Roots: The main influence here is colonialism, with the situation on Kastopheria mirroring the British Empire's rule in countries such as India, and the Kastopheria Company largely based on the East India Company. There are references to King Solomon's Mines, Calamity Jane, John Wayne, Gandhi, and Bonnie and Clyde.
Goofs: Dicks' tendency to quote lines verbatim from television stories, here sees the Doctor exactly repeating his lines from Frontier in Space when explaining his status as a nobleman of Draconia.
Dialogue Disasters: One of the policemen utters the line, "All right, all right, what's going on here then?" Dicks' acknowledges that it's a cliché but uses it anyway.
Dialogue Triumphs: "You fit the general description, Doctor. Tall and thin, a certain shabby elegance, capable of passing for a gentleman."
Continuity: Kastopheria is "quite a small" planet with a breathable atmosphere, very close to its large sun. The planet is covered by jungle. The People are large humanoids with deeply bronzed skin, and massive heads with thick curly hair and long bony faces. They communicate via thought impulses, which humans cannot receive and are psychically linked, their minds all on the same wavelength, in a group mind. Their mental and physical make-up, cultural rapport with skar, and relationship with Kastopheria has allowed them to develop psychotechnology to an unprecedented level. They were once so ferocious that they were in danger of wiping themselves out, and so put themselves in "mental chains", making themselves passive and peaceful; as a result, they were unable to develop and were natural victims when humans arrived on their planet. Their priests devised the means of pacifying their race, for which they used skar, which increases their telepathic powers and maintains the group mind-lock. The skar channels the aggressive instincts of the People into the Anima, a giant crystal of the drug located in their Black Temple at the Fire Mountain, which resonates with their brainwaves and stores these impulses. The People are unable to break their mental chains themselves and need an outsider to do it for them, believing that if they regain their lost ferocity, they will be able to fight off their alien oppressors. The Priests are able to exert some influence over the People once the Anima is destroyed. They dress in simple one-piece garments that leave their arms and legs bare. They are natural vegetarians and feed on fruit, herbs and some sort of rice-flour or meal that they use to make bread, cakes, and porridge. They use skar in their religious ceremonies. They pray at ancient temples constructed out of black stone. There are savage dinosaur-like animals on the planet, which can be found on the slopes of a volcano near to Catastrophea City. River voles are carnivorous aquatic animals that hunt in packs on Kastopheria. There are red ants in jungle capable of devouring corpses within minutes.
Draconians are very fond of fresh fruit. Houses on Draconia include House Kryll. Draconian armed forces officers are aristocrats and have minimal interaction with the ranks. Draconians always lead from the front; it is a matter of honour that the commanding General is always the first to set foot on enemy soil.
The Doctor and Jo dress in safari suits in light, tough khaki material, with high boots and broad-brimmed hats. They eat a meal of spicy native dishes with native beer, fruit juice and sparkling green wine at Rik's Place. They later eat a large meal of soup, a fish course, a game bird and entire roast boar with General Walton, and fruit, nuts vegetables and juice whilst travelling on the river. The Doctor has rice cakes and tea with Alanna. The Doctor claims that he can convert the sonic screwdriver into a laser torch. The Doctor uses his usual alias of Doctor John Smith. When placed on trial he claims to be a peripatetic scholar engaged in the study of native cultures. He can receive the People's though-impulses. The Doctor is mistaken several times for notorious revolutionary agitator El Llama and later uses the alias to persuade the revolutionaries to leave Kastopheria. He carries a pocket watch that automatically adjusts itself the local time of whatever planet he is on. He dons a worn hooded cloak as a disguise whilst on Kastopheria. The Doctor's rank on Draconia is High Earl of the Imperial House.
Jo was trained in interrogation techniques when she first joined UNIT. She has occasionally considered becoming a vegetarian, but is too fond of sausage and mash.
Jekkarta leaf is dried and smoked. It is a mild non-addictive euphoric and is legal or semi-legal throughout the galaxy. Skar is a green crystalline salt known also as skoob, sting and slash found only on Kastopheria. It is banned on all civilized planets and causes paranoia and psychosis in humans. Vragg is raw distilled alcohol of tremendous strength.
Links: This story takes place between Planet of the Daleks and The Green Death [and before Speed of Flight, given that the novel opens with Jo and the Doctor discussing the Daleks and Spiridon]. The Draconians first appeared in Frontier in Space. The Doctor mentions Metebelis Three (The Green Death, Planet of the Spiders) and the Eye of Orion (The Five Doctors), and recalls being separated from the TARDIS at Gatwick (The Faceless Ones, The Evil of the Daleks). There are references to Drashigs (Carnival of Monsters), Exarius (Colony in Space), and Rutans (Horror of Fang Rock).
Location: Kastopheria, Draconia and Earth, c.2550.
Future History: Kastopheria is named after Elias Kastopheria, the human explorer who discovered it hundreds of years earlier; it is colloquially known as Catastrophea. It is located in a remote part of the galaxy on the border between the UPA's territory and Draconian space. The lack of minerals on the planet made it of little interest to the mining corporations, but its fertility made it ideal for growing exotic fruits and medicinal plants, which are farmed and exported. The biggest traders, the Katsopheria Company, eventually bought up all the farms and plantations and virtually owned the planet, using the passive natives as slave labour. A drugs trade sprang up to traffic the jekkarta that grows readily on the planet, as well as the skar that is only found there. The United Planetary Association (UPA) consists of Earth and several colony planets and arose out of the United Nations. By circa 2550AD, the UPA have taken charge of Kastopheria as a result of the terrible reports of the conditions and drug trafficking on the planet, and taken control of it away from the Company. The UPA is committed to fair treatment for the People. Catastrophea City is the main human settlement on the planet and consists of a mix of wooden buildings and a spaceport. Human criminals on Kastopheria are sent to labour farms.
Circa 2550, the policy of the Draconian Empire is to maintain peace with Earth and the UPA, although General-Baron Kryll of House Kryll places a placed a blockade around Kastopheria, hoping to provoke a war without the Emperor's permission. General-Baron Kryll and Administrator Charteris eventually draw up a policy of non-intervention on behalf of Draconia and Earth, pledging to leave Kastopheria alone.
Unrecorded Adventures: John L. Sullivan taught the Doctor how to box. The Doctor is an old friend of Matthew Arnold. The Doctor describes Winston Churchill as an old friend [see the subsequently published Players and World Game].
The Bottom Line: A surprisingly good outing from Dicks after the disastrous The Eight Doctors, with a solid plot, a large cast of interesting and well-drawn characters and near-perfect characterization of the Third Doctor and Jo. Dicks' insistence on including references to rape in his novels again jars, but for the most part Catastrophea is very entertaining.