Chapter 4. Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion (1974)

Synopsis: An alien intelligence lands on Earth and begins to establish a bridgehead for an invasion by creating an army of plastic dummies. The Doctor arrives in a new body, disoriented and without the ability to operate his Tardis – but finds a job with the Brig’s UNIT (and usurps Liz Shaw as UNIT’s scientific adviser in the process).

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Prologue: Exiled to Earth
  • 2. The Mystery of the Meteorites
  • 3. The Man from Space
  • 4. The Faceless Kidnappers
  • 5. The Hunting Auton
  • 6. The Doctor Disappears
  • 7. The Horror in the Factory
  • 8. The Auton Attacks
  • 9. The Creatures in the Waxworks
  • 10. The Final Battle

Background: The first book written for Target and the first by Terrance Dicks, adapting Robert Holmes’ scripts for Spearhead from Space (1970). The book also introduces the Third Doctor (after a prologue recounting the final minutes of the second Doctor’s trial in The War Games), along with Liz Shaw – and reintroduces Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart as a regular (even down to having him appear on the cover!).

Notes: It’s Terrance Dicks’ first novel and straight off, he describes the materialisation noise of the TARDIS (which is now in full caps and no italics!) as ‘wheezing and groaning’, a description we’ll see again. The Brigadier is given the first name ‘Alastair’ (a detail not revealed on TV until Planet of the Spiders). A few characters gain a little extra detail (Dr Henderson and his colleague at the hospital are fierce rivals, Captain Munro is called Jimmy, Seeley and his wife play a bigger part) and a few details are changed (the auton devices are green, not pink, Channing accompanies the facsimile to kidnap General Scobie). Channing acquires a repeated description of possessing ‘handsome, regular features’ (which is better than ‘a middle-aged man with an ill-fitting wig and one huge hair poking out of his left ear’, I suppose). We’re told by Captain Munro that Corporal Forbes is an expert driver, so it’s right that he survives the car crash – but is then chopped down and flung brutally into a ditch by the Auton. There’s also a lovely flashback as Hibbert recalls how he first found the glowing green sphere and felt it possess him and build the machine that created Channing.The biggest change is the final depiction of the Nestene, which improves upon the original’s wriggling rubber tentacles somewhat:

‘A huge, many tentacled monster something between spider, crab and octopus. The nutrient fluids from the tank were still streaming down its sides. At the front of its glistening body a single huge eye glared at them, blazing with alien intelligence and hatred.’

The Doctor considers ‘reversing the polarity of the neutron flow in the dematerialisation circuit’ – two phrases that we’ll see a lot of in the future, but that ‘neutron flow’ term popped up a lot less often on TV than we might think.

Cover & Illustrations: The first Target edition had a cover and illustrations by Chris Achilleos. The cover shows the Doctor and the Brigadier with a green octopus, but the final illustration has a go at capturing that lurid description of the Nestene creature. My first edition of this was the 1982 Andrew Skilleter cover with a colourful cuttlefish, while Alister Pearson’s 1991 reprint cover is a vision in pink, with the Doctor and an auton mannequin amid a meteor shower.

Final Analysis: Terrance hits the ground running with the efficiency he’ll become famous for. Episode one spans four chapters, but the rest are covered in two chapters each. It’s all the more impressiove considering this is Dicks’ first book ever and he takes the opportunity to tweak a few things here and there, solving problems from the broadcast episodes, such as making Hibbert explain that the shop window dummies they make are called Autons, after his company, Auto Plastics (as opposed to the Doctor somehow just knowing what they’re called in a later scene in the TV version). It’s a great start to this new range.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 4. Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion (1974)

  1. This was the book that created my distrust of shop dummies, in the same way the TV version did for kids of the day. Mine was the blue neon logo Big Squid, Small Earth……um, cardboard box?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When going to the library as a nipper, the regeneration stories were always the first to be grabbed (when they were available that is) and this book was one of the best.

    It’s just filled with the kind of stuff that absolutely makes Doctor Who what it is.

    Also on the cover both the Doctor and the Brigadier look like they have something in their eyes and are squinting. Maybe they’ve been watching The Timeless Children?

    Liked by 1 person

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