THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE DURING THE TV
UNOFFICIAL AUDIO CD
RELEASED IN MAY 2002.
In a Meditation Centre
deep in the Chiltern
Hills, Mike Yates is
in a contemplative
mood. His years of
faithful service to
UNIT have come to an
abrupt end, and he
is having to take his
leave of the people he
has come to think of
When the Brigadier
suggests that his
former Captain take
a holiday in Morocco,
Mike IS SOON embroiled
in an exciting battle
with an old enemy
that could mean the
end for UNIT and the
The Killing Stone
For fans of the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who, the character of Mike Yates, played by Richard Franklin, is something of an enigma. After making his first on-screen appearance in Terror of the Autons at the start of Pertwee’s second season (although dialogue from that story makes it clear Yates was known to the Doctor as a UNIT officer
at least as far back as Spearhead from Space), Captain Yates quickly solidified himself
as part of the UNIT ‘triumvirate’, along with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Sergeant Benton. Much like the other two UNIT men, Yates was loyal, trustworthy, and an efficient officer dedicated to protecting the world from all sorts of alien threats.
But then, in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, set early in Pertwee’s final season, Yates suddenly turned traitor to UNIT and the Doctor by allying himself with a radical environmentalist group bent on folding time upon itself to re-create Earth’s “Golden Age.” Even the strongest critics of Yates, who at times condemn the character as one-dimensional (see Paul Magrs’ novel Verdigris for a literal application of such critique), would surely have difficulty dismissing the personal complexity and intrigue the conflicted UNIT Captain displayed in this adventure.
With Yates’ dismissal from UNIT at the close of Invasion of the Dinosaurs, the UNIT family was left shaken and deceived. The sudden fall from grace was striking and inexplicable, although some viewers have since attempted to connect the former Captain’s strange fanatical turn as evidence of mind-tampering the character endured during an earlier, similarly eco-themed story, The Green Death. Yates himself would go on to make one
final appearance on-screen in Pertwee’s swansong Planet of the Spiders, which saw the
ex-Captain assist UNIT in thwarting an Earth invasion by the Giant Spiders of Metebelis III. This partial redemption notwithstanding, Yates was never seen to return to UNIT activity
on television and would only make brief ‘phantom’ cameos in the much later anniversary stories The Five Doctors and Dimensions in Time.
Since Yates’ departure, insight into his mentality and life has become an interest for later spin-off writers: the laddish Sergeant Yates rising to his captaincy is the character focus of two Virgin novels (Eye of the Giant and The Scales of Injustice), and a pre-Invasion of the Dinosaurs Yates appears as a central character in the fifth Doctor novel Deep Blue, which sees Mike still recovering from his exposure to the Metebelis Blue Crystal in The Green Death and struggling with his world-view and effectiveness as a UNIT officer. But despite these glimpses at the life of Mike Yates, for many years no story investigated Yates’ life immediately after Planet of the Spiders. Until, of course, Franklin decided to tackle the question himself.
The result of Franklin’s self/character-discovery is The Killing Stone, originally a novel concept pitched to and rejected by BBC Books, which ultimately became an audio book published by the BBV in early 2002. Franklin himself reads this seventy-minute adventure
in the third-person, and sets the story immediately after the conclusion of the main events in Planet of the Spiders; in fact, the opening scene features the entire Season 11 UNIT family, sans the Doctor, enjoying tea with Cho Je in the monastery featured in that story (although how the Brigadier meets Cho Je before being introduced to him by Sarah Jane at the third Doctor’s regeneration I have no idea).
The story’s plot is as follows: Yates, unsure how to face life outside of the military, takes advice from the Brigadier to visit Morocco. While there, a passing encounter with a snake charmer infects Mike with a poisonous dose of venom, which settles in Yates’ gall bladder
to form a small jar-shaped stone. It quickly becomes apparent that the snake charmer is the Master (still in the Roger Delgado incarnation) and the stone in Mike’s bladder is in fact a vital component of the Master’s new tissue compression eliminator (“TCE”). The rest of the story deals with UNIT and the Master each trying to take possession of the coveted stone,
all of which leads to a department store showdown between UNIT - plus the fourth Doctor - and the Master, and eventually Mike Yates’ reinstatement as a UNIT Captain.
A story written and read by
an actor from the Blunder
Days focusing on their own
character is a rare enough
treat, but a story from the
dying days of the UNIT era
featuring both the fourth
Doctor and the Delgado Master, a Time Lord-pairing that never occurred on-screen due to Delgado’s tragic death, is nothing short of marvellous! As evidenced by my contributions to this site, I am an unashamed Master fan. Although I jump at the chance to see the Master
in any context, the times when the villain appears in eras not typically associated with his character, such as an appearance with the first and second Doctors, the third Doctor’s Season 7 and Season 11, the early fourth Doctor years, and other periods, are a delicious joy. Therefore for me, the chance to see such an unorthodox Doctor / Master pairing was
an automatic draw.
A slight dampening fact to my above enthusiasm is the fact that the Doctor is only a minor player in this story until the adventure’s final act, where he meets the Master, but even then they barely interact. The absence of Sarah Jane (save for the story’s introduction) and Harry Sullivan also make this coveted Time Lord reunion less than an ideal reunion, but given this story’s remote and elsewhere-busy setting (it is concurrent to the back end of Planet of the Spiders and all of Robot), character crossovers are not terribly likely, nor, from Franklin’s authorial perspective, terribly necessary.
As it says on the tin, this is Yates’ story through and through. Whatever lack of character development there may have been for Yates on-screen is made up for in spates here. We learn Yates’ father is a leading colon physician, his mother’s policy of medicinal laughter;
his own age of twenty-three at the time of his dismissal from UNIT (a fact which makes his rank during the Pertwee quite remarkable); his love of horses; and his accomplishments in sketch art, pottery, and antiques. He also, much in the vein of late-Season 11 throwaway lines, is quite the belly-dancer enthusiast, a preference much in line with his circa 1970 Missing Adventures character exploration and a vast contrast to his circa 2010 implied homosexuality in the New Adventures.
As for the story itself, The Killing Stone is very much in its late Pertwee / early Tom Baker era mould. There are elements of the exotic (the Morroco sequences), and the familiar (the English countrysides and London cityscape). A brief hospital sequence in Scotland also geographically foreshadows both Terror of the Zygons and the audio Medicinal Purposes (complete with a Burke and Hare reference!) The narrative’s tone is light and slightly tongue-in-cheek, as if Franklin relishes in the fact that the stories of the later UNIT Years could deal with serious themes as theology, ecology, philosophy, and tyranny, all while racing about in fast cars, dodging explosive charges, and saving the world with a smile.
Some people have criticised the author’s abundantly clear motive of humanising, perhaps even lionising his own character. While it is true the narration paints Yates in a very active and positive light, and in its later action scenes describes the Captain in fairly glowing terms, I can appreciate that the author / actor was very likely trying to give closure and redemption to his character, who, although guilty of terribly poor judgment in his later appearances, is certainly not a villain or despot. Further, a last-minute friendly revelation from the Brigadier, Benton, and the Doctor shows that Yates could never have achieved success without the help of his friends. As for the criticism that Franklin’s impression of Benton makes the other loyal UNIT officer sound like Hagrid from the Harry Potter novels…well, all I can offer is that John Levene has an extremely deep voice, far deeper than Richard Franklin, so it might be difficult to mimic – much like Louise Jameson remarked it was for hard her to copy Tom Baker’s drone in her Companion Chronicle outings. Franklin’s fourth Doctor was quite
good in this production, however.
In the end, I recommend wholeheartedly this little gem of character redemption and triumph for the returned Captain Mike Yates from his real-world counterpart, if only to hear what will probably be the closest thing to a fourth Doctor / Delgado Master / UNIT television adventure that we ever get. Still, since The Killing Stone is arguably the first Companion Chronicle, and with the reality of Tom Baker’s Doctor possibly imminent debut with Big Finish, one can hope that Franklin might ask to adapt his adventure for the Companion Chronicle or even the main range soon. Imagine this: Tom Baker, Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin, and Elisabeth Sladen could all easily be on board; and with only John Levene needing a trans-Atlantic coax and one of the regulars supplying an impression of the late Roger Delgado
(for this is one Master story where Geoffrey Beevers’ version of the villain just wouldn’t work, unless he’s the one telling the story in flashback to his previous incarnation…) then we would have a precious gem of a tale, giving a fond hurrah to a beloved era of Doctor Who that is fast retreating into the legend of memory.
Copyright © Chris McKeon 2010
Chris McKeon has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
The opening of the story is concurrent with the final episode of Planet of the Spiders - specifically, it is set within the three (objective) weeks that the Doctor takes to return from Metebelis III in the TARDIS. The rest
of the story is concurrent with the events of Robot.
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