- You may be looking for the audio adaptation.
Many legends speak of this world, home of an ancient empire destroyed by its own greatest achievement: the Highest Science, the pinnacle of technological discovery.
But the connection is there, and it will lead them into conflict with the monstrous Chelonians, with their contempt for human parasites; into adventure with a group of youngsters whose musical taste has suddenly become dangerously significant; and will force them to face Sheldukher, the most wanted criminal in the galaxy.
The TARDIS approaches the planet Hogsuum in the year 2680. The Doctor is in pursuit of a temporal phenomenon called a Fortean flicker, which creates coincidences and pulls people and things from their proper places and times. His research leads him to a 25th-century scholar named Gustav Urnst, with whom Bernice Summerfield is familiar, and who allegedly found and wrote about the fabled planet of Sakkrat. His writings speak of the Highest Science, the pinnacle of Sakkratian technology; but what it is, no one can say. Urnst himself disappeared before revealing his answers. Could Hogsuum be Sakkrat?
On the planet Vaagon, a Chelonian assault force is mopping up a human colony, when the Fortean flicker transports the Chelonians to Hogsuum. The force's commanding general, Fakrid, prematurely delivers a clutch of stillborn eggs, which begins to drive him mad. He sends his troops into battle, where they confront the mysterious "eight twelves", but they are repelled by intelligent weaponry. At the same time, the TARDIS arrives, and the Doctor and Benny meet a human named Rodomonte. Strangely, he seems to know them, at least by description. Faced with the Chelonian threat, the Doctor sends Benny and Rodomonte away to safety while he stays near the TARDIS. In orbit, another ship arrives, guided by an engineered being called the Cell. It awakens its crew: first, unwilling participants and master thieves Rosheen and Klift, then the psychotic warrior Postine, and then the worst of them all: the expedition's leader, the storied criminal Sheldukher. They have been asleep for three hundred years, while the Cell searched for Sakkrat—and now it has found the planet, or so it believes. Sheldukher reasserts control over his crew by prematurely ageing Klift, forcing Rosheen to obey. The Cell can't properly scan the surface, but it telepathically contacts the Doctor, who is the first person to ever show kindness to it in its tortured existence. However, its power overwhelms him and knocks him out, and the Chelonians capture him.
Benny happens upon a swamp creature that hypnotises its victims. Rodomonte gathers his two friends, Sendei and Molassi, who are behaving oddly; the trio also came here by way of the Fortean flicker, transported from the Ragasteen Music Festival of 2112. Sendei goes after Benny, provoking Molassi in the process; Molassi begins growing progressively more insane and dangerous. Sendei rescues Benny and takes her back to the camp, giving her drinks from a dispenser that they found after arrival. Unknown to them, the drink is from their relative future, but her past; it is called bubbleshake, and though developed as an appetite suppressant when coupled with a certain medication, by itself it is highly addictive and eventually deadly, with many mental side effects including amnesia and paranoia. As all three men have been drinking it, all of them are beginning to show the effects, with Molassi the most affected. He believes himself to be the Wizard King, adapted from the lyrics of his favourite band—lyrics which, coincidentally, seem to perfectly describe the situation they are all facing... As Benny consumes the bubbleshake, she too is affected, and soon forgets herself, the TARDIS, and the Doctor.
As the Chelonians move to attack the Eight Twelves, the Doctor intervenes. Bluffing, he persuades the Chelonians to let him deal with the threat. He finds that the “Eight Twelves” are twentieth-century humans; they were on the #812 bus when they were transported here by the Fortean flicker. Two of their number, Vanessa and Hazel, happened upon the intelligent weapons — also deposited by the flicker — that have heretofore kept them alive. The Doctor gets them behaving in a way that contributes to survival, and goes back to announce their “destruction” to the Chelonians... only to find that the Chelonians have been monitoring, and know that he deceived them. He is saved, however, when Sheldukher's ship lands, and transmits a sonic signal that temporarily disables the Chelonians.
Molassi's speeder craft carries his group, and Benny, to a ruined city before breaking down. This is the location Molassi, in his madness, has been seeking, and he runs on ahead to a ruined temple. Caught in addiction, he demands more of the bubbleshake, but the dispenser is empty. Enraged, he kills Sendei. At the temple, he meets ghosts, which probe his mind for a certain response, but do not receive it. The ghosts reject him, and give him visions which disillusion him, causing him to commit suicide. Rodomonte, too, is found and probed by the ghosts, and subsequently commits suicide. However, the ghosts get the response they seek from Benny, and let her live. She subsequently passes out inside the city from bubbleshake withdrawal.
Sheldukher threatens the Eight Twelves to get the Doctor to lead him to Sakkrat city. The Doctor reluctantly does so, following Urnst's cryptic directions, which Sheldukher had never seen, having been in cryo-sleep at its publication. To discourage the Chelonians as he departs, Sheldukher kills four of him; however, this drives General Fakrid into a frenzy, and he takes his troops to follow Sheldukher to the city, several thousand miles away. As Sheldukher's ship lands at the city, the Cell locks everyone inside and tries to destroy the ship and end its own life — and take revenge on Sheldukher in the process — but the Doctor is able to get everyone out, including the Cell. However, the self-destruction leaves them stranded here, far from the TARDIS. The Doctor finds Benny, and manages to repair her mind telepathically, although she will still require medical treatment for the addiction and its effects. She too knows Sheldukher by reputation. Sheldukher sets Postine to hold off the pursuing Chelonians while the others enter the temple. The battle outside brings down part of the structure, trapping Klift; but he subsequently confronted by the ghosts, and dies. The Doctor seems to recognise the ghosts. Postine manages to mortally wound the general, but dies in the process. Before dying, Fakrid passes command to his First Pilot, Jinkwa, whom he reveals to secretly be his son. Jinkwa, however, is already stressed past breaking, and is just as mad as Fakrid. Benny and Rosheen escape the city, but are caught by the Chelonians, and Rosheen is killed. Benny is transmatted to safety by the ghosts. Jinkwa orders a suicide mission to destroy the city; two of the three suicide operatives carry out the mission, but are transported beyond the city by the ghosts before they can explode. The third, in an attack of conscience, returns to stop Jinkwa, and detonates near his command vehicle; however two other vehicles take the explosion instead.
The Doctor, Benny, and Sheldukher, with the Cell, pass through a strange chamber, a slow-time conversion chamber, which matches them to the slower passage of time beneath the city. This field of slowed time would protect whatever it encloses, possibly for millions of years. They are attacked by a robotic monster called the Monumental Guardian, but it lets them go after trying to scare them. Sheldukher is then captured by a containment field. Two humanoid genetic Constructs approach the group, and demand that they return Project FXX Q84...also known as the Cell. Finally the Doctor explains.
Three hundred years prior, Sheldukher stole the embryonic Cell from a horrific research world called Checkley's World, planning to use it to find Sakkrat. When Sheldukher vanished, the controlling firm of Checkley's World created a plan to trap him and recover the Cell, which had the power to become the greatest mind in existence. They altered the planet Hogsuum to more perfectly match Sakkrat's description, and created the various guardians and traps in order to lure in Sheldukher and recover the cell. However, the slow-time chamber's control globe became faulty, creating the Fortean flicker. The Doctor makes his way to the control globe and shuts off the faulty circuit, ending the flicker; however, shutting down the rest of the system proves impossible. Sheldukher overcomes that problem, however, when he cannot handle the truth, and kills himself; but he is wearing a powerful explosive on a deadman switch and a timer, and in fifteen minutes it will vaporise everything for a thousand miles around. The Doctor and Benny flee try to flee via the facility's emergency transmat, and are attacked by the Monumental Guardian along the way; they escape seconds before the explosive detonates.
The Doctor and Benny materialise near the TARDIS, only to find the Chelonians about to wipe out the Eight Twelves using a lethal Zarathion gas. Using the facility's control globe, he freezes the area in slow time, saving the lives of all the survivors, but leaving them as a problem to be worked out another day; he cannot enter the slow-time field, as it would kill him at this level. With Benny, he returns to the TARDIS. Inside, he administers the antidote to the bubbleshake, and she slowly recovers over several days; when she is fully recovered, he celebrates by taking her to 1935 Earth, for a meeting with Virginia Woolf, or — failing that — a night at the theatre. As they exit the TARDIS, they fail to see that it is behaving oddly; and later, they find that it has moved itself to another spot nearby. In the theatre, they watch the show before getting bored and leaving for other worlds, without realising that Gustav Urnst, the lost scholar, is there, having been displaced by the Fortean flicker to this historic time. Urnst watches them go, and muses on their existence as travellers from the future.
- Seventh Doctor
- Bernice Summerfield
- General Fakrid
- Gustaf Urnst
- The following planets/systems are mentioned (and briefly explained): Sakkrat, Vaagon, Evertrin, Earth, Chelonia, Lasty's Nebula, Naiad, Menelot, Harma, Checkley's World, North Gate, Tayloe, Mang, Miradilus Four, Regurel, Mars, Draconia, Mulkos, Mordala, Exalfa, Adorno, Alpha Centauri, Heaven, Sensuron, Riftok, Masel, Arturus, Hogsumm, and Atvares Minor.
- The planet Vaagon was an isolated Earth colony settled in 5665.
- The Doctor had ran Taunton for two weeks in the 18th century.
- The fourth zone is an area of the galaxy.
- The Everywoman Guide to Hassle Free Space Travel is mentioned.
Foods and beverages
- Bernice drinks Bubbleshake, an oral appetite suppressant containing Fabi weed extract.
- Bernice cannot find any alcohol in the TARDIS.
- Bernice knows some aikido.
Theories and concepts
- The Fortean Flickers are metaphysical phenomenon associated with random events.
- A prelude to this novel was published in DWM 196.
- The 2009 special Planet of the Dead features elements of this story; whereas a tube train passes through a Fortean Flicker to Sakkrat here, a red London bus passes through a wormhole onto San Helios in the 2009 story.
- The writer of both pieces, Gareth Roberts, was to use the Chelonians in Planet of the Dead, but the heat of the Dubai desert where filming was to be was thought too severe for an actor to wear a heavy Chelonian turtle costume in.
- A Big Finish Productions audio adaptation of the novel starring Sylvester McCoy, Lisa Bowerman and featuring Sinead Keenan, Daniel Brocklebank and Tom Bell was released in December 2014, adapted by Jacqueline Rayner. The first part of the story was issued free as a podcast prior to the CD's release.
- The humans and Chelonians frozen in time at the climax of this story are unfrozen in PROSE: Happy Endings.
- On regaining consciousness, the Doctor cries out, "Where am I? Who am I? And who are you?" (TV: Time and the Rani)
- Prelude to The Highest Science as published in DWM #196
- The Discontinuity Guide to: The Highest Science at The Whoniverse
- The Cloister Library: The Highest Science
- Doctor Who Bewildering Reference Guide to The Highest Science