Bonus chapter #10. Doctor Who – The Ghosts of N-Space (1995)

Synopsis: While Sarah Jane and her colleague Jeremy enjoy a holiday in Italy, they’re surprised to find the Brigadier is also in the region. He’s offering support to a distant relative who’s being threatened by an American gangster determined to acquire the family home by any means. When the Doctor arrives to investigate a haunting, the old team comes together to solve a mystery that spans centuries.

Chapter titles

Numbered One to Twenty-Eight

Background: A number of firsts here, as Barry Letts adapts scripts for a BBC Radio drama that, at the time of publication, had yet to be broadcast. The old novelisation imprint having expired, this was released as the seventh book in Virgin’s Missing Adventures line. 

Notes: The back cover tells us that the story is set between Death to the Daleks and The Monster of Peladon; Sarah recalls her tangle with a Sontaran, there are various references to Paradise of Death and the Doctor and Sarah discuss their escapades in the Exxilon city. An opening scene helps to set up our new villain in a confrontation between Max Vilmio and head of a ruling family, Don Fabrizzio, which results in the brutal death of the Don.

As was common in the Virgin books, there’s some mild swearing – the Don’s henchmen are said to have been disrespected as if they were ‘the chicken‐shit bully‐boys of a Main Street Boss from the Mid‐West’, the Don considers Vilmio to be a ‘pezzo di merda’ (thank you Google Translate) and Vilmio later calls Fabrizzio a ‘two‐bit Godfather with cowshit between his toes’ (as in the radio serial!). Sarah mentally bestows Jeremy with the name ‘Tail‐Arse‐Charlie’ as he’s always last in line when the action starts. Letts outdoes Ian Marter for one specific expletive: Vilmio threatens Jeremy, ‘I’ll ask you once more, you little bastard’ and Jeremy recalls a boxing lesson at school where he cowered in the corner of the ring surrounded by cries of ‘You’ve got him now, boy, kill the bastard!’. After Max calls Maggie ‘an ignorant broad from Brooklyn’, she agrees, before adding ‘Great tits, though’; later, she’s said to stand ‘silent, hand on tilted hip, chin up, tits out, letting her body do its work’. Least offensive of all is Sarah asking herself ‘Why am I so knackered?’ – it’s an entirely appropriate phrase for someone who grew up in Liverpool, but any readers from the East of England may have another interpretation of the word, where ‘knackered’ can mean ‘sexually exhausted’. The book retains the use of the word ‘catamite’ from the radio scripts and refrains from explaining it. Max’s use of the term ‘dumb Polack hooker’ is, however, excised.

As a child, Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart had visited his uncle Mario and brought with him a set of story books (which his uncle kept to help him with his English) as well as a comforting teddy bear. Listening to the Doctor and the Brigadier talk, Sarah Jane thinks of them as ‘the grown‐ups’. The Doctor’s voice reminds Sarah of a childhood trip with her parents to stay at a caravan on the Gower coast. 

We’re treated to a number of ghastly animal combinations from the N-dimension: One is a ‘glowing creature half ape, half carrion bird, reaching out with impossibly extended scaly arms [and] vulture claws’; later, the Doctor provides the gang with a peek into N-space:

Sarah saw again a flash of the chimera of her living nightmare. She saw glimpses of creatures even more horrific: inside out creatures gnawing at their own entrails; gaping heads, all mouth and fangs, with a maw large enough to swallow a full‐grown pig – or a human; monstrous jellyfish with a hundred human eyes, staring, staring, staring; and more; and more; a menagerie of evil. 

The three creatures they encounter in the past resemble a thirty-feet-long whale with shark’s teeth and legs with ‘dinner‐plate‐sized hooves’, a ‘nimble slug a mere twelve feet in length’ and a ‘spiny sea urchin, a ball of yard‐long spikes’, with ‘blood-red eyes on stalks’.

The Doctor’s leaping to avoid the beast is compared to ‘Nureyev or Nijinsky’, which seems odd to think back to a time where there even was a ‘world-famous ballet dancer’ who everyone knew by name, let alone two.

We discover that Maggie’s backstory is even more grim than on radio: After the death of her mother, her violent and abusive father revealed that he expected Maggie to take her mother’s place ‘in every sense’. When she fought against his advances, her father beat her savagely and though he subsequently left her alone, he continued to violently terrorise her siblings. Despite this, we’re told that Maggie usually gets a ‘buzz’ from violence – ‘Bruised, cut cheeks and split lips could be quite a turn‐on’ – but even she finds Max’s beating of Jeremy distressing – hence why she helps him.

Uncle Mario has had a loaded gun on the premises ever since World War II (we’re told that he has been ‘indomitably anti‐fascist’ since the 1920s. Jeremy had an Uncle Teddy, with whom he used to go wild-fowling on trips to Norfolk. Having repeatedly compared his adventures with those of James Bond, Jeremy takes inspiration for his final assault from one of Uncle Mario’s books – one of the volumes that used to belong to young Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart.

Cover: Using the Slatter-Anderson design for the Missing Adventures range, Alister Pearson presents us with a Doctor in his costume first seen in The Green Death, with a Brigadier in what looks like his Mawdryn Undead civvies, while the main panel shows a ghostly monk passing through a brick wall.

Final Analysis: Commissioned as a sequel to The Paradise of Death, The Ghosts of N-Space fell foul of changes at Radio 5 as the station’s remit evolved towards solely news and sport, with no room for fiction. It shifted across a number of potential options before eventually airing on Radio 2 (not normally the home of drama, but Radio 4 had already passed) some two years after it had been produced. In the meantime, Virgin books decided to capitalise upon the success of their New Adventures range by commissioning a second strand of original fiction starring past Doctors and companions. Barry Letts had a ready-made script ripe for novelisation, so was invited to contribute to the Missing Adventures range with The Ghosts of N-Space with no confirmed airdate for the serial in sight. This book is the only Doctor Who adaptation to be presented as an original novel first rather than as part of the ongoing series of novelisations. It’s a distinction that initially led me to decide not to review it here as it, er, didn’t count. However, a last-minute Twitter poll forced my hand. So here we are!

As with the novel of The Paradise of Death, while I don’t wish to review the radio play, this is another instance where I hadn’t actually heard the original episodes before. For the novel, Barry Letts rejigs the order of some scenes and expands others. Mainly, it benefits hugely from the rewriting of scenes that were originally created through breathless dialogue (such as Sarah Jane or Jeremy explaining what they can see and the listener can only hear). The backstories of the various Italian families through the ages are fleshed out and the whole thing just makes a lot more sense than it does as an audio drama. Otherwise, it’s a fairly logical progression through the scripts, even down to a very conveniently jolly ending. 

At the time, there was a suspicion in some quarters that the BBC kept shunting the play around because nobody actually wanted it. Whether that was because of its quality, or just because no commissioner ever wants to inherit someone else’s stone-cold project is up for debate. Eventually, both the novel and the eventual broadcast received a lukewarm response from fans. 

The adventure itself isn’t that bad. It’s a complicated tale set across multiple points in time that might easily have been produced on TV during the Steven Moffat years. The main problem is one that blighted both Paradise of Death and almost all of the Missing Adventures at the time, a split in the readership between those who wanted the new stories to feel authentic to the productions they were supposed to slot between and others who wanted the kind of stories that could never have been achieved in a BBC Television Centre studio. The Ghosts of N-Space sits uncomfortably between the two. Like most early 1970s six-part adventures, it’s rather flabby in the middle and it all gets a little moralistic in its conclusion. But it’s also extremely atypical of the era it’s trying to recreate, so it feels like one of those feature films in the 1970s where the cast of a popular TV sitcom leave their familiar surroundings for a foreign holiday – with hilarious consequences.

In this case, the consequences aren’t that hilarious as Letts takes advantage of being able to write for an older audience: The Lovecraftian monsters are genuinely horrific; there’s the strong language and mild sexual terms mentioned earlier,; and he reveals an enthusiasm for particularly nasty death scenes:

With one last choking gasp, the wretched man was still. His eyes were popping from his head and his tongue extruded from his mouth, blood streaming from it. His jaw, clamped tight, had bitten it right through. He was, without a doubt, quite dead. 

By no means as ropey as I’d been led to believe, it’s still not quite authentic enough to satisfy traditionalists, nor revolutionary to appease the radicals. Even so, it’s disappointing that this is Barry Letts’ final novelisation. He later wrote two original Doctor Who novels for BBC Books, one co-written with Terrance Dicks, as well as contributing to Big Finish’s Sarah Jane Smith series of audio plays. He died on 9 October 2009, aged 84. His autobiography, Who and Me, was published posthumously the following month.

Chapter 156. Doctor Who – The Paradise of Death (1994)

Synopsis: When a body is found in the grounds of a new theme park, the Brigadier asks the Doctor to investigate. Sensing a story, Sarah Jane Smith calls in a photographer called Jeremy and discovers that the owners of the theme park are aliens hoping to negotiate trade deals with Earth. Nothing is as it seems, however, as the aliens have links to a political conspiracy on a far off world. Sarah and Jeremy are left to solve the mystery alone when the Doctor is declared dead!

Chapter Titles

Numbered One to Thirty-Three. Just missed out on that crown for most number of chapters, Barry.

Background: Barry Letts returns to the Doctor Who novelisation range for the first time since Doctor Who and the Daemons in 1974, to adapt his own scripts for the 1993 radio serial. Although the numbering has ceased to appear on the cover, the title page tells us that this is indeed book #156 in the Target Doctor Who Library.

Notes: The announcer on the Space World adverts is said to have an accent that’s ‘half-Cockney half-Yankee’ (a possible dig at actor Andrew Wincott’s delivery in the original broadcasts). Space World rivals Disneyworld ‘in size and the scope of its attractions’, covering ‘acres of London’s favourite open space’. Many of the Space World staff are out-of-work actors pretending to be robot guides.

For the first time ever, a swear word from an original broadcast is retained for the book (when Nobby discovers ‘a bleedin’ UFO’) rather than it being an addition for the novelisation. Sarah Jane Smith has a studio flat overlooking Hampstead Heath. She’s been a journalist in London for two years and is currently a feature writer for Metropolitan – a ‘glossy woman’s mag’ [as revealed in Planet of the Spiders]. As in the radio serial, Sarah Jane has had one adventure with the Doctor before returning to her normal life [so this comes before Invasion of the Dinosaurs, an idea supported by the opening scenes of the novelisation, The Dinosaur Invasion]. The Brigadier is surprised to learn Miss Smith is a journalist and not, as he’d been led to believe, a scientist specialising in ‘bugs’. The Doctor’s laboratory contains objects that Sarah thinks would look at home in a museum or a ‘junk shop’:

There were odd pieces of clothing – a hat with an ostrich feather plume; a piece of rusting armour; a very long knitted scarf; a pair of pointed Renaissance slippers – piles of dried vegetable matter, including some horribly twisted fungi. a dusty stuffed albatross with wings outstretched (she’d had to duck underneath to get into the room), a large photograph of a man with a shock of white hair and a bushy moustache, (Could it be…? It was, you know. Scribbled in the corner, it had, ‘Many thanks for all your help, old friend.’ and it was signed ‘Albert Einstein’) and so on and so on.

Jeremy Fitzoliver is a slight man dressed in a soft leather jacket and designer jeans with a ‘knife-edge crease’ that Sarah suspects must have cost ‘a bomb and a half’. He went to school at Hothorough, as did his uncle Edward Fitzoliver, who Sarah realises is a major shareholder in Metropolitan Magazine. The Brigadier went to school with ‘Teddy’ Fitzoliver and knew him affectionately as ‘Pooh’, as he was considered ‘a bear of little brain’. The Brigadier had also known a ‘Chuffy Knowles’ while at Sandhurst, who left the army to become an insurance salesman. Among the guests at the Space World opening is Septimus Hardiman, a columnist and TV personality who specialises in innuendo.

The alien Kamelius has a slight hump on the back of its armadillo-like body, with legs and weight like that of an African elephant. It has two rows of teeth that look designed to chew rocks, its crab-like claws look powerful enough to snap an arm or leg – and it makes a ‘a low chattering gobble’ noise. The Giant Ostroid looks like ‘an oven-ready turkey on stilts’ with saucer eyes and the habit of belching loudly. The Piranhatel Beetles number in their hundreds; they’re six inches long, with scarlet and black shells and ‘great tearing, biting thingies sticking out of their faces’ and can strip a cow’s carcass to the bone in under thirty-three seconds. Jeremy thinks that the most impressive exhibit is the Stinksloth, an extremely pungent creature that is housed in a pit of foul mud ‘or worse’ and looks like a cross between a sea lion and a jellyfish. The smell comes from the bodies of giant slugs, which the beast stores in the corner of its cell until its next meal. We’re also told of a ‘Flesh-Eating Gryphon’, a ‘Blue-Finned Belly-Flopper’ and a ‘Vampire Teddy Bear’ among the twenty one alien creatures in the park.

Having escaped from Tragan, Grebber decides that the chances of anything happening to him that night are ‘sweet FA’ (a swear word with a flexible level of offense depending on which interpretation you go for, so potentially the strongest we’ve seen in the range so far).

The Brigadier speaks to the Secretary General of the United Nations, a woman with a ‘mid-oceanic’ accent. He recalls his meetings with the Doctor, starting with the Yeti and the ‘uncanny Cybermen’ before recalling that he’d thought the Doctor to be dead once before, during the operation with the Daemon. The pathologist, Professor Mortimer Willow, ponders whether the Doctor and Grebber were ‘pissed or stoned’. He also asks his assistant about his love life, enquiring if Brian is ‘getting his oats’. The Doctor claims to have known General Clive of India (‘A thoroughgoing bad lot, but he knew his tea’) and Lucrezia Borgia. He learned the art of bone relaxation from a wise neanderthal. Jeremy speaks to Captain Yates, who is the duty officer back at UNIT.

The guard-dog creatures accompanying Tragan, later identified as Blestinu soldiers, are an evolutionary hybrid of reptile and canine:

Even more fearsome than the sabre-toothed rottweiler guessed at in the pathologist’s report, it stood nearer to seven foot than six. Its overall shape was dog-like, with the muscles of a pit-fighter rippling under a leather skin denuded of all but a few hairs. But its face, a mongrel mix of demon and dinosaur, could have been used as a model by Hieronymus Bosch in his most graphic depictions of the denizens of hell gnawing at the entrails of those eternally abandoned by God. Its eyes, blood red, seemed to glow with the fire of an internal furnace; its teeth, unlike any earthly creature’s, were jagged and long, each with a number of stiletto points to pierce and tear. It smelt of decay.

As revealed to Sarah, Tragan’s real face is ‘like a thick, purple soup’, his skin is covered with warts and ‘suppurating pustules’ as if ‘melted by some unburning flame’. 

Racing back to the TARDIS in Bessie, the Doctor is pulled over for speeding by a policeman; the Brigadier intercedes after the Doctor tried to justify driving at 140mph by baffling the officer with science. Tragan asks Sarah if she’s ever travelled through space before and she briefly wonders if time travel would count (so again, this is very early days for Sarah). The Brigadier is reminded of when he was a young subaltern [See the novel of The Mind of Evil], stationed in Leicestershire, where he had been invited to join ‘some of the fashionable hunts’. He also recalls leading a ‘cutting-out expedition’ (landing from canoes behind the enemy lines) when he was ‘seconded to the SAS as a captain’ and he alludes to an undercover mission that saw him flying from Kathmandu to Patna, where the jungle had, when viewed from above, looked like the ocean.

The Gargan is about the same size as a Tyrannosaurus Rex but with short, sturdy back legs. It walks on its knuckles, like a gorilla and it has a long curved neck so it can ‘hold his head close to the ground, like a bloodhound hot on the trail’ and its mouth contains rows of teeth like those of a crocodile.

A series of flashbacks fill in the backstory of Onya Farjen – back when she was called ‘Katyan Glessey’ and before she discovered her links to the Kinionyan tribe on the island of Lackan. When preparing to take on Jenhegger in combat, the Doctor removes the fancy dress that Tragan forced him to wear – leaving him in just his underpants (the broadcast version is not as specific, stating merely that he has removed the costume). Sarah has apparently been in love before and while she doesn’t think she is in love with Captain Waldo Rudley, his death leaves her full of regret and grief, ‘as if Waldo’s death had left a black hole in her heart’.

Cover: A tasteful trio of portraits of the Brigadier, Sarah and the Doctor (using a reference photo from Invasion of the Dinosaurs) in shades of blue that evoke the title sequence introduced for Season 11, all beautifully painted by Alister Pearson.

Final Analysis: Throughout this project, I’ve tried to avoid reviewing the TV stories or discussing things that aren’t specific to the adaptation. My assumption is, anyone who’s reading this is at least familiar with the source material, even if they’ve not read the book. With Paradise of Death, there was a point a few chapters in where I realised that I er… hadn’t actually heard the radio serial beyond the first episode, despite having it on CD for 20 years. So now I have!

It’s a strange one, this – broadcast on Radio 5 in the early years of the station, before it refined its output to focus on news and sport. It has the same production techniques as the established Radio 4 house style, so it surprised me to learn that most of the mild swear words that appear in the book came from the radio scripts. The book also falls into Doctor Who’s transition as an ongoing concern mainly in print, as the decade featured only three TV stories (a movie and two charity specials of dubious canonicity). So we have a few references that don’t really fit with the period the story is set, but the focus on virtual reality very much reflects the cultural obsessions of the early 1990s. There are a few examples of Barry Letts tipping his hat to social issues, but it’s much less heavy handed than in some of the much-loved serials he produced for TV. And one rather ugly reference from the radio serial is thankfully omitted, where the Doctor describes Experienced Reality addicts as being as hooked ‘as a junkie is on heroin’. 

Setting the story in the early days of Sarah Jane’s involvement with the Doctor allows for a little character development as she still doesn’t know what to expect and at first the Brigadier still thinks she’s a scientist, not a journalist with a fake ID. There’s a lovely line, retained from the broadcast version, where Sarah tries to explain to Jeremy that she’s only just met the Doctor, but news of his (apparent) death has left her more bereft than she can understand: ‘It’s silly, I know, but I feel as if – as if I’d lost my best friend.’ Later, when confronted with Tragan’s true face, her internal monologue betrays Barry Letts’ hand:

The pause gave Sarah the time to gather her shattered defences. After all, she thought, it didn’t really matter what he looked like, though she couldn’t stop herself from shuddering when she tried to look at him with an objective eye. It was sheer prejudice to judge people by their appearance.

Meanwhile, the Brigadier tries not to cause offense to his hosts by picking his way through an exotic buffet to find the alien items most closely resembling cheese and meats. It’s a nuanced portrayal of the Brig, at once showing him to be a man of simple tastes coupled with an awareness of his role in intergalactic diplomacy. Other authors fall into the trap of playing the Brigadier as either an obstinate military mind or a boorish idiot, so it’s good to see the character treated with respect.

And that’s that. After this run of Target books had ended (including the three Virgin publications), Doctor Who’s future in print would be in the form of all-new adventures, ‘too broad and too deep for the small screen’. And often too sexy, too sweary and too drug-referency as well. But I’m definitely not reading those.

Well – maybe just one…

Chapter 153. Doctor Who – The Pescatons (1991)

Synopsis: The Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith witness the appearance of a hideous creature on the banks of the Thames. Seeking help at a nearby research station, they discover that a recent meteorite hidden underwater is actually a crashed spaceship. Its inhabitant, a Pescaton, heads for central London on the rampage before it eventually dies. But this is just the first, as soon hundreds of spaceships disguised as meteorites enter the atmosphere of Earth. The Pescaton invasion has begun!

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Darkest Night
  • 2. Into the Depths
  • 3. Panic!
  • 4. A Premonition
  • 5. While the City Sleeps
  • 6. The Terror Begins
  • 7. Pesca
  • 8. Creatures of the Night
  • 9. ‘Find Zor!’
  • 10. The Deadly Encounter

Background: Victor Pemberton adapts his scripts for a story released on LP in 1976. Although the range continues under Virgin Books and is later resurrected by BBC Books, this is the last of the original run of Target books. Just to be annoyingly inconsistent, while Slipback was treated as an extra novel outside of the numbered library, The Pescatons is given a number. 

Notes: The Doctor has a poor sense of smell but heightened hearing. Sarah Jane has ‘lovely’, ‘large brown eyes’. The travellers land a couple of miles down the coast from Westcliff, Essex, later confirmed to be  Shoeburyness. The Doctor guesses that they’re in the mid-1970s and while we’re later told that they’re reached ‘the seventh decade of the twentieth century’ (which is, er, the 1960s), Sarah Jane also notes that they’re about ten years or so from ‘the period in time she left behind’ – which would suggest the mid-1980s or an unseen adventure.

The first clue of the Pescaton’s approach is a strong smell of fish, then a hissing sound like ‘a jungle cat stalking its prey’.

… eyes glaring like giant emeralds. It was a huge, towering creature, over twelve feet tall, half-human, half fish, with shining silvery scales covering its sticky body, and hands like talons with sharp nails, and webbed feet which were veined in red, heavy and clumsy. Its face was weird, almost gothic; it was like a gremlin, a manifestation of the Devil itself.

A sticky green stuff blocks the route to the TARDIS so the travellers visit the Essex Coastal Protection Unit (ECPU) where they meet 28-year-old head of research Mike Ridgewell and his colleague and longtime girlfriend Helen Briggs. While Mike accepts the Doctor’s claims about an alien creature. Helen doesn’t trust him and is confused by his relationship with Sarah, wondering if she’s his daughter. Mike does the ‘Doctor who?’ joke (first time we’ve had that in a while) and the Doctor replies ‘if you insist’ and introduces Sarah Jane as his ‘assistant’. Mike is a little sharp with Sarah Jane and snaps at her (mild swear-word warning) ‘don’t talk crap!’

The Doctor is ‘not a good swimmer at the best of times’ but he finds the experience of diving to the depths of the estuary ‘awesome’ and reminiscent of walking in space. The Pescaton spaceship is made of a metal he doesn’t recognise. As he leaps from his recovery bed in the First Aid unit of the ECPU, we discover that the Doctor wears ‘long-leg underpants’! When Sarah Jane asks him how old he is, he replies ‘Trade secret’. The Doctor met Professor Bud Emmerson in a ‘previous generation’. Emmerson is in his mid-sixties, with almost white hair, cropped short, and he’s ‘just as fat as he always had been’, which makes his ‘tall, massive body’ look out of proportion with his ‘really quite small’ head. He was a comedy actor in the 1950s but fell into astronomy. He gained widespread recognition for his discovery of a cluster of planets and invested funding from global astronomical organisations and donations from fans to build the North London Observatory on Highgate Hill. The Doctor helped him identify Pesca and the Professor has been studying the planet ever since. Pesca has hardly any ‘ozone protection’ (a major environmental concern at the time of publication).

Mike and a young member of the team called Pete Conway find a beach hut covered in the green substance which has hardened into a shroud shape. Believing a teenage boy is trapped inside, they use a drill to crack open the cocoon, only to discover that Pescatons can mimic human voices – and from the cocoon emerge small, shrieking Pescaton hatchlings, each about eight inches long and instinctively vicious. Seeing a police presence on the banks of the Thames, Sarah gets through a cordon by flashing a press pass (that’s ten years out of date), then the Doctor claims to be from the Department of the Environment. The Doctor recognises a large cone containing thousands of Pescaton eggs, having seen something similar on a past visit to Pesca. The Doctor carries a mini-telescope, a dynameter for ‘tracing sonic direction’ and a flute (replacing the piccolo from the album).

We first encounter Zor in a flashback to the Doctor’s previous visit to Pesca:

A massive creature, with slanting, luminous green eyes bulging out of an oval head covered with shining, metallic scales. Its teeth were sharp and pointed, like needles, and the gills behind its head pulsated as it breathed. And the body! The fins of a killer shark, hands with sharp claws, and the legs of a human stretching down to veined webbed feet. The creature’s tail, which was long and tough, like that of a crocodile, stretched out behind its body but never seemed to move.

…. through those eyes the Doctor could see right inside the creature’s brain, a hideous mass of living energy, a great beehive shape, crawling with minuscule ‘thought worms’. 

The creature mimics the Doctor’s speech patterns (so, unlike on the record, it doesn’t have a gravelly North American accent that should be selling us aftershave or narrating movie trailers). Back on Earth, Zor is tracked down to an underground tunnel near Aldwych Station and is destroyed by bright arc lights (on the record, it’s found in a sewer and defeated by high-frequency sound).

At the end, Professor Emmerson watches ‘a small object rising up into space through his telescope’ as the TARDIS departs [in the manner it left in Fury from the Deep on TV]. 

Cover: Pete Wallbank uses a photo reference of the Doctor and Sarah from The Seeds of Doom for a composition that includes the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and a strange scaly creature that appears to be emerging from the Doctor’s coat.

Final Analysis: Slipback – a radio serial produced by the BBC and broadcast on Radio 4 – was novelised as part of the Target range but not part of the numbered library, putting it alongside the Missing Episodes and Companions of Doctor Who as an interesting side-step that’s not part of the official canon. As the programme itself ceased production in 1989 – and thanks to Nigel Robinson’s determination to fill in all those 1960s gaps – the number of TV stories available for novelisation had reached single figures by this point. Two of those stories were about to be ticked off and the rest would eventually join the Target range 25 years later. While Virgin Books editor Peter Darvill-Evans had successfully launched the New Adventures, starring the seventh Doctor, his past-Doctor range of Missing Adventures wouldn’t hit bookshelves until 1994. Aside from a stage play by Terrance Dicks, there was only one other full story that could be novelised.

Argo Records, a subsidiary of British Decca, released Doctor Who and the Pescatons on LP and cassette in 1976, hitting record stores between the TV broadcasts of Seasons 13 and 14. Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen recreated the Doctor and Sarah and it all felt rather like an official mini-episode (the duration for the entire story was just 46 minutes, so akin to a modern single-episode story). And while I listened to the cassette many times, this was the first time I’d read the novel.

Returning to Target after his poll-winning adaptation of Fury from the Deep, Victor Pemberton fleshes out what was quite a thinly sketched story into a full novel. In many ways, it’s a little old-fashioned compared to the later Target volumes. There are some over-familiar SF tropes here: The green, parasitical substance that carpets the south-east of England is straight out of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds, while we can look to John Wyndham for sinister meteor showers and a London devastated by monstrous alien beings. Also, possibly a result of adapting the largely narrated album, so much of the novel summarises events, rather than dramatising them – for instance, the Doctor’s previous trip to the planet Pesca and the very accurate and detailed locations around central London (which would make for an unusual walking tour). His approximation of Sarah Jane misses the mark somewhat, casting her mainly as a feed for the Doctor, although she does get to use her journalistic credentials to bluff her way through a police cordon. His depiction of the fourth Doctor is surprisingly accurate though, with a combination of abruptness and other-worldly strangeness.

Where Pemberton succeeds is in creating wholly new characters to populate his world. Mike and Helen take on some of the responsibilities of Professor Emmerson from the record and they have their own dangerous journey of discovery. Then there are the various victims of the Pescatons, who are given distinct personalities and motivations: An obstinate civil servant who ignores the Doctor and comes to a nasty end; the Scottish father and son whose barge is torn apart in a tragic vignette lifted from the pages of Peter Benchley’s Jaws; and a brave young boy and his remote control boat, who is part of a twist that elevates the Pescatons from merely being savage beasts into something much more Stephen King – monsters with sadistic intent. 

There’s also a trio of homeless people: Old Ben, who has been a familiar figure in the West End for over a decade; and two teenage boys who have been living rough for about a year. Jess is from Newcastle and he ran away from home because of disputes with his father about being ‘allowed to make his own decisions about how he wants to live‘ and Tommy had heard ‘what a great time teenage kids like himself could have if they moved into the big city’. The italics in both cases are mine and it strikes me that Pemberton uses coded language here to hint at a relationship between the boys that would have been impossible to suggest on TV but would become more overt in the New Adventures. Old Ben is immediately uncooperative with the police, but is more forthcoming with the Doctor and Sarah, which is how they learn of the fates of the missing teens. These three people represent the generational shift in the homeless that, along with ‘the ozone layer’, was becoming a notable social concern at the time Pemberton was writing this (the charitable magazine The Big Issue began publication in September 1991 as a means of both funding support for – and raising awareness of – the rising homeless population in the UK).

In the course of researching this, I fell down a bit of a rabbit hole looking into Canadian actor Bill Mitchell, who voiced Zor on the record. I particularly wanted to know how the man who was the promotional voice of Carlsberg beer, Denim aftershave and hundreds of movie trailers came to play a giant alien fish on a licensed Doctor Who record. This was actually Mitchell’s second role in Doctor Who; he had recorded a scene for Frontier in Space playing a newsreader, but his role was cut from the final edit due to the episode overrunning. As a voice-over artist in much demand in the mid-70s, he spent most of his days in London’s Soho at John Wood Studios and between jobs he could often be found at the Coach and Horses public house – which was also a regular haunt of such notable names as writer Jeffrey Bernard, the artist Francis Bacon – and an actor called Tom Baker…

Bonus chapter #6. The Companions of Doctor Who: K9 and Company (1987)

Synopsis: Journalist Sarah Jane Smith used to travel for a while, companion to an eccentric man with an unpredictable manner. Her journeys ended as abruptly as they began and she never heard from him again – until one Christmas when she paid a visit to her Aunt Lavinia. Lavinia was nowhere to be found, but waiting for her instead were her Aunt’s ward, a schoolboy called Brendan, and a present from her old friend – a computer in the shape of a dog. Together, the trio uncover a terrifying demonic cult hidden away in an English village.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Exit Aunt Lavinia
  • 2. Enter Sarah Jane
  • 3. An Invitation
  • 4. A Gift from the Doctor
  • 5. The Black Art
  • 6. A Warning
  • 7. K9 Blunders
  • 8. A Confrontation
  • 9. Brendan is Taken
  • 10. K9 Goes Undercover
  • 11. Human Sacrifice
  • 12. Halstock
  • 13. Evil Under the Moon
  • Epilogue

Background: Terence Dudley adapts his own scripts for this one-off Christmas special from 1981 (or 1982 if you’re from the north-west of England, where a technical fault with the Winter Hill transmitter took BBC One off the air for a night and Northerners had to wait until the following year for a repeat).

Notes: Aunt Lavinia’s house, Bradleigh Manor, is in Hazelbury Abbas, Dorset, not Moreton Harwood, Gloucestershire as on TV; she inherited the manor from ‘Uncle Nicholas’, who Sarah Jane used to visit every summer when he was alive (it’s not clear if Nicholas was Lavinia’s husband or just a mutual relative). Coven member Vince Wilson regrets that the ceremony couldn’t be performed naked to ‘release more cosmic force’ and ‘increase bodily strength’. Doctor Lavinia Smith is ‘a strikingly handsome woman and, undoubtedly, middle-aged’. She’s specifically an ‘anthropologist’, not a ‘virologist’ [see Planet of the Spiders]. Juno Baker is in her late thirties and ‘blessed with a dark, ageless beauty with more than a hint of the voluptuary flowing from her well-poised head to the tips of her Gucci shoes’. 

Sarah Jane Smith had been sent to report on the famine in Ethiopia but after infiltrating rebel forces she was briefly stranded at a North African outpost [presumably after leaving Ethiopia in the east] before she was able to return home. It’s three years since she last saw the Doctor (remember, there’s none of this ‘1980’ stuff in the novel timeline). She’s managed, rather, conveniently, to be commissioned by Harper’s on ‘the revival of English village life’. On her way to her aunt’s house, she finds herself stuck behind a car that prompts her to complain about ‘Women drivers!’ Sarah currently lives in a flat and her friend Ann has keys to enable her to check on Sarah’s mail whenever she’s away (we don’t get any other explanation for Ann, though). Brendan is 14 years old and claims to be able to drive a car. 

At the Post office, Lily Gregson tells Sarah about the (real-life) landmark of the Cerne Abbas Giant chalk man – which she calls ‘ever so rude’  – and warns her that the locals consider anyone not born there before the Roman invasion to be a ‘foreigner’; she herself is a newcomer, her family having moved there after the civil war in the 17th Century (and we later learn that George Tracey is a descendant of Publius Trescus of the Tenth Legion). Brendan and K9 debate the process of peeling potatoes and their relationship is openly antagonistic rather than instantly enthusiastic as on screen. Henry Tobias admires a witch’s sacrificial knife, which Juno Baker says was a gift from Lavinia Smith. George Tracey resents Lavinia Smith and her family, considering their land to be his after all his work on it. He and his son Peter kidnap Brendan by clamping a pad over his mouth before tying him up. There are a few extra scenes of Peter taking care of Brendan and apologising for the situation (including one where Brendan realises that Peter is as much a captive as himself and ponders why he’s not also tied up).

Sarah Jane is greatly concerned that K9 might be seen and ‘finish up in some scrap metal yard’, so she carries him around in a holdall, rather than just propping him up on the back seat of her car. Sarah is a confident driver with a strong sense of direction:

Sarah Jane was afflicted by a curious neurosis when driving which amounted to an unreasonable fear of losing the way. She had a profound distrust of signposts which indicated that her destination lay to the left when she knew, without doubt, that it lay to the right. She drove by the compass which bore little relation to a local authority’s layout of highways.

Bill Pollock distracts Sarah by claiming he’s contacted the police, which she doesn’t expose as a lie for a whole day. Her hunt for a suitable church for a black mass passes East Coker, which she dismisses as it’s the resting place of the writer TS Eliot (‘A great poet and a man of the Church. No witch would dare to go near there, I’m sure,’ she tells K9), and Trent, where the 99th Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, is indeed buried. Instead of an inconvenient tractor blocking her route, Sarah has a terrifying encounter with a white TR7 driven by an unidentified  young man who might be in the employ of the coven, or could just be a particularly aggressive road-rager intent on recreating the film Duel. Her quest includes stopping off at a pub asking about nearby ruins, before K9 confirms that the site they are looking for is back where they began, in the grounds of Bradleigh Manor! As part of the ceremony, the coven members strip Brendan naked. In the Epilogue, as everyone recovers at the Bakers’ home, Brendan discusses how the cultists might have disposed of his body and Howard Baker suggests a lime pit ‘or a section of motorway’. Sarah has at least one glass of Howard’s brandy [see The Ark in Space for why this might be odd]. Back at the manor, K9 attempts to sing While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night, rather than We Wish You a Merry Christmas. 

Cover: Peter Kelly airbrushes a very sleek-looking K9 under an arched logo.

Final Analysis: Any problems with the story – and there are a fair few – are present in the TV story (are teenage boys really that excited by the minutiae of market gardening?). What is really missing is the natural warmth of Elisabeth Sladen, who delivered the rather snippy dialogue with at least a little humour, so she remained immensely likeable. That aside though, it’s a beautifully written book with richly drawn characters and a lovely child-friendly flavour of folk horror, while Dudley fulfils the old ‘educate and inform’ remit by name-dropping literary figures such as TS Eliot and WB Yeats

… and that’s it for the Companions of Doctor Who sub-range. Such as shame, because despite a very poor start, the other two have been very entertaining indeed. There were further novels in various stages of discussion, including one written by Janet Fielding about Tegan and a sequel to Harry Sullivan’s War that sadly never came to pass.

Bonus chapter #5. The Companions of Doctor Who: Harry Sullivan’s War (1986)

Synopsis: It’s been ten years since Harry Sullivan left UNIT. Reluctantly awaiting a new posting to a weapons division in the outer Hebrides, Harry decides to use some leave and visit friends. Within days, he survives numerous violent attacks – someone is trying to kill him. But why? A chance meeting with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart leaves Harry wondering if their reunion is just a coincidence or if he’s accidentally stumbled into something very worrying indeed…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. A Brush With Death
  • 2. Happy Birthday!
  • 3. The Castle 
  • 4. Persuasion 
  • 5. An Odd Weekend 
  • 6. Unexplained Mysteries
  • 7. The Amateur Investigator 
  • 8. A Human Guinea Pig 
  • 9. More Clues 
  • 10. The Chase 
  • 11. Trapped 
  • 12. The Prisoner 
  • 13. Double Bluff 
  • 14. Secrets of the Burial Mound
  • 15. Ambush
  • 16. Out On A Limb 
  • Epilogue 

Background: Ian Marter writes an original novel inspired by the character he played in the series in 1975.

Notes: Chapter 2 takes place on Harry’s 41st birthday (which, based on later information, is in May). Since leaving UNIT ten years ago, he’s been employed by the Biological Defence Establishment at Tooth Tor on Dartmoor, developing antidotes to nerve toxins. He’s unhappy that he’s being transferred to work on weapons development so decides to spend his birthday at the National Gallery, where he sees a self portrait by Van Gogh (this becomes a recurring image, for plot reasons). Introducing himself to Samantha, Harry adopts the pseudonym ‘Laury L Varnish’ – an anagram of his real name. Samantha has a ‘husky voice’, pale blue eyes, a ‘strong but pretty oval face’ and ‘curly straw-coloured hair’. She claims that her father is American and a doctor, and that she’s a member of ACHES, the ‘Anti-Chemical Hazard Environment Society’. 

Harry is six feet tall. He has a ‘spacious flat’ on the fifth floor of a 1930s apartment block in St John’s Wood (which we’re told is at the Regent’s Park end). He displays his many rugby and rowing trophies and we’re told later that he was a ‘stroke oar in the Dartmouth College Ace Eight’; this would be from the Britannia Royal Naval College – aka ‘Dartmouth’ – and not the New Hampshire, USA, college of the same name. He receives a birthday card from an old friend, Teddy Bland, who has a sister, Esther, who Harry was once very close to; he nearly proposed, but a secondment to UNIT put paid to that. Esther is ‘buxom’ and ‘red-headed’ and during his trip to Yarra, Harry learns that Esther has only ever loved him. Harry drives a red MG sportscar (mid-life crisis?). Harry’s new position sees him promoted to Surgeon-Commander. Esther notes that he no longer has the sideburns he had while with UNIT. In his early naval career, Harry was stationed on the Ark Royal. 

Brigadier ‘Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart’ is said to have a ‘deep and resonant […]  precise military voice’. The Brigadier is still teaching (Senior Mathematics Master at ‘a private school in Sussex’), but his business card mentions his ‘DSO’ (Distinguished Service Order) and ‘MC’ (Military Cross). The Brigadier shares old stories with Harry of his own experiences in UNIT, not just of Sarah Jane Smith, but of ‘Jo and Sergeant Benton, about Jamie and Zoe and about the Daleks and the Cybermen and all manner of old friends and enemies’. On his flight through Scotland, Harry meets a small child who offers him a jelly baby. The sweet makes him wish the Doctor would appear to put everything right.

Harry is arrested in Trafalgar Square by an Inspector Spode (possibly a reference to the fictional publisher Erwin Spode in the Gervase Fen detective novels by Edmund Crispin). Placed in a cell in Wormwood Scrubs, his window affords him a view of the playing fields and, beyond, the church in Harrow-on-the-Hill where he was christened as a baby (not that this is mentioned at any point, but had his cell faced the opposite direction, he’d have had a lovely view of BBC Television Centre). Harry asks if ‘Sir Algernon’ might take up his case and is told he is holidaying in Bermuda; it’s a short sentence but it might bear unpacking. Sir Algernon Usborne Willis KCB DSO (17 May 1889 – 12 April 1976) was a former Admiral of the Fleet, while Bermuda was where Sir William Stephenson retired to – long believed to have been the real-life inspiration for 007. Except we later discover that this Sir Algernon has the surname ‘Flowers’, so his name is surely a nod to the Daniel Keys science fiction story Flowers for Algernon, about a laboratory mouse.

When Sarah Jane Smith visits Harry in prison, she’s said to be:

… a young woman of about thirty […] wearing a fashionable pink boiler-suit outfit with green boots, and a rainbow-coloured plastic shoulder bag [….] Her hair was brown and wavy, held back by a pair of sunglasses perched on her forehead. Her figure looked petite under her billowy clothes.

Harry and Sarah haven’t seen each other since the Zygon business (though a short story I later wrote for a Big Finish Short Trips anthology proudly contradicts this). He affectionately calls Sarah ‘old thing’; and quickly realises his mistake. Sarah is no longer living with her aunt in Croydon, having moved to Camberwell, South London. Harry confesses that he’s told many stories about Sarah to his elderly neighbour.

When Harry drops the name ‘Davros’, both Major Sawyer and George Fawcett-Smith of the Home office react with surprise that Harry knows the name. Conrad Gold’s money envelope consists of bundles of £100-notes – which means he was paying Harry with notes issues by the Royal Bank of Scotland (the highest denomination issued by the Bank of England is £50, though Fawcett-Smith asks Spode to ‘find out where these were printed’. The story concludes in September, which makes this possibly the story with the longest timespan since Marco Polo! 

Cover: David McAllister goes full Bond with an appropriately dramatic illustration of a car being chased by a helicopter while Harry Sullivan looks every bit the heroic action-movie star. It’s only the second cover to feature blood and the first to depict the author in the illustration!

Final Analysis: Let’s pretend that Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma never happened, eh? This is a stunning novel that wears its influences shamelessly (Terrance Dicks always said that greatness always steals from the best). The opening chapter lifts cheekily from the James Bond film Thunderball (and its more recent remake, Never Say Never Again), though 007 fends off the attack more successfully; a later sequence is reminiscent of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps and the three different movie adaptations (particularly the Hitchcock one); and as Gary Russell noted in his review for Doctor Who Magazine, the final chapter owes a lot to the film version of A View to a Kill – even down to Harry wearing a tuxedo – which was released the year before this was published.. It’s by no means a criticism; Harry Sullivan always wanted to play at James Bond and Marter throws his hero into an espionage story without allowing him any of the innate skills of the most celebrated spies. Right from the start, he suffers a savage attack that leaves him vulnerable and confused – and it barely lets up as he careers from one escapade to another, barely escaping alive on each occasion.

Just while we’re here – Vincent Van Goch’s art is referenced repeatedly here. There are many possible ways to pronounce his name, such as ‘van Goff’, ‘van Gock’ – and most Dutch people would say ‘Vun Goch’ – to rhyme with the Scottish ‘loch’. However, it does not rhyme with ‘Toe’ (‘Van Goe’). Ever.

Ian Marter had originally intended to kill Harry off, but was persuaded to let him survive, so instead he plays a cruel trick on us in the finale. He claimed in interviews prior to the book’s release that he hoped to write a sequel. Harry Sullivan’s War was published on 11 September 1986; Ian Marter died on 28 October the same year, on his 42nd birthday. Your humble blogger was due to interview him at a convention four days later and was stunned to hear his close friend Nicholas Courtney announce his passing at the event. I was sat on the front row of the main hall, dressed (for charity reasons) in a Sea Devil costume at the time; It hid the tears.

There were still a few of Ian’s books yet to be published, so we’ve not quite said a final goodbye to him yet, but I thought it’d be appropriate to pay tribute here. There are plenty of Target novels I’ve not read prior to this project, but this is one I return to regularly. It’s not an official one, so ‘doesn’t count’, but it’s by far and away my favourite novel by one of my absolute favourite Target authors.

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 62. Doctor Who and the Monster of Peladon (1980)

Synopsis: The Doctor returns to Peladon with his new friend Sarah Jane Smith. Though membership of the Federation has brought some benefits to the planet, there is growing discontent among its people. The young Queen Peladon rules with kindness, but the old ways of superstition still have influence and when manifestations of the great beast Aggedor disrupt the mining of minerals, a force of Ice Warriors arrives to ensure that mining continues. But Sarah Jane saw an Ice Warrior in the mines before they officially arrived – and the Doctor’s old friend Alpha Centauri begins to suspect that these Ice Warriors aren’t even part of the Federation, but are traitors intent on gaining the minerals for themselves.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Return to Peladon
  • 2. Aggedor Strikes Again
  • 3. The Fugitives
  • 4. The Hostage
  • 5. The Wrath of Aggedor
  • 6. The Intruder
  • 7. The Ice Warriors
  • 8. The Madman
  • 9. The Return of Aggedor
  • 10. Trapped in the Refinery
  • 11. The Threat
  • 12. Aggedor’s Sacrifice

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1974 scripts by Brian Hayles (who had started work on the novel before his death in 1978). This completes the Target run of adaptations of stories from Season 11.

Notes: Peladon has three moons. We’re told this as part of an introductory chapter that summarises both the events of The Curse of Peladon and the intervening years up to this point, during which a war with Galaxy Five has made Peladon a key resource for the Federation. Apparently, Sarah Jane Smith has been the Doctor’s ‘more or less unwilling companion on a number of adventures’ and she instantly regrets allowing herself to be persuaded by the Doctor’s stories of a ‘picturesque and primitive planet, just making the transition from feudal savagery to technological civilisation’.

Ettis is said to be ‘a thin, wiry young man’ (so the casting for the TV version clearly shows what a hard life it is, being a miner, because he’s not ‘young’). Sarah observes a number of differences between Commander Azaxyr and his subordinates: 

Although equally large, Azaxyr was built on slenderer, more graceful lines than his tank-like troops. He moved more easily, and in particular his mouth and jaw were differently made, less of a piece with the helmet-like head. While the other Ice Warriors grunted and hissed in monosyllables, Azaxyr spoke clearly and fluently, though there was still the characteristic Martian sibilance in his voice.

The Doctor notes that, as a member of an aristocratic Martian line, Azaxyr is ‘almost a different species from the ordinary warriors’. 

Cover: Steve Kyte’s design shows an Ice Warrior and the hulking form of a roaring Aggedor. Simple but effective. Alister Pearson’s 1992 cover shows the Aggedor statue and the Doctor as the background to a cluster of Sarah, Azaxyr, Alpha Centauri and Eckersley.

Final Analysis: It’s a welcome return for the Third Doctor, our first story to feature him since Death to the Daleks 19 books ago. Terrance Dicks might not attribute the colourful cuttlefish properties to Alpha Centauri that Bryan Hayles did in Doctor Who and the Curse of Peladon, but instead Alpha’s tentacles are the indication of his moods. Aggedor is said to be even bigger than he was the last time the Doctor saw him (and considering the illustrations of him in the previous novelisation, that must make him really huge now) and Dicks adjusts the Martian Commander to be as imposing as his warriors.

Bonus Chapter #2. Junior Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius (1980)

Synopsis: The Doctor and Sarah land on the planet Karn, which is home to a secret Sisterhood, a mad scientist – and a brain in a jar. The brain belonged to an evil Time Lord called Morbius and Solon wants to bring him back to life. Just like he wanted to do in the original novelisation.

Chapter Titles

Identical to the original novel

  • 1. A Graveyard of Spaceships
  • 2. The Keepers of the Flame
  • 3. The Horror Behind the Curtain
  • 4. Captive of the Flame
  • 5. Sarah to the Rescue
  • 6. The Horror in the Crypt
  • 7. Solon’s Trap
  • 8. The Doctor Makes a Bargain
  • 9. The Monster Walks
  • 10. Monster on the Rampage
  • 11. Deathlock!
  • 12. A Time Lord Spell

Background: Terrance Dicks once again rewrites his earlier adaptation of the story he originally wrote (ish) for TV – this time for a younger readership.

Notes: The murder of the alien Kriz by Condo is excised, with the book beginning instead with the arrival of the TARDIS. Solon’s first scene is also cut, jumping straight to the introduction of the Sisterhood. Maren’s sacrifice is both excised and glossed over, with Maren presenting the Doctor with the last drops of the elixir before he gives the soot-clearing firework to Ohica.

Cover & Illustrations: Harry Hants gives us a much better cover for this than we got for the fuller version; even though it’s a very similar basic idea (the Doctor’s face huge in the background as Solon wrestles with the monster), it’s beautifully painted. Peter Edwards provides 35 wonderful illustrations and the gothic setting really suits his style. His Morbius monster has huge taloned feet like those of a bird of prey and pretty much every picture of blind Sarah is unnervingly creepy, but especially the one where she enters the room containing Morbius’ brain in a tank. Best illustrations so far.

Final Analysis: Confession time – this was the version of the story I had as a kid and I didn’t read the full novel prior to this project. It’s a great introduction for children to the genre of horror, enhanced greatly by Peter Edwards’ gritty illustrations, which truly are the stuff of nightmares. It’s a shame this was the last of these experimental junior editions and I wonder how a version for younger readers of The Android Invasion (the Fourth Doctor story with the lowest death count) might have looked.

Bonus Chapter #1. Junior Doctor Who and the Giant Robot (May 1979)

Synopsis: A giant robot created by evil scientists stalks through the night, smashing everything in its path, while the Doctor recovers from changing his body. It’s the same plot as Doctor Who and the Giant Robot, but much, much faster!

Chapter Titles

Almost identical to the original novel, apart from an edit to chapter two.

  • 1. Killer in the Night
  • 2. More than Human
  • 3. Trouble at Thinktank
  • 4. Robot!
  • 5. The Killer Strikes Again
  • 6. Trapped by the Robot
  • 7. The World in Danger
  • 8. In the Hands of the Enemy
  • 9. The Battle at the Bunker
  • 10. The Countdown Begins
  • 11. The Kidnapping of Sarah
  • 12. The Giant Terror

Background: Terrance Dicks rewrites his previous adaptation of the story for ages 5-8.

Notes: The whole story is streamlined down to very simple descriptions and dialogue. Harry’s entire James Bond subplot is reduced down to two lines before he’s knocked out (and he calls the Brigadier on a radio rather than finding a telephone). The story ends with the Doctor watching as the robot turns to rust and is blown away. He muses whether he can tempt Sarah off on another adventure – but there’s no mention of Harry joining them.

Cover & Illustrations: The cover by Harry Hants has a slightly caricatured Tom Baker with a very detailed side-on view of K1 and an army truck. Peter Edwards provides 46 line illustrations that aren’t exactly flattering to their subjects but are still better likenesses of the guest cast than most of the early Target books had (they’re reminiscent of the kind of illustrations Terrence Greer used to do for Penguin, or it might remind modern adult readers of the grotesque characters in BBC Three’s animated comedy Monkey Dust). There’s a joyful picture of the Doctor emerging with a beaming grin from the TARDIS in a Viking outfit, while the scene of the virus being flung at the robot is gleefully epic. Kettlewell is, surprisingly, more refined than on telly, a bespectacled bald man, lacking the TV version’s crazy hair.

Final Analysis: Writing for younger children, Dicks manages to get all the details lined up in the correct order and rushes through the story with lots of energy. As the original novel was also the first not to have any illustrations, Peter Edwards’ ink drawings are a real treat that really help to tell the story rather than just break up the text.

Chapter 46. Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear (1979)

Synopsis: Trapped under a rockfall after an explosion, Sarah Jane reaches out for help and grabs a hand-shaped object – but it is not the Doctor’s. While Sarah recovers at a nearby hospital, the Doctor discovers that the object Sarah found, though made of stone, appears to have once been ‘alive’. His theory is soon proven correct when Sarah, under a malevolent influence, breaks into a nuclear power station and places the hand inside the reactor – where it regenerates into the alien Eldrad. Free from Eldrad’s control, Sarah accompanies the Doctor as he returns the alien home to Kastria – unaware that this will be Sarah’s final trip…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. The Fossil
  • 2. The Ring of Power
  • 3. Power Source
  • 4. The Will of Eldrad
  • 5. Eldrad Must Live
  • 6. Countdown
  • 7. Blow-up
  • 8. Counterstrike
  • 9. The Return of Eldrad
  • 10. Return to Kastria
  • 11. The Caves of Kastria
  • 12. Eldrad Reborn
  • 13. Eldrad’s Destiny
  • 14. Sarah’s Farewell

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1976 scripts by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.

Notes: Although the prologue covers much of the same ground as the TV story’s first scene, it’s actually possible to understand what’s being said by the characters here! There’s a lovely description of the captured Eldrad lying in the capsule, totally still except for a flexing hand with a ring on it. And of course, when the capsule explodes, it’s that hand that survives and gets embedded in primeval mud ‘for one hundred and fifty million years’. The Doctor sees an overhang in the cliff face, which is what protects them from the explosion. He uses his UNIT connections to regain access to the quarry, where the foreman, Tom Abbott, has moved his police box to a safe area.

According to Dr Carter, Sarah is wearing ‘a striped overall dress’, not the ‘Andy Pandy’ suit. Professor Watson’s first name is Owen and he has a handgun in case of terrorist attacks, for which he’s had half-an-hour’s training (reminder to American readers: Someone having access to a gun is extremely unusual in the UK). He decides to patiently listen to his daughter’s story on the phone, in case her last memory of her father might be his shouting at her. The disembodied hand tries repeatedly to leap up and grab the handle to the reactor but eventually gives up to gather its strength. Watson gives Sarah and the Doctor a lift in his Jag away from the complex towards a hill several miles away (so, not in the car park like on telly). When the Doctor drives off in Watson’s car with Sarah and Eldrad, Watson is left behind to explain the situation on the phone to a government minister. The Doctor pretends to be hurt to trick Sarah into crossing the ravine on Kastria – twice!

Cover: Roy Knipe rejigs a publicity photo from Planet of Evil to show the Doctor and Sarah cowering under the huge shadow of a clawed hand. 

Final Analysis: Aside from a few lines of clarification, this is a simple retelling of the story, but it still manages to draw the reader in. It helps to be a fan of the transmitted version, so we can imagine the actors in position, and perhaps because of familiarity, I still got choked up by the final scene.