Enter Terrance Dicks


Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion, original cover

Title: Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion
Televised as: Spearhead from Space
Written by: Terrance Dicks
Teleplay by: Robert Holmes
Published in: January 1974
Chapters: One through Four

I’m a voracious reader. I usually have two to three books going at any one time. However, as a failed humanities major who never quite lived up to his childhood dreams of growing up to be an English teacher, I freely admit that I read more genre fiction than literature, more pulp novels than classics, more YA fiction than international literature.

And this means that I have read more books authored by Terrance Dicks than I have by Dickens, Dumas, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, David Foster Wallace, and Junot Diaz all put together.

Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion is a book of firsts.  It’s Terrance Dicks’ first entry into the Doctor Who novelization range. It’s the first novelization book put out by Target – excepting the reprints of the three Hartnell-era Frederick Muller novelizations that we’ve been discussing recently, and excepting Malcolm Hulke’s Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters, which was released simultaneously to Auton Invasion.  It’s also an adaptation of the first televised Third Doctor story, and the first Third Doctor novelization.

Dicks was still working full time as Doctor Who’s script editor as he wrote this one, although he’d soon leave that gig, and would go on to spend most of the next several years churning out six to eight Targets a year. Many of those Targets would later come to be seen as juvenile and disposable (though I’ll have the opportunity to dispute that point over the coming months)  His debut here is pretty special; it’s got a longer page count, more detail, and an aytpical chapter count (ten, compared to the usual twelve-chapter format that Dicks would later pioneer for four-part TV stories). Although Dicks will not always be this good, books like this are why I’ve read him more than practically anybody else.


The New Who Crew

As he often did in is early books, Dicks here adds a Prologue. He ditches the space-tracking radar station intro from the Robert Holmes’ scripts for Spearhead from Space, and replaces it with a flashback to his own The War Games, to show us how Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor regenerated into Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor in the first place. This would have been necessary context at the time, especially for younger readers, as the War Games TV broadcast was already five years in the past (and wouldn’t be novelized for still another five years).

Dicks’ opening sentences are his usual bit of masterfully economic word choice and  foreboding scene-setting.  Not a writer who makes you wait ten pages to get to the point.

In the High Court of the Time Lords a trial was coming to its end. The accused, a renegade Time Lord known as the Doctor, had already been found guilty. Now it was time for the sentence.

This is also the first time we get to see Dicks’ classic description of the TARDIS materialization sound:

[A] strange wheezing and groaning filled the air. […] an old police box was appearing out of thin air. It took shape, becoming solid… The weird groaning sound died away and the box just stood there, looking sad and lost in the moonlit clearing. Slowly, the door started to open.

It’s also our first description of the Third Doctor himself. A local physician examining the Doctor’s body takes special note of his “scarecrow” wrists and ankles, an epithet appropriate both to Jon Pertwee’s future acting role, and to the “scarecrow” barb aimed by Pertwee at Troughton during The Five Doctors (a Dicks-scripted story) And, of course, who could forget:

It was a strange face. Sometimes it seemed handsome and dignified, sometimes quizzical, almost comic. The seams and wrinkles, the shock of almost white hair should have made it an old face, yet somehow there was a strong impression of energy and youth.

And, as is usual for him, Dicks is never shy about taking potshots at elements of a story, or of this case the Doctor Who format in general. Writing at the end of his tenure as script editor, for most of which the Third Doctor was exiled to Earth and employed as a scientific adviser to UNIT, Dicks has no problem giving Liz Shaw some added dialogue about UNIT being a “silly James Bond outfit”, thus casually trashing what had been his own life’s work up to this point.

I also like how the Doctor’s first words here, rather than being “Shoes!” as on TV, are a continuation of the Second Doctor’s protests during his trial in The War Games. This lends credence to my own pet fan theory and head-canon, that Pertwee begins Spearhead from Space playing the Doctor as Patrick Troughton, up until the moment he examines his own face in the mirror and realizes that he’s not the Second Doctor anymore (Dicks describes this, nicely, as “the face of a stranger looking back at him”). In Chapter Three, Pertwee also rubs his chin, for about the first of perhaps five thousand times that he’ll do so in print over the coming years (and the first of three times in this one book alone).

But Dicks doesn’t reserve his sharpest writing for just the Doctor and the TARDIS.  He also frequently uses the POV of Liz Shaw to illustrate points about the other characters — she becomes our audience identification figure for the book.  She’s an outsider, first recruited to UNIT against her will, and then forced to team up with the alien Doctor, whose depth and breadth of knowledge far surpasses Liz’s own (and she has, like, seven doctorates!), so Dicks frequently uses her to set the scene.  Liz observes of the Brigadier, for example, that: “Despite his stiff military manner, there was something very likable about the Brigadier.”  She’s right about that!

(Meanwhile, the Brigadier himself, marveling at Liz’s take-charge attitude, hurries after her at one point early in the book, “deciding not for the first time that he would never understand the ways of women.”)

Just about the only downside to Dicks writing so many scenes from Liz’s perspective is that Liz was a short-term companion — only on the show for one season, and only in four stories.  Two of which were novelized in the same month, January 1974.  After that, it would be another decade, pretty much, before Liz Shaw returned to the Target line.  So, if you loved her in The Auton Invasion… don’t get too used to her.

Next Time: The plot of The Auton Invasion, and why it’s so much better than the TV episode.

About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
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