The Romans – Episode Two. All Roads Lead To Rome

Although the main plot of The Romans is straightforward enough, the various palace intrigues which bubble below the surface are slightly more opaque.  At the start of this episode it’s confirmed that the Centurion we met in the previous episode wanted Maximus Pettulian dead and he’d commissioned a mute assassin called Ascaris (Barry Jackson) to do the deed.  The joke being of course that Ascaris is unable to tell him that he’s already killed Pettulian once!

So he has to kill him again (in the shape of the Doctor) but the Doctor offers more evidence that he’s handy in a scrap.  The fight scene between Ascaris and the Doctor is a comic highlight of the episode and although it was designed to put as little stress onto Hartnell’s shoulders as possible, it still works very well.  When Vicki enters the room, Ascaris has clearly had enough and heads for the nearest window.  The Doctor’s rather disgruntled.  “Young lady, why did you have to come in and interrupt? Just as I’d got him all softened up and ready for the old one, two.”  Lovely stuff.

And what of Ian and Barbara?  Ian’s been sold as a galley-slave and quickly strikes up a friendship with Delos (Peter Diamond).  Although Diamond was a bit-part actor, he spent most of his time working as a stuntman/arranger (amongst his numerous film credits was the first Star Wars movie).  Delos performs much the same function as Larry did in The Dalek Invasion of Earth – he’s someone for Ian to talk to as he searches for the others.  Diamond’s a solid presence though and manages to be something more than just a line-feed.

Barbara’s landed on her feet as she’s been bought by Tavius (Michael Peake) and brought to the court of Caesar Nero.  Tavius is an interesting character – he’s someone who has an agenda of his own (which is connected to Maximus Pettulian) although his ultimate aims remain nebulous for a while.  And is he Barbara’s friend or foe?  Peake had an imposing physical presence and would clearly have found no difficulty playing the heavy, but we’ll see that there’s more to Tavius than meets the eye.

Nero (Derek Francis) makes an impressive entrance (he belches loudly).  “Royal felicitations” murmurs the Doctor.  Amongst a host of sparkling performances, Francis’ is the jewel in the crown and his byplay with Hartnell is delightful.  From their first meeting, the running gag of Maximus Pettulian’s skill (and the Doctor’s total lack of skill) as a lyre player is established.  Nero is keen to hear Pettulian play, but the Doctor manages to cleverly sidestep this potentially awkward moment by asking Nero to go first.  Another nice comic moment occurs when Nero calls for a stool – the Doctor begins to sit down on it, but it quickly becomes clear that Nero wanted it to balance his leg upon, causing the Doctor to rise again with a disgruntled expression!

Doctor Who – The Romans. Episode One – The Slave Traders

The literal cliffhanger from the previous episode (which saw a lovely model TARDIS falling down a ravine) is negated here in the most offhand way – although this very much fits in with the tone of the episode.  We open on a close-up of Ian, apparently unconscious, but it then becomes clear that he’s simply closed his eyes for a moment – he’s relaxing on a couch and is decadently maneuvering a whole bunch of grapes towards his mouth.

The Doctor has shamelessly moved into a villa on the outskirts on Imperial Rome (luckily for them, the owners are away).  It’s clear they’ve spent a few months here, doing nothing but overindulging in both food and drink (quite where all this comes from is a mystery that’s never solved – either the unfortunate householder had an extensive larder and wine-cellar which they’ve ruthlessly plundered or the Doctor has a large supply of Roman currency aboard the TARDIS).

Although Ian and Barbara are enjoying this unexpected lull, Vicki is bored. Vicki’s written here as rather more childlike than she’d later become – for example, she’s so keen to get to the market she tugs Barbara along and later reacts with glee when the Doctor agrees to take her to Rome – but as she’s such a novice time-traveller, that’s reasonable enough.

As for the Doctor, he also seems to be tiring of this inactive life and, with Vicki in tow, heads for Rome.  The Romans was Doctor Who‘s first overtly comic script and it’s clear that Hartnell’s in his element.  It would have been a story that demanded even more concentration from him than usual – the interplay between characters only works if the dialogue is delivered accurately (something that he sometimes had trouble with) but there’s no real problems in this episode.

After the Doctor and Vicki depart for Rome, Ian and Barbara remain behind at the villa.  William Russell has the chance to essay a few lines of Julius Caesar and narcissistically preen at his appearance, whilst Barbara is able to get in a few decent gags (like asking him to get some ice from the non-existent fridge).  As per the rest of the episode this chugs along comedically but events soon take a darker turn.

Two slave-traders, Sevcheria (Derek Francis) and Didius (Nicholas Evans), capture Ian and Barbara and intend to make a healthy profit out of them.  The fight scene is a comic one – Barbara accidentally knocks out Ian, rather than Sevcheria – but after that the reality of their situation hits home.  Chained up together, then separated, Ian and Barbara face an uncertain future.

Meanwhile the Doctor and Vicki find a murdered man in the bushes at the side of the road leading to Rome.  It clearly wasn’t robbery as his lyre wasn’t taken, so it remains a mystery (for a while at least) what the motive could have been.  The man was Maximus Pettulian from Corinth, whose skill as a musician was talked about even in Rome.  As luck would have it, he bore a certain resemblance to the Doctor and so the Doctor decides to assume his identity – since Pettulian was en-route to play for Nero, it’s a golden opportunity to meet the emperor.

Amongst the many nice little touches peppered throughout this episode, watch for the look between Hartnell and O’Brien after the Doctor confides to the Centurion (who’s appeared to escort Pettulian to Rome) that Vicki “keeps her eye on all the lyres”!

Until Nero appears in episode two the story never quite kicks into first gear, but there’s still plenty to enjoy in The Slave Traders.

Doctor Who – The Rescue. Episode Two – Desperate Measures

The Rescue was the first story of Doctor Who‘s second production block, but it was touch and go for a while as to whether the series would continue after The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  During the last twenty years or so a considerable amount of information has come to light concerning the lengthy birth pains of the series – most of which flatly contradicts the accepted view of Doctor Who‘s history which had formed during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Back then it was generally believed that the success of the second serial, featuring the Daleks, had secured the series’ future, but the truth was rather more complicated.  To begin with, Verity Lambert was only offered a four week extension after DIOE.  She countered that if that was all that was on offer they might as well just go ahead and cancel the series.  Lambert wanted a firm commitment for thirteen weeks with an option for another thirteen.  This was eventually agreed and Doctor Who‘s future was further strengthened when Hartnell’s agent insisted on a confirmed twenty six weeks before his client would re-sign.  The BBC agreed again and so planning for series two could begin in earnest.

The most pressing requirement was for a story to introduce the new companion and that was The Rescue‘s main function.  There was also a minor mystery to be solved (Bennett = Koquillion and it’s revealed that he’d murdered all the inhabitants of the spaceship – including Vicki’s father – in order to escape justice) but Maureen O’Brien is the focus of the story.

In episode two we see some further examples of Vicki’s hysterics – especially when Barbara kills Sandy the Sand Beast.  Vicki’s penchant for giving things pet names was retained, although it’s just as well that her hysterical outbursts weren’t (Vicki certainly spends less time collapsing at the drop of a hat than Susan did).  Her anger with Barbara for killing Sandy allows her character to be developed a little further – Vicki’s extreme emotions demonstrate that she’s been isolated from human contact (apart from the surly Bennett) for too long.  It takes the gentle words of the Doctor (a lovely scene from Hartnell) to start to break down these self imposed barriers.

Although the focus of the story is on Vicki, the Doctor has a key scene as he confronts the mass-murderer Bennett.  It’s another opportunity to see an aggressive Doctor – although his fight with Bennett is naturally brief (and could be said to be motivated by self-defence, as it seems obvious that Bennett intends to murder the Doctor in order to preserve his secret).

Given the short running time, The Rescue is obviously not the most complex of stories, but the fact that there’s only five speaking parts means that each character has a decent amount of screen time.  Vicki and the Doctor come off best, although Ian and Barbara also enjoy some entertaining scenes (Ian gets to tussle with the unconvincing spikes of death whilst Barbara gets a little gung-ho with Sandy) and Ray Barrett is imposing in his duel role.

Doctor Who – The Rescue. Episode One – The Powerful Enemy

Following the epic nature of the previous serial, The Rescue is a much lower-key story.  The brief running time (two episodes) is one of the reasons why – a fifty minute slot doesn’t allow time to develop a particularly complex story.   But that doesn’t really matter as it mainly exists to introduce the new companion,  Vicki (Maureen O’Brien).

The initial shot of the model spaceship is impressive (even if it does look a little too much like a model).  We then get our first glimpse of Vicki – a young, eager and somewhat naive girl.  O’Brien would tone down this characterisation once she settled into the role, but based on what we see during this episode it does seem strange that the production team had decided to replace Susan with a character who’s so similar.

The moment when the Doctor asks Susan to open the TARDIS doors before remembering that they left her behind on Earth is a touching one, as is the way that Ian and Barbara rally round to subtly support and comfort him.  There’s also a lovely comedic feel to this opening TARDIS scene.  Barbara, referring to the ship, tells the Doctor that the trembling’s stopped and the Doctor, completely misunderstanding, pats her cheek and tells her he’s glad she’s feeling better!

Vicki and Bennett (Ray Barrett) are the only survivors from a crashed ship.  They live in fear from a mysterious creature called Koquillion.

Director Christopher Barry uses a similar inlay shot here to one he used in The Dead Planet.  Ian and Barbara look down from the caves and see the crashed ship in the valley below.  Although it’s a basic effect, it works very well.

Barbara meets Vicki.

BARBARA: Tell me more about this Koquillion .

VICKI: He just keeps us here, Bennett and me. There’s a rescue ship on the way. He doesn’t know about that. But he’ll find out. I know he will.

BARBARA: But why does he keep you here?

VICKI: They…they killed all the crew. We…when we landed we, we made contact here. Everyone on board was invited to a grand sort of meeting. I couldn’t go, I was ill, a fever or something. I stayed here that night. I remember waking up, a thunderstorm I thought, but is was an explosion. Bennett…Bennett…dragged himself back. I was ill for days, I didn’t know about it ‘til later. I came around and…found Bennett. He can’t walk.

There scenes almost play out as an audition piece for O’Brien.  It’s fairly overwrought stuff, but she handles it pretty well.

The Rescue is the first time we see the Doctor land on a planet that he’s visited before.  Last time he was here he was struck by the friendliness of the locals, so the bloodthirsty antics of Koquillion baffles him.

There’s a literal cliffhanger as the Doctor and Ian are trapped by some highly unconvincing metal spikes which emerge from the rockface.  It’s all good b-movie stuff.

Hitting the Target – Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion by Terrance Dicks

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I started collecting the Targets back in the late seventies and although the identity of the first book I bought has been lost in the mists of time, I do know that The Auton Invasion was one of the earliest ones I picked up.  I had no recollection of its original broadcast, so possibly it was the cover – featuring the Doctor, Brig and a nasty squid – that drew me towards it.  Whatever the reason, I’m glad that I did get it because it’s a bit of a corker ….

Possibly since it was his first book, Terrance Dicks seemed quite keen to add a considerable amount of extra value to Robert Holmes’ original script (although it’s true that back in 1974 he wasn’t on the same one-title-a-month treadmill that saw him churning out a crop of fairly routine titles later that same decade).

Adding a prologue featuring the Second Doctor’s trial was a good move as it helped to explain exactly why the Doctor turns up insensible in Oxley Woods (back then, this sort of information wasn’t available at the drop of hat). But what really stands out from the first few chapters is the way that Dicks very deftly manages to transform Sam Seeley from the television comic bumpkin into more of a rounded character.

Having him witness the Doctor’s arrival in the woods was a nice touch and there’s some economical examples of character building scattered throughout (such as the moment when a worried Seeley, lying in bed, is disturbed by the sound of rumbling lorries and grim-faced soldiers passing by his window).  This helps to reinforce the notion that the meteorite he’s found could be dangerous (unlike the television Seeley, he never refers to it as a ‘thunderball’).

Seeley’s daydreaming is another effective touch. ‘Sam let his imagination wander, dreaming of a huge cash reward from a grateful government. He’d have his picture in the local paper. Maybe they’d even want him to go on telly’.

The first meeting between the Brigadier and Liz is good fun, I particularly enjoyed Liz’s internal reaction to the Brigadier’s assertion that he had been involved in foiling two alien attempts to invade the Earth (‘He’s cracking up, she thought wildly. Over-work probably. Been reading too much science-fiction’).

Many of the changes made by Dicks to the text are small, but they nevertheless help to strengthen the story. For example, the television Brigadier can only offer the weak excuse of a training exercise to explain his presence when confronted by a gaggle of pressmen eager to find out if the Ashbridge Cottage Hospital really does contain a man from space.  The book Brigadier has a much smoother and more convincing cover story – a vital part of the British space programme has come crashing down in the woods nearby, necessitating a search and recovery programme.

Dicks mentions several times in quick succession that the Doctor’s kidnappers are rather like waxworks (which tends to hammer this point home – one would have been enough). Rather more effective is Doctor Henderson’s shocked realisation that the kidnappers hand was totally smooth and white, lacking any fingernails. This would have been hard to realise on television, but was simplicity itself in print.

Another small touch which entertained me was the revelation that the frilly shirt the Doctor ‘acquires’ from the hospital had once been the property of an aspiring pop star. The past tense does suggest he never made it out alive though ….

The book Beavis is simply itching to open the Doctor up and have a poke inside, which helps to explain why the Doctor feels perfectly justified in stealing both his clothes and his car (‘Serve the old butcher right’).  The idea of the Doctor having to masquerade as Beavis in order to pass the guards is an appealing one, as is the fact that the Doctor gives the unfortunate Beavis a cheery wave goodbye when he’s in the process of stealing his car!

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The Auton attack on the UNIT jeep is somewhat remodelled. On television, the solider dies as soon as the Auton forces the jeep off the road – in print, he emerges unscathed and manages to pump the Auton full of bullets – all to no avail though (this helps to pre-empt the later confrontation between the Auton and Meg Seeley).

One fascinating addition to the Auton stand-off with Meg is the way that Sam braves his fire in order to rescue his wife.  Seems a little out of character, although maybe we’ve just been misjudging him.

The Doctor and Liz head off to the waxworks, much to the Brigadier’s disgust.

“Hey, wait! Just a moment,” the Brigadier called after them. Then he shrugged his shoulders. Let them go to the waxworks. Let them go to the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the London Zoo while they were at it! And much good might it do them. As usual all the real work was left to him. Like children, these scientists!

Lovely stuff. Also very appealing is the Doctor’s explanation as to why he and Liz have to hide in the waxworks after closing time (which isn’t made clear on screen).  Since he’s been unable to contact the Brigadier, the Doctor decides to impound the waxworks himself. When Liz reacts with amazement at the suggestion they simply walk out with the things, the Doctor counters thus. “But we should be able to manage one or two little ones, surely?”

Terrance Dicks faithfully reproduces the emergence of the shop window Autons, then with just a few paragraphs he’s able to sketch out what happened next – something which, of course, was impossible for budget reasons to realise on screen.

The police received thousands upon thousands of calls. But there was little they could do. Arms were issued, but the few rifles and revolvers available were powerless against the Autons. BBC and ITV issued urgent warnings. ‘Don’t go to work. Don’t go out shopping. Stay indoors and barricade yourselves in your homes. Admit no one you do not know.’

Many people were saved by warnings like these, but many others, already out on the streets, were unable to escape. The Autons seemed to be everywhere.

The Government declared martial law and called out the Army. But most of the available troops were mysteriously absent on manoeuvres far away from the big towns. They were recalled at once, but things seemed to go wrong continually. Orders failed to arrive, or were misinterpreted. Troops were told to stay put, or sent to the wrong place. In the other services the story was the same. The Navy and the Air Force armed what men they could, but the men never seemed to get clear orders, or to arrive where they were wanted. It was as though in every position of authority traitors were working against the Government, deliberately confusing the situation.

When I bought the VHS in 1988, I was a little disappointed that the scene featuring an Auton attacking UNIT HQ didn’t feature. But as one of the generation who encountered many Doctor Who stories via Target books first and VHS second, this was a common occurrence.  I’m sure other examples will follow in later posts.

The emergence of the Nestene consciousness is obviously much more effective in print than it was on television (no rubber tentacles here). Chris Achilleos’ illustration helped – he may not have enjoyed doing the internal illustrations but they’re all part and parcel of the story-telling process (even if the supporting characters look nothing like their television counterparts).

Yet another favourite, The Auton Invasion has to be one of the Targets I’ve read the most. Revisiting it yet again in 2018, nearly forty years on from my first time, I’m delighted to report that it’s still an enjoyable, breezy yarn.

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Hitting The Target – Doctor Who and the Crusaders by David Whitaker

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As with The Daleks, David Whitaker’s second Doctor Who novelisation opens with a non-televised section.  It’s a truly fascinating prologue which sees Whitaker articulating his philosophy about the series in general as well as explaining why the Doctor never interferes in Earth’s history.

The latter argument is a rum old one. When Barbara asks what would have happened had Adolf Hitler been assassinated in 1930, the Doctor blithely replies that it’s a moot point since Hitler wasn’t assassinated back then! The Whitaker Doctor is content to only observe Earth’s history and – rather than not wishing to change it – seems to believe that the laws of time strictly forbid his interference. But this doesn’t answer the puzzle about why he’s perfectly happy to meddle on Skaro, Marinus, the Sense-Sphere, etc, etc.

This was quite a stifling premise, so it wasn’t surprising that Dennis Spooner held a different view – his scripts (The RomansThe Time Meddler) seemed to take great delight in breaking Whitaker’s rules ….

Whitaker’s Doctor Who philosophy is set out in the opening paragraph of the book.

As swiftly and as silently as a shadow, Doctor Who’s Space and Time ship, Tardis, appeared on a succession of planets each as different as the pebbles on a beach, stayed awhile and then vanished, as mysteriously as it had come. And whatever alien world it was that received him and his fellow travellers, and however well or badly they were treated, the Doctor always set things to rights, put down injustice, encouraged dignity, fair treatment and respect.

It’s a lovely bit of writing, although it has to be said that it doesn’t really reflect many of the Doctor’s televised adventures up to this point.  They mainly consisted of the Doctor desperately attempting to return to Tardis (which was usually, for one reason or another, inaccessible) with the result that any assistance he dished out to the locals tended to be an afterthought.

Whitaker’s shaky memory is no doubt the reason why we’re told that Susan married David Cameron (poor girl) as well as the assertion that the Dalek invasion of Earth took place in the twenty first century. Today, all these facts are just a click away, but that wasn’t the case in 1966 – which explains this garbled slice of history.

Whitaker took a little time to reflect upon the changes undergone by Ian and Barbara during their time with the Doctor. “Ian was now a deeply tanned bronze, his body trained to the last minute, no single trace remaining of the ordinary Londoner he had once been”.

As for Barbara, there’s a faint whiff of Mills and Boon about this following section of purple prose. “Where her face and form had conjured up beauty in the eye of any beholder, now beauty radiated from within and trebled her physical attractions, making her the admiration and desire of all who met her”.

That Ian and Barbara are a couple is also made abundantly clear. Oh, and we’ve not seen the last Mills and Boonish touch. More on that later.

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When the four time-travellers reach the forest glade and tangle with a group of unruly Saracens, it’s amusing to see how proactive the Doctor is. Given a handy stone by Vicki, he orders Ian to hold down a struggling soldier before knocking him out with said stone. He’s a dirty wee fighter.

Given how good the dialogue in Whitaker’s original scripts was, it’s understandable that he chose to retain most of it for the novelisation. For example, Richard’s early petulant outburst is reproduced virtually intact.

Friends cut down about my ears, or stolen! My armies roust about and clutter up the streets of Jaffa with the garbage of their vices. And an hour ago I learn that John, my brother, finds a thirst for power in England; drinking great draughts of it, although it is not his to take. He’s planning to usurp my throne, and so trades with my enemy, Philip of France! A tragedy of fortunes and I’m too much beset by them. A curse on this day! A thousand curses!

The one major change he makes is to re-order the action somewhat. Unlike the television version, which alternated between various locations, the book is content to be more static (for example, Chapter Four – The Wheel of Fortune – concerns itself with Saladin whilst Chapter Five – The Doctor In Disgrace – relocates back to Richard).

Joanna makes an instant impression on Ian. “Ian could scarcely take his eyes off such a vision of perfection, who earned for herself no more than a few lines in the history books he had read. Her finely sculptured face, with its high cheek-bones and wide generous mouth, the delicate ivory of her skin, just faintly tinged with colour at the cheeks, the classically simple gown that emphasized the perfect proportions of her figure, all made an impact on him he knew he would never forget”.

Steady on man, what about Barbara?!

If Richard and Saladin are presented on the page in a similar fashion to their television counterparts, then El Akir is the one character who really benefits from the printed word. Not that any attempt is made to humanise him (far from it). Whitaker takes every opportunity to paint him as a totally merciless individual without a single redeeming feature. For instance, we discover how he received his disfiguring scar – after murdering his brother (in order to gain possession of his brother’s wife) his sister-in-law was able to gain a modicum of satisfaction by striking him with a heavy ornament. Although this satisfaction was short-lived as she was then murdered by El Akir’s men.

Although it’s long been rumoured that Whitaker’s draft scripts implied that the relationship between Richard and Joanna had an incestuous tinge (which was removed, so they say, on the request of William Hartnell) he chose not to introduce this theme into the novelisation. But what he did do was slightly ramp up the sexual nature of Barbara’s predicament.

It’s slightly eye-opening to be told that back in the 1960’s she was often to be found in a bikini, sunning herself on some beach. But this is then compounded by the brief costume she’s forced to wear in Saladin’s court. It’s easy to imagine some of the other companions in this garb, but not our Barbara ….

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This slightly squiffy picture of Barbara-as-sex-object is reinforced whenever she falls into El Akir’s clutches. It’s spelled out several times exactly what lays in store for her, although the torments won’t only be inflicted on her body. “El Akir is one whose pleasures are inhuman. He will not spare his victims any humiliation his agile brain can well devise. He is a past master in the arts of torture, not simply of the flesh, but of the mind and soul as well. He does not kill lightly, because he prefers to prolong suffering, pain and mental anguish. Search into the darkest corners of your imagination, invent the worst misdeeds you can, and still El Akir will surpass them by a hundred-fold”.

Although the Doctor and Vicki hardly appeared in the fourth television episode (until the final scene) for this book Whitaker made the decision to remove their other episode four scene.  This means that the Doctor and Richard part on the unhappiest of terms, with Richard believing that the Doctor has betrayed his trust. In book form, the Doctor and Vicki leave the action at the end of chapter five and don’t reappear until the end of the story (in chapter eight).

A slight shame that we’re denied the reconciliation scene between the Doctor and Richard, although it does help to reinforce the notion that the Doctor is just an observer of events rather than an active participant.  The downside is that Richard joins Joanna and Saladin in simply disappearing from the story.

On television, Saladin exits after he receives Richard’s offer of Joanna’s hand in marriage to Saphadin.  In the novelisation he’s given an additional scene – an intriguing meeting with Ian,  which sees the schoolmaster articulating the Doctor’s concept of religious tolerance.

I have a friend, a very wise, well-travelled man who spoke to me on the subject of religions once. In the West, three main streams dominate: Mohammedanism, Judaism and Christianity. In the East, the Hindu, the Buddhist and the Moslem rival Janism, Sikhism, Parsee and Shinto. But what is the sum total? That all people, everywhere, believe there is something mightier than themselves. Only the name changes. The little Negro child will say his prayers and imagine his God to be in his colour. The French child hopes his prayers will be answered – in French. We are all children in this matter still, and will always be – until colours, languages, custom, rule and fashion find a meeting ground.

If El Akir is despatched with indecent haste on television, then his print death is much longer and much more satisfying. First he goes several rounds with Ian, who proves himself very handy with a sword, before Haroun steps up to choke the life out of him.  It’s a nasty way to go, but then he had been viciously whipping Barbara just before Ian burst in to confront him (another of those sadistic scenes which would never have been permittable on television) so I think he deserved everything that he got.

One last burst of Ian and Barbara in a Mills and Boon world? Go on then.

Barbara looked across at Ian, stretched out a hand and held his. A dozen unsaid words hung between them in the understanding of that moment. Modern people though they were, they had stepped into a world of chivalry and barbarism and Ian had not failed her. She had needed him and he had come for her. She knew, whatever the age, whatever the place, whatever the circumstances, he would measure up to her every expectation.

She leant across from her horse, put her arm around his neck and kissed him softly on the lips. She sat back again, her heart beating a little faster, a slight tinge of pink at her cheeks, holding his eyes with hers.

Althouh largely faithful to the original source material, there’s more than enough additions – a spot of sadism, some good character development, an epic sweep to proceedings which simply wasn’t possible in the cramped studio – to ensure that Doctor Who and the Crusaders stands up as a decent read in its own right. It’s a great shame that David Whitaker wasn’t asked by Target in the mid seventies to adapt any more of his stories. He was approached later on and had begun to rough out plans to novelise The Enemy of the World, but his untimely death in 1980 meant that these plans went no further.

Whitaker’s importance in the development of television Who is clear enough, but he can also lay claim to be the founding father of written Who.  Apart from his two novelisations, there’s also his work on the annuals, various sundry publications such as Invasion from Space, as well as the scripts for the Dalek TV21 comic strip.

Doctor Who and the Crusaders, like Doctor Who and the Daleks, is an essential Doctor Who novelisation.

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Hitting The Target – Doctor Who and The Zarbi by Bill Strutton

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When I were a lad it irritated me that the Doctor was referred to as Doctor Who throughout Doctor Who and the Zarbi. Fortunately, when I grew up I found that it didn’t matter at all – now I’m more irritated that they corrected this “mistake” for the audiobook and renamed him The Doctor ….

We open aboard TARDIS. Barbara’s clearly some way down the pecking order as the Doctor suggests she makes herself useful by rustling up a quick cup of coffee whilst Ian orders some bacon and eggs from her. It’s possible that the Doctor’s suggestion was simply a ruse to save her from worrying about their current predicament.  Ian, on the other hand, just seems to be hungry and disinclined to lift a finger to help himself.

Bill Strutton sticks quite closely to the dialogue from his original script, even reproducing Barbara’s comment that the fancy bracelet she’s now sporting was a gift from the Emperor Nero (and not, as suggested by Vicki, from Ian).  It’s a shame that their conversation about space-age schooling was cut though.

If ever a Doctor Who story benefitted from being transferred to the printed page then it’s this one. The planet Vortis, and its numerous inhabitants, struggled to be effectively realised on screen (to put it mildly). There’s no such problems here, so the notion of a gun-wielding Zarbi seems perfectly reasonable.

Strutton took the opportunity to change the structure encountered by the Doctor and Ian on the planet’s surface from a pyramid to a vaguely humanoid figure. The text suggests that it’s a Menoptera, although this is somewhat lost in John Wood’s illustration. The illustrations, carried over to the Target edition from the 1965 hardback, are very decent – although Vicki only bears a very passing resemblance to Maureen O’Brien.

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If the Zarbi are a good deal more menacing on the printed page than they are on screen, then so – to begin with – are the Menoptera.  Barbara’s first encounter with them (“there was a tall sinister dignity about them – a beauty even, but with the sudden shock of their strange appearance and their glaring hostility, she felt the sickness of a real terror welling up inside her”) has a punch that’s absent from the television realisation. There, they only had to open their mouths or wave their arms about for any sense of danger or tension to be lost.

In book form, Barbara’s interrogation by the initially hostile Menoptera is much lengthier, with the belligerent Challis a prime mover in wishing to bump her off.

When you no longer have to see or hear the Menoptera it’s easy to believe in them as a race of proud souls who are locked into a bitter struggle for the control of Vortis. The wise but aged Prapillus is a good example – leading the attack to escape from the Crater of Needles, at times he has a very Doctorish turn of phrase (“I may be a little short of breath, but not of brains”).

Elsewhere, Ian is a good deal more hysterical in print than he is on screen. Whilst Doctor Who maintains his lively scientific interest, Ian’s not having such a good time – often snarling or grimacing at the latest scrape he finds himself in. For example, after Doctor Who absently declares that he didn’t expect the Zarbi to be behaving like they are, Ian snaps back with the following. “Were they supposed to scuttle away at the sight of us – or greet us with speeches of welcome and garlands of flowers?”

Whilst Terrance Dicks often made use of the chapter title Escape to Danger, it made its DW debut here. David Whitaker was close in The Daleks (Escape into Danger) but not quite close enough.

If the book has a fault then it’s one shared by the television original – midway through it does tend to sag a little (too many scenes of the Doctor being interrogated very, very, slowly).  Bill Strutton’s prose style is workmanlike enough but lacks the visceral impact of Whitaker’s Dalek novelisation.

Still, if I’ve come to love The Web Planet a little more over the past decade or so then my appreciation for The Zarbi has also increased. If you’ve not read it for a while, then it’s worth pulling it from the shelf, giving it a dust down and diving in.

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