The King's Demons
Target novelisation
Doctor Who - The King's Demons

Author Terence Dudley Cover image
Published 1986
ISBN 0 426 20227 9
First Edition Cover David McAllister

Back cover blurb: It is 4 March, 1215, and the TARDIS materialises in England during a jousting match held in the presence of King John. But it soon becomes apparent to the Doctor that something is very seriously wrong. Why does John express no fear or surprise at the time-travellers' sudden appearance, and indeed welcome them as the King's Demons? And what is the true identity of Sir Gilles, the King's Champion? Very soon the Doctor finds himself involved in a fiendish plan to alter the course of world history by one of his oldest and deadliest enemies.


"We sing in praise of a total bore" by Jason A. Miller 8/8/13

I love The King's Demons, so why don't you? It's almost a checklist of what I want in Doctor Who stories: a medieval setting, the Master doing something interesting, and a very catchy song. Perhaps people think the story is dull, frivolous, and inconsequential. Of course, people also think that The Rings of Akhaten is a soaring triumph of the human spirit.

Terence Dudley's novelization of his own two-part script, as with his subsequent adaptation of Black Orchid, mostly improves on the TV story and resolves some criticisms raised over the years. The Discontinuity Guide said that the Magna Carta wasn't a big deal in 1215, its importance having been "fabricated" in the 17th century. But because Dudley gets the same page count that Target gave four-part and even six-part stories in the mid-1980s, he's able to augment literally every dialogue exchange, and expand characters' internal thoughts and motivations. Thus, Dudley is able to make clear that Magna Carta was only the first step toward parliamentary democracy, and that if the Master kicked it away, hundreds of years of incremental liberalism would never take place. This may still be "small-time villainy", as the Doctor said, but it's still more logical than most of the nonsense that Anthony Ainley's Master got up to in the 1980s. Criticizing his scheme in The King's Demons, when there's so much low-hanging fruit in Time-Flight, The Mark of the Rani, and even (sigh) Castrovalva, is pointless.

There's also tons of added historical background about the Plantagenets and Angevins, and more details about the allegations of witchcraft in King John's family than it would have been possible to provide on TV. Oh, and the reference to Lord "Dudley of Grimswade" is the rare pun that manages to namecheck two Season 20 scriptwriters in the same breath...

Dudley's prose is rich and satisfying. The book's first sentence is: "The King tore the meat from the bone with his teeth and grunted his way through the mouthful of food with satisfaction." That's a pretty solid opening, as the Target books go. Clever hints are dropped early on that King John is not who he claims to be, as he muses over a famous lost battle that was "not his fault", or looks out from "metallic eyes". Dudley uses lots of archaic words, like "caitiff" (a sadly forgotten insult) to bolster the period feel. The Master when disguised as Sir Gilles is described as a "flagitious Frenchman". Lord Fitzwilliam's castle is given an improved layout; we spend more time in the dungeons, stables and hidden corridors, and get a better look at the Baron's cloak collection.

Of course, there are times when Dudley could have benefited from a copy editor. If you're wondering why the novelization hasn't yet received an audiobook adaptation, it's almost certainly because of this sentence:

The Doctor turned towards the still cringing, croaking Master, marvelling that this always arrogant and contumelious enemy should be reduced so despicably to this display of utterly contemptible cowardice.

Dudley tells the book from a dizzying array of POVs. We learn how the Master manipulates the medieval barons by pretending to be "their guide, philosopher, and, above all, friend." There are also some interesting snippets of the Doctor's personal philosophy: he decides to help Lord Fitzwilliam "since he liked the man," [and] "was going to stay just as long as it took to give it to him." The Doctor, who was often played by Peter Davison as an old man in a young man's body, remarks on the loss of manners in Tegan's time and "tried to think of the last time he'd seen anyone in the twentieth century raise his hat". We're told that the Doctor "was never more active than when seeming to be relaxed and carefree", which is a wonderful description of the character. The only thing lost, sadly, is the Doctor's comment, when fencing with Sir Gilles, "the best swordsman in France," that "Fortunately, we're in England." It's odd to lose one of the script's wittier lines in a book that otherwise greatly enriched the TV dialogue.

One failure, unfortunately, is Tegan. I've always been a big fan of Janet Fielding's work on TV. Dudley, however, is the same author who scripted Four to Doomsday, in which Tegan comes across very badly. While it's dangerous to generalize about age, I'll point out that Dudley was 62 when he started writing for Doctor Who, and even older than that when he wrote his two novelizations. This makes him perhaps the oldest author to write a novelization (Dudley's age is perhaps shown by his including a direct reference to The Crusade and naming the final chapter "A Battle of Wits", after the final episode of The Time Meddler). Please prove me wrong, but perhaps Dudley was simply was from the wrong generation to understand Tegan's potential. How else to explain the innumerable references, mostly from the Doctor's POV, to Tegan being annoying?

Tegan's feminine superficiality irritated him.

It was only natural that the practical feminine mind would demand of the proverbial Englishman's home that it have a back yard.

He wasn't used to being spoken to in such a fashion; being on the receiving end of peremptory orders from a marooned stewardess from an Antipodean airline.

And, who could forget:
She resorted to the irresistible violence of feminine wiles.
The Master gets in on it too, saying:
The female mind is cunning but undisciplined.
Two fairly radical alterations to the TV plot make the novelization quite different from what we saw on TV. It's said the TARDIS' arrival in 1215 was due to the intervention of the Time Lords. I'm not sure this adds very much to the story. Second is the new ending. On TV, the Doctor loses Lord Fitzwilliam as an ally halfway through, and never regains his trust; he leaves without ever reconciling with the baron or proving convincingly that Kamelion was not in fact the real King John. That's an irritating loose end. Dudley remedies that in the novel, first by having Ranulf look inside the TARDIS and thus pushing him close to madness, but then by having the Doctor save the life of Geoffrey de Lacey (who perished on TV) and having a sentimental farewell chat with Fitzwilliam and his wife. I'm not sure if Dudley intended for this to happen in the original script, or because he recognized the shortcoming and added the material to the book to improve on the story. Either way, I prefer this ending.

One final note about Tegan. On TV, the story ends with Tegan threatening to leave the TARDIS and the Doctor charming her back with a trip to the Eye of Orion. Here, the book ends up abruptly with Tegan demanding to go back to London Airport... and that's that. No trip to the Eye of Orion; no lead-in to The Five Doctors; no suggestion that Tegan has five more TV stories to go and a quite different abrupt departure. It's the mishandling of Tegan that spoils an otherwise terrific novelization.