Chapter 132. Doctor Who – The Edge of Destruction (1988)

Synopsis: Trapped inside the TARDIS, Ian and Barbara are confronted by a disturbed Susan and an increasingly hostile Doctor as paranoia and anxiety swell. What has happened to bring on this switch? Can things return to normal, or are they stuck fast?

Chapter Titles

  • Introduction
  • Prologue
  • 1. Aftershock
  • 2. The Seeds of Suspicion
  • 3. Inside the Machine
  • 4. Trapped
  • 5. ‘Like a Person Possessed’
  • 6. The End of Time
  • 7. The Haunting
  • 8. Accusations
  • 9. The Brink of Disaster
  • 10. A Race Against Time
  • Epilogue
  • Conclusion

Background: Nigel Robinson adapts David Whitaker’s scripts for the 1964 two-part story, 24 years and three months after it was broadcast, making this the new record holder for biggest gap between transmission and publication. This also completes the run of adaptations from the first season.

Notes: The introduction provides Target’s third go at telling the ‘first’ story, bringing new readers up to scratch (and padding the book out a bit too). Miss Johnson, the secretary at Coal Hill School, had grown frustrated by the 15-year-old Susan Foreman’s inability to provide any official documentation for her identification. Barbara had been inclined to believe Susan’s claim that she and her grandfather had been abroad a lot. She also appreciated the girl’s passion for history, which was why she’d offered to provide her with extra tuition at home. The girl was ‘extraordinarily good at science and history’ but very poor at geography and English literature (she could quote huge passages of Shakespeare, but had never heard of Charles Dickens). She was also fluent in French, Latin and ancient Greek. The Doctor is said to be ‘a tall imperious septuagenarian with a flowing mane of white hair and a haughty demeanour’ (William Hartnell was 5’7″, so not exactly tall, and only 54). Later, the Doctor is said to have ‘steel-blue eyes’ (again, not matching the brown eyes of Hartnell). We’re also reminded of the group’s encounter with the Daleks (which also serves as a prompt that this is still very new to Ian and Barbara!) and that the Doctor had considered leaving the planet without Barbara, until Ian intervened.

In the prologue, Barbara wakes up in the darkened TARDIS control room but she thinks she’s back in the staff room of Coal Hill School. In the TARDIS ‘rest room’ is a bookshelf that contains ‘the great classics of Earth literature’:

... the Complete Works of Shakespeare (some of which were personally signed); Le Contrat Social of Rousseau; Plato’s The Republic; and a peculiar work by a French philosopher called Fontenelle on the possibility of life on other planets (that one had always made the Doctor chuckle). Susan’s English teacher at Coal Hill would have been interested to note that there was nothing by Charles Dickens in the Doctor’s library.

Among the Doctor’s accumulated bric-a-brac are a Chippendale chaise longue, a collection of Ming vases from China and a lost portrait by Leonardo da Vinci. The TARDIS ‘power room’ is a series of ‘fifteen interconnected rooms containing all the machinery and power sources which operated the TARDIS’. Susan tells the schoolteachers that the alien world seen on the scanner is called ‘Quinnius’ (it’s ‘Quinnis’ on telly). Barbara recognises the English countryside shown on the scanner as the Malvern Hills Both Ian and Barbara separately explore the long corridors within the TARDIS and Susan admits that there are still rooms within her grandfather’s ship that she is yet to explore. Barbara discovers a laboratory, but an unseen force starts throwing objects at her to drive her away and only when she explains this to Susan does she learn that the laboratory contains radioactive isotopes that could have killed her without a protective suit. 

    Susan tries to placate the schoolteachers, asking them to be patient with her grandfather. 

… you don’t know the terrible sort of life he’s had. He’s never had any reason to trust strangers before when even old friends have turned against him in the past; it’s so difficult for him to start now… But you and Ian are both good people; please, try and forgive him.

Barbara noticed that Susan has started to call them by their first names (something that occurs gradually on screen during the events of The Daleks). The Doctor’s thought processes are revealed as he sits alone in the TARDIS control room, realising that Barbara’s words are the key to the solution.

The TARDIS ‘danger signal’ sounds like the tolling of ‘a huge bronze bell’, which reminds Barbara of the John Donne line, ‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee’ [a subtle retconning of the weird noise heard in the TV episodes to bring it in line with the Cloister bell heard for the first time in Logopolis, and many times after]. While on TV, the event that threatens the TARDIS is the birth of a new solar system, here it’s the formation of a galaxy (and not, as Ian suggests, the Big Bang). The Doctor’s big speech is more detailed than on TV (suggesting it might have been edited on the fly by William Hartnell). The conclusion leads neatly into the next adventure (Marco Polo) and specifically states that the schoolteachers’ first meeting with the Doctor took place on a November night.

Cover: Deceptively simple-looking, Alister Pearson’s wonderfully stark cover combines the whiteness of the TARDIS control room with the Doctor’s flowing locks. 

Final Analysis: Such a difficult story to dramatise, as it relies so much on general weirdness and vamping for two episodes until the rather flimsy solution is revealed. While adding to the general layout of the TARDIS, Robinson takes the opportunity to create areas to explore that still key into the general idea that the TARDIS is trying to guide them all to safety (if only they’d stop wandering off!). It’s not an easy read – it really does lack a tangible threat – but in his final book for the range, Robinson does the absolute best he can with the material available.

Chapter 123. Doctor Who – The Rescue (1988)

Synopsis: A spaceship from Earth has crashed onto the planet Dido, the only survivors are Bennett, whose legs were crippled in the accident, and the orphaned girl Vicki. As Bennett spends most of his time locked in his room, it falls to Vicki to look after him and welcome occasional visits from a terrifying native of the planet called Koquillion. Then another craft lands, containing three travellers from Earth. Koquillion tells Vicki that the newcomers have been killed – but Vicki knows this isn’t true as one of them is hiding in her cabin. Why did Koqillion lie? 

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • Chapters One to Fifteen
  • Epilogue

Background: Published 15 months after his death, and with final amendments by range editor Nigel Robinson, Ian Marter’s final novel, an adaptation of David Whitaker’s 1964 scripts, came 22 years and seven months after the story’s broadcast. With his tenth book for the range (including Harry Sullivan’s War), Marter here became the second most prolific author of the novelisations after Terrance Dicks.

Notes: Range Editor Nigel Robinson writes a brief note at the start of the book to acknowledge the death of Ian Marter (which might have come as a shock to any fans who weren’t readers of Doctor Who Magazine). He dedicates the novel to Ian’s fans. A prologue reveals events prior to the start of the TV episode. The ship taking Vicki and the other passengers to Earth is renamed the Astra Nine. It crash landed on Dido three months ago and a rescue ship from Earth – The Seeker – is 69 hours away. Its crew, including an American called Weinberger, a young trainee called Oliphant and the Commander, Smith, are restless and playing games to pass the time, when a tall blue box narrowly avoids collision with them (and we’ll return to them later in the novel). Aboard the wreck of the Astra Nine, Vicki has ‘a pale, almost fragile face’:

She had huge eyes with fine eyebrows arched high at the outer corners giving her an air of alert surprise. Her short cropped hair, oval face and small mouth suggested Joan of Arc, and her nose was definitely Norman. Her simple short-sleeved dress and her dirty bare feet made her look even more like the Maid of Orleans.

The other survivor, Bennett, has ‘long black hair reached almost to his shoulders’ and his beard is ‘trimmed in the Spanish style’. 

The light on top of the TARDIS continues to flash dimly after landing (as it did on screen). The interior is ‘spotless’ and there’s a dark screen set into one of the walls. Barbara is described as a ‘slim shapely woman with a mass of thick black hair’ in the ‘high lacquered style of the 1960s’. She has ‘strong features’, ‘firmly arched eyebrows and a wide mouth’ while her ‘tightly fitting black cardigan and slacks’ give her ‘a rather formal, austere air which matched her direct, independent manner’. Ian is also slim, his short dark hair has a ‘neat parting in the mod style’. He looks ‘conventional’, but ‘his bright eyes suggested determination and a touch of mischief’. His short jacket and narrow tapered trousers make him look ‘like a bank clerk’.

The Doctor looks to be in his ‘late sixties’ (ie a decade older than the actor who played him!). 

His long, snow white hair was brushed severely back from his proud, hawkish face. His grey eyes were pale but fiercely intense and his thin lips drew down at the corners in a disapproving way. The imperious effect of his beaklike nose, which gave him a rather remote and superior air was accentuated by his hollow cheeks and his flaring nostrils. But his clothes were shabby. He wore a starched wing collar shirt with a meticulously-tied cravat, a brocaded waistcoat and a pair of sharply creased checked trousers.

He recalls that Susan is ‘no longer with us’ (hopefully a literal rather than existential description) while Ian and Barbara ponder how she’s getting on and are reassured that she was left in the care of David. The Doctor remembers that Dido is the thirteenth planet in the ‘rotating binary star system Proxima Gemini in the Galaxy Moore Eleven, Subcluster Tel’. Later, the Doctor describes the planet’s figure-of-eight orbit around its two suns, which accounts for repeatedly drastic reductions of the planet’s population, who he calls the ‘Didoi’.

Koquillian is blessed with an impressively detailed description from head to toe that hint at the true nature of the beast:

It walked on two legs like a human, but its horrific head was like the head of some gigantic bird of prey or some colossal insect combined into an almost mechanical hybrid by an evil genius. Its great globular eyes glowed red, protruding at the end of thick tubular stalks. Its domed skull bristled with stubby antennae, some sharply pointed like probes or stings, others gaping open like suckers. The creature’s beak was guarded by two enormous horizontal fangs curving inwards from the sides of its squat, segmented neck. The horny carapace of its body glistened as if it were sweating a viscous oily gum. Its long simian arms ended in vicious pincers like the claws of a crustacean, while its feet were also clawlike but much larger, scouring and ripping the sandy floor with convulsive ferocity. The thing’s raucous breath seemed to issue from flapping leathery lips, forced through congested chambers and strangled tubing deep within the armoured chest.

We’re also treated to the traditional ‘movie version’ of a creature that was less impressive on telly:

Its vast head was the size of a small room and it tossed savagely from side to side as if trying to tear the stale air apart... The enormous jaws were armed not with teeth but with curving scimitar gums as sharp as blades. On each side of the head was a giant luminous red eye whose dilated pupil enabled the beast to see quite easily in its dark habitat. Around the thick neck there was a kind of ruff of bony spines alternating with weblike plates. The creature’s massive body was plated and hinged like that of an armadillo or a rhinoceros, and its dry horny skin, pitted and grooved, was the colour of the sand itself. The monster’s thick legs were so short that its belly dragged perpetually along the ground and its long tail thrashed the sand like a whip.

The Doctor compares the noise of the sand beast below to a Wagnerian aria, but he doesn’t know Edgar Allan Poe when Ian references him. When they find the body of Vicki’s monstrous pet, the Doctor realises he knows the creature, a silicodon, a species found only on Dido and ‘a planet called Sokol in one of the Willoughby galaxies’. Unseen by Koquillian, a pair of Didoi appear much earlier than the finale – and with a much more alien physiognomy. They have long heads that taper to ‘narrow jaws set on slender necks’. Their faces are flat and smooth with ‘faintly sparkling flecks on the skin’ and their eyes look like large, circular green gleams. 

Asked why she and her father left Earth, Vicki explained that the planet was suffering because of the ‘greenhouse effect’, a notion that was ever present in the late-1980s but less so in Ian’s time (he makes a point of noting the information in case it might be useful if he should ever return home). As Ian and Vicki try to rescue Barbara, their progress is blocked by a huge worm, about 15 metres long, with a ‘glistening spherical head’, burning red eyes and yawning pink mouth. It leaves a sticky trail that attaches to Barbara’s shoes and makes a sound like ‘spitting fat in a pan’. As they continue into the caverns to find the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki discover the remnants of the Didoi civilisation made of glass and metal, including a colossal tower in the centre of an amphitheatre, surrounded by ‘dozens of slender bridges radiating out like the spokes of a gigantic wheel’. They follow the silver Didoi, who bring the Doctor to safety and leave him outside of the TARDIS. Unusually, the literal cliffhanger ending of the TV story is preserved.

The crew of The Seeker speculate that the blue cabinet that they saw might be of Chinese origin, knowing that there’s a mission from China on its way to ‘Geldof Eight’, which is less than a light year away from Dido. In the epilogue, it’s revealed that the Didoi (a male and a female) were ‘killed during encounter with support group personnel before any contact established’.

Cover: The first of two pieces of cover art by Tony Clark, this very green cover shows Koquillion and the Doctor with Sandy the Sand Beast, along with the face from a Didoan sculpture.

Final Analysis: He was the first author to tackle a two-part story and it’s fitting that another two-part adventure ends up being Ian Marter’s final entry for Target. According to Nigel Robinson, Marter’s original submission was riddled with innuendo and an obsession with the number ‘sixty nine’ (which survives only in the opening chapter). Following the lead of other authors, Marter makes the relationship between the Doctor and Ian much more antagonistic, not quite as affectionately teasing as on telly. It’s also clear that, unlike the other authors of the monochrome era, Marter has watched a videotape of the story before writing as he includes a few details (such as the TARDIS lamp flashing long after materialisation) that wouldn’t be evident from the script alone. As we’d hope, where he really succeeds is in making this the film version of what’s a particularly small-scale adventure, with the planet populated by huge, savage and drooling beasts and the tiny TV-studio caves replaced by vast caverns big enough to enclose the lost city of the Didoi. But it’s in the epilogue that he delivers a gut-punch, as a report from the Seeker back to Earth reveals the fate of those peaceful Didoi (yes, the Doctor was right all along). They conclude their report: ‘Happy Christmas. Peace on Earth. Goodwill to all persons.’

Heartbreaking. As is the fact that this is the last of Ian Marter’s novels. By this time, we’d lost Malcolm Hulke, Bryan Hayles and David Whitaker already, but somehow there’s a real sense that Ian would have continued his close connections to Doctor Who for years to come, perhaps as an author of the Virgin New and Missing Adventures. And 42 seems ridiculously young.

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 94. Doctor Who – Marco Polo (1985)

Synopsis: The Venetian explorer Marco Polo meets four travellers stranded with their strange blue caravan – a box that that he immediately realises will make a splendid gift for the great Kublai Khan. On their long journey, the strangers become friends as they share stories of many cultures, but their journey is fraught with danger, not only from a hostile environment but also from within the party as a traitor schemes against them.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Roof of the World
  • 2. Emissary of Peace
  • 3. Down to Earth
  • 4. Singing Sands
  • 5. Desert of Death
  • 6. A Tale of Hashashins
  • 7. Five Hundred Eyes
  • 8. Wall of Lies
  • 9. Too Many Kan-Chow Cooks
  • 10. Bamboozled
  • 11. Rider from Shang-Tu
  • 12. Runaway
  • 13. Road to Karakorum
  • 14. Mighty Kublai Khan
  • 15. Gambler
  • 16. Best-Laid Schemes
  • 17. Key to the World

Background: John Lucarotti adapts his own scripts for the series broadcast in 1964, so stealing the record from himself and The Aztecs for the biggest gap between broadcast and novelisation at 20 years, eight months and a week.

Notes: A new opening scene sees Susan give a temperature in centigrade and Ian calculates the fahrenheit equivalent. Ian opens the TARDIS door, then shuts it quickly (suggesting that the doors are the same as those on the exterior of the ship) and jokes that they can’t be in the Alps because there’s no yodelling. The Doctor also gives a clearer reason for staying outside of the ship (it will act like a ‘cold storage room’ and kill them). He introduces his granddaughter as ‘Susan Foreman’ (!) and both she and Ping-Cho are 15 years old (not 16 like on TV). Once again, the Doctor uses a pen torch [see The Aztecs]. Susan mentions the TARDIS ‘water producer’. Surprisingly, the device of Marco’s journal is not used; instead, some of the events he describes are expanded upon. 

Ping-Cho learns of the death of her husband-to-be as soon as she arrives at the Imperial Palace. The Empress notices exchanged glances between Ping-Cho and the Captain, Ling-Tau; she urges Kublai Khan to promote the captain so he might be of sufficient rank to be a husband to Ping-Cho. Tegana doesn’t get to commit suicide; he’s shot dead by Ling-Tau with an arrow that kills him instantly. There’s no swift escape to the TARDIS at the end either. Kublai Khan invites the Doctor to stay as his personal secretary, but he declines and says a relaxed goodbye to him, Marco and Ping-Cho before leaving in the TARDIS. Kublai Khan dubs the key to the TARDIS the ‘Key to the World’ and has it placed on a gold chain (unaware that it’s the Doctor’s spare). The Key is said to lie in a museum that was once the imperial palace.

Cover: David McAllister returns with a painted composition of Marco Polo, Tegana, Pingo Cho and Kublai Khan, along with some other elements that apparently come from an entirely different production called Marco Polo from the 1980s. It’s nice to see accurate resemblences to actors Mark Eden, Zienia Merton and Derren Nesbitt here.

Final Analysis: John Lucarroti’s second novel and it’s as much of a jolly history lesson as the first, with additional highly detailed descriptions of various menus. Obviously, each of the locations is grander than the sets in Lime Grove could have allowed and also we get a real sense of the time passing, as each chapter adds days onto the journey, which lasts around 40 days in all. It might lack the fun and melodrama of monsters of robots, but it’s a rare story that truly allows us to step into a culture and enjoy various aspects of it.

Chapter 88. Doctor Who – The Aztecs (1984)

Synopsis: Emerging from a hidden doorway in a temple, Barbara is mistaken for the Aztec God Yetaxa and finds it difficult to refuse the role. As the Doctor tries to regain access to the temple and return to the TARDIS, Barbara learns the difficult lesson that she cannot change history. Not one line of it!

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Coiled Serpent
  • 2. Yetaxa the God
  • 3. Chosen Warriors
  • 4. Sacrifice to Tlaloc
  • 5. Perfect Victim
  • 6. Thorn of Doom
  • 7. No Holds Barred
  • 8. Cups of Cocoa
  • 9. Bride of Sacrifice
  • 10. Offence and Retribution
  • 11. Crawl, Swim, Climb
  • 12. Wall of Deception
  • 13. False God
  • 14. Day of Darkness
  • 15. Eclipse

Background: John Lucarotti adapts his own scripts for the series broadcast in 1964. Published a week after its 20th anniversary, The Aztecs now holds the crown for the biggest gap between first transmission and novelisation. It’s also the first historical story to be adapted since The Crusaders, some 19 years earlier.

Notes: We begin with a new scene inside the TARDIS with little explanation of who the characters are or what the TARDIS is. Susan is said to be still 15 years old, while Ian is 28 and a ‘scientist’ (not a science teacher’). When the Doctor asks for a screwdriver (a normal screwdriver!) to fix a panel on the TARDIS ‘control desk’, Ian jokes that they might land on Earth in the 1980s and get help form an aerospace factory; it’s a curiously specific reference for a man from 1963. Barbara specialised in Aztec history at university and her brief summary for Susan of Mexican civilisation is a lot more heavy-handed than it is on screen. She guesses that they’re at some point in history between 1430 and 1519, and the Doctor is able to confirm it’s 17 May, 1507. We might pause to ponder how the TARDIS can produce a date so accurate when it’s 75 years before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, but this story’s already threatening us with a huge history lesson, so let’s just ignore the issue and move on. 

Cameca is ‘a grey-haired, pleasant-faced, plumpish woman in her mid fifties’. The architect of the temple, Topau, is renamed ‘Chapal’. On the night that he meets the Doctor in the garden, Ian wears ‘only a warrior’s loin-cloth and sandals’. Ixta is startled by the Doctor’s electronic torch when he sees Ian use it, wondering if it’s ‘magic’. It was Ixta’s ‘father’s father’ who originally built the secret tunnel that is used to irrigate the garden (it’s his father on TV – and see later). Ian has a much more arduous trek through the secret tunnel, including a climb up a vertical shaft using crumbling footholds. He finds the remains of a body – which he correctly assumes is that of Ixta’s father – in the tunnel and soon discovers that the man must have fallen to his death when a foothold in the shaft gave way beneath his foot; Ian also correctly deduces that he himself was at risk of drowning because of Ixta deliberately opening the sluice. The Doctor tells Barbara of his suspicion that Ian has drowned, shortly before Ian finds them both (on telly, Barbara already knows Ian is safe by the time the Doctor reaches her). 

It’s a lot clearer that the Doctor feels utterly wretched for exploiting Cameca’s affection purely to gain access to the temple. As Cameca offers to help restore Autloc’s faith in Barbara, the Doctor is moved by her devotion and muses ‘in another world, in another time’ – but it’s definitely not the romantic relationships some fans imagine. Barbara has a long discussion with Autloc about the ‘schizophrenic’ nature of the Aztecs and her words remind him of a legend he has heard of a man from a foreign land who spoke of a ‘gentleness and love’ who was crucified, as the Aztecs do with their criminals. The climactic fight scene between Ixta and Ian is replaced by something wittier but also just as brutal, as Ian reflects light into his opponent’s eyes, which makes Ixta topple backwards and fall to his death. The scene leading into The Sensorites is, unsurprisingly, cut.

Cover: Featuring the last appearance of the coloured Target logo, Nick Spender’s first cover depicts a man with a dagger (Tlotoxl possibly?), a temple and a giant golden mask, as the TARDIS materialises. A 1992 reprint cover uses Andrew Skilleter’s VHS cover art, showing Tlotoxyl and the Doctor amid some Aztec pyramids.

Final Analysis: John Lucarotti provides a fairly loose adaptation of his own story, clearly written from the original scripts but with a relaxed approach to sticking rigidly to the text. He’s also done a lot of research and is happy to let us know it, but unlike some of the authors from the early 80s, there’s no showboating here; we’re just exposed to the history of an ancient and brutal culture – even the cuisine – of a time in Earth’s history that’s as alien to the modern reader as that of Peladon or Skaro. The descriptions of torture are particularly graphic; at one point, Tlotoxyl tells Barbara that Susan will have her eyes gouged out. I might lament that the original TV version didn’t give us the chance to hear how WIlliam Hartnell might have approached a name like ‘Huitzilipochtli’ but Lucarotti’s undiluted approach makes the story all the richer. I read this novel for the first time here and we’re now entering a period where I suspect there are more books I’ve not previously read than I have. 

Chapter 65. Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child (1981)

Synopsis: A thing that looks like a police box, standing in a junkyard. Home to a secretive old man and his strange granddaughter. Two schoolteachers allow curiosity to lead them into a terrifying journey back to a time where the greatest power is the ability to make fire, and the second greatest is merely to survive.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Girl Who Was Different
  • 2. Enter the Doctor
  • 3. The TARDIS
  • 4. The Dawn of Time
  • 5. The Disappearance
  • 6. The Cave of Skulls
  • 7. The Knife
  • 8. The Forest of Fear
  • 9. Ambush
  • 10. Captured
  • 11. The Firemaker
  • 12. Escape into Danger

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Anthony Coburn’s scripts for the very first TV story. At 17 years, ten months and three or so weeks, this is now the record holder for the longest gap between broadcast of a story and release of the novelisation. Though this record will be broken a few times more in the future, this book can lay claim to another odd record in that the novelisation was released 18 days prior to being repeated in full for the first time.

Notes: We learn from the policeman in the opening scene that the old man who recently became the proprietor of the junkyard in Totter’s Lane has disappeared, along with his granddaughter and two teachers from a local school – so the rest of the story here is told in flashback (and the later flashback to Susan in the classroom is flashing even further back!). We briefly meet Susan in the first Coal Hill School scene as she waits for Miss Wright to fetch the book, and she’s ‘tall for her age, with short dark hair framing a rather elfin face’. Apparently Barbara Wright doesn’t ‘stand for any nonsense’ and Terrance Dicks gives her a rather balanced but critical appraisal: 

Someone had once said, rather unkindly, that Barbara Wright was a typical schoolmistress. She was dark-haired and slim, always neatly dressed, with a face that would have been even prettier without its habitual expression of rather mild disapproval. 

There was undeniably some truth in the unkind remark. Barbara Wright had many good qualities, but she also had a strong conviction that she knew what was best, not only for herself but for everyone else. It suited her temperament to be in charge. 

Ian in contrast is said to be ‘a cheerful, open-faced young man… about as different in temperament from Barbara Wright as could be imagined.’ Ian teaches Science and Mathematics, which explains why he sets his class a problem involving the dimensions ‘a, b and c’. When Barbara tells Ian about Susan’s mistake over decimal currency, she adds that ‘The United States and most European countries have a decimal system’, but Susan then claims ‘You’ll change over in a few years’ time!’ Susan explains that TARDIS stands for ‘Time and Relative Dimension in Space’ (singular) as on TV [see The Daleks, The Time Meddler and others]. As he removes his jacket in the TARDIS control room, the Doctor has the impression of ‘a family solicitor from some nineteenth-century novel’. When Barbara calls him ‘Doctor Foreman’, the Doctor confesses that he stole that name from the gates of the junkyard and suggests ‘It might be best if you were to address me simply as Doctor’. Most helpful of him, even if he then acts as if he’s never heard the name when Ian uses it in the next chapter!

It’s confirmed that Za is the son of Old Mother, who he saved from being cast out by the Tribe (as is their custom) after the death of his father, Gor after (it’s presumed, but not confirmed) a hunting accident. This act of kindness was viewed by the old woman as weakness, hence why she undermines him at every opportunity.

The final chapter is called ‘Escape into Danger’. It ends with a foreshadowing of the next adventure, on a wartorn planet called Skaro – home of the Daleks!

Cover: The first cover to use the Sid Sutton-designed ‘neon’ logo from the TV show, with metallic foil effect on the first edition’s logo, and with a red flash across the corner to tell us this is the ‘First publication of the very first Doctor Who story’. It’s such a simple cover really, as Andrew Skilleter recreates the set of the junkyard from a photo now believed to be lost. It could have done with being set at night, but the details are very satisfying as this cover is now our best view of that very cluttered set. A 1990 reprint used Alister Pearson’s VHS cover and it’s beautifully simplistic. Taking its inspiration from the cover art for Queen’s The Miracle (1989), Pearson merges the Doctor and Susan so they share an eye, positioned above a rocky landscape where the TARDIS is materialising.

Final Analysis: Terrance had just two weeks to complete this, to tie in with the ‘Five Faces of Doctor Who’ repeats, on the suggestion of producer John Nathan-Turner. It was also the first novelisation in six months, due to a writers’ strike that Terrance felt compelled to honour. There’s a Reithian hand at work here, as Terrance guides the young Target reader through some fairly alien concepts: Through the police officer in the opening scene, we learn that police boxes used to be a common sight on British streets and the policeman speculates that they might soon be phased out in favour of individual walkie-talkies; Ian tries to remember what kind of animals might have existed in the time of the cavemen, such as mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers, but making the point that there’d be no dinosaurs as ‘that was a common mistake’; and of course, Anthony Coburn’s original script included a means to make fire that every eager Scout or pyromaniac should know.

One other lovely detail is how Dicks describes Kal as having a ‘short jutting beard’. It’s the kind of description Malcolm Hulke might have used for the same purpose, as later, when the time travellers’ escape route is cut off by tribesmen, their leader is said to have a ‘short jutting beard’ – the viewers would recognise him as Kal, but the travellers wouldn’t, yet – so the reader is given this subtle clue. There’s one small issue with the first edition though – as Za enters the clearing and hears a low growl behind him; it’s such an amazing paragraph that it was repeated a few lines later… oops!

So we now have a novel of the first story, which leads directly into the next – the novel of which is hugely contradictory as we’ve already seen. Heaven help anyone trying this pilgrimage in broadcast order. Much better this way!

Chapter 59. Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus (1980)

Synopsis: A huge pyramid surrounded by a sea of acid. Inside is Arbitan, sole protector of the Conscience of Marinus, a powerful computer that can control minds. The Doctor and his fellow travellers agree to help Arbitan locate a set of keys for the machine, which have been hidden in different locations across the planet. So begins a deadly quest for the time travellers that will involve mind-controlling brains in jars, killer plants, a frozen tundra and a trial for murder. All the while, they are unaware that Arbitan’s enemy, Yartek, leader of the Voord, has captured the pyramid and now lies in wait for their return with the keys…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Sea of Death
  • 2. The Marble City
  • 3. The Velvet Web
  • 4. The Brains of Morphoton
  • 5. The Screaming Jungle
  • 6. The Whispering Darkness
  • 7. The Snows of Terror
  • 8. The Demons
  • 9. Sentenced!
  • 10. The Mystery of the Locked Room
  • 11. The Missing Key
  • 12. Arbitan’s Revenge
  • 13. Final Goodbyes

Background: Philip Hinchcliffe adapts Terry Nation’s 1964 scripts, during a period when the story titles for Hartnell’s stories had not been agreed on by consensus, so the title page states that this is an adaptation of Terry Nation’s ‘The Sea of Death’.  So far, this is the biggest gap between the broadcast of a story and its release as a novel, at 16 years, three months and one week. It’s also been three years and 29 books since the publication of a First Doctor story under the Target banner.

Notes: Time is measured in zeniths in inter-galactic time. The Voord submersible pods are BXV sub-oceanic assault craft. Apparently, Barbara suffers from space-time travel sickness and she believes human bodies are not built for time travel – or at least hers isn’t. Hinchcliffe describes the inside of the TARDIS thus:

They were inside a large hexagonal-shaped control room with white hexagonal-patterned walls. A hexagonal console in the middle of the room supported a transparent cylindrical column which moved slowly up and down when the ship was in flight. 

The Doctor has ‘mischievous blue eyes’ (unlike Harnell’s own, which were brown). Barbara and Ian’s first meeting with the Doctor and Susan is summarised and we’re told that the TARDIS can ‘change its appearance like a chameleon’. Ian is still wearing a ‘Chinese jacket’ that he picked up ‘the court of Kublai Kahn’ [sic], which we’re told ‘undermined his air of schoolmasterly interest’. 

The Voord have webbed hands and feet, they’re the same shape as a man, but stronger and more agile:

Its skin was dark and rubbery, its bulletshaped head smooth and devoid of features except for two frog-like eyes and a snoutish protuberance like corrugated piping. The head was flanked by two flat, pointed lugs. The face as a whole faintly resembled that of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of Egyptian mythology. The creature, however, was far from being any sort of god. It was, in fact, a Class I Voord Assault Trooper, programmed to kill enemy life-forms on sight!

The word ‘programmed’ suggests at least some degree of robotic or artificial intelligence. Yartek developed an immuniser that enabled the Voord to ‘rob and cheat, kill and exploit’; Arbitan’s people were helpless as the Conscience made them incapable of violent resistance. Susan calculates that Arbitan’s temple is a couple of miles all round, while Barbara’s comparison from the TV version of the temple to those of the Egyptians and South Americans is given to Ian for some reason. Vasor is said to be like a ‘Breughel peasant’, which suggests he should have been down an alley, puking. Yartek is said to smile and his face has ‘bulbous eyes’, so he doesn’t quite look like his TV counterpart.

Cover: David McAllister’s first contribution to the range is both beautifully painted and disappointingly bland – the TARDIS hovers in space above a generic planet. Were they too squeamish to attempt one of the Brains of Morphoton for this? As the policy of the time was to avoid having older Doctors on the cover, this might have limited their options, so having the iconic TARDIS might have seemed more marketable, but it’s a shame as we could have had something rivalling Alun Hood’s Terror of the Autons cover for sheer horror.

Final Analysis: 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. Aside from maybe an episode at a convention in the mid-1980s, I’m not sure if I saw the TV story for more than a decade later, so it’s Hinchcliffe’s version that was imprinted on my mind, alongside The Daleks, as what Hartnell’s Doctor was really like. Good going, considering the Doctor himself is missing for half of the story and Ian is, as on TV, very much the lead character. This is Hinchcliffe’s final novel for the range and it’s such a weird choice for him, but it’s every bit the Boy’s Own adventure that was at the heart of his time as producer (including what feels very much like the belittling of Barbara to elevate Ian more), so it’s perhaps not as surprising as it first appears. It faithfully adapts Terry Nation’s scripts, which acted as a template for what the series would quickly become. It has a quest (although after all those Key to Time novels, that’s not necessarily a positive); four alien lands with hostile environments; repulsive monsters; selfish antagonists who are more than a bit rapey; and a trial! At the end, the Big Bad Wolf-style villain is revealed to be rather disappointing, but as this is Hinchcliffe, the description of Yartek’s demise is much, much nastier than the fade-to-white we saw on TV.