Doctor Who
Island of Death

Author: Barry Letts
BBC Books
RRP: 5.99
ISBN 0 563 48631 7
Available 04 July 2005

Journalist Sarah Jane Smith probes a strange New Age cult that worships a hideous deity called the Skang. The cult has inducted her colleague Jeremy Fitzoliver into its ranks. Is there a connection with a mysterious corpse found on Hampstead Heath? Sarah enlists the aid of the Doctor and UNIT, whose investigations lead them to a remote island halfway around the world...

This book is clearly intended as a follow-up to former director and producer Barry Letts' own Doctor Who radio serials of the 1990s, The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space.

Once again Sarah, still in journalistic mode at this stage of her association with the Doctor, is at the forefront of the story, and she and the Third Doctor are joined by the Brigadier and the irritating posh twit Jeremy Fitzoliver. On this occasion, however, Jeremy is sidelined for much of the action, as he is involved with the sinister cult - a plot development akin to the treatment of Mike Yates in Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Planet of the Spiders.

As in The Paradise of Death, there's some tedious mucking about on board the misbehaving TARDIS. This includes technobabble such as "temporal governor", a component that is somehow influenced by the Greenwich Meridian. Hmmm... straying into Dimensions in Time territory a bit there.

As in The Ghosts of N-Space, this is a globetrotting adventure, this time involving a trip across the Indian Ocean, courtesy of the Royal Navy, with some crude racial stereotypes. In common with most Indian characters portrayed in the British media during the 1970s, those featured here repeatedly use the progressive tense for stative verbs, such as: "I am understanding the urgency of the matter." Ah well, the book is supposed to be set in the mid-'70s after all, so in a sense it is "of its time".

The author knows his characters well and, for the most part, he gets them spot on, so the narrative feels as much a part of the 1974 television season as it does an extension of the 1993-1996 "mini-era" of radio adventures. There is the occasional lapse, however, such as the Brigadier addressing Sarah as "Sarah", rather than the more formal "Miss Smith". Letts states that the Brigadier does this because he is not on duty at the time, yet the Brig calls her "Miss Smith" in The Five Doctors, even though he's off duty then.

It takes several ocean-bound chapters to actually get to the island mentioned in the title, which is not reached until halfway into the book. However, these chapters successfully tap into the actor Jon Pertwee's nautical associations. The Third Doctor clearly enjoys the navy lark, just as he did during The Sea Devils.

Even when our heroes finally arrive at their destination, the story proceeds sluggishly, with lots of tiresome introspection diluting the dialogue and action. Then, suddenly, the Skang situation is resolved in a scant few paragraphs, in a conclusion that borrows heavily from those of The Claws of Axos and The Daemons. It is almost as if the author is spinning out his story to the required word count and then swiftly finishes it off as soon as he reaches his goal.

Despite the aforementioned weaknesses in the narrative and the serials it seeks to emulate, I still rather enjoyed this book, in a comfortable, unchallenging sort of way. I found myself feeling oddly nostalgic for the 1990s mini-era, when the Third Doctor's two audio adventures were virtually the only new broadcast Who we could get our hands on.

How times have changed. But then that's what nostalgia is all about.

Richard McGinlay

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