The 1983 Doctor Who Annual might have the blurriest photographic cover ever, but there seems to be a genuine attempt to make it more appealing to fans of Doctor Who than previous annuals. The big change is the effort that has been put into the “features”. Gone are most of the lucky dips from the children’s encyclopedia of space (although there are still some) and instead there are several small articles looking at aspects of the production of Doctor Who, the Visual Effects Department, a look at the new Doctor’s costume, a set design article focussing on Castrovalva, and an article about John Nathan-Turner. The latter is accompanied by a photograph of JNT looking at a wall of photos, with the caption “The dog in the bottom left photograph is Pepsi, John’s dog, who appeared in All Creatures Great and Small“. Unfortunately the photo is so dark and blurry it’s virtually impossible to make out even the shape of a dog at all. But the thought is there, and that’s more than we can say about virtually all the previous annuals.
This year there are six stories and one comic strip. First up is Danger Down Below, in which the writer has obviously decided two companions are too much to include, so Nyssa has been left in the Tardis, echoing the problems faced by the television series. Also reflecting the television series, Tegan is dissatisfied with life.
Their long walk had been sheer drudgery, Tegan reflected, and monotonous.
They have landed on a hot, desert planet, Aronassus 49, because the Doctor has received “an urgent request for help from one of the few people in time and space that the Time Lord could actually call an old and dear friend, High Minister Threll of the Prime City Triumvirate.” That should be a depressingly familiar set-up for anyone who has read the previous annuals: yet another old friend we’ve never heard of on a planet we’ve never heard of. One of the “few”. It turns out that someone or something (hint hint) has been intercepting food while in transit from the “gigantic food sythesisers” to the “consumer outlets”. The Doctor and Tegan are warmly welcomed with a “nuero-paralysis dart” and the assumption that they are responsible. How unusual.
The second story, The God Machine, is much better, not because it has anything resembling a new idea, but because it includes some lovely descriptive prose:
Illuminated by a sky-splitting flash of lightning, the alien ruins opened up before exploring eyes. Having to squint against the driving rain, Nyssa and Tegan registered little before the flash faded and the fleeting image vanished back into the pitch blackness of the planet’s night, but what they did see was awe-inspiring. Stretched out below them were streets and avenues of grand buildings hewn from solid blocks of stone; an entire, deserted city that had a grace and majesty similar to that of an Incan city of ancient earth.
For some reason, Nyssa and Tegan have gone off exploring on their own, without the Doctor, who sets off to find them in the “giant, central pyramid that dominated the city”. No sooner has he arrived that he gets hit with a club and captured by a “primitive” tribe.
In The Armageddon Chrysalis, the Tardis is under attack, and the culprit has more than a hint of the Lovecraftian horror about it:
The thing had been given many names, but men called it Voorvolika. Those who had seen it had compared it with a vision of hell. Voorvolika meant evil. Those who had seen it and felt its touch had died. Voorvolika knew that some were feeling its touch now. A tiny thing called Tardis. Living beings whose names would come to it soon. Energy. Voorvolika was hungry. Voorvolika was feeding.
Throughout the entire story Nyssa doesn’t say a word, and seems to exist only to be captured and to scream. Unfortunately the annual ignores her intelligence altogether, treating her throughout as little more than a damsel in distress. If that’s not happening, she is instead oddly interchangeable with Tegan, most obviously in the comic strip On the Planet Isopterus, in which Tegan seems to merge into Nyssa when you turn the page. The strip also features Adric, so it is a little companion-heavy for such a short story. It’s an unambitious tale of giant termites. One day I’ll finally get to an annual that doesn’t have some kind of a giant version of Earth insects.
The next offering is the fourth short story, The Haven. The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan (Adric is only in the comic strip) arrive on Planet 435, supposed to be “a barren, infertile planet”. Yes, it’s another whole-planet ecosystem. In a stunningly surprising turn of events, exactly the same as the stunningly surprising turn of events that happens once or twice per annual, it turns out to be, as Nyssa puts it, “the embodiment of all the descriptions of paradise I’ve ever read”. They find a building with the sign “Welcome to Haven”, and inside there are rows and rows of frozen bodies in glass caskets, watched over by a man called Carnak, who explains:
By the year 1990 we knew all the secrets of freezing human bodies. These people wait here in The Haven, in my care, until it is time for them to reawaken.
Maybe they should have picked a date a bit further in the future for our complete mastery of cryogenics. The year of the Doctor’s visit is 2330, and there are 49,867 people there, waiting for a cure for whatever killed them. While they have been waiting, Carnak has been up to no good:
I have made – what shall I say? – slight adjustments to their bodies so that for most of the time they are indeed frozen, but I can activate them at will.
In The Penalty, the Doctor is in his sick-bed with Ponassan fever. The writers obviously assumed weakness and illness were going to be a feature of the Fifth Doctor; in The Armageddon Chrysalis, for example, he spends the story feeling dizzy and weak, when the companions seem to be coping just fine.
The Doctor is disturbed from his illness by the sound of laughter coming from the outside of the Tardis. Activating the scanner screen…
There was no outside. The screen showed him faces, hundreds of laughing, hysterical faces. The Doctor covered his eyes with his arm, blocking them out. He knew the faces! Old friends and companions. Enemies. Time Lords. All of them people long dead or long gone.
What follows is a nightmare scenario. You can probably guess why that is. The final story, Flight to Nowhere, is the most derivative of the television series, set at Heathrow Airport. Tegan finds an old friend, but “the girl’s mind was under the control of something outside her body!” She boards a flight chartered by “Rupert Masters of the Masters Corporation.” The Master has assembled a plane full of android duplicates of people who “hold key roles in high places”, who will soon replace the real people, presumably taking a leaf out of his old friends the Autons’ book.
What a fiendish alias: Rupert Masters. Nobody will guess who that might be. Actually, perhaps that really is his name after all. Tune in next year for more exciting adventures of Rupert Masters, Clive Doctors, angry Tegan, screaming Nyssa and dead Adric. I can’t wait. RP