State of Decay
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and the State of Decay

Author Terrance Dicks Cover image
Published 1982
ISBN 0 426 20133 7
First Edition Cover Andrew Skilleter

Back cover blurb: The Doctor, Romana and K9 - and a young stowaway called Adric - are trapped in the alternative universe of E-Space. Seeking help, they land on an unknown planet - and find a nightmare world where oppressed peasants toil for the Lords who live in the Tower, and where all learning is forbidden - a society in a state of decay. What is the terrifying secret of the Three Who Rule? What monstrous creature stirs benaeth the Tower, waking from its thousand-year sleep? The Doctor discovers that the oldest and deadliest enemy of the Time Lords is about to spring into horrifying action.


Doctor Who and the Vampires by Andrew Feryok 29/1/06

"Yet slain they were, every last one the Lords of Time destroying them utterly. However, when the bodies were counted, after the last great battle - the King Vampire, mightiest and most malevolent of all, had vanished, even to his shadow, from Time and Space. Hence it is the Directive of Rassilon, that any Time Lord who comes upon this enemy of our people, and of all living things, shall use all his efforts to destroy him, even at the cost of his own life."
- The Record of Rassilon from State of Decay, Episode 3
Season Eighteen has always been one of my all time favorite seasons, along with Season Twelve and Fourteen from Tom Baker. And within that season State of Decay is definitely one of my favorite stories. It is a throwback to the popular and dark Hinchcliffe and Holmes period which used brooding, gothic settings and old Halloween monsters to enormous effect. It is therefore appropriate that in Tom Baker's final year as the Doctor he should be given one last gothic horror story to relive his glory days before the upcoming regeneration. And certainly, of all the Season Eighteen stories, State of Decay and Logopolis are the two stories which are requested and watched the most in my family.

It is therefore such an enormous disappointment that Terrance Dicks' adaptation of this story is so average.

How could Dicks possibly go wrong with this story? First of all, he wrote the original script, and so has the best knowledge of this story beyond any other author. Second, it is an incredibly atmospheric story filled with mystery and tension that is very difficult to get wrong. And yet despite all these strengths, the story comes across extremely bland.

One reason why this might have occurred is that Terrance Dicks resorts to narrating everything! There is less dialogue used in this novel than his adaptation of Doctor Who and the Android Invasion, another story where I complained of his overuse of narration. But in Doctor Who and The State of Decay it is even worse. I can understanding using narration to explain transitions of scenes, or describe locations, atmosphere, and costumes, but Dicks goes beyond that. He describes every little thought process, emotion, and personality trait in big bold letters, believing that children will be incapable of picking up subtle suggestions unless he has everything on a neon sign. It is this fundamental flaw of the book's structure that causes much of the tension, atmosphere, and characterization to be lost.

Another major flaw is his depiction of the regular characters: the Doctor, Romana, K-9, and Adric. I found this to be a great surprise considering the Dicks did such a superb job of recapturing the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith's voices in Doctor Who and the Android Invasion. But here, Dicks has all of Tom Baker's lines, but it doesn't sound like Tom Baker, except in extreme rare cases, such as when he and Romana are exploring the Hydrax, or when the Doctor clowns with Aukon in the Resting Place. Otherwise, it feels just like reading Tom Baker's lines and not Tom Baker himself. There is also no real description of the Doctor in this story. Granted you don't really need one given how many TV stories and books he had been in by now, but it would have been nice if Dicks had at least made mention of the Doctor's burgundy outfit and his graying hair. From the vague description he is given at the beginning he could be any version of his Doctor dressed in anything!

Romana is also characterized very oddly in this story, although some of it is down to the original TV story, while others are the fault of the book not being very clear. The Romana painted by Dicks in this story seems like a cross between the stereotypical helpless companion and Mary Tamm's version of Romana. There was a distinct difference between Lalla Ward and Mary Tamm's takes on the character. When Tamm's incarnation made fun of the Doctor, it was usually to bring him down a peg to make herself look superior, while Lalla Ward would use here humor simply to have a shared joke with the Doctor, like siblings poking fun at each other. But this is not the humor present here. Without Lalla Ward to vocally change the interpretation of the lines, it comes across very much like Mary Tamm's version of Romana, constantly getting annoyed by the Doctor's clowning and using every opportunity to put him down and in his place.

K-9 and Adric are not as problematic due to the fact that they appear so little in the story. But when they do appear, their characterization is just as odd. K-9 seems to have gone from an emotionless computer, to a computer with a personality, emotions and feelings. However, as I stated with Romana, this is more a fault with the original script than the book itself. Adric's underhanded backstabbing comes across extremely well and Adric really deserves the scolding he gets at the end. But for once Dicks' altering of the character actually works! Adric comes across as being much younger than Matthew Waterhouse was on screen, which seems to work better as his selfishness and his ability to turn on his friends, thinking it will save them, seems to come from his immaturity as a young child who doesn't know any better, rather than a rebellious and stupid adolescent.

But does this story do anything good? Actually, there is quite a bit to commend about this story, and is why I rank this story as average and not bad. Although the adventure does take a long time to gain momentum, once the Doctor and Romana have an audience with Zargo and Camilla, the plot picks up tremendously and recaptures the darkness and fear which the vampires exude over everyone and everything in the story. It is also fun to read the Doctor and Romana reasoning out the mystery of the Hydrax and the Three Who Rule. In particular, the sequence where they discover the fuel room which has been turned into a blood sucking room for the Great Vampire is particularly gruesome and well recreated. Also the Doctor and Romana's first encounter with Aukon is very well done as Dicks captures more of the mental battle between the Doctor and Aukon as he struggles against the power of the Great Vampire. And although the ending to the book is a bit rushed, Dicks does an excellent job of showing just how precarious the Doctor's plan really is. If the rockets circuits failed to come back to life, or the directional circuits are so corroded they did not work, the Doctor's plan would have failed and then there would have been nothing he could have done to stop this threat. Fortunately his plan does work, but Dicks brings out the Doctor's worry extremely well and shows how his success was hanging on a thread.

The story also embellishes several characters. One in particular is Captain Habris who becomes central from the very first chapter. It is through him and his thought processes that we learn of the true fear of the vampires. He is a man caught in an impossible situation. Like the villagers in the field, he is trying to survive, but he can't help but feel for his fellow men and women who are being led to their deaths in the Tower under his orders. But he dare not disobey or he will feel the wrath of Zargo and Camilla! In the end, it is almost sad as we watch him get more and more upset as events spiral out of his control and finally comes to a death at the hands of his friend Ivo. It makes Aukon's great line of "So die! That is what guards are for" even more poignant. Tarak, the former guard who helps the Doctor and Romana initially escape the tower, is also well done as a character. We even get a few added sequences with him as he uses his knowledge of the Tower to slip past the guards into a back door.

Overall, this story is average for the novels. I have certainly read better from even this author, but it does manage to recapture some of the atmosphere of this story, particularly in my favorite parts like the Doctor and Romana's exploration of the Hydrax. If you liked the television story, you may be a little disappointed at first, but if you persist, the story does pick up and recreate the magic of the original. If you didn't like the television story, avoid this book since it will only frustrate you further. 5/10

PS: Doctor Who and The State of Decay features one of my all time favorite Target covers: the '80s Fourth Doctor on a backdrop of the nightsky, filled with bats, and an ominous Aukon holding a large vampire bat. Great stuff!