Roots: The Truman Show. The entire book is a dig at the BBC, with Vogel Lukos possibly being a caricature of John Nathan-Turner, and a computer called Auntie. Additionally, Channel 400 has a strict policy of censorship before the 9:00PM watershed. Greg Ashby works for Dogbolter, chairman of IntraVenus, a character from the Marvel Doctor Who Magazine comic strip. The Fleshsmiths are reminiscent of some Star Trek Voyager villains. There are references to Jurassic Park, and EastEnders.
Goofs: Ace's real name is again given as Dorothy Gale instead of McShane.
If the Fleshsmiths are capable of cloning new bodies, why do they need a constant supply of fresh bodies? Why not just grow new ones?
The man with no arms in the flesh banks is later referred to as the man with no legs.
Why does the Doctor's unravelling DNA sequence cause the Fleshsmiths to dissolve, rather than just die?
Dialogue Triumphs: 'You have missed the point, Mr Lukos. You have put glitz and glamour and violence in place of meaning, and substance. I live my life in my own way, and I won't be forced into a mould that someone else thinks I should be fitted into. I cannot be standardised, or compartmentalised, or Hollywoodised. I will not be written against type or censored. In short, I am a broadcasting phenomenon. There is nothing else like me. I am unique, and you haven't handled me properly.' Phillip Segal must be cringing...
Continuity: The Master is still trying to find a cure for the Cheetah virus, and is apparently dying due to its deleterious effects on his Trakenite DNA (he says that he has less than a year to live). He approached the Fleshsmiths, hoping that they could grow him a new body in return for access to Time Lord DNA. Since his own genome is so corrupted, he is forced to lure the Doctor to them. His TARDIS, like the Doctor's, has auxiliary control rooms. He and the Doctor confer telepathically, as the Doctor's first three incarnations did in The Three Doctors. Briefly surrendering to the Cheetah virus, he rips a Zzinbriizi's throat out with his teeth. He can control non-augmented Zzinbriizi by hypnotism. The Doctor sends his TARDIS back to Scrantek, allowing him to escape.
The Doctor built a transmat piton gun for Ace whilst on Coralee, as a belated birthday present. He also has stocks of Coralee wine in the TARDIS, and pays for a taxi with a five Zaggan note. He states that he could be a girl one day [although he may be joking]. He second-guesses Lukos early on, swapping his TARDIS for a fake police box prior to his and Ace's first attempt to infiltrate Channel 400 headquarters.
According to Lukos, Ace's mother died at the age of eighty-five, having spent her entire life mourning the loss of her daughter [a lie - see Happy Endings]. The Doctor finds Ace's grave, and a young Ace inside it, suggesting that she dies whilst travelling with him [this flatly contradicts various other novels, but may simply be a plot thread for a future story by Tucker - see Loving the Alien].
The Fleshsmiths hail from the Planet Scrantek in the Brago nebula. They have pioneered highly advanced surgical techniques and can transplant body parts with ease, presumably having overcome the problems of tissue rejection. They also use cybernetic implants to control and augment their servants. The Doctor notes that they have a reputation as "grave robbers and body snatchers" and are responsible for the disappearance of thousands of spaceships every year - their flesh banks contain captive humans, Draconians, Ice Warriors, Ogrons and even Daleks. The Time Lords avoid them [probably to avoid the risk of them gaining access to the symbiotic nuclei]. The Fleshsmiths were once a beautiful, highly civilised race of great poets and builders, but the formation of the Brago Nebula laid waste to Scrantek and they became sterile. The corrosive nature of the Nebula started to erode their bodies and so they began using transplant surgery to replace damaged body parts; eventually, their supplies of spare parts on Scrantek were exhausted and they began to kidnap aliens. Any captives too weak or infirm for use in surgery are used to test biological weapons or to provide food for the Fleshsmiths. The Fleshsmiths' leader is called the Surgeon General. They are capable of cloning humanoids. Due to the Master's corrupt DNA, they cannot clone him without copying the Cheetah-infected Trakenite DNA, but are capable of creating an entirely new body for him to his specifications, into which they can transplant his brain. They can surgical excise memories by altering neural pathways, although this process is inefficient and the memories can resurface, interfering with their control.
The Fleshsmiths have added a device to the Channel 400 transmitter on Blinni-Orkos that carries a deconstructive enzyme [as a transmat signal] capable of breaking down organic matter; they intend to activate this enzyme when the Channel 400 viewing figures are at their greatest, thus transforming the viewers into raw material for the flesh banks. Lukos agreed to aid them because he knew that the Doctor would be an irresistible ratings attraction, and was promised immunity from their enzyme for him and his staff. The Fleshsmiths technology is all linked in one vast planetary infrastructure - the Doctor destroys them by making a short-lived, unstable clone of himself containing an unravelling DNA sequence; when they place this clone in their DNA sequencer, it sets up an infection throughout their network, causing the Fleshsmiths, their technology and the Master's new body to disintegrate.
Zzinbriizi jackals are ferocious carnivores from the planet Ottrase in the Ektron system, which hunt in packs. On Ottrase, they hunt horned N'tumka. They are not cannibals. They are not usually intelligent, but the Fleshsmiths augmented Barrock's pack, thus allowing them to talk and reason, and also to change shape (one impersonates the Master). They are kept in line via an implanted pain-inducer in Barrock's head, which gives him an incentive to control his fellows. Lukos Entertainment Group runs a Safari holiday to see the Zzinbriizi in the wild, from the Greatest Hotel In the Galaxy based on one of Ottrase's moons, Grenpall. The Doctor has heard of them before, and knows that certain races use them as shock troopers.
The Blinnati are green-hued vaguely reptilian humanoids. They use hover cars. They seem to call their birthdays "event days". They have a form of opera, and also instruments called Boretha. The Channel 400 headquarters are located near to the city Blinni Prime. Blinni-Gaar has a single moon, Blinni-Orkos, from where Channel 400's television signals are broadcast.
Monteekans are blue-skinned humanoids renowned for being mournful. Their skin-colour changes to white when they are frightened. Greg Ashby met Eeji Tek on the planet Brinhilla.
Channel 400 programmes include Walking With Drashigs and Ogron Hospital. Drinks available in the Bar Allegro include Ogron Ale and Draconian Sake.
Vogel Lukos knows of the Doctor and has Blinni-Gaar monitored constantly for the sounds of TARDIS materialisation. He also knows of the Time Lords and Gallifrey [thanks to the Fleshsmiths]. He wants to use the Doctor's and the Master's TARDISes to record interviews with dead celebrities and film famous historical moments. He plans on double-crossing the Fleshsmiths, since their plans would threaten Channel 400's merchandising base, whereas their defeat on live television will make him famous. In order to assist in this betrayal, he makes a deal with Barrock, providing him with the means of removing the Fleshsmiths' control device. The cameras that he installs throughout the Master's TARDIS cannot transmit whilst the TARDIS is in the Vortex. Greg Ashby has also heard of the Doctor's involvement on Coralee (Storm Harvest), at the Venddon peace conference (see Unrecorded Adventures), with the Daleks (The Genocide Machine), and on Inter Minor (Carnival of Monsters) and Peladon (Legacy). Both Lukos and Ashby know that he has been involved with Galactic history for centuries, often in different bodies. Lukos has footage of the seventh Doctor and Mel, and is able to learn of Ace's time spent on Iceworld. Once the Doctor and Ace start appearing (unwillingly) on Channel 400, the shops on Blinni-Gaar start selling action figures of them both, along with toy Daleks, Cybermen and Krill.
The Master's timeline following Survival becomes rather confused with the publication of Robert Perry and Mike Tucker's short story Stop the Pigeon in Short Trips. According to David A. McIntee's Virgin New Adventure First Frontier, the Master escaped from the Planet of the Cheetah People just as the planet exploded and was propelled into Earth's past without his TARDIS, which he recovers in that story by building a Stattenheim remote control. He then contacted the Tzun, who used their mastery of genetic engineering to not only cure him of the Cheetah virus, but also remove the Trakenite DNA from his body that he gained when he possessed the body of Tremas (The Keeper of Traken) and grant him a whole new regenerative cycle. Having been shot by Ace, he subsequently regenerates and escapes in his TARDIS in a new body, after which he appears in Housewarming (Decalog 2: Lost Property) and Happy Endings, all set prior to his appearance in The TV Movie.
The work of Tucker and Perry however, renders all of this apocryphal. In Stop the Pigeon and the subsequent novel Prime Time, the Master is still infected with the Cheetah virus and still in search of a cure, and with his TARDIS to boot. These stories would seem to be set between Survival and Timewyrm: Genesys. To further complicate matters, the Big Finish audio Dust Breeding set after Prime Time complicates matters still further, as an emaciated Master reveals that the Warp Core in that story stripped his Trakenite body from him, leaving him in his previous emaciated state [and once more played by Geoffrey Beevers rather than Anthony Ainley]. As if all that wasn't enough, by The Eight Doctors the Master, seemingly once more back in the body of Tremas, ingests a Deathworm as part of his plan to take over the Doctor's body in The TV Movie, something the post-First Frontier Master would have no need to do. And to complicate things still further, after his seemingly final destruction in The TV Movie, he might well be "The Man With the Rosette" who attends the Doctor's wedding in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street as well as the disembodied face on a screen in the TARDIS in Sometime Never..., who was intended by writer Justin Richards to become the android Master of Scream of the Shalka.
So how exactly do these disparate strands of continuity fit together? Ultimately it perhaps doesn't matter, but perhaps the best explanation is that offered by David A. McIntee in a line eventually cut from his BBC Past Doctor Adventure Bullet Time, which apparently would have revealed that the Tzun made several clones of their Master whilst they were seeking to cure him in First Frontier. This would explain McIntee's ascribing of a quotation from The TV Movie at the start of The Dark Path to "the (ersatz) Master", although it does leave the question of where the various cloned Masters got their own TARDISes from...
Links: There are numerous references to the events of Storm Harvest, plus mention of Kar-Charrat (The Genocide Machine). The Master is still infected with the Cheetah Virus and Ace remembers him killing Karra (Survival). The Doctor refers to his encounter with the Master in More Short Trips: Stop the Pigeon. Greg Ashby has heard of the Doctor's involvement with "the Dalek problem out on the rim", which may be another The Genocide Machine reference. During his interview with Ashby, the Doctor mentions Iceworld (Dragonfire). The Doctor's TARDIS contains a train set, which is probably the same one used later on by the eighth Doctor. Some of Ace's climbing equipment hasn't been used since The Curse of Fenric. There are also references to Survival. Vogel Lukos plans on using the Doctor's TARDIS to record live footage of the Dalek Invasion of Earth. There is an Argolin restaurant on Blinni-Gaar (The Leisure Hive). Channel 400 is bigger than IMC (Colony in Space, Lucifer Rising) and InterOceanic (Storm Harvest again).
Location: The planet Blinni-Gaar, one year after the events of Storm Harvest
Future History: The date is unspecified, although far in the future, one year later than Storm Harvest. During his thirty years in the Space Corps, Reg Gurney fought in the Dalek wars, so this probably takes place after The Daleks' Master Plan. Blinni-Gaar is clearly an Earth Colony, although the mix of races present suggests a Federation colony rather than the Empire. Blinni-Gaar was the foremost agricultural planet in the sector until ten years ago, when Channel 400 arrived and made a deal with the Government. The Blinnati stopped farming due to the addictive effects of Channel 400, which nearly resulted in famine out on the rim. A provisional Government was established five years earlier to tackle this problem, and brought in off world expertise, including Guldarian Farming Drones.
The Bottom Line: A mess. Too many plot threads for the author to handle make this novel a cluttered read, and the gratuitous continuity references serve only to distract. The inconsistencies with the Virgin New Adventures also grate, and Tucker's insistence that Ace's second name is Gale is a horribly tacky allusion to The Wizard of Oz, which frankly we can do without. The ending is a cop-out, with the deaths of the Fleshsmiths straining credibility.