Planet of Evil
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and the Planet of Evil

Author Terrance Dicks Cover image
Published 1977
ISBN 0 426 11682 8
First Edition Cover Mike Little

Back cover blurb: The expedition to Zeta Minor began with eight men. Seven were murdered. One survived - but he was not the murderer. DOCTOR WHO lands on the planet at the same time as the expedition's rescue team, and is immediately taken prisoner - the suspected murderer. But even stranger things soon begin to happen... What terrible creature inhabits this wild, desolate planet, killing mercilessly, lurking in the murky depths of the Black Pool? Will anyone ever be allowed to leave - alive?


Book of Dullness by Tim Roll-Pickering 10/2/04

Both the original cover by Mike Little and the 1980s cover by Andrew Skilleter use the same shot of Professor Sorenson as their main reference point, exposing immediately the story's roots as a pastiche of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The Forbidden Planet homage remains strong, though the visual inspiration is less obvious in the printed form. However as a book Doctor Who and the Planet of Evil feels like a strong letdown. The text is short, coming in at only 120 pages, and for much of the time it feels as though Terrance Dicks is merely treading water by directly translating the camera scripts into prose form. On television the inadequacies of the story were disguised by the strong direction and the design work for the jungle, but the novelisation has no such fig leaves to hide behind. As a result the way that the universe is suddenly imperilled because of a few cannisters being taken away from a planet at its known limits or how the Doctor is able to save the situation by giving his word as a Time Lord both come across as weak and the result of not thinking through the basic story. Doctor Who is a series that contains many ridiculous moments but usually the internal logic behind them is consistent and stands up well. Here it is somewhat lacking and with the story revolving primarily around the effects of mutation and an attempt to escape an unseen other there is little left to fall back upon.

One way in which the book does feel somewhat different is in its treatment of the character of Salamar. On television it was his arrogance which stood out the most, but here in the book he comes across as an insecure young commander, overpromoted due to his family connections and fundamentally weak and thus making it easy for Vishinsky to override some of Salamar's more dubious orders. Vishinsky himself comes across as a level headed and dependable second-in-command who has risen due to his ability not his connections but otherwise does not come across as a particularly exciting character. Sarah is also not used to her best effect, whilst the Doctor has undergone a change from the norm for this charecterisation as the roaming traveller becomes partially replaced by effectively a figure of authority when he reasons with the creature in the pool to allow the Morestrans to leave the planet if they leave the anti-matter behind, giving his word as a Time Lord. The one character who comes across particularly well is Professor Sorenson, with his determination to take his discovery home and be remembered for providing so much far showing how his vanity is fuelled with the result that he is blinded to the danger he is placing both the resuce mission and the entire universe in.

This novelisation is reasonably well written and never leaves the reader confused or wanting to give up, but frequently it just fails to excite and one is left with the strong impression that very little time or attention was devoted to this book, especially when compared to Terrance Dicks' three immediately preceding novelisations (Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos and Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius). This feels like a book that has been produced en masse. 3/10

It's evil, I tell you... by Andrew Feryok 28/3/13

"...What happened in that Black Pool?"
The Doctor smiled. "I'm afraid it's not so easy to explain..."
"I suppose you just popped into this other universe and had a chat?"
The Doctor thought of all the wonder and terror of his journey into another dimension, of the strangeness of his encounter with a creature so completely and utterly alien. He sought for a word that would sum it all up. "I... communicated," he said softly.
- Sarah asking the Doctor about the anti-matter dimension, Doctor Who and The Planet of Evil, Chapter 7, Page 80
I've never quite understood why this story gets such a negative reaction from fans. I can remember watching this story vividly as a kid on PBS and it was definitely up there with The Ark in Space as one of the scariest stories of the Tom Baker years. That eerie jungle is so well realized by the BBC that you get a palpable sense that you are stepping out of the known universe into a terrifying place that even the Doctor cannot begin to understand. The planet has the feeling of foreboding, like standing on the edge of a precipice and it would only take one false move to go too far and be lost in a place of total incomprehension. At its core, this is a pretty simple base-under-siege story with an homage to Forbidden Planet, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It lacks the themes and motifs of more sophisticated stories like Genesis of the Daleks or The Ark in Space, but it is the atmosphere of the story that boosts it to the next level.

It is therefore a shame that Terrance Dicks' novelization fails to capture this atmosphere. Dicks phones in a very workman-like book that adds a few things here and there to the story, but ultimately presents the adventure as if you were reading the scripts. Granted, by 1977, when this novelization was written, Dicks was pretty much churning out the full output of Target's novelizations and so Dicks had to cut corners in order to make sure that they got out on schedule. Planet of Evil however is a story that is screaming for more attention. He makes practically no effort to capture any of the atmosphere or make us feel like there is a sense of forbidding evil about the planet. He does make things exciting during the later parts of the story when the anti-men are run amok on the spaceship. The image of Sarah and Vishinsky cowering from hundreds of anti-men flooding the bridge and backing them into a smaller and smaller corner is pretty horrific, but there could have been so much more done with this adventure.

Terrance Dicks does make some changes here and there, but nothing huge or overtly noticeable. We get our first glimpse of the Morestran's culture when Vishinsky holds a small funeral for Morelli's corpse before ejecting it into space. He even refers to Morelli as being "Morestran Orthodox," an idea that would be expanded in Simon Messingham's sequal Zeta Major. Sarah seems much more angry at the Doctor at the start of the story about his taking the long route to London after promising her just a short hop at the end of Doctor Who and The Loch Ness Monster. On TV, you get the sense that Sarah was actually expecting this and that this was just friendly bickering, but in the book Sarah comes across as being much more annoyed. Professor Sorenson also more readily agrees to take responsibility for the monster he has becomes in the book, whereas on TV he almost seems like a petulant child before the Doctor; reluctant to give up his old notions but knowing the inevitable right decision that he must make.

On the whole, Doctor Who and the Planet of Evil is a bland adaptation. It could have been so much more in the hands of an author who really wanted to build up the atmosphere of the story. Instead, this is basically a VHS recording of the episode in text format with some minor sprinkling of changes. You could probably get more out of watching the story on DVD than you could reading this book. Perhaps this was why the story has such a bad reputation among fans? Or maybe not. Anyway, only those voyaging through every novelization should check this out. Otherwise, you can skip this one. 5/10