Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion by (yay!) Terrance Dicks

Published: 1974

Illustrations: By Chris Achilleos, in a weird artistic style where all the proportions are wrong. Some nice stylised backgrounds, though.

Edition Read: Target, 1984 (4th reprint)

Coolest Cover: I was going to give this to Chris Achilleos, but changed my mind once I looked at Andrew Skilleter’s reprint cover and realised that he’s taken the flukes and tentacles which emerge from the vat in the televised Part 4 and extrapolated the whole Nestene creature back from it. Achilleos 3, Skilleter 1.

Continuity Conundrums: Nothing major- the only real change from the televised Spearhead is that the Autons’ guns emerge from their wrists, not halfway down their hand. Presumably the department store in this version of the story is Grace Brothers.

Unseen Adventures: None, but the events of ‘The Web of Fear’ and ‘The Invasion’ are alluded to. It’s be another eleven years before Ian Marter’s ‘The Invasion’ hit the shelves...

The BBC Budget Wouldn’t Run To: The brilliant description of mass panic which expands on the shop window dummy sequence in the televised story and the small-scale fightbacks, plus the UNIT convoy’s journey out of an invaded London to the plastics factory for the final confrontation.

Purple Prose: "In an office in Whitehall a young civil servant listened appalled as he heard his Minister on the telephone, deliberately giving orders that would worsen the situation. He rushed into the office to demand an explanation. The Minister stretched out his hand in a curios pointing gesture- and the hand dropped away to revel a gun." (p.136) Bernard, come in here for a second, would you?...

Childhood Recollections: I have a vivid memory of buying my first copy of this (with the Achilleos cover) at Bristol Temple Meads on my way home from a family holiday, probably in Minehead or Weston-super-Mare. The description of an severed Auton arm continuing to fire has stayed with me for many years. Also a memory of taking the hardback to a performance of ‘The Ultimate Adventure’ in Liverpool in the hope that Mr Pertwee would be able to sign it. He wasn’t, so it isn’t.

Ramblings: Terrance Dicks’s first contribution to the range, written as he was script-editing his last season of televised Who, is a skilful piece of revisionism. He’s taken ‘Spearhead from Space’, with all its production difficulties and the strange atmosphere, and rewritten it in the style of the subsequent Pertwee era. There’s also a very real attempt to give depth to the story and fill in some of the blanks- if you thought the sequence with the shop window dummies was good, Dicks has things happen on a much larger scale. Characters don’t just move instantly between scenes, they travel, and their journeys are described. It’s no coincidence that Craig Hinton’s recent Synthespians draws a lot- and often in great detail- from this adaptation. If it was possible to make ‘Spearhead’ better- by fleshing things out a bit, telling us how Hibbert found the first Nestene meteorite and so on- then Dicks does it, albeit at the cost of a little of the Season Seven-ness of the story; there’s much less of the sense of alienation and of the present day somehow gone wrong. That’s not to say it’s a bad adaptation- in fact, I feel that Dicks is trying to do Robert Holmes’s story justice by presenting it on a scale that television really couldn’t. The fact that this version was reprinted in 1974 just goes to show the hunger that was there for the then-current Doctor’s earlier adventures, and Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion is an excellent example of how to add to a televised script without taking anything away.