Chapter 120. Doctor Who – The Ambassadors of Death (1987)

Synopsis: As a tracking station on Earth awaits the return of a Mars capsule and its crew, the rocket’s inhabitants are kidnapped and hidden away. Liz Shaw discovers that the astronauts are not the ones that left Earth but alien ambassadors. Someone is conspiring to use the aliens for their own means – and start a war in the process…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. ‘Something Took Off From Mars…’
  • 2. ‘That Sound – It Was Some Kind Of Message…’
  • 3. ‘They’ll Never Survive…’
  • 4. ‘Recovery Seven – It’s On The Way Back!’
  • 5. ‘The Capsule Has Landed.’
  • 6. ‘They’ve Started To Crack The Code…’
  • 7. ‘You Must Feed Them Radiation – Or They’ll Die!’
  • 8. ‘We’ve Got To Get That Rocket Up!’
  • 9. ‘Someone’s Threatening To Kill Miss Shaw!’
  • 10. ‘An Attack On The Space Centre?’
  • 11. ‘Do You Really Think They’re Not Human?’
  • 12. ‘Large Unidentified Object Approaching On Collision Course…’
  • 13. ‘The Capsule Will Be Smashed To Fragments…’
  • 14. ‘Your Doctor Friend Is As Dead As A Doornail…’
  • 15. ‘We May Not Have Much More Time!’
  • 16. ‘We’re Being Invaded!’

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1970 story credited to David Whitaker (but which also included passes by Malcolm Hulke and Trevor Ray), completing the run of Season 7 stories – and the Third Doctor’s era as a whole – that began with Target’s first original adaptations back in 1974.

Notes: The TV reporter’s name is given on screen as ‘John Wakefield’, but here it’s now ‘Michael’, while astronaut Charles Van Lyden becomes ‘Van Leyden’. Ralph Cornish at Mission Control is said to be ‘quite literally tall, dark and handsome’. Dicks is not as snide as he was about Chorley in Doctor Who and the Web of Fear, but he still makes a few sly digs at the TV reporter; he’s small, neat and bearded with a ‘low, throbbing, earnest voice that seems to be the exclusive property of a certain kind of TV journalist’. 

It was a voice that conveyed expertise, sympathy, concern and a sort of muted reproach. The implication was that somehow Michael Wakefield already knew all the answers. Luckily for him, he never had to provide them. He only asked the questions, and passed along the background information assembled for him by an expert team of researchers, all kept firmly behind the camera.

For the final time, we have Dicks’ standard description of the third Doctor, with a face that is ‘neither young nor old’, and that Bessie is ‘an Edwardian roadster’ (and I’ve waiting until now to point out that it’s not actually a Roadster, it’s a four-seater Tourer, but Roadster is such a fun word). It’s still early days for the Doctor and Liz, having only had ‘two dangerous adventures’, and we’re reminded of the incident with the Silurians. 

In the assault on the ‘enemy’ in the warehouse, the Brigadier notices that they are ‘simply better than his own men, better shots, better trained in this kind of house-to-house fighting’. It’s the fact that none of his troops has been shot that draws the Brigadier’s suspicions – accurate shots knock the guns away but nobody is actually hit, and he notes that there’s ‘something rather humiliating about fighting an enemy who weren’t even trying to hit back’. The Doctor’s trick with the disappearing tape is ‘a Time Lord technique somewhere between telekinesis and conjuring’. 

The scientist Heldorf had been a refugee and still had a trace of an accent. Reegan was born in Ireland but spent most of his life in America, among other countries, evading the law. He’d been a bank robber for the IRA until they’d discovered he’d been stealing from them. He set himself up as a professional, specialising in ‘kidnapping, extortion and murder for hire’.  

Cover: The Doctor smiles as two ambassadors in space suits approach him from behind. Tony Masero’s original cover had a much more shadowy depiction of Jon Pertwee, but this was changed in response to a request from the actor. This is the first cover to feature the Third Doctor prominently on the initial cover since The Claws of Axos (1977), or on any cover since the 1978 Three Doctors reprint (aside from a small profile as part of a montage on The Five Doctors).

Final Analysis: We begin with a deceptively simple opening line: ‘Far above the Earth, in the infinite blackness of space, two metal capsules were converging.’ That ‘infinite blackness of space’ leapt out at me as a quote from something and a quick survey on Twitter led to Paul Rhodes supplying a flurry of suggestions for a possible source. Nasa’s own public information office LB Taylor Jr appears to have coined the phrase in his commentary around the Apollo 11 moon landings, which is appropriate considering the subject of The Ambassadors of Death. An earlier reference can be found in The Transcendent Man, a 1953 novel by future Star Trek and Twilight Zone writer Jerry Sohl, while the earliest I’ve found is a 1920 edition of the handbook of the Boy Scouts of America. It’s a phrase that crops up across science fiction from Star Trek to Marvel Comics’ Silver Surfer but as yet, I’ve not found an origin. Any suggestions?

There are some other lovely turns of phrase here: The warehouse where Carrington’s crew are hiding out has ‘row upon row of arched windows, every one methodically broken by the industrious local vandals’. The little extra biographical details for Heldorf and Reegan feel like something Malcolm Hulke would have added (appropriate considering he wrote a substantial amount of the scripts). We’ve come a long way from the days where Terrance was bashing these out one a month and as we reach the end of the third Doctor’s TV adventures, this stands out as one of the author’s very best.

Chapter 89. Doctor Who – Inferno (1984)

Synopsis: UNIT has been invited to provide security for a top secret drilling project in search of a new energy source from the Earth’s core. Hoping that the facility might help with his repairs to the TARDIS, the Doctor immediately becomes an irritation for the project’s director and instigator, Professor Stahlman, who is determined to lead the project to undoubted victory, whatever the risk. Afreak accident sees the Doctor transported to a parallel world where Stahlman’s project is much further advanced – and the dangers more apparent. Can the Doctor save this world and make it back to his own in time?

Chapter Titles

  • 1 Project Inferno
  • 2. The Beast
  • 3. Mutant
  • 4. The Slime
  • 5. Dimension of Terror
  • 6. The Nightmare
  • 7. Death Sentence
  • 8. Countdown to Doom
  • 9. Penetration-Zero
  • 10. The Monsters
  • 11. Escape Plan
  • 12. Doomsday
  • 13. Return to Danger
  • 14. The Last Mutation
  • 15. The Doctor Takes a Trip

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts for the 1970 serial by Don Houghton.

Notes: The Stahlman Project is ‘the greatest scientific project that England had ever known’; it’s predicted to be ‘more technologically advanced than nuclear power’ and, more importantly, ‘far more lucrative than North Sea Oil’, promising ‘limitless free energy for everyone’. We’re reminded that these are still the early days of the Doctor’s exile by the Time Lords to Earth. The complex that houses the project is in ‘a messy, unattractive-looking area’ – and this will be relevant later.

Professor Stahlman’s first name is Eric and he grew up ‘in the ruins of post-war Germany’ (which means he’s either only in his late twenties or he grew up in post-First-World-War Germany – unless Terrance Dicks is maintaining the idea of UNIT stories being set in a ‘near future’).  Sir Keith Gold observes Professor Stahlman’s ‘bulky broad-shouldered body and massive close-cropped head’, with a neat beard; in his mind, Sir Keith compares him to a gorilla in a lab coat – and immediately feels guilty for being so uncharitable. It’s an interesting choice to make Stahlman physically strong, ‘powerfully built man’, as this accentuates his early encounter with the Doctor, who restrains him with just two fingers and freezes him to the spot.

Liz Shaw is a ‘serious-looking girl with reddish-brown hair’ dressed in ‘a rather incongruously frivolous-looking mini-skirt’ – details which help to provide contrast with the parallel-world version. We’re reminded that Liz is ‘a scientist of some distinction in her own right’ and that she had been brought into UNIT from Cambridge ‘some time ago’. Petra Williams is ‘an attractive white-coated young woman, with a pleasant open face’ – yes, just like the Fifth Doctor – ‘framed by long fair hair’. Greg Sutton is said to be ‘a burly, broad-shouldered man’ and he has ‘a pleasantly ugly face’ (a bit unfair on Derek Newark there, Terrance!)  and ‘a sun-baked, wind-weathered complexion’. 

The Doctor witnesses Stahlman stealing the microcircuit and exclaims ‘Jumping Jehosophat’, as he does when he sees the Master in The Five Doctors. When he finally escapes limbo and lands in the parallel world, the Doctor is aware that he’s not where he’d previously been because the hut is tidy (the Doctor likes ‘a bit of clutter’). The neatness extends to the rest of the surrounding area, which has also been ‘tidied up’. Without the moustache of the Brigadier, the Brigade Leader’s mouth looks ‘thin-lipped and cruel’. The Doctor begins to speculate as to the cause of the parallel world and guesses that it might be down to a different outcome for the Second World War. The savage beasts are simply mutants (they’re called ‘Primords’ on the end titles of the TV episodes, but the word isn’t used in dialogue or in the novel). The novel retains the radio broadcasts that were cut from the original transmission (but retained for overseas broadcast). The Doctor checks his pulse and it’s ‘normal’ at 70 (it’s 170 on TV). The Doctor realises that he was so ‘haunted by that nightmarish vision of an exploding Earth’ that his violent outburst at Stahlman will have damaged his credibility.

Cover: Nick Spender’s fiery illustration shows a likeness of Ian Fairbairn as technician Bromley beginning to transform into an atavistic beast on the roof of a cooling tower beneath a burning sky. It’s quite the scariest cover since Alun Hood’s 1979 piece for the Terror of the Autons reprint.

Final Analysis: The first of two Don Houghton stories adapted by Terrance Dicks and it’s a real treat. It benefits from the increased page-count that’s gradually crept in since Terrance’s middle-period, plus it’s the sort of story that really plays to Terrance’s strengths as his economic thumbnail-sketch descriptions help us remember who’s who and what’s different about them in the other world. We also get an insight into the Doctor’s thought process, initially fascinated by the opportunity to explore a parallel world until he begins to treat the people he encounters as real, and not just disposable alternatives of the ones he knew on the other Earth. His horror at realising he has to give up on the alt-world to gain the chance to save his own Earth stays with him, even down to him accepting his desperation has alienated the very people he’s trying to save. And as we’ll discover, it’s a devastating decision that will haunt him for… well, at least as long as Don Houghton’s other story.

Chapter 81. Doctor Who – The Five Doctors (1983)

Chapter 81. Doctor Who – The Five Doctors  (1983)

Synopsis: The Death Zone on Gallifrey – once the location of cruel games in the old times of the Time Lords, before it was closed down. A sinister figure has reactivated it and the Doctor has been dragged out of time from different points in his life. Though one of his incarnations is trapped in a time eddy, four others work together, joined by old friends and obstructed by old enemies. Their joint quest points towards an imposing tower that legend says is also the tomb of the Time Lord founder, Rassilon. A deadly new game is afoot, and the prize is not what it seems…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Game Begins
  • 2. Pawns in the Game
  • 3. Death Zone
  • 4. Unexpected Meeting
  • 5. Two Doctors
  • 6. Above, Between, Below!
  • 7. The Doctor Disappears
  • 8. Condemned
  • 9. The Dark Tower
  • 10. Deadly Companions
  • 11. Rassilon’s Secret
  • 12. The Game of Rassilon

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts his own TV script in a novel that was published before it was broadcast in the UK – pushing the record for the gap between broadcast and publication into minus figures.

Notes: The book opens in ‘a place of ancient evil’ – the Game Room – where a black-clad Player is preparing for the game to begin. The Doctor has a fresh stalk of celery on his lapel. Tegan is still considered to be ‘an Australian air stewardess’ despite having been sacked by the time of Arc of Infinity. The Doctor has remodelled the TARDIS console room after ‘a recent Cybermen attack’ (is this Earthshock or an unseen adventure?). Turlough is introduced as a ‘thin-faced, sandy-haired young man in the blazer and flannels of his public school.’ He’s also ‘good-looking in a faintly untrustworthy sort of way’.

The First Doctor is said to have ‘blue eyes […] bright with intelligence’ (William Hartnell had brown eyes so this is definitely the Hurndall First Doctor) and a ‘haughty, imperious air’. He’s aware that he’s near the end of his first incarnation and is living in semi-retirement to prepare himself for the impending change. The Brigadier’s replacement is called ‘Charlie Crighton’ [Charles Crighton, as in the film director?]. The Second Doctor has ‘dark brown eyes’ (not blue – or even green as previously) which appear ‘humourous and sad at the same time’. We find the Third Doctor test-driving Bessie on private roads, which is how he can drive so fast without fear of oncoming traffic. On leaving the TARDIS, Sarah-Jane Smith had felt ‘abandoned and more than a little resentful’; at first, she thinks the capture obelisk is a bus rounding a corner – until it’s too late. There’s a new scene depicting life on future Earth for Susan Campbell – formerly Foreman – whose husband David is part of the reconstruction government and they have three children together. 

Strangely, she calls her grandfather ‘Doctor’, which is what alerts the Dalek to the presence of its enemy  (this was fixed for the TV broadcast). The obelisk tries to capture the Fourth Doctor and Romana by lying in wait under a bridge. The Master recognises that the stolen body he inhabits will wear out, so the offer of a full regeneration cycle is especially appealing. The slight incline that Sarah tumbles down on TV becomes a bottomless ravine here. The First Doctor is much more receptive to Tegan’s suggestion that she accompanies him to the Tower. As the Castellan accuses the Doctor of ‘revenge’, we’re reminded of the events in Arc of Infinity, while there’s also a summary of the events with the Yeti in London that led to the Doctor and the Brigadier’s first meeting. The ‘between’ entrance to the tower has a bell on a rope, not an ‘entry coder’ and the First Doctor, realising the chess board has a hundred squares, applies the first hundred places of ‘Pi’ as coordinates (which explains how he translates the measurement of a circle to a square!).

Sarah Jane tries to launch a rock at a Cyberman to keep it away (‘I missed!’) and on meeting the Third Doctor, Tegan tells Sarah ‘My one’s no better’ and they compare notes – scenes that were reinstated for the special edition of the story on VHS and DVD. When the Brigadier helps to disarm the Master, the Doctors pile onto him. The Fourth Doctor and Romana are returned to the exact moment they left, still punting on the river Cam. Though the Second Doctor departs by calling his successor ‘Fancy pants’, the ‘Scarecrow’ response is cut. The Fifth Doctor tells a confused Flavia that Rassion ‘was – is – the greatest Time Lord of all’.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter creates the central image of a diamond containing the five Doctors in profile, surrounded by the TARDIS, Cybermen, a Dalek and K9. All of this on a very swish-looking metallic-silver background with a flash in the bottom right-hand corner proclaiming the book ‘A Twentieth Anniversary First Edition’. Alister Pearson’s art for the 1991 reprint features the story’s five Doctors (Hurndall stepping in for Hartnell and an off-colour Tom Baker) against a backdrop of elements that evoke the interior decor of the Dark Tower with a suggestion of the hexagonal games table.

Final Analysis: Apparently Terrance Dicks completed this in record time, so understandably there are a couple of mistakes (Susan calling her grandfather ‘Doctor’, Zoe and Jamie labelled as companions of the ‘third Doctor’), but otherwise he juggles the elements of his already convoluted tale very well, even resorting to his trick from the previous multi-Doctor story of calling them ‘Doctor One’, ‘Doctor Two’ and ‘Doctor Three’. It’s not just nostalgia working here, Terrance Dicks does such a good job with the shopping list he was given and makes something that both celebrates the past and catapults the series into the future.

Chapter 5. Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters (1974)

aka Doctor Who – The Silurians (1992)

Synopsis: Long before mankind evolved to take over the Earth, it was inhabited by a race of technologically advanced reptiles. An oncoming catastrophe drove them into hibernation for millions of years. Now they’ve awakened and they want the planet back.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Prologue: The Little Planet
  • 2. The Doctor Gets a Message
  • 3. The Traitor
  • 4. Power Loss
  • 5. The Fighting Monster
  • 6. Into the Caves
  • 7. Quinn Visits His Friends
  • 8. Into an Alien World
  • 9. The Search
  • 10. Man Trap
  • 11. The Doctor Makes a Visit
  • 12. Goodbye, Dr Quinn
  • 13. The Prisoner
  • 14. Man from the Ministry
  • 15. Attack and Counter-Attack
  • 16. The Itch
  • 17. Epidemic
  • 18.  A Hot World
  • 19. The Lie

Background: Malcolm Hulke adapts his scripts from the 1970 serial Doctor Who and the Silurians. As this followed Spearhead from Space on TV, this is our first pair of stories to be adapted as consecutive releases.

Notes: The prologue introduces us to Okdel, a reptile, who sees the rest of his race entering the shelters in preparation for catastrophe. He wonders if there’s life on this new object in the sky and K’to, a scientist, tells him it’s unlikely as it’s been travelling across space. It’s such a kind, considerate question – is this going to be a cataclysm for them too? The prologue explains the basic idea behind the reptile hibernation and shows us division among their ranks as Okdel keeps mammals as pets but his colleague Morka considers them ‘vermin’ and K’to is concerned by the mammal raids on reptile-grown crops. Okdel also notes how scientists often get things wrong – a handy excuse for some of the scientific liberties Hulke will be taking in his story. While it robs the reader of the surprise of who the ‘cave monsters’ are, it prepares us for a tale that tries to see things from multiple perspectives.

Once we join the Doctor and Liz, it’s clearly been some time since the Auton Invasion as Liz recognises a Corporal, who in turn knows the Doctor well enough to know the name of his new car, and Liz has also formed an opinion of the Doctor as ‘the most thoughtful and considerate scientist I have ever worked with’ (though this might be sarcasm as he’s being unconsciously patronising to her). The opening scenes of the potholers have been cut, condensed into a reported summary from Dr Quinn, and in fact, we meet almost all the core human cast in the space of a few pages and learn much more about their background and motivations than we do across seven episodes of TV: Dr Quinn and Miss Dawson gain first names (Matthew and Phyllis); Quinn’s wife was killed in a car crash and he wants to gain fame for discovering the reptile men (they’re not called Silurians, but the word is used as the password to gain entry to the base); Phyllis Dawson is excited by the prospect of doing actual research now that she’s free from being held back by her recently deceased mother; Major Baker is now ‘Barker’ and is shown to be insensitive (calling one patient ‘looney’) and generally paranoid and bigoted against ‘communists… fascists… Americans’, basically anyone who isn’t English.

The outbreak of the reptile virus is depicted differently: Instead of Masters arriving at St Pancras Station and collapsing , we see him aboard the train (infecting a ticket inspector who later dies) and then he leaves the train, catches a taxi and dies before reaching London. Dr Lawrence’s given a different exit too, killed by a reptile heat ray as a warning to the other humans, rather than falling victim to the virus.

Cover & Illustrations:  The first release had a cover by Chris Achilleos. The cover showed the Doctor from Day of the Daleks with a green Silurian (without a third eye!), a T-rex-like dinosaur and a volcano. I’m very fond of the 1992 Alister Pearson reprint cover (when the book was retitled) with the ‘windows’ over the Earth and photorealistic versions of the T-rex and Silurian, but the Achilleos one is truly epic. The illustrations, also by Achilleos, include a horizontal section showing the cave system beneath Wenley Moor. My favourite shows Dr Quinn chatting with a Silurian that looks like he’s a guest on a chat show.

Final Analysis: I always assumed this was renamed ‘The Cave Monsters’ to simplify the idea of ‘Silurians’ make the title easier for younger readers to understand, but reading this again, I suspect it might also have been Hulke making a point; as Whitaker did in The Crusaders, Hulke works hard to show balance, there are progressive reptile men (though no women) as shown with Oktel, as well as the paranoid and bigotted Morka, plus the pragmatic K’po – and their emotions are mirrored by the Doctor, Barker and Quinn (and later Lawrence) – and the various actions of the humans make then as equally monstrous cave dwellers as the members of the much older race. Aside from that cheeky password the Doctor uses to gain entry to the base, the word ‘Silurian’ doesn’t appear in the book – and as it was written a couple of years after the sequel to this story, Hulke manages to fix his original geological errors and establish the race as simply ‘Reptiles’.

And just one little namecheck for ‘Doctor Who’ in the text as well.

Chapter 4. Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion (1974)

Synopsis: An alien intelligence lands on Earth and begins to establish a bridgehead for an invasion by creating an army of plastic dummies. The Doctor arrives in a new body, disoriented and without the ability to operate his TARDIS – but finds a job with the Brig’s UNIT (and usurps Liz Shaw as UNIT’s scientific adviser in the process).

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Prologue: Exiled to Earth
  • 2. The Mystery of the Meteorites
  • 3. The Man from Space
  • 4. The Faceless Kidnappers
  • 5. The Hunting Auton
  • 6. The Doctor Disappears
  • 7. The Horror in the Factory
  • 8. The Auton Attacks
  • 9. The Creatures in the Waxworks
  • 10. The Final Battle

Background: The first book written for Target and the first by Terrance Dicks, adapting Robert Holmes’ scripts for Spearhead from Space (1970). The book also introduces the Third Doctor (after a prologue recounting the final minutes of the second Doctor’s trial in The War Games), along with Liz Shaw – and reintroduces Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart as a regular (even down to having him appear on the cover!).

Notes: It’s Terrance Dicks’ first novel and straight off, he describes the materialisation noise of the TARDIS (which is now in full caps and no italics!) as ‘wheezing and groaning’, a description we’ll see again. The Brigadier is given the first name ‘Alastair’ (a detail not revealed on TV until Planet of the Spiders but it appeared in print in Piccolo’s 1972 edition of The Making of Doctor Who). A few characters gain a little extra detail (Dr Henderson and his colleague at the hospital are fierce rivals, Captain Munro is called Jimmy, Seeley and his wife play a bigger part) and a few details are changed (the Auton devices are green, not pink, Channing accompanies the facsimile to kidnap General Scobie). Channing acquires a repeated description of possessing ‘handsome, regular features’ (which is better than ‘a middle-aged man with an ill-fitting wig and one huge hair poking out of his left ear’, I suppose). We’re told by Captain Munro that Corporal Forbes is an expert driver, so it’s right that he survives the car crash – but is then chopped down and flung brutally into a ditch by the Auton. There’s also a lovely flashback as Hibbert recalls how he first found the glowing green sphere and felt it possess him and build the machine that created Channing.The biggest change is the final depiction of the Nestene, which improves upon the original’s wriggling rubber tentacles somewhat:

‘A huge, many tentacled monster something between spider, crab and octopus. The nutrient fluids from the tank were still streaming down its sides. At the front of its glistening body a single huge eye glared at them, blazing with alien intelligence and hatred.’

The Doctor considers ‘reversing the polarity of the neutron flow in the dematerialisation circuit’ – two phrases that we’ll see a lot of in the future, but that ‘neutron flow’ term popped up a lot less often on TV than we might think.

Cover & Illustrations: The first Target edition had a cover and illustrations by Chris Achilleos. The cover shows the Doctor and the Brigadier with a green octopus, but the final illustration has a go at capturing that lurid description of the Nestene creature. My first edition of this was the 1982 Andrew Skilleter cover with a colourful cuttlefish, while Alister Pearson’s 1991 reprint cover is a vision in pink, with the Doctor and an auton mannequin amid a meteor shower.

Final Analysis: Terrance hits the ground running with the efficiency he’ll become famous for. Episode one spans four chapters, but the rest are covered in two chapters each. It’s all the more impressiove considering this is Dicks’ first book ever and he takes the opportunity to tweak a few things here and there, solving problems from the broadcast episodes, such as making Hibbert explain that the shop window dummies they make are called Autons, after his company, Auto Plastics (as opposed to the Doctor somehow just knowing what they’re called in a later scene in the TV version). It’s a great start to this new range.