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 129. Doctor Who – The Underwater Menace (1988)

Synopsis: In an undersea base live the last survivors of Atlantis. It’s also home to Zaroff, a scientist believed dead. His experiments on the locals have resulted in strange fish-like people inhabiting the nearby ocean, but that’s not where Zaroff’s ambitions lie. His latest scheme could literally tear the Earth apart.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Under the Volcano
  • 2. Sacrifices to Amdo
  • 3. Professor Zaroff
  • 4. Escapees
  • 5. An Audience With the King
  • 6. The Voice Of Amdo
  • 7. Kidnap
  • 8. ‘Nothing In The World Can Stop Me Now!’
  • 9. Desperate Remedies
  • 10. The Prudence of Zaroff
  • 11. The Hidden Assassin
  • Epilogue

Background: Nigel Robinson adapts scripts for a 1967 serial by Geoffrey Orme.

Notes: Jamie’s first sight of the inside of the TARDIS is told in the prologue; the ‘gleaming white walls’ are covered with ‘large circular indentations’ that emit an ‘eerie light, while the walls are lined with strange looking machines’. There’s also a large chest, a ‘splendid Louis XIV chair’, plus a mahogany hatstand upon which a ‘stove-pipe’ rests (though a popular description of the Doctor’s hat for many years, we now understand it to be a ‘Paris Beau’, unless the Target Doctor really does wear a top hat like Abraham Lincoln’s). The Doctor is ‘a little man dressed in baggy check trousers several sizes too big for him and a scruffy frock coat which had obviously seen better days’: he has ‘jade-green eyes’. Ben is, succinctly, a ‘wiry Cockney sailor’, while Polly is ‘a tall, long-legged blonde with long heavily-made-up eyelashes; her clothes – a ‘revealing multi-coloured mini-skirt and a white silk scarf’ – reveal that, like Ben, she comes from London, 1966 [once again contradicting Gerry Davis’s origins for them in the Target universe as shown in Doctor Who and the Cybermen]. The rather nice sequence from the telly episode of interior thoughts for the TARDIS team (‘Prehistoric monsters!’) is cut.

Professor Zaroff’s first name is ‘Hermann’. He disappeared 20 years ago and created the ‘Fish people’ by manipulating the genetic coding of the Atlaneans. His pet octopus is called Neptune. There is a Labour Controller who looks after the slaves (on TV, Damon fulfils this role too). Ara was the daughter of a councillor who spoke out against Zaroff and was killed. She keeps her former high status secret by hiding as a servant. Before he died, her father showed her the speaking grill behind Amdo’s statue. Zaroff and his high priest Lolem are left fighting to the death when they are caught in the flood and drown. The majority of the Atlanteans do survive the disaster (and possibly Zaroff’s pet octopus, Neptune, too). Unusually, the cliffhanger from TV of the TARDIS veering out of control is retained.

Cover: The Oliver Elmes logo is used here. The main artwork is a lovely evocative painting of the fish people, a great effort by artist Alister Pearson, making his debut here. 

Final Analysis: It’s a bit of a kindness on Nigel Robinson’s part that this unloved story gets such a decent treatment here. As the story was missing three of its four episodes at the time of writing, Robinson had to rely on the scripts, so some of the improvisations from the studio are missing; when episode two was discovered and screened at the BFI”s Missing Believed Wiped event, fans in the audience were charmed by such details as the Doctor knocking on his own head while discussing Zaroff’s madness, but that’s understandably absent from the book. What we do get is the now traditional tidying up of motivations and thought processes, such as the Doctor actively searching for Zaroff because he’s been told that he often strolls in the market (it’s much more coincidental on screen) or Zaroff failing to recognise Ben and Jamie because, when he first met them, his attentions were solely focused on the Doctor. The problems with the story are inherent in the original broadcast, but we get the sense that our heroes at least know how ridiculous it all is, which makes them just as determined to put a stop to the mad scientist. Extra points to Robinson for using the story’s most infamous line – ‘Nothing In The World Can Stop Me Now!’ as the title of Chapter 8, building up to it and giving it more context than we had when this was published.

Chapter 125. Doctor Who – The Time Meddler (1988)

Synopsis: New arrival in the TARDIS Steven Taylor cannot accept that he’s travelled in time, even when confronted with a Viking helmet in the year 1066. Landing on a beach, the Doctor and his friends explore the coastline and find themselves in a village near a monastery where the only inhabitant is a very furtive, very secretive monk. The Doctor immediately recognises him as one of his own people, but unlike the Doctor, he has no concerns about changing history, in fact, that’s what the Monk is determined to do.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1 The Watcher
  • 2 The Saxons
  • 3 The Monastery
  • 4 Prisoners of the Saxons
  • 5 The Vikings
  • 6 An Empty Cell
  • 7 Unwelcome Visitors
  • 8 The Secret of the Monastery
  • 9 The Monk’s Master Plan
  • 10 A Threat to the Future
  • 11 A Parting Gift
  • Epilogue

Background: Nigel Robinson adapts scripts by Dennis Spooner for a story from 1965.

Notes: A prologue offers a scene from The Chase not shown on TV as Steven Taylor flees the burning City of the Mechonoids and the ‘strange alien creatures who had come to this planet in search of four mysterious space travellers’. Clutching his stuffed panda and avoiding the Fungoid plants, he runs for hours in pursuit of the four travellers, who had helped him escape. Eventually, he finds a blue box in the jungle and makes his way inside before passing out. And a generation of fans cheer!

The Doctor has ‘sharp blue eyes’ [as we’ve established, the actor who played him had brown eyes]. Vicki is ‘little more than five feet tall’ and she has ‘elfin good looks and a mischievous little-girl smile’. The TARDIS control room contains a Louis Quatorze chair and an ormolu clock, which has stopped. We’re reminded that Vicki came from the 25th Century and that she is an orphan. She had assumed that Steven had died in the flames. 

Edith and Wulnoth have been married for 15 years, though it’s said that she has aged considerably more than her thirty years (a little harsh on actress Alethea Charlton there!). The Monk’s carefully prepared breakfast for the Doctor is a masterpiece in time-trolling: Using a ‘Baby Belling stove’, a non-stick frying pan and a steel spatula, he cooks bacon, sausage and fried eggs; charred toast is delivered from a rusty toaster, served up on a plate with a bottle of tomato ketchup and a mug of instant coffee; and as he approaches the Doctor’s cell, he whistles a tune that won’t be written for nine hundred years (so, around 1965; later, he returns to the monastery whistling a Beatles song, so maybe it’s Ticket to Ride, which had appeared in the previous story, although reading this after 1988, Yesterday would be funnier).

The Doctor spells out for Steven and Vicki the consequences of the Monk’s ‘master plan’ – that as they are both English (new information, by the way!), the chances are that somewhere in their lineage is someone of Norman blood, someone who might die because of the Monk’s interference, thereby wiping out their descendants. It’s a tidy way of making the Doctor’s role much clearer to his young friends and to the reader. After taking the dimensional stabiliser from the Monk’s TARDIS, the Doctor also ensures that the atomic cannon is removed from the clifftop (and Steven has to lug it back to the TARDIS). The Doctor’s line about not being a ‘mountain goat’ (which he so beautifully fluffs on TV) is moved to the end of the book. In the epilogue, we discover the ridiculous effort the Monk puts into messing up time: Fearing some kind of reprisals from his ever-growing list of enemies, the Monk decides to leave his TARDIS in the chapel and cross England on a stolen horse to keep his plan on track; he reaches the infamous battle too late and sees William of Normandy declared the victor; the Monk heads north again to find the Doctor has stranded him in 1066 with a broken TARDIS.

Cover: Jeff Cummins makes his final contribution to the series with a haunting portrait of the Monk lighting beacons on the cliff tops. The image was flipped for the 1992 reprint, for some reason, accompanied by a ‘NOW BACK ON TELEVISION’ exclamation to tie in with the repeats on BBC 2.

Final Analysis: I’m growing rather fond of Nigel Robinson. He’s taken Terrance Dicks’ approach of transferring the script faithfully to the novel format, just adding additional information and tidying as he goes. There’s a charming significance to the way he captures Vicki by pulling in a detail of Maureen O’Brien’s performance, in that she pacifies the Doctor the same way the actress had quelled the fractious temper of her co-star. That he’s also choosing to cover the less favoured stories himself really underlines the mission to create a complete library of adaptations.

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 his time as editor was coming to an end, Nigel Robinson was cautious about commissioning himself to write a novel, so taking on this unloved adventure was a canny idea. 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 time he left WH Allen, 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.