Chapter 37. Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng Chiang (1977)

Synopsis: A London music hall in the late 19th Century is the setting for murder. Its proprietor, Mr Henry Gordon Jago, has just secured the services of a master magician of Chinese origin while a mortician called Litefoot examines a body fished from the Thames and covered in huge bite marks. The Doctor and Leela follow the clues that lead them into the lair of a Chinese God…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Terror in the Fog
  • 2. The Horror in the River
  • 3. Death of a Prisoner
  • 4. The Monster in the Tunnel
  • 5. The Quest of Greel
  • 6. The Tong Attacks
  • 7. The Lair of Weng-Chiang
  • 8. The Sacrifice
  • 9. In the Jaws of the Rat
  • 10. A Plan to Kill the Doctor
  • 11. Death on Stage
  • 12. The Hunt for Greel
  • 13. The House of the Dragon
  • 14. The Prisoners of Greel
  • 15. The Firebomb

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1977 scripts by Robert Holmes, just seven months after they were broadcast.

Notes: The ghoulish woman on the dockside who (on telly) discovers the body of the cabby, Alf Buller, becomes an old man who wants his reward – until he sees the state of the mutilated body. The young woman who Leela saves from becoming a victim of Magnus Greel is named Teresa Hart and Dicks explains that she’s up in the small hours of the morning because she’s employed as a waitress in a gambling club across London in Mayfair – just in case there’s any possibility of some other reason why a woman might be walking the streets alone at that time of night.

As he did with the cuddly Yeti in The Abominable Snowmen, Dicks also solves the basic failure of the giant rat on TV, too clean and plodding in its original form, but now ‘huge and savage’ with red eyes’, a ‘trumpeting scream’ and ‘yellow fangs bared in fury’. 

The Doctor taunts Greel by offering him a jelly baby (although North American editions change this for a jelly bean – utter sacrilege!). On TV, the Doctor recalls that Mr Sin – aka ‘the Peking Homunculus’ – was given to the Icelandic Commissioner’s children as a toy, but ‘something went wrong’ and the thing was ‘almost’ the cause of World War Six, but here there’s a little more more detail: the homunculus was really a programmed assassin, which ‘massacred the Commissioner and all his family’, which then ‘set off’ the World War. We later learn that Magnus Greel was the inventor of Mr Sin and that he triggered the war intentionally. As part of a ‘Supreme Alliance’ of dictators, he was defeated at the Battle of Reykjavik and, branded a war criminal, used the time cabinet to flee with Mr Sin to 19th-Century China.

There’s a slight addition to the last scene, as Jago invites Litefoot to a ‘little tavern’ for a ‘celebratory libation’. And it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Cover: Jeff Cummins provides a wonderful composition of the Doctor in his Holmesian gear, holding a shotgun, while behind him are Mr Sin, a giant rat and a circular design evoking the sewer. This is his first cover for Target, even though The Mutants was published earlier – and apparently it was later stolen from his portfolio, never to return. The 1994 reprint boasted Alister Pearson’s final reprint cover (as this was also the final release of the original Target books run), featuring the Doctor, Greel, Mr Sin and the head of the ornate dragon-shaped ray gun.

Final Analysis: Recently, this story has come under attack for the unsettling undertones inherent in the very racist genre it takes its inspiration from. While much of the problems are still here – an assumption that all the Chinese population of Limehouse are opium addicts, Irish Casey having ‘a weakness for the bottle’ as well as the general racism of characters from the time – there’s one section that suggests Dicks was at least aware of certain ironies; as Jago appraises the great magician Chang, Dicks makes a dig at the casting in the TV serial:

Perhaps he really was from China as he claimed. After all he really was Chinese, unlike most Oriental magicians who were usually English enough once the makeup was off. 

But Dicks also spells out that Chang’s own stage persona, speaking in pidgin English, is an artifice he employs solely to appease his English audience’s expectations; in this version, it’s the audience who are very much at fault. 

The opening chapter feels like Malcolm Hulke has stepped in to provide some social context by focusing on the different strata within the audience of the Palace Theatre:

The body of the theatre and the Grand Circle above were filled with local people, tradesmen and their wives and families, bank clerks and shop assistants. High above in the top-most balcony, known as the ‘Gods,’ the poorer people were crowded onto hard wooden benches. Labourers, dock workers, soldiers and sailors, even some of the half starved unemployed – they’d all managed to scrape together a few coppers for the big night of the week.

It’s an atypical observation for Dicks, but there’s plenty of social commentary throughout the story. Professor Litefoot is from a ‘wealthy upper-class family’ and his ‘aristocratic relations’ have ceased trying to get him to relinquish his calling to do proper work in the East End, instead of pampering ‘silly women’ in Harley Street. Chang considers the workers of London as ‘peasants’ – but presumably this is a description that places himself on an equal level to them – all subjects to higher powers.

Chapter 10. Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen (1974)

Synopsis: Landing the Tardis in Tibet near the Det-sen monastery, the Doctor decides to return a holy relic, which he took receipt of three hundred years before. He’s quickly accused of murder by a zealous explorer called Travers, who’s hunting the legendary Yeti. But the Yeti that are roaming these hills are the real killers – and they’re robots controlled by someone within the monastery. 

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Secret of the Snows
  • 2. The Creature in the Cave
  • 3. Live Bait to Catch a Monster
  • 4. Jamie Traps a Yeti
  • 5. The Secret of the Inner Sanctum
  • 6. A Yeti Comes to Life!
  • 7. A Plan to Conquer Earth
  • 8. Revolt in the Monastery
  • 9. Attack of the Yeti
  • 10. Peril on the Mountain
  • 11. The Final Battle
  • 12. The Abominable Snowman

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the first Second Doctor novelisation based on the scripts by Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln.

Notes: Terrance Dicks gets his first go at the Second Doctor, who has ‘a gentle, rather comical face, and a shock of untidy black hair’, while Jamie is ‘a brawny youth in highland dress, complete with kilt’ and Victoria is ‘a small, dark girl dressed in the style of Earth’s Victorian age’. There’s also harkbacks to the origin stories for the companions. He tweaks the Yeti here to make them more like the ferocious ones seen in The Web of Fear, with glowing red eyes and a terrifying roar. He also adjusts a few of the character names, in deference to his Buddhist producer on the TV show, Barry Letts, to avoid using the names of real historical figures, and he expands the backstory of Travers: His nemesis is a Professor Walters); and Travers’ fated friend who’s killed early on (called simply ‘John’ onscreen) is here identified as his best / only friend, known as ‘Mackay’.

Cover & Illustrations: Chris Achilleos’s original cover showed a lovely Second Doctor head-shot (taken for The Three Doctors) with a small Jamie and Victoria cowering from a roaring Yeti and the Earth creating a lovely circular frame in the background. I had the 1983 edition with a roaring Yeti in the moonlight up a mountain and both covers used the same photo reference. The illustrations are again by Allan Willow and the standout one is where Jamie and Thomni smash the glowing spheres in the control room; there’s a lovely depth to it with the Doctor and Victoria just visible through the doorway. And that’s the only (tiny) illustration of the Doctor in the entire book.

Final Analysis: This is much more fun than the TV series. It’s largely helped by Dicks choosing to make the Yeti more like they were in the sequel, so they roar and claw and attack, rather than amble about and wiggle a bit. Padmasambvha is a less terrifying creation than on TV, we never forget that he is still a human struggling against the possession of the Great Intelligence, described here as having been ‘exiled’ from ‘another dimension’ (so who kicked him out?!). His final end is rather heartbreaking.

Chapter 3. Doctor Who and the Crusaders (1965)

Synopsis: The Doctor and his chums meet King Richard the Lionheart, his willful sister, Joanna, and his nemesis, Saladin.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Death in the Forest
  • 2. The Knight of Jaffa
  • 3. A New Scheherazade
  • 4. The Wheel of Fortune
  • 5. The Doctor in Disgrace
  • 6. The Triumph of El Akir
  • 7. The Will of Allah
  • 8. Demons and Sorcerers

Background: David Whitaker adapts his own scripts from a serial broadcast in March to April 1965, published by Frederick Muller Ltd in September 1965, first reprinted as a Target book in 1973. t followed The Web Planet on screen, so very early on, we have our first set of consecutive stories to be novelised.

Notes: The prologue gives us a short summary of what’s happened since the first book – and it is incredible. Apparently Susan had left the Tardis to live with David Cameron (!) and her place taken by Vicki, who we met in the previous volume. Ian and especially Barbara are now perfect physical specimens thanks to their travels and Barbara is now apparently ‘the admiration and desire of all who met her’ [see The Keys of Marinus and The Romans], but he’s foreshadowing future events too. Though it’s never explicit on screen, Ian and Barbara’s ‘destinies were bound up in each other’. There’s mention of an unseen adventure involving ‘the talking stones of the tiny planet Tyron in the seventeenth galaxy’ while Barbara and Vicki are playing Martian chess.

… and then Whitaker has the Doctor explain why they can explore all these alien worlds and interfere but they can’t change anything in Earth’s history. The examples he chooses from history – from Pompeii to John F Kennedy – are frank and somewhat surprising. And then, with some additional foreshadowing that really sets out Whitaker’s aims, we have this from the Doctor:

‘The next time we visit Earth,’ he said, ‘I hope we encounter a situation where two men are opposed to each other, each for the best reasons… ‘That is the only way to understand the folly, the stupidity and the horror of war. When both sides, in their own way, are totally right.’

Cover & Illustrations: Henry Fox’s original cover shows a raging crusader and the Tardis with a yellow background, while the Armada hardback by Mary Gernat shows the Doctor fleeing a crusader on a blue background. Chris Achilleos’s Target cover features the Doctor with a strong likeness of Julian Glover as King Richard. The 1975 White Lion hardback again pops Tom Baker in along and the one I first owned was the 1982 Andrew Skilleter cover shows the Tardis (I think it’s from an early Peter Davison photo). Henry Fox’s 15 illustrations are gorgeously melodramatic, in particular the image of Barbara about to be whipped.

Final Analysis: My surprise at the impressive prologue suggests that this is the first time I’ve read this book! As with the previous two volumes, this expands upon the scale of what could be achieved in Riverside Studio 1. In fact it’s hard to visualise a small studio set at all when there is such a sense of distance between each location. Whitaker develops the romance between Ian and Barbara, which gives the pair extra motivation to be reunited, although he also adds to the horror of Barbara’s experience by having El Akir whip her repeatedly, leaving her badly scarred (the death of El Akir is also more violent, strangled before his skull is dashed against a wall, rather than the more theatrically clean stabbing on telly). It’s a mature work, living up to the promise of the prologue by trying to present both sides of the war evenly and with Ian trying to explain how all religions have a basic central idea of a higher being.