Chapter 75. Doctor Who – Meglos (1983)

Synopsis: Caught in a time trap, the Doctor, Romana and K9 have to find the key to break out of a repeating cycle of actions. When they eventually reach their destination, the jungle planet Tigella, the Doctor is immediately accused of stealing the Dodecahedron, the source of the Tigellans’ power and a holy relic to the religious Deons. It seems there’s a doppelganger on the loose and the Doctor must pay for the crimes of Meglos – the last Zolpha Thuran.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Abduction of an Earthling
  • 2. The Deons
  • 3. The Screens of Zolfa-Thura
  • 4. Time Loop
  • 5. The Double
  • 6. The Impossible
  • 7. Prisoner of the Gaztaks
  • 8. The Attack
  • 9. The Sacrifice
  • 10. The Reprieve
  • 11. The Ultimate Weapon
  • 12. Final Countdown

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts for the 1980 serial by John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch. This release completes the stories in Target’s library for Season 18, also making it the shortest gap between first and last stories to be novelised in a season (ten books). Furthermore, that’s the last novelisation of a Fourth Doctor TV story we’ll see this century.

Notes: The first chapter takes a disturbing turn as it speculates that the results of numerous gangland killings have been buried underneath various newly built motorways. It also introduces ‘the Earthling’, who’s named George Morris; a predictable, mild-mannered assistant bank manager of a country branch who finds himself kidnapped by a band of aliens. For (almost) the final time [see The Five Doctors], Terrance Dicks gives us a lovely little description of this Doctor:

At this time in his lives, he was a very tall man with wide staring eyes and a mop of curly hair. Much of the time he wore a long elegant coat, something between overcoat and smoking jacket, made of some reddish, velvety material and cut in a vaguely Edwardian style.

Romana is ‘a fair-haired, classically good-looking young woman with an impressively high forehead and an air of aristocratic hauteur’. At the start, K9 is still out of action after his ‘rash dip in the sea’ in The Leisure Hive.

Oops! Terrance Dicks describes the dodecahedron as ‘five-sided’ (the clue’s in the name) so that it correlates with the five screens of Zolpha Thura – each face has five edges, which isn’t the same thing. Zolpha Thurans were ‘scientists of a particularly brilliant kind’ who developed the ability to take control of other beings and disguise their own vegetable forms and explore the universe. For once, the Doctor is able to steer the TARDIS successfully, so George Morris makes it home on time and decides not to tell his wife what happened. As she started hitting the sherry 20 minutes before he stepped through the door, this is probably a good idea.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter gives us another very straightforward but moody composition of Bill Fraser as General Grugger and Tom Baker as a thorny Meglos; it’s rather beautiful in its simplicity. There have been a few close calls with Chris Achilleos, but Andrew Skilleter here grabs a record as the first artist to provide a first-edition cover for every story in a single season. Alister Pearson’s cover for the 1993 reprint is a much brighter affair, with Meglos and the Doctor hovering above the Dodecahedron.

Final Analysis: So farewell then, Fourth Doctor, as we reach the end of your Target library [but see book 153]. Terrance makes a few adjustments and explains the bigger gulfs in logic to make this a rather jolly adventure; even the threat of being crushed under huge rocks seems rather mild. It successfully maintains the feeling of mild jeopardy where the main threat comes not from the malignant cactus but the blind obedience to dogma and plain stupidity. Dicks’ depiction of Brotodac as almost childlike is a particular highlight, though sadly he omits the scene where Grugger gives K9 a savage kick.

Chapter 71. Doctor Who – Full Circle (1982)

Synopsis: The TARDIS falls into another universe – Espace – and lands on Alzarius, a planet with the exact same coordinates as Gallifrey, except in negative. They meet a young boy called Adric and discover a small and terrified community housed in an ancient spaceship. The people of Alzarius are preparing for a cataclysmic event called ‘Mistfall’ when the air becomes unbreathable and strange creatures emerge from the marshes. The marsh creatures lead the Doctor to uncover a secret that has been hidden for generations.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. ‘I Have Lost Control of the TARDIS’
  • 2. ‘I’m an Elite’
  • 3. ‘Master – Alert’
  • 4. ‘We’re Taking Over Your Ship’
  • 5. ‘We Don’t Know What’s Out There’
  • 6. ‘You Will Answer the Questions, Doctor’
  • 7. ‘A Little Patience Goes a Long Way’
  • 8. ‘I Am Beginning Surgery’
  • 9. ‘One Secret Our Ancestors Kept for Themselves’
  • 10. ‘We’ve Come Full Circle’
  • 11. ‘We Cannot Return to Teradon’
  • 12. ‘We’re Trapped’

Background: Andrew Smith adapts his own scripts from the 1980 story. At just 20 years old at the time, Andrew remains the youngest author of a Target novel.

Notes: A prologue tells of the arrival to Alzarius of the original inhabitants of the Terradon starliner, the demise of Commander Yakob Lorenzil and the hostile environment that greets the survivors of the crash, led by Sub-Commander Damyen Fenrik. This might feel like a spoiler until the exact moment that we realise it’s a clever deception. There’s an interlude with the full verses of a poem by First Decider Yanek Pitrus, a ‘tenth generation starliner’, setting out the legends of mistfall. 

First Decider Exmon Draith is accompanied by Decider Ragen Nefred and Decider Jaynis Garif. After Draith dies, Halrin Login is elevated to Decider level. As he takes on the role of First Decider, Nefred connects his brain to the System Files, which monitor the well-being of all Deciders; this is how Nefred confirms that Draith has died, as well as becoming exposed to the starliner’s darkest secret.

Adric and Varsh lost their parents when they were young; they were killed in a forest fire and the boys were taken in by family friends. Varsh is three-and-a-half years Adric’s senior. As this is Adric’s introduction (despite featuring in four novels by now), his creator gives us the best insight yet into who he is:

Adric’s diminutive stature and his youth belied the fact that he had one of the keenest intelligences on the starliner, an intelligence marred only by the occasional lapse into the naive mannerisms of the juvenile. 

Adric only lets go of Draith because he panics after a hand clasps his ankle underneath the marsh water. The other Outlers are here named Refnal, Gulner, Hektir and Yenik. 

As with all authors showing off their creations, Andrew Smith presents the giant Marshmen as much more impressive than TV would allow:

They flexed their scaly arms, allowed their mouths, dribbling with hungry saliva, to gape. Scaly, metallic-looking eyelids slid back over black evil eyeballs, which then scanned the surroundings. They started climbing from the marsh, mud slithering down their tall, horrible frames, heavy clawed feet finding a secure hold in the soil by the marsh. 

The Marshchild follows the Doctor onto the starliner and the Doctor takes it under his wing when he protects it from a frightened mob (on TV, he’s knocked out and the child is taken away screaming). The Doctor recalls once failing to save a young girl from a ‘witch trial’ in 17th-Century England and vows not to allow the Marshchild to suffer a similar fate. 

There is a pitch-black ‘spatio-temporal void’ between the TARDIS’s inner and outer doors! Romana utters a mild swearword (‘damn’, which is still the naughtiest word a series regular has said so far!). The Doctor’s mission to collect Romana and the broken K9 is interrupted by clusters of spiders swarming over him (shudder!). The Marshmen enjoy a level of shared minds and the brief involvement of Romana allows them insight into the starliner citizens. The ‘people of the marsh’ see themselves as guardians of the planet, ‘to serve and to protect nature’ from the alien technology of the starliners, who they consider ‘non-people; but the Marsh leader still pauses to lament the deaths they have caused: as they return to the marsh, he asks his brethren ‘… why does the maintaining of beauty always have to require the taking of lives? It is so very sad.’

Cover: Andrew Skilleter gives us a trio of Marshmen emerging from the mists. Unkind observers have noted that there appear to be pockets on the creature’s chest.

Final Analysis: This is how to do it! The third of four consecutive stories to be adapted by their original authors, Andrew Smith combines mythology and SF in an exercise in world-building that feels lived in and real. His version of the Doctor is, as with Warriors’ Gate, closer to the Fourth Doctor we recognise than the more sombre version of season 18, cracking jokes that reveal the Doctor as equally pompous and contemptuous towards assumed authority – but still with the righteous fury when confronted with the experiments on the Marshchild, or touching compassion for Tylos when he finds his body, killed during the Marshmen attack:

The Doctor knelt beside the boy. They had never spoken, yet he felt a sense of real loss. The taking of life was always to be mourned, the taking of a young life even more so.  

There are some solid horror elements – particularly the emergence of the Marshmen, the spiders hatching from the river fruit, Dexeter’s murder at the hands of the defiant Marshchild and Romana’s possession. Perhaps because he was a teenager himself when he wrote the TV scripts, Smith also presents Adric sympathetically, not blind to his awkward, precocious adolescence, but recognising how the boy feels he doesn’t fit in with either the inhabitants of the starliner or the Outlers; like many of the viewers, he identifies with the ‘otherness’ of the Doctor and Romana. We all love it when a novel presents new material or deeper insights into the characters, but this achieves a new high for the range.

Chapter 69. Doctor Who and the Leisure Hive (1982)

Synopsis: The people of Argolis are survivors of a terrible war. Dedicating themselves to the technology of Tachyonics, their home is a destination for pleasure seekers keen to try out the latest trends in entertainment. The Argolins are dying, the last child born on the planet was Pangol. While his mother only wishes for peace with their former enemies, the Foamasi, Pangol believes it is his birthright to lead his people towards a new dawn with an army created from tachyons to eradicate the Foamasi once and for all… 

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Brighton
  • 2. Argolis
  • 3. Brock
  • 4. The Generator
  • 5. Intruders
  • 6. Hardin
  • 7. Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall
  • 8. The Foamasi
  • 9. Rebirth

Background: David Fisher adapts his own scripts for the 1980 serial.

Notes: The opening sequence of the Doctor and Romana on the frozen beach is observed by a deckchair attendant and a candy-floss seller. Chapter 2 is a detailed history of the wartorn history of Argolis and their brief battle with a race of reptiles from the planet Foamas. The third chapter is introduced by a discussion between two journalists observing Mena and Hardin at the spaceport. Mena is the ‘consort’ of the ‘Heresiarch’, Morix. It’s heavily implied that Hardin and Mena had an affair back on Earth, a relationship that they both know cannot continue now. The Captain and second-officer on the Earth-to-Argolis shuttle discuss more Argolin history, specifically the first and second Precepts of Theron the Terrible: ‘Sorrow, pain and fear are weaknesses in a warrior… eliminate them’ and ‘War is the right and duty of every Argolin’. Later on, as Pangol seizes the Helmet of Theron, we learn three more Precepts of Theron: The Tenth is ‘An Argolin knight never refuses an order’; the Eleventh is ‘An Argolin knight obeys his leader without question’; while the final Precept declares that ‘To die gloriously in battle against the enemies of Argolis is the greatest joy an Argolin knight can hope to experience’.

The Doctor immediately irritates Pangol by interrupting his presentation with inconvenient questions. The incriminating statue that carries the Doctor’s scarf represents the great Argolin hero ‘Lismar the Champion’. Much more is made of the elderly Doctor’s senility. ‘Flesh suits’ – a standard piece of equipment for assassins – are banned on Foamas, though it’s possible to pay huge amounts for one. 

No Foamasi has ever actually met an Argolin before, their war was fought remotely. Most of the Argolin survivors were members of Morix’s crew (Mena was the communications officer). After the Argolin War (which the Argolin call the ‘Foamasi War’), the survivors on Foamas were split into ‘White’ and ‘Black’ clans. While the White families were small, they were united, whereas the Black clans splintered further, allowing the White families to pick them off until only two Black houses remained – the ‘Twin Suns’ and the ‘West Lodge’, a group of embezzlers who have successfully scammed the inhabitants of other planets prior to this. While Brock is arrested as shown on screen, Klout is captured separately, caught in the act of setting an explosive charge; he throws an unprimed grenade and then draws an electric stiletto (presumably the knife, not a shoe) before he’s tied up by the Foamasi agent’s instant-cocoon device.

As in Creature from the Pit, Romana is described as ‘an experienced Time traveller [who] had journeyed vast distances through Time and Space’, so there are definitely unseen adventures prior to this (cue Big Finish!). When the Doctor leaves the Randomiser behind on Argolis, Romana is concerned that it means they’ll never know where they’re going next – which is surely the point of the Randomiser…

Cover: Andrew Skilleter shows us the Leisure Hive merging on the horizon with Pangol and a Foamasi. Alister Pearson’s cover for the 1993 reprint is of a similar desert hue, with the Hive accompanied by a Foamasi and the elderly Doctor. 

Final Analysis: David Fisher returns and writes a densely packed adaptation that feels in earlier chapters like a less manic Douglas Adams script. It soon settles down though and the historical asides occur only where they fall naturally in the plot. It’s a shame Fisher never chose to do a Terrance Dicks and take on anyone else’s stories, I was starting to like him.

True fact, when the elderly Tom Baker was revealed in the TV episode, my library buddy was hugely disappointed, thinking Baker was going to play the next Doctor too. And this was about a month before it was announced he was leaving!

Chapter 67. Doctor Who and Warriors’ Gate (1982)

Synopsis: The Tharils were once a proud race, masters of the time winds with an empire forged on slavery. Then the robot Gundans came. Now the Tharils themselves are slaves, sold as mere components to be plugged into space ships as unwilling navigators. One such ship is the Privateer, fashioned from dwarf star alloy, captained by the dictatorial and stubborn Rorvik… and currently mired in a white void near a mysterious gateway. As the Doctor, Romana and Adric search for a way out of E-Space, their encounters at the gateway promise freedom at last for the Tharils… and Romana.

Chapter Titles

None! It’s just one big run of text. 

Background: Steve Gallagher adapts his own 1981 TV scripts under the pen-name of John Lydecker to avoid confusion with his other novels. This followed State of Decay on TV, so that’s another pair of stories to be released consecutively.

Notes: The opening scenes introduce a member of The Antonine Killer clan, a methodical, maverick Tharil in pursuit of Privateers trying to evade a blockage. The clan is part of the anti-slavery alliance and they’ve already targetted four privateer vessels. The actions of this Killer result in the Privateer being disabled and stranded outside of normal space. Early on, we’ve given an explanation of the Tharils’ time-sensitivity that really helps make sense of the entire story:

Time-sensitivity was the Tharils’ curse; from an infinite range of possible futures they could select one and visualise it in detail as if it had already happened. Sometimes in moments of extreme trance their bodies would shimmer and glow, dancing between those possible futures and only loosely anchored in the present. It took intense concentration to bring a Tharil back into phase with the Moment.

As K9’s health ails, we’re told that even though he could be rebuilt, ‘there was no way of reproducing its personality with any exactness… a copy would never be any more than just that’, so either the author has forgotten that this unit is the second model, or each K9 has its own individual personality that can’t be recaptured. Meanwhile, Romana departs with Lazlo, not Biroc, while we lose the final scene with Adric and the Doctor. There’s something of Brief Encounter or The Empire Strikes Back in the way the Doctor and Romana say goodbye:

‘I can only wish you good luck. It’s not likely we’ll meet again.’

‘I know,’ Romana said.

Cover: An ethereal composition by Andrew Skilleter showing the Tharil Biroc, the gateway and the Privateer in front of a blue hazy background.

Final Analysis: The most radical departure from the Target house style so far, Gallagher really dives deep into the story and his characters. It’s all the more impressive considering his first delivered version was much longer and had to be condensed (that longer version was later released as an audiobook). It’s a complete rewrite of the TV episodes and Gallagher’s style is more mature than we’re used to – and that doesn’t mean the kind of violence or language that Ian Marter employs, but in Rorvik we get a much more sadistic character than Saturday tea-time TV could allow. Surprisingly for someone writing for Season 18 setting, Gallagher also adds a lot of comic sequences – actually capturing the Fourth Doctor that we know, rather than the muted version we got that season (I’m reliably informed the jokes were in the original scripts, so we can work out what happened there!).

Rorvik cut across the diffident denial with another blast into the ceiling, another snowfall of plaster. 

‘This could be a listed building for all you know,’ the Doctor warned, but Rorvik’s sense of humour seemed to have been suspended. 

‘You’ll be listed as a former human being if you don’t play straight.”Human being? Are we descending to cheap insults now?’

And just a couple of pages later:

‘Can you hear me, Doctor? I’ve got a message for you. I hate you. Did you get that? Of everybody I’ve ever met, you’re my least favourite!’ And he hammered his fists on the mirror’s surface in frustration. 

On the page, Rorvik is one of the most sadistic monsters we’ve encountered so far – we’re told of the atrocities he’s committed to other Tharils even during Biroc’s short time on the Priveteer and Rorvik himself admits to others – yet Gallagher remembers that pomposity can actually be hilarious when the subject isn’t in on the joke. One tiny criticism, but it’s an obvious one, is that this is a very dense, detailed story with some very heavy SF themes and motifs; it would have really helped to have had chapter titles. I’m a traditionalist at heart.

Chapter 66. Doctor Who and the State of Decay (1982)

Synopsis: Exploring more of E-Space, the Doctor and Romana land on a planet where a small village lies in the shadow of a huge, sinister-looking tower, home to The Three Who Rule. A growing suspicion leads the Doctor to realise that the rulers are vampires, the mortal enemies of the Time Lords. As the pair try to form a plan to defeat them, they are unaware of a complication. A boy called Adric stowed aboard the TARDIS during their last landing and now he is about to become a servant of the Great Vampire…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Selection
  • 2. The Strangers
  • 3. The Stowaway
  • 4. The Messengers of Aukon
  • 5. The Tower
  • 6. Tarak’s Plan
  • 7. The Secret Horror
  • 8. The Resting Place
  • 9. Escape
  • 10. The Vampires
  • 11. The Traitor
  • 12. Attack on the Tower
  • 13. The Arising
  • 14. Departure

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts his own scripts from the 1980 serial, which in turn were adapted from scripts he originally wrote for the series in 1977 before they were cancelled. This is a completely separate adaptation to the one he scripted for an audiobook published by Pickwick the previous year.

Notes: Habris introduces us to this world, the village, the tower and the Lords who ‘weren’t quite human’. There’s no trace of the original title, ‘The Wasting’, which had survived to the broadcast version. Adric is introduced as ‘a small, round-faced, dark-haired youth’. The Doctor sticks around ‘well into the next day’ to help with explanations and clearing everything up. Ivo and Kalmar jointly agree to set up a new government, using the old rebel headquarters as its base.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter creates a composition of the Doctor, Aukon, a bat and more bats flying across a moonlit sky.

Final Analysis: This is the fourth complete version of the story that Terrance Dicks wrote – preceded by the abandoned one for Season 15, the broadcast one for Season 18 and that Pickwick audiocassette version from 1981. The Pickwick edit was significantly abridged, so this is a much more faithful adaptation and Terrance even borders on Ian Marter-style violence towards the end. The desiccation of the vampire Lords is particularly effective:

Grouped in front of him in a semi-circle, the three vampires paused for a moment, as if to savour their final triumph. Eyes flaring red, teeth gleaming, hands outstretched like claws, they lunged forwards in unison — and then froze. 

Their faces seemed to dry up, to wither and crack, like sun-baked earth. 

The dessicated flesh crumbled from their bodies and for one horrible moment, three gorgeously robed skeletons stood leering at the Doctor, bony fingers reaching out, as if to rend him. Then the skeletons, too, crumbled, leaving three huddled heaps of clothes resting on scattered dust piles on the floor of the cave.

Chapter 63. Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit (1981)

Synopsis: The Lady Adrasta is used to being obeyed and her word is law. If you disobey her, if you displease her in any way, you’ll be thrown into a pit that they call… The Pit. If you’re lucky, you’ll break your neck as soon as you reach the bottom. If not, you’ll encounter a terrifying creature they call… The Creature. With the help of a forgotten astrologer, the Doctor uncovers the truth about the creature – and Lady Adrasta.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Pit
  • 2. Wolfweeds
  • 3. The Doctor’s Leap to Death
  • 4. The Creature
  • 5. Organon
  • 6. The Web
  • 7. The Meeting
  • 8. The Shield
  • 9. Erato
  • 10. Complications
  • 11. Wrapping Up 

Background: David Fisher adapts his own scripts from the 1979 story.

Notes: Madam Karela secretly thinks the whole business with The Pit is a waste of time and would prefer to use her knife to cut the accused’s throat. Romana discovers a multi-dimensional store cupboard that contains a box labelled ‘Toys from Hamleys’, a lone ‘patent-leather dancing pump, signed on the sole “Love from Fred”’; an animal jawbone, an object that might be a musical instrument, a ball of string and a blonde chest-wig! The box containing the transceiver is stamped with the Seal of Gallifrey and the device should have been installed 12 years ago. Romana has clearly been with the Doctor for a long time now, as she reminds herself of her own travels through ‘umpteen galaxies’ and ‘hundreds of thousands of years’, which presumably also included an encounter with the ‘Mudmen of Epsilon Eridani’, which she cites in a moment of exasperation.

The bandits are rubbish because they’re really miners who were forced out of the mines when the creature arrived 15 years ago. Adrasta’s engineer Doran is a ‘not unattractive young man’. When the Doctor lands at the bottom of the pit, Doran’s crushed body breaks his fall. As the creature approaches, the Doctor notices a ‘strange metallic odour, like silver polish or a run-down battery’. 

Yes, this is the novel where sex is introduced for the first time as we are treated to a lengthy section on the life cycle of the Tythonians, including steamy, graphic descriptions of their sexual reproduction (no spoilers but at one point it involves two things about six inches long). Tythonians can live for around 40,000 years or more:

… longer, if they avoided any physical activity, like movement or worry, and devoted themselves exclusively to music and poetry.

The story ends with the Doctor’s joke about the lucky number, rather than with the goodbyes with Organon.

Cover: A final submission from Steve Kyte and it’s a cracker as the Doctor looks up fearfully at a sword while Adrasta lurks in the background. I have a strong suspicion that Kyte’s photo reference is the same one used for the cover of The Human League’s track Tom Baker.

Final Analysis: I admit, reading through this, I forgot that this wasn’t Terrance Dicks – which is a good sign for a first entry in the range. Terrance repeatedly said that he stopped writing quite so many books when the scriptwriters slowly realised that they could make all of the money if they also did the novelisation, and this is the beginning of that trend (Fisher having already missed out on his first two stories). Season 19’s script editor Douglas Adams, who commissioned the original serial, had just enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame thanks to the novelisation of his Hitch-Hikers radio serial and it’s clear that Fisher has read it (the section on the life cycle of the Tythonian and the asides about various flora and fauna on Chloris are hard to read without hearing Peter Jones’ voice) but Fisher at least has the common sense not to try to blindly copy everything Tom Baker brought to the screen (the sequence where the Doctor hangs onto the edge of the Pit loses the ‘Teach Yourself Tibetan’ jokes and instead involves him recalling the lessons of Sherpa Tensing).

Chapter 61. Doctor Who and the Horns of Nimon (1980)

Synopsis: Romana and the Doctor land aboard a stricken ship heading for Skonnos with a group of terrified Anethans. The youngsters are intended as tributes to the fearsome Nimon. As soon as the Doctor has repaired the ship, its captain absconds, leaving the Doctor stranded. By the time the TARDIS gets him to Skonnos, Romana has discovered that the Nimon, a bull-headed alien, is just the first arrival, a spearhead for a race of parasites that intend to lay waste to Skonnos…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Ship of Sacrifice
  • 2. The Skonnons
  • 3. Sardor in Command
  • 4. Asteroid
  • 5. The Nimon
  • 6. The Maze
  • 7. Sardor’s Bluff
  • 8. K9 in Trouble
  • 9. The Journey of the Nimon
  • 10. Journey to Crinoth
  • 11. Time Bomb
  • 12. The Legend

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Anthony Read’s scripts from 1979. This followed Nightmare of Eden on TV, so that’s another pair of stories to be released consecutively.

Notes: A brilliant prologue sketches the events of the rise and fall of the First Skonnan Empire in which we’re told ‘No enemy had ever defeated the Skonnans. They destroyed themselves.’ In-fighting led to civil war and the collapse of a once-proud race – and then came the Nimon, a god-like being who promised the restoration of the Empire in return for tributes, which the Skonnans, led by Soldeed, acquired on the peaceful neighbouring planet of Aneth. The ship we see in the first proper scene is the last surviving vessel of the former empire.

The Captain is here named Sekkoth and his co-pilot, Sardor, is younger, ‘plump-faced and overweight’. Sardor was too young to have fought in the wars, which accounts for his being ‘even more fiercely militaristic than his superior.’ The Doctor is curious as to why Romana has decided to dress like a fox-hunter. When Romana flees the Nimon’s chamber with Seth and Teka, it’s left to an unnamed Anethan girl to explain the plot so far to the Nimon. After the Complex is destroyed, we’re told what happened next: The Doctor takes Sorak aside and persuades him to enter into a peace treaty with the people of Aneth and lay the blame for previous enmity on the Nimon.

Cover: Steve Kyte’s first of three covers for the range, with the Doctor looking over his shoulder at a blue Nimon.

Final Analysis: Terrance Dicks often said that his favourite novels were the ones where the scripts were already good, so he had little to do, or the ones that were bad, where he got to fix them. Few fans would say Horns of Nimon is their favourite story, but the opening prologue suggests Terrance approached this with determination and a willingness to polish as he progressed. We might lose some of Tom Baker’s onscreen excesses here, but Terrance also takes things much more seriously than anyone in the TV version seems to have done: The opening prologue is as portentous as any other scene-setting chapter we’ve had, as a civilisation rises and falls; the comic trouser-splitting co-pilot is given a zealous determination that makes his ultimate demise a relief; Teka tells Romana that her fellow sacrifices are ‘too frightened even to talk’, which explains why only two of them are given any dialogue (genius!); Soldeed’s rise to power is shown to be a fluke and he clings to power knowing he’s ill-equipped to rule – something that Sorak seems to recognise and hopes to exploit; and of course, it’s the dreaded Nimon who Terrance really beefs up with customary relish – just have a look at this:

It was a fearsome, extraordinary creature, not unlike the great buffalo of Earth. Presumably on the Nimon’s planet some similar creature had developed intelligence and become the dominant life form. The Nimon was like a great black bull that had learned to talk and walk upon its hind legs like a man. The massive head merged directly into the enormous torso, with no suggestion of a neck. Great golden eyes blazed with a fierce intelligence and two amber-coloured horns jutted from the broad flat forehead. The creature wore only a wide jewelled belt and a kind of metallic kilt. 

The most terrifying thing about the Nimon was that it was never still. It was as if so much energy was packed into the enormous body that it throbbed with continual power, pacing restlessly to and fro like a great caged beast. Even when it was not speaking it gave off a constant series of low, rumbling growls. 

That is how to polish a cow-pat, even making the bizarre choreography something to fear. Right in the middle of his infamous ‘script-to-page’ period, Terrance gives us a surprising little gem.

Chapter 60. Doctor Who and the Nightmare of Eden (1980)

Synopsis: Two spacecraft collide and are fused together. An investigator suspects that one of the pilots was under the effect of a terrifying drug called Vraxoin. But how did it get aboard? The Doctor and Romana get involved and their attention is drawn to a device that stores snapshots of alien worlds. But these aren’t just photographs, that’s a real jungle from the planet Eden. That’s a real Mandrel from the jungle. Now that’s a real Mandrel leaving the jungle and marauding around the ship, killing real passengers. And more of them. And more…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Warp Smash
  • 2. The Collector
  • 3. The Attack
  • 4. Monster in the Fog
  • 5. Drugged
  • 6. The Fugitive
  • 7. The Rescuer
  • 8. Man-eater
  • 9. Monster Attack
  • 10. The Plotters
  • 11. The Secret of the Hecate
  • 12. The Smugglers
  • 13. Round-up
  • 14. Electronic Zoo

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Bob Baker’s scripts for the 1979 story.

Notes: The Doctor and Rigg discuss the history of Vraxoin, which the Doctor says keeps cropping up on various planets but its source has never been found as it was smuggled in from somewhere else. Scientists tried to create it artificially while trying to find a cure for vraxoin addiction, and the drug is ‘a mixture of animal and vegetable elements combined in some unique way’. Secker’s body is too frail after the attack as his system has been weakened by the drug. As ever, the version of the Mandrels from TV is enhanced in Dicks’ description:

The boar-like head had a curiously flattened nose-structure; the huge bulging eyes were a luminous green; and the creature was covered with thick, shaggy fur. Most terrifying of all were the rows of drooling fangs and the massive paws ending in razor-sharp claws. 

The Doctor urges Stott to quarantine Eden to enable the Mandrels to live in peace, their secret safe.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter paints the Doctor and a rather drab Mandrel (aside from its glowing green eyes).

Final Analysis: Another no-frills adaptation, a couple of small scenes are missing – the search among the passenger lounge when the Doctor and Romana have leapt through into Eden – and a few scenes are reordered, but otherwise it’s another basic tome.

Chapter 58. Doctor Who and the Armageddon Factor (1980)

Synopsis: Two planets locked in war, Atrios and Zeos. A princess tries to help her people while her zealous Marshal fights to win the war. Unseen, a shadowy figure is manipulating events as he awaits the final pawns in his game. The Doctor, Romana and K9 arrive on Atrios in search of the final segment of the Key to Time, and help comes from an unexpected source as the Doctor is reunited with an old friend. Soon, the Key to Time will be assembled – and the hidden enemy will be revealed. 

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Vanishing Planet
  • 2. Missile Strike
  • 3. Kidnapped
  • 4. A Trap for K9
  • 5. The Furnace
  • 6. Behind the Mirror
  • 7. The Shadow
  • 8. Lost on Zeos
  • 9. The Armageddon Factor
  • 10. The Planet of Evil
  • 11. Drax
  • 12. The Bargain
  • 13. Small World
  • 14. The Key to Time

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1978 scripts by Bob Baker and Dave Martin. This is now four stories to be released consecutively in the order they were broadcast on TV.

Notes: The first TARDIS scenes are condensed and moved to the beginning of the first chapter, with an additional explanation of the on-going mission to find the Key to Time. The Marshall’s description is a love-letter to actor John Woodvine:

Tall and broad shouldered, straight-backed with iron-grey hair, he wore a magnificent scarlet tunic with gold epaulettes, the eagle of Atrios emblazoned in silver on the breast. His stern face was rugged and handsome, his voice deep and commanding. 

Merak is apparently the son of one of Atrios’ oldest families and has secretly been in love with Astra since they were both children. They are both members of an underground peace party.  Drax is from the ‘Class of Ninety-Three’ (not Ninety-Two) and has heard that the Doctor ‘got done by the High Court’ for stealing a TARDIS and ‘served a stretch’ on Earth – Drax himself bought a TARDIS second hand and he agrees to stop calling the Doctor ‘Thete’ (short for Theta Sigma, which we’re told was a ‘Time Lord coding’), though he’s sensitive that, unlike the Doctor, he didn’t get his degree. Once exposed, the Black Guardian contorts into a demonic creature and it’s both his callousness about Princess Astra and his inability to set things right with the Key already assembled that alerts the Doctor to his true identity.

Cover: Bill Donohoe paints the Doctor (using a surprising photo reference from The Seeds of Doom) and Romana with the Key to Time locator core in her hand, with the red bird motif from the War Room on Atrios in the background. Apparently producer John Nathan-Turner didn’t like this cover – he was wrong though.

Final Analysis: Yet another fairly straightforward adaptation, with the only major omissions being those scenes with the Marshall preparing to fire on Zeos that are repeated on TV, which don’t need to be replayed here.

And so ends a long, long journey towards this point. There have been trials, tribulations and many disappointments on this quest, but finally we’re done… we’re out of the worst run of books in the series so far – perhaps ever. A combination of poor original stories and a very lacklustre approach to adapting them makes me so glad we’ve got a treat coming up next.

I hope…

Chapter 56. Doctor Who and the Androids of Tara (1980)

Synopsis: The Doctor has gone fishing, leaving Romana to hunt down the next segment of the Key to Time. She completes her hunt with surprising ease, but just as quickly she becomes a prisoner of the scheming Count Grendel. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s holiday is interrupted by guards who serve Prince Reynart, a sickly monarch-in-waiting, whose reign is about to be cut short by Grendel. The Prince has an android duplicate of himself, which he hopes to use as a decoy long enough to ascend the throne. The android, however, doesn’t work. Separately, the Doctor and Romana work from opposite sides to fix the state of Tara. 

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Doctor Goes Fishing
  • 2. Count Grendel
  • 3. The Double
  • 4. The Princess
  • 5. The Prisoner of Gracht
  • 6. The Android King
  • 7. Invitation to an Ambush
  • 8. The Android Killer
  • 9. Flag of Truce
  • 10. Count Grendel plans a Wedding
  • 11. Attack by Night
  • 12. Victory

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts by David Fisher for his second story from 1978. This followed The Stones of Blood on TV, so that’s another pair of stories to be released consecutively.

Notes: The statue that transforms into the Key to Time segment depicts ‘a vaguely dragon-like heraldic beast, thrusting time-blunted claws towards the blue summer sky’. The very-much-alive creature that attacks Romana is a very generous evolution of the short, comedic beast seen on telly:

The monster was a good eight feet tall – and it walked upright like a man. It had coarse black fur, slavering jaws filled with yellow, pointed teeth and a stubby horn projecting from the centre of its forehead. A mixture of bear, ape and boar, with the nastiest features of all three. 

Count Grendel is said to possess a ‘darkly handsome face’ which is ‘marred only slightly by a fiercely jutting beak of a nose’ – an unflattering description of actor Peter Jeffrey. At the end, the Doctor rescues the adrift K9 – and Romana jokes that he ‘managed to catch a fish on Tara after all’ – before the time travellers depart in the TARDIS.

Cover: A scene painted by Andrew Skilleter shows the Doctor inspecting a segment of the Key to Time, watched by Romana (in her Ribos costume), appearing on a cover for the first time. In the background, K9 makes his first appearance on a book cover too, looking up at the Prince on his throne. The back cover announces ‘THE ANDROIDS OF TARA is a novel in the Key To Time Sequence. Read THE RIBOS OPERATION and THE STONES OF BLOOD available now.’ (said books didn’t carry this linking text).

Final Analysis: Around the time that this book was published, Shredded Wheat had an advertisement campaign that boasted that the product had ‘nothing added, nothing taken away’. Aside from the exaggerated details of the beast in the woods, this is all we get here. I still think it’s not fair to dismiss Dicks’ writing simply as just adding ‘he said / she said’ to the script, as he paints a vivid picture of the castles and woodlands of Tara, but this is a great example of Dicks at his most perfunctory. Everything that we might like about this came from David Fisher.