The Deadly Assassin
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin

Author Terrance Dicks Cover image
Published 1977
ISBN 0 426 11965 7
First Edition Cover Mike Little

Back cover blurb: The Doctor is suddenly summoned to Gallifrey, the home of the Time Lords, where his ghastly hallucination of the President's assassination seems to turn into reality. When the Doctor is arrested for the murder, there is a hideous, dark, cowled figure gleefully watching in the shadows. Faced with his old enemy, the Master, Doctor Who approaches defeat in a battle of minds in a nightmare world created by the Master's imagination. But the Master's evil intentions go much further - he has a Doomsday Plan. It is up to the Doctor to prevent him from destroying Gallifrey and taking over the Universe!


Not as spectacular as it should be by Tim Roll-Pickering 5/3/04

A traveller's homecoming should always be sufficiently dramatic, but Doctor Who is an ongoing and thus there is no natural end to the Doctor's travels. Thus a visit to his homeworld sits at odds with the norm of the series and so it requires something special to really make the tale stand out. On screen The Deadly Assassin tries but falls flat due to the plot not being as spectacular as it could be whilst the design does not over a suitable grandiose scale and the entire third episode is effectively redundant for all it does to advance the plot. Even the normally strong Robert Holmes was unable to make it work, so how does Terrance Dicks' novelisation of the story fare?

Surprisingly for this period of the novelisations this book feels like some extra care has been put into it given the nature of the story. A strong sense is given of a large scale Gallifrey, with the Panopticon coming across as far more impressive than the small set seen on stage, whilst the occassional paragraph such as one on page 8 helps to remind the reader of the Doctor's background and his turbulent relationship with his home planet. But for the most part Dicks follows the course of events in the television story, though he renames "Hilred" to the easier to pronounce "Hildred" and rushes through the events in the Matrix, concentrating instead on events in the real world. There is a real sense of the hatred the Master feels throughout the book whilst the Doctor's determination to first save the President and then to clear his name and expose the real killer is clear. This story takes place on a small scale, with the conspiracy being confined to the Master, Goth and one hypnotised guard, whilst the Doctor's only help comes from Spandrell and Elgin. The dark and downbeat nature of the tale is enhanced, as is the sense that this is a battle not meant for outside eyes. It may have been a coincidence or a whim of the production office that resulted in the Doctor being companionless for this story, but it works well since much of the mystery of Gallifrey is preserved. No substantial attempt is made to the Time Lords shown in this tale with those seen in The War Games or The Three Doctors, though there is a paragraph explaining how the true nature of the Omega incident has been kept quiet from most of those on Gallifrey.

Whilst the narrative is strong, the characterisation suffers. Only the Doctor and the Master come across effectively, the latter mainly because he is confined to the shadows for much of the time. Most of the other characters come across weakly, especially Goth who dies too soon for a proper expose of his character, leaving only his brief lines about how he learnt he wasn't going to be named President and how he found the Master. The legends of Rassilon are also left underdeveloped and so there is no attempt made to reconcile the conflicting stories of Omega and Rassilon both being the most important figures in the history of the Time Lords. As a normal novelisation, Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin isn't that bad, but given the significance of the story it could have been so much more. 5/10

Welcome Home by Andrew Feryok 26/12/07

The Master seemed well satisfied. "We have him now," he hissed "But be wary. The Doctor is never more dangerous than when the odds are against him."
- Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin, page 75, Chapter 7
I decided I was really in the mood for a Master story and the only one on my shelf of Target books was Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin. It had been quite some time since I had seen the story, so I made sure to watch my old VHS copy (without the episode breaks) before reading. Watching the story over was quite nice. As a fan, it is one of those stories that I just took for granted as a classic and never really bothered to return to, along with several others such as Genesis of the Daleks and The Seeds of Doom. This story has a great atmosphere, exciting mystery thriller and gothic galore! It may very well be one of Doctor Who's all time darkest stories, both literally and figuratively, up there with The Caves of Androzani and The Impossible Planet. But how does Terrance Dicks' Target novel adaptation stand up to the classic television story?

The book holds up surprisingly well! Although I think a lot of the credit goes to the strength of the original story by Robert Holmes. As I was reading the book, I was struck by the fact that I almost wish Ian Marter had been this book's author. His brutal and almost graphic prose style is perfectly suited to this story, particularly the gritty and graphic struggle between the Doctor and the Hunter in the Matrix. Nevertheless, Terrance Dicks does a competent job adapting the story. His prose style is much more like Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen, or Doctor Who and the Android Invasion. It is simple and easy to follow, and makes virtually no deviations from the original plot. Even the paragraph structure resembles a script break down. Seens such as the Doctor quickly jogging down a corridor to another room could have been dealt with in one sentence at the beginning of a paragraph. Instead, such sequences are told in one or two sentences floating on their own and feel like those camera cuts to people walking down corridors that you see when you are watching the episode. This is exactly what they are and they jolt a little at first, but the reader can quickly adapt themselves to it. But in terms of prose, I've seen a lot better from Dicks. I've also seen much worse.

As I mentioned, the book doesn't deviate much at all from the original story. There are no new scenes or characters, although one or two things here and there are touched up. The computer center for the Matrix is now a gigantic tower-sized computer with the control room being the only chamber at the top, the sequence of the Doctor proving that the gun sight was fixed on the gun he was found with now takes place in another chamber somewhere on Gallifrey, rather than in the Panoptican. In fact, the gun evidence is what leads them to go visit the Panoptican now. The Panoptican itself is much bigger and is described as being able to easily hold an army and a ceiling which is barely visible while standing there. They even have to be let in at night by a porter with a lantern!

The story does a pretty good job of bringing back all the continuity surrounding Gallifrey that has been presented up until now. They include the Doctor's trial and exile, his freedom due to the 'Omega incident' and mention is made of the Celestial Intervention Agency which explains things such as his missions to Solos, Skaro, and others. Sarah's leaving sequence is also recapped at the start of the book with the Doctor reflecting on how Sarah was hurt by their sudden parting, but the Doctor being unable to ignore a summons back to his home planet.

Probably the biggest change, in my mind, is that the book makes it much clearer as to why the Doctor suddenly picks up the gun and fires at the episode 1 cliffhanger. While it made for a suberb cliffhanger, it always puzzled me. If the Doctor is trying to halt a premonition of the assassination, why would he suddenly aim the gun? All he would have to do is throw the gun away and wait for the ceremony to end and history would be changed. But in the book it is made much clearer that the Doctor is in fact aiming for the real assassin whom he sees raising a gun in the crowd. The Doctor is not in time and the true assassin actually hits his target. This also makes the sequence of why the Master wants the film from the camera so badly and why Runcible is inexplicably killed.

In reading about Gallifrey, I was struck by the similarities between Gallifreyan society and Hogwarts! Think about it, the different aristocratic houses are very similar to the different sorting houses at the wizarding school. And the way in which the Time Lords are loyal to their houses and are constantly competing against each other is not to disimilar between the rivalries in the houses at Rowling's school. It makes sense considering that Holmes probably had the idea of old stuffy colleges in mind when he was formulating the Time Lord society. It is particularly eerie how the Doctor's own Prydonian order seems to mirror the Gryffendor house in the Harry Potter series.

Terrance Dicks does a great job with the Doctor and the Master. The Doctor in particular is surprising considering that Terrance Dicks usually doesn't bother too much with descriptions or characterizations with this Doctor. But here he captures the Doctor quite well from his humorous antics, to his sharp mind, and finally to his sheer sense of cunning as he attempts to survive a very desperate situation. The Master is also well portrayed and we are constantly reminded of his weakened and horrific state, as well as the brutal and savage nature of his revenge and will to survive that makes him possibly one of the most dangerous incarnations of the Master the Doctor has ever faced. It also helps that the Doctor and the Master treat each with considerable respect in the story. They clearly respect each other's abilities and don't underestimate each other for a moment. This makes their clash even more intense than the usual Doctor-Master story; not only are the stakes higher than ever before, but, because the Master is so clear to death, it seems the Master holds nothing back and the Doctor really has to stay on his toes if he hopes to outlive his opponent. There is almost a sense that the two Time Lords are playing a deadly game of chess with Gallifrey as their pawns.

Besides the Doctor and the Master, the story has many other strong characters. Goth still comes across as a proud and power hungry individual. Borusa is one of my all time favorite characters in the story! At first he seems a harsh and cold schoolmaster who has little patience or contempt for those around him. But at the end we see that he really does have a certain affection for the Doctor with his "nine out of ten" line and we can see characteristics within Borusa that the Doctor has clearly adopted into himself. Engin is also a lovably doddering old character. He not only is physically old, he really is old for a Time Lord and he has spent centuries studying and caring for the information in the Matrix and Panoptican library. Spandrell is the pseudo-companion for the Doctor in this story. I find it a little difficult that Spandrell would believe the Doctor's fantastic stories and aid him in proving his innocence. But this is a necessary leap of disbelief since, without it, the Doctor clearly would have lost the fight against the Master.

Overall, this isn't that bad of Doctor Who book. It certainly is not going to win any high awards for prose and the lack of new material means that this is little more than a script-to-book. Fortunately, Holmes' story is strong and manages to transcend the prose to still be as exciting and thrilling as it was on screen. A definite 8/10.