Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Book Review: "Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin" by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin by Terrance Dicks (Target, 1977)

This 1977 Target book is a novelization of the four-episode Doctor Who serial “The Deadly Assassin,” which originally aired Oct. 30 to Nov. 20, 1976. I just love these slim little volumes. At about 120 pages, they’re perfect for reading in one or two evenings, and I recommend reading them after you see the original episodes, if you’re able to read and watch in close proximity. I read this one evening seeking inspiration for a drabble (a 100-word fan fiction story) I wrote and submitted for an online challenge; I have not yet seen the television serial.

As a novelization, I’d presume it’s the expected linear retelling of the original teleplay by Robert Holmes. (I haven’t seen the episodes yet, but the Target adaptations don’t tend to ever stray too far from the source material.) The storyline occurs following “The Hand of Fear,” at the end of which, the fourth Doctor takes his companion Sarah Jane Smith back home. In fact, that makes the serial notable. Reportedly, “The Deadly Assassin” is the only original Doctor Who story not to include a companion. Tom Baker thought he could carry the show on his own, and this was a pilot of sorts for a solo Doctor. In the end, producers determined that companions were necessary. Regardless, the story works well without one.

At the end of “The Hand of Fear,” the Doctor is summoned back to Gallifrey. There, he has visions of the assassination of the President on Resignation Day, and he sets out to ensure that that does not occur. However, despite his assistance during the Omega crisis, law enforcement still considers him a criminal and tries to stop his interference—taking him for an assassin himself! The book explores the assassination plot, political intrigue among the Time Lords and one of the Doctor’s most formidable opponents, and the resolution of the crime investigation.

It’s a fun read, shades of The Manchurian Candidate and The Dead Zone. Dicks works in some useful Time Lords back story, including a description of their social hierarchy; a reference to another Target book, The Three Doctors; details of the biological nature of the Time Lords’ telepathy; brief technical details for the Matrix; and a description of what happened after the Master died. That might not be as much additional exposition as readers received in Glen A. Larson and Roger Hill’s Knight Rider novelization, but the additional detail is welcome and helpful.

Perhaps worth reading after you watch the serial. It’s best not to know what’s going to happen—or how—and I have high hopes for the visualization of the Master. The cover art suggests an approach akin to the Phantom of the Opera.

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