Reel-to-reel Cassette, June 1981. Pickwick. Compact Cassette, 1985. Ditto
Narrated by Tom Baker.
Written by Terrance Dicks.
Between Full Circle and Warriors’ Gate
This story was written by the ex-Script Editor of the Pertwee era, Terrance Dicks, now a freelance writer. It was originally entitled The Witch Lords and was intended to begin season fifteen (the season which eventually ended with Leela leaving the series). However, due to the fact that BBC 1 was already working on a big Dracula serial the Doctor Who office were asked not to make it at that time. Instead, Terrance Dicks rapidly wrote Horror of Fang Rock, introducing the series to the Rutans, the arch-enemy of the Sontaran race which had often been referred to but never yet seen.
This story was then held back until 1980 by which time a new companion, Romana, had joined the series. In fact she was now in her second incarnation, played by Lalla Ward. It was during the production of this story that Tom Baker and Lalla Ward announced their engagement, surprising all the crew working on the programme, as earlier in the production the two leads were actively fighting, even refusing to look at each other when in front of the camera!
However, we are dealing with the narration of the novelisation so I need not go into further detail. The narration is of the book, not the TV version so there is no soundtrack, just fifty-six minutes of Tom Baker (or 58 with jaunty opening and closing music – not the Doctor Who theme – if you’re listening to the 1985 cassette).
The Doctor, Romana (in her second incarnation) and K-9 are lost in N-Space, but the robot dog has located a planet with metal objects on it, which means a civilisation exists. The Doctor decides to land there and ask for help fixing their position.
They land in some woods in daytime. The Doctor spots a distant tower with turrets. Clustered around the base of the tower is a collection of buildings. When the Doctor and Romana arrive (K-9 is instructed to wait in the TARDIS) they notice there’s no people around. Voices can be heard in the communal hall of this small village.
Inside the hall the headman of the village, Ivo, protests to Habris that the peasants are starving and need more food from the nobles. Habris, the Head Guard of the tower, who fears the nobles’ wrath says he will try. Ivo complains that Habris said this when they took Ivo’s son away. Before the argument can continue much further they stop, terrified, upon seeing the Doctor and Romana in the doorway. Presumably from their noble bearings. Ivo and Habris question them as they’ve never seen strangers before. The Doctor asks for a scientist and the men quickly state that “such things are forbidden”, clamming up. Habris scurries away to the tower.
Frustrated at the lack of answers, Romana leaves, the Doctor right behind her. Ivo hurries to a concealed communicator and tells a man on the other end, Talmar, of the two strangers who were asking about scientists.
In the TARDIS, K-9 bumps into a stowaway, Adric, who’d been on the last planet they’d landed on. Adric uses logical arguments to get past K-9 and out of the ship.
As the Doctor and Romana walk back to the TARDIS their way is barred by men in grey cloaks who lead them away to a hidden passageway. Deep in the ground they emerge into a chamber full of technology, all disassembled and people who clearly live there.
The Doctor and Romana meet an old man, Kalmar who perks up upon hearing the Doctor’s name. He’s keen to speak to a scientist. The Doctor sits at a computer console and complements Kalmar on getting some of the equipment functioning. Kalmar boasts that they have a generator but one of the others interrupts to tell Kalmar that what they really need is weapons. Kalmar replies that it will take some time before they’ll be able to make them. But when they have, they will overthrow their oppressors.
Kalmar explains to the Doctor that the peasants had revolted against the Lords in the Tower and fled into the forests where they’d found the dumped components. Being the last of the villagers who knew how to read, they began to learn from operator manuals how the equipment functioned. Since that time reading has been forbidden by the Lords; the penalty for reading is Death. Excluding a selected few (who are taken to the tower) the villagers must toil all their lives. Those that are selected either become guards or are never seen again.
The Doctor brings the console back to life and Romana reads from the screen. It was a console from an Earth ship, the Hydrax. The crew manifest reads
Captain: Miles Sharkey
Navigator: Lauren MacMillan
Science Officer: Anthony O’Connor
with photos beside them. Talak, the leader of the party that brought the Doctor and Romana there, is horrified. He recognises the faces as his Lords, Zargo, Camilla and Aukon. The Doctor and Romana decide to investigate the tower.
Tramping through the forest with Romana, the Doctor is bitten by a bat. A swarm (or is it a flock? A herd?) of bats appear and chase them before suddenly flying away. Out of the frying pan, the Doctor and Romana bump into tower guards and led into it, up to the throne room. There they meet Lord Zargo and Lady Camilla, two pale people with red lips and burning eyes, who seem to already know about them. Camilla notices a graze Romana received during the capture and moves towards it, Romana pulling back.
The Doctor mentions the Hydrax log, which disturbs the two aristocrats. But before any kind of reckoning can be done Habris, the guard captain, enters with a message. Lord Aukon has seen an omen; it is time for The Arising. Excitedly, Zargo and Camilla rush, leaving the Doctor and Romana waiting for them.
The Doctor and Romana are discussing the crew when the Doctor mentions Chinese Whispers with Romana asking what that’s got to do with Zargo and Camilla?
The Doctor explains that language changes over time, explaining that Sharkey, MacMillan and O’Connor’s descendants are Zargo, Camilla and Aukon. Further, the tower is actually the Hydrax, revealing the pilot and co-pilot’s seats. Romana finds an inspection hatch. The Doctor leads them up and up and up into the Control Room of a scout ship, one of the turrets of the Tower. It is still being powered. The Doctor hears a distant throbbing which Romana assumes is the engine. The Doctor disagrees, suspecting something horrible.
They climb down, down, down into a dark chamber holding the fuel tanks. Turning on the lights, they are surrounded by racks of corpses, all drained of blood. In the fuel tanks there is no fuel, but blood.
Moving down to the base of the tower they are in the rocket vents. They crawl through them, finding the source of the throbbing. Romana suggests that the sound is a huge heartbeat. The blood from the fuel tanks is piped down to somewhere beneath the ground, feeding something. The Doctor tells her that Vampire legends are found on almost every planet.
Exploring the cavern they find a room with an altar. Suddenly a voice disturbs them. Aukon welcomes them. He warns them that the three Lords have great power. Suddenly the Doctor realises that Aukon is O’Connor. Aukon explains that their master made mental contact with him, bringing the Hydrax to this world, where he has been sustaining them and now he is ready to arise. He urges the Doctor and Romana to join him as Adric has.
Aukon offers them the choice of joining them or being their prey. The Doctor lets slip that he and Romana are Time Lords. Aukon recognises them as their enemy race. Camilla and Zargo enter, intending to drain the two timelords until Aukon halts them. He is being instructed by his master that they have been chosen for sacrifice and they are locked in a cell.
The Doctor relates to Romana a legend of ancient Gallifrey at war with Vampires. Suddenly Talak appears and frees them. Romana says they must free Adric. Talak and Romana go in search while the Doctor
Romana finds Adric who has not yet been changed into a vampire. As the three turn to leave their way is barred by Zargo and Camilla. Talak tries to fight Zargo but is killed. Angrily, Camilla turns on Zargo saying they need blood of the living. Both vampires turn towards Romana and Adric.
Again, Aukon calls them off. Adric has been Chosen to be one of them and is taken away to be prepared for the ceremony. Romana is taken away to be prepared for sacrifice. The three vampires go off to prepare also.
The Doctor arrives at the rebel base. They will help, but Kalmar doesn’t believe there’s anything under the ground. The Doctor uses the computer to show an X-Ray of a huge bat-like shape beneath the tower and the heartbeat is heard through the speakers. They plan to attack at night but can’t figure out a way to kill the vampire.
On arriving at the tower, they find the state room deserted. The Doctor warns them off to hold the tower until they hear the great engines, at which point they must flee as far as possible. He leaves them to climb up to the Scout Ship.
At the ceremony, a guard dashes in warning the vampires that the tower is under attack. Aukon refuses to help, telling the guard to fight to the last man. Cracks begin to appear in the floor. Aukon begins a rite over Romana’s hypnotised body. Aukon’s bats are summoned and he commands them to drink her blood. They swarm over her.
Gradually the Doctor is able to power up the scout ship. He sets some commands and rapidly leaves as the engines grow louder.
The noise of the engines rouse Romana. Adric pulls her from the altar. The Doctor enters to hear the Great Vampire’s heart beat louder and stronger. Aukon is ecstatic, “The Great One rises!”.
The Scout Ship launches, flies up and then heads straight back down, its prow piercing the heart of the Great Vampire who dies. Aukon, Zargo and Camilla angrily turn on the TARDIS trio but then their bodies crumble to dust.
Kalmar and Ivo arrive. The Doctor explains that they are free. The Doctor tells them all the knowledge they need to rebuild their society is in the computer banks.
The Doctor, Romana and Adric leave in the TARDIS.
Bit of an unusual one, this. Not a story as such, not even a novelisation. What we have here is pretty much Tom Baker reading a synopsis with a few lines of dialogue still in it.
It rushes by so quickly I had to rewind it more than a few times to keep up with all the goings on. A fair few characters, many of whom don’t get named until a minute or so after their entrance. If you’re familiar with the TV episode then this is a good enough recap, but it doesn’t stand up as an audio release.
The story itself is quite entertaining. The Doctor and Romana (with K-9 firmly out of the way in the TARDIS) in an alternate universe find a vampire stronghold (of three!) and assist the non-vampire in rebelling an overthrowing their masters. Which they really don’t, to be honest. Everything here is done pretty much by the Doctor alone.
Tom Baker is the Tom Baker of 1980 alright. A bit serious here, a bit more Doctor-like in his reading. Although nowadays he’s back as the Doctor (thank you, Big Finish!) he is more “Tom Baker” than he was back when this release was recorded.
All-in-all it’s another recording not worth tracking down. Although the version I have is the 1985 Ditto* release which comes with a jaunty little tune you just can’t get out of your head easily. The 1981 version is missing this, I am informed.
Next time: David Banks gives us chapter and verse on a certain metallic foe in Origins of the Cybermen.
*a subdivision of Pickwick.