The Paradise of Death
Target novelisation
Doctor Who - The Paradise of Death

Author Barry Letts Cover image
Published 1994
ISBN 0 426 20413 1
First Edition Cover Alistair Pearson

Back cover blurb: 'Apparently the thigh bone had been bitten clean through - with one snap of the teeth.' 'There isn't a creature on Earth capable of doing that!' After a skirmish with an alien warrior in the Middle Ages, Sarah Jane Smith's life as a journalist in Croydon seems rather tame. She decides to track down the enigmatic character who took her back in time; with the Doctor, a good story is never far away. Her intuition pays off. The Doctor and UNIT are called to investigate a grisly murder at Space World, a futuristic new theme park. Tagging along, Sarah and her new colleague Jeremy soon find themselves facing huge crab-like creatures, mind-controlling devices and vicious flesh-eating beetles. And those are just the attractions...


A Review by Finn Clark 7/3/05

Absolutely terrible, in all the best ways. I enjoyed it tremendously, but could even The Ghosts of N-Space possibly be worse than this? (I may yet come to regret these words.) The Paradise of Death zips past, brimming with dialogue and rapid-fire chapters, but as a novel it's more like the brain-damaged inbred spawn of Scooby Doo than anything you'd associate with Doctor Who.

Jeremy Fitzoliver. What's he doing here, eh? Is he a surrogate Harry Sullivan? Ian Marter had undeniable chemistry with Tom Baker and Liz Sladen (albeit not so much with Jon Pertwee, for obvious reasons) and I wonder if Ian might have starred in the radio version of this tale if he'd still been alive in 1993. It might have violated continuity beyond all recognition, but we're talking about Barry Letts here. Jeremy is superficially similar to Harry in his "I say, old thing" speech patterns and tendencies to foolishness, but wildly exaggerated. Despite the Doctor's claims to the contrary, Harry wasn't an imbecile. A bit of a goofball, perhaps, but the man had a medical degree!

Jeremy Fitzoliver has absolutely no redeeming feature. The man's mentally deficient. He's half a concussion away from Monty Python's Upper Class Twit of the Year Show. Even he realises that he's useless! He traps his foot in tree roots and thinks he's being attacked by man-eating lizards. He thinks like an infant, with constant memories of school and childhood. ["It was sort of the same as getting really interested in something, like that time he got caught up watching a slug crossing the path in the kitchen garden, and was late for tea and Nanny got so cross."] Like most of this book, he's entertaining in a multiple car crash sort of way... but what was Barry Letts thinking?

The most unbelievable Fitzoliver-related incident is when the Brigadier takes him into battle, simply because he's the latest companion and it never occurred to the author to leave him behind. Huh? If I'd been the Brigadier, I'd have staked him out for the ants and replaced him with someone useful. However in fairness, Jeremy may be the only companion ever to say "wowie-zowie!". It's on p162, for those of you who want to gaze in awe at this landmark in Who.

The plot is a random succession of unmemorable and unbelievable incidents:

  1. The Doctor falls 200 feet without injury. Wasn't Barry Letts credited as executive producer for Logopolis? There's a belated attempt to patch up the contradiction on p64, suggesting that someone spotted it after the radio broadcast, but it overlooks the small matter of "terminal velocity".
  2. Knowing the name of a planet and its approximate galactic location, the Doctor can't just look up its co-ordinates! Instead he must hunt down an object from that world and perform some kind of high-tech divination.
  3. The Gargan (p188+) is one of the goofiest alien monsters ever, an unstoppable man-eater that ignores any food source that stays behind a little boundary of pebbles. Keep out of its territory and you'll be fine. Put a toe over the line and the Gargan will follow you to the ends of the earth and never, ever give up until you're dead. You'd think natural selection would have instilled pebble-recognition as a major survival trait in all possible Parakon prey species, shortly followed by the death through starvation of all dumb Gargans.
Sarah gets a tragic romance that will move you to tears of laughter, including a classic Signal From Fred on p173: "Oh for Heaven's sake! Now she was not only writing cliches, she was a walking talking cliche herself."

Basically it's a train wreck. And yet, and yet... I enjoyed it. Freeth and Tragan are such over-the-top villains that they're a laugh, while I also quite liked Onya. (For a few pages I wondered if Onya's late mentor was meant to be the 7th Doctor, though I soon dropped this notion.) The chapters positively fly past, packed with dialogue and never lasting more than a few pages. It's also very Doctor-centric, throughout keeping a strong focus on the regulars. That's lucky, since they're vivacious and recognisable (except when we're reading about Sarah In Love, which thankfully doesn't last long). Even Jeremy is kinda fun, in his own bizarro way... well, at least he's never boring.

Its individual scenes are lively, though analysis of the underlying plot structure will make the book disintegrate into shapeless slime. You'd need a surgical operation to fix its story in your memory, and even then I suspect it would be gone within days. Compared with this, Slipback looks like Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare put together. Thoroughly recommended, but only if you live for kitsch. Anyone who wants to take Doctor Who seriously, stay the hell away.