Category: Target Books

The Sixth Doctor (2): The Hiatus – “If we stop his travels he’ll be in a mess”

In 1985, Doctor Who was cancelled, ostensibly for 18 months – although there’s a persistent belief that until fankind fought back, the show would never have returned in 1986. The immediate result was that the planned Season 23 stories were put on hold. However, in the brouhaha that followed the announcement, various BBC bods bashed Season 22 on the entirely justifiable grounds that it was too violent and basically crap. Whether that was actually a motivating factor in the “hiatus” or just a convenient ex post facto excuse is probably unknowable at this stage, but the impact on the production team – who had gone from the high watermark of 1983’s 20th anniversary celebrations at Longleat to the ignominy of not having a show any more can’t be underestimated.

But what did we lose? The actual Lost Stories have their admirers, but they are broadly more of the same that we had in Season 22: badly structured and derivative.

Superficially, The Nightmare Fair should be a winner. There’s a fantastic setting – Blackpool Pleasure Beach – and the opening scenes with the Doctor and Peri having a good time on the rides is lighter and simply more fun than anything we actually saw during Season 22. In its way, it is much a new beginning as The Mysterious Planet, and in many ways a more satisfying one. Equally, the return of an old villain, though a tired cliché by 1985, is handled decently: the Toymaker as a baddie is comprehensible without any real knowledge of his previous encounters with the Doctor – a super-being that treats living creatures as toys is not as arcane as, say, the first of the Time Lords harnessing the power of an astronomical quirk or the Cybermen retconning an adventure from 18 years before.

In the Big Finish audio we get their softened version of the sixth Doctor. Whether he would have been quite so cuddly on TV is open to question, so it’s difficult to say whether this would have seemed as much of a departure from the abrasive Season 22 characterisation. Peri would definitely have benefited from her pairing with Kevin – like the DJ, he’s a foil that brings out the best in her, and we see a side of her that was so often lacking when she and the Doctor grated on each others’ nerves.

The problem with The Nightmare Fair, though, is the same as bugged The Celestial Toymaker: given the scope of the premise, the execution just feels bland. So, what begins as a big adventure for the most tasteless Doctor in the most tasteless location gradually turns into lots of conversations in cells and corridors, and – instead of deadly musical chairs – a videogame climax that probably would have been a bit passé even in 1985.

It’s been years since I read The Ultimate Evil and, sorry Blog, I remember it just well enough to know I wouldn’t want to again – but I remember a tiresome story about two peaceful planets being urged to war by a capitalist alien, which is pretty much the kind of thing Philip Martin gives us. Plus, Daly has the Doctor sent into a murderous rage by a violence ray, which is exactly the kind of thing Colin Baker didn’t need.

There are things that are good about Mission to Magnus, but an equal number of things that don’t come off or, with 25 years hindsight, are just wrong. A battle of the sexes story, set on the planet of the women, was old hat by 1985, and Martin hardly covers himself with glory with some really off-colour jokes that basically imply that what these women need is for the neighbouring planet of the men to come and give them all a good seeing to. The ultimate pay-off, that marriage (with or without consent) is the only thing that can rescue these bad girls, is simply unacceptable, and the sniggering, cruel way that the women are written is equally bad taste.

Learning nothing from the preceding Colin Baker episodes, Martin has also inserted significant roles for child actors, a surfeit of baddies, and yet another Time Lord nemesis for the Doctor. Anzor, apparently the Gallifreyan school bully, is a silly idea that tends to cheapen the Time Lords, a further nail in the coffin for any credibility they might once have had, and the Doctor’s response, cowering and whining to Peri, is pretty demeaning and would have done nothing to enhance Colin Baker’s reputation. Thankfully, Anzor barely appears, and is there only to get the Doctor embroiled in the action.

In its favour are Sil and the Ice Warriors, the only major villains John Nathan-Turner never got round to reviving, are great too. Thought they don’t do much, it’s easy to imagine iconic images of them lumbering through the ice caves of Magnus. Best of all, the second episode – featuring a missing TARDIS, an apocalyptic glimpse into the future and a race against time – injects real energy, and jeopardy for all the characters.

For all this, though, it’s difficult to argue that Martin’s segment of The Trial isn’t vastly superior in every respect, with a better role for Sil, and an even more perilous second half. Mission to Magnus shows that what might have been isn’t always better than what we actually got.

The Hollows of Time bears many of the hallmarks of its writer, 1980s Script Editor Christopher H Bidmead’s favourite themes – even if it’s unclear how much he would have included had he finished the script at the time. But the 21st Century changes insisted on by the BBC, to eliminate the Master, makes the Big Finish version suffer. The first episode is successful in creating an air of mystery, and of menace, combining the Doctor’s funny turns, the corpses of the sand creatures and the nature of Professor Stream’s history with Foxwell and the Doctor. However, on the whole, the play gets too caught up in its own obfuscation and ends on an unsatisfactory, unresolved note. It’s certainly Bidmead’s weakest story.

So, The Nightmare Fair is a bit so-so, The Ultimate Evil is dross, Mission to Magnus has a planet of women straight out of a 1960s’ Dick Sharples script, and The Hollows of Time betrays Bidmead’s disillusionment with John Nathan-Turner’s list of script requirements, and lacks the sense of scale of the writer’s TV episodes. Yellow Fever and Gallifray remain unknown quantities, although Ian Levine’s précis of their stories in a recent podcast made neither sound especially promising. But we would have ended up with a season that brought back the Celestial Toymaker, Sil, The Ice Warriors, the Master, the Tractators, the Autons and the Time Lords, with a Doctor and Peri who were still bickering. It’s hard not to read something into the fact that the production office scrapped the lot rather than risk repeating the faults that the BBC were now claiming had got the show suspended in the first place.

So, Season 23 was completely rewritten to reflect the siege mentality that apparently existed in the production office. If the show was on trial behind the scenes, so the thinking went, then art should imitate life. Work therefore started on a 14-episode epic and, before that, a six-part story which was the first opportunity the production office had to respond to the criticisms of Season 22.

Slipback is a fascinating curio: the first official BBC Radio Doctor Who story, and the first time anyone really had the idea of continuing the series on audio. And where else would a writer look were they wanting to write sci-fi for radio than The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?  So you have the previously unthinkable spectacle of Eric Saward emulating Douglas Adams, with a drunk and ditzy ship’s computer, insane bureaucracy, a pustulating alien captain and a machine that wants to change the universe. Valentine Dyall’s captain is so similar to Bruce Purchase’s to qualify as homage: both are attended to by nurses and fawning lackeys, and their crews live in fear of their next explosion.

This in itself is fascinating: reacting to criticisms of the show’s violence, Saward is doing just as Graham Williams did and going for comedy instead. Fair enough, it’s only mildly amusing, but that’s a step up from where we have been with this script editor. Even the ubiquitous Doctor/Peri animosity has lost some of its edge. And in the scenes of the Doctor debating with the Inner Voice are probably the best writing Saward’s done for the character (in either incarnation) – discussing his experience of war, evolution, life, the universe and everything. For perhaps the first time, you can believe that the sixth Doctor really is the same man as the first five, under the bluster and bad taste costume. Here we have the sixth Doctor as Big Finish will later develop him: expansive, but avuncular. Not cruel or cowardly, but sad.

But on the other hand, this is another story, like Revelation of the Daleks, where the TARDIS’s presence is entirely irrelevant: as the Time Lords make clear, the Doctor cannot interfere, because the Vipod Mor always did what it is going to do. He doesn’t even meet the captain. If anything, his arrival has just caused problems. So, for the second Saward script in a row, we have a Doctor who is incidental to his own adventures, who lacks both the insight and the influence of his predecessors, and whose meddling has gone from being a risk to himself and his companions, to a risk to the whole stability of time. There’s only one thing the Time Lords can do now…

The Other Jubilee

So, while we’re all busy celebrating the Diamond Jubilee, another anniversary almost passed me by. I’ve been a Doctor Who fan for 30 years. And to celebrate my Pearl Jubilee I’ll self-indulgently share a few of my earliest memories of the series. These are some of my earliest memories – vivid images, which have stuck with me through the years – the bits of Doctor Who that are hardwired into my DNA.

1982

I’ve often said my earliest memory is of Tom Baker regenerating into Peter Davison. Thing is, there are at least three occasions I could have seen this – the end of the original broadcast of Logopolis in March 1981, or its repeat 9 months later as part of the Five Faces season. Or, far more likely, in the recap at the beginning of Castrovalva on 4th January 1982 – just short of my third birthday. The reason I’m pretty sure it would have been at the start of Castrovalva is that my next clear memory of Doctor Who is…

The Jon Pertwee title sequence and the beginning of The Curse of Peladon, from the Doctor Who and the Monsters repeat season. This was broadcast on 12th July 1982, and I clearly remember being absolutely enthralled by the red howlaround titles and the creepy stone tunnels – before my mum firmly sent me to bed as it was “too frightening” for me to stay up and watch. My dad was a fan of the show before me, so I’m pretty sure I would have been watching it on his knee. This is my most vivid early memory of Doctor Who, and – amazingly/sadly – my very first memory I can definitely date.

I can also pretty clearly remember Adric’s death in Earthshock – specifically him tearing up the reed belt as he contemplated his fate. I don’t remember anything else about the story, so perhaps it was from a contemporary news report. Certainly I can’t really remember anything else from Season 19, and at barely four years old, I was probably a bit young to be watching it.

1983

I remember snatches of Turlough wandering round some corridors, but that could be from practically anything in Season 20. I do very clearly remember 16th March 1983 and the second episode of The King’s Demons with the Doctor encountering Kamelion sitting on a chair surrounded by straw. And I believe that I was watching it after we’d painted the sitting room as the beige sofa was pulled into the middle of the room, and I was sitting on the arm when the continuity announcer said, “That’s the last in the series of Doctor Who”. It was followed by A Question of Sport (with the classic red, white and blue titles). I was vaguely concerned that this meant that Doctor Who had finished for good, so by this point I must have been a proto-fan. I was five.

And then, like everyone else, I remember The Five Doctors being shown as part of Children in Need, introduced by two men in suits. This was the first recording I had of a Doctor Who story, as we had it on Betamax cassette for years. I can also remember being incredibly thrilled at receiving the Radio Times 20th Anniversary special, and obsessing over the colour photo of the Yeti and the White Robots. And around this time I pretty consistently had A Celebration borrowed from the children’s section of Pershore Library, and always flicking past the full-page photo of the decayed Master.

1984

This was my year of Doctor Who – Season 21, for all its flaws, is my series, and Peter Davison in orange trousers is THE Doctor.

I remember getting home too late to see most of the first episode of Warriors of the Deep, and being quite upset. Subsequently, the Myrka smashing through a door to get at the Doctor was a vivid memory. Obviously, to a five year old it was a vast, terrifying dinosaur with rage-filled eyes and not a pantomime lizard. But whenever I watch Warriors of the Deep (not often) I can still see that metal door rending, and the ravening beast’s eye appearing in the gap to search out its prey. Possibly that’s why I remain much more well-disposed towards this story than I probably ought to be.

The Awakening is also pretty vivid, especially the mini-Malus invading the TARDIS and vomiting snot all over the floor – a gloriously gross image for a boy.

I loved Frontios as well. As an only child, I spent a lot of time making up my own adventures, and having a very lasting image of the cliffhanger of the Doctor and Tegan being surrounded by a circle of Tractators, I took to putting the blue plastic wash basket on my back and becoming a Tractator myself.

Then, a week later Resurrection of the Daleks aired, and the wash basket became Davros’s wheelchair. I know I was obsessed by the Daleks – drawing them all over various exercise books – but the thing I remember most clearly is Davros being defrosted, and probably being more fascinated by him than by the Daleks themselves.

I turned six just before Planet of Fire – but oddly, I have no memory of it at all. I do, though, remember The Caves of Androzani, especially the continuity announcement, the Doctor desperately clambering through the caves to find the Queen Bat, and the regeneration itself.

And then, I have a complete blank for The Twin Dilemma. And for a lot of the subsequent season…

1985

I can remember the TARDIS as an organ in the junkyard from Attack of the Cybermen, and enough brief bits from Vengeance on Varos (corridors), The Mark of the Rani (the Doctor on the trolley), The Two Doctors (Chessene being bounced about in the capsule like in one of those rides at supermarket checkouts), and the outside scenes and the room of human-Dalek experiments from Revelation of the Daleks to know that I watched the series. But by this stage I was voraciously reading the novelisations – borrowed from Pershore Library or picked up at jumble sales – that the TV series itself became less important. I developed a grading system of 1-5 (for the B&W stories) and stars (for the colour ones – even at this stage, you can see I was far gone).

1986

I watched the Trial. I remember the Vervoid story and the Fun Factory bits (and the cliffhanger on the beach), but far less clearly than the Peter Davison stuff.

1987-89

And suddenly, the memories flood back: Mel in a bubble; the Tetrap caves; the pool cleaner; the green baby; the dragon; the Daleks; the Cybermen; the Kandy Man; watching Greatest Show at a friend’s on my own in the parents’ study (everyone else was being sociable); the whole of Season 26 and especially that cat. By this stage I was a hopeless fanboy, and swapping The War Games novelisation and discussing the Season 26 trailer with the one other fan at my school. My first New Adventure, in 1995, was Falls the Shadow. I watched the TV movie on the portable set in my parents’ bedroom so they didn’t talk over it.

And by that stage, there was no way out…

Doctor Who and the Daleks, by David Whitaker

Doctor Who and the Daleks

The first three Target Books, released in May 1973, were actually reprints of novelisations published in 1964, and so the style of the subsequent novelisations of the early 1970s came from books already a decade old.

Doctor Who and the Daleks sets that style very well, although it’s much longer than the later norm (150 pages of small print against the usual 120 pages). Although clearly written for children, it has the same kind of feel as, say, Susan Cooper’s writing for Puffin: that is, it’s pretty dark in places. It begins with a car crash, there’s a dead body on the third page, the Doctor is initially presented as a malevolent alien (mellowing gradually as the book goes on), and the Thal death scenes are rather horrible.

This is certainly more graphic than on TV: for instance, we only saw the claw of a Dalek mutant whereas here, Whitaker describes them as evil imps covered in slime with a single, alien eye. There are very few laughs (except unintentionally: Ian’s obsession with the TARDIS’s toilet facilities provoking one). In some ways it’s less subtle – Ian and Barbara’s budding relationship unfolds as a slightly embarrassing sub-plot – but mostly this condenses 170 minutes of TV action into a crisply effective and very readable book. It probably helps that it was written by the programme’s original script editor, who must have been used to reshaping other people’s scripts for time or effect.

And there are some expedient changes from the broadcast version (Susan Foreman is re-christened Susan English to emphasise that she’s an alien posing as a British schoolgirl; Barbara’s relationship with Ganatus is excised because she’s now all a-flutter for Ian). The most significant is to give the Daleks a leader, a glass Dalek, which hints at Whitaker’s later creation of the Dalek Emperor and has no onscreen precedent (although it obviously did inspire the makers of Revelation of the Daleks 20 years on). Ian’s confrontation with this very specific Dalek adds a bit of weight to the book’s climax which makes it preferable to the relatively weak TV version.  For the most part, though, it’s a faithful adaptation, with Whitaker taking the opportunity to make cosmetic tweaks and streamline some of the baggy midsections of Terry Nation’s scripts to the overall benefit of the story.

Interestingly, the 1964 edition of Doctor Who and the Daleks was titled “Doctor Who” – the reference to an exciting adventure with the Daleks was merely a tagline. That helps to make sense of the opening, which re-imagines the TV pilot episode into a brutal, terse and gripping encounter on Barnes Common. Therefore, this isn’t just a novelisation of The Daleks, it’s Doctor Who’s original script editor setting out the series’ premise (and in so doing making me wonder quite how much he input to Anthony Coburn’s scripts for An Unearthly Child).

When I first read these novelisations, probably aged about 6 or 7, I gave them a mark. For the Pertwee novels onwards this was a normal 1-5 star rating. Oddly (and I was obviously an OCD fan even then), I rated the “black and white” stories differently, assigning a Grade from 1 (“excellent”) to 5 (“boring”). Doctor Who and the Daleks rated a Grade 3 (“good”). Given that my copy is very dog eared and held together with sellotape, I think I was being ungenerous. This is a great start.Young me's rating for Doctor Who and the Daleks

Clichés: Chapter 5 is entitled “Escape Into Danger” which is near enough to “Escape to Danger” to qualify. The creatures in the Lake of Mutations are as big as a house – the first of many monsters that will be much larger than onscreen.