Chapter 119. Doctor Who – The Romans (1987)

Synopsis: The time travellers enjoy a relaxing time in a villa just outside Rome. As the Doctor and Vicki head off on a trip to the city, Ian and Barbara are kidnapped by slave traders. Barbara is bought by a slave-master working for the Emperor Nero, but Ian’s fate is to be placed at the oars of a slave ship. Can the Doctor solve some of the mysteries surrounding Nero without affecting established history?

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • I First Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • II First Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • III First Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • IV Second Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • V Second Extract from the journal of Ian Chesterton
  • VI Second Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • VII Third Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • VIII Third Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • IX Third Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • X Fourth Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • XI First Extract from the Commonplace Book of Poppea Sabina
  • XII Fourth Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • XIII First Selection of jottings from Nero’s Scrapbook
  • XIV Fourth Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • XV Fifth Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • XVI Fifth Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • XVII Second Extract from the Commonplace Book of Poppea Sabina
  • XVIII A Poisoner Remembers
  • XIX Letter from Barbara Wright
  • XX Second Selection of Jottings from Nero’s Scrapbook
  • XXI Sixth Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • XXII Third Extract from the Commonplace Book of Poppea Sabina
  • XXIII Fifth Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • XXIV Sixth Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • XXV Seventh Extract from the Journal of Ian Chesterton
  • XXVI Seventh Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • XXVII Sixth Letter from Legionary (Second Class) Ascaris
  • XXVIII Third Selection of Jottings from Nero’s Scrapbook
  • XXIX Eighth Extract from the Doctor’s Diary
  • Epilogue

That ‘most number of chapters in a novelisation’ record (previously held by The Myth Makers) gets smashed here with 29, plus a prologue and epilogue.

Background: Donald Cotton’s adaptation of scripts by Dennis Spooner for a story from 1965 arrives 22 years and two months after it was broadcast on TV. It’s the only time Cotton approaches scripts originally written by someone other than himself.

Notes: Consistent with his previous novels, this version of The Romans is narrated by Tacitus, the great Roman historian. Here though, Tacitus’s role is that of a framing narrative, within which appear certain documents that have fallen into his hands – diaries and letters written by Ian, the Doctor and Barbara, among others (as the chapter listing above shows). As a consequence, this is the first novel to be narrated in part by Ian Chesterton since the very first one. His chapters are addressed to his headmaster (who might or might not be the same one we’ll actually meet in a later story) and he fears his employer assumes that he and Barbara have eloped, which might affect their pensions. In the Doctor’s journal, he confesses that he intends to leave the school teachers behind when he visits Rome, due to his concerns that Ian’s politics might get him into trouble in the heart of an Empire, while Barbara is being punished for spending their money so freely on ‘feminine fal-lals’. He learns from his companions of a passing scholar who they encountered in a nearby town, and who performed ‘a rambling iambic account of the Rape of Lucretia’, which he considers to be inappropriate for ‘a mixed audience’ (a view with which Vicki later agrees). 

We learn more of the scholar in a legionary’s letter to his mother, in which he reveals that he has been ordered to kill said scholar, who is ‘in the running for the Golden Rose Bowl at the Senate Song Contest’, an accolade his employer wishes for himself. Ian learns from the home invaders that Barbara carelessly asked about the conversion rate from pounds to lira in the market, alerting the locals that she and Vicki must be Britons. Ian recalls he’d once contemplated a sailing holiday that would have been roughly the same stretch of water on which he now finds himself after being press-ganged into the rowing crew of a ship. He played rugby as an ‘Old Boy’, which once again suggests he’s a former pupil of Coal Hill School. He also reminds his headmaster that he was deputised as games master after Farthingale ‘lost an ear during a hockey scrimmage’. Ian references the hugely successful American comedian Jack Benny.

Nero sketches out an ode to Barbara – it’s terrible – and he uses the word ‘anapaest’ (incorrectly). There’s an unfortunate scene in the Doctor’s diary where he refers to a character as ‘deaf and dumb’ (very much frowned upon nowadays, but a common enough term even when the book was written); he claims to be ‘well acquainted with the rudiments of sign language’, but as he also calls it ‘mime’, we can take from this that the Doctor knows nothing about sign language (as we later see on TV in Before the Flood), least of all that there is not one universal sign language – not even in English-speaking territories. Let’s hope his efforts are more effective than we see on telly with the Zarbi!

The lions, which the Doctor accidentally frees during the gladiatorial games, find their way into Nero’s suite, where they settle down for a nap. Having embarked upon his adventure solely to disprove the legend that Nero ‘fiddled while Rome burned’, the Doctor leaves with Nero’s lyre and his plans for a new Rome in his hands; he sets fire to the plans, which then causes a major fire in the city and, happy that he has not made any effect on established history, departs while playing the lyre. In the epilogue, Tacitus lays the blame for the fire squarely on the Doctor’s shoulders. He names the tale ‘The Quo Vadis TARDIS Affair’ and also reveals that the failed assassin Ascaris eventually ended up in Britain, causing mayhem and disruption during the construction of Hadrian’s Wall.

Cover: As Nero looks out to a burning Rome, the Doctor stands dressed in a toga. Tony Masero coincidentally uses the same photo reference of Hartnell that Andrew Skilleter used on The Gunfighters.

Final Analysis: Where to start with this? It’s likely that Donald Cotton has seen the BBC’s I Claudius. He might even have read Robert Graves’ original Claudius novels, too; as with Graves’ notation of the events of the Roman Empire, there’s a sly nod to the modern reader in the way Cotton suggests that his work is too contentious and should be left unpublished until… say, 1987. He definitely watched the historical farce Up Pompeii! though. His Tacitus straddles the centuries, just like Frankie Howerd did as Lurcio, with puns and sly winks that would make little or no sense to the Romans. Indeed, there’s one sequence where the Doctor, in his diary, observes that his would-be assassin was ‘getting away with the lute’, a joke that clearly gives him great satisfaction, until the character (and writer) begin to dissect it and he realises that the musical ‘lute’ wouldn’t be invented for four centuries and the word ‘loot’ wasn’t popularised until the 1920s. 

While the story remains largely the same, Cotton’s use of multiple epistolary narrators leads to some deviations in the telling. The assassin Ascaris is a recurring narrator and adds greatly to the sense that the Doctor is in fact a bloody nuisance. The poor Legionary accidentally kills his own superior, is set upon by lions and eventually emerges from his hiding place when the Doctor throws burning documents into the sewers, setting Ascaris alight. This is Cotton’s final novel for the range and it’s a shame. Each of his novels provides an education, not so much in the history, which is wilfully unreliable, but in the sheer unlimited joy of writing. I’ve loved every unbelievable word of these.

Chapter 118. Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror (1987)

Synopsis: The TARDIS lands on Earth and the Doctor is keen to rid himself of the schoolteachers at last. Ian, however, wants assurance that the time is correct as well as the location. He’s right to be cautious as the travellers soon learn they have arrived in France in the 18th Century, when a bloody revolution is sweeping through the country. Separated from the Doctor, his fellow travellers Ian, Susan and Barbara are arrested and face execution, before they receive a surprising offer of help – and face betrayal from a new acquaintance.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. So Near And So Far
  • 2. Under Siege
  • 3. Prisoners Of The People
  • 4. The Diggers
  • 5. Liberty
  • 6. Sanctuary
  • 7. The Tyrant Of France
  • 8. Betrayal Everywhere
  • 9. Illusions Shattered
  • 10. A Hard Bargain
  • 11. A Glimpse Of Things To Come
  • 12. Escaping From History

Background: Ian Marter adapts scripts from a 1964 story by Dennis Spooner. The book was published 10 months after Marter’s death and 22 years and six months after the story originally aired, narrowly missing out on the record for biggest gap between transmission and novelisation by just two weeks. This followed The Sensorites on TV, so that’s another pair of stories to be released consecutively.

Notes: The Doctor apparently has ‘sharp grey eyes’ (and is described as being a ‘Time Lord’!) while Susan is said (rather wonderfully) to have ‘Joan of Arc features’. The TARDIS scanner has a ‘telephoto’ setting. The Doctor has a normal body temperature of ‘sixty degrees fahrenheit’ (which is about 15 degrees celsius). Ian can speak basic, halting French, Barbara is a little better but of course the Doctor is fluent (so, no ‘Time Lord gift’ in play here). On hearing that the French Revolution is the Doctor’s favourite period of Earth history, Barbara realises that this was why Susan had wanted to borrow the book on that particular topic on the night that the two teachers were abducted. We’re reminded repeatedly of the teacher-pupil relationship between Barbara and Susan. Confronted by the innkeeper of The Sinking Ship Inn, Ian pretends that he and Barbara are a married couple (and a generation of fans experience a momentary glow of emotion). It’s Barbara, not Ian, who tells James Stirling about Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power as ‘one of three Consuls’, despite assuring Ian that she learned how impossible it is to change history during their encounter with the Aztecs. Once the travellers have made it safely back to the TARDIS, the Doctor tells the two teachers that their involvement in this period of history will have no effect:

‘The mainstream of history is fixed and immutable,’ he reminded them. ‘I think you’re all rather belittling the subject. Our own lives are important in themselves. To us, at present. As we experience things, so we learn.’

The Doctor’s final line on TV is removed here, replaced by an exchange where Ian asks where they’re heading next and the Doctor replied ‘Who knows? Because I certainly don’t!’

Cover: The Doctor in that famous tricolor-adorned outfit stands in front of citizens and a guillotine, in a painting by Tony Masero.

Final Analysis: Everyone expected Ian Marter to approach The French Revolution as if it were a Roger Corman adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe story. While there is a particularly graphic depiction of Robespierre being shot (‘blood, teeth and fragments of jawbone spurted out between his clawing fingers’), Marter is otherwise remarkably restrained. Here, without oily Cybemen to provide the gore, he instead dwells upon the expectorations of the characters: The roadside foreman spits into a hedge; the gaoler spits before wiping his nose on a sleeve; during the fire in the farmhouse, even the Doctor succumbs to ‘bubbling acid mucus’, which he spits out during ‘a spasm of nauseous coughing’. Marter spares us none of the squalid details of life in the past, where food is poor, medicine involves leeches and everyone’s rather smelly. Our regulars really suffer too, with abrasions to their hands and wrists from all the digging and being chained up. You have to wonder though – why would the Doctor consider a time of mass public executions his favourite period of Earth history? Maybe if Susan had actually brought back that book from school he might have known better…

Chapter 117. Doctor Who – The Sensorites (1987)

Synopsis: The TARDIS lands on a spaceship orbiting an alien world. The crew of the ship appear to be frozen but suddenly they wake up, dazed and confused. Two visitors from the planet arrive and insist the travellers join them on their world. Leaving Barbara behind on the ship, the Doctor, Susan and Ian meet the Sensorites, a race of beings with telepathic abilities and a sensitivity to bright light. But there is revolution from within as a small faction of Sensorites plot to take control. Meanwhile, Ian falls victim to a mysterious illness…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Strangers in Space
  • 2. War of Nerves
  • 3. The Dreams of Avarice
  • 4. The Unwilling Warriors
  • 5. The Quest for Freedom
  • 6. Hidden Danger
  • 7. A Race Against Death
  • 8. Into the Darkness
  • 9. Surrounded by Enemies
  • 10. A Conspiracy of Lies
  • 11. The Secret or the Caves
  • 12. A Desperate Venture
  • Epilogue

Background: Nigel Robinson adapts scripts by Peter R. Newman for a 1964 story, breaking the record for biggest gap between broadcast and novelisation (22 years, six months, three weeks).

Notes: A moody prologue establishes the survey ship above the atmosphere of the Sense Sphere. The ship is nearly a fifth of a mile long and was nearly at the end of its four-year mission when it became caught in that region of space. There’s an elegiac introduction for Susan: No longer a girl, and not yet quite a woman, her closely cropped hair framed a face of almost Asiatic prettiness, and her dark almond eyes belied an intelligence far beyond her tender years. Barbara is tall and tidy, in her late-twenties and with a ‘stern purposeful face’ that possesses ‘a melancholy beauty’. She’s also dressed in clothes appropriate to the 1960s, though hers are more conservative than Susan’s, reflecting ‘her maturer years’. Ian is said to be a ‘stocky well-built young man, while the Doctor is ‘an intellectual giant’ and ‘an alien cut off from his home planet by a million light years in space and thousands of years in time’ (finally – someone knows that light years are a unit of distance!). We’re reminded of the travellers’ recent moral dilemma over the culture of the Aztecs as well as their first meeting in the junkyard.

Maitland is provided with an efficient reason for accepting the travellers’ lack of 28th-century knowledge, assuming they’re from an earlier time, pre-hyperspace-travel, when cryogenics were commonplace; it’s apparently a frequent experience for modern travellers to overtake those from previous generations. Ian and Barbara’s rather slow onscreen journey through the corridors of the ship is transcribed as a hideous ordeal where they’re surrounded by evil spirits and bogey-men. The Sensorites are described as possessing an ‘almost Oriental inscrutability’ (a phrase that may trigger some modern readers who may view it as representing outdated imperialism, but is less distressing in the UK where many Chinese-themed takeaways and restaurants still use the word in their name).

The Doctor identifies the humans as being members of a lost Interstellar Navigation, Exploration and Research party (‘INNER’, correcting a contradiction on-screen between what Hartnell says ‘I-N-N-E-R’ – and what the badge reads – ‘INEER’). The Sensorites provide Susan and Barbara with a 3D holographic map of the city and the caves. The final argument between the Doctor and Ian is omitted (even though the very next novel to be released follows on directly from this). Instead, Barbara fears for the future of the Sensorites now that first contact with humans has been made:

Maitland, Carol and John were good people and would guard the Sensorites’ secret well. But she remembered other instances in Earth’s history when promises had been made and then broken; when secrets had been kept and later betrayed. She remembered the dreadful consequences of such actions: the callous exploitation of the Indians of North America, the Aborigines of Australia. In their own naive way the Sensorites were just as helpless as them.

Cover: Nick Spender’s cover shows the Doctor, a Sensorite and a bloom of deadly nightshade. Spoilers, Nick!

Final Analysis: As with The Space Museum, The Sensories is unlikely to be a favourite for many – as pointed out by Tim Worthington ; even if you’re a fan of the first Doctor, it’s slow, small-scale stuff that feels rather dated now. As the editor of the Target range at this time, Nigel Robinson was cautious about adapting a novel himself, so took on this unloved adventure. And it’s a surprising success. Firstly, Robinson captures the regular characters beautifully. Secondly, he effectively increases the menace without rewriting what is seen onscreen; instead, he provides insight to the mental terror experienced by Ian and Barbara, as well as the attacking beast in the caves, which on TV is obviously just a dishevelled man. He brings a much greater depth to the rather generic and unintentionally comical Sensorites, imbuing them with a sense of culture that helps to explain away some of the more patently ludicrous plot holes; and there’s even compassion for the human survivors of the crashed rocketship:

They weren’t evil – like all men at war they believed totally in the rightness of their mission but they were mad, and what they were playing at was no more than an elaborate and very deadly game of soldiers.

This is all the most surprising when we remember that though Robinson has edited many works by other authors by this point, this is his very first self-penned novel. It has all the efficiency of a Terrance Dicks, the empathy of Malcolm Hulke and Ian Marter’s ability to heighten the sense of menace. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with a more worthy story.

Chapter 116. Doctor Who – The Space Museum (1987)

Synopsis: The Doctor, Vicki, Barbara and Ian explore a museum on an alien world, only to find versions of themselves already standing as exhibits. It seems the TARDIS has jumped a track in time, so is this just a possible future or is it certain? As the Doctor encounters the leader of the planet’s rulers, the Moroks, Vicki leads a revolution!

Chapter Titles

  • 1. AD 0000
  • 2. Exploration
  • 3. Discovery
  • 4. Capture
  • 5. Rescue
  • 6. The Final Phase

Background: Glyn Jones adapts his scripts for a story from 1965, taking the record for the biggest gap between transmission and publication, at 21 years and eight months… but he won’t have it for long.

Notes: The novel retains the plot element of the travellers changing out of their ‘crusading clothes’, meaning this follows on directly from Doctor Who and the Crusaders; here, it’s Vicki who points out that their clothes have changed, instead of Ian as on TV. Ian is disappointed that they’ve landed in another sandy desert and longs for the TARDIS to land somewhere leafy, like Hampstead or Wimbledon Common, or a Yorkshire dale or Welsh mountain. The Doctor has a ‘space-time clock’ aboard the TARDIS, which he claims has only ever caused him trouble once before, when Augustus Caesar dropped a day from the calendar that the Doctor claims to have been designing. At one point, the Doctor adopts a pose holding his hand out and inclining his head slightly to buy himself time to think; he recalls that it was a pose he once saw adopted by the great Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu. Ian wonders if his bio-rhythms are ‘at rock bottom’ (which doesn’t seem all that scientific).

Barbara finds a NASA spacesuit whose former occupant was ‘David Hartwell’, which I’m assuming is a sneaky namecheck of the prolific science fiction editor and publisher. There’s also a space shuttle named after Robert E Lee, the Confederate general in the American Civil War, which at the very least suggests a divergent timeline for the US space program. Vicki bumps her head on a display case that contains ‘an upright creature of saurian ugliness’. The Doctor is repeatedly referred to as a ‘Time Lord’. During a sarcastic rant about calling the AA to pick them up, Ian says that it will take ‘about a hundred light years’ for any help to arrive – a unit of distance mistakenly used as a unit of time [might we assume that Ian knows the difference, even if the author doesn’t, and that he’s joking here?]. Vicki confidently explains the concept of ‘time dimensions’ to an amused Ian.

While still in limbo, the travellers witness a massacre as Xeron rebels are gunned down by Moroks – but then the bodies disappear. They realise that they’ve returned to the correct dimension when they’re unable to pass through objects. Once they finally ‘exist’ in this dimension, Ian triggers an automated audio guide that informs him he’s looking at a weapon from the planet Verticulus; Vicki notes that the announcement is in English, to which the Doctor observes ‘There will be an explanation for that’ – and offers nothing more (though we later learn that the Moroks have devices that recognise a language within a few words and provide instant translations). Vicki sees an exhibit of ‘a small furry creature, very cuddly, like a teddy bear, except that its teeth would have snapped off a man’s leg with one bite’

Moroks have two hearts and measure time in ‘metones’. Lobos was sent to Xeros, which he considers to be ‘the dullest planet in the Empire’, after a ‘tiny indiscretion’. He has a favourite robot – Robot 9284 – which he calls ‘Matt’ and against which he likes to play – and lose at – chess. Lobos’s second in command is called ‘Ogrek’, while among Lobos’s forces is Mort, a ‘one-eyed mercenary from Kreme’, while the sympathetic Morok who helps Ian is called ‘Pluton’. Among the rebels are a couple of new members, Bo and Gyar, as well as a ‘cherubic’ child called Jens, who requests a gun; he is refused and told to go back to ‘the Colony’ to prepare himself in case the revolution fails and he has to be part of a future wave. The Xenons can see in the dark but have neither a sense of smell nor an awareness of what a sense of smell is. Inspired by Barbara, Dako tells Tor about the concept of the Trojan Horse.

As usual, there’s no link into the next TV adventure, so no grand unveiling of the Time-Space Visualiser; instead, the Doctor reveals the tiny crystal that has somehow been responsible for their dimensional issues, before the TARDIS departs ‘to leave Xeros to the Xerons’.

Cover: Using a photo reference of Hartnel from An Unearthly Child, David McAllister paints the Doctor, a space rocket and a pair of misleadingly cheeky Daleks.

Final Analysis: It’s a curious thing, releasing this in 1987, where the recent trend on TV had been for the Doctor and his companions to constantly bicker and snipe at each other. In the novel, the regular characters seem much more like 80s characters than the mild-mannered exchanges they had on TV in the 60s. Ian has a particularly fractious relationship with the Doctor, rebuking him for making jokes, which is at odds with how they appear on screen, but is in keeping with the memory of the Doctor as a grumpy old man. It’s also worth remembering that, when interviewed many years later, Glyn Jones revealed that he’d written the original scripts as a satire and was disappointed when his more comedic elements were removed at editing stage. Back in the hands of the author, the dialogue has the back-and-forth of a screwball comedy – just not the pace of one. Considering this is one of the least well-regarded stories of the period, Jones manages to add depth to his characters and a sense that they’re part of a wider universe without over-explaining every single reference like some authors. He gets a huge minus point for failing to give Barbara anything significant to do (Vicki is the star of the show here, as on telly), but at least he retains the infamous line about ‘arms fallen into Xeron hands’, proving it was very much intentional and not the goof some have assumed it to be.

Chapter 113. Doctor Who – The Ark (1987)

Synopsis: The TARDIS delivers the Doctor and Steven, with their new friend Dodo, to a huge space ark carrying the survivors of Earth to a new home. As most of humanity sleeps in miniaturised form, the ark is maintained by a small community of humans with the assistance of the alien Monoids, knowing that their journey will outlast them all. Then the humans and Monoids succumb to a terrible disease – the common cold, brought aboard by Dodo. The Doctor manages to find a cure and the trio leave – only to return to the space vessel almost immediately, but hundreds of years into the future for humanity, which is now enslaved by the Monoids…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Steel Sky
  • 2. Capture
  • 3. The Plague
  • 4. The Fight Back
  • 5. The Return
  • 6. Refusis
  • 7. Search
  • 8. The Final Conflict

Background: Adapted by Paul Erickson from the 1966 scripts he officially co-wrote with Lesley Scott.

Notes: We begin with a single word: ‘Jungle’. The opening scene provides us with a description of the Monoid that includes details not visible on telly:

But this creature was different from the snakes and lizards that were normally found in this jungle. In the first place it walked upright on two legs, two arms hanging at its sides. It made no sound, not even the hissing that other reptiles might make. And while its body was covered in scales, the head boasted a mop-like thatch of ginger hair.

Facially, it displayed three shrunken nostrils and a small, thin mouth from which a tongue occasionally flicked out.

But its most prominent feature was a large single eye that constantly swivelled as it looked around.

Later, we’re told that the Monoids have no vocal cords, but that they can ‘lip-read’ and understand sign language – which suggests that they are also deaf (or, more likely, that the author doesn’t understand the difference). 

The Doctor mentions a previous adventure that took place on the planet Venessia – or possibly Enlandia – where there was no landmasses, only water and a ‘peculiar form of crystal ice’. He also mentions events on the planet Sava, which he tells Steven he visited ‘some time ago,’:

Some time ago was right. No sense in telling the young man that it must have been three centuries in his terms, although in the Doctor’s own knowledge such a time span had little meaning. Places were places, creatures were creatures… and time was time. All in the now period. That was the only way he ever experienced it, the only way he knew it.

The Doctor has never been to Refusis, but he did pass by it with previous companions (presumably this is Ian and Barbara with either Susan or Vicki); on that occasion, the TARDIS was attacked by rockets and the Doctor had to steer his ship to make the missiles collide and destroy each other. The Doctor criticises Dodo’s use of the word ‘fab’, calling her English ‘Most… elastic’. The Guardian Commander has a similar reaction when Dodo claims she might have ‘an attack of the willies’ and uses the adjective ‘flipping’. The Doctor name-drops Houdini and tells his friends about the events that led to the escapologist’s death. Later, while teaching Rhos about vaccines, he compares their work to that of Marie and Pierre Curie. ‘a husband and wife team of scientists of the nineteenth century’. Dodo tells her new friends that it’s Friday the 13th, still failing to grasp that they’ve travelled in time.

The prisoner on trial at the beginning is called Niash and he is offered a choice of either death or miniaturisaton (on TV, he’s simply told he’ll be miniaturised). The Guardians measure their ship’s dimensions in leagues – it’s two thousand leagues long – but Mellium doesn’t know if a league is three miles or three kilometres (it’s three nautical miles). The ship has no name – although the Guardians adopt Dodo’s use of the term ‘ark’ – and it contains many different types of environment; in addition to the jungle, there are lakes, deserts and polar regions. 

The trial of the travellers is much more involved and fleshed out (the Doctor is concerned by Steven’s blunt defence, noting that ‘advocacy [is] a special art – one that often calls for delicacy rather than the heavy hammer’. The hunt for a vaccine involves an operation to take blood and saliva samples from all living things aboard the ark, including a goat. Dodo takes Manyak inside the TARDIS to fetch equipment for the Doctor’s experiments; Dodo compares some of the items to the kind used by dentists and Manyak reveals that they don’t have dentistry in their time. The perplexing size of the TARDIS interior to its external shell convinces Manyak of the truth at last. Dodo tells him that ‘Lots of people have been fooled by that’ and that the Doctor told her it’s all ‘an optical illusion’. [On TV, this is her first journey, but this does lend credence to the theory that she’s had a few offscreen adventures prior to this – or that Dodo feels confident in pretending to Manyak that she knows more than she really does, which – considering she takes a long time to accept that they’ve travelled in time – seems more credible].

The Doctor and his friends encounter a very tame tiger, which surprises them by licking Dodo’s hand with affection. They later learn that the humans removed aggression from their character to create their harmonious society – and then extended this gift to the predators among their livestock. Later though, a Guardian is attacked by a boa constrictor (observed by a curious Monoid) and in the polar region, the Doctor sees a polar bear and is told that not all animals were successfully converted away from aggression.

On inspecting a Guardian’s physical scan, the Doctor discovers that humans now have two hearts (though makes no reference to having two himself), two livers and a ‘greatly reduced intestinal system’, but have lost their vermiform appendix and tonsils, all the results of genetic manipulation many generations ago; the humans also have reduced musculature that makes them incapable of heavy lifting; in contrast, the Monoids have no heart, just a series of pulses, but they do have a nervous system. The Doctor applies the vaccine via pads, rather than needles (as on TV) and as he explains that the future humans are a ‘changed species’ from Steven and Dodo, he adds cryptically that he himself has ‘had more experience of adapting’ [this is the ‘first’ Doctor, but see some similarly confusing statements in Galaxy Four]. 

The Doctor’s quest to administer the vaccine takes him, Rhos and a Monoid via conveyor transport into the desert area, where they encounter a caravan of nomads, and to the ‘cultivated zone’ inhabited by farmers. An elderly woman tells the Doctor that not everyone on Earth came aboard the ship; some remained to live out their lives on the doomed Earth. The people of Earth abandoned country names ‘a long time ago’. Burial had been banned, replaced by mandatory cremation. Again, it’s noted that Guardians don’t do manual work, while Monoids accept it.

When the travellers first return to the TARDIS, the Doctor and Dodo grab some sleep while Steven is left ‘on duty’, but Steven falls asleep too and accidentally knocks a switch, which is why they return to the Ark in its future. They emerge aboard the Ark to discover that the previously placid predators have now reverted to type, as they see a tiger hunting gazelle. Monoid One is actually the 17th One, a descendant of the Monoid who assumed power after the war that resulted in the subjugation of the humans. Monoid Four comes from a long line of individuals who question decisions – and he feels that the treatment of the humans is wrong.

Dodo meets a second Refusian, a female who tells her they don’t have individual names, but decides that they should adopt some and chooses ‘Mary’ for herself and ‘Charles’ for her brother. Dodo tells Mary that the Refusis castle reminds her of a similar building she once visited in Wales, then the two new friends play a game of tennis. After the launcher is destroyed, Dodo panics that she might be stranded and suddenly realises that she’s millions of miles and years away from home. She speculates that back home she’d be shopping and preparing for a night out – but is quick to appease Mary when she inadvertently causes offense at being ungrateful for the Refusian hospitality. The time travellers stay to witness the arrival of the Ark’s population and revival of the miniaturised beings on the surface of Refusis, which is ‘a model of efficient organisation’ thanks to the cooperation of Monoids and humans alike. Among the revived people is Niash, the prisoner from the trial at the start of the story. As usual, the tag scene leading into the next story [The Celestial Toymaker] is not included here; instead, the Doctor attempts to give Dodo elocution lessons (‘The rain in Spain falls mainly on the Plain’, made famous by My Fair Lady). The old man promises his young friends a journey – but ‘no guaranteed destination!’

Cover: For the first edition, David McAllister shows the Doctor and a Monoid in a triangular motif as animals break the frame and run into space. For the 1993 reprint, Alister Pearson uses a border that’s reminiscent of the one he used on The Ark in Space and Revenge of the Cybermen, with Dodo and the Doctor either side of an attacking Monoid.

Final Analysis: This is a pretty solid adaptation, telling the story as seen on TV but with the kind of nuances and subtle enhancements that make these books all the more worthwhile. Paul Erickson provides a more rational explanation for how the Monoids managed to overthrow the human rulers (humanity having slowly removed aggression and physical strength from its genetic makeup, making them vulnerable to revolt) and really adds to the scale of the Ark and its many geographical simulations. Something he really excels with is Dodo, perfectly capturing her carefree and cheeky attitude. She’s an absolute hoot, annoying the Doctor with her never-ending supply of 60s slang. The book still contains two of the less credible elements too – the security kitchen (!) and the ‘galactic accident’ that led to the Refusians becoming invisible – which would have been a shame to lose.

Chapter 110. The Celestial Toymaker (1986)

Synopsis: The TARDIS has become trapped in the realm of the Celestial Toymaker, a strange and powerful being. He promises to free the Doctor and his friends – but first, they must play his games and if they lose, they will join his collection of dolls. As the Doctor pits his wits against the infamous trilogic game, Steven and Dodo quickly find the TARDIS – but it’s a fake, one of many. It won’t be that easy to defeat the Toymaker, especially when his doll servants cheat!

Chapter Titles

  • Foreword
  • 1. Trapped
  • 2. Bring On The Clowns
  • 3. Snakes and Ladders
  • 4. The Hall of Dolls
  • 5. Siege Perilous
  • 6. The Last Deadly Sister
  • 7. Enter Mrs Wiggs and Sergeant Rugg
  • 8. The Ballroom
  • 9. The Final Test
  • 10. Stalemate

Background: Gerry Davis and Alison Bingeman adapt scripts from the 1965 serial by Brian Hayles, which were heavily rewritten by Davis.

Notes: A foreword by Gerry Davis explains some of the problems that beset the production. The Doctor is explicitly named as ‘the ‘first Doctor’. The story follows on immediately from the events of The Ark and references the invisible Refusians. The Toymaker’s domain is not just a white void – the ‘ceiling’ is exposed to the ‘black immensity of outer space and the twinkling stars of the galaxies’. The Toymaker’s study is filled with ‘every conceivable type of toy’ placed on various antique tables, while the villain himself is an impresive figure.

The Toymaker stood up, a tall imposing figure, dressed as a Chinese mandarin with a circular black hat embossed with heavy gold thread, a large silver red and blue collar and a heavy, stiffly embroidered black robe encrusted with rubies, emeralds, diamonds and pearls set against a background of coiled Chinese dragons.

As the Toymaker tries to take control of the Doctor’s companions, Steven sees visions of himself during ‘the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’ and on the Ark surrounded by Monoids (on TV, it’s the planet Kemble from The Daleks Master Plan, along with the massacre). The Doctor’s trilogic game score is displayed on a large black robot (which is silver on telly). As Joey the Clown nears the end of the game, he appears to ‘move stiffly like an old man’. Among the female ballerinas seen on screen is a male dancer who Dodo says looks like Rudolph Nureyev (apparently she’s ‘a great ballet fan’). Unlike on TV, when the King of Hearts quotes the counting game, ‘Eeny, meeny, miney, mo’, the racist next line is omitted, thankfully. Steven is a military history enthusiast and can recognise the period of Sergeant Rugg’s uniform. Before the final game, Cyril tries on the hats of the joker and the chef, making it clear that he’s been both of those characters before picking up the schoolboy role. He’s dressed in a school uniform for a younger child, with shorts. The Doctor suggests that the Toymaker is just one of many – and they are all immortal. The linking material into The Gunfighters is omitted as usual. Instead, the Doctor suggests that another meeting with the Toymaker is inevitable, adding that ‘There will always be a Celestial Toyroom in the universe.’

Cover: Graham Potts contributed just this one cover to the range but it’s rather beautiful, a photorealistic composition of Joey and Clara flanking the Toymaker, with some playing cards just peeking up from the bottom of the frame. Though we try to forget it, Michael Gough previously appeared on the cover of Arc of Infinity as Hedin. Alister Pearson’s 1992 reprint has a simple composition consistent with the time, showing the Toymaker and the Doctor, inspecting a piece of the trilogic game.

Final Analysis: Rewritten heavily at short notice, The Celestial Toymaker as broadcast was limited by the sets and costumes already commissioned for the original scripts. For the novel, Gerry Davis and Alison Bingeman don’t take the opportunity to give the readers Brian Hayles’ earlier version of the story – thankfully! It follows the TV episodes faithfully, enhancing and creating a degree of scale impossible to achieve in Riverside Studios. In keeping with the decade in which the book was published, Steven and Dodo are a little more adversarial than the friends on TV – Dodo in particular enjoys laughing at Steven’s misfortunes. The best addition though is the suggestion that the Toymaker is not the only one:

‘I really don’t know why you want to leave here, Doctor.’ The Toymaker’s tone was most conciliatory now. ‘There will always be a toymaker in the world ready to make more and more inventive machines. That is, until one is made that will destroy his world. But each time, the world can be recreated and we can have the fun of building better and better toys. Why not join me, Doctor?’

The Doctor stared at him for a moment. ‘I won’t join you,’ he said, ‘because you and your kind are evil. The toys you make have no use except to amuse yourselves and ultimately lead to your own destruction. Toys should be left in the nursery where they belong, not decide the fate of worlds. You have failed.’

Chapter 108. Doctor Who – The Savages (1986)

Synopsis: The Doctor, Steven and Dodo are welcomed by Juno, leader of the elite Elders, who have followed the Doctor’s adventures throughout time. Their community seems to be a paradise, its people happy and relaxed. Outside in the barren wastelands live the savages and, as the Doctor soon discovers, this lower caste of people is more vital to the future of the community than any of them realise. All except Juno…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. ‘Are You Sure You Know Where We Are?’
  • 2. ‘You Have Made Me Look Very Grand’
  • 3. ‘A Remarkable Advance, Gentlemen. I’d Like To Know How’
  • 4. ‘I Don’t Know What’s Going On, But I Don’t Like It’
  • 5. ‘The Old Man Did Not Obey’
  • 6. ‘Not Exactly A Witness’
  • 7. ‘Come On, Soldier Boy. What Are You Frightened Of?’
  • 8. ‘The Trouble With You People On This Planet…’
  • 9. ‘I Don’t Trust Strangers’
  • 10. ‘All We Need Is One Good Friend’
  • 11. ‘Do You Think We Will Ever See Him Again?’

Background: Ian Stuart Black adapts his own scripts from the 1966 serial.

Notes: The Doctor consults some print-outs that presumably show the coordinates for their location. He is particularly fond of his calculating device – his own invention – having ‘always found it accurate, and it was giving him some most satisfactory readings’ (unlike on TV, he doesn’t name the device a ‘reacting vibrator’). Dodo is said to be more patient with the Doctor than Steven, accepting his ‘eccentric ways’ and having confidence in him. Honestly, that’s pretty much it.

Cover: For the first edition, David McAllister illustrates the Doctor, the TARDIS and Jano. This is the first book cover to illustrate a guest actor  who has previously appeared in a different role on another cover (Frederick Jaegar was also Sorenson / Anti-Man on Planet of Evil, not that he’s all that recognisable on any of the covers for that). For the 1992 reprint, Alister Pearson gives us Chal (as played by Ewen Solon) and the Doctor, with a design motif that evokes the ends of the Doctor’s ribbon tie, forming a cross. 

Final Analysis: It’s a treat to have another 1960s writer taking on his own work even if it’s a fairly straightforward novelisation, largely following the flow of the original scripts. The TV production was one of a number of experiments with trying to replace William Hartnell in 1966 and consequently it’s the third of the 1986 releases to have a noticeably absent Doctor. Yet it doesn’t feel like he’s missing as Jano effectively represents him for a good portion of the book and Ian Stuart Black captures the change in his personality perfectly:

Jano looked at him sharply, and for a moment Senta thought he reminded him of someone else. He had adopted an unusual mannerism, tucking his thumbs into his jacket and peering down his nose, like an old schoolteacher.

Due to the order in which books have been released, it’s strange to have Steven leave when we’ve barely got to know him yet, but we still have a fair few of his adventures to come, which I’m only mentioning because, while it’s a very efficient retelling of the TV episodes, there’s not really much more to report on. Oh – one of the characters mentions it’s a Tuesday, which is an odd thing to note on an alien world. A good debut for Ian Stuart Black though.

Chapter 104. Doctor Who – Galaxy Four (1986)

Synopsis: Two spacecraft lie in ruins on an otherwise deserted planet. The Doctor and his friends must decide who to help – the beautiful Drahvins and their leader Maaga, or the hideous Rills and their robot servants. Their choice is made all the more difficult when the Doctor learns that the planet is about to explode…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Four Hundred Dawns
  • 2. Trap of Steel
  • 3. Airlock
  • 4. The Exploding Planet

Background: William Emms adapts his own 1965 scripts for a serial generally known as ‘Galaxy 4’, 20 years and one month after the story aired.

Notes: The book is divided into four chapters that pretty much match the TV episodes. The Doctor brings the TARDIS ‘back into time and space’, though we’re not told from where. Steven is said to have fair hair. The unnamed planet’s surface is black, like tarmac, and the Doctor identifies it as being in ‘Galaxy Four’ (getting in an early title check and providing better context for the title than the TV serial had). When Steven ponders which of the three suns they might be revolving around, the Doctor suggests it’s ‘quite possible that they revolve around us’.

The Drahvins have…

… long, blonde hair and would have been considered extremely attractive by any man were it not for the total lack of warmth in their faces which were straight and set, reflecting no emotion whatsoever.

They carry weapons like machine guns. When held at gunpoint, the Doctor notes that there appears to be ‘something of a surplus of weapons on this planet’, which he doesn’t care for. He notices that the Drahvins are not identical, so are not physical clones, but he speculates that they might have cloned minds.

Fleeing the Chumbleys, the Doctor has ‘hearts’ (plural) and he wishes that he ‘had found a younger body to inhabit’ as ‘there was not a lot to be said for this one’. Initially, this might just be interpreted as flippancy, but in Chapter 2, the Doctor has an interesting train of thought:

[Steven] had been wrenched into it by unforeseeable circumstances and had borne up gamely whereas he, the Doctor, had learnt to adapt since time immemorial. Human life wasn’t long enough, he thought, no sooner given than taken away, with insufficient time to learn what was necessary or do what had to be done. He dismissed the thought. There was nothing he could do about it. He wasn’t God, simply something of a clown in his own eyes, trolling about through time and space seeking the final truth as he inhabited one body after another, and yet with the dull feeling that that final truth would remain forever beyond his reach.

So either he’s predicting his future incarnations, or he’s recognising that he’s had past lives. Also, Emms’ understanding of regeneration makes it seem more like possession! Later, he has the Doctor claim to be ‘five feet nine or ten’ (William Hartnell was 5’8″), adding ‘I’ve never measured this body. It’s enough that I inhabit it.’ Steven is six feet tall. The Doctor and Steven fall into a pit and manage to tempt a poor Chumbley over to the pit and pull it over so they can use it to step out to safety. The Doctor paraphrases philosopher Bertrand Russell’s assertion that a belief that the sun has always risen is no guarantee that it will rise tomorrow.

Maaga is certain that she was sent on this mission as a political act by the Minister for Offensive Research, a member of the elite on Drahva, like herself; Maaga had insisted that soldiers were not suitable for space exploration but she was overruled and she now feels she’s not expected to return. There is only one political party, but they hold elections anyway.

The Rill who speaks to Vicki has ‘huge, heavily-lidded eyes’ like ‘soft pools of concern, dark brown and gentle’ and ‘a scaly coat resembling that of a lizard’. They also have tentacles, ‘six of which have hands’. Vicki has apparently always felt uncomfortable with reptiles (her late pet Sandy seemingly forgotten). We’re told some of the Rill way of life and evolution; they developed thick skulls that helped them survive their natural predators (though some female Rill undergo skull-thinning as a preference). Like the Drahvins, the males aren’t considered to be especially important: ‘Anyone who happened to be passing could and did fertilise an egg’. As usual, the book ends without the lead-in to the next story.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter goes full B-movie with two gun-wielding Drahvins in front of a boiling planet.

Final Analysis: Apparently the idea to make the Drahvins female came from Verity Lambert, so William Emms’ original storyline was even more generic than this. So what do you do when you adapt your cliche-ridden scripts after 20 years for an audience who might have seen 2001 or Planet of the Apes and have definitely seen Star Wars? You take your time, work your way through the script and give it an extra layer of polish as you go. As he progresses through the story, Emms introduces backstory and extra information that make the alien societies seem much more credible and rich. The tone also darkens as we approach the climax, slowly ramping up acts of violence (Steven’s painful asphyxiation is particularly distressing).

For the ardent Doctor Who fan, the bonus comes in Emms’ iconoclastic depiction of the Doctor. By 1986, we’d had six TV Doctors, all of whom had been seen on TV within the living memory of your average seven-year-old (plus a different ‘original’ in The Five Doctors and a recent repeat of the two Peter Cushing movies). So while we might think of ‘The First Doctor’ here, Emms depicts him as just one of many – and not necessarily even the earliest incarnation. At the time of writing, Emms was the same age that the ‘elderly’ Hartnell had been when he first played the role and there’s a sense that both writer and character feel frustration over growing old. In one passage, the Doctor longs to replace his form for something more agile, foreshadowing his eventual regeneration rather beautifully..

Sooner or later renewal would come and he prayed that when the time came he would be better served. Something comfortable and capable was what he longed for, something able to do more of what he asked of it. He mused and pondered on the whimsical ways of Fate.

Galaxy 4 was William Emms’ sole contribution to both the TV series and the Target novels, though he did also write a ‘Make Your Own Adventure’ book called Mission to Venus, published by Severn House just a few months after Target’s Galaxy Four. He died in 1993, aged 63.

Chapter 101. Doctor Who – The Gunfighters (1986)

Synopsis: In the old town of Tombstone, the Doc’s name’s in doubt / He wanted a dentist but his luck ran out / Now the Clantons are coming – they’ll all be here soon / There’ll be blood on the piano at the Last Chance Saloon…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Landfall in Tombstone
  • 2. The Last Chance
  • 3. The Brief Career of Dead-shot Steve
  • 4. A Funeral is Arranged
  • 5. Notice to Quit
  • 6. Identity Parade
  • 7. Open Mouth Surgery
  • 8. An Offer Refused
  • 9. A Pardonable Error
  • 10. A Little Night Music
  • 11. And Some Durn Tootin’
  • 12. Arrest Is As Good As A Change
  • 13. The Red Hand of Tradition
  • 14. The Law and Doc Holliday
  • 15. A Very Nasty Little Incident
  • 16. Wyatt Plays It By The Book
  • 17. Pa Clanton Keeps a Welcome
  • 18. Ringo in the Morning
  • 19. Post Mortem
  • 20. Thought For Feud
  • 21. Dodo Draws a Bead
  • 22. The Entry of the Gladiators
  • 23. Come Sun-Up…
  • Epilogue

Background: Donald Cotton loosely adapts his own scripts from 1966.

Notes: You know I love a prologue! We open with a journalist called Ned Buntline, who made his name writing biographies of notable Wild West legends. Having previously spoken to Wyatt Earp, who refused to be drawn on certain inconsistencies in the myths surrounding the OK Corral, Buntine now comes to a sanatorium at Glenwood Springs, Colorado, to meet an elderly Doc Holliday, who is in his last days with tuberculosis. Holliday speaks freely about the TARDIS, ‘a kind of four-wheel buggy designed for ridin’ every sort of direction through eternity, without much decent respect for the laws of physics’.

Aboard the TARDIS, Steven reminds the Doctor of the time when they encountered ‘great, nebulous jelly-fish things… with poisonous what-nots’. Dodo claims she took a first-aid course, but didn’t do very well. When the TARDIS lands in Tombstone, it’s raining heavily. Behind the bar of the Last Chance Saloon is a, er, well as Buntine tells it, it’s…

…a shot-up oil-painting of a fat blonde in her birthday rig. Sitting on a cloud, she was being molested by a bunch of tear-away cherubs, who looked as if they’d been up several nights round a stud-game, and passing the nectar pretty free, at that.

… and then he gives us two verses of that song (only one of which was heard on TV). 

Dodo is wearing ‘a little number made up of scarlet furbelows and flounces trimmed with black lace’ with an oversized hat (or as Buntine claims, like ‘the proprietress of a broken-down cat-house in one of the less select quarters of New Orleans’). Steven has, according to the Doctor, ‘disguise[d] himself as Billy the Kid’. He took his advanced astronaut course at Cape Canaveral, where he learned to play ‘America the Brave’ on the piano. Dodo sees a poster for real-life star of the stage Eddie Foy – who makes a brief cameo towards the end of the story (and whose son, Eddie Foy, was a Hollywood movie star who Dodo might conceivably have seen). Kate’s surname is ‘Elder’, not ‘Fisher’ as on TV (and in the 1957 movie); the real-life Kate was formally ‘Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings’, but she was also known by the deeply unflattering ‘Big Nose Kate’. 

Doc Holliday’s new dentist’s chair had previously seen service at ‘the Death House in San Quentin’. Pa Clanton is standing for mayoral election and hopes taking up said office will result in free drinks for life at the Last Chance Saloon. Johnny Ringo is a keen student of the Classics and is, at the time of the gunfight, partway through the ten-volume edition of Caesar’s Gallic Wars. The Doctor’s discomfort with a gun results in him accidentally shooting two bystanders, though eventually he is said to have begun to ‘enjoy himself’. The Doctor and his friends leave in the TARDIS, its dematerialisation witnessed by Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and a few others. In the epilogue, Holliday concludes telling his story to Buntine, necks a bottle of whisky … and dies.

Doc Holliday did indeed die in 1887, staying at Glenwood Hotel, Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He was 36 years old (Anthony Jacobs, who played him on TV, was 48 at the time of broadcast).

Cover: Andrew Skilleter paints the Doctor with a stetson while Wyatt Earp walks down the street of Tombstone with smoking guns. 

Final Analysis: There are people who’ll still tell you that The Gunfighters is a ‘bad story’ or that it was the lowest-rated story ever (it really wasn’t). There’s even a sly dig at the production in the text of this book, where a passage begins ‘Meanwhile, at the Last Chance Saloon, the stage was already set – as if by an incompetent director.’ Fan elders have shaped opinion to the point where many people who haven’t even seen it know what they think of it. And they’re wrong. Utterly. They’re very quick to remind us that Doctor Who can tell ‘any kind of story’, but seem to bristle when the genre isn’t one they personally like or – worst of all – if the story veers into the realm of comedy!

While the historical adventures did tend to be outperformed on original transmission by the often less ambitious efforts featuring silver sets on alien worlds, as we’ve seen with these novelisations, the writers tried much harder to engage the brain with their characters, perhaps mindful that they’d be representing figures who’s actually lived, or possibly just because they preferred history to SF. In the best Reithian tradition, Donald Cotton clearly realised that the best way to ‘educate and inform’ was to entertain. In this adaptation, he once again relies upon a narrator who casts doubt upon the factual accuracy of other versions of the legend; in other words, he’s excusing and exploiting any historical mistakes in both the TV serial and all other conflicting adaptations. We’re presented with a further myth rather than a text-book account of the real events, yet Cotton’s characters feel like they might have actually lived and breathed. More importantly though, Cotton’s retelling of the tale is very, very funny. My favourite joke in the whole thing is where he describes the drunk Ike Clanton as speaking ‘blotto voce’. There’s also a lovely description of the Doctor operating the TARDIS controls: 

… clutching at an apparently haphazard selection of levers with the air of a demented xylophonist, who finds he’s brought along the wine list instead of the score.

There are some instances of swearing – two uses of ‘bastard’, eight ‘goddam(ned)’ and sixteen uses of ‘damn’. As the notes above illustrate, there’s also a degree of bawdiness to this not seen before (mainly involving Kate’s profession). 

Finally, it’s become a popular game in modern stories (including The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn and the Wasp) to crowbar in as many metatextual references as possible, but we can trace this back directly to Donald Cotton. While some of these might have reasonable claims to be accurate contemporary phrases, the modern reader can play ‘Spot the Film Title’ throughout the text. To start you off, here are just a few: For a Few Dollars More (1965); The Wild Bunch (1969); Calamity Jane and Sam Bass (1949); Terror of the Plains (1934); Death Valley (1946); The Golden West, (1932); … and The Right Stuff (1983). 

Chapter 97. Doctor Who – The Myth Makers (1985)

Synopsis: The beauty of a woman is the spark that fires up a bloody and lengthy war between Greece and Troy. Though many of the figures in the battle have entered into legend, a version of the story as recounted by the great poet Homer reveals the involvement of three travellers who emerged from a blue box and changed the course of the war. 

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Homer Remembers
  • 2. Zeus Ex Machina
  • 3. Hector Forgets
  • 4. Enter Odysseus
  • 5. Exit the Doctor
  • 6. A Rather High Tea
  • 7. Agamemnon Arbitrates
  • 8. An Execution is Arranged
  • 9. Temple Fugit
  • 10. The Doctor Draws a Graph
  • 11. Paris Draws the Line
  • 12. Small Prophet, Quick Return
  • 13. War Games Compulsory
  • 14. Single Combat
  • 15. Speech! Speech!
  • 16. The Trojans at Home
  • 17. Cassandra Claims a Kill
  • 18. The Ultimate Weapon
  • 19. A Council of War
  • 20. Paris Stands on Ceremony
  • 21. Dungeon Party
  • 22. Hull Low, Young Lovers
  • 23. A Victory Celebration
  • 24. Doctor in the Horse
  • 25. A Little Touch of Hubris
  • 26. Abandon Ship!
  • 27. Armageddon and After
  • Epilogue

This now nabs the record from Marco Polo for the most number of chapters in a novelisaton, with 27 chapters and an epilogue.

Background: Donald Cotton adapts his own scripts for the 1965 serial.

Notes: Yep, the story is narrated in the first person by the great author Homer, who apparently was just out of shot in every scene.

The Doctor had promised his young companions a trip to London in the 1960s. Homer claims that he has met the Doctor on many occasions (and that he is now younger than he was the first time they met), knows that the TARDIS is a time machine – and that the Doctor is specifically a ‘Time Lord’! Vicki has a very loose grasp of Earth history, much to Steven’s despair, but knows enough to recognise the importance of the Trojan Horse. Steven is concerned about his absence from the ‘Space-Research Project’, where he had been an amateur athlete during his training and it’s suggested he might have played football (he compares the prospect of fighting Odysseus with ‘the second eleven on a Saturday knock-about’, so that’s definitely football and not the completely different ‘American Football’). We discover how ‘Cyclops’ lost his eye and gained his name [but see Final Analysis below]. There’s no explanation for how Steven is wounded by the start of the next story. Instead, we learn that Vicki – as Cressida – remained with Troilus and the pair took care of their blind friend Homer. The epilogue reveals that the elderly poet has been telling his story to the Doctor, who, it turns out, has popped back to look in on Homer on many occasions throughout his eventful life.

Cover: The TARDIS materialises in front of the wooden horse, painted by Andrew Skilleter.

Final Analysis: Donald Cotton tore up the rule book for his TV stories and he revolutionises the Doctor Who novel here. Cotton’s habit of using witty episode titles continues with the novel’s chapter titles ‘Zeus Ex Machina’ ‘Temple Fugit’ and of course ‘Doctor in the Horse’, which was his original title of episode 4. He really strains with chapter 22’s ‘Hull Low, Young Lovers’; I wonder how many eager readers would know the song ‘Hello, Young Lovers’ from the 1951 musical (or 1956 film) The King and I, so might this be a reference pitched at a prospective parent reading this for a young fan a chapter a night at bedtime?

Casting Homer as the narrator gives us insight into the politics of the time, while also contriving increasingly outlandish reasons for him to be party to private conversations, ‘concealed in a clump of cactus I wasn’t too fond of’, accompanying the TARDIS into Troy and, after being jabbed in the eye and being dubbed ‘Cyclops’, he passed out and wakes up ‘covered in fish-scales and crabs’ legs’. Homer is aware that the Doctor is a time traveller too, making much merriment with details he shouldn’t know anything about:

… how do you describe a time-machine to a man who has never even heard of Euclid, never mind Einstein? Of course, up till then, I’d never heard of them myself, but I must say I found the whole concept fascinating. 

Cotton – through Homer – has a delightfully waspish style. We’re told that Cassandra is a fearsome woman who looks like ‘her brother Hector in drag’, while Achilles ‘had that look of Narcissistic petulance one so often sees on the faces of health fanatics, or on male models who pose for morally suspect sculptors’, adding ‘I believe the Greeks have a word for it nowadays’. It’s when he comes to explain the causes of the siege of Troy that we might feel certain attitudes from the mid-1980s are guiding his hand. His description of Paris appears to be a commentary on more modern Royal events that resonate just as much in 2021 as 1985:

… the second sons of Royal Houses – especially if they are handsome as the devil – have a lot of temptation to cope with. And then, the unlikelihood of their ever achieving the throne does seem to induce irresponsibility which – combined, of course, with an inflated income – how shall I put it? – well, it aggravates any amorous propensities they may have…. Well, we all know about princes and their libidinous ways: their little frolics below stairs – their engaging stagedoor haunting jaunting? 

Trigger warning here: Among many anachronistic terms Homer uses, the phrase ‘a coon’s age’, which dates from the early 19th-century and referred to racoons, but for many readers this may have racial connotations.

As one of the missing TV historicals, it’s not a story I know that well, having only heard the soundtrack and watched a telesnap reconstruction. Cotton pulls out all the stops to bring the period alive and make it like a gossip between old friends, a tale told with tongue firmly in cheek and a knowing wink at the reader (this is especially evident in the audiobook with a delicious reading by Stephen Thorne). Even in providing us with what must be the first celebrity historical featuring an author (something modern fans might be more likely to expect), he’s smart enough to leave himself plenty of escape routes. Homer himself tells us the effect of adopting many guises to avoid being trapped into supporting one side or the other. Like the Doctor, his name lives on in legend:

I’ve always found it a very good rule to be a bit cautious about handing out the label unless unavoidable – which is why, I’m told, to this day, nobody is entirely convinced that Homer ever existed […]