Chapter 151. Doctor Who – The Curse of Fenric (1990)

Synopsis: A World War II military base in North Yorkshire becomes the site for a battle between good and evil. All the pieces have come together: A British officer obsessed with Nazi memorabilia; his chief adviser, the creator of a powerful code-breaking machine; a squad of Soviet soldiers led by a captain driven by destiny; a bereaved young mother, left with a baby; a race of vampiric mutants from the future; and an ancient evil waiting for the arrival of a Time Lord… and his young friend, Ace. Now, the game can begin again…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue: Dusk
  • Chronicle I: Betrayal
  • Document I: The Wolf-time
  • Chronicle II: Dangerous Undercurrents
  • Document II: The Curse of the Flask
  • Chronicle III: Weapons within Weapons, Death within
  • Death
  • Document III: A Victorian Storyteller
  • Chronicle IV: Vampire City!
  • Document IV: The First Contest of Fenric
  • Chronicle V: Wind and Water, Earth and Fire
  • Epilogue: Dawn

Background: Ian Briggs adapts his own scripts from the 1989 serial, delivering the longest novelisation since Fury from the Deep.

Notes: The author bares the method in a prologue where he dwells on how to start the story. An unidentified woman stands on the beach signalling the Soviet submarine (we find out later who that might be). Sorin is a captain in the Red Army’s Special Missions Brigade and his mission is called ‘Operation Sea-Wolf’ (an echo of the story’s working title, The Wolves of Fenric). When the Soviet commandos reach the beach, it’s Trofimov who acts as look-out; he sees the evacuees and is reminded of his wife, Irene, who he sees dead in a vision. Sorin believes another young soldier, Petrossian, has special gifts that alert him to sounds and danger before everybody else.  

On arriving at the camp, the Doctor berates young Perkins: ‘What would happen if the Germans attacked now? We’d have to write to your mother and tell her you died in filthy boots!’ The Doctor’s forged authorisation documents from the War Office give his name as ‘Dr-‘ but the second name is smudged, while ‘Ace’ is listed as the code-name of his assistant. One of the evacuees, Jean, has cool blue eyes and blonde, tightly wound hair, while Phyllis has ‘a round, smiling face’, and her eyes are ‘a rich chestnut brown’. Ace complains that the Doctor doesn’t pay any attention to her because she’s ‘only the waitress’ (as opposed to ‘a mere mortal’ on TV). Ace goes rock climbing with the evacuees (using ropes instead of the usual ladder) and tells them she ‘gave up’ smoking after her Mum found out. Kathleen is initially nervous when the Doctor and Ace discover her baby. She tries to explain, but the Doctor reassures her: ‘Just as long as you can promise me she’s isn’t a German spy, sent to discover the secret of British nappies.’ 

The chapters are punctuated by four supporting documents, the first of which is an essay about the Viking gods, written by Millington when he was a schoolboy. A teacher’s comment at the end of the essay reads: 

Very good. An extraordinarily vivid piece of writing for a boy of only 12. It is almost as though young Millington really believes that these myths will come true one day.

The essay represents a lifelong obsession with Norse mythology that Millington carries into adulthood, unaware that this is part of Fenric’s curse. On learning from Judson about the new arrivals from ‘the War Office’, Millington assumes that they must be from Bletchley and orders that they should be killed as ‘the enemy’. He recalls an incident on the rugby pitch more than 20 years earlier:

The cold mud of a rugby pitch. The shouts and calls of adolescent young men as they ran and chased. The expression Millington saw on Judson’s face as Judson smiled across to one of the other players, a tall, blond boy with clear blue eyes and a strong body. The sharp, stabbing jealousy that surged through Millington. The black anger that filled him as he ran towards Judson. The hatred, as he drove his shoulder hard in Judson’s back. The cracking sound – the awful cracking sound – as Judson’s body bent backwards and his spine fractured. The expression in Judson’s face, an expression from hell, as he lay paralysed in the mud.

The second document tells of how a traveller from Sweden called Oslaf obtained the flask. He and his party journeyed from Constantinople, through Transylvania, their voyage blighted by black fog and mysterious deaths, before they reached the Baltic sea and were slain by pirates. The pirate leader, Hemming, seized the flask as part of their spoils, but his band of men experienced sudden and grisly deaths just like those of Oslaf’s party. Abandoning his wife, Hemming captured a beautiful villager called Ingelda, with whom he sired a daughter called Wulf-aga as she had shining eyes like a wolf. As his crew were killed off one by one, Hemming concluded that the flask he stole from Oslaf was to blame; he sent his mistress and their daughter to safety and hid the flask, before he and the last of his men were slain by the black fog.

Wainwright visits the graves of his parents and grandparents in the churchyard. His mother died the day after he was born and her gravestone has the wrong date on it; his father died two years ago. Unlike on TV, Wainwright is a young man in his twenties. Millington reveals to the Doctor and Ace his plan to use chemical weapons to bring the war to an end: ‘A few thousand will die. But hundreds of thousands will be saved.’

The Doctor and Ace speak to an agitated Miss Hardaker about her missing evacuees and they try to persuade her not to involve the Home Guard; as soon as they leave, she calls the Home Guard anyway. The six Home Guard soldiers find the girls on the beach but fail to persuade them to go home. When their patrol strays too close to the Soviet hideout, they are killed by Sorin’s men, as witnessed from the clifftops by Sergeant Leigh (a young soldier of just 20, but already ‘hard as stone’)… and Miss Hardaker, who the young sergeant orders to return home. There, she confronts the girls, blaming them for the deaths of the men. Sorin tries to comfort Trofimov, unaware that, having himself become a father back home recently, his sergeant’s trauma comes from killing men who were someone’s sons. 

The third Document is a letter from Bram Stoker to his wife, detailing a story he heard while visiting the area about Maiden’s Point, a murdered girl and vampires living in the waters nearby. He tells his wife ‘I begin to believe that the seeds of some greater story may lie in this tragic incident.’

Miss Hardaker has her own reason for fearing the wider reputation of Maiden’s Point: When she was just 19, she became pregnant out of wedlock. Though the child died aged just two, Miss Hardaker was shunned by her neighbours and she carried the shame with her throughout her life.

The Doctor calls the monstrous army that emerges from the sea ‘homo haemovorax’ and claims that the salt water in the area is similar to human blood plasma:

Their bodies were horrifying mutations of the humans they had once been. Their skin was slimy and slightly wrinkled, like huge white slugs with legs and arms. Their eyes were swollen and bulbous, closed like a foetus in its uterus. And their mouths had turned into large suckers for draining blood. 

Some of them still had traces of human origins – vestigial ears, or a skeleton that was vaguely humanoid – and these creatures still had scraps of recent human clothing hanging off them. But those that had been waiting for a century or more were now completely changed. Instead of clothing, they had thin strands of glistening filament that hung about their bodies. Among the filaments and linked with them were old metal objects – objects that had either been discarded in the waters down the centuries or taken from the creatures’ victims. Keys, locks, coins, scissor-blades were now welded by an iridescent coral into a kind of chain mail.

The assault on the church is a lot more dramatic than was possible on telly. Ace uses her rock-climbing ropes (rather than the ladder) to scale down the church tower. Haemovores scale down the side of the tower after her and Sorin stakes one of them to death. The Doctor remembers his travelling companions as a testament of faith to repel the haemovore attack: Susan, Ian, Barbara, Vicki and Stephen [sic], Jo and Sarah-Jane. He’s surprised that Ace can hear the sound of his faith and surmises that she is slightly telepathic.

The fourth of the quoted documents is a translation by Sir William Judson, recounting the tale-within-a-tale of a game of chess between another traveller, El-DokTar, and an evil dictator called Aboo-Fenran. After 40 days of stalemate, the traveller challenged the dictator to find a solution that could defeat him. Another 40 days and nights passed and, unable to solve the impasse, Aboo-Fenrir surrendered and was trapped inside a flask. A prince mentioned in this story is said to haved journeyed ‘along the Central Way from the Furthest Island of Dhógs to the White City’, which might hold additional meaning if you consider how a person might travel via the Central Line of the London Underground from East London to BBC Television Centre.

The eyes of the bodies that Fenric possesses glow red, not green. Fenric reveals that Nurse Crane is a Soviet agent reporting to Moscow (suggesting she was the figure signalling from the beach to the Russian submarine). The Ancient One is named Ingiger and its voice is said to be part female. Vershinin and Bates both die from being shot by Millington (they survived on TV); Millington allows himself to be engulfed in flames while holding the body of Judson.

In the epilogue, having departed the TARDIS some time before, ‘Dorothée’ is reunited with the Doctor in 1887, where she reveals she has fallen in love with Sorin’s grandfather.

Cover & Illustration: Against a chessboard background, Alister Pearson brings together a Doctor with a sickly green tinge, a haemovore, Ace in her 1940s costume and various symbols – a logic diagram, some ancient runes, a Soviet red star, a Nazi Swastika and a skull-and-crossbones poison label. Inside, for the first time in years, there’s an illustration – a map, captioned ‘The Journey of the Flask’.

Final Analysis: Back in the mid-1960s, the joke behind the Meddling Monk was that he was the sort of character who would deposit a small sum into a bank and then travel forward in time to collect the interest. In 1979 we had Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth, trying to pull off a similar stunt by influencing history to fund his time travel experiments in the 20th century. It was also the driving force behind this story on TV, an ancient evil manipulating individual family lines to ensure they all converge at one point in space and time. In retelling his adventure as a novel, Ian Briggs creates a multi-faceted tale that slowly pushes all the pieces onto the board and shows how they came to be part of Fenric’s trap. That the backstory is presented as a series of documents allows the reader to decide if any of them might be a reliable source: The Doctor really did trap an ancient evil in a flask because it couldn’t grasp that he was cheating at chess, or the scene is just symbolic of whatever it was that happened; Millington’s childhood obsession with Norse mythology was symptomatic of the curse, or just another facet of his obsessive guilt over the crippling attack on Judson; maybe the flask caused the deaths that followed the parties of Oslaf and Hemming, or perhaps they just lived in bloody times; and maybe Bram Stoker was driven by the legends that fuel this story to write one of his own, rather than Ian Briggs taking his inspiration from Stoker…

In the entire history of the Target books, few could be described as being sexually charged. Companions arrive and depart with dispassionate regularity and even the ones tempted by a promise of romance remain largely chaste. The first hints of sexual desires introduced by Ben Aaronovich in Remembrance of the Daleks are continued here. The subtlety of a bay called ‘Maiden’s Point’ is underlined when Ace appears to admit to her new evacuee friends that, like them, she’s not a virgin (even if it’s just a case of teenage bragging to fit in), but then there’s the revelation that Miss Hardaker also has a secret past. The undercurrents that engulf Ace at the end are said to represent ‘laughter, lechery and animal passion. A whorehouse of enjoyment’. Despite this, Ace’s seduction of young Sergeant Leigh is about as awkward as it was on TV and, frankly, the resolution is unpleasant:

‘Too hot,’ murmured Ace. ‘Clothes sticking to me, sticking to my skin, hot, damp…’

‘If they’re too sticky, you know what to do.’

… his cries of ‘You promised’ suggest he feels led on, more than just led away.

There’s also a subtext of sexual tension from Millington towards Judson, who he clearly found compelling when they were schoolboys; as an adult, Millington has no love for women, complaining that they even ‘smelled different’, which adds a little to his dismissal of Ace with ‘no girls’!

Sexual subtexts are all part and parcel of the horror genre, and while this remains teen-friendly, it’s clearly aimed at an older audience than, say, Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius. Infamously, the disintegration of the Haemovore Jean and Phyllis was shown on children’s TV in a behind-the-scenes feature but cut from the actual broadcast episode. Here, we can enjoy the moment in all its gory glory. The most graphic passage, however, comes during the assault on the church, when Sorin employs a stake to destroy one of the monstrous attackers:

The haemovore gave out a terrible, tortured cry that seemed to tear through the universe. Sorin pushed down on the stake with all his strength, driving it through the haemovore’s body until he felt it hit the slates beneath. The horrible, bloated face of the creature began to twist and change. The skin started to wrinkle and pull back on to the bones as though the creature were growing older by a hundred years every minute. The fleshy lips turned thin and dry and began to crack; the haemovore’s whole skeleton began to show through the thin membrane. Then the skin started to smoke and peel away. The creature’s cry slowly died away as all its flesh disappeared in smoke. Soon, all that was left was a smoking skeleton lying in a pool of slime and a charred wooden stake planted between two ribs.

As I noted just a few chapters ago, Remembrance of the Daleks is often cited by fans as the moment of conception for the New Adventures, but this story informs the tone of that range just as much. It’s a story as much about the companion as the villain, where sex and sexuality are acknowledged as something that actually exists and where the Doctor is manipulating people and events like a Grand Master chessplayer.

Chapter 140. Doctor Who – The Chase (1989)

Synopsis: A brief holiday on the planet Aridius is interrupted when the Doctor gains advance warning that the Daleks are coming for him. So begins a frantic flight through time, each stop brings their pursuers ever closer. Their final battleground is Mechanus, home to killer plants, the robotic Mechanoids and their sole prisoner, a space pilot called Steven. As the Doctor prepares to confront his enemies at last, his friends have no idea that this will be their last adventure together in the TARDIS.

Chapter Titles

  • Author’s Note
  • 1. The Executioners
  • 2. A Speech in Time
  • 3. The Sands of Death
  • 4. The Victims
  • 5. Deadline
  • 6. Flight through Eternity
  • 7. Nightmare
  • 8. Journey into Terror
  • 9. Fallen Spirits
  • 10. Who’s Who?
  • 11. To the Death!
  • 12. The Mechanoids
  • 13. The End of the Hunt
  • 14. Home!

Background: John Peel adapts scripts from a 1965 serial by Terry Nation. As the author’s note explains, he worked mainly from early drafts, before they were rewritten by story editor Dennis Spooner, so he explains that the book is ‘not strictly an adaptation of the televised version of The Chase’ (ie, it’s not written as if by Terrance Dicks).

Notes: The opening chapter depicts a grand Dalek control room with ‘a background pulse, like an electronic heart slowly beating’. The Black Dalek looks down from a raised platform onto various other Dalek units, including a Chief Scientist. The Daleks know the Doctor by name. They’re also aware that his appearance ‘has changed many times over the years’ and they have tracked him through his ‘basic metabolic pattern’ [meaning these Daleks come from the Doctor’s own future]. 

The Doctor ‘borrowed’ the TARDIS and lost the operational notes while on prehistoric Earth. He is nearly 750 years old and has not yet experienced his first regeneration. We’re reminded of the introduction stories of Ian and Barbara, that Susan left the TARDIS after falling in love and that Vicki recently joined them after being rescued from the planet Dido. The space/time visualiser is just one of many trinkets that the Doctor has picked up over the years. Neither Ian nor Barbara recognise the Beatles song that appears on the visualiser. Vicki has not encountered a Dalek up to this point, but knows of them from her history books.

The Daleks are led by the Dalek Prime, which is ‘larger than most, and painted a uniform golden colour’ (similar to the Emperor from the comic strips). The TARDIS team have encountered the Daleks twice before. The Daleks use flying discs to survey the surface of Aridius. Aridians have blue skin and they wear the skins of mire beasts as cloaks. We’re party to the meeting of the Aridian elders with the Daleks where they’re given the ultimatum. Ian and Barbara had an unseen adventure on Cetus Alpha. The TARDIS dematerialises with a ‘customary groaning and wheezing’. The Dalek time ship is powered by Taranium, ‘both the rarest and most unstable element in the Universe’; one gram can power a time ship for centuries and it took the Daleks two decades to obtain that amount. 

It’s clear the author has done a little research into the crew of the Mary Celeste as the characters are named and fleshed out (he also has one of them exterminated by a Dalek – something that we don’t see on TV). The schoolteachers debate whether they were responsible for the death of the passengers and crew of the ship and Ian reminds Barbara of her attempts to change the history of the Aztecs; they take some comfort from the possibility that the Marie Celeste was always fated to become a mystery. Morton C. Dill is from Alabama. He encounters the TARDIS crew and a Dalek in 1967. The Dalek considers killing him, but then decides to let him live, considering it ‘far worse for the human race to allow this fool to live on’. Ever since that day. Dill has been a resident of the Newman Rehabilitation Clinic for the bewildered (a reference to a routine by American humourist Tom Lehrer). The haunted house is a part of Battersea Funfair, London, and is closed for repair. Vicki uses her months of experience of operating the radio on the crashed spaceship on Dido to use the Dalek radio. After the robot Doctor is destroyed, the real Doctor proves his credentials by reminding his companions of their past adventures, how Ian was knighted by Richard Coeur de Lion, Vicki, led a ‘revolution on the planet Xeros’ and Barbara ‘escaped with the Menoptera from the Crater of Needles’.

Steven Taylor explains that the Earth’s plans for expansion were brought to an end by the Draconian conflict, followed by the Third Dalek War. Realising that the execution squad is outnumbered by Mechonoids and facing defeat, the Dalek squad leader separates from the battle to hack into a computer and trigger the city’s destruction in a final attempt to trap the TARDIS crew. 

Steven manages to escape, makes his way through the jungle and reaches the TARDIS, where he collapses. The Doctor is initially very dismissive of the unstable and brutish Dalek technology of their time ship, but quickly becomes more tactful to avoid frightening Ian and Barbara. He’s pragmatic enough to help the schoolteachers to use the Dalek time ship to return home, but he deliberately sets the time of their destination a couple of years in their future to offset the three years they’ve spent travelling with him. They return to the TARDIS to collect their belongings, including souvenirs of their travels. Barbara wonders if she owes back-rent on her flat, while teasing Ian about the amount of dust that will have settled in the house that he owns. They stow their belongings at King’s Cross Station before enjoying a visit to a pub by the Thames and exploring their home city anew.

Cover: Against a backdrop of the time vortex, divided like a 16-hour clock, the Doctor looks across at a Mechanoid and the city of Mechanus, a Dalek, a mire beast and the Mary Celeste. A suitably busy composition from Alister Pearson.

Final Analysis: There was a lot of build-up to this, the first of the remaining Terry Nation Dalek stories to be novelised, courtesy of a deal struck with author John Peel. I’m a fan of the TV story – comical elements included – and the scattergun approach is the set-up for the next Dalek story, which is similarly meandering but on a grander scale. Glad to say, I’m also a fan of this novel. It’s determined to be grown-up about it all, so the jokey aspects are cut back massively, and some of the additional details appeal mainly to the fan gene in linking this story to ones broadcast later or told in other media. At this point in the history of Target, that’s who the readership was. Peel manages to make the Daleks menacing, scheming and not remotely comical (something their own creator chose not to do in the original TV version). His real success though is in capturing the TARDIS team, the growing relationship between the schoolteachers, Vicki’s resourcefulness and most of all the Doctor’s contrary nature, clearly lamenting the departure of two people who forced their way into his life and became good friends – but refusing to let this show. It’s rather wonderful to have another adventure with this particular crew, as this is the last of their adventures to be novelised. And there are only two more stories from this era left to come… 

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

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

Chapter Titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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