Chapter 136. Doctor Who – The War Machines (1989)

Synopsis: The white heat of British technology is evident in the impressive new tower in the heart of London. At the top sits a powerful super-computer – WOTAN – enabling rapid communication across the world. The computer’s inventor, Professor Brett, is in fact a servant of WOTAN, helping the machine to build a fleet of mobile battle-tanks. Soon, the War Machines appear on the streets of London – and the Doctor is required…

Chapter Titles

  • 1 The Home-Coming
  • 2 The Super-Computer
  • 3 A Night Out
  • 4 Servant turned Master
  • 5 Putting the Team Together
  • 6 Working for the Cause
  • 7 A Demonstration of Power
  • 8 The One Who Got Away
  • 9 Attack and Defence
  • 10 Taking to the Streets
  • 11 Setting the Trap
  • 12 The Showdown
  • 13 We Can’t Stay Long

Background: Ian Stuart Black adapts his own scripts for the 1966 story, 22 years and seven months after it aired. On transmission, Kit Pedler was credited as having been responsible for the idea of the story, though it’s still not clear how much of this was just a PR exercise from the production team to highlight their science-based aspirations; if the idea was no more than ‘a computer at the top of the new Post Office Tower’, this wouldn’t be sufficient to lay a claim to a share of the copyright, which might also explain the lack of a credit for Pedler at the front of this book.

Notes: The opening chapter sees Dodo helping the Doctor to steer the TARDIS to its next destination (a task she’s inherited from the recently departed Steven). The Doctor can apparently ‘predict exactly where they would materialise’ [we can look to the start of The Savages for why this might now be the case, as he has time to calculate their exact position in the universe for possibly the first time in a while]. Seeing the name ‘Carnaby Street’ on the TARDIS monitor, Dodo reacts as if the street is brand new; it first appeared on documentation in the 1680s and it had been a destination for jazz fans since 1934, slowly transforming into a string of boutiques by about the time Dodo absconded aboard the TARDIS (as a schoolgirl, she was probably too young for it to have appeared on her radar). 

It’s the Doctor, not Dodo, who realises that the new construction in the centre of London is ‘finished’ and he observes that it’s called the ‘Post Office Tower’, though ‘in all probability they would change that name’; opened to the public in May 1966, just two months before the broadcast of the first episode of The War Machines on TV, the building became the ‘British Telecom Tower’ in the mid-1980s before settling on ‘The BT Tower’ in the 90s. William Hartnell’s fluff of the word ‘sense’ to ‘scent’ becomes the Doctor’s intention all along, prompting Dodo to make a joke about London fog. Curiously, Dodo doesn’t know what a milk bar is (they existed in her time and a girl from London would know, but she’s acting as an agent for the reader here). The Doctor is said to be wearing a ‘velvet jacket’.

The duo head to a nearby cafe, where the Doctor speculates that his former companion Ian Chesterton will have become something of note in the world of science and in all probability had something to do with training the staff at the new Tower – and it turns out he’s entirely correct! The Doctor fakes documents that provide him with an introduction, a minor act of subterfuge that then enables him and Dodo to investigate the operations at the top of the Tower – and his credentials are checked and verified by Major Green. Professor Brett has heard Ian Chesterton speak of the Doctor often.

Polly is ‘an attractive girl with long blonde hair and blue eyes’ and she wears a very short skirt that shows off ‘her long and shapely legs’. Dodo thinks that she and Polly might be ‘about the same age – not that Dodo was too sure what her own age was nowadays’ (Dodo was a schoolgirl of about 15 when she first entered the TARDIS and Polly is at least 18 – she’ll have had to attend secretarial school – so that’s a sizeable age gap of Dodo’s for Big Finish to cover there). Polly offers to take Dodo to a new club, The Inferno, which is in Long Acre (that’s a swift 20-minute walk there – and 20 minutes back – so she apparently wangles an early finish on the Friday before the project’s big launch (miraculous in itself!). WOTAN says that ‘The Doctor is required’, not ‘Doctor Who’ as on telly. Spoilsport.

The War Machines have names, not numbers, and the one captured by the Doctor is called Valk. It has no weapons, so the Doctor installs an automatic rifle. Polly and Ben force their way aboard the TARDIS because they feel he’s trying to get rid of them – and not because they’re returning his key.

Cover: You really wouldn’t want much more from this cover – a lovely shot of the Doctor, a War Machine and the Post Office Tower, with a close-up of WOTAN’s control panel in the background, broadcasting concentric circles of radio waves. Alister Pearson had help from Graeme Way with the concentric circles.

Final Analysis: Another author delivers his final novel and as with the TV story it’s based on, it’s Ian Stuart Black’s best one. There’s some lovely foreshadowing in Chapter 1 of both the Doctor and Dodo realising this will mark the end of their travels together. That chapter also boasts an introduction to the idea of time travel, and indeed what time itself actually is:

Of course he knew that in one sense Time was a fiction – an attempt by man to measure duration with reference to the sun and stars. But he also knew that although such measurements were based on an impressive formula, all man’s concepts were fraught with error. Time was not as it was supposed to be, for here they were, he and his single crew-member, Dodo, travelling fortuitously across space, splitting Time into fragments – or more exactly, ignoring the passage of time, the rising and setting of the sun, the ebb and flow of tides, the coming and going of the galaxy in which they voyaged. 

While Dodo’s departure is only slightly less abrupt than it was in the original, this very swiftly becomes the story of Ben and Polly, who we first met in Doctor Who and the Cybermen (1975). We’ve long forgotten Gerry Davis’s fudging of their origins in those early Target books and they feel as much a part of ‘Swinging Sixties London’ as a story set in the very heart of the ‘white heat of technology’ can possibly allow.

Chapter 122. Doctor Who – The Macra Terror (1987)

Synopsis: When the Doctor and his three friends visit a colony on a distant world, they find a community of cheerful, contented people who are free to enjoy life. There are machines for pampering and relaxation and nobody is unhappy or scared. Especially Medok, who is ill and needs to be taken care of, because he is shouting nonsense and disturbing the peace. The Doctor and Polly aren’t convinced, but Ben and Jamie know the truth – there is no such thing as Macra men! No such thing as Macra men!

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Interference on the Scanner
  • 2. A Wash and Brush-up
  • 3. The Man Who Suffered from Delusions
  • 4. There’s Really Nothing There
  • 5. A Voice in the Night
  • 6. The Colony by Night
  • 7. Down the Pit
  • 8. Escape
  • 9. A Breath of Fresh Air
  • 10. One of the Dancers
  • 11. Forbidden Territory
  • 12. Four Minutes to Countdown

Background: Ian Stuart Black adapts his own scripts for the 1967 story.

Notes: The time travellers have seen something on the TARDIS scanner. The Doctor tries to pass it off as mere ‘atmospherics’:

‘Atmospherics cause interference. A build-up of forces. Electrical discharges. A thunderstorm. A number of things can cause the normal pattern to be broken, and then a radio signal or a television picture suddenly is broken into, and you get an alien signal. We have checks and balances on board the TARDIS to counteract such interference, but every now and again a message or picture breaks through from another point in space and we pick it up.’

He fails to convince his young friends and while Polly refuses to discuss it any further, Jamie makes sure to grab a big branch as he leaves the TARDIS (as he did on TV). The TARDIS scanner has ‘vision control’, an automatic program that scans for items of importance and allows the travellers to see into the colony before they arrive. The Controller initially orders that ‘There is no such thing as Macra men’, though Medok hears ‘There is no such thing as Macra’ during his later programming and Ben chants ‘There is no such thing as the Macra’.

Medok says the Macra are ‘horrible to look at… like insects…. like huge crabs’, while Jamie notes its ‘scaly flanks’, ‘long feelers’ and a ‘rope-like tentacle’. The creature has heavy eyelids (so not like an insect) and it moves at ‘the speed of a tortoise’. The Doctor gives a multi-sensory observation:

It was more horrible than he had visualised, more nauseating – giving off a suffocating odour – a very alien creature; moonlight glinting on its hard shell, a skin that glistened, prehistoric, giving the Doctor a feeling it was already dead… Yet moving slowly, with the speed of a gigantic slug, towards them.

He speculates to Polly that the Macra lived on the unnamed planet for millions of years, but that maybe the atmosphere changed, the natural gases that the creatures thrive on dried up, or ‘some other factor altered’, so they had to bury underground where the gases were available. There’s no direct correlation between the changing atmosphere and the arrival of the colonists, which is something we’d instantly assume nowadays [and see Gridlock for how that played out].

Medok survives his encounter with the Macra and is present to witness the departure of the four strangers in the TARDIS but decides on not ‘pushing his luck’ by telling anyone about it. Strangely, Medok doesn’t recall ever seeing the TARDIS before, even though he ran past it at the start of the book (presumably he was too distracted or distressed to remember it).

Cover: Tony Masero takes great artistic license in creating a slavering, oozing Macra that still bears a strong resemblance to what was seen on screen. 

Final Analysis: Another solid novelisation from Ian Stuart Black with very little changed from what we can gather from the surviving footage and audio tracks (although apparently the author worked solely from the scripts, so any changes made by the actors and director during rehearsals would have been absent anyway). The nature of the Macra remains non-specific – even the Doctor can’t be drawn as to whether they’re crabs, insects or overgrown bacteria – and they’re often described as being ‘alien’ despite the likelihood that they’re an indigenous lifeform. In 2021, we’re a little more sensitive to post-colonial views and this does stand out as an unresolved gap in the text, from a time when monsters were fought and destroyed, rather than understood and accommodated – and perhaps not even thought of as ‘monsters’.

Chapter 108. Doctor Who – The Savages (1986)

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

Chapter Titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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