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This is a book I would have read some time in the 90s in the UK. I'm fairly confident it's not a Doctor Who book, but it had a very Doctor Who feel, at least in the parts that stick in my memory. It involved one or more viewpoint/reader surrogate characters traveling in the company of an experienced mentor. My memory is vague enough that I'll talk about traveling through space to another planet, but it might actually involve time travel to some location on Earth, and so on.

What I remember is that the protagonists arrive at a location - which I think was a castle or similar, but may have been more modern/futuristic - where they realize a dangerous being (possibly the only living thing left) is lurking, and they have to flee. The being is some kind of amorphous alien, like a slime mold with a black body and red "fruit" on stalks (or possibly red with black fruit) - see this image of Comatricha nigra from Wikipedia for what I mean:

(It's possible this description is accurate to how it appeared on the book's cover, but not fully accurate to the text - or vice versa.)

The being can either move, or spread by growing along the floor. The mentor figure views it as an extremely dangerous threat - I think it's described as some kind of superintelligent interstellar dictator, or similar. (I definitely have the impression it was a person and dangerous because of its plans and actions, not just an infestation dangerous because it would consume everything, or anything like that.) While I don't really remember the plot, I think it was along the lines of the characters arriving at this place, being surprised that it's deserted, discovering that the being is the reason it's deserted, and having to high tail it out of there before it gets them too.

It's probably obvious why I say this sounds like a Doctor Who story. I don't even remember any mention of them arriving by ship or similar, so a TARDIS would fit. However, I was reading actual Doctor Who novelizations around that time and I expect I would have recognized if this were one - unless I did, and simply forgot. I don't see a cover on the Doctor Who wikia (here or here) that looks right; I'm reasonably sure the creature was featured on the cover, spreading/moving around a corner towards the protagonists, and it was visually memorable. I don't recall ever hearing of such an entity in Doctor Who from any other source. I read it at a relative's house, so it's possible it was part of some larger series or franchise and I just picked up this one book out of context.

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I think this may be "The Planet of Death", part of the Professor Gamma series by Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle. This series has been noted by other people to be rather Who-esque - for example in these two Tweets discussing another book in the series.

ISFDB gives publication dates of 1980 and 1982 for two editions of the book, so it would have been possible for you to encounter a copy in the 1990s.

Now, you say:

I'm reasonably sure the creature was featured on the cover, spreading/moving around a corner towards the protagonists, and it was visually memorable.

This doesn't match the cover art. But the book had several internal illustrations, so perhaps you were remembering one of them?

Here is an internal illustration of the evil Viro, a black slime-mold like villain with one red "fruit":

a black slime-mold like creature with one red "fruit"

And here's Viro again, chasing our heroes through space, this time with more than one red fruit:

Viro in SPAAAACE!

(Both of those two images were taken from this site. The entire text of the book has been typed up, as well as several internal images, so you should definitely check it out.)

And here are the cover scans for the two editions:

Front cover of hardback edition Front cover of 1982 edition, may be a paperback

Here is an Etsy listing, with a lot of page scans.

From an Amazon review:

using his incredible pipe, the professor transports himself, William and his daughter Kiryl to the planet of death to find out what is going on, with the likely protagonist being Viro. They battle strange viruses and a black creeping jelly-like mass, which oozes over the floor, reminds me of the red weed from War of the Worlds.

You stated:

I don't even remember any mention of them arriving by ship or similar

They seem to just beam themselves onto the planet:

enter image description here enter image description here

You stated:

I think it was along the lines of the characters arriving at this place, being surprised that it's deserted, discovering that the being is the reason it's deserted

Here they are in a place which looks deserted:

enter image description here

It wasn't exactly deserted - there were some security guard robots and one of Viro's employees, though none of them could speak. Viro was away when they arrived - but did show up in time to give them a nasty surprise! They ran away after it showed up.

(Yes, 'it' - the Professor actually mentioned that Viro's singular pronoun was 'it'. In 1982!)

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    Wow. I can't completely verify this but it's familiar enough that I'm happy to accept it. The image of Viro creeping towards the protagonists is bang on. The fact that it's an illustrated book for younger readers fits cleanly with my having a strong impression of the visuals but not much memory of the story - I probably read it at a younger age than I remembered. Absolutely fascinating to think that I was reading Hoyle before I had any idea who that was, but didn't remember doing so!
    – Amanadiel
    Mar 13, 2023 at 13:40

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