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Audio Book Review

Book Cover

Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion


Author: Terrance Dicks
Read by: Caroline John
BBC Audio
RRP: £17.99 (CD), £10.80 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 405 68766 9 (CD), 978 1 405 60958 6 (download)
Available 12 June 2008

In this, the first adventure of his third incarnation, the Doctor, together with Liz Shaw, Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart and the men of UNIT, grapples with the nightmarish invasion of the Autons. Living, plastic-modelled “humans” with no hair and sightless eyes, they are waxwork replicas and tailors’ dummies whose murderous behaviour is directed by the Nestene Consciousness - a malignant, squid-like monster of cosmic proportions and indescribably hideous appearance...

It’s remarkable that BBC Audio’s “Classic Novels” series didn’t get around to this book sooner, since it has great historical significance in publishing terms. The Auton Invasion, originally published in 1974, was the first Doctor Who novelisation to be penned by the prolific Terrance Dicks and the first to be commissioned by Target Books (as opposed to the previous three reprints of 1960s novelisations).

Many subsequent Dicks books would be slimmer and more basic adaptations, as a result of the author’s heavy workload, but this one, based on Robert Holmes’s script for Spearhead from Space, is rich in detail. The author adds a prologue, which recaps the Doctor’s trial at the end of the previous serial, The War Games (which at the time had not yet been novelised) and the reasons for his exile to Earth, considerable extra detail to the nationwide chaos that ensues when the actual invasion begins, and generally fleshes out the characters. Dicks also achieves things that the television budget could not, such as having the “meteorites” landing at night and a scarier version of the Nestene creature than we saw on TV. He contradicts himself slightly over the nature of the monster in the tank (Channing says that he does not know what form the creature will take, as it will be specially adapted for the conquest of Earth, but later the beast is described as being the Nestenes’ native form) but apart from that, this is a brilliant novelisation.

There’s an additional moment of mirth, not intended by the author, when the Third Doctor regards his predecessor’s clothes as befitting a scarecrow! This was written five years before Jon Pertwee played Worzel Gummidge.

I’m amazed that Yeti creators Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln didn’t try to sue the BBC after Spearhead from Space was transmitted. The Nestene Consciousness, a formless entity seeking to reconstitute itself with the aid of manufactured avatars, is notably similar to the Great Intelligence, a foe that the Third Doctor was scheduled to face in his debut story, until Haisman and Lincoln fell out with the Doctor Who production office over the editing of their non-Yeti serial, The Dominators. However, Spearhead was in fact based upon a story Robert Holmes wrote for the 1965 film Invasion, which similarly featured a cottage hospital, a mysterious and unconscious alien patient, puzzled doctors, an army patrol and lurking alien forces in nearby woods.

Caroline John, who played Liz Shaw in the television serial and who previously narrated the audio book of Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters, gives another lively reading, distinguishing the voices of the numerous characters by means of various accents and vocal traits. For example, here Hibbert has a slight speech impediment that affects his pronunciation of Rs.

Music (by Simon E Power) and sound effects add to the mood, including a gunshot that actually made me jump!

Worth invading your local bookstore for.


Richard McGinlay

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