The Androids of Tara
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and the Androids of Tara

Author Terrance Dicks Cover image
Published 1980
ISBN 0 426 20108 6
First Edition Cover Andrew Skilleter

Back cover blurb: On a peaceful rural planet, where the colourful pageantry of old Ruritania mingles with ultra-modern Android technology, the Doctor becomes a king-maker in spite of himself. In his search for another segment of the Key to Time, the Doctor matches wits and swords with the evil Count Grendel - aided, of course, by Romana and the invaluable K9.


Well-flowing swordsmanship by Tim Roll-Pickering 30/1/06

The back cover blurb implies that this story is driven by the quest for the Key to Time. But if anything, the quest is redundant to the story. Romana finds the segment early on and even Grendel and Lamia taking the crystal segment to examine it makes no impact on the plot at all. The monster is disposed of quickly as well and we are left with a fast-paced tale of dual and duality. On television The Androids of Tara worked as a fast-moving costume piece, with the technology slipped discretely into the story but never dominating it (despite the title). For the novelisation Terrance Dicks has managed to retain much of this dynamism, making events more at a rapid pace and rarely stopping to let the reader wonder about matters such as how the android technology arose on Tara, given that everything else appears so primitive or why the rulers are prepared to allow peasants a monopoly on android building and repairing without the risk of the feudal infrastructure collapsing either through revolution or the development of capitalism. Instead we get a tale of swordsmanship, in which the Doctor is forced to help Reynart secure his throne.

Normally a novelisation offers the opportunity to tighten up the plot, explain onscreen inconsistencies or brush over dodgy special effects, but there are few problems with the script of Tara whilst the BBC's reputation for costume drama and the limited effects meaning there is little need for enhancements here. The Taran beast is however described better than it looks onscreen, being portrayed as looking like a cross between several animals, but it still remains a redundant element in the story that merely serves to show that it is not necessary to have a monster in every tale. The other element that has been changed is the degree of humour, with the character of Farrah no longer sent up so heavily. Humour is difficult to pull off in print, especially when adapting someone else's original material, and so Dicks wisely sticks to a straight rendition of the story rather than risk it degenerating into a turgid jokefest that goes nowhere.

One character who comes across stronger here than onscreen is Lamia. Her desire to marry Grendel is emphasised heavily, as are the social barriers against it, but midway through the story it does start to feel as though she has a chance. But then she gets killed for no reason other than being caught in crossfire whilst serving her master. There is a real sense of tragedy here even though her death is only briefly dwelt on.

In a period when the Target novelisations were feeling more and more like machine products, it's good to see an adaptation that whilst sticking to the televised story does nevertheless manage to make it work well and fast as a novelisation. This is one of the best of the "Bronze Age" books. 6/10