The Doctor smiled. ‘Perhaps not. But it’s an interesting spot all the same. A small colonial city in a state of extreme tension. Oppressed native population, arrogant colonists, uniformed guards – probably some kind of private security force, attached to some big corporation. A military presence as well. Plus a lot of very hard-bitten visitors from off-planet. Something here must be very valuable indeed.’This is the sixth book by Terrance Dicks that I have read this year, and possibly the 82nd I have read in my life. (I think I have only the Fifth Doctor novel Warmonger and the Benny novel Mean Streets to go, of his contributions to the major Who and spinoff lines.) I can't match Phil Sandifer's eloquence, or Andrew Hickey, or indeed Tat Wood in his essay accompanying The Long Game in the lastest About Time volume; but I too owe a lot of my ability to imagine other places, other times, and most importantly other people's points of view to Terrance Dicks' clear and simple prose; and it's worth taking a moment to say that of an author in his late 70s.
Now, to the meat. Catastrophea is a fascinating engagement with colonialism. Sure, the plot is fairly obvious - the eponymous planet is at the cutting edge of a spheres-of-influence power struggle between humans and Draconians, with the drugged and oppressed natives showing worrying signs of being uppity. Under Dicks' script editorship, Old Who tried similar stories a couple of times with mixed, which is to say poor, results - Colony in Space and The Mutants being the most obvious such stories. Catastrophea, a Third Doctor/Jo novel,which is feels a bit like reparation: the human colonial adminsitrators, though well-intentioned by their own merits, are clearly Wrong; the Draconians have their own complex internal politics to deal with and are equally clearly Wrong; the native People are ready to retake power once the colonially imposed barriers have been removed, with the Doctor's assistance. There's a certain amount of cliché - and Dicks acknowledges this with an amusing riff on Casablanca in chapter five - but the book's heart is in the right pace, and at the end the invaders all leave, the planet having been restored to its rightful inhabitants, thanks to their own efforts, the Doctor's help, and a Gollum-like intervention by one of the nastier humans. A very interesting Who novel for all kinds of reasons.