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 120. Doctor Who – The Ambassadors of Death (1987)

Synopsis: As a tracking station on Earth awaits the return of a Mars capsule and its crew, the rocket’s inhabitants are kidnapped and hidden away. Liz Shaw discovers that the astronauts are not the ones that left Earth but alien ambassadors. Someone is conspiring to use the aliens for their own means – and start a war in the process…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. ‘Something Took Off From Mars…’
  • 2. ‘That Sound – It Was Some Kind Of Message…’
  • 3. ‘They’ll Never Survive…’
  • 4. ‘Recovery Seven – It’s On The Way Back!’
  • 5. ‘The Capsule Has Landed.’
  • 6. ‘They’ve Started To Crack The Code…’
  • 7. ‘You Must Feed Them Radiation – Or They’ll Die!’
  • 8. ‘We’ve Got To Get That Rocket Up!’
  • 9. ‘Someone’s Threatening To Kill Miss Shaw!’
  • 10. ‘An Attack On The Space Centre?’
  • 11. ‘Do You Really Think They’re Not Human?’
  • 12. ‘Large Unidentified Object Approaching On Collision Course…’
  • 13. ‘The Capsule Will Be Smashed To Fragments…’
  • 14. ‘Your Doctor Friend Is As Dead As A Doornail…’
  • 15. ‘We May Not Have Much More Time!’
  • 16. ‘We’re Being Invaded!’

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1970 story credited to David Whitaker (but which also included passes by Malcolm Hulke and Trevor Ray), completing the run of Season 7 stories – and the Third Doctor’s era as a whole – that began with Target’s first original adaptations back in 1974.

Notes: The TV reporter’s name is given on screen as ‘John Wakefield’, but here it’s now ‘Michael’, while astronaut Charles Van Lyden becomes ‘Van Leyden’. Ralph Cornish at Mission Control is said to be ‘quite literally tall, dark and handsome’. Dicks is not as snide as he was about Chorley in Doctor Who and the Web of Fear, but he still makes a few sly digs at the TV reporter; he’s small, neat and bearded with a ‘low, throbbing, earnest voice that seems to be the exclusive property of a certain kind of TV journalist’. 

It was a voice that conveyed expertise, sympathy, concern and a sort of muted reproach. The implication was that somehow Michael Wakefield already knew all the answers. Luckily for him, he never had to provide them. He only asked the questions, and passed along the background information assembled for him by an expert team of researchers, all kept firmly behind the camera.

For the final time, we have Dicks’ standard description of the third Doctor, with a face that is ‘neither young nor old’, and that Bessie is ‘an Edwardian roadster’ (and I’ve waiting until now to point out that it’s not actually a Roadster, it’s a four-seater Tourer, but Roadster is such a fun word). It’s still early days for the Doctor and Liz, having only had ‘two dangerous adventures’, and we’re reminded of the incident with the Silurians. 

In the assault on the ‘enemy’ in the warehouse, the Brigadier notices that they are ‘simply better than his own men, better shots, better trained in this kind of house-to-house fighting’. It’s the fact that none of his troops has been shot that draws the Brigadier’s suspicions – accurate shots knock the guns away but nobody is actually hit, and he notes that there’s ‘something rather humiliating about fighting an enemy who weren’t even trying to hit back’. The Doctor’s trick with the disappearing tape is ‘a Time Lord technique somewhere between telekinesis and conjuring’. 

The scientist Heldorf had been a refugee and still had a trace of an accent. Reegan was born in Ireland but spent most of his life in America, among other countries, evading the law. He’d been a bank robber for the IRA until they’d discovered he’d been stealing from them. He set himself up as a professional, specialising in ‘kidnapping, extortion and murder for hire’.  

Cover: The Doctor smiles as two ambassadors in space suits approach him from behind. Tony Masero’s original cover had a much more shadowy depiction of Jon Pertwee, but this was changed in response to a request from the actor. This is the first cover to feature the Third Doctor prominently on the initial cover since The Claws of Axos (1977), or on any cover since the 1978 Three Doctors reprint (aside from a small profile as part of a montage on The Five Doctors).

Final Analysis: We begin with a deceptively simple opening line: ‘Far above the Earth, in the infinite blackness of space, two metal capsules were converging.’ That ‘infinite blackness of space’ leapt out at me as a quote from something and a quick survey on Twitter led to Paul Rhodes supplying a flurry of suggestions for a possible source. Nasa’s own public information office LB Taylor Jr appears to have coined the phrase in his commentary around the Apollo 11 moon landings, which is appropriate considering the subject of The Ambassadors of Death. An earlier reference can be found in The Transcendent Man, a 1953 novel by future Star Trek and Twilight Zone writer Jerry Sohl, while the earliest I’ve found is a 1920 edition of the handbook of the Boy Scouts of America. It’s a phrase that crops up across science fiction from Star Trek to Marvel Comics’ Silver Surfer but as yet, I’ve not found an origin. Any suggestions?

There are some other lovely turns of phrase here: The warehouse where Carrington’s crew are hiding out has ‘row upon row of arched windows, every one methodically broken by the industrious local vandals’. The little extra biographical details for Heldorf and Reegan feel like something Malcolm Hulke would have added (appropriate considering he wrote a substantial amount of the scripts). We’ve come a long way from the days where Terrance was bashing these out one a month and as we reach the end of the third Doctor’s TV adventures, this stands out as one of the author’s very best.

Chapter 102. Doctor Who – The Time Monster (1986)

Synopsis: Experiments in a Cambridge laboratory have created instability in the web of time. The Master is using a trident-shaped crystal to summon Kronos, a creature from legend that ‘eats’ time itself. Recognising the origin of the crystal, the Doctor and Jo travel back to the time of Atlantis with the hope of stopping the Master but instead find themselves caught in his trap. When Kronos finally arrives, however, it is the Master who has to plead for his life…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Nightmare
  • 2. The Test
  • 3. The Summoning
  • 4. The Ageing
  • 5. The Legend
  • 6. The Ambush
  • 7. The High Priest
  • 8. The Secret
  • 9. Time Attack
  • 10. Take-Off
  • 11. The Time-Eater
  • 12. Atlantis
  • 13. The Guardian
  • 14. The Captives
  • 15. The Return of Kronos

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Robert Sloman’s scripts for the 1972 serial, completing the run of stories from Season 9 in Target’s library.

Notes: Professor Thascalos (not ‘Thascales’) is…:

… a medium-sized, compactly but powerfully built man, this Professor Thascalos, with sallow skin and a neatly-trimmed pointed beard. His dark burning eyes radiated energy and power.

A familiar description, but it’s not until he hypnotises Doctor Charles Perceval (not ‘Percival’) that Thascalos is revealed to be the Master. Percival’s predecessor was ‘over-fond of the bottle’ and so ‘an easy man [for the Master] to impress and to deceive’. The Master’s TOMTIT apparatus recreates ‘the powers of the legendary Timescoop of the Time Lords, forbidden by Rassilon in the Dark Time’, something only revealed eleven years later (or three years ago in book terms) in The Five Doctors.

The Doctor’s TARDIS sniffer-outer’ is ‘rather like a table tennis bat’ (it looks a lot ruder on telly!). Young Atlantean councillor Miseus is renamed ‘Myseus’. Perceval is accidentally confused with Humphrey Cook when he’s called ‘Humphrey Perceval’ seconds before his final moments. Weirdly, Dicks references the new TARDIS control room design and why we don’t see it again, as Jo notes that ‘from time to time, the Doctor altered some detail of the TARDIS interior. More often than not he decided he didn’t like what he’d done and reverted to the original.’ After the Master has captured Jo and disappeared in his TARDIS, Queen Galleia frees the Doctor and admits that she was wrong to trust the Master, just as she accepts that the people of Atlantis cannot be saved.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter paints a multilayered piece depicting the female eyes of Kronos, the winged Kronos creature and the trident crystal. It might be my favourite Skilleter cover.

Final Analysis: In the 1990s, when the Pertwee backlash was in full swing in some fanzines, The Time Monster came in for a particularly hard time. Compared to the Master’s previous exploits, it feels a little lightweight and it suffers from wading in the same pool as The Daemons, which concluded the previous season. There are ancient myths, the Master posing as a member of a community and resurrecting a godlike being. Sadly, we also get a load of nonsense with the Doctor balancing house-hold rubbish on a wine bottle before playing matador with a real, live minotaur, while the whole narrative purpose of UNIT seems a long way from its origins as an organisation investigating serious alien threats to Earth. The Brigadier is particularly dim while Benton’s reward for being the only member of UNIT with any brains is to be left standing before his peers in a nappy.

I’m not here to review the TV stories of course, but it’s difficult to avoid doing so when the book sticks so closely to the transmitted version. All of these excesses are present and correct in this book and, for once, Terrance Dicks’ methodical approach doesn’t work quite so well. It can be summed up by this underwhelming description of the final destruction of the TOMTIT machine:

… the result was nothing more serious than a loud bang, a shower of sparks and a lot of smoke.

Just one other observation: In the descriptions, the Brigadier’s number two is ‘Captain Yates’ or ‘Mike Yates’, but never ‘Mike’. Always the full name.

Chapter 96. Doctor Who – The Mind of Evil (1985)

Synopsis: The Doctor and Jo attend a presentation at Stangmoor Prison, where a pioneering new machine for treating violent criminals is being tested. UNIT is providing security at an international conference while also overseeing the transportation of a missile. A series of seemingly unconnected deaths at the prison and among the peace conference are further complicated by a riot breaking out at the prison. The chaos is another scheme by the Master and the Doctor has it in his power to bring it all to an end – but is the price too high even for him?

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Sentence
  • 2. The Terror
  • 3. The Inferno
  • 4. The Listener
  • 5. The Pistol
  • 6. The Dragon
  • 7. The Hostage
  • 8. The Mutiny
  • 9. The Test
  • 10. The Mind Parasite
  • 11. Hijack
  • 12. The Escape
  • 13. The Attack
  • 14. The Reunion
  • 15. The Mind of Evil
  • 16. The Farewell

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts by Don Houghton for the 1971 serial, completing Target’s run of stories from Season 8.

Notes: A few characters gain additional back-stories. The governor of Stangmore is named ‘Victor Camford’; he’s ‘a massive, heavy-featured man with dark hair and bushy eyebrows’. Professor Kettering is revealed to be completely out of his depth, adept at politics but completely ignorant of the workings of the Keller machine. He was hired personally by Emil Keller and it’s clear the eminent scientist (who is the Master of course) was exploiting Kettering’s personality flaws. Barnham ‘choked the life out of a security guard’ who disturbed him during a robbery. Harry Mailer has ‘a weathered, corrugated look, as if made of leather rather than normal skin’. A gang leader who organised a ‘highly successful’ protection racket in London, Mailer was arrested and convicted after killing someone within sight of witnesses. It’s suggested that he might have been responsible for many other murders, bodies that have never been found as they’re ’embedded in the foundations of bridges and motorways all over England’ (see also Meglos for another example of hiding bodies in motorway constructions). 

Captain Yates is ‘a thin, sensitive-looking young man, a good deal tougher than he looked’. Benton relishes the opportunity for some plain-clothes work and imagines himself as ‘James Bond’. We’re treated to the best description of him so far:

The Sergeant had many excellent qualities. He was a burly, handsome young man, a fine figure in his military uniform. He was completely fearless and utterly loyal. But he wouldn’t have been the Brigadier’s first choice for an undercover assignment. For one thing, he was just too big. Benton lurking in a doorway with his raincoat collar turned up, was about as inconspicuous as an elephant at a tea party. 

The Brigadier nods off at his desk and he dreams he is a young subaltern again, with a young lady called Doris [see Planet of the Spiders and Battlefield]. The Doctor eventually recalls that the parasite inside the machine comes from a planet from which ‘no expedition had ever returned’. As it begins an attack on the Master, the Keller Machine is said to be ‘fully aroused’.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter paints a portrait of the Master with the missile.

Final Analysis: Considering how those mid-to-late Tom Baker books saw a surfeit of Dicks, it really is a treat to find one of his books is next on the list. Terrance dominated the first 100 releases, but there are few of them left by this point. We can rejoice in this one being the second and last of Don Houghton’s scripts to be novelised, from an era where, along with producer Barry Letts, Terrance was king of Doctor Who. There’s a sense that the story is made up largely of three ‘episode two’s sandwiched between an opening and closing episode; Terrance does little to change this, but it’s enjoyable to see a few additional bits of detail that sketch in the lives of our supporting characters.

On TV, Professor Kettering reacts against the Doctor at his most obnoxious, whereas here, we find out he is completely winging it and the Doctor is (unconsciously) correct to pick apart his claims. Barnham and Mailer are both revealed to be extremely violent thugs, so the contrast between them after Barnham has been processed is even more stark – and Mailer is immediately as threatening a presence as he is on screen. A surprise and disappointment comes with the arrival of the Chinese dragon, which kills the delegate. While it provides an appropriate point to conclude a chapter, Dicks doesn’t make much of it or make any attempt to make it more dramatic than the ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ that so failed to impress the production team as it waddled onto set. For once, he chooses just to say ‘it happened’ and move on. Whether this was down to word-count or he was just trying not to resurrect painful memories of the costume, we’ll never know.

Chapter 89. Doctor Who – Inferno (1984)

Synopsis: UNIT has been invited to provide security for a top secret drilling project in search of a new energy source from the Earth’s core. Hoping that the facility might help with his repairs to the TARDIS, the Doctor immediately becomes an irritation for the project’s director and instigator, Professor Stahlman, who is determined to lead the project to undoubted victory, whatever the risk. Afreak accident sees the Doctor transported to a parallel world where Stahlman’s project is much further advanced – and the dangers more apparent. Can the Doctor save this world and make it back to his own in time?

Chapter Titles

  • 1 Project Inferno
  • 2. The Beast
  • 3. Mutant
  • 4. The Slime
  • 5. Dimension of Terror
  • 6. The Nightmare
  • 7. Death Sentence
  • 8. Countdown to Doom
  • 9. Penetration-Zero
  • 10. The Monsters
  • 11. Escape Plan
  • 12. Doomsday
  • 13. Return to Danger
  • 14. The Last Mutation
  • 15. The Doctor Takes a Trip

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts for the 1970 serial by Don Houghton.

Notes: The Stahlman Project is ‘the greatest scientific project that England had ever known’; it’s predicted to be ‘more technologically advanced than nuclear power’ and, more importantly, ‘far more lucrative than North Sea Oil’, promising ‘limitless free energy for everyone’. We’re reminded that these are still the early days of the Doctor’s exile by the Time Lords to Earth. The complex that houses the project is in ‘a messy, unattractive-looking area’ – and this will be relevant later.

Professor Stahlman’s first name is Eric and he grew up ‘in the ruins of post-war Germany’ (which means he’s either only in his late twenties or he grew up in post-First-World-War Germany – unless Terrance Dicks is maintaining the idea of UNIT stories being set in a ‘near future’).  Sir Keith Gold observes Professor Stahlman’s ‘bulky broad-shouldered body and massive close-cropped head’, with a neat beard; in his mind, Sir Keith compares him to a gorilla in a lab coat – and immediately feels guilty for being so uncharitable. It’s an interesting choice to make Stahlman physically strong, ‘powerfully built man’, as this accentuates his early encounter with the Doctor, who restrains him with just two fingers and freezes him to the spot.

Liz Shaw is a ‘serious-looking girl with reddish-brown hair’ dressed in ‘a rather incongruously frivolous-looking mini-skirt’ – details which help to provide contrast with the parallel-world version. We’re reminded that Liz is ‘a scientist of some distinction in her own right’ and that she had been brought into UNIT from Cambridge ‘some time ago’. Petra Williams is ‘an attractive white-coated young woman, with a pleasant open face’ – yes, just like the Fifth Doctor – ‘framed by long fair hair’. Greg Sutton is said to be ‘a burly, broad-shouldered man’ and he has ‘a pleasantly ugly face’ (a bit unfair on Derek Newark there, Terrance!)  and ‘a sun-baked, wind-weathered complexion’. 

The Doctor witnesses Stahlman stealing the microcircuit and exclaims ‘Jumping Jehosophat’, as he does when he sees the Master in The Five Doctors. When he finally escapes limbo and lands in the parallel world, the Doctor is aware that he’s not where he’d previously been because the hut is tidy (the Doctor likes ‘a bit of clutter’). The neatness extends to the rest of the surrounding area, which has also been ‘tidied up’. Without the moustache of the Brigadier, the Brigade Leader’s mouth looks ‘thin-lipped and cruel’. The Doctor begins to speculate as to the cause of the parallel world and guesses that it might be down to a different outcome for the Second World War. The savage beasts are simply mutants (they’re called ‘Primords’ on the end titles of the TV episodes, but the word isn’t used in dialogue or in the novel). The novel retains the radio broadcasts that were cut from the original transmission (but retained for overseas broadcast). The Doctor checks his pulse and it’s ‘normal’ at 70 (it’s 170 on TV). The Doctor realises that he was so ‘haunted by that nightmarish vision of an exploding Earth’ that his violent outburst at Stahlman will have damaged his credibility.

Cover: Nick Spender’s fiery illustration shows a likeness of Ian Fairbairn as technician Bromley beginning to transform into an atavistic beast on the roof of a cooling tower beneath a burning sky. It’s quite the scariest cover since Alun Hood’s 1979 piece for the Terror of the Autons reprint.

Final Analysis: The first of two Don Houghton stories adapted by Terrance Dicks and it’s a real treat. It benefits from the increased page-count that’s gradually crept in since Terrance’s middle-period, plus it’s the sort of story that really plays to Terrance’s strengths as his economic thumbnail-sketch descriptions help us remember who’s who and what’s different about them in the other world. We also get an insight into the Doctor’s thought process, initially fascinated by the opportunity to explore a parallel world until he begins to treat the people he encounters as real, and not just disposable alternatives of the ones he knew on the other Earth. His horror at realising he has to give up on the alt-world to gain the chance to save his own Earth stays with him, even down to him accepting his desperation has alienated the very people he’s trying to save. And as we’ll discover, it’s a devastating decision that will haunt him for… well, at least as long as Don Houghton’s other story.

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.

Chapter 43. Doctor Who – Death to the Daleks (1978)

Synopsis: The city of the Exxilons, one of the Seven Hundred Wonders of the Universe. Somehow, the city is alive, draining the energy from any visiting spacecraft – including the TARDIS. Abandoning the time ship, the Doctor and Sarah find a similarly marooned expedition team in search of minerals needed to cure a deadly space plague. But a platoon of Daleks also intend on taking the minerals for themselves. The explorers form an uneasy truce as they decide to find answers inside the city – and the native Exxilons are determined not to let them.. 

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Death of a TARDIS
  • 2. The Ambush
  • 3. Expedition from Earth
  • 4. The Deadly Arrivals
  • 5. A Truce with Terror
  • 6. The Sacrifice
  • 7. Escape to the Unknown
  • 8. Bellal
  • 9. The Pursuit
  • 10. The City Attacks
  • 11. The Trap
  • 12. The Nightmare
  • 13. The Antibodies
  • 14. The Last Victory

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Terry Nation’s scripts from the 1974 story.

Notes: The prologue is an atmospheric retelling of the first scene – which was cut from the story’s first release on home video, so it’s kind of a deleted scene with a cracking first line: ‘He was a dead man running.’ The Doctor is ‘a tall, white-haired man with a deeply-lined, young-old face’ (the first time we see this description and it won’t be the last). Sarah has only known the Doctor for a brief time, as she recalls her trips to Medieval England and a London ‘infested with dinosaurs’. The fog on the planet Exxilon is (wait for it!) green. The Exxilons wear black robes and speak a form of ‘pidgin Galactic’ that Galloway can understand. Bellal is a ‘subterranean Exxilon’ and he introduces his friend as ‘Gotal’ (a name only revealed in the end credits on TV), while another subterranean Exxilon is called ‘Jebal’. 

Jill Tarrant is blonde, not red haired, Dan Galloway lost his entire family in the Dalek wars, grew up in poverty as a refugee and joined the Marine Space Corps as soon as he could, working his way up the ranks. The ‘hopscotch’ floor in the City lies in a wide hall, not a narrow corridor and there are many antibody creatures, not just the two on telly. Realising Jill has escaped, the Dalek sentry begins a frantic search but doesn’t self destruct. The Doctor offers to continue aiming for Florana but Sarah just wants to go home.

Chapter 7 is ‘Escape to the Unknown’ – another one so close to the lesser-sighted ‘Escape to Danger’ but… not quite.!

Cover: Roy Knipe paints this Target Doctor Who cover and creates an instant classic – a Dalek’s head explodes. Alister Pearson was onto a hiding for nothing with his 1991 reprint cover, which shows Bellal in front of a different blazing Dalek.

Final Analysis: It’s hard to go wrong with this and Dicks doesn’t put a foot out of place. He doesn’t add much either, to be fair, but it’s still a lot creepier than the over-lit, jazz-fused TV version. It’s peak-Terrance, where eyes are red and glowing, robes are black and Daleks glide.

Chapter 42. Doctor Who and the Time Warrior (1978)

Synopsis: Scientists have disappeared from across the country. In an attempt to keep them safe, the remaining experts have been brought to a research centre under the guard of UNIT – but still they continue to vanish. The Doctor identifies the cause must be someone with access to time travel. Following the trail in the TARDIS back to the Middle Ages, the Doctor discovers the time-hopping kidnapper is a Sontaran warrior – unaware that the TARDIS has brought alomg a 20th-Century stowaway aboard in the form of intrepid journalist Sarah Jane Smith. 

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1.  Irongron’s Star
  • 2. Linx’s Bargain
  • 3. Sarah’s Bluff
  • 4. Irongron’s Captive
  • 5. The Doctor Disappears
  • 6. A Shock for Sarah
  • 7. Prisoner in the Past
  • 8. The Robot Knight
  • 9. Linx’s Slaves
  • 10. Irongron’s Wizard
  • 11. The Rescue
  • 12. The Doctor’s Magic
  • 13. Counter Attack
  • 14. The Robot’s Return
  • 15. Shooting Gallery
  • 16. Return to Danger
  • 17. Linx’s Departure

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts Robert Holmes’ scripts for the 1973-4 serial, except from the prologue, which Holmes wrote himself before handing the task over to Dicks.

Notes: Three years after the word ‘Sontaran’ first appeared in a Target book [see Terror of the Autons], we finally meet one – in the most exciting prologue ever, written by an uncredited Robert Holmes! We join Sontaran Commander Jingo Linx as his ship faces certain obliteration after an unsuccessful battle against the Rutans in their third galactic war. We learn that the Sontarans come from the planet Sontara and he listens to the ‘sweet strains of the Sontaran Anthem’ (presumably the same one that accompanies Linx’s flag when he erects it in front of Bloodaxe) as his ship makes a last desperate escape from the black, dart-shaped Rutan pursuit ships. Sontarans are cyborgs, thanks to implants in the back of their neck that allow them to draw energy through a ‘probic vent’. The procedure that allows this is undergone on entry to the Space Corps and although it gives him a rush of energy, Linx always dreads taking a ‘power burn’.

The flood of power through his tissues was like a roaring madness, a chaotic maelstrom of colour and sound depriving him of all sentient knowledge of the outside world. He felt himself clinging like a limpet within some solitary crevice of consciousness, aware only that he still existed… still existed… still… 

His cruiser is destroyed, driven into a sun as a diversion to allow him to escape the Rutans in a small scout ship. As the ship heads towards a little blue planet orbiting the sun, Linx allows himself a smile usually reserved for the ‘ the death throes of an enemy’. Most of the details here have been forgotten by subsequent authors, even Holmes himself [see The Two Doctors], but it should be mandatory reading for any hopeful Sontaran scribes. 

Irongron and his band of men had once ‘roamed the forest like wolves’ before stumbling upon a castle abandoned by a lord away ‘at the wars’. His group attacked the castle at night, its inhabitants massacred, and the castle became his. His nearest neighbour, Sir Edward Fitzroy, is sickly, having returned from the Crusades with a fever. Sir Edward’s son and most of his soldiers are still fighting the king’s crusades overseas, leaving him with a depleted defence. His young squire, Eric, is given a splendid introduction, riding through the forest, wary of being too close to Irongron’s castle and falling victim to a simple trap laid by Bloodaxe.

When he first addresses Irongron, Linx speaks with ‘a booming metallic voice… strangely accented but clearly understandable English’ and the suggestion is that this is due to a translation device, not his natural voice.

The Brigadier brings the Doctor in to investigate the missing scientists and equipment to distract him as he’s missing Jo since she had got married and has refused a new assistant ever since. The Doctor is described as ‘a tall man with a lined young-old face and a shock of white hair’ (we’ll be seeing this description regularly from now on). He insists on having the TARDIS brought to the research centre in case there’s an alien influence he needs to trace. Sarah Jane Smith is introduced, ‘an attractive dark-haired girl’ who is a freelance journalist (the ‘freelance’ bit is new to the book) who has been ‘making her own way in a man’s world for some years now, and she strongly resented any suggestion that her sex doomed her to an inferior role’. The Doctor tells Rubeish that ‘Lavinia Smith’ is a woman in her ‘late sixties’ as well as being in America. The Brigadier reminds the Doctor about his failed attempts to reach Metabelis III (‘I got there eventually’, says the Doctor defensively). We get Sarah’s first reaction to the inside of the TARDIS and she hides inside a wardrobe when the Doctor enters. Realising that the wardrobe is bigger than the police box she entered – and the central control room even bigger again – she quickly forms a theory that the Doctor is an alien responsible for kidnapping the scientists. She also watches the switch the Doctor uses to open the door and uses the same switch to escape.

We might want to note that Hal makes his first attempt to assassinate Irongron by taking up position on a ‘grassy knoll’.

Linx rides on horseback for the attack on Sir Edward’s castle. The attack on Linx, the destruction of Irongron’s castle and the Doctor’s departure with Sarah all happen at night. Although Hal’s arrow kills Linx, the hand of the dead warrior hits the launch button and his ship escapes the burning castle to be returned with Linx’s corpse to the war in the stars. And hurrah for Hal as he rescues Squire Eric from the dungeon!

Oh and there’s a chapter title called ‘Return to Danger’ – so close!!

Cover: Linx the Sontaran strikes a dramatic pose before his globe-shaped craft, a superb photorealistic portrait by Roy Knipe. The cover for the 1993 reprint by Alister Pearson places the Doctor, Sarah and Irongron in square tiles behind Linx, who’s side on and holding his helmet by his side.

Final Analysis: It might be heresy but I’m not a fan of this story on TV and reading this story I can put it down to Alan Bromly’s static, leaden direction. But look at all the notes in this chapter and join me in wondering if Terrance Dicks was spurred on by his friend Holmes’ wonderful opening prologue – top three in the series so far (See also Doctor Who and the Crusaders and Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks.). Compare the two descriptions of Linx’s face – the first is by Holmes, the second by Dicks, picking up the baton:

… the heavy bones, the flat powerful muscles, the leathery, hairless epidermis, the calculating brain.… little, red eyes that were like fire-lit caves under the great green-brown dome of a skull…

The face beneath was something out of a nightmare. The head was huge and round, emerging directly from the massive shoulders. The hairless skull was greenish-brown in colour, the eyes small and red. The little nose was a pig-like snout, the mouth long and lipless. It was a face from one of Earth’s dark legends, the face of a goblin or a troll. 

This extends to the major and minor characters – how Sir Edward waits for his wife to ‘run out of words’, (and on the very next line ‘It was a considerable wait’) and how Lady Eleanor’s eyes ‘gleamed’ at the prospect of the Doctor poisoning Irongron’s dog’. It’s clear Dicks enjoyed this. I know I did.