m definitely not reading those.

Well – maybe just one…

Chapter 8. Doctor Who and the Daemons (1974)

Synopsis: The Master’s up to no good in an English village, posing as both a vicar and the leader of a satanic cult. The Doctor and Jo appear on TV and they take on the Master, a gargoyle and an ancient god – with the help of UNIT and a self-proclaimed white witch.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. The White Witch
  • 2. The New Vicar
  • 3. The Opening of the Barrow
  • 4. The Appearance of the Beast
  • 5. The Heat Barrier
  • 6. Meetings
  • 7. Explanations
  • 8. The Second Appearance
  • 9. Into Danger
  • 10. The Third Appearance
  • 11. The Rescue
  • 12. Into the Cavern
  • 13. The Sacrifice
  • Epilogue

Background: Barry Letts adapts the 1971 scripts he co-wrote with Robert Sloman as ‘Guy Leopold’.

Notes: An early manifestation of Azal is much more dramatic, involving the death of the verger. Benton recalls earlier adventures with the cybermen, Axons and the daffodil-touting autons, none of which have been novelised by this point, while Jo recalls her first meeting with the Master as seen on TV but which flatly contradicts the books so far. We also get the first revelation that the Doctor and the Master were schoolfriends – and that the Doctor wasn’t a particularly keen student. The character of Stan Wilkins is new to the book, on TV he’s just a nameless acolyte in the coven who recognises that the Master is evil and tries to save Jo and the Doctor. His courage serves to make Jo’s attempted self-sacrifice all the braver.

Cover & Illustrations:  The original cover was by Chris Achilleos following the now-familiar formula of the Doctor’s face with a head-shot of Azal and a teeny Bok. Internal illustrations are by Alan Willow. There’s a lovely drawing of Jo back against an ivy-covered wall (that’s based on a photo from The Sea Devils), but Azal and Bok are both faithfully reproduced. My first cover was the 1980 reprint with a portrait by Andrew Skilleter of Azal in the cavern, while the 1993 reprint used Alister Pearson’s VHS cover, with an almost-Celtic cross that shows the Doctor and Master both in half-portrait, Azal at the top and Bok at the bottom against a sunburn-pink background.

Final Analysis: Barry Letts adapts the scripts well, so it’s surprising this is his only novelisation of a TV story (though it’s not his only entry in this blog – as you’ll find out in about 146 chapters). It enhances what was possible on telly but doesn’t elaborate vastly; the prologue is just everything that happens on TV before the Doctor appears, where Mac Hulke might have given us an insight into Azal’s arrival on Earth. Azal gets a better motivation to implode though – being both confused by Jo’s illogical actions and about to die anyway. And the lead character is referred to as ‘Doctor Who’, right at the start of the first chapter.