Chapter 105. Doctor Who – Timelash (1986)

Synopsis: The people of Karfel live under the rule of the Borad and his sole point of contact, an official known as the Maylin. When the ruthless Tekker assumes the role of Maylin, he takes the opportunity to remove all political opponents by casting them into the Timelash, a gateway directly into the time vortex. When the Doctor returns to Karfel after many years, he is appalled by the actions of Tekker and this ‘Borad’. He allies himself with the underground rebellion, determined to bring an end to the dictator and his lackey – but the Borad is not so easily defeated… 

Chapter Titles

  • 1. No Escape
  • 2. The Time Vortex
  • 3. Whirlpool
  • 4. Return of the Time Lord
  • 5. Negotiating the Timelash
  • 6. Stirring Embers
  • 7. Fight or Perish
  • 8. Battle Stations
  • 9. Regrouping
  • 10. Legacy of the Borad
  • 11. The Bandrils’ Bomb
  • 12. Double Trouble

Background: Glen McCoy adapts his own scripts from the 1985 serial.

Notes: Sezon and Katz were the leaders of separate rebel cells until recently, when they decided to combine their resources into a single unit. Katzin Makrif was the daughter of the Maylin who ‘died mysteriously’ when the Borad took control in a ‘so-called bloodless coup’. Katz was 16 at the time and lived in ‘servile submission and indignity’ for ten years before joining the rebellion. The rebels have lived a nomadic life, moving from place to place, and are now hiding in a disused mine that’s lain empty since the great famine that nearly wiped out the planet’s civilisation almost a century ago. While hunting for food, the pair are trapped in a cave by the arrival of a family of Morlox, only able to escape when the mother Morlox protects her brood against attack from another Morlox. Later, we’re told that both Katz and Sezon were once respected scientists and had suffered the Borad’s tyranny for six years before choosing to rebel.

The Doctor knowingly goads Peri purely to remain in control of their relationship. The Borad’s ageing device reduces the victim to dust, rather than the bouncy skeleton we saw on telly. Peri doesn’t encounter a rebel with a note for Sezon, nor does she throw a potentially deadly plant into the face of a guardollier. Her pendant, which is snatched from her neck by an android, is specifically a St Christopher, which suggests she’s either a Catholic or she’s still trying to rid herself of a Madonna obsession from her teens. Her flight from the Karfel dome takes her outside onto the planet’s surface, where she sees the twin suns of Rearbus and Selynx in the crimson sky. Eventually, she finds her way into the cave system (on screen, the caves connect directly to the city).

The Doctor fends off a Morlox with a wooden stake, which has been sprayed with Mustakozene 80. The chemical reacts with the creature, spearing it with sharp wooden spines that instantly grow through its body. The Borad sends a command to his androids to destroy all life in the citadel, resulting in a pitch-battle between the mechanical servants and the terrified citizens. Prior to the Borad’s reappearance, the Doctor and Mykros discover a chamber of capsules containing numerous Borad clones. The Doctor’s escape from the Bandril missiles is explained slightly more clearly than it was on screen.

Cover: A fine composition by David McAllister of the Borad, a blue-faced android and someone about to fall into the timelash.

Final Analysis: So the legend goes, Glen McCoy offered his services to novelise his TV scripts before the story was even on Target editor Nigel Robinson’s radar. His resulting novel presents us with a few extra scenes and the scale of the story is much greater than on TV, but there’s also a sense of McCoy telling rather than showing, with a lot of action reported rather dispassionately. At the time of release, Doctor Who Magazine praised the characterisation of the Doctor bursting into rooms and taking control, but his willingness here to gaslight his companion for the fun of it is as distasteful and difficult to accept as it was back in 1986.

Chapter 103. Doctor Who – The Twin Dilemma (1986)

Synopsis: Peri has just witnessed her new friend die and be replaced by a completely different man. Unstable after the trauma of regeneration, this new Doctor is loud, violent and self-obsessed – and Peri is terrified of him. Deciding to become a hermit on a barren moon, the Doctor instead becomes entangled in a policeman’s investigation into the kidnapping of hyper-intelligent twins. The culprit is someone the Doctor once knew, but is now enslaved by a megalomaniacal slug with mind-boggling ambitions.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Home Time
  • 2. The Maladjusted Time Lord
  • 3. Enter Professor Edgeworth
  • 4. Mestor the Magnificent
  • 5. Titan Three
  • 6. An Unsafe Safe House
  • 7. The Reunion
  • 8. Jaconda, the Beautiful!
  • 9. End Game, Part One
  • 10. End Game, Part Two

Background: Eric Saward adapts the scripts by Anthony Steven for a 1984 serial.

Notes: Professor Archie Sylvest is a university lecturer who lives with his wife, Nimo, and their 12-year-old twin sons live at 25 Lydall Street, the only Georgian terrace left standing in a metropolis of ‘mirror-smooth’ and ‘flameproof, plastic buildings’. He has an android babysitter for the boys, which he knows they hate. Sylvest is scared of his children, something the boys exploit. He takes solace in harbouring murderous thoughts towards them (a strategy suggested by his therapist to help suppress his fears) while drinking too much Voxnic in the company of an attractive computer programmer called Vestal Smith. When Sylvest returns home drunk and discovers his sons’ disappearance, his concern is less that they might have been hurt and more that they might be used in some nefarious scheme or other.

The Time Lord process of regeneration is the work of a hormone called ‘lindos’, which works at lightning speed to repair every cell in the Time Lord body. An illustration of regeneration’s random nature comes in the story of Councillor Verne, whose stunning beauty distracted his peers from his unsuitability to office; his subsequent regenerations saw him grow increasingly unattractive until he became a ‘hideous monster’ who so distressed the then-Lord President that he ordered the Verne creature to be destroyed.

The new Doctor initially misunderstands Peri’s distress, but then apologises to her as he realises how terrified she must be. Peri is relieved and reassured – until she sees his new costume:

… each panel of the coat was quite different in texture, design and colour. This wouldn’t have mattered quite so much if the colours had blended, but they seemed to be cruelly, harshly, viciously at odds with each other. In fact, the coat was so gawdy it would have looked out of place on the back of a circus clown…. The whole ensemble was finished off with a waistcoast which looked as though someone had been sick on. (For all Peri knew, someone had.) The final touch was a livid green watch chain that at some time must have been stolen from a public lavatory.

Delightful! As she fights off the Doctor’s frenzied attack, Peri grabs the mirror in the hope of smashing it to use as a weapon against him.

The personal history of Professor Bernard Edgeworth – aka the Time Lord Azmael – is recounted: Like the Doctor, Azmael grew tired of life among the Time Lords and chose to retire; unlike the Doctor, the High Council decided Azmael was too dangerous to be allowed to escape their control and chose instead to kill him; they despatched ‘Seedle Warriors’ to assassinate him, only for the bloodthirsty squad to massacre the inhabitants of Vitrol Minor, where Azmael was hiding; Azmael brought legal proceedings against the High Council, who retaliated by framing him for their own crimes; Azmael’s last course of action was to gun down the High Council in their chambers and flee to the planet Jaconda. The specific species of gastropod that lays waste to Jaconda is the Sectoms. We also learn of the history of Titan Three, formerly home to the Mastons of Maston Viva, who fell victim to the generally bleak atmosphere of the planet and committed mass suicide, leaving behind their research equipment for Azmael to find.

‘Mestor the Magnificent’ is nearly two metres tall and considered ugly even by other gastropods. To allow him to stand upright, Mestor has grown two small legs that make him wobble as he walks, and two tiny arms, which serve ‘no particular function’ except to gesticulate as he speaks. 

His face, what there was of it, was humanoid in form. As he did not have a neck, head or shoulders, the features had grown where what would have been the underside of a normal slug’s jaw. As though to add to the peculiarity of a gastropod with a human face, the features were covered in a thin membrane.

Peri observes that the Doctor’s delusions lead him to act like Sherlock Holmes, Hern the Hunter (a dig at Doctor Who’s ITV rival Robin of Sherwood?), an explorer called Musk and a country squire. She apparently ‘never even grasped the fundamentals of the microwave oven’. The issue of the time delay with the matter transporter is removed; although Peri dematerialises first, the pair return to the TARDIS at the same time.

The planets that form part of Mestor’s plans are called Muston and Seniel  The Doctor recalls his past companions, including a rather brutal summation of Adric and his ‘childish antics’, a desperation ‘to be loved and accepted for what he was’, which prevented the Doctor (or at least, this incarnation) of ‘ever being able to fully praise, help or ultimately like him’. The Doctor’s first meeting with Mestor is delayed until the climax – their prior conversations conveyed via a hologram link.

Cover: Due to a breakdown in negotiations, an earlier cover showing Colin Baker was rejected (the actor’s agent enquired how much his fee might be for using his likeness and the publisher, misunderstanding the enquiry as a demand for payment, panicked and cancelled the already completed artwork). Andrew Skilleter’s second painting offers up a very green cover featuring a Jacondan, Mestor and some gastropod eggs. The 1993 reprint used Andrew Skilleter’s art for the VHS, again showing a Jacondan and Mestor, but this time joined by the Doctor.

Final Analysis: This is more than just an adaptation; its position in the history of Doctor Who offers us a little insight into events behind the scenes. It was written and published before the increasingly public fall-out between Eric Saward and producer John Nathan-Turner, but the causes of Saward’s dissatisfaction can be seen here in his depiction of the lead character. Even though it’s the post-regenerative monster that he’s writing, and even though he turns the self-serving and cowardly acts into something more whimsical (thinking he’s Sherlock Holmes etc), some of Saward’s negativity is still very much evident. In the final confrontation with Mestor, he frames this Doctor as sounding ‘more like a street bully than a Time Lord negotiating with a creature capable of taking over the universe’ and his pleading with the despot is ‘foolish, almost childish’. The conclusion to the tale is much less confident and reassuring than on TV. Peri even tells the Doctor she just wants to go home.

‘… whatever else happens, I am the new Doctor. This is me whether people like it or not.’

The statement was as bland and as sterile as it sounded.

Peri hoped that she had caught a glimpse of a smile as he uttered it.

If she hadn’t, this particular incarnation of the Time Lord would prove to be a very difficult person indeed.

Hugo Lang is also subject to a character assassination, the dogged and determined police officer becoming a self-serving and ruthlessly opportunistic man who pursues the twins only for personal glory and who decides to stay on Jaconda to extort money from Mestor’s chamberlain.

This is still a diverting read though, as Saward tries hard to make it more entertaining than he managed to make it on screen. As with the fox in The Visitation, Saward once again uses the form of an animal to witness events; the arrival of Azmael’s ship and his kidnapping of the twins goes undetected by anyone on Earth except a ginger cat, who prides himself on knowing what is happening before anyone else and vows to tell nobody about what he’s seen. His telling of the circumstances of Hugo Lang’s crash on Titan Three make for a scene straight out of Star Wars and, as the quote above shows, he succeeds in making Mestor a horrifying and fearsome presence. 

We’re now in the period where authors were encouraged to attempt something other than a straight retelling of the TV show and for many readers, the episodes would still be fresh in the memory. Saward attempts something in the style of Douglas Adams as his narrative regularly drifts off to discuss various tangentially related topics: A mention of Azmael’s revitalising modulator leads to a detailed history of the life and convoluted death of the machine’s inventor, Professor James Zarn, as well as the results of his other great scientific success, involving the Social and Sexual Life of the Veedle Fly; the acid that the Doctor uses to attack Mestor is Moston acid, which ages its victims to death and which is a product of Professor Vinny Mosten, about whom we also discover more than we’d ever hoped; even the floor of Mestor’s chamber, decorated with a celebrated Jacondan mosaic, inspires a further condensed history lecture. Whether or not this is a successful approach is down to personal taste. Personally, I rather enjoyed it, even if I was slightly worried every time a new brand name or invention popped up. Stop trying to make ‘Voxnic’ happen, Eric. It’s not going to happen.

Chapter 100. Doctor Who – The Two Doctors (1985)

Synopsis: When the Doctor and Peri land on a space station filled with a stench of death, they find a sole survivor – the Doctor’s old companion, the Highlander Jamie! The Doctor follows a trail across time and space to find his former self, Jamie’s Doctor, who is being held captive in a Spanish villa by a fanatical scientist, his Androgum servants and a pair of Sontarans. This unlikely team has ambitions to unlock the secrets of time travel – and their experiments on the Doctor’s past incarnation threaten his future self and the safety of the universe…

Chapter Titles

  • Introduction
  • 1. Countdown to Death
  • 2. Massacre on J7
  • 3. Tomb in Space
  • 4. Adios, Doña Arana
  • 5. Creature of the Darkness
  • 6. The Bell Tolls
  • 7. The Doctor’s Dilemma
  • 8. Company of Madmen
  • 9. A Song for Supper
  • 10. Shockeye the Donor
  • 11. Ice Passage Ambush
  • 12. Alas, Poor Oscar

Background: Robert Holmes adapts his own scripts for the serial broadcast five months earlier. This is the 100th Target novelisation, so it comes with a congratulatory introduction from producer John Nathan-Turner.

Notes: The J7 station was designed by ‘architneers’ who exploited zero gravity to create ‘an ethereal tracery of loops and whorls and cusps that formed a constantly changing pattern as the station rotated slowly upon its axis’. Jamie recalls that he and the Doctor had been in a garden, where the Doctor had greeted ‘chieftains’ who wore yellow cloaks with high collars’ (clearly Time Lords) – and then remembers nothing else prior to their arrival in space near the J7 station. The Doctor hopes that undertaking this mission might improve his relations with ‘the High Council’. There’s no mention of Victoria’s whereabouts here. Jamie provides our viewpoint in the early chapters, so it’s through his eyes that we first see an Androgum: 

Shockeye’s sparse thatch of ginger hair topped a heavily boned face that sloped down into his body without any apparent necessity for a neck. His skin was grey and rugose, thickly blotched with the warty excrescences common to denizens of high-radiation planets…. every line of [his body], from the mastodon shoulders and over the gross belly to the tree-trunk legs, spoke of a frightening physical strength.

The Second Doctor quotes The Book of Job before telling Jamie to run. Chessene has a ‘cap of short, jet-black hair’ and wears ‘a long, dark dress’; she’s later described as a ‘well-built, dark-haired woman’ who is ‘tall and dark with a broad, heavy forehead’ (suggesting she looks closer to the intended casting of Elizabeth Spriggs, rather than the more elegant Jacqueline Pearce, who eventually played the role on telly). Before departing the station, she has a brief meeting with Sontaran Group Marshal Stike, who has gold braiding on his shoulders. Studying Stike next to his underling, Varl, Chessene wonders how Sontarans tell each other apart.

When the Sixth Doctor tells Peri about the joys of the gumblejack, the narrator informs us that he’s making it all up. Peri believes the Doctor to be 760 years old and remembers the events of the Doctor’s regeneration on Androzani Minor [see The Caves of Androzani], while the Doctor confesses that his latest incarnation ‘isn’t 100% yet’. When the feral Jamie attacks Peri, she manages to fend him off as ‘her muscles had been honed by years as a campus sports star’. By the time the Doctor and Peri reach the J7 station, it’s a lot clearer that some time has passed for Jamie, whose mind has snapped due to the trauma of believing he’s witnessed the Doctor’s death. As he observes the hologram of his second self – a ‘rather scruffy person in an ill-fitting tailcoat and black string necktie’ – the Doctor notes that he might recognise the Brigadier or Leela but he had ‘scarcely any recollection of how he himself had appeared in past forms’. He recalls spending ‘a delightful afternoon’ with Archimedes, before quoting himself from The Ark in Space.

As Chessene’s craft, The Delta-Six, approaches Earth, it knocks out communications and radar equipment around the planet and nearly instigates World War III. Shockeye’s hunger pangs make him consider eating Varl, but he knows the flesh of clone species is ‘coarse and lacking in flavour’. We’ve told some of the 90-year-old Doña Arana’s past, her late husband Don Vincente and their three children, shortly before she is swiftly and brutally killed by Shockeye; Chessene commands that the old lady’s body be incinerated.

Jamie and Peri have to wake the Doctor from his temporal plain trance as a fire breaks out in Dastari’s office. The Second Doctor recalls a time when he attended a banquet in honour of a Dominator on Bellaphores, a planet where they don’t make wine, their delicacy is ‘a fermented slurry of clay and animal faeces’, which the locals suck through ‘colloidal membranes’; the experience made the Doctor sick for days after. Oscar Botcherby runs a restaurant called ‘La Piranella’ (not Las Cadenas), which he claims he’s doing as a favour while he’s ‘between roles’ (Anita notes to herself that Oscar has been working there for at least three years). As he gets dressed up in Don Arana’s old clothes, Shockeye sings an old Androgum lullaby that begins ‘Go to sleep my little grey lump of fun’ and later composes his own ditty about the joys of cooking a Tellurian (in the chapter ‘A Song for Supper’). 

On hearing Jamie call his new friend ‘Doctor’, Stike assumes it’s a common Time Lord title, rather than the same Time Lord; the Doctor mocks the Sontaran habit of having grand military ranks: ‘I’ve never met a Sontaran private yet,’ he goads. Revealing that she has acquired three canisters of coronic acid, Chessene states that the Rutans used coronic acid shells and ‘decimated’ [sic] the Sontarans at Vollotha (which the Doctor later confirms is a weapon that specifically targets cloned races); this revelation alerts Dastari to the fact that Chessene has secretly and  independently been in contact with the Sontarans’ greatest enemy. Varl flatters Stike with a discussion about his superior’s prospective military career, just as Chessene attacks them with the chronic acid. Varl takes the full blast, and Stike, crawling away to safety, vows to recommend Varl for inclusion in ‘the Golden Roll of Sontaran Heroes’.

The Androgum’s bill at Oscar’s restaurant tallies up a different selection to the items on TV, including quenelles, ortolon, crevettes, truffled goose with almonds, wild boar with Grand Veneur sauce, saddle of venison with chocolate, eight T-bone steaks and ‘an entire fieldfare pie’ for twelve. The Second Doctor tries to pay for the meal with a five-dollar bill in Confederate currency. Shockeye stabs Oscar, draws the knife up to the man’s breastbone and throws him across the restaurant. As he dies, Oscar asks Maria to take care of his teddy bear [possibly a reference to actor James Saxon’s teddy-bear-obsessed character in the popular ITV sitcom Brass]. When the Doctor prepares to kill Shockeye, he tears some of the lining from his coat (yes, he’s been wearing that through all that running about in the Spanish heat!). He dispatches the Androgum but doesn’t make his ‘just desserts’ quip; instead he considers the death to be ‘one back for Oscar’. His declaration for a life of vegetarianism is removed. The body of Doña Arana remains undiscovered for some time as her visiting priest has been ill; local police file her death and the destruction of her home next to the unsolved murder of Oscar Botcherby.

Cover: It’s a shame the trend at the time was to avoid paying for the likenesses of actors, but this is quite a clever cover as a Sontaran and the Spanish villa are interrupted by two TARDISes zooming off together in symmetry. To mark the book’s position as the 100th Target release, the neon logo is printed in gold foil.

Final Analysis: This is of course Robert Holmes’ only full novel for the range (having provided just the prologue for The Time Warrior, uncredited), so it’s appropriate that we’re also celebrating book 100 here. It contains all of the dark humour and relish for violence that we saw on telly and Holmes’ take is more graphic than even Ian Marter’s greatest excesses: The computer operator on the J7 station dies with ‘his tongue protruding thickly, like a bursting plum’; the scientist shot in front of the second Doctor ‘dance[s] into the room in a grisly pirouette, the tiny rheon shells ripping open sagging red holes in his body as though the flesh concealed a dozen zip-fasteners’; there’s a particularly nasty depiction of the Doña Arana’s final seconds (in a chapter called ‘Adios, Doña Arana’) as Shockeye snaps her neck, while the smell of her burning carcass merely makes her killer hungry; and there’s a particularly vivid description of how to prepare a cat for cooking.  This is definitely not one for the squeamish – and I love it.

There’s also poetry in some of the prose. When the Doctor is lost in reverie at the thought of the end of the universe, he considers all the innocent life forms that will be affected by his projected catastrophe and debates with himself whether the blame lies with ‘intelligent species, driven by the unquenchable fires of ambition’:

… it was the intelligent species who, by observation and deduction, pieced together the cosmic jigsaw, who saw the connection between a clod of mud and a moonbeam and could descry orderly patterns in the swirling sands of life…. Without intelligence, no chasms would have been bridged. There would have been no cathedrals, no symphonies, no sonnets, no equations. And the pathways to the stars would never have been traversed.

While appreciation of the story itself is of course a matter of personal taste, it can’t be denied that the level of additional detail and character insight is exactly what we might want from a Target novelisation. Just a shame Robert Holmes never wrote any more.