(2017 / 2021) Douglas Adams & James Goss, Target – BBC Books, £7.99 / Can$16.99 / US$10.99, pbk, 183pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94530-4
A 2021 re-issue of the 2017 novelisation of the 1978 Tom Baker Doctor Who adventure. The powerful Key of Time has been split into six segments. Now the White Guardian wants the Doctor to find them.
Fanfare of trumpets! Who fans have been waiting a long time for the publication of this book so that they can complete their collection of Target books based on the 'Key to Time' season from the glory days back in 1978 when Tom Baker was the Doctor. Now they have six books lined up neatly on their bookshelves and can move that pesky novel The Pirate Planet, which came out in 2017, out of sight.
That latter novel adapted Doulas Adams’ draft scripts and is a weighty tome, coming in at over 400 pages long, while this new version is a typical Target length and based on the actual televised episodes.
For the uninitiated, 'The Key to Time' was a six-part season involving the search for the six sections of the powerful Key to Time which has been split into different parts and scattered throughout space and time. The Doctor, Romana and K9 are given a mission by the White Guardian to recover these parts so he can bring balance back to the universe, but they are warned to keep an eye out for the dastardly Black Guardian who wants the key for his own nefarious reasons. The season unfolded in six stories, the first five of which – 'The Ribos Operation', 'The Pirate Planet', 'The Stones of Blood', 'The Androids of Tara', 'The Power of Kroll' – were told over four episodes, while the brilliantly named final story – 'The Armageddon Factor' – was told over six episodes.
Having collected their first segment in 'The Ribos Operation', the Doctor, Romana and K9 head for the planet Calufrax, but actually find themselves on the planet Zanak instead. What has happened to Calufrax and can the half-man, half-machine Pirate Captain who is in charge, actually be trusted? And let’s not forget his robot parrot called Polyphase Avatron, nor the shadowy nurse who keeps popping up from time to time. Apart from those characters, we have a snivelling pirate sidekick, a group of zombies with mental powers and some wannabe revolutionaries, all against a backdrop that is not as it seems.
By adapting the televised episodes and jettisoning some of Adams’ more complex ideas which featured in the 2017 adaptation novel, Goss has been able to deliver a more streamlined, pacey narrative in keeping with traditional Target titles. It is a fun, fast read with Goss taking the opportunity to iron out some of the glitches and adding a bit of depth and motivation to some of the minor characters and shedding some interesting light on the relationship between the Doctor and Romana. The relationship between the Pirate Captain and his sidekick, Mr. Fibuli is also beefed up. Here, the Pirate Captain is given a steampunk makeover and some scenery-chewing dialogue to deliver, especially in his scenes with the Doctor. Great fun, and pretty essential for Who fans everywhere.
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