Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Target: The Ambassadors of Death

I love Ambassadors but I didn't get to see it until last year, so I'm not as familiar with the screen version as I have been in some previous comparisons. This meant I had to go through novel and transcript line by line, and so this is a rather nit-picking comparison I'm afraid.

We know we're in Terrance Dicks' capable hands when Liz is introduced to us as 'good-looking in a rather severe way.'

The space programme is emphatically the European Space Programme throughout. Cornish's calmness is constantly mentioned - and he's also 'well aware of his good looks.'

When Liz returns to the laboratory with a cuppa for the Doctor, she finds him hunched over the telly, 'as if he wanted to climb inside to the Control Room'. The TV presenter is called Michael Wakefield, not John Wakefield.

The Doctor tells the soldiers that he doesn't approve of passes, not that he doesn't believe in them. (I wouldn't normally mention such triviala but this is a very close adaptation so far).

Cornish is persuaded to accept the Doctor's help because he feels 'the full impact of the Doctor's personality, a blend of formidable intelligence and tremendous charm.'

We get the Brigadier's military appreciation of the warehouse battle; he soon realises that the enemy are excellent shots, but seem to be trying not to hit his men.

In the scene where he abruptly orders Taltallian to help the Doctor, Cornish gets one back against the latter in personality terms: 'Cornish showed irritation so seldom that it was all the more effective,' we're told, and it leaves the Doctor somewhat nonplussed.

More soldierly thinking from the Brig when he immediately grasps the Doctor's warning about the gun-toting Taltallian being frightened: 'Nothing was more dangerous than a gun in the hand of a frightened man who was unused to firearms.'

Transmigration of object is a Time Lord technique 'somewhere between telekinesis and conjuring'.

When the Doctor tricks the captive Collinson into revealing his military training, he uses the parade-ground manner he learned at Waterloo.

Once the Doctor and Liz have worked out that the computer's been sabotaged by Taltallian, programmer Dobson sets to work to get it fixed.

TD is keen to make it clear that that Space Control were properly prepared to recover the capsule - the Recovery Team were in place on the heathland, and have already removed the parachutes and put it onto the lorry when the principals arrive.

The Brigadier doesn't like Bessie being involved in the convoy, as she 'lowered the military tone'.

After the Brigadier and Doctor have left the ministry, and Taltallian has emerged from hiding, his conversation with Sir James (Minister for Science and Technology) has an extra element where he demands that Sir James finds him a place to hide. He's told that he can stay at the Ministry.

Carrington's secret laboratory is in a Nissen hut at a top secret government research institute. His scientist Heldorf is a former refugee, hence the accent.

The Doctor counters Quinlan's point about the public becoming panic-stricken by suggesting that in a democracy they have a right to know. Carrington makes an interesting reply: 'Democracy can have disadvantages, Doctor. What we are doing is for the best.' That's an echo of the rhetoric used by Col David Stirling types who were becoming active at the time the story was written.

Reegan is introduced by a bit of back-story: he is indeed supposed to be Irish, but he had to leave the country after a difference of opinion with the IRA. (He was robbing banks on their behalf and hanging on to too much of the proceeds). Since then he's been a successful criminal in the US and elsewhere.

Heldorf and his colleague resist the thugs (fatally) because they've sussed out what Reegan means by 'when you've finished here.'

Reegan's van has decals for 'HEYHOE LTD, LAUNDERERS' and 'SILCOX BAKERIES' - not quite as seen on screen. He deliberately put his henchmen in the back with the ambassadors, to see how deadly they were. And of course now he doesn't have to pay them.

The Brigadier doesn't ask Carrington about who knew the location of Heldorf's laboratory. When the General apologises to the Doctor, he does so with 'that sudden diffidence of his'.

Lennox's laboratory is situated in an abandoned army bunker. He was stripped of his degrees for falsifying his experimental results - and sacked for falsifying the accounts of his college. That's academics for you.

Quinlan and Carrington have a longer discussion about how to deal with the situation. The General offers to arrest Cornish, but Quinlan says it would cause a scandal which could bring down the Government. They also speculate about who kidnapped the ambassadors: it could be any of Britain's enemies, or any of its allies. (Bit of politics there).

Reegan doesn't just put gloves on to venture into the isolation chamber, he goes out to his van and gets the radiation suit (would have looked boring on screen I suppose).

Liz runs across the bridge at the weir because she can see there are people about on the other side. 'Her high white boots weren't really meant for running,' remarks the narrator. That could have been said a good few times in the UNIT years. She's doing pretty well on screen though.

Taltallian and Cornish's conversation about the M3 fuel variant is mostly given in summary, as are several of the other duller bits of dialogue in the story. It's always a sign that TD is on form when he applies a bit of judicious compression.

Lennox makes a 'pathetic attempt at dignity' when Liz asks him if he's a prisoner, saying that he can come and go as he pleases, but 'I haven't anywhere to go.' (Rather undoes the impact of 'Where would I go?' a few lines later.)

When the escaping Liz decides to thumb a lift the narrator suggests her motivation: 'Not usually a difficult task for an attractive long-haired girl in a mini-skirt.' On her recapture, she manages to convince Reegan that the door was left unlocked - but only because he thinks his henchman is too stupid to be relied on. He doesn't reproach her for locking Lennox in with the ambassadors.

Reegan got Liz to work on the communication device because, in an echo of his words to Lennox earlier, he's 'no kind of scientist.'

The Brigadier is delayed in following the Doctor to the Ministry after Sir James' phone call, because he gets another call informing him about the ambassador attack on the Space Centre.

In the conversation after the ambassador returns to Reegan's bunker, the exchange about unfortunately not having been able to kill the Brigadier is omitted. Liz doesn't do the cheeky 'I won't hurt you' line.

There's what looks like a transcription error in Cornish's reports from control to capsule: 'Thirty, three oh' and 'Fifty, five oh' are rendered as 33 and 55.

The Doctor wishes the decontamination room had so much as a few dog-eared issues of Punch in it.

Carrington doesn't ask the Brigadier any awkward questions about the Doctor's origins. Back at the bunker, his statement that Reegan disobeyed his order to kill the Doctor is delivered 'as if Reegan had forgotten to polish his boots.' Similarly, his remark about not being paid to think is 'in the best army tradition.'

The Doctor has a moment of reflection before he says goodbye to the ambassadors - on the theme that this is the first formal contact between humans and intelligent aliens. I like the way TD has given some thought to this, so I'm not going to quibble about the Cyber-invasion and the Nestenes. He means 'formal' as in 'not consisting of "Surrender, humans, or die"'.

TD also wants to answer the question 'Why don't we see the Ambassadors and their species again now that contact has been made?' The Doctor thinks:

After the fright they'd given each other the two species would probably keep well apart. The galaxy was big enough for both of them, after all.

When I acquired this Target I wondered if it would be an 'Inferno' or a 'Time Monster' in the late adaptation stakes - a classic or a workmanlike job. It's definitely closer to an 'Inferno', I would have really enjoyed this had it been available in my original Targeteering days.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Target: Timelash

We meet the two chief rebels, the former scientists Katz and Sezom, long before Peri does. In their first scene we discover that Karfel has twin suns (Rearbus and Selynx), and that Katz is the daughter of a former Maylin. Later on an encounter with some Morlox gives Glen McCoy the chance to enlarge on the creatures' general unpleasantness. And Katz is 'still very much a woman', using her reflection in a puddle to arrange her hair.

The Doctor's description of the Eye of Orion isn't given: instead Peri remembers the many previous occasions on which he's gone on about the place.

The Timelash itself is much more impressive on the page: it gives off sparkling ringlets of incandescent flares, and contains a tunnel of concentric rings.

It's Peri who fetches the safety belts at the Doctor's request. She doesn't do the 'we've never had to use belts before' line; instead she gives him 'an old-fashioned look'. The belts are needed because the effect of the Kontron tunnel is to make her and the Doctor weightless.

The androids have black skin, not blue. (The one on the cover is a faithful representation of the TV version. The cover also has a picture of Jupiter on it for some reason, although it redeems itself by showing us the Borad in all his glory.)

Maybe Pip'n'Jane's excesses have made me over-sensitive, but the sentence 'Tekker’s lean face rotated purposefully until his stabbing gaze struck its target' gave me a mental picture that probably wasn't the one GMcC intended.

Tekker doesn't imply that the Doctor had two (or more) companions last time he came to Karfel. He's probably fed up with all the fan speculation about whether it was Mike Yates who came along for the ride.

No note is handed to the Doctor and Peri in the plant room. And the acid plants aren't mentioned until Brunner is talking to Peri in the corridor in the next scene. It is at least made clear that the android seizes her medallion because it's shiny (ie a mirror), something I'd completely failed to grasp before.

Peri doesn't do the 'resident gardener' line, and her escape from the citadel is told in summary. She gets onto the planet's surface before entering the Morlox cave. The 'Yes indeed she is' line when she's being watched is omitted.

Apparently the Doctor has a pre-programmed circuit in the TARDIS which takes him straight to Earth: he just pretends to set the controls for the benefit of his companions (!). He thinks about bringing back a unit of Earth troops to take on the Borad, but realises that would be cheating.

Tekker is already thinking of turning against the Borad when he's waiting to break into the rebel-held inner sanctum.

The kontron crystals are pentagonal, not hexagonal. Once everyone has climbed out of the Timelash again, there's no discussion about building a barricade. The Doctor last built a time-shift circuit in 'Time School'. When Herbert sees the device demonstrated, his response is 'It's science - yet fiction.'

Tekker doesn't make a speech before turning on the Borad, he just opens fire without warning.

It's a female Morlox that the Borad intends to merge Peri with. The encounter is referred to by the narrator as a 'date'.

Herbert doesn't seem to have the time viewing device when he's up in the gallery watching the Doctor confront the Borad. This leaves his hands free to pray and cross himself, unlikely actions for HG Wells at any time.

(Speaking of time and HG Wells, the novel doesn't give the year 1885 used in the screen version. He could have been 'a teacher next term' at age 13, 17 or 24; based on his appearance on screen I assume that he is 'currently' aged 24 and 'in' 1890).

The rescue of Peri involves Herbert and the Doctor going out onto Karfel's surface. The Doctor destroys another android during this. The Morlox is destroyed when the mustakozene causes it to amalgamate with a wooden stake - it gruesomely sprouts stakes all over its body and dies.

There's an extra subplot when fifty (count 'em) androids are detected marching towards the inner sanctum. The Doctor and Myrkos go off to the power vault to switch them off, discovering 24 (count 'em) clones of the Borad in a side room (a bit like when the Doctor accidentally finds the ten thousand Daleks in the fridge in Planet of the Daleks). They cut the power off just as the androids are about to kill the rebels. Phew!

Sezon goes off with his troops to meet the diplomatic party. Back in the sanctum, the Borad demands that the landing pad be mined with explosives: cut straight to Sezon and his force completing the mining task, with apparent enthusiasm. I don't understand this bit. Perhaps we're expected to assume that Myrkon agreed to the Borad's demands, but his last speech has been to say that they can't do so, even at the cost of Peri's life.

There's no humour about weddings and proposals in the Doctor/Borad standoff, and no deal about the latter getting to marry Peri if she screams.

Just as on screen, Peri asks how the Doctor avoided the missile. 'At one point it seemed that the Time Lord was going to hold back on his tale' - but here he doesn't, explaining that he time-slipped the TARDIS forwards one hour. And with that shattering anti-climax it's on to the visiting card bit and the end.

For the third time in a row I have to say that this novelisation does make the story move a bit better, and it fills in the most obvious plot holes. But a critical reader may be annoyed by the style, which is extremely odd in places.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Target: The Two Doctors

The 100th Target to be published, and with an introduction by JNT. This says nothing of interest other than the (probably polite) suggestion that Robert Holmes was reluctant to novelise his own script.

The Space Station is named J7, not Camera (325 search hits) or Chimera (207 search hits) as on screen. Jamie recalls the meeting with the Time Lords (in a purple-grassed garden) which brought them here. Interestingly there's no reference to Victoria; I wondered if RH was trying to fit the story into continuity between Fury and Wheel.

Shockeye is a huge, obviously strong being. Although he's pretty frightening on screen that's largely due to his aggression and handiness with knives, and to John Stratton, and he certainly doesn't appear to be physically strong, although they all talk about him as if he is. Anyway, my point is that on the page, he definitely does look as though he could break people in half with one hand.

Chessene has 'a smile from which smoke might have issued.' Marvellous.

In these comparisons I've often noted Saward and Marter's bloodlust: it seems Holmes is keen to prove himself their equal, with a description of the computer technician's bones dissolving after Chessene attacks him. And that's just a curtain-raiser: the scientist who shouts 'Professor!' gets the full treatment, as his corpse dances into the room under the impact of the bullets.

The Doctor's fishing planet has a brassy sky which reminds Peri of Kansas before a storm. Gumblejacks don't exist - he made them up. He's still on the river bank when he faints.

The Sontarans are referred to as 'potato-heads' on several occasions, usually by Jamie. Their landing on Earth blacks out radar worldwide for several minutes, and causes an escalation in the arms race. Very apt.

Peri punches Jamie (in the infrastructure...) with muscles 'honed by years as a campus sports star.' I didn't know moaning was a big college sport in the US.

While the Doctor's in his trance, a fire breaks out and Peri and Jamie have to move him to safety. His soliloquy about the collapse of time is thought rather than spoken, and goes on for longer, but it still doesn't make it any more convincing as a threat.

During the journey to Earth, the Doctor recalls that the Sontarans already have a primitive time ability (presumably a reference to Linx's osmic projector).

Doctor Two calls Stike a 'slimy obscenity'.

Oscar tells Peri that he toured the US in (Congreve's) Way of the World. Anita privately reflects that he's been 'between roles' and managing the restaurant for the last three years. The name of the establishment is La Piranella.

Shockeye dresses up in the frock coat earlier in the story, while the Doctor's peering through the window of the house. Shockeye sings an grisly Androgum lullaby to himself as he does so.

The Doctor warns Jamie that Dastari used to be a champion wrestler. Jamie's describes Chessene's dress as a 'coathardie'.

Doctor (Six) mocks Stike's title of rank - 'I've never met a Sontaran private yet.'

Stike doesn't pull Jamie's dagger out of his leg, thus allowing Doctor Two to spot it and realise that Jamie's about.

Doctor Six and Jamie don't throw water over the unconscious Peri.

Chessene explains that coronic acid was used by the Rutans at Vullotha to decimate the Sontarans. (10% success?) It certainly works on Varl, causing him to burst into green flames.

Doctor Two doesn't tell Shockeye to get dressed up for the restaurant (he's wearing the frock coat he put on earlier). The 'shepherd's pie' joke is not used.

Shockeye thinks, rather than says, the line about the 20-narg note being accepted in the Nine Planets. Doctor Two chips in with an assortment of paper money: Oscar says that the only recognisable item among it is a Confederate $5 bill, and even that's no longer legal tender.

The killing of Oscar isn't treated so casually by the diners on the page: they flee the restaurant in terror. And approaching sirens are heard.

Chessene licks the blood directly off the step, not off her hand. I think the latter version is the more 'actable'.

Jamie's family are hereditary pipers to 'the Macleod of Dunvegan'. Just in case you missed the vegetarian message in this story. And he learnt to use a dagger from 'Wee Fulton MacKay, the greatest knife-fighter in the whole of Scotland.'

After some remarks about how the locals never found out what happened to Dona Arana or who killed Oscar, the book just trails off with 'Meanwhile, the Doctor and Peri... ' - as if Holmes, after giving us 150+ pages of anti-meat propaganda, still can't quite bring himself to use the 'healthy vegetarian diet' conclusion.

As with its predecessor, this novelisation should have credit for managing to make the story work a bit more smoothly. But the author's vegetarian hectoring is very intrusive. Even if you basically agree with him you feel that he isn't being entirely honest by putting all the pro-meat arguments in the mouth of a warty alien psychopath.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Target: Mark of the Rani

As the Doctor sets the co-ordinates for Kew, he thinks about the possibility of accidentally landing across the Channel and meeting Napoleon. He then strikes a Napoleonic pose.

The Master/scarecrow exudes an evil aura, or so we're told - even though there's no-one around to perceive it except us.

After the Doctor says 'There was silence deep as death,' we get this classic Pip'n'Jane sentence: 'The grim quotation merely vocalised the overwhelming foreboding of evil that plagued him.'

There's some research on show when the Doctor explains that Stephenson didn't get due credit for helping invent the Davy lamp. 'Do you know where we get the word "assassin" from, Susan?'

The Master tells the Rani that he escaped from Sarn when the extreme heat in the volcano caused more numismaton gas to be generated - this returned him to health.

Lord Ravensworth is a dedicated paternalist, so he finds the disturbances at Killingworth particularly upsetting.

Perhaps reacting against their usual tendency for periphrasis, P&J commit the following sentence during the trolley scene: 'Able only to raise his head, the Doctor was scared.'

After successfully dematerialising the Rani's TARDIS, the Doctor recalls a previous occasion where he ran his own craft into the Tower of Pisa.

Peri, apparently abandoned by the Doctor, worries about being stranded in the 18th century with its inadequate medical science.

The classic quotes just keep coming. 'In the Rani's TARDIS: 'The additional mucus caused the baby dinosaur's pink underbelly to float uppermost.' In the dell: 'In choreographed terror, she embarked on a complicated pattern of moves.' When the two renegade Time Lords argue: 'Acerbic recrimination consumed the dissident pair.'

(I think the worst one is 'Before the Doctor could deploy his facility for exhuming fallacy, he was thwarted.' It's a perfect example of a bad synonym looked up in a thesaurus. 'Exhume' doesn't just mean 'unearth' or 'expose', it has connotations of digging up bodies and (by extension) very old things which aren't any use.)

The 'Luddite' gang at the dell are already carrying the poles from which the Doctor is later slung. They have a sheep on the poles to begin with.

An epilogue shows us the Doctor and Peri at Kew Gardens. Peri isn't enjoying it as much as she might, because she keeps seeing patterns in the flowers - they all seem to have human faces...

(I rather liked that ending, it made the tree transformations in the dell seem creepy and sinister. In the screen version the ludicrous panto branch/arm defuses any horrific effect almost completely).

Despite all the awkward prose, this Target is an improvement on the screen version; it at least puts some pace and life into the story.