Nessie, the cyborg milk-cow
Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster
By Terrance Dicks
book 8, 4th Doctor
Cover Art by David Mann
1979, Pinnacle Books American Re-Print, 2nd Ed.
Disclaimer: Trademarked and Copyright by the Beeb, I get nothing from doing this except further enjoyment of the best Sci-Fi concept ever made.
Investigating mysterious attacks of North Sea oil rigs, Doctor Who discovers that, yes, there really is a Loch Ness monster.
Half-animal and half-machine, it’s the Skarasen, a monster-child of the exiled Zygons. They and their crippled spaceship have been hiding for centuries. Now that they have regained their strength, the born-again but homeless Zygons plan to invade Earth, conquer its primitive peoples and stay on – as rulers.
Doctor Who is rather worried, even terrified, that the Zygons really might take over. Will Doctor Who be able to outwit the cunning strategies of the ruthless and dynamic Zygons in time to save us all?
I’m not sure if this is a difficult Target to find, but at the time I was looking for it all I could find was the American re-print from Pinnacle Books. Despite my preference for actual Targets for my collection (I can always get one later), I have to say it’s worth picking up at least one of the Pinnacle Books prints just for the Foreword by Harlan Ellison. I never knew until I read this what a Doctor Who fan he was. And because they so perfectly express my own feelings for my favorite Sci-Fi concept ever, I need to share some of his words here, before we get into the story:
They could not have been more offended, confused, enraged and startled… There was a moment of stunned silence… and then an eruption of angry voices from all over the fifteen-hundred-person audience. The kids in their Luke Skywalker pajamas (cobbled up from older brother’s castoff karate gi) and the retarded adults spot-welded into their Darth Vader fright-masks howled with fury. But I stood my ground, there on the lecture platform at the World Science Fiction Convention, and I repeated the heretical words that sent them into animal hysterics:
“Star Wars is adolescent nonsense; Close Encounters is obscurantist drivel; Star Trek can turn your brains to puree of bat guano; and the greatest science fiction series of all time is Doctor Who! And I’ll take you all on, one-by-one or all in a bunch to back it up!”…
…’Doctor Who’… the most famous science fiction character on British television. The renegade Time Lord, the far traveler through Time and Space, the sword of justice from the planet Gallifrey, the scourge of villains and monsters the galaxy over. The one and only, the incomparable, the bemusing and bewildering Doctor Who , the humanistic defender of Good and Truth whose exploits put to shame those of Kimball Kinnison, Captain Future and pantywaist nerds like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.
My hero! Doctor Who!
I laugh each time I read this and the rest of the foreword. I have to agree, fan that I am of all Sci-Fi notwithstanding, Doctor Who is by far the most creative and adaptable series ever made, the most fantastic, challenging and entertaining, even at its worst.
This, as has been said before, is why it has lasted nearly 47 years yet remains relevant and engaging. This is why it survived seasons of poor writing and production and 16 years off the air (aside from the much-reviled ‘96 TV Movie). This is why the series persists to this day in almost every form of entertainment media there is, and why fans over the years have fought to get it back on the air, culminating in Russell T Davies’ approval to create the brilliant New Series that started airing in 2005.
I love this show, and have done since 1979 – as long as I can remember. I bow again to RTD for rekindling all the wonder, joy and fear this show inspired in me way back then, getting me hiding behind the sofa once more. I only wish I could have been at the convention Ellison mentions above to see the hilarity ensue.
It irritates me that the publishers didn’t stick with the original title to this story. I hope one day to find out why some Targets were published under a different episode name when most stick to the serial title.
‘Terror Of The Zygons’ (I refuse to call it by the book’s title) follows in the tradition of the classic Crypto-zoology storylines in Doctor Who. It’s the first of this kind for the 4th Doctor, and one of the best serials of that Season.
This is one of those stories that gives me chills even when I watch it today, and one of my favorite alien monsters of the whole series; they were some of those that haunted my nightmares as a child along with Daleks and Cybermen and Ogris. Somehow the novelization falls flat on the horror meter, though. In retrospect, a good deal of the scariness is in the sound effects, designs and direction.
The Zygons themselves translate better on screen, from the wet, strangled gasp of their voices to the grotesque costume and set designs, reminiscent of Geiger or Fuchs. The serial becomes a post-modern gothic horror that just doesn’t translate as well into Dick’s adaptation of the script.
Even the Skarasen was done better in the show, the book’s description contradicting itself in places. For instance, when Broton shows the monster to Harry it has flippers, but later as it’s chasing the Doctor across the moor it’s described as having feet and claws. The lack of continuity distracts from a solid image of the monster enough to make it less scary, in my mind.
Broton himself is a bit over-done, becoming almost a parody of the classic self-absorbed, gloating villain. His need to torment his prisoners to hear them beg and scream is over-stated and becomes ridiculous – particularly as he doesn’t succeed, though presumably he has in the past. Yet Broton doesn’t seem smart enough to stop and wonder why these Harry and the Doctor are different.
It would have been more believable from an intelligence as sharp as Broton’s if his need to gloat had been stressed a bit less in the book. It works in the show because in video format you don’t see into the character’s thoughts and motivations as well – you don’t see into their heads. But in books you do and when adapting a show or movie to print it needs to be done carefully. This is a perfect example of the result when it’s not reigned in and edited carefully.
By the same token, we don’t get the benefit of Tom’s excellent ad-libs. The scene at the beginning where he pokes fun at the Brigadier’s Kilt, as if he’s never seen one before, is beautiful yet is not adapted into the novelization. I don’t always miss them, but in this book I really did; it started the action off with a humorous energy that’s sadly missing from the adaptation.
There’s an opening sequence in the novel that was not in the serial episode. I don’t know if this was added on by Dicks or if it was cut from the script for time when in production, but it’s too bad it wasn’t part of the serial. While it does preclude any possible stops between the Beacon and here, (as the Doctor is not initially wearing the tartan scarf or the Tam o’Shanter as he is in Wolfsbane), it’s a nice bit of character interaction that, while it’s not needed for the story, is a lot of fun.
Otherwise, the book reads with much the same pace as the serial. The action moves along swiftly, matching the serial cliffhanger for cliffhanger at the ends of chapters. The characterizations are also spot on, another example of the excellent writing for this serial as it appears very little was changed or cut out.
Particularly brilliant is the Brigadier, I always forget how much I love his character in counterpoint to the Doctor, until he turns up again to remind me.
The Brigadier was feeling aggrieved. Not for the first time, he brooded over the tendency of his assistants to disappear just when needed. Harry was missing. Sarah was missing. The Doctor and Benton had gone off to look for them, and now they were missing. For want of anything better to do, the Brigadier started harrying his HQ staff.
The Brig’s not the only one... As a military man and leader, he’s the perfect foil for the Doctor – so very like him while managing to be so opposite. Their deep friendship is no big surprise, even though their opinions often clash.
Sarah peered over his shoulder. ‘What’s all this then?’
The Doctor sighed… He spoke without looking up from his work. ‘This is part of a probe system for detecting localized jamming and alien energy emissions.’
Sarah considered for a moment and said, ‘What happens if whatever’s doing the jamming jams the jamming detector?’
The Doctor opened his mouth to deliver a crushing reply, then realized with a shock that Sarah was quite right. He’d overlooked that problem.
Not quite as awesome as the dirty look Tom shoots Liz, but still a great moment. Sarah’s one of the rare companions that really challenges the Doctor. She has a critical and inquisitive mind, embodies everything the Doctor likes so much about the Human Race, and isn’t afraid to stand up to even him. She sees the holes in his plans beforehand, helping to make him ultimately more effective in the end. She’s the blueprint for the best Companions going forward, previous ones always having some of these characteristics, but never all in one and rarely so many in a girl.
That said, she certainly suffocates and passes out often enough, almost as often as this Doctor gets hit on the head. That can’t be good for you, if they weren’t fictional I’d worry about long term effects.
She’s in top form in this story, using her journalistic skills to full effect and finding key pieces to the puzzle almost as quickly as the Doctor. So much so that Broton labels her an equal threat as the Doctor to his plans. Harry, he’s happy to keep around for future use, Sarah and the Doctor must die.
Harry is no slouch either. He may be put out of action fairly early on by being shot and captured, but after all he’s seen since stepping on the TARDIS, he’s supremely unimpressed by Broton’s technology or his claims of world domination. This is something captured much better by the book that the episode, and the scenes make for some great comic relief.
Unfortunately, after that he’s pretty much sidelined – this being his last episode as an active Companion, he’s slowly edged out of the action. Harry only lasted a year as a regular Companion and was never used particularly well. It’s kind of a bitter-sweet relief to see him go. But, with Sarah embodying so much as a companion and Harry’s more antiquated character archetype, he ended up being more of a third wheel than anything else. When I think about whether he was ever really necessary to any of the stories he was in I can only say no, if I’m honest. Not so with Sarah, she’s as vital as the Doctor in every story, every single time. So, with a bit of regret for wasted potential, I’m actually pretty happy to see him go.
Even earlier that same morning, the Doctor too had risen, making sure the Brigadier and Sarah were awake with hearty shouts and loud bangs on the doors of their respective rooms. Sarah groaned as she struggled into her clothes. She should have realized that, in the Doctor’s terms, a nice long sleep meant something like three or four hours. Indeed, it was something of a novelty for the Doctor to bother with something like sleep at all.
Now, at a time that Sarah called crack of dawn, and even the Brigadier considered an ungodly hour, the Doctor, wide awake and appallingly cheerful, was driving them up to the doors of Forgill Castle.
The script appears to have been written for Tom, and Dicks translates the 4th Doctor brilliantly. Even without Tom’s acting the character he created shines though easily. The Doctor even pulls a few new tricks from his sleeves: an ability to put himself and others into complete, oxygen deprived stasis for a time – a skill he says he learned from an old Tibetan Monk (perhaps Cho-Je?) – and a resistance to levels of energy that would be instantly fatal to Humans. He also shows remarkable stamina, outrunning the Skarasen for as long as he did.
His verbal sparring with Broton , both at Forgill Castle and when he’s a prisoner, is one of the highlights of both the book and the serial. It’s a pity Broton didn’t heed him when he and his crew had the chance. I have to wonder, when the Doctor says so portentously that he “can see no other way” than letting the Brigadier use his precious artillery, how much the Time Lord really sees about the direction things are heading.
The Doctor looked around the control room thoughtfully, and pointed to a complex mechanism set a little apart from the other controls. ‘Anyone know what this is?’
The baffled group shook their heads. ‘You tell us,’ said sister Lamont in her soft Highland voice.
‘It’s a Self-Destructor Unit,’ said the Doctor rather sadly. ‘And it works like-this!’ He tugged on the control nodule and the Destructor Unit began to hum with power.
The Doctor gets no darker or more controversial than this. The Zygon crew of the ship are trapped behind a door, struggling to get out, and they watch him do this, they know what’s coming. While it’s true they would, and probably have, done worse were they allowed to go free, this brings up an interesting philosophical question on the nature of morality.
On occasions such as this when the Doctor lowers himself to the level of his enemies, is he really all that much better than them? Is causing the death of another sentient being ever justifiable? Is there really such a thing as ‘the greater good’ or is that only a social construct?
The rationalization is left up to the reader or viewer, but it’s these kinds of challenging questions that make this sci-fi series rise above the rest. It’s the best shows that portray the world in such complex terms rather than black and white, so much like real life, and don’t preach but leave the final judgment to the audience.
We know how the story ends, with one more death: Broton. It’s the only way it could end really – the alien Warlord, his ship and crew destroyed, fights to the last and loses, and the Monster heads back to Loch Ness to live in peace and legend. It’s strangely honorable, even almost Human.
The Doctor cajoles Sarah into heading home in the TARDIS with him – a rare moment of vulnerability in which we see for just a moment how much he’s afraid of being alone. She knows she won’t get there anytime soon, she must, and yet she goes anyway. Their close friendship is growing, solidifying even as he ushers her inside.
One of the best of Tom Baker’s era, this story is second only to ‘Genesis of the Daleks’. Whether you read the Target novelization or find and watch the episode serial, this is a story you shouldn’t miss.
Next Time: ‘Planet of Evil’