Chapter 86. Doctor Who – The Dominators (1984)

Synopsis: An island in an ocean on the planet Dulkis. Survivors of war, the Dulcians are now complete pacifists. They have no concept of aggression, no understanding of what it takes to defend themselves. They are ill equipped to deal with the Dominators. Accompanied by their murderous robot servants the Quarks, the invaders see Dulkis merely as a resource to be exploited. And the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe must stop them.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Island of Death
  • 2. The Radiation Mystery
  • 3. The Assessment
  • 4. Heads in the Sand
  • 5. Slavery
  • 6. Fighting Back
  • 7. Buried Alive
  • 8. Clues
  • 9. Last Chances
  • 10. Desperate Remedies

Background: Ian Marter adapts the 1968 scripts credited to Norman Ashby (a pseudonym for Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln).

Notes: Dulkis is immediately diminished in importance; it’s  ‘pale, ochre-coloured’, and ‘an insignificant little planet which orbited an isolated minor star’. In contrast, everything about the Dominators is heightened to make them appear impressive:

They were human in form but towered more than two and a half metres in height. Their leathery features were starkly chiselled, with thin bloodless lips and deeply set red-rimmed eyes which burned with a cold green light beneath heavy brows. Their short hair was black and sleeked back, like a skullcap, from their shallow foreheads.The creatures were clad in protective suits consisting of black quilted material like rubber, armoured with small overlapping plates and built up around the shoulders so that they appeared to have no necks.

The Quarks too are much taller than the schoolboy-sized ones we see on telly, about two metres tall. The surface of their ball-shaped heads is covered with ‘a network of eyes and sensors’, while their arms have hand-like endings ‘bristling with sensors, sockets and implements’. They’re also a little bit more talkative.

Inside the War Museum, Jamie inspects a laser gun and it accidentally discharges, punching a hole into a door . There are four figures sat around a circular table (not two at a desk as on screen):

… their bodies frozen into grotesquely contorted positions. Their clothing was charred and rotten, here and there fused into a glassy lump with their roasted and flayed flesh. The eyeless faces were burned beyond recognition.

The Dulcians measure years in ‘annos’ and months in ‘lunars’. ‘Cully’ becomes ‘Kully’; at one point, he attempts to impersonate Jamie’s accent.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter gives us a Dominator and a Quark operating drilling equipment, while a huge oversized Quark fills the skyline. The 1991 reprint cover reuses Alister Pearson’s VHS artwork, with the Doctor flanked by pairs of Dominators and Quarks.

Final Analysis: It’s surprising that one of the most unsettling visual effects of its time – the fiery bubbling of Tolata’s skin as she’s blasted by a Quark – is reduced to an energy burst and a bloodless murder. I’d have expected Ian Marter to go all out on this, considering the gruesome description he gives to the dummies in the war room in a later scene. But this is a subtle work: Marter’s introduction places the impressive Dominator battleships soaring across space in formation near to quite the most boring-looking planet ever. In Chapter 4, we finally reach the Dulcian Capitol, where its citizens enjoy warmth from the planet’s ‘modest yellow sun’, there are galleries filled with ‘lush green vegetation’, small fountains that cast ‘fine shimmering sprays of purified water in myriad colours’. The Council Chambers are pastel shades, the elderly Councillors lounge in ‘padded reclining chairs’ with cushions, everything is soft, soothing and entirely non-threatening. In the space of a couple of paragraphs, we’re shown that Dukis has absolutely no defence against the trigger-happy invaders. It’s so much better than the story deserves, being a little one-note and thin on TV.

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 64. Doctor Who and the Enemy of the World (1981)

Synopsis: Salamander is a peacemaker. Salamander is a hero. And to some, Salamander is their saviour. But to all, he is a very dangerous man. The Doctor tries very hard not to get involved in politics, but the inconvenient truth is that he bears an uncanny resemblance to Salamander. With the help of Jamie and Victoria, he uncovers the man’s insane plans.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. A Day by the Sea
  • 2. The Doctor Takes a Risk
  • 3. Volcanoes
  • 4. Too Many Cooks
  • 5. Seeds of Suspicion
  • 6. The Secret Empire
  • 7. A Scrap of Truth
  • 8. Deceptions
  • 9. Unexpected Evidence
  • 10. The Doctor Not Himself

Background: Ian Marter adapts scripts by David Whitaker from 1968. Whitaker had begun work on the novel before his death in 1980 and had stated in his planned synopsis for the book that he would give himself a ‘free hand’ to adapt the story within the allotted word-count and also provided Salamander with a first name – Ramon!

Notes: The cover tells us that the story is set in 2030 – 50 years in the future of the book’s publication. The TARDIS materialises with ‘an unearthly grinding and howling sound’, which is as good a description as we’ll ever get. Victoria emerges from the time machine wearing a ‘faded Victorian dress’. The Doctor enthusiastically accepts the opportunity to impersonate Salamander (he’s much more reluctant on TV). Kent’s list of Salamander’s alleged political assassinations includes Jean Ferrier, Astrid’s father. The dossier Salamander has on Fedorin contains evidence that Fedorin has been involved in ‘elaborate interzonal fraud’ (which is the same charge he denies on screen). A few characters gain full names: Theodore Benik; Nicholas Fedorin; Fariah Neguib; and the survivors in the bunker are Colin Redmayne and Mary Smith. We lose the cute-but-unnecessary ‘disused Yeti?’ joke.

This volume’s ‘savage description of a living actor’ targets the amazing Milton Johns, who played Benik on TV. While the character is an utter monster, Marter takes every opportunity to describe him as physically repellent too:

He was shorter than Bruce, with a thin body and a face like the front of a skull. Short black hair straggled across his forehead in a ragged fringe and his large red ears stuck out slightly. Huge eyes burned in deep sockets and the small mouth was drawn tightly over the teeth.

He’s also said to have ‘mean eyes’ and a ‘malicious smile’ which spreads ‘gradually over his emaciated features’. When Benik is arrested, he is taken under armed guard to Geneva. The story ends with the time travellers safe and in anticipation of their next adventure (unlike the TV version, which ended on a cliffhanger).

Cover: Goodbye to the Bernard Lodge logo as it makes its last appearance here. Bill Donohoe’s cover shows Astrid and Kent at a set of controls in front of an exploding volcano. Alister Pearson’s 1993 reprint cover focuses on Salamander. Or is it the Doctor pretending to be Salamander? There’s a small initial in the composition, underneath the author’s own – SPS – which was fan Simon Sadler (I’m not tracking all of these by the way as even Alister himself doesn’t remember all of them but this came courtesy of mutual friend Gary Russell). Thanks to David J Howe’s book on the Target range, we can see some of the unused designs planned for this story, including a lovely one by Steve Kyte of Astrid and an exploding volcano.

Final Analysis: As ever, there’s no concession to younger readers here as Ian Marter relishes the opportunity to write up a political thriller. There’s the infamous use of adult language (‘That bastard Kent…’), and while it foregoes some of Marter’s usual violent descriptions, it also loses some of the joy from the serial – the Doctor paddles in the sea at the beginning rather than stripping down to long-johns and throwing himself in with gusto, while Victoria’s exchanges with the pompous chef are cut. I have to concede that this very straight-faced approach almost certainly played its part in Enemy of the World being brutally undervalued before it was rediscovered in 2013. At a guess, either the target audience were just too young for a political drama like this. Possibly those who dismissed this in favour of the more monster-focused stories of that era were swayed more by the dramatic cover of The Ice Warriors than its tedious contents. Whatever, this is still a solid adaptation of one of the best second Doctor stories.

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 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…