The Missing Episodes
By Paul Scoones
The Nightmare Fair by Graham Williams
When I first heard that Target were to print novelisations of 'lost' stories, I was very interested and excited at the prospect of a whole spin-off series featuring such titles as Errinella, The Killer Cats of Ghinseng, Sealed Orders and others that, but for a lack of time or money, would have made it to our screens. Alas, this wasn't to be the case; the only 'acceptable' stories, it seemed, were the four stories of the cancelled Season 23 that made it to script completion.
The first seeds of doubt were sown: I was not thrilled at the prospect of more Colin Baker stories (eleven is more than enough!). Nor was I expecting a high standard of plot after the generally abysmal Season 22.
Unfortunately I was right about the quality. Graham Williams' The Nightmare Fair wasn't too bad, but it wasn't that good, either! I found it quite confusing in places, with inadequate descriptions which inhibited the usual forming of a mental picture of what was going on in the story. Most of the Target novels seem to read as if they have been written with the assumption that the reader has seen the stories on screen, and Williams' novel is the same - only of course it wasn't televised. Another thing that strikes me about this book is the nature of the Sixth Doctor. Whilst possessing the aggressiveness of Colin Baker's portrayal, the Doctor also had the child-like fascination of Troughton, and the verbal eccentricity of another Doctor, eminently more familiar to the author, and sharing the surname Baker. Clearly, Williams' experience of the Sixth Doctor's character is very limited, and it must be remembered that these adaptations of unused scripts were yet to be 'touched up' by script editor Eric Saward at the time of cancellation.
Wally K Daly is a much-respected and award-winning playwright for both radio and television, including science fiction - one of his best-known radio plays is Time Slip. How disappointing, then, that his story, The Ultimate Evil should be so, for want of a better word, boring! No, boring isn't quite the word - irritating is better. The Doctor is closer to Colin Baker's portrayal than in Williams' book, especially during his fits of madness - not overly dissimilar to Mindwarp! However, the presentation of good and evil in black and white terms as definable, measurable concepts is too unrealistic and simplistic for my liking. In reality, the difference is a very grey area indeed.
Although Daly is unlikely to have known better, I found his villain, Dwarf Mordant, a small reptilian alien merchant, too similar to Sil but somehow more likable. As a last comment on this book, I would like to give Daly my own personal award for the most unnecessary and yawn inducing prologue I have ever read - start reading from Chapter One and you lose nothing by missing the Prologue.
Williams and Daly were both writing their first Doctor Who novels for this series, and on those grounds can perhaps be excused at least some of the weaknesses of their respective efforts. Not so Philip Martin, whose contribution to this series, Mission to Magnus, is actually his third Doctor Who novel.
Martin's first book Vengeance on Varos, was a surprisingly good read, and to my mind actually works better on the page than it ever did on screen. This is perhaps due to the fact that Martin was given a deadline extension of some two years. Disappointingly, he put nothing like the same quality of writing into Mindwarp, a relatively recent addition to anyone's list of the worst Doctor Who novels of all time. Unfortunately Mission to Magnus must be the latest addition to that same list.
My immediate response to this story is that I am deeply relieved it was never made. As with the Silurians and Sea Devils revival in Warriors of the Deep, this story would have only served to tarnish the appreciation in Doctor Who fandom of another much-admired race of aliens. And as with the Silurians and Sea Devils, the Ice Warriors were only handled by one writer, in this case, Brian Hayles, that is until JNT decided to bring the Martians back. The continuity regarding the Ice Warrior race in this book is virtually non-existent. At least there is no problem in denying its official status in 'Who-lore'.
One thing that particularly aggravated me about Martin's book is the outdated and insulting attitude towards women which seems to pervade its pages. One of the heroes of the story, a man called Ishka, is incredibly chauvinistic - "You are reacting like any woman, with panic and hysteria... like a silly Woltrop bird who squawks orders to the breeze without thought, reason or understanding!" - and yet there is little or no condemnation of this attitude within the story. Martin's idea of a happy ending is to have the males of the planet Salvak tell the females of Magnus Epsilon that they will marry them (no choice given, note!), and Sil begins to speculate in maternity goods - a conclusion even more puerile and cringe-inducing than the terrible end to his last effort, Mindwarp. I cannot express how much I am relieved that this story never made it to the screen. Perhaps we should be thankful to Michael Grade after all for sparing us from such televisual torture?!
With the slowing-down of Target releases this year to a mere dribble, I would have thought more attention could have been paid by editor Peter Darvill-Evans to producing a higher standard of book - surely Martin could have been sent away to polish up his manuscript? Not only is the story and writing substandard, but less than the usual care seems to have been taken with its publication. The cover artwork is frankly uninspiring (perhaps it's high time Alister Pearson was replaced in the same way Andrew Skilleter was before him?) and the back cover blurb contains a glaring typographical error.
So far I have been completely unimpressed by Target's Missing Episodes series. Darvill-Evans has one more title for the series on the schedules - Penacasata by Christopher H. Bidmead. I look forward to that one simply on the strength of that author's previous Doctor Who novels. If the Missing Episodes books are really indicative of Darvill-Evans' idea of a good book, should we really be waiting for the upcoming 'New Adventures' series with keen anticipation?
This item appeared in TSV 20 (December 1990).