Chapter 137. Doctor Who – Dragonfire (1989)

Synopsis: On a cold, distant planet lies the trading post known as Iceworld. Below the surface, the imprisoned criminal Kane hires mercenaries to find the key to his freedom. Deeper still, in the catacombs below Iceworld, lives a dragon, the guardian to a powerful crystal – the Dragonfire. While the Doctor joins his old acquaintance Glitz on a quest for the crystal, Mel makes a new friend called Ace – and gets a close encounter with the dragon!

Chapter Titles

Numbered One to Sixteen.

Background: Ian Briggs adapts his own scripts from the 1987 serial, completing the stories from Season 24. This is the first (and indeed only) time that a season’s stories have been novelised in order of transmission. 

Notes: Glitz’s former crew consists of four men and two women (one of whom is called Winterbottom). Chapter Two sees the Doctor and Mel inside the TARDIS. Mel is exercising, standing on her head, and the Doctor deliberately steers the TARDIS to knock her off balance. The Doctor pays Glitz’s bill at the Refreshment Bar. Ace’s boss is named Eisenstein (not Anderson). The small furry creature is an ambassador called Erick. A deleted scene in which the Doctor frees Glitz from a collapsed tunnel is reinstated. Glitz then deliberately gives the Doctor the slip to hunt for the treasure alone. He finds the Ice Garden and realises it’s a very out-of-date planetarium, featuring slightly distorted constellations like ‘the Great Lever, the Old Man, and the Waterfall’. The Doctor sees a ledge after 15 feet down the ice cliff, which is why he ends up hanging from his brolly (it does make more sense than it did on telly). The ‘dragon’ is ‘tall and skeletal, with greyish-white membranes instead of skin’. It had a ‘large bony skull on top of a long neck’ and its skeleton is visible beneath its skin. 

Mel challenges Ace’s plan to scale the ice cliff using her compact ladder, forcing Ace to confess she’s never actually used it, but has seen people do the same thing on TV. As they climb down the ladder, one of the nitro-9 canisters leaks and nearly knocks Ace out. Glitz’s ship, The  Nosferatu is a Nightcruiser Pacific, a model of craft once popular with business types. The lost urchin is a ‘Star Child’ called Stellar. Her best friend is ‘Milli-mind’, her teddy bear is simply ‘Ted’  and she enjoys popular culture, being able to recognise some of the celebrities visiting Iceworld, including a TV personality, a pop star, a woman who’s a ‘brilliant scientist’ and a woman who looks like the one her father now lives with. Her mother has brought a number of outfit changes with her.

Glitz often has trouble with ‘feminists’ – usually because they’re right and he’s wrong. Five hundred other craft are destroyed along with the Nosferatu. Ace explains to Mel that the ‘Ace 4 Wayne’ graffiti on a wall near her quarters is a dedication to her toy dog. Kane waits in Ace’s quarters, hiding inside her fridge. Mel adds a few words of explanation to her out-of-the-blue decision to leave the TARDIS: ‘I don’t belong here. I’m not a traveller, like you. I need somewhere I feel I can belong.’

Cover & Illustration: Another amazing piece of work from Alister Pearson, who really pushes the boat out on these Seventh Doctor covers. Against a backdrop of the ice cliff we see Ace and the Doctor (holding his question-mark umbrella) either side of the Dragonfire crystal, within which is the melting face of Kane. Ian Briggs directed Pearson not to include the Biomechanoid from the TV episodes on the cover as he had described the creature differently in the text.

In the ice is carved a phrase from the book, ‘ACE 4 WAYNE’, which also appears inside as an illustration, our first for a very long time. Also etched into the ice is ‘AH’, a tribute to fan Andy Holding, and ‘TH’, who is his friend (and mine) Toby Hadoke.

Final Analysis: Another solid adaptation that enhances the TV original and even though this introduces Ace, Mel doesn’t get completely abandoned as has often been the case for departing companions. Briggs also seems to understand this Doctor very well indeed, as the introduction to the final chapter shows.

In the TARDIS Console Room, the Doctor was busy checking the stabiliser settings at the control console. Mel watched him. She liked this new incarnation. He was still a bit grumpy at times, and occasionally he behaved like a fool, but he cared deeply about people – all people, not just his friends. 

‘Well, I suppose it’s time,’ she said…

The Biomechanoid is elevated, as we might expect, into something a little more elegant than it appeared on TV, but what’s surprising is how our sympathies are diverted to the two ‘ANT hunters’; with Bazin injured after being attacked by the dragon, McLuhan takes care of him, determined to finish their mission before they both die. And of course, we meet Ace and here, her creator takes the opportunity to make her a little more fallible, very defensive and quick to jump to conclusions – and as Mel discovers, she’s rather too keen to rush into danger. It’s a shame they never got more stories together on TV as Ace’s youth also informs Mel’s character, the (slightly) older woman seeing something of herself in the brash teen.

Chapter 131. Doctor Who – The Ultimate Foe (1988)

Synopsis: The Doctor’s defence backfires and the situation looks bleak for his trial by the Time Lords. Unexpected witnesses arrive in the form of Mel and the scheming Glitz, brought to the court by the Master. The Doctor’s oldest enemy has come to his aid for one reason – to expose the Doctor’s prosecutor, the Valeyard. Soon, the Doctor is fighting for his life deep inside the Matrix, trapped by an adversary who knows him better than he knows himself…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. The Key of Rassilon
  • 2. An Unwelcome Intruder
  • 3. Evil Intent
  • 4. Twelve-and-a-half
  • 5. Treason
  • 6. A World Apart
  • 7. A Lethal Greeting
  • 8. Mr Popplewick
  • 9. A Sticky End
  • 10. To Be Or Not To Be
  • 11. Out of the Frying Pan
  • 12. The Baiter Bitten
  • 13. False Witness
  • 14. Off With His Head
  • 15. Mesmeric Riches
  • 16. Point and Counterpoint
  • 17. About-face
  • 18. Two-faced
  • 19. Double-faced
  • 20. Particles of Death
  • 21. The Price of Vanity
  • 22. The Keeper Vanishes
  • 23. Carrot Juice
  • Epilogue

Background: Pip and Jane Baker adapt one script by Robert Holmes and another by themselves for the concluding episodes of the 1986 serial The Trial of a Time Lord.

Notes: The prologue recaps the trial so far, the events on Ravalox, Sil’s experiments with brain transference and the attack on the Vervoids. The Doctor has been ‘plucked out of time’ and brought to the space station where the trial is being conducted, ‘a baroque cathedral with dozens of thrusting spires and straddled with porticoes’, a ‘gargantuan hulk’ where ‘all the processes of existence hitherto experienced are suspended’. Sabalom Glitz is a ‘thief, liar, and incorrigible rogue. A coward who would sell his grandmother to save his own skin. For whom profit was a god. A wheeler-dealer devoid of conscience.’ Despite her being ‘half his size, a quarter his weight’, Glitz is initially more afraid of Mel than she is of him. She pinches him to prove that he isn’t dead (he’s spooked by the coffin-shaped capsules that have brought them to the trial station). Mel was in the TARDIS – the future Doctor’s TARDIS – writing an ‘experimental programme for one of the TARDIS’s complex computers’ when she was plucked out of time and brought to the courtroom. Glitz is also standing closer to the Doctor than he was on screen – at one point, afraid that the guards might use their guns on him, he shields himself behind the Doctor’s ‘portly form’. As the revelations begin to flow, Mel stands next to the Doctor, close enough to grab his arm in surprise. The Doctor apparently gives his adventures titles, having christened his last encounter with the Master ‘The Mark Of The Rani’.

Though the contents of ‘the secrets’ that were the focus of Glitz’s attention in The Mysterious Planet were not revealed at that time, we discover in chapter 3 that they were stolen from the Matrix. The Inquisitor admonishes the Valeyard for his attempts to silence the Master. The Master claims that the Valeyard is the Doctor’s penultimate incarnation; on TV, this is slightly less clear. Glitz claims to see a resemblance between the Doctor and the Valeyard (‘Same shaped nose. And the mouth. He’s got your mouth’) , though this is challenged robustly by Mel. Having revealed the Valeyard’s true identity, the Master, aided by Glitz, then explains the  mystery behind Ravalox and the theft of the secrets by the Andromedan Sleepers – and only after the Doctor rebukes the Time Lords for their corruption does the Valeyard flee the court. The Master claims to know both the accused and the prosecutor ‘intimately’.

The Inquisitor had been selected from many candidates to oversee the trial; she felt the appointment to be the pinnacle of her career and likely to see her ascend to the High Council. One of the jurors is a two-thousand-year-old Time Lord called Xeroniam. Glitz wears pyjamas made of ‘Attack Repulsor PolyCreman pongee’ (!), fastened with ‘Batayn Radaral buttons’. The authors provide an explanation for how the Master acquired his access to the Matrix that is… wonderfully convoluted. The Time Lords have relegated maintenance of the Matrix to the Elzevirs, inhabitants of the Moon of Leptonica in the constellation of Daedalus and specialists in micro-technology. The Master hypnotised Nilex, an individual who supervised the Matrix repair team. Nilex duplicated the Key of Rassilon and gave the copy to the Master. 

Mel’s spirited defence of the Doctor is revealed to be a ploy to get close enough to the Keeper of the Matrix to be able to steal his key. A crowd of people await the Doctor’s execution within the Matrix. The Doctor is aware of Mr Popplewick’s secret identity before the revelation. There’s a reminder of the Master’s previous exploits, including his final scene in Mark of the Rani, where he and the Rani were trapped in the Rani’s TARDIS with an ever-expanding tyrannosaurus rex, until the creature grew so big that its spine snapped (as previously recounted in the Time and the Rani novelisation). The Inquisitor lightly rebukes the Doctor for his comments about the corruption in Gallifrey society, before she invites him to become president. In the epilogue, the Doctor explains to Mel that she has to return to her own timeline and leave him to travel alone until they meet properly.

Cover: The Oliver Elms logo settles into place from now on, as Alister Pearson paints two capsules descending down a trial-ship beam of light, with Mr Popplewick standing proudly (a stunning likeness). Pearson had painted a beautiful duo of the Inquisitor and the Valeyard in the courtroom, but the final illustration is a lot more dramatic. Consistent with the two other books published so far, there’s a flash marking this as part of the Trial of a Time Lord season (and the title page lists this as ‘The Trial of a Time Lord: The Ultimate Foe’).

Final Analysis: Pip and Jane Baker deliver their final novelisation and it’s like a distillation of their stories so far. They’re as exuberant with their verbosity as ever, capturing the sesquipedalian nonsense of the original TV story and turning it up a notch (a particularly nice line is the Valeyard saying to Glitz ‘I really cannot countenance such exoteric improbity’). Their intention all along was to ignite a passion for language in the viewer and we might ponder just how invested in this flowery language a young reader might be, but I have to confess… it worked for me! I scampered to the dictionary to look up every new word. They were always the best writers for the Sixth Doctor, matching his pomposity with a kindness that was sadly lacking with other writers. Here, they’re equally successful in bringing Glitz to life, creating a character whose every move is either cowardly or conniving. Even Mel is portrayed as an independent, fiery and determined individual with an unwavering loyalty and admiration for the Doctor.

While the resolution to the trial was a mess, there were extenuating circumstances. The Bakers here resist the temptation to rewrite the story from scratch; they fulfil the remit of adapting what happened on screen admirably. But, as all the greats do, they tweak along the way, adding extra motivations or backstory (some of which is bonkers!). Unlike in Terror of the Vervoids however (where they tended to infodump right before the information was required), they manage to foreshadow their additions and build upon what we saw on telly. Even if their explanation for the Master’s acquisition of the Matrix key is, er… no it’s actually insane, but all the more entertaining for it. They were inconsistent, but I’ll really miss them.