Chapter 129. Doctor Who – The Underwater Menace (1988)

Synopsis: In an undersea base live the last survivors of Atlantis. It’s also home to Zaroff, a scientist believed dead. His experiments on the locals have resulted in strange fish-like people inhabiting the nearby ocean, but that’s not where Zaroff’s ambitions lie. His latest scheme could literally tear the Earth apart.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Under the Volcano
  • 2. Sacrifices to Amdo
  • 3. Professor Zaroff
  • 4. Escapees
  • 5. An Audience With the King
  • 6. The Voice Of Amdo
  • 7. Kidnap
  • 8. ‘Nothing In The World Can Stop Me Now!’
  • 9. Desperate Remedies
  • 10. The Prudence of Zaroff
  • 11. The Hidden Assassin
  • Epilogue

Background: Nigel Robinson adapts scripts for a 1967 serial by Geoffrey Orme.

Notes: Jamie’s first sight of the inside of the TARDIS is told in the prologue; the ‘gleaming white walls’ are covered with ‘large circular indentations’ that emit an ‘eerie light, while the walls are lined with strange looking machines’. There’s also a large chest, a ‘splendid Louis XIV chair’, plus a mahogany hatstand upon which a ‘stove-pipe’ rests (though a popular description of the Doctor’s hat for many years, we now understand it to be a ‘Paris Beau’, unless the Target Doctor really does wear a top hat like Abraham Lincoln’s). The Doctor is ‘a little man dressed in baggy check trousers several sizes too big for him and a scruffy frock coat which had obviously seen better days’: he has ‘jade-green eyes’. Ben is, succinctly, a ‘wiry Cockney sailor’, while Polly is ‘a tall, long-legged blonde with long heavily-made-up eyelashes; her clothes – a ‘revealing multi-coloured mini-skirt and a white silk scarf’ – reveal that, like Ben, she comes from London, 1966 [once again contradicting Gerry Davis’s origins in the Target universe as shown in Doctor Who and the Tenth Planet]. The rather nice sequence from the telly episode of interior thoughts for the TARDIS team (‘Prehistoric monsters!’) is cut.

Professor Zaroff’s first name is ‘Hermann’. He disappeared 20 years ago and created the ‘Fish people’ by manipulating the genetic coding of the Atlaneans. His pet octopus is called Neptune. There is a Labour Controller who looks after the slaves (on TV, Damon fulfils this role too). Ara was the daughter of a councillor who spoke out against Zaroff and was killed. She keeps her former high status secret by hiding as a servant. Before he died, her father showed her the speaking grill behind Amdo’s statue. Zaroff and his high priest Lolem are left fighting to the death when they are caught in the flood and drown. The majority of the Atlanteans do survive the disaster (and possibly Zaroff’s pet octopus, Neptune, too). Unusually, the cliffhanger from TV of the TARDIS veering out of control is retained.

Cover: The Oliver Elmes logo is used here. The main artwork is a lovely evocative painting of the fish people, a great effort by artist Alister Pearson, making his debut here. 

Final Analysis: It’s a bit of a kindness on Nigel Robinson’s part that this unloved story gets such a decent treatment here. As the story was missing three of its four episodes at the time of writing, Robinson had to rely on the scripts, so some of the improvisations from the studio are missing; when episode two was discovered and screened at the BFI”s Missing Believed Wiped event, fans in the audience were charmed by such details as the Doctor knocking on his own head while discussing Zaroff’s madness, but that’s understandably absent from the book. What we do get is the now traditional tidying up of motivations and thought processes, such as the Doctor actively searching for Zaroff because he’s been told that he often strolls in the market (it’s much more coincidental on screen) or Zaroff failing to recognise Ben and Jamie because, when he first met them, his attentions were solely focused on the Doctor. The problems with the story are inherent in the original broadcast, but we get the sense that our heroes at least know how ridiculous it all is, which makes them just as determined to put a stop to the mad scientist. Extra points to Robinson for using the story’s most infamous line – ‘Nothing In The World Can Stop Me Now!’ as the title of Chapter 8, building up to it and giving it more context than we had when this was published.

Chapter 126. Doctor Who – The Mysterious Planet (1988)

Synopsis: The Doctor is on trial for his life and the prosecutor, the Valeyard, presents to a jury of Time Lords his first evidence, in which the Doctor and his friend Peri explore the planet Ravalox. There they meet the underground dwellers and their ruler, a robot called Drathro, the Tribe of the Free and their ruler, Queen Katryca, and a pair of intergalactic conmen called Glitz and Dibber, who confirm the Doctor’s suspicions, that the planet Ravalox has been moved across the universe from its original location – where it was known as ‘Earth’.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Trial Begins
  • 2. Underground
  • 3. Barbarian Queen
  • 4. The Stoning
  • 5. The Reprieve
  • 6. Meeting the Immortal
  • 7. Escape
  • 8. Captives of Queen Katryca
  • 9. The Attack of the Robot
  • 10. Hunt for the Doctor
  • 11. Secrets
  • 12. Tradesman’s Entrance
  • 13. The Big Bang
  • 14. End and Beginning

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts by Robert Holmes for episodes 1-4 of the 1986 serial The Trial of a Time Lord. Holmes had been slated to adapt this himself, prior to his death in 1986.

Notes: The space station that houses the courtroom is hidden within a junkyard floating in space. The Doctor is ‘a tall, strongly built man with a slight tendency towards overweight’ (!) and beneath the ‘mop of curly hair, the face was round, full-lipped and sensual, with a hint of something catlike about the eyes’. The ups and downs of the Doctor’s relationship with the Time Lords are summarised, including his time as a fugitive, his exile to Earth for ‘five years’ (during which he was the scientific adviser to UNIT) and the couple of times he briefly occupied the position of President. Sabalom Glitz is ‘a burly thick-set fellow with a tendency towards fatness’, while his lackey, Dibber, is ‘taller and brawnier with a hard face and coarse bristly black hair’. The final chapter uses a title variation of a Terrance Dicks favourite – ‘End and Beginning’.

Cover: Queen Katryca is dwarfed by the L3 Robot, along with the planet Ravalox and a beam of black light, courtesy of Tony Masero. As before, there’s a flash marking this as part of the Trial of a Time Lord season (and the title page lists this as ‘The Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet’.

Final Analysis: Terrance Dicks returns and passes a few milestones’ as he adapts his friend Robert Holmes’ final complete story, tackles the sixth Doctor for his one and only time and it’s also his last novelisation for anything from outside of the 1960s. He matches the impressive opening model shot of the TV version with one of the best single pages of description he’s done for a while. 

Massive, arrogant, invincible, the great complex hovered in space, dwarfing the shattered hulks that drifted around it, dominating its section of space like some enormous baroque cathedral. There was an eerie, almost mystical quality about it. It seemed to be brooding… waiting. 

This enthusiasm to capture everything we might have felt on screen continues with the Doctor’s arrival; the insanity of his costume has never been described so thoroughly but in particular the ‘multi-coloured coat that might have made Joseph himself feel a pang of envy’. I can imagine Terrance chuckling as he wrote about ‘the jutting beak that was his nose [which] seemed to pursue the Doctor through most of his incarnations’. So cheeky!

Some years ago, I was hired as a ‘talking head’ contributor for the Doctor Who DVD range (subsequently released on Blu-Ray). My role there was to represent the views of the contributors who were no longer with us, so my interjections were deliberately on the side of the producer and less supportive of his more vocal critics, who I knew would also be interviewed. My own opinions were put aside, partly so that I didn’t stand in the way of the people I was representing, but also because my feelings towards the overall story – and this segment in particular – are very conflicted. The huge disappointment I felt on first viewing was replaced at first by mockery (a friend used to act out a hilarious ‘Trial in 14 minutes’ routine that had us guffawing for months) and then a desperation to ‘fix’ the story in our minds – a process fans now call ‘head-canon’. I didn’t read this novelisation at the time and it’s rewarding after all these years to find Terrance Dicks trying his best to nudge the narrative a little, hinting at things the reader might discover later or enhancing the mood with a well-chosen description; that thing on the Valeyard’s head might well be a ‘skull-cap’, but coming between the ‘all in black’ ensemble and the ‘gaunt-faced’ description, it just adds to the idea that the Time Lord prosecutor is Death personified. He’s not breaking any new ground here, but Dicks is definitely putting the effort where it’s needed most.

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 111. Doctor Who – The Seeds of Death (1986)

Synopsis: The T-Mat system, a form of instantaneous transport across the planet Earth, is controlled by a crew based on the Moon. Invaders bring operations to a halt, leaving Earth in chaos.T-Mat is so all-encompassing that the only rocket is in a museum – and the only person with enough training to fly one is the Doctor. Taking Jamie and Zoe along for the ride, the Doctor heads to the Moon, where he finds a party of Ice Warriors with a plan to destroy all humanity.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Trouble with T-Mat
  • 2. Enter the Doctor
  • 3. Radnor’s Offer
  • 4. Countdown
  • 5. Blast-Off
  • 6. Crashdown
  • 7. The Genius
  • 8. The Pods
  • 9. The Blight
  • 10. The Invader
  • 11. The Rescue
  • 12. The Renegade
  • 13. The Sacrifice
  • 14. Trapped!
  • 15. Signal of Doom

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts by Brian Hayles for the 1969 story.

Notes: According to Dicks, gender equality in the 21st Century is ‘still more theoretical than practical’ and that to gain high rank, ‘a woman had to be not simply as good as, but measurably better than, her male colleagues.’ The base on the moon was intended as the start of a huge city, but the creation of T-Mat saw an instant lack of interest in space travel and the project was abandoned.

The Doctor is ‘a smallish man with a mop of untidy black hair and a deeply-lined face that looked wise and gentle and funny all at once’. He wears ‘baggy check trousers, supported by wide, elaborately patterned braces, a wide-collared white shirt and a scruffy bow tie’. Jamie is a ‘brawny young man’ wearing ‘a dark shirt and a battle-dress tunic over the kilt of a Scottish Highlander’. We’re reminded that Zoe first met the Doctor and Jamie on the space wheel. She’s a ‘very small, very neat, very precise young woman with a fringe of short dark hair looked on with an air of equal scepticism’. She’s dressed in ‘a short skirt, a short-sleeved, high-necked blouse with a waistcoat over it, and high boots, all in shining, colourful plasti-cloth’ and we’re told that her clothes, like Jamie’s, are ‘an indication of the time from which she had been taken. Zoe is said to be ‘highly intelligent and with a great deal of advanced scientific training [with…] a precise and orderly scientific mind’.

There are some splendid descriptions of the Martian invaders: Slaar’s voice is ‘harsh and sibilant, a sort of throaty hissing whisper that seemed to put extra s’s in all the sibilants’; one of his lumbering warriors has a:

… massive body [that] was covered in scaly green hide, ridged and plated like that of a crocodile. The head was huge, helmetlike, ridged at the crown, with large insectoid eyes and a lipless lower jaw. The alien leader shared the same terrifying form, though its build was slimmer, the movements somehow less clumsy. The jaw too was differently made, less of a piece with the helmet-like head.

As a description, it does seem to be a closer fit for the ‘big-head’ versions like Isbur from The Ice Warriors, as the ones in this TV story don’t have especially huge heads. The Grand Marshal who appears on the videolink has a helmet that’s ‘differently shaped from that of Slaar… studded with gleaming jewels’ and his voice ‘although aged, was filled with power and authority’.

Osgood’s first name is ‘Harry’, though Radnor’s first name (Julian on TV) is not mentioned. The Doctor is referred to anachronistically as a Time Lord a couple of times.

Cover: Tony Masero’s debut cover for a first edition shows an Ice Warrior on the surface of the Moon.

Final Analysis: Welcome back, Terrance Dicks! We’re treated to a rather special adaptation here; while he follows the scripts methodically, as we’d expect, Dicks also provides insight into the characters that might not be obvious from their portrayal on TV. Of particular note is the Minister who’s responsible for T-Mat, Sir John Gregson, who – we’re told – ‘could turn a difficulty into a disaster in record time’. Not since Chinn in The Claws of Axos have we seen the character of a politician so completely assassinated. It’s a joyful subtlety.

It’s worth remembering that Bryan Hayles’s scripts were written in the lead-up to the first successful moon landing; just over four months before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin boldly went where the Doctor and his chums had gone before. The book, however, came 11 months after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on take-off, a disaster which led to a three-year grounding of the space shuttle fleet. While the people of this 21st Century might have forgotten the thrill of the space program, we get a real sense of it through the characters as they rediscover their lost skills – especially the inventor of the all-important space rocket, Professor Eldred:

Eldred stood looking at a monitor, watching the rocket streaking steadily upwards. On his face was the incredulous delight of a man who sees his lifelong dream come true.

Then a shadow of sadness crossed his face. For him, the dream had become reality too late. From now on, he could only watch…

The Seeds of Death was one of the earliest stories to be made available by BBC Home Video, making this the first novel to be released after its VHS release. The point I’m making here is that Terrance Dicks’s usual approach was to recreate a story pretty much exactly, as readers wouldn’t be able to rewatch it. But slowly, things were changing.

Chapter 103. Doctor Who – The Twin Dilemma (1986)

Synopsis: Peri has just witnessed her new friend die and be replaced by a completely different man. Unstable after the trauma of regeneration, this new Doctor is loud, violent and self-obsessed – and Peri is terrified of him. Deciding to become a hermit on a barren moon, the Doctor instead becomes entangled in a policeman’s investigation into the kidnapping of hyper-intelligent twins. The culprit is someone the Doctor once knew, but is now enslaved by a megalomaniacal slug with mind-boggling ambitions.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Home Time
  • 2. The Maladjusted Time Lord
  • 3. Enter Professor Edgeworth
  • 4. Mestor the Magnificent
  • 5. Titan Three
  • 6. An Unsafe Safe House
  • 7. The Reunion
  • 8. Jaconda, the Beautiful!
  • 9. End Game, Part One
  • 10. End Game, Part Two

Background: Eric Saward adapts the scripts by Anthony Steven for a 1984 serial.

Notes: Professor Archie Sylvest is a university lecturer who lives with his wife, Nimo, and their 12-year-old twin sons live at 25 Lydall Street, the only Georgian terrace left standing in a metropolis of ‘mirror-smooth’ and ‘flameproof, plastic buildings’. He has an android babysitter for the boys, which he knows they hate. Sylvest is scared of his children, something the boys exploit. He takes solace in harbouring murderous thoughts towards them (a strategy suggested by his therapist to help suppress his fears) while drinking too much Voxnic in the company of an attractive computer programmer called Vestal Smith. When Sylvest returns home drunk and discovers his sons’ disappearance, his concern is less that they might have been hurt and more that they might be used in some nefarious scheme or other.

The Time Lord process of regeneration is the work of a hormone called ‘lindos’, which works at lightning speed to repair every cell in the Time Lord body. An illustration of regeneration’s random nature comes in the story of Councillor Verne, whose stunning beauty distracted his peers from his unsuitability to office; his subsequent regenerations saw him grow increasingly unattractive until he became a ‘hideous monster’ who so distressed the then-Lord President that he ordered the Verne creature to be destroyed.

The new Doctor initially misunderstands Peri’s distress, but then apologises to her as he realises how terrified she must be. Peri is relieved and reassured – until she sees his new costume:

… each panel of the coat was quite different in texture, design and colour. This wouldn’t have mattered quite so much if the colours had blended, but they seemed to be cruelly, harshly, viciously at odds with each other. In fact, the coat was so gawdy it would have looked out of place on the back of a circus clown…. The whole ensemble was finished off with a waistcoast which looked as though someone had been sick on. (For all Peri knew, someone had.) The final touch was a livid green watch chain that at some time must have been stolen from a public lavatory.

Delightful! As she fights off the Doctor’s frenzied attack, Peri grabs the mirror in the hope of smashing it to use as a weapon against him.

The personal history of Professor Bernard Edgeworth – aka the Time Lord Azmael – is recounted: Like the Doctor, Azmael grew tired of life among the Time Lords and chose to retire; unlike the Doctor, the High Council decided Azmael was too dangerous to be allowed to escape their control and chose instead to kill him; they despatched ‘Seedle Warriors’ to assassinate him, only for the bloodthirsty squad to massacre the inhabitants of Vitrol Minor, where Azmael was hiding; Azmael brought legal proceedings against the High Council, who retaliated by framing him for their own crimes; Azmael’s last course of action was to gun down the High Council in their chambers and flee to the planet Jaconda. The specific species of gastropod that lays waste to Jaconda is the Sectoms. We also learn of the history of Titan Three, formerly home to the Mastons of Maston Viva, who fell victim to the generally bleak atmosphere of the planet and committed mass suicide, leaving behind their research equipment for Azmael to find.

‘Mestor the Magnificent’ is nearly two metres tall and considered ugly even by other gastropods. To allow him to stand upright, Mestor has grown two small legs that make him wobble as he walks, and two tiny arms, which serve ‘no particular function’ except to gesticulate as he speaks. 

His face, what there was of it, was humanoid in form. As he did not have a neck, head or shoulders, the features had grown where what would have been the underside of a normal slug’s jaw. As though to add to the peculiarity of a gastropod with a human face, the features were covered in a thin membrane.

Peri observes that the Doctor’s delusions lead him to act like Sherlock Holmes, Hern the Hunter (a dig at Doctor Who’s ITV rival Robin of Sherwood?), an explorer called Musk and a country squire. She apparently ‘never even grasped the fundamentals of the microwave oven’. The issue of the time delay with the matter transporter is removed; although Peri dematerialises first, the pair return to the TARDIS at the same time.

The planets that form part of Mestor’s plans are called Muston and Seniel  The Doctor recalls his past companions, including a rather brutal summation of Adric and his ‘childish antics’, a desperation ‘to be loved and accepted for what he was’, which prevented the Doctor (or at least, this incarnation) of ‘ever being able to fully praise, help or ultimately like him’. The Doctor’s first meeting with Mestor is delayed until the climax – their prior conversations conveyed via a hologram link.

Cover: Due to a breakdown in negotiations, an earlier cover showing Colin Baker was rejected (the actor’s agent enquired how much his fee might be for using his likeness and the publisher, misunderstanding the enquiry as a demand for payment, panicked and cancelled the already completed artwork). Andrew Skilleter’s second painting offers up a very green cover featuring a Jacondan, Mestor and some gastropod eggs. The 1993 reprint used Andrew Skilleter’s art for the VHS, again showing a Jacondan and Mestor, but this time joined by the Doctor.

Final Analysis: This is more than just an adaptation; its position in the history of Doctor Who offers us a little insight into events behind the scenes. It was written and published before the increasingly public fall-out between Eric Saward and producer John Nathan-Turner, but the causes of Saward’s dissatisfaction can be seen here in his depiction of the lead character. Even though it’s the post-regenerative monster that he’s writing, and even though he turns the self-serving and cowardly acts into something more whimsical (thinking he’s Sherlock Holmes etc), some of Saward’s negativity is still very much evident. In the final confrontation with Mestor, he frames this Doctor as sounding ‘more like a street bully than a Time Lord negotiating with a creature capable of taking over the universe’ and his pleading with the despot is ‘foolish, almost childish’. The conclusion to the tale is much less confident and reassuring than on TV. Peri even tells the Doctor she just wants to go home.

‘… whatever else happens, I am the new Doctor. This is me whether people like it or not.’

The statement was as bland and as sterile as it sounded.

Peri hoped that she had caught a glimpse of a smile as he uttered it.

If she hadn’t, this particular incarnation of the Time Lord would prove to be a very difficult person indeed.

Hugo Lang is also subject to a character assassination, the dogged and determined police officer becoming a self-serving and ruthlessly opportunistic man who pursues the twins only for personal glory and who decides to stay on Jaconda to extort money from Mestor’s chamberlain.

This is still a diverting read though, as Saward tries hard to make it more entertaining than he managed to make it on screen. As with the fox in The Visitation, Saward once again uses the form of an animal to witness events; the arrival of Azmael’s ship and his kidnapping of the twins goes undetected by anyone on Earth except a ginger cat, who prides himself on knowing what is happening before anyone else and vows to tell nobody about what he’s seen. His telling of the circumstances of Hugo Lang’s crash on Titan Three make for a scene straight out of Star Wars and, as the quote above shows, he succeeds in making Mestor a horrifying and fearsome presence. 

We’re now in the period where authors were encouraged to attempt something other than a straight retelling of the TV show and for many readers, the episodes would still be fresh in the memory. Saward attempts something in the style of Douglas Adams as his narrative regularly drifts off to discuss various tangentially related topics: A mention of Azmael’s revitalising modulator leads to a detailed history of the life and convoluted death of the machine’s inventor, Professor James Zarn, as well as the results of his other great scientific success, involving the Social and Sexual Life of the Veedle Fly; the acid that the Doctor uses to attack Mestor is Moston acid, which ages its victims to death and which is a product of Professor Vinny Mosten, about whom we also discover more than we’d ever hoped; even the floor of Mestor’s chamber, decorated with a celebrated Jacondan mosaic, inspires a further condensed history lecture. Whether or not this is a successful approach is down to personal taste. Personally, I rather enjoyed it, even if I was slightly worried every time a new brand name or invention popped up. Stop trying to make ‘Voxnic’ happen, Eric. It’s not going to happen.

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

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

Chapter Titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 78. Doctor Who – Earthshock (1983)

Synopsis: After a brief encounter in a cave on Earth, the Doctor and his friends explore a freighter in space. When a crewmember of the freighter is found murdered, the Doctor becomes an obvious suspect. The captain of the ship, a stern woman called Briggs, remains unconvinced by the Doctor’s explanations but is more concerned with getting her cargo to Earth, unaware that each of her fifteen thousand silos contains a dormant Cybermen – and they’re about to wake up!

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Shadows
  • 2. Labyrinth of Death
  • 3. Uneasy Allies
  • 4. A Crisis Defused
  • 5. Stowaways
  • 6. Monstrous Awakenings
  • 7. A Siege
  • 8. War of Nerves
  • 9. Accidents Happen
  • 10. Triumph and Tragedy

Background: Ian Marter adapts scripts by Eric Saward for the 1982 serial.

Notes: All of the TARDIS crew receives a very good quick-sketch description in line with those of Terrance Dicks, so Adric is ‘snub-nosed’ and sullen and Nyssa is ‘aristocratic-looking’, while Tegan has an ‘efficient and determined air’. The new Doctor gets his best description so far: With his ‘long and tanned’ face and open collar with two embroidered question marks (their first mention!), he looks like he’s ‘dressed for a summer garden party or a regatta’. References to their failed attempt to get to Heathrow (The Visitation) and the book the Doctor is reading (Black Orchid) are missing.

The Doctor theorises that the bomb in the caves might be strong enough to blow the Earth apart if it were placed in a strategic position such as an ancient fault line. Without identifying them yet, Marter introduces two silver figures, one larger than the other, and it’s the most detailed descriptions of Cybermen so far:

The rigid mask-like faces had eyeless sockets and immobile mouth-like apertures, but no noses. They had no ears, but a network of wires and pipes connecting a bulging section on each side of their heads to a similar bulge on the top. The limbs were jointed like human ones, but were much thicker and more powerfully tubular, and the arms terminated in enormous hands like steel gauntlets. Tubes ran snaking over the hard metallic surfaces of their bodies from flat, box-like units protected by gratings which were fitted onto their chests…

The beings make hissing noises ‘like human breathing’ (so, just like Darth Vader) and their guns are clipped to their belts (utility belts like Batman? The Cyberleader pulls a key from his later). The Cyberleader is accompanied by a Deputy (which neatly avoids confusion with Lieutenant Scott) and their scanner is called a ‘holovisor disc’. The Cybermen are much more resilient than the TV versions toward the firepower of the troopers and freighter crew, until the Doctor suggests they focus their guns on the chest gratings. A mocking Ringway suggests that the Doctor and his friends should give in and the Doctor replies: ‘I never surrender, it’s too embarrassing.’

Berger is described as ‘a lean hard woman of about fifty’, while Captain Briggs is rather generously said to be about Berger’s age (rather than a decade older). As the Cybermen march him towards the TARDIS, the Doctor stumbles across their hidden control room; the entry hatch slams shut, accidentally sets the reactivation sequence running on the dormant Cybermen.

Nyssa removes the dead bodies of Professor Kyle and the trooper from the TARDIS Console room, which is possibly the single bravest thing a companion has ever had to do. Adric’s badge is used to attack both the Cyberleader and the Deputy; Tegan stands in wait as the Deputy returns to the console room and attacks him from behind, before the Doctor (not Nyssa) blasts him with the Leader’s gun. The Doctor picks up a surviving fragment of Adric’s badge and places it in his pocket.

Cover: A misleading photo of the Doctor pointing a gun. Davison looks rather heroic and dashing, and the cover at least maintains the surprise of the returning enemy. This even extends to the back cover blurb – for the first edition at least – which skillfully avoids spelling anything out. The 1992 edition states that the book ‘features the long awaited return of the Cybermen, the Doctor’s most lethal enemies.’ Alister Pearson’s cover has a half-length painting of a Cyberman with the Doctor, Adric and the Earth beautifully sketched in shades of blue in the background.

Final Analysis: Oh I’ve missed Ian Marter’s writing. I often wish he could have been published as a horror author, maybe with a selection of original short stories. The book begins with an evocative image of the landscape:

The towering cliffside resembled a gigantic human skull with the dark openings of caves gaping like empty eye-sockets and nostrils. 

… and it continues with the same dripping nastiness that made Ark in Space such fun. Marter’s violence is sensuous: Bodies shot by the androids collapse into a ‘gluey pool’ of ‘steaming, viscous liquid’; a ‘sickly smell’ hangs in the air, sizzling ‘like hot fat’; a Cyberman slices a trooper’s skull ‘like an egg’; when the Cybermen die, they leak ‘black oily pus’ and their ventilator units emit ‘thick black smoke’, ‘brown fluid’ or  ‘evil yellow and black bubbles’… the idea that Cybermen smell of anything makes them even more disgusting and repellent.

I recently criticised Christopher Bidmead for wilfully choosing to ignore the kind of stories the target / Target audience actually wants; Ian Marter’s approach might not be the literature their teachers or parents would chose for them, but this is exactly the kind of gloopy thriller a macabre teenage boy with a love of reading deserves. Earthshock was already the best Cyberman story (no really!) but Marter’s adaptation converts the familiar-but-generic invaders into something more disturbing than they’ve been. Best Cybermen ever!

Chapter 45. Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment (1978)

Synopsis: Arriving on the surface of the Earth, thousands of years since the planet was abandoned, the Doctor, Sarah and Harry find a small party of explorers hiding in terror from a mechanical hunter. The machine has captured other members of the party and taken them off across the rocky terrain. Hidden among the rocks is a Sontaran with a sinister mission – and Sarah is about to become his next victim.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Stranded
  • 2. Unknown Enemies
  • 3. Capture
  • 4. The Experiment
  • 5. Mistaken Identities
  • 6. The Challenge
  • 7. Duel to the Death
  • 8. A Surprise and a Triumph

Background: Adapted by Ian Marter, based on the 1975 scripts by Bob Baker and Dave Martin. This completes the run of stories for Season 12.

Notes: Consistent with his new ending to The Ark in Space, Ian Marter has our heroes arrive in the TARDIS – which lands before toppling over. As soon as the three travellers have emerged, it vanishes for no clear reason. As in that earlier book, the space station is referred to as Terra Nova. The robot kills Zake with a vicious whip of its tentacle, rather than pushing him over a ravine.As viewed by Harry, Styr (not Styre) is an imposing being:

… an enormous figure – like the statue of a huge, thick-limbed man somehow brought to life – was gradually silhouetted against the circle of daylight. As it lumbered out of the far end of the tunnel into the open, Harry glimpsed its coarse greyish hide – like pumice stone -shuddering at each step. 

Sarah recognises him and her point of view gives us even more vivid detail:

… the gaping oval panel was filled by a squat, lumbering shape like a monstrous puppet. Its domed, reptilian head grew neckless out of massive, hunched shoulders. Each trunk-like arm ended in three sheathed talons and was raised in anticipation towards her. The creature began to lurch down the ramp on thick, stumpy legs, the rubbery folds of its body vibrating with each step. Mean eyes burned like two red-hot coals amid the gnarled, tortoise-like features, and puffs of oily vapour issued from the flared nostrils.

….The wobbling folds of its lipless jaws were suddenly drawn back, baring hooked, metallic teeth. Sarah stared transfixed at the ghastly smile while the creature slowly shook its domed head…. The shrivelled, tortoise face thrust forward, its red piercing eyes boring into her.

The ‘three sheathed talons’ on each hand neatly fixes the continuity error of the TV episodes. According to the Doctor, Sontaran brains are like seaweed and their lungs are made from ‘a kind of spongy steel-wool’. Styr’s ship is the size of a large house, like ‘a giant Golf-ball’, consisting of a ‘honeycomb of modules’, small, interconnected spherical rooms arranged around a central control chamber. Styr’s robot – called ‘the Scavenger’ here – is a bell-shaped hovering dome with probing tentacles and there are a few of them, including one on guard inside the ship and a spider-like one that Harry dodges. Inside the ship, there are also two other Sontarans, lying dormant in recharging pods.

Styr reports to a ‘Controller’, not a ‘Marshal’, who tells him that a rendezvous with the ‘Allied Squadrons from Hyperion Sigma’ is overdue (is this a squadron of various Sontaran factions or are the Sontarans allied to another race? There’s no mention of the Rutans at all). Styr has a weapon secreted in the arm of his suit.

While unconscious, the Doctor has a vivid nightmare about the TARDIS, wrecked and heading towards a black hole, being overrun with rats while a giant cat emerges from the console and sleeps on his chest. He speculates that the Sontarans might be prospecting for a mineral not known in this galaxy – Terullian – and he keeps many objects in his pockets, including:

… marbles, pieces of twisted wire, shrivelled jelly babies, weird keys, a pirate’s eye-patch, strange coins, sea shells, a dead beetle…

… but not his ‘Liquid Crystal Instant Recall Diary,’ in which he thinks he wrote some notes about Sontarans in the past. Harry hallucinates Sarah as a vicious, snarling beast and is attacked by an illusionary giant spider-like creature.

The Doctor and Sarah each destroy a Scavenger robot with the sonic screwdriver. Styr sends Vural to his death over a ravine. The Doctor pours a flash of Glenlivet whisky into Styr’s probic vent and Styr swells to over three times his normal size before he and his ship deflate like balloons into congealed heaps. The Doctor remembers he set the TARDIS ‘Boomerang Orientators’ so assumes it’ll be back on Terra Nova. He, Sarah and Harry depart via the transmat field, thereby making the story fit with the previously published Genesis of the Daleks and Revenge of the Cybermen.

Cover: The Doctor holds a log as a weapon in front of a background of a supersized Sontaran helmet. Another strong illustration from Roy Knipe.

Final Analysis: While this is based on a two-episode adventure, it’s by no means the shortest novel; indeed, it feels like it takes up the same page-count as, say, the six-part Genesis of the Daleks, without becoming padded or over-written. It’s another Ian Marter ‘movie version’, with everything turned up to eleven. Predictably, the horror elements are more grotesque – the terrifying hallucinations of faces emerging from rocks, soaring monster-infested wave, burning desert sands or giant ants. Marter’s real skill is in the characterisation: He makes Styr a much more terrifying presence than the TV version as the huge, hulking ‘golem’ is wheezing and gurgling, but also flawed as his sadism makes him forget the real purpose of his mission; Sarah’s ability to be both terrified and brave, as in the way she responds defiantly to Styr’s interrogation by pointing out that it’s not her fault if her mere presence doesn’t match his data; and Harry is still as bewildered by the technology, particularly the Doctor’s description of Sontaran biology, but he’s still got a great way of summing things up – calling Styr ‘the Humpty Dumpty thing’. What was merely a side dish on TV has been reimagined as a macabre banquet.

Chapter 35. Doctor Who and the Mutants (1977)

Synopsis: When the Doctor receives a mysterious object, it leads him and Jo to the planet Solos, a colony in Earth’s future empire ruled by a cruel and sadistic Marshal. The native Solonians are fighting for their rights to independence while also battling something far more puzzling – some of them are transforming into hideous insect-like creatures…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Hunters
  • 2. Mutant on the Loose!
  • 3. Assassination!
  • 4. Hunted on Solos
  • 5. The Experiment
  • 6. Escape
  • 7. The Attack
  • 8. The Trap
  • 9. The Fugitive
  • 10. The Crystal
  • 11. Condemned
  • 12. The Message
  • 13. The Investigator
  • 14. The Witness
  • 15. The Change

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts from a 1972 story by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.

Notes: Solos is a ‘planet of jungles’, but still looks grey from orbit due to the mists. Varan’s son is called ‘Vorn’. Dicks writes that the Doctor was exiled by the Time Lords ‘for some unknown offence’; obviously Dicks himself knows why – he co-wrote the story that saw the Doctor exiled (and so do we), but Jo actually doesn’t – the closest she gets is in The Doomsday Weapon, where the Doctor explained that he used to roam the universe before the Time Lords caught him and trapped him on Earth – but he never explains to her precisely why!

Professor Jaeger is ‘a vain and unprincipled man, desperate for scientific recognition, but without the talent to attain it on his own’; he’s disgraced back on Earth after some scandal involving results stolen from a junior colleague. The Marshal, meanwhile, came to Solos as a security guard and slowly climbed his way up the ranks to his current position; he sees himself as the supreme power over Solos, which is why he is so desperate not to lose his position. Standing at the mouth of the caves, the Marshal uses a device with a ‘directional microphone’ to overhear Stubbs and Cotton talking to the Doctor to uncover their treachery. The Marshal has a secret exit behind the desk in his office, which Cotton knows about.

Cover: Jeff Cummins makes his first appearance with a splendid photorealistic cover. A mutant leers into frame just as the TARDIS materialises in a red-lit cavern. As with Doctor Who and the Space War, the title page in early editions of this book claimed that the front cover showed ‘the third DOCTOR WHO, whose physical appearance was altered by the Time Lords when they banished him to the planet Earth in the Twentieth Century’. Er…

Final Analysis: Despite being a huge fan of the Third Doctor, this has always been my least favourite of his stories, largely because the Marshal is such a relentless bully. He’s still that here, but it’s at least useful to get the perspective of every character working around him. Even Jaeger, who is enabling his ‘scorched Solos’ policy, is doing so for scientific glory, not for anything that might benefit the marshal politically. Dicks manages to edit down the six episodes in a tidy fashion, so even though some speeches are summarised or cut back, all the beats are there in the right order.

Chapter 32. Doctor Who and the Ark in Space (1977)

Synopsis: In the distant future, shielded from a long-past disaster, the entire population of Earth lies asleep in a wheel-shaped space-station. When the Doctor, Sarah and Harry arrive at the station, they discover that its inhabitants have overslept due to interference from an invading alien insect – a Wirrrn. As the parasite grows, it threatens not just the lives of the waking senior crew of the station, but the entire human race…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue: The Intruder
  • 1. The Second Invasion
  • 2. Sarah Vanishes
  • 3. Sabotage!
  • 4. A Fatal Wound
  • 5. The Wirrrn
  • 6. Time Running Out
  • 7. A Tight Squeeze
  • 8. A New Beginning

Background: Ian Marter adapts Robert Holmes’ 1975 scripts. He was the first and, to date, only actor to novelise a story he was in. 

Notes: Yes – Wirrrn! Marter gives the Wirrrn an extra ‘r’ as well as much more flexibility than their TV counterparts; the first invader Wirrrn is able to arch ‘its segmented tail up over its head’ as it grips ‘ the cables in its huge claw and sever[s] them cleanly with a single slice.’ Later, the Doctor suggests the Wirrrn grub might be a ‘multi-nucleate organism’ to explain how it passed through a grill. When Harry and the Doctor find the dessicated husk of the Wirrrn Queen in the cupboard, Marter gives us an interesting description of the insect:

He stared at the enormous ‘insect’ which lay crumbling at his feet. The surface of its segmented body was a glossy indigo colour; here and there were patches of twisted and blackened tissue, like scorched plastic. The six tentacular legs bristled with razor-sharp ‘hairs’. The creature’s octopus head contained a huge globular eye on each side, and each eye was composed of thousands of cells in which Harry saw himself reflected over and over again. The creature was fully three metres long from the top of its domed head to the tip of the fearsome pincer in which its tail terminated.

On arrival, Sarah is wearing a denim trouser suit and woolly hat, similar to items she wore during Robot on TV. In the prologue, the Ark is not in orbit around the Earth but in the outer reaches of the solar system [as it also is in Revenge of the Cybermen]. The autoguard is renamed an ‘Organic Matter Detector Surveillance System’ – or OMDSS – and the space station is renamed ‘Terra Nova’ (was the Ark expected to reach New Earth??). The Ark includes full-sized blue whales, elephants and palm trees. The support struts contain moving walkways, leading to the outer ring. Vira is over two metres tall with short, dark hair, while Noah is ‘a tall, slim but powerful man with short black hair and a trim beard.’

The Doctor’s journey to the solar plasma cells reveals a multitude of tacky, silver trails across every surface. The gestating Wirrrn lie somewhere high up above the catwalks of the solar stacks in the form of ‘clusters of pustular matter’. On her tight-squeezed journey through the ducts of the space station, Sarah reaches a clear section where she’s attacked by a Wirrrn. The Doctor, Sarah and Harry depart in the TARDIS, not via the transmat booths.

Cover: Chris Achilleos’s final cover for the range is a simple design, with the Doctor looking worried inset while a Wirrrn dominates the frame (which is bordered in the same yellow as Carnival of Monsters). The 1991 reprint cover by Alister Pearson has the same Nerva wireframe border motif as Revenge of the Cybermen, with a Wirrrn centre and a second, smaller Wirrrn in the foreground, making the perspectives look off. Perhaps this would have been better to have a semi-converted Noah, or a Wirrrn grub in the foreground instead? A 2012 BBC Books edition reuses an edited version of the original Achilleos cover, placing the Wirrrn and the Doctor on a white background to match the new house style.

Final Analysis: As mentioned in the introduction, this was one of four books I received as a Christmas present in 1980, the first Target books I owned, rather than loaning from the library. I might have seen it at the time (I was definitely watching the series by the time of the repeat of Planet of the Spiders) but my main memory comes from this novel – and then pirate videotapes that were circulating in the mid-1980s. Ian Marter brings a joyful flavour of pulp horror to this, which – considering this adaptation predates Alien, The Thing, The Fly etc – makes me wonder what his influences were: HP Lovecraft, is an obvious one; maybe R. Chetwynd-Hayes or Guy N Smith’s Night of the Crabs? It’s a definite conscious step towards horror fiction here though, and not even a child-friendly version either. 

The prologue details the first intrusion by a Wirrrn with foreboding (while an announced ‘second invasion’ turns out to be the Doctor, Sarah and Harry) and the bubble-wrap grub from TV becomes an amorphous ‘glob’ that drips from the ceilings and sparks with energy. Noah’s transformation is particularly gruey:

… with a crack like a gigantic seed pod bursting, his whole head split open and a fountain of green froth erupted and ran sizzling down the radiation suit, burning deep trenches in the thick material. 

I’m not giving stars or scores for these books, but this one really feels like it’s elevating an already excellent story. This Marter bloke is one to watch out for…