Reviews | Written by Paul Mount 24/07/2022

DOCTOR WHO – THE STONES OF BLOOD

First screened in the UK in 1978 as the third serial in the ‘Key to Time’ sequence that formed the story arc for the sixteenth season of 'classic' Doctor Who, The Stones of Blood was novelised by Terrance Dicks in 1980 and published by the fondly-remembered Target Books imprint. At the time, Dicks was responsible for most of the Doctor Who novelisations and, as a result, most of his work, though thoroughly adequate, had a certain perfunctoriness to it; these were very much books that told the story as seen on screen without much room or time for anything but the most cursory of description or supporting additional background material. Years later, David Fisher, the serial’s original writer, penned his own adaptation of his story for release on BBC Audio and it’s this version, fleshed out by the now late author’s son Nick, that finally finds its way into print in this latest run of releases from BBC Books, charmingly retaining the nostalgic Target Books logo.

This is very much The Stones of Blood with added meat to its bones. Expanded to just under 200 pages, the story now lives and breathes and its characters – there is really only a handful of supporting cast – feel much more like fully rounded individuals. We’re given access to their thoughts processes and their hopes and fears as an extraordinary situation develops around them and Fisher delivers some terrific and intriguing background to the characters and the story’s fictional location of Bodcombe Tor where the Doctor and Romana arrive to locate the third segment of the Key To Time. It’s a meatier, more absorbing and atmospheric read but the problems inherent in the story structure remain and are largely insurmountable. The initial Hammer-lite Gothic horror trappings of Druidic sacrifice, a mysterious stone circle, eccentric scientists and living blood-sucking stones gives way to a less interesting harder sci-fi narrative involving a prison ship stranded in hyperspace and the Megara, two fussy Justice Machines, that appear and proceed to put the Doctor on trial for breaking the seals that awoke them from their slumbers. Fisher tries to give it some dramatic punch but it still comes across as a bit trite and silly and it brings the story to a juddering halt and renders its villain, the Cailleach, largely irrelevant. The titular stones themselves, the Ogri, aren’t depicted as especially threatening and the Doctor’s then-new assistant Romana, a feisty Time Lady sent to help the Doctor on his Galactic quest, is a return to the unimaginative stereotype of the companion characters that the series seemed to have moved on from in the wake of Sarah Jane Smith and Leela who proceeded her. It’s no surprise that actress Mary Tamm opted to leave the series after just one season.

But The Stones of Blood is a solidly satisfying read even if, inevitably, it can’t put right some of the issues already embedded into the story itself. Deftly and delightfully written (Fisher perfectly captures the mercurial nature of Fourth Doctor Tom Baker’s extravagant performances), it gives a familiar old story a new spin that more than justifies a return visit to a tale already told decades ago.

The Stones of Bloodis available now from BBC Books