It’s rare to find a Doctor Who novel that will allow us inside the mind of the Doctor. More often than not, we’ll see into the mind of his companions and those around him.
That makes a story like “The Deadly Assassin” difficult to adapt for the printed page since it’s the only story in the classic canon that doesn’t feature a companion for the Doctor. It’s also a story whose third episode features a lot of action pieces and very little in the way of dialogue.
Because of this, Terrance Dicks’ attempt to adapt the classic Robert Holmes four-parter falls a bit short. I can’t help but wonder if Dicks had produced this story at the beginning or the end of his association with the Target range if he might have expanded some things a bit or made some different storytelling choices. As it is, this comes from the middle period when Dicks rarely had time to do more than adapt the shooting script for the printed page. He didn’t have time to add the flourishes that made novels like “The Day of the Daleks” so memorable.
With two mysterious adversaries for the Doctor to battle (one works for the other), Dicks decides to give away the identity of one earlier in the novel than the televised story does. I can’t help but wonder if it might have been better to let readers in on who is working for the Master rather than the Master himself. It’s disappointing that one of the more pivotal and controversial stories in the classic series run only gets a novelization that’s par for the course. Dicks tries his best, but this is a story that works better visually (at least the sections inside the Matrix do) than they do on the printed page.
Thankfully, the audio version features a reading by Geoffrey Beavers, the only actor who played the Master in the classic series who is still with us. Beavers reading is, as always, a delight and he brings a lot to the read, especially when called upon to read lines for the Master. You can just hear Beavers voice dripping with contempt as he channels the Master in this one. I can’t help but wonder why this line hasn’t seen fit to let Beavers read a story or two that doesn’t feature the Master. I think he’d be great. Why not let him read “Day of the Daleks” — one of the truly great entries from the Target line that hasn’t yet been adapted for audio.