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 76. Doctor Who – Castrovalva (1983)

Synopsis: The Doctor is struggling after a particularly distressing regeneration. He seeks rest deep within the TARDIS, but an external force sends the time machine racing towards the Big Bang. A narrow escape brings the travellers to the quiet town of Castrovalva. The locals are friendly and offer the Doctor room to recuperate. But there’s something strange about the town; how can the local chemist be in four places at once? Who is exploiting the Doctor’s weakened state and for what purpose? And where is Adric?

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Escape from Earth
  • 2. Towards Zero
  • 3. Destination: Event One
  • 4. Russian Roulette
  • 5. Jettisoned
  • 6. The Quest for Castrovalva
  • 7. Within the Walls
  • 8. The Dark Reflection
  • 9. The Occlusion Closes In
  • 10. The Clue of the Chronicle
  • 11. The World through the Eyes of Shardovan
  • 12. The Web is Broken

Background: Christopher H.Bidmead adapts his own scripts for the 1982 serial.

Notes: We’re told that the ‘apocalyptic events’ of Logopilis led to the previous and future Doctors overlapping in the form of the Watcher. We’re drawn to consider the new Doctor’s ‘strangely smooth and vacant face’, while  Adric has a ‘strange smile and wicked black button eyes’ and Nyssa possesses ‘a remote, aristocratic quality that was somehow unEarthly’. Based on the scant hours he’s spent there, Adric considers Earth to be a ‘planet of fools and bullies’. We’re reminded of Adric’s former home on the starliner on Alzarius. Tegan is said to have ‘once been lost in that maze of white corridors during her involuntary first trip in the TARDIS’… which took place… yesterday? She also utters the mild expletive ‘strewth’ a couple of times.

Nyssa tries to explain recursion to Tegan by discussing family trees (and Tegan feels awkward as she realises Nyssa’s family and everyone she knows has been wiped out by the Master). The Doctor’s new coat is ‘a cream coloured garment that was too summery to be a morning coat but too long to be a sports jacket’. As Tegan and Nyssa look at the scanner to see the Master waving at them, they can see Adric behind him, trapped in the electronic web. The TARDIS has a surgery and a trolley laden with medical supplies rolls out of it towards the Doctor during the Event One incident.

Apparently, ‘the Gallifreyan temperament tends to see the world from the other person’s point of view’, so the Doctor feels empathy for a roast pig. There’s also an ‘official Time-Lord strategy’ that’s taught to small children that… :

… in circumstances of near-defeat you take stock of the forces that are working on your behalf, your assets, and then separately assess the forces working against you, your liabilities. This leads directly to the next stage: devising a logical plan that will increase the former and diminish the latter. 

The Doctor views this ‘arid, abstract and artificial’ edict as ‘typically Gallifreyan’ – he prefers ‘blind panic’. He is said to be ‘nearly eight hundred’ years old, while Castrovalva was created by the Master as a trap 500 years ago. So was this created in the Master’s distant past and he’s only just come back to it? Did he set it up and then jump forward 500 years? Did he play at Portreeve for half a millennium while Adric was held in stasis in the electronic web?! (Or is this just not actually true and he knocked it up yesterday in between wrestling with the Doctor on a gantry and choosing a nice hat for his Portreeve cosplay?). On the jog back to the TARDIS, Adric is ‘still a little pallid after his long ordeal’ – a real-world cheeky dig at actor Matthew Waterhouse’s overindulgence in the bar the night before the filming of that sequence for TV. The Doctor opts not to dampen Tegan’s enthusiasm by telling her she didn’t land the TARDIS after all and it was all Adric’s doing.

Cover: Somebody clearly resents being made to work on these as the cover design is woefully lazy – a photo of a smiling Peter Davison against a starfield backdrop. Alister Pearson’s reprint cover from 1991 is predictably better, to be fair, with an almost identical picture of Davison (which makes him look old) next to a beautifully realised, geometrically impossible walkway from the Castrovalva town square.

Final Analysis: ‘Euclidian topology’? Really, Bidmead? We’ve come a long way since the days of writing these books for eager seven-year-olds, but there really is no concession for the child reader here. It all fits together rather neatly, especially the way so much of the dialogue is there to underline the theme of recursion, but as with Logopolis, there’s also the suspicion that the author’s making himself a little too visible in the text by showing off.

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.