THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Target's Missing Season 23 Adventures
Mission to Magnus

Author Philip Martin Cover image
ISBN 0 426 20347 X
Published 1990
First Edition Cover Alister Pearson

Synopsis: The Doctor finds himself facing his childhood bully, Sil and the Ice Warriors.


Reviews

A Review by Stephen Mills 22/2/01

I am a relatively new fan, so I'd never heard of the "alternative Season 23" or the Ice Warriors before I read this. Though I was immediately hooked on this, the Ice Warriors and Colin Baker as the Doctor.

The characters are very good in this story. The character of Anzor who is a rival timelord who turns out to be a school bully type person and that is how were introduced to him. The way he is written enables Anzor to dominate the Doctor in the Tardis is absolutely superb. There is a welcome return for Sil who had previously appeared in Vengeance on Varos. His characterization is again absolutely brilliant. His motives are cleverly hidden and are very manipulative. His presence also worries the Doctor. In fact up until the Ice Warriors' arrival, we don't know why he's there and who he's working for.

Rana Zandusia is also a very good character. As leader of the Magnii and wanting to find out the theory of time travel, she is written brilliantly and you know what she is doing and tricks both the Doctor and Anzor brilliantly. I would suggest Kate O'Mara for this role because she would have absolutely brilliant at creating the role of evil scientist, which she did in Time and the Rani.

Also the Doctor and Peri are enforcing their friendship very well throughout this story. In fact the Doctor really settles down in this story. He is written as a sort of eccentric Jon Pertwee. Which is actually a good thing. Also Peri's reasonably written for the first time in ages.

I've already said that the writing in this story is very good from Philip Martin, but also the plot is very good and also the story manages to create suspense. I've already said that there are some very key questions of which the answers are very well hidden and are revealed at just the right time. Why is Sil there and what are his motives? Who is this force that Sil has behind him? Just at the crisis point, about 3/4 quarters of the way through this story, the answer is revealed. As the Ice Warriors trap the Doctor, Peri and Vion in the ice tunnels and the Doctor realizes what is opposing him. The ending is also very good, clever and there is a nice twist at the end but I won't spoil it for you. It's also a reasonably good plot and not to complex which enables the reader to get in to it very easily.

As I've already said, I'd not heard of the Ice Warriors before I read this, but it is written in such a way that you don't really need to know anything about the Ice Warriors or Sil. It is nice when you consider that the John Nathan Turner era was surrounded with loads of references that needed the viewer to have watched them. For instance Attack of the Cybermen, Mondas being destroyed (The Tenth Planet), The tombs of Telos (The Tomb of the Cybermen), The Cybermen in the sewers (The Invasion) and Lytton (Resurrection of the Daleks). That is what the whole plot depends on. You can't have a plot that is entirely dependent on stories that don't exist and have not been seen for 20 years. Mission to Magnus has old enemies in the Ice Warriors and Sil but uses them in a completely original way which makes the reader more interested and it is also something which casual viewers and people new to the series can read unlike Attack of the Cybermen.

To sum it up, Mission to Magnus is a beautifully written piece of work and easily Philip Martin's best script for Doctor Who. It's something, which is good, original and interesting which was lacking in some of Season 22. This is what should have been in Season 23. Not the awfully long and boring Trial of a Timelord. Whoever put Doctor Who on the hiatus obviously did not read this story and should be sacked. Also if we ever see the Doctor make a comeback a reworked version of this should be used. It is just brilliant 9/10.


Mishmash to Mangled by Rob Matthews 4/2/04

I picked this book up for a shiny penny (give or take) in Forbidden Planet, interested to see how the original season 23 might have panned out had not the mad axeman Grade lopped it in the bud. The seeming answer is: not that that well. Not that much better than what we ultimately got, in fact.

Actually it comes across like an amplified compendium of all the flaws of season 22, as well an unecessary repetition of its more successful themes and ideas (or at least its indifferent ones). First of all it's about a group of non-Gallifreyans who want to get their hands on a TARDIS so they can have the power of time travel. Coming right after Attack of the Cybermen and The Two Doctors, would have provoked a distinct feeling of deja vu.

Next, it uses the Time Lords completely gratuitously, suggesting that they'd send an ambassador along to some primitive planet just to tell them No, you can't have time travel. There's no obvious reason in the story why the Gallifreyan High Council would bother to do this, and this strand seems to be there only in order to introduce yet another Time Lord from the Doctor's academy days - this in itself coming not long after the introduction of the Rani.

Then it abuses the TARDIS itself, sticking it in some contrived trap that's in fact easily gotten out of ten minutes later - just like in Phillip Martin's previous Who script Vengeance on Varos.

Next it reintroduces old baddies - Sil and the Ice Warriors -, like with the Cybermen, Sontarans, Master and Daleks the year before, and any hint there might be of a fresh or interesting plot (and to be fair, there's precious little hint of one) goes out the window, leaving us instead with a runaround in tunnels. The Ice Warriors are less interesting than in their previous couple of screen outings, with their Pertwee-era conversion into a peaceful race forgotten, and their Grand Marshal (last seen heading into the sun in Seeds of Death) now alive and well and suddenly another old enemy of the Doctor, despite having never met him or heard him referred to by name. Of course, it could easily be theorised that this is simply another Grand Marshal and that the Doctor met him in some offscreen adventure, or imagined that Ian Levine wouldn't have stepped in and wagged his finger had this one gone into production. But it does add to that Warriors of the Deep-type feeling of 'Why write something as a sequel when you obviously haven't seen the original', using the Martians - like the Sontarans in The Two Doctors - merely as Doctor Who window dressing, fan fodder.

What 'original' elements there are here - original only in the sense that they're not recycled from some recent story - are few and far between. The idea of an Amazonian-type planet where women have become the dominant sex and men have been driven underground is hokey, but at least nothing similiar had been done in Who since Galaxy 4 (or arguably Kinda). However, this premise is treated perfunctorily, doing little more than occasioning the odd bit of blokey sexism; at one point a fella is interrupted when he's - one can only assume - about to suggest that what the Rana needs is a good fuck. And, without having the book nearby to doublecheck, I could swear the line 'What is this "marriage" of which you speak?'  was used in the resolution. Which should tell you all you need to know. We ain't exactly in Joanna Russ territory here.

Anzor's the other sort-of-but-not-quite original idea here - another Time Lord enemy for the Doctor, but with the twist that as his former schol bully he's capable of instilling real childish fear in our hero. Something us geeky Who-loving kids would have identified with on broadcast, I guess, but what's done with him? Nowt! he just gets chucked out of the story somewhere around what feels like episode 2. Again, like with Varos, Philip Martin having pretty good ideas but doing nothing interesting with them.

So. Let's just say this isn't exactly vying with Shada for the title of 'best unmade Who story'!


A Review by Charles Daniels 6/4/04

I've decided to read the season 23b stories so I picked up Mission to Magnus with hope and good will in my heart, breathlessly awaiting what gems were lost to me thanks to Satan himself -- you should know who I mean.

Mission to Magnus isn't overly horrid, but I'm definitely not crying that this one fell through the cracks. The story is deeply flawed. Actually, the story is a collection of flaws all bundled together in 122 pages of plot holes, illogical character motivation, and lame dialogue.

At the beginning of the story it seems that a fellow Time Lord, Anzor, is going to be the main antagonist. He's was the Doctor's school bully and the Doctor still hides behind the console quivering in fear at the mere sight of him. These scenes seem deeply embarrassing, and I was happy when Anzor just sort of wandered out of the plot never to be seen again.

Then it became CLEAR that Sil and the Ice Warriors were working in some ultra-complex conspiracy to destroy the people of Magnus and make a good load of cash from it. But this story, which I was SURE was going to unfold -- never actually happens.

Sure, Sil is here. And the Ice Warriors are here. And apparently they had some deal, at some time. But they never talk about it, except for a few throw away lines towards the end. So, umm... it's not the unpeeling of a conspiracy onion either. So... what was it?

Well first of all, Sil doesn't even need to be in this story. He does nothing. He never moves the plot along. He never makes a dent in the story in any reasonable way. His existence is just not justified beyond "Cool, let's have Sil again!". Sil is given a few jokes every 30 or so pages, if even that. I like Sil. I would have loved to see Sil actually be used, but if he was cut out of this story it would still play out exactly the same. The most important thing he does during the adventure is to accidentally press a switch which sends the TARDIS a few hours into the future.

So if the villains need a bit of improvement, maybe we should focus on the victims -- the peaceful people of Magnus. Well, umm... okay they aren't EXACTLY peaceful. Magnus is inhabited by a xenophobic race of women who torture and euthanatize young boys. It's as cliched, and old, and boring as it sounds. Apparently a virus is on the planet that kills all males upon contact with sunlight. A few male children survive huddled in underground caves, and a few older male survivors made their way to a nearby desert planet Salvak.

The women of Magnus believe that the men of the nearby Salvak are invading, and I was sure this story was going to reveal that it was Sil who misled them into this belief to throw their suspicions off other threats in the form of the Ice Warriors.

It turns out though that Salvak DID plan to invade, with about 4 people, but they were killed because they planned their invasion for the exact same weekend as the Ice Warriors.

So basically the story the audience has to live with is this -

A race of women who want the secret of time travel to go back in time and kill whatever men still live on Salvak are distracted because the Ice Warriors plan to blow up their planet at the same time as a Salvak invasion. The women use their psychic powers to enter a Time Lord's mind - but find he is too stupid -- and that Time Lord runs away. The Doctor is actually deathly terrified of the aforementioned stupid Time Lord, but luckily for him the dumb Time Lord escapes as the Doctor gets his mind and TARDIS stolen. Meanwhile, Sil cracks some gags and has overall a rather stressing day.

My problem with all this, is that I just couldn't care about any of the characters.

I didn't feel sorry for the people of Magnus as they desperately wanted time travel to commit genocide and were more than willing to kill anyone and everyone who got in the way. Oh and of course the whole euthanizing kids thing.

The invaders from Salvak were completely useless and I didn't at all see any reason they'd want to reunite WITH the people of Magnus.

The Doctor cowers behind the console in fear, is completely useless, and basically just acts like a putz the whole time. Peri seems nice, but for the most part just hopelessly skips from scene to scene - so a typical showing for a companion really.

Sil is, of course Sil.

So... umm about the only characters I could halfway feel anything for at all were the Ice Warriors. Here they are - a race on the brink of extinction obviously driven to great desperation -- and all they have to do is kill off a planet of serial murderers. Sounds all right to me.

But here are where the nitpicky, demon at the back of my mind comes in and starts to complain --

  1. Magnus is obviously meant to be light years from Earth. Probably an extremely great distance. Now, Magnus is a very warm, temperature planet, with ice caps. From the impression I get of the story, it's like the whole planet is Hawaii except for some small ice caps at the poles. So... WHY ARE THE ICE WARRIORS HERE!??!!? It makes sense to take over Earth, because it's only a few hundred million miles away from Mars. But once you start to travel interstellar distances -- WHY CHOOSE MAGNUS? Am I suppose to believe there are no frigidly cold worlds out there in the galaxy? It just annoys me that Magnus is such a pain for the Ice Warriors to conquer - why bother?
  2. Related to point 1. The story is set RIGHT at the polar caps. But when Peri emerges from the underground cave and ventures onto the surface in the middle of the night IT'S WARM! It's actually incredibly warm. But she's about, I dunno, 20 feet away from an ice shelf? And the Ice Warriors can exist on this Ice Shelf, but later on, when they get a good number of feet away they die. I just find this to be a big mystery. It's just the nitpicky inner-climatologist in me... I dunno.
Umm I could probably go on, but I want to move on before my head explodes.

The story has a lot of "lucky escapes" that are just cringeworthy. For instance Peri convinces the Ice Warriors to save her life because she has fingers and not clamps, and therefore might be able to operate native machinery better. The way her argument is phrased is actually pretty pathetic, and if I faced an alien menace who explained I should let it live because it had superior speed and dexterity to myself -- that would be one dead alien. I learned that in How To Be An Alien Monster 101.

Also there is the scene in which the Ice Warriors spare the Doctor and Peri's lives because Sil insists that he needs to be carried by the humans. Even though later on Sil is in fact carried by Ice Warriors... and the whole illogic of it makes me spin.

Anyway the last few paragraphs were really pedantic rants, but on a higher level Mission to Magnus has too many plot threads going nowhere for no purpose at no speed, weak writing for the villains, and victims who I sorta' don't mind if the villains kill them.

The story would have been a weak showing for the Ice Warriors, a sub-par showing for Sil, and really just lackluster all around.


Is the grass always greener? by Lance Bayliss 29/7/05

Mission to Magnus is one of three stories that would have been made in the original series Season 23, had it continued without Michael Grade's intervention. The others were The Nightmare Fair by Graham Williams, The Ultimate Evil by Wally K. Daly, Yellow Fever by Robert Holmes, and untitled story by Christopher Bidmead and Gallifrey by Pip and Jane Baker. The last three of these never made it beyond story outlines, if indeed they even got that far.

However, the first three were all scripted, and fully novelised by their original authors for Target Books in 1990. They allow for an interesting look at how the series might have continued, following on directly from the Doctor's (halted) promise to Peri in 1985's Revelation of the Daleks to take her somewhere restful. Instead, the entire production block was halted, and replaced with the infamous Trial of a Time Lord. And that old fan standard of asking which one would have been better must be left to the tides of time. It's an impossible question to answer.

If you liked Season 22 (and Michael Grade evidently did not), then these stories would have been more of the same, and therefore you would have found some merit in them. If you are of the opinion that Season 22 was flawed, yet do prefer it to Trial, then likewise there might have been something for you. I, sorry as I am to say, am of the opinion that Season 22 made some mistakes ... yet Season 23 was better in a number of ways. Noteably in the area of Colin Baker's characterisation as the Doctor's troubled sixth incarnation, which was mellowed between seasons.

Mission to Magnus is a difficult beast to review. Its writer, Philip Martin, admits that he had only partially scripted this story before the cancellation, and that much of the rest of the novellisation was written from scratch. This leads to a kind of half hearted nature, as though written with the hindsight of what followed. There are nods to his Season 23 script Mindwarp, such as a mention of Lord Kiv. The Doctor, also, does not match his characterisation as given in the other two 'unmade' novels, in that he is more akin to the lighter Trial persona and not the gruff Season 22 one.

One has to wonder if the character might have been changed at the rehearsal stage had the original season gone ahead, but much of this novel feels almost like it could have been made instead of Mindwarp with little or no fuss. The other 'original' ideas of the novel are anything but - a society governed entirely by women in a science fiction staple (and one done much better elsewhere), and Sil is - again not unlike Mindwarp - merely there for comic relief, rather than being the evil manipulator of his debut Vengeance on Varos. And then there are the Ice Warriors.

Original series producer John Nathan-Turner (1980 to 1989, for those 'new series' fans who are reading this and have no idea what I'm talking about in any of this review - hello out there!) had many vices as the guiding hand behind the show in the eighties. One of the most obvious ones being a predeliction for bringing back old monsters, whether or not the script actually calls for their inclusion. This was very evident in Season 22, with only one story - Vengeance on Varos, coincidentally - being completely stand-alone, all the others either requiring intricate knowledge of stories made ten or more years previously in order to make any sense of them, or otherwise making the monsters generic additions to the script rather than building on what had made them iconic in the first place.

So it is with the Ice Warriors here. Although use of Magnus' polar icecaps as their base of operations is inspired, in virtually every other fashion it is Season 22 all over again: They're only in the story because they're an old monster, and not because they have any real need to be included. They plod in, make a few speeches, and are defeated. There's no practical reason that they couldn't have been a completely new baddie, and no reason why they should be included in this script. It's almost as though the production office had a dart board with lots of old monsters names pinned to it, and when the writer walked in they would throw a random dart and when it landed they would say "Hey, Philip, you're doing a story featuring the Ice Warriors, hop to it".

There's nothing particularly wrong with the prose itself - Martin strings you along through the story with a minimum of trouble, although there are so many grammatical errors that you begin to question the man's education, or that of his editor - it's just that the story itself seems, like many of this period in the show's history, to be going through the motions. Say what you will about the Sylvester McCoy era, but the injection of Andrew Cartmel as Script Editor at least meant an infusion of new blood. Alas, reading this - and the rest of the 'missing adventures' that were never made - leads you to only one conclusion: That perhaps Michael Grade had a point.

One and a half out of five.