THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Spearhead from Space
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion

Author Terrance Dicks Cover image
Published 1974
ISBN 0 426 10313 0
First Edition Cover Chris Achilleos

Back cover blurb: In this, the first adventure of his third 'incarnation', DOCTOR WHO, Liz Shaw and the Brigadier grapple with the nightmarish invasion of the AUTONS - living, giant-sized, plastic-modelled 'humans' with no hair and sightless eyes; 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.


Reviews

The first real Target by Tim Roll-Pickering 21/11/03

The very first novelisation to be specifically commissioned by Target, Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion was perhaps an obvious choice to start with, introducing the-then current Doctor and the UNIT set-up. On television Spearhead from Space is an exceptionally strong story, with perhaps only a few rubber tentacles letting the side down. However a good television story does not necessarily translate into a good book once the acting, direction and design have been taken away. Nevertheless Terrance Dicks' very first ever Doctor Who novelisation is a strong effort.

Reading the book it's clear that Dicks has taken lessons from David Whitaker's novelisations (Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks and Doctor Who and the Crusaders) rather than Bill Strutton's Doctor Who and the Zarbi). Not only is the lead character called "the Doctor" rather than "Doctor Who" (and thus helping to set fandom towards it's conclusion that the latter definitely isn't his name) but also the opportunity has been taken to flesh out the story, show scenes that were too expensive on television such as more of the actual invasion, whilst characters have been given internal thoughts and we get flashbacks explaining things such as how Hibbert made Channing. We also get an early use of the term "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" at the end of the book, perhaps indicating where the myth of this being a common phrase of Jon Pertwee's Doctor came from.

There's little substantial deviation from the course of the televised story, other than enhancements such as an opening sequence deailing the conclusion of the Doctor's trial, but the novel nevertheless remains strong. If anything the main changes come from the budget, with both Terrance Dicks and illustrator Chris Achilleos taking the opportunity to enhance the special effects from what was seen on television, most obviously making the Nestenes' form far more vivid and terrifying than the onscreen rubber tentacles. The whole book feels like a lot of care and attention has gone into it and it works well no end.

As the first of the third Doctor novelisations, Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion has the task of establishing the UNIT format as much as its televised counterpart did. It succeeds in this no end, making clear how the Doctor has been confined on Earth and making the reader want to come back for more. This isn't the most dazzling novelisation in the series, but it represents a competent start for both Terrance Dicks and Target's own commissioned novelisations and remains a good read to this day. 8/10


Autons Attack! by Andrew Feryok 18/11/07

Hibbert looked at him curiously. "You talk of these energy units as if they were alive."... Channing said gently: "Energy is a form of life, Hibbert."
- Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion: Chapter 5, page 54
Like McCoy, I had been dancing around reading my Third Doctor Target novels. But after reading the horrible Dominators and mind-destroying Timelash, I decided that I had to read a story with more quality. Spearhead from Space was already one of my favorite Third Doctor stories and this was one of the first books Terrance Dicks wrote for the Target series, so it had to be a better book. Unfortunately, my reading of this book was briefly interrupted by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but otherwise the book turned out quite nicely.

I had read some of Terrance Dick's earlier novels before (The Abominable Snowmen and Day of the Daleks). Dicks was much better in his early years as a novelist since he paid much more attention to prose quality and would actually bother to add and expand the stories beyond what they originally look liked on television. The Auton Invasion is no exception. Dicks does a wonderful job of bringing the Third Doctor to life, which is hardly a surprise since this was the Doctor he script edited! It is a very easy book to read and get into and manages to keep the excitement quotient rather high. The middle of the story is a little top-heavy, with Autons hunting for the meteorites and Ransome doing his investigations at the plastics factory while UNIT and the Doctor are virtually sidelined, but this is more a fault of the original script than Dicks' novel.

It is always interesting to see were the novels add to a television script, if anything was added at all. For the most part, Dicks sticks to Robert Holmes' original story very closely. All the sequences that were seen on television are presented here again in all their glory. However, Dicks does add a few empellishments that help make this story even better. Dicks writes a prologue which reprises the Doctor's trial and exile on Gallifrey from The War Games which is very appropriate and helps to link the two eras together more tightly. There is a new sequence when the Doctor and UNIT first visit the factory and Hibbert gives them a tour of the factory, including a warehouse filled with Autons! Also the final battle between UNIT and the Autons now takes place inside the factory, rather than outside. Finally, we get to see the Nestine itself more in this book! Although it is plastered on the front of the cover and is even illustrated in the book, it still makes for an enjoyable if ludicrous monster for the Doctor to fight at the end. Certainly its graphic death at the hands of the Doctor is worthy of Ian Marter himself!

But by far the best addition was Dicks' descriptions of the Auton invasion itself. The famous sequence of the Autons breaking out of the store windows and massacring people off the street is there, but Dicks expands this to a much larger scale than seen in the television episode. Now Autons are breaking out of windows all over the city and country, breaking into homes and massacring families! The Autons positioned in high places is also used. These disguised Autons have used their authority to send troops away from the crisis and create as much confusion and chaos as possible so that no one can organize an effective resistance or even figure out what is happening to them. A great sequence that is made even better! If only the similar sequence in Rose had reached this level of ambition!

The regulars are very well portrayed. The Doctor's personality seems to be a strange mix of Troughton and Pertwee, but this works considering that the Doctor has not only just regenerated, but regenerated against his will and thus his former personality lingers a bit longer than usual. I still think that the Doctor is sidelined from the main action of the story for far too long in the story and is mainly used as a convenient means for UNIT to end the Auton invasion at the end. But the Doctor does get moments to shine from his adjusting to his new body, to matching wits with Channing at the end.

Liz is a little less strong here than she was on screen, but I think is down to the fact that Caroline John brought so much screen presence to the role on her own that the original story never had for her character. The Brigadier is very well recreated and he is still the strict military man who had only recently been assigned to UNIT and is still baffled by all these alien invasions and unusual occurances. At one point, we even get inside his head and discover that he took the job as head of UNIT thinking it would be a nice cushy desk job, only to discover that there are far more alien invasions on Earth than he thought! No wonder he is desperate for the Doctor to stay!

The Autons are what really drive this story though, even more than the Doctor himself. So much of the story is told from the perspective of Channing, his control over Hibbert, and his constant attempts to regain the Nestine swarm leader. It even gets to the point where we are privy to Channing's thoughts and as a result we get a fascinating insight as to the Nestine's view of humanity, including their inability to understand the concept of friendship, or humanity's stubborness to resist conformity. Dicks' descriptions do get a little too simplistic. He constantly reminds us of Channing's "burning eyes" to the point that they become his sole character trait for the first few chapters, and the Autons are crudely described as having "lumpy and formless" faces.

It is also intersting how similar the Autons are to the Yeti. I don't think fans have ever consciously analyzed this before, but if you think about it, both are essentially brainless, killing robots controlled by disembodied and molevolent aliens minds that are seeking conquest and corporal existence. And yet, despite these extreme similarities, the Autons end up feeling like something wholly more dangerous and different from the Yeti. Whereas you can spot a Yeti a mile away, the Autons can resemble anyone, even your closest friend or relative, and turn on you in a heartbeat. Towards the end of the novel, this is played up enormously by Dicks as politicians and families are unable to trust each other as the invasion ensues since no one knows when a friend is suddenly going to turn around with a gun for a hand! Now that's scary!

Overall, this is a solid novel from Terrance Dicks. The prose is excellent, the story is good, the monsters are great, and there is just enough new material to make reading this book a little special from just simply watching the episode on DVD or VHS. It is nice that Dicks ends the book with the Doctor looking positively at his exile, since he is convinced that he'll be able to fix the ship and his exile will only be temporary. He even contemplates reversing the polarity of neutron flow! AAAGGGHHH! But definitely check out this book. It will not disappoint. 9/10