(2022) David Fisher, Target Ė BBC Books, £7.99 / Can416.99 / US$10.99, pbk, 152pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94792-6
I donít suppose it was any surprise that long-running speculative shows have to riff off other stories for inspiration. Certainly, one of my favourite series, the 1960s, daytime, American horror soap opera, Dark Shadows, borrowed from Frankenstein, and The Turn of the Screw and Lovecraft, but then again it was on every weekday for years. Given that it had already been running for a couple of decades by the 1980s, itís no surprise that Doctor Who did the same, particularly in the Tom Baker era which had a very gothic horror feel to some of the plots, riffing off some classic monsters in a very dark period of storytelling, but in The Androids of Tara, itís that old classic, The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope that gets a Doctor Who makeover. However, scriptwriter, David Fisher gives things a nice twist as itís not the Doctor who is the double for someone else, but rather, his companion Romana, played by Mary Tamm, who looks uncannily like Princess Strella, who has been captured by the dastardly Count Grendal to prevent her marriage to Prince Reynart, heir to the throne, if Grendal doesnít snatch the throne first.
All of this takes place on the planet Tara and is part of the series involving the Doctor and Romanaís search for the missing six segments of The Key of Time which have to be found and united to bring about cosmic balance. On Tara, the two travellers Ė aided by K9 Ė are searching for the fourth part of the Key and have landed on a planet struggling to recover from a devastating plague, resulting in a feudal society with food produced by the androids of the title. Given the setting and the inspiration for the tale, the story has a swashbuckling vibe running through it, and is reasonably light-hearted and fun with the Doctor on top form in the verbal-sparring stakes with the dastardly Count, and given the source material the reader might be reminded of old cartoons featuring Dick Dastardly (does that make K9, Muttley?) and a section of the film The Great Race which also borrowed on The Prisoner of Zenda. Iím sure Tom Baker would have been up for a custard pie fight if allowed.
Given that this story was first broadcasted in 1978, it was given the Terrance Dicksí treatment and turned into an original Target novel in 1980 which was pretty faithful to the screened episodes and is very dialogue driven. Here, this newer version, is told in a prologue and four chapters followed by a note on the text by Steve Cole, the Project Editor for Target Books. The story is based on David Fisherís original screenplay, as well as the audio version he scripted. Thus, there are subtle differences between the book and the screened version, with Roberts adding to the plot and fleshing out the characters and the history of Tara. He is also, clearly, having great fun revisiting his original material and readers will too, in another welcome addition to the Who canon.
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