The Murder Game
Roots: Agatha Christie mysteries. There are references to Cadillacs, Charlie Chaplin, the Beatles, Manfred Mann, M. C. Escher, Dick Turpin, Sherlock Holmes, the "Twist", the Just William novels (Terri paraphrases Violet Elizabeth), Dracula, and Alien (the title of Chapter 15 is "No One Can Hear You Scream"). The Doctor quotes from Macbeth.
Goofs: The back cover claims that this story takes place in 2146, rather than 2136 as specified in the actual text.
Dialogue Disasters: "If you do not allow us to dock immediately, we will atomize your punt station and every piece of filthy human plankton aboard!"
Dialogue Triumphs: "I suppose even the wisest man can act like a fool sometimes."
Continuity: The Selachians are an intelligent marine species similar to dolphins and are one of the few aquatic races to have evolved a Level Two technology. They resemble humanoid salmon from the waste up, with thin, straight mouths, narrow unblinking eyes, a wavy undulating crest, and gills. They were culled for sport by the land-based mammalian races of the other planets in their home system, but eventually developed armour that allowed them to breathe on land, emerged from the oceans during one such culling festival, and took revenge. Their homeworld was cordoned off and they were eventually forgotten, until they developed space travel and launched a fleet of ships at their neighbours, triggering a series of long and bloody wars. They adopted the name "Selachians" after studying other worlds and learning that sharks are the most commonly feared marine creatures amongst humans. To further enhance this psychological warfare approach in their deep-rooted desire to frighten people, they add fins to their armour and paint teeth on their ships, which are already shark-like in appearance. Their golden exoskeletal battle-armour is humanoid, bulky and squat and they have to undergo horrendous surgical procedures to fit into it, including amputating the lower halves of their bodies. They have cybernetic implants along their spines to interface with their armour. The armour has shark-like eyes and teeth painted on it, and the Doctor hypothesizes that in addition to the psychological effect, the fins serve as means of oxygenating the water contained within the armour. Their weapons are built-in to their armour, and they can generate electric shocks from it, should anyone try to physically attack them. Their overwhelming concern to ensure that they are never abused or helpless or again has made them paranoid and ruthless fanatics; despite the fact that they consider themselves civilized, they've ransacked many worlds in search of the technology they want in order to make them stronger. "Sharks" is a slang terms used by humans to refer to the Selachians. The Selachians want the Adlers' weapon, a computer programme that can make computers turn against a chosen victim and commit murder. Selachian ships are living organisms, or possibly amalgamations of several organisms. The interiors of their ships are opulently decorated and have a reception area for air-breathing business partners (see Killing Ground).
The Doctor is frightened of vampires (see State of Decay). He knows of the Selachians, which he describes as "one of the most ferocious, warmongering, totally paranoid races in this quadrant of the galaxy", but has never encountered them before. He rigs up a remote link to the TARDIS that will give him an alarm if the Selachian ship moves closer to the Galaxian; the device resembles a fob watch. His pockets contain a screwdriver, a bag of jelly babies, a yo-yo, and a clockwork frog that is actually a unit of currency in the Alpha Mardis system. The Doctor uses his screwdriver to reprogram Thomas, the Galaxian's holographic guide, to remove certain fail safes that prevent him from accessing World Corps' computers on Earth. There are records of the Doctor in UNIT files, which Thomas is able to access via World Corps' computers. The Doctor is skilled at keeping track of time, even without equipment to measure its passing. He gets knocked out when he bangs his head on the corner of a table.
Ben and Polly were both born in London, in 1942. By 2136, they both have descendants. Ben has a bottle of aftershave in his room, which gets broken when the TARDIS collides with a passing spaceship. He likes his tea white with no sugar. A blow to the back of the head that leaves a nasty bruise knocks him out. He is attracted to Terri, but has a mental image of Polly's disapproving expression when Terri flirts with him and backs off. Sharks were Ben's biggest worry when he ran away to sea at the age of fifteen, but he's only rarely seen them and never been endangered by them. Ben gets an electric shock from a Selachian's armour.
Hayes knocks Polly out with a nerve-pinch. Although she tries to deny it, Poly is jealous when Terri flirts with Ben. Before working as Professor Brett's secretary (The War Machines), she used to be a model, but felt exploited by her employers.
The TARDIS can travel through real space and has inertial dampeners for such occasions, although they are "sluggish with disuse". It has safeguards to avoid collisions in real space, but the Doctor disables them [see also The Horns of Nimon]. The TARDIS databanks can't identify the signature of the Selachian ship. The TARDIS can home in on a distress signal and theoretically materialize in its vicinity. Whilst making the short hop to the Selachian ship, the Doctor disables the drift-prone temporal circuits so that the TARDIS can only travel in space, not time. The Doctor has several lightweight harnesses in the TARDIS equipped with cylinders that extract oxygen from water, allowing the wearer to breathe underwater.
Links: This story takes place between The Power of the Daleks and The Highlanders and probably after Invasion of the Cat People [events on Vulcan are described as having taken place "some time ago"]. The Selachians were first mentioned in Killing Ground. Ben recalls the War Machines and first entering the TARDIS in Fitzroy Square (The War Machines). Hornby mentions T-mat (The Seeds of Death). Polly and Ben both mention the Cybermen and their attempt to invade Earth in 1986 (The Tenth Planet) and Ben sees a display of a CyberFaction-type Cyberman on display in the hotel (The Moonbase); Terri later refers to the Cybermen's attack in the Moon in The Moonbase. There is an effigy of a Chelonian in the Galaxian (The Highest Science, Zamper, The Well-Mannered War). When Thomas tells the Doctor that he is mentioned in UNIT files, he notes that he isn't yet aware of such an organization (The Invasion). There is a reference to Professor X, first mentioned in Conundrum.
The line "Nobody would end up as cinders floating around in Spain if he could help it" is a nod to one of William Hartnell's best-known fluffs, in The Chase. In a nod to the Sixth Doctor, the Second Doctor smugly reassures himself that he will never have such bad taste as to wear the clashing patchwork shirt and yellow trousers that Hornby finds in the TARDIS wardrobes.
Location: The Hotel Galaxian and the Selachian warcraft, in orbit around Earth, 2136AD; an unnamed volcanic planet with red skies, date unknown.
Future History: The Selachians make their presence felt to every space faring civilization in the galaxy for a period of several decades during the twenty-first century, and at some point devastated an entire world because it harboured a weapon that they wanted. During their first period of contact with Earth, they sent several delegations and made deals with big Earth corporations for weapons; they then used these weapons against human colonies, including Terra Alpha (see The Happiness Patrol).
The Hotel Galaxian is Earth's first offworld tourist attraction, although it is no longer popular by 2136 AD due to offworld colonization and is rather run-down. World Corps runs the Galaxian by this time and uses it for private events, including the "Murder in Space" weekend. Six colony worlds don't maintain computerized links to Earth in 2136.
By 2136, humanity believes that the Cybermen were wiped out followed by their attack on the Moon in 2970 (The Moonbase) and have heard of the Daleks but believe that they, and Vulcan, are merely legends (The Power of the Daleks) [this implies that Vulcan is a lost colony or has been abandoned]. They know about the Ice Warriors (see Transit). There is a Terran Security Force by 2136. Under the First Galactic Treaty, they are entitled to board any ship or station in response to a distress call.
Unrecorded Adventures: The night before the TARDIS materializes in the Galaxian, the Doctor took Ben and Polly to a spaceport bar, where they met Draconians (Frontier in Space), Alpha Centaurans (The Curse of Peladon, The Monster of Peladon) and Venusians [human colonists? The Venusians are long extinct by any period in which Draconians and Alpha Centaurans are likely to be in contact, unless their civilizations are really old - see Venusian Lullaby].
The Doctor describes Arthur Conan Doyle as an old friend [he's shamelessly name-dropping - see Evolution, and also doesn't seem know that Holmes is not as fictional as everyone thinks (All-Consuming Fire)]. He has met Jacques Cousteau, who told him how to deal with attacking sharks.
The Bottom Line: "Treacherous plankton." Lyons does a competent job of capturing the character of the Second Doctor in print, and Ben and Polly both benefit from some decent characterization. The Selachians, whilst nowhere near as successful as, say, the Chelonians, are nevertheless memorable, and with a colourful cast of supporting characters, most of who have secrets, the fairly traditional plot trips merrily along. This being a Steve Lyons novel, the ending is rather sobering, but overall The Murder Game is very entertaining.