Chapter 40. Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock (1978)

Synopsis: A lighthouse off the coast of England at the start of the 20th Century. A light in the sky heralds the arrival of an alien warrior separated from its fleet, far from the battlefield. It explores the lighthouse, examines and dismembers one of its staff – and takes his form. The Doctor and Leela arrive shortly before they are joined by the survivors of a shipwreck. When the body of the lighthouse crewman is discovered, the Doctor realises they are locked inside the lighthouse with a murderer…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. The Terror Begins
  • 2. Strange Visitors
  • 3. Shipwreck
  • 4. The Survivors
  • 5. Return of the Dead
  • 6. Attack from the Unknown
  • 7. The Enemy Within
  • 8. The Bribe
  • 9. The Chameleon Factor
  • 10. The Rutan
  • 11. Ambush
  • 12. The Last Battle

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts his own scripts from the 1977 serial.

Notes: A prologue! Dicks sets up the location, a craggy rock in a furious sea, upon which stands a lighthouse. He tells of the legends of Fang Rock, the historic deaths and the glowing beast said to inhabit the waters that surround it. The Doctor wears a soft floppy hat and not the bowler hat he sports on the cover. Reuben, Vince and the Doctor help the survivors of the shipwreck from their lifeboat onto the shore of the east crag. As Leela ponders Reuben’s tale about the ‘Beast of Fang Rock’, the Doctor tries to rationalise the story, surmising that two men fought, one was killed, the other jumped into the sea, full of remorse, the third man was sent ‘out of his mind’ after spending weeks with a corpse for company. When Skinsale mocks Leela for sensing the temperature drop, Adelaide enters the room and complains about suddenly feeling cold. After Palmerdale’s death, Vince realises that he has his Lordship’s money and coded message in his pocket. Worried that it might incriminate himself in Palmerdale’s death, Vince sets fire to the evidence. There’s a detailed description of the Rutan that’s not quite what we see on screen.

In place of Reuben’s form there was a huge, dimly glowing gelatinous mass, internal organs pulsing gently inside the semi-transparent body. Somewhere near the centre were huge many-faceted eyes, and a shapeless orifice that could have been a mouth.

The Rutan’s habit of speaking in the first-person plural isn’t an affectation; Rutans don’t have individual identity, but are just one element of the whole race. It can move with ‘appalling speed’. The Doctor’s improvised rocket launcher is backed with ‘nuts and bolts, nails, cogs and other engineering debris’, as opposed to coins from various pockets. 

Cover: For the first edition, Jeff Cummins paints a superbly creepy scene of the Doctor standing in front of the lighthouse (which Clayton Hickman later mimicked for the DVD cover). Such a shame that the reprints were canceled, as we lost Alister Pearson’s cover, featuring a lesser-seen Doctor pic with a Rutan and the lighthouse.

Final Analysis: The legend goes that Robert Holmes insisted Terrance Dicks researched lighthouses for this one and it’s possible some of his studies ended up in the novelisation (such as the description of each room on each level in the tower). I suspect that Terrance Dicks might have been working from an earlier script version for this, with a couple of scenes that feel like they might have been abandoned for the final TV edit. Vince’s disposal of Palmerdale’s bribe and message is a welcome addition, especially how it conveys Vince’s conflict, not just in doing the right thing but also in protecting himself from accusation:

It was more money than he’d ever see again in his lifetime – but there was nothing but relief in Vince’s heart as he watched it burn.

One thing that’s missing is a sense of the Rutans point of view – literally how we see many scenes on TV – Dicks creates a sense of menace through a ‘faint crackling sound’ that denotes the Rutan’s presence, but we get little sense of how it feels, how it considers the humans and their environment.

Chapter 39. Doctor Who and the Face of Evil (1978)

Synopsis: In the village of the Sevateem, the great god Xoanon speaks through his High Priest, Neeva, and his word is law. When he uncovers a lack of faith in a young huntress called Leela, Neeva banishes her under threat of death. In the jungle that surrounds the village, Leela encounters a stranger called The Doctor. She shows him a nearby mountain into which is carved a huge bust of Xoanon – and it bears the face of the Doctor…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Outcast
  • 2. The Invisible Terror
  • 3. Captured
  • 4. The Face on the Mountain
  • 5. Attack
  • 6. Danger for Leela
  • 7. The Test of the Horda
  • 8. Beyond the Wall
  • 9. The Tesh
  • 10. The Summons
  • 11. Xoanon
  • 12. The Trap
  • 13. The Last Battle
  • 14. Recovery
  • 15. Departure

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts 1977 scripts by Chris Boucher.

Notes: Tomas is in love with Leela and it’s expected that he will father many children with her, but after the verdict of her trial, he consoles himself that there are ‘other women’ in the tribe (you might spot the other one in film sequences in the original series). The Doctor arrives fresh from his adventure on Gallifrey fighting the Master [See The Deadly Assassin] and immediately misses having Sarah Jane Smith by his side; he recalls that he chose not to bring her to Gallifrey in respect for Time Lord law, and that she’s now back on Earth with Harry Sullivan and the Brigadier. The Doctor’s heading for Earth when the TARDIS brings him to the unnamed jungle planet. Leela is introduced on the first page and it’s a handsome description unlike that for any other companion, capturing her distinctive appearance and overall character in just three lines:

She was tall, with brown hair and dark eyes, a broad clear forehead and a firm chin. Her arms and legs, exposed by her brief skin costume, were brown and smoothly muscular. She stood before her accusers wary but unafraid, like a captured wild animal.

There’s a cheeky namecheck for the story title as Leela explains that the Tesh ‘set the Face of Evil on the mountain’ with their ‘magic’. A Horda is a ‘white, snake-like creature, rather like a giant slow-worm’, (unlike the purple bug / fish-like creature on telly).

Dicks places the Doctor’s first meeting with Xoanon within the haze of his last regeneration, a trip from some point in between his first and second appearances in The Giant Robot. It’s an unseen adventure that his recuperating mind has forgotten until now. Xoanon speaks in three voices – the Doctor’s, that of a woman and a ‘young man’ (so not a child). The Sevateen village is wrecked by the invisible monsters, forcing the villagers to seek refuge in the jungle, explaining why Calib’s assault force is so depleted. The Doctor and Leela work their way through a foil tray of concentrated food cubes (not chocolates). The final scene takes place inside the TARDIS as Leela willfully ignores the Doctor and pulls a ‘large important-looking lever’ that closes the doors and sets them off on their next adventure together.

Cover: The original release has one of the very best covers ever, thanks to Jeff Cummins, with Leela stepping out of the jungle through a circular frame, while the face of the Doctor looms large in the background, all against a blue background. The 1993 reprint has a very jolly-looking Leela in front of two faces of the Doctor.

Final Analysis: Another basic adaptation and, around this time, Terrance Dicks was beginning to receive criticism from fans for his ‘script-to-book’ approach, but I think this is unjustified – at least here. While the prose lacks some of the depth we might expect from Malcolm Hulke or even newcomer Ian Marter, there’s still a lot of subtlety at play. The simple scene where Leela knocks out a Tesh guard gains a little from being told from the guard’s point of view, getting excited by the thought of capturing the aliens and the expectation that ‘he would win great praise from Jabel if he destroyed them’. We get a much better sense of Calib’s ambitions and of course Leela is well served in the way she begins to trust the strange Doctor precisely because his actions are at odds with her understanding of what Xoanon should be like. Readers had already met Leela just two books earlier, but as the text on the back of the 1993 edition states proudly, this is ‘the creation of one of the TV Series’ most memorable teams’.

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

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

Chapter Titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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