Goss takes the original shooting script as well as notes kept during the development of the second installment of the Key to Time season to produce one of the more entertaining, fun and delightful novel adaptations of the Tom Baker era. Searching for the second segment of the Key to Time, the Doctor and Romana arrive on what should be the planet Calufrax. But instead of finding an icy, desolate world, they discover a planet that regularly declares new ages of prosperity under the rule of the tyrannical Captain.
Something doesn’t quite add up — and it’s not just that the Doctor and Romana can’t easily locate the second segment of the Key. As with many classic Doctor Who serials, there are plucky rebels, a nefarious leader who stands in the way of our heroes and has to be overthrown by story’s end and hints of something bigger going on here. Goss expands the original television story for the printed page, adding some depth to characters, changing the name of the Mentiads to the Mourners and including some scenes that would never have made it to the screen given the budget limitations of classic Doctor Who. But he never loses sight of the charms of the original story, even as he expands the scope a bit to hint that other cosmic forces are helping the rulers of Xanxia stay in power and wait for the Doctor to arrive to thwart his quest for the second segment.
If Goss were able to do all that, it might be enough. But where the novel excels is the way Goss seems to be channeling Douglas Adams in this adaptation. Of the many laugh-out-loud funny asides in the story is one in which the Doctor imagines the glee the Supreme Dalek will have in sending a telegram to the Cyberleader detailing the Doctor falling victim to the Polytrase Avatron (the half-mechanical Captain’s mechanical parrot).
Clocking it at close to eleven hours, the audio version of this story never wears out its welcome, thanks in large part to another superb performance by John Culshaw. Not only does he sound eerily like Tom Baker in bringing the fourth Doctor to life, but he does a great imitation of actor Bruce Purchase as the Captain. He even brings a bit of depth to the poor, put-upon Mr. Fibuli.
It all adds up to a Doctor Who novel that absolutely delights. And like any good adaptation, it left me wanting to visit my DVD version of this story again.