In 1974 there was no way to for home viewers to revisit old TV programmes - and it wouldn't have helped the Second Doctor much if there had been, because someone at the BBC had wiped many of Patrick Troughton's best adventures. So if, like me, you were too young to have seen the original broadcasts, what was there? Nothing but a memory of his sparkling comic double act with Jon Pertwee in `The Three Doctors' - until the Target Books appeared.
Terrance Dicks' novelisation of `The Abominable Snowmen' was the first full adventure I enjoyed with the Second Doctor, and it's a terrific expedition into the past of `Doctor Who' as we land high in the Himalayas and find the anthropologist Edward Travers on the trail of Yeti.
Set in and around the wonderfully described Det-Sen monastery, the story allows us to encounter an unfamiliar culture right here on Earth, the gentle, meditating Buddhist monks of Tibet who have been driven to take up arms by attacks from the previously shy and secretive Yeti. It doesn't take the Doctor long to discover he's dealing with robots, not the `real' animals - but robots controlled by whom - or what?
Through an adventure filled with action, scientific detective work, mistrust and treachery, the Doctor and his companions Jamie and Victoria gradually discover the truth - the monastery's Inner Sanctum has become the base for an evil, unearthly presence with no body and no name, a great intelligence from another dimension encountered by the Tibetan master Padmasambhva during his spiritual journeys on the `astral plane'.
In an exciting climax, the malevolent alien influence runs into another, very different alien force - the powerful mind of the Doctor, who is here revealed to have the mental abilities we would later see misused by the Master. In the original broadcast we still didn't know the Doctor is a Time Lord, but in the 1974 novelisation Terrance Dicks throws out many hints that our hero, despite his baggy check trousers and slightly comical air, is an intelligence very much greater than he appears.
Dicks' major addition to this story is snow! However good the lost episodes were, filming in summer in North Wales was always going to fall somewhat short of the ideal. In the book, we see the Doctor breathing in the clear mountain air, admiring the panorama of jagged, white peaks, trudging through icy snow and after a long climb with Jamie, watching sunrise over the Himalayas. The wonderful mountain atmosphere is contrasted with the dim, smoky interiors of the monastery, lit by prayer-lamps and filled with priceless relics.
My original 1974 `Target' copy, with its spine and back cover as blue as the Himalayan sky, somehow wandered off on the `astral plane' years ago, so I was pleased to be able to buy this new edition which includes an introduction and a `Between the Lines' essay looking at some of the background details.
Fortunately, we can now enjoy many of the Troughton era adventures on DVD, including the return of the Yeti in `The Web of Fear', but I'm still hoping for the missing episodes of `The Abominable Snowmen' to turn up one day!