Thursday, May 10, 2012

 

Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons

Happy birthday, today, to Doctor Who novelist supreme Terrance Dicks. BBC Books are celebrating with the release of new editions of another six Target Doctor Who novels (after last year’s successful relaunch). I’ve turned to one of Terrance Dicks’ earliest and best-loved books, possibly the first of his that I read, Doctor Who and the Terrance of the Autons: in which the Doctor discovers that the most everyday objects can be the source of a murderous attack; faces a more unearthly attacker that’s part crab, part spider, part octopus; and, for the first time, his rival Time Lord, the Master. And daffodils. What could be better for a wet Spring day?

Like many others, I learned to read – was inspired to learn – on Target Doctor Who books. While the very first I read wasn’t one of Terrance’s, the first Doctor Who I saw on television was (its own novelisation broadcast again on Radio 4Extra just yesterday), and the next three books I can dimly remember saving up my 5p tokens to buy from the three little racks that made up the St Simon’s School Bookshop all were: The Abominable Snowmen, The Web of Fear and, of course, Terror of the Autons. All may have been my second Doctor Who book, and certainly the three together were read and re-read so much that I knew that was the way I’d carry on. So it’s fair to say that Terrance Dicks had a huge impact on literacy as well as on Doctor Who, where he went from lead writer during Jon Pertwee’s time as the Doctor to then write many more Who novels than anyone else, sometimes – perhaps ironically, particularly for those Pertwee stories – making them far more exciting than they were on screen.

Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons is one of those so packed with ideas (and script fixes that he may have missed at the time but thought of later) that it’s been hugely influential on later Doctor Who in its own right, as well as becoming a prime example of the notorious ‘Pertwee Gap’ between the fabulous novels I grew up reading and the patchier TV versions I only saw much later. Like many of Terrance’s best books, it’s based on an original screenplay by Robert Holmes, who Terrance himself says made him rise to his best because Bob’s were simply the best scripts. Pyramids of Mars; Carnival of Monsters; The Auton Invasion; its first sequel, here; all these books showcased that ideal relationship between a scriptwriter with a flair for brilliant dialogue, strong stories and a dab of horror, and a novelist with a tautly readable style, a sense for structure and an understated, laconic wit. Like many of Terrance’s earlier novels, too, not just his enthusiasm but the time he had to write it gives a novel with much more inventive detail and nearly half as many words again (crammed into the same page count!) as when he later became the sole author on the production line.



Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons
 
Posted by Picasa

Unusually for a 1975 Target Doctor Who book, the cover isn’t by Chris Achilleos but Peter Brookes, later to become a top political cartoonist, and it’s by far my favourite of his handful of Who paintings, with its fabulous pop-art spark and the huge, tentacled Nestene monster looming above a tiny radio telescope. It’s one of the covers that’s most startlingly appropriate to the novelisation range – while most took images from the TV serials as their starting points, Brookes read the book and let his imagination soar into a Cthulhoid horror fit for Terrance’s prose, rather than the rather disappointing smudge of light that appears in the climax of the TV serial (and it’s not the only way in which the novel improves that climax; spoilers below at the end of “The Master Takes Over”). Peter Brookes isn’t the only artist for the book, either, with some pretty good internal illustrations from Alan Willow, the most memorable of which are, again, those never shown on TV: the Master haunting Goodge from a skylight (though the artist has plainly paid no attention at all to Goodge’s description); the Master, again, creating an Auton from a coffin of seething plastic (well, never seen on TV until it was borrowed for The Sontaran Stratagem); and Willow’s own take on the giant Nestene, no competition for Brookes’ comic-book fabulousness but again showing that Terrance’s vivid description of the ultimate monster inspired artists as much as it did readers, and that even for such an incredibly cartoony and colourful story as this is on TV, the most memorable mental images remain the ones you imagine. A third artist arrived for a new edition in 1979, and Alun Hood, too, choose to feature that hideous creature only brought to life in the book, building on Brookes’ design to create the most horribly photo-realistic cover painting of the whole Target range, disturbing readers with its glaring eye, writhing tentacle and, above all, its ickily teeth-like suckers [above, clockwise: the original edition; shiny CD audiobook; Alun Hood’s hideous Nestene; back cover of the original, and my oldest battered original copy].

Death at the Plastics Factory

Here’s the passage in the book that most gripped me as a child. It’s the horror of Bob Holmes’ original scene, turned by Terrance Dicks into a crucial establishing moment for the Master, with most of the jokes taken out but one, intriguingly, put in. You can find it on page 45, or in track 4 of the second CD…
“McDermot, a tough, stocky Northcountryman in his fifties, was on the phone in Rex Farrel’s office. A brief tour of the factory had convinced him that Rex’s father should be informed at once. He was talking to him now in a low, urgent voice. ‘It’s true I tell you… aye, that’s right. All the staff’s been dismissed. Regular customers told we can’t supply them. New machinery brought in, a secret research lab. I’m sorry, Mr. Farrel, but I think young Rex has gone right round the bend. Keeps on about this fellow, Colonel Masters. Right, sir, I’ll tell them to hold everything, and that you’re on your way. I’ll wait for you here.’

Rex entered with the Master who was carrying a black plastic bundle.

McDermot slammed down the phone and swung round angrily. ‘You’ll be Rex’s precious Colonel Masters, I take it? Just the man I wanted to see!’

The Master smiled. ‘You are seeing me, Mr. McDermot.’ The angry engineer wasn’t listening. ‘Just what right do you think you’ve got to come marching in here and ruin a decent little family business? Me and Rex’s dad built this place up from nothing. I’ll not stand by and see it all thrown away by a daft kid and some foreign jackanapes with big ideas.’

The Master’s eyes blazed with sudden anger, but he kept his voice quiet and pleasant. ‘You’re being less than fair, Mr. McDermot. The new processes and products I have introduced are truly revolutionary.’ The Master held out the bundle of plastic sheeting over his arm.

McDermot snatched it from him and snorted in disgust. ‘That—revolutionary? It’s the wrong colour, the wrong texture. It’s got a cold, clammy feel...’

He threw the plastic bundle back at the Master in disgust.

The Master caught it. ‘I assure you, you don’t realise its full potential... Allow me to demonstrate.’ He threw the bundle of plastic into a corner, then snapped his fingers. The plastic sheeting began to move and swell, as if alive. McDermot looked on, shaken, as the plastic writhed and grew. Slowly but surely it was taking on the shape of a chair. A squashy, bulgy, black armchair, made of plastic. McDermot snorted. ‘You think you’ll sell that? It’s one of the ugliest things I’ve seen in my life.’

‘It’s very comfortable,’ said the Master smoothly. ‘Try it.’

Somehow McDermot didn’t fancy the idea. There was something very sinister about that squat black shape. ‘No thanks,’ he said, backing away.

With a sudden fierce authority the Master snapped, ‘Sit down, man!’

Without quite knowing why, McDermot lowered himself uneasily into the chair. Its arms felt cold and slithery to the touch. ‘Disgusting stuff, this,’ he muttered. ‘What do you call it?’

The Master smiled coldly. ‘Polynestene!’ he said, and began to laugh. The armchair billowed and surged, and McDermot felt himself sinking lower and lower. He struggled to get up but the plastic seemed to cling to him. His arms and legs were trapped. A tide of cold clammy black plastic rose over his head and swallowed him up, choking off his attempt to scream... The last thing McDermot heard was the Master’s mocking laughter.

Rex looked on appalled as the heaving black shape in the corner swallowed McDermot, completely. He made an instinctive move as if to help the doomed engineer, but the Master held him back. ‘No! I will not tolerate the insolence of primitives.’

The Master snapped his fingers. An Auton appeared in the doorway, gathered up the shapeless black bundle and carried it from the room.

Regretfully, the Master watched the armchair disappear. ‘An amusing little conceit—but rather laborious!’

White and shaking, Rex sank into his chair. ‘It seemed very effective,’ he said.

The Master smiled. ‘But so extravagant, my dear Rex. All very well for my little joke—but for the mass attack, we have better means. Why use yards and yards of precious plastic for a task that can be accomplished by a mere few inches?’

Rex stared at him uncomprehendingly. ‘Inches?’

‘The human body has one central weakness,’ said the Master savagely. ‘One which I shall exploit to bring about the destruction of mankind.’”

Yes; the Master is behind penis enlargement spam.

Perversely, of course, this made me long for a blow-up plastic chair. My parents were less impressed, so I had to be content just with pulling the slabs* of our black leather sofa on top of myself and uttering choked cries. It also made me adore the Master as a villain all the more, having been introduced to him in a later incarnation on telly months before I started reading. Still today, some of the Master’s most memorable moments for me aren’t to be found on the telly, but where in the novels he makes a nasty joke at some patsy’s expense and begins to laugh (“Polynestene” here, “Enemy agents” in The Sea Devils). It’s more appropriate, too, for it to be McDermot and not the Doctor who’s given the word “jackanapes” against the Master, with the book’s engineer more plausibly seeing him as an upstart than the TV’s rival Time Lord thinking of him as a naughty monkey.

Some of the jokes that Terrance removes for the book are just bad to start with – a whole sequence of the Doctor bullying a civil servant by being a Tory on TV is one I don’t miss, and is part of making the Doctor less childish and arrogant on the page (most notably by no longer having the Doctor, at the start, singing how a world destroyed was a laugh, nor, at the end, saying how several hundred deaths and nearly half a million more was a big laugh), just as his Master seems more dangerous – while other lost jokes are funnier ones that he clearly thought were in too bad taste for children, sadly. Ironically, without the bad taste jokes and with some lines reinterpreted as anger and given added brutality, he makes the book a far grimmer work than the TV serial, which others might suggest is just as unsuitable for kids (not bowdlerisation but swapping one approach to death for another). I loved it, of course, and while I also now love the outrageous punchline to the version of that scene above found in Episode Two on TV, I think Terrance was probably right to have Rex shocked by the violence in his book, even as the Master (and the reader, and for all his protestations plainly the writer) revels in it. What most shocked me when I at last saw this on screen wasn’t the camp comeback, which is funny, nor the special effect – which, unlike many, is almost as convincing as in the book – but that the Master’s joke plastic name was only in the book. I don’t know why that had always tickled me, yet for some reason it had. Perhaps it’s that it makes the Master laugh, and so has to be funny, but on top of Terrance writing a Master here whose sudden lashing anger scares us and whose outrageous, ludicrously inventive deathtrap amuses appals us, he also gives him a joke that’s funnier than Bob Holmes’. Now, that’s an achievement.

The Terror Begins



Terror of the Alex and Richard (thanks to our friend Kamael in New Zealand)
 
Posted by Picasa

Death by armchair wasn’t even one of the most controversial scenes in a story attacked by anti-TV busybodies, the police and even Labour Lords when it was broadcast. A scene with police officers is one of the few that has even more punch on TV; a killer ‘devil doll’ is far more striking when the book’s special effects beam straight into your head; and while penitent, responsible BBC Script Editor Terrance Dicks always says in public that perhaps Bob went a bit far and shouldn’t do it again, children’s novelist Terrance Dicks (no relation) simply wasn’t going to retitle this story ‘Doctor Who and the Slight Goosebumps of the Autons’, so in making the book much better-done he also makes it more frightening from the start.

Though not to the same degree as Malcolm Hulke’s novels, Terrance fleshes out characters and settings with flashes of backstory and internal dialogue here, opening with bullying circus owner Luigi Rossini (née Lew Ross from Hoxton), a greedy, crooked, vain hard man with a shabby circus full of deadbeats, incompetents and “Some, like Tony the strong man, were on the run from the police” (notably, we don’t get ‘illegal immigrants’, so thank you, Terrance for not reading the Daily Mail, and I’ll try to gloss over the doll’s “slitted eyes”), all of whom he exploits in a way that prefigures the story’s wider critique of mass-market consumerism, whose luck seems on the turn thanks to ’flu in a big circus but is actually turning a different way when a gleaming new horse box suddenly appears by the one holding Madame Mariella’s Prancing ponies (“three worn out old nags who could hardly manage a gallop, let alone a prance”)…

New companion Jo Grant, too, gets a good page of introduction, though it’s a shame that, along with softening the Doctor’s character for this story (on screen, as much a git as in The Dæmons), Terrance drops the Brigadier’s put-downs of him. Terrance’s characterisation of Jo is a mix, having more initiative but also made even dimmer (at one unfortunate point internally agreeing with someone who hideously patronises her then still going off against orders after accepting it’s wrong), though at least he greatly expands both the general search of the plastics factories by UNIT agents when it looks like the Nestenes – who can animate any form of plastic – are back, and Jo’s own search of the factories allotted to her, right down to her “tiny, nagging feeling of unease” about the too-helpful Rex Farrel. The Doctor, on the other hand, rubs his chin a lot, thoughtfully, a barbed in-joke for Pertwee’s mannerism when looking about for his lines. And says an awful lot of things “grimly”, giving the feeling Terrance is sternly telling gleeful Bob that, all right, he’ll put in all his grisly deaths, but he draws the line at laughing at them:
“‘You’ve just got to be joking.’
The Doctor said grimly, ‘There’s precious little to joke about, I assure you. That thing’s appallingly dangerous.’”

“‘I think it was someone’s idea of a joke,’ said the Doctor. But there was no amusement in his voice.”
Despite his cuts and his occasionally disapproving tone, though, Terrance does put in some of his own black humour; something that’s much more understated, and which I didn’t find funny as a child but now can’t help smiling at, is the start of Chapter 2, Terrance’s extended shaggy egg story:
“Albert Goodge, a melancholy, balding, bespectacled scientist, drove slowly and cautiously as always along the narrow country lane, plunged in his usual gloom and lost to the beauty of the scene around him. It was a fine day in early summer. Fields and hedges lay bathed in sunshine, birds sang, lambs gambolled; and Albert Goodge worried about the quality of his packed lunch.”
The list of bucolic bliss cracks me up. And it’s actually all a harbinger of death. Goodge, with an egg-like head of his own, is gloomy about everything except the threat that’s going to kill him…
“Goodge sighed and opened his lunch box. His worst fears were confirmed. Eggs again!”
And, again, the bathos is brilliant – he’s in a horror story, and his worst fears are eggs.
“‘I told her only last night,’ he said indignantly. Phillips went on taking readings. ‘Mmm?’

‘“Cut out the boiled eggs, Elsie,” I said. “Quite apart from the effect on my digestion they’re boring to look at.”’
‘Aha!’ said Professor Phillips, who hadn’t heard a word of all this. Goodge was always grumbling about something, and most of his colleagues had stopped listening long ago.”
And at this stage you realise that Phillips is going to be doomed in exactly the same way – what’s he going to criticise Goodge for in a moment? Yet he’s in a listening station, and he’s stopped listening. He loves people bringing it on themselves, does Terrance.
“Philips paused by the door and looked back at his colleague. All around them instruments whirred and clicked. Radio pulses and emissions from the depths of deep space were being monitored and recorded by the giant radio telescope, checked on the computer in an attempt to detect a pattern, a meaning, some clue to the biggest question of all. Was there, somewhere in the galaxy, an intelligence other than man? Here in this tiny cabin they were listening to the voices of the stars. And old Goodge was grumbling about boiled eggs! Phillips shook his head and left the cabin. Closing the door behind him, he started clattering down the metal steps on his way to the main control area.

Albert Goodge, still obsessed with boiled eggs, continued the routine duties that marked the beginning of his shift on the scanner. Above his head, a sort of skylight was set into the roof of the cabin. Had Goodge looked up, he might have caught a glimpse of a dark shape peering down at him. He might even have been able to sound the alarm in time to save his own life. But he didn’t look up.”
And that blood-curdling last line, all foreshadowed by the jokes of him never looking up, always just looking into his lunch box and never to the stars. So the stars stick him there (but you’ll have to read the book or watch the DVD to find out how bad taste Bob Holmes does it).

Another impressively improved sequence is at the circus (despite only a fleeting mention of elephants); on TV, the Doctor’s trip there meanders a little and it becomes easy to spot that he’s pretty much only gone there because Bob wanted to do a circus with paper-thin relevance to the plot. In the book, there’s more compelling characterisation and a more palpable sense of threat. I enjoy the Doctor smugly thinking that if the Master had materialised as something shabby to fit in with the rest of the circus, he’d have taken much longer to find his ‘horse box’, while displaying a glorious lack of self-awareness that it’s his own flamboyant outfit that means he’s easily spotted and followed as he goes around asking frightened circus people if they’ve seen the unfortunate Phillips, who’s since gone missing. Phillips himself is doing the following, as part of if anything a more queasily undignified fate than Goodge – he’s now the sinister clown that’s so shockingly lacking from the TV version. After the Doctor, taken prisoner, manages both to out-butch the strongman and name-drop even in the narration (gee, thanks, Terrance), the Master famously orders Phillips to blow him up with a “Sontaran fragmentation grenade” – bringing them into the series before their first appearance, as well as the TARDIS’ “chameleon circuits” long before they were called that on TV – which Terrance turns into a vividly exciting action sequence with a turn of phrase that’s much-copied, not least by Terrance himself. Among the book’s few flaws, though, is while that a lot of time seems to have been spent on rewriting the script (largely to its benefit), it might have been read through with a fresh eye itself: often, the same word or phrase recurs in very close proximity, as if stuck in Terrance’s head. The most memorable, a sort of Goodge’s revenge, is in this particular murder attempt:
“‘Listen carefully. In a locker just beside you is a small egg-shaped sphere, with a contact button inset into the top. Here is what you must do...’”

“They both stopped talking as the rear doors of the horse-box opened. Still wearing his clown costume, Professor Phillips came down the steps and started walking towards them. His eyes were blank and glassy, and there was an egg-shaped silvery sphere in his right hand. He raised the hand above his head in a throwing gesture. The Doctor put every ounce of authority and power he could into his voice. ‘Professor Phillips! Don’t!’”
At least not until you’ve become a Professor of Spherology and learnt the greatest secret of all spheres – that eggs are a different shape!

Your personal Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons drinking game (remember to steal your wine from a prominent politician, sneering at him for having it while you neck it down) might also include each instant re-use of the words “tremendous” or “grotesque”, or when every explosive device in the galaxy, whatever its provenance, blasts its target into “white ash”. You should probably restrain yourself from tippling to “exultant”, which occurs so often you’ll rapidly find yourself as exultant as a Sea Devil.

The Master Takes Over



Terror of the Autons – Slowly a shape began to form…
 
Posted by Picasa

Terror of the Autons, both on TV and even more on the page, is so packed with little character moments, japes and flashes of fury for the Master that this story does far more to establish him than you’d expect even from it being his first appearance. There’s even a narrator, in the form of a Time Lord in civil service drag, to tell the Doctor and the audience that he’s a bad ’un and dangerous with it; the book’s narrative voice is at pains to stress the difference between the two renegades, the Doctor’s interference always “on the side of good” and the Master enjoying “death, chaos and destruction for its own sake”.

On screen, Roger Delgado grabs the role and establishes it very effectively, but Terrance makes much more of the book point directly to the Master. He sets up Luigi Rossini as a tough guy to be reckoned with on the very first page, telling us he enjoys being “the Boss”. The repeated self-identification as “the Boss” is entirely to set up what a real Boss or synonym would be. Someone who likes snapping his fingers, once, like a pistol shot, and who Rossini “With a sudden flash of superstitious fear” thinks “looked like the Devil.” After that, when the much weaker Rex Farrel gets his own introduction, trying to carve out his own identity at his father’s plastics factory once his father’s at last retired, you already know he’s not going to be up to it before his internal monologue, too, rings your alarm bells: “At last… he was the boss.” The Master, like the Doctor, doesn’t have such a simple internal monologue that we can be privy to it, and rather than hiding his ego inside his head, introduces himself outright with “I am usually referred to as the Master”, smiling “as if at a private joke”. The joke being that, like you and me as we look at the page, he can read the others’ internal monologues.

Right from the Master’s first scene, when his eyes blaze with anger at Rossini – “You insolent primitive!” – he’s much less playful than on screen, or rather, on a much shorter fuse when his playfulness isn’t instantly humoured or his little attempts on the Doctor fail. On screen, he lightly dismisses these little bungles as small gallantries, but while the book doesn’t take us directly inside his thoughts, it often observes what they must be, usually when he’s covering up. “He was unable to resist boasting, even to such a pitiful audience” (as Rex), and “having twice failed to kill the Doctor, the Master was salving his enormous vanity by pretending he’d planned things that way all along.” Given more bad news, the Master is initially as light as on screen but then, in “bitter anger,” “slammed his fist onto the desk, cracking the heavy mahogany top.” It’s both the playfulness and the savage temper that I remember, and that makes him seem more dangerous on the page (there’s a single moment in Episode Four of the TV serial when his urbanity deserts him and he suddenly, savagely kills someone in his way, which has always been the more powerful for illustrating exactly how I’ve always read him to be). That gives him space to be more urbane when planning the flower tour with a cringing, and flattering Rex, which turns into a rather marvellous travelogue that gives him much more to do in the book’s equivalent of ‘Episode Three’ than the TV’s couple of cameos on a poky set and on bluescreen that week. In the book, it feels like he’s still driving the plot (even if he gets Rex to chauffeur the coach).

Each time the Master’s been reintroduced to the TV series – The Deadly Assassin, Logopolis, Last of the Time LordsTerror of the Autons has been the source text that the writers have looked to for inspiration. Bob Holmes, to strip him down to his essentials and bring back his meanest and most distinctive weapon; Chris Bidmead, to make him murderously dangerous again, and make use of a radio telescope; Russell T Davies, to add many little references (including to the last two) but crucially, for me, to capture with John Simm’s Master better than any other the same viciously playful streak of that original concept, going from “Ooh, you public menace” to deadly threat. I realise it’s shocking to see Simm’s first appearance as probably the Master’s greatest flowering, compounded by the way that for me Last of the Time Lords is a much stronger script, though I love both writers, with Terror of the Autons seeming weirdly much more in Russell’s style than Bob’s: a selection of vivid pop-culture set-pieces rather than much of a story, and that’s something Russell does better than Bob. This book, especially, is one Russell has certainly read, with elements specific to the novelisation informing the TV series more than thirty years later: Farrel, dismissed and overlooked, attacking the Master and crashing the coach is echoed in Chan’tho; he subverts, of course, the Doctor’s confidence that “He knew the Master would be unable to resist the opportunity to explain his own cleverness”; the Cabinet nearly die en masse because there’s a bowl of the Master’s deadly daffodils on their table; replacing the TV’s “Don’t be trivial” in reply to wondering how the Master gets into UNIT HQ, the book has him proclaim:
“A number of UNIT sentries firmly believe that they have just admitted the Prime Minister!”
Perhaps the most influential idea in the novel, however, through many off-TV stories in between and now to the Mister Moffster, is Terrance’s brilliant time-travel interpretation of the Roman concept of damnatio memoriae. It’s announced by the unhelpful Time Lord at the start’s promise that, were they ever to catch the Master, he would face the severest punishment:
“The Master’s life-stream would be thrown into reverse. Not only would he no longer exist, he would never have existed.”
It’s a more mundane but still striking existential threat that Terrance uses – and here is that spoiler – to greatly improve the story’s climax. Obviously, all three artists for the novel have jumped on one crucial way that Terrance improves that, the creature I mentioned above which is impossible to avoid; but he also significantly rewrites the Master. Ready? Having judiciously prefigured the key moment with a peppering of early scenes in which the Nestene High Command (how do you have that in a group intelligence? Moving swiftly on) start to mistrust and threaten their ally for wasting time and failing in doing it, causing the Master “A spurt of ungovernable rage”, once he goes to open a channel for the full Nestene energy to come through, first they nearly electrocute him to add to his doubts, then the Doctor comes in and warns him that they’ll only turn on him once they’ve won and he’s of no more use to them, and then the Brigadier calmly orders him to go along with the Doctor in shutting down the Nestene gateway or he’ll pump bullets into both his hearts. On TV, the only part of that we get is the Doctor’s warning, which makes the Master seem both a chump and a bit flighty when, after four episodes, it’s enough to make him switch sides on the spot. It’s a shame that Terrance has Jo run and hide here, as otherwise the book wins hands down, right through to the twin codas of the Master’s chilling last encounter with Rex (followed by Terrance’s sardonic eulogy) and the Doctor then expressing only a grudging feeling for his rival before going back to brooding on his exile.

In the Hands of the Autons

Perhaps it’s the climax above all else that makes me see this as perhaps the story Terrance rewrote most significantly for the novel, and that makes me think of its second half as where it really gets going, despite so many memorable moments early on (the chair, the circus, Goodge…). He shifts the structure around rather more, changing one ‘cliffhanger’ to what he clearly thought was a more effective scene to close a chapter on, and makes two big fight sequences exciting – not always easy on paper – with the last one particularly strong in both its telling and its aftermath.

Terrance always writes a good thriller – the crispness of his action scenes is exciting, complete with those Auton guns that fall away at the wrist rather than near the knuckle (as it were). The start of Chapter 7 / Episode Three is vibrant, the UNIT jeep (not a nasty blue saloon) driving up to precipitate a far more exciting battle in the forest than on TV, with both UNIT and Auton casualties, albeit lacking one superb stunt fall. And poor Katy running into a tree, or a rock, or whatever it was. Similarly, the desperate final battle seems for much higher stakes and with far higher casualties. And while the Autons here have a much smaller role in the plot than in The Auton Invasion, much less being made of them as shop window dummies come to life and making them consequently less sinister, the explosion of deadly plastic consumer goods bads that Bob gleefully thinks up mostly make up for them, with Terrance deftly sketching in a much bigger promotional campaign than we could ever see on TV.
“Only the Master, and the Autons, knew that this particular something-for-nothing was the deadly prelude to the second Auton invasion.”
Perhaps the most striking Auton appearance here, though, is only part of one, in a scene that builds terrifically on just a moment from the TV version. Searching the Farrel Factory for clues as to where the Master and the Autons might have gone, the Doctor shows off by opening the safe… Only for the Auton inside it to open fire. The Brigadier chucks in a grenade, the Doctor slams the door closed again… And its severed arm starts thrashing like a snake, “spitting out energy bolts” at them, a shock borrowed since by both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat for the screen, though not yet bettered.

The more tautly directed book also makes it amusingly clear that this is not a road safety lesson – never mind giving a bad example with the police, it features the Doctor and Jo leaping from moving vehicles in two ‘episodes’ running. The best is their escape from the coach, depicted far more excitingly and in far greater detail than some rather confused and limited scenes on screen.

One of the less fêted elements of this novel is that the victims, too, get a quiet look-in. Rex’s bullying father is easier to empathise with here thanks to Terrance softening the news (albeit deliciously broken on screen by the Master) of McDermot’s death into just a cover story about a sudden business trip. You’d think it would be the death of his friend that would make him more sympathetic, but on screen all that means is that Rex, seemingly in shock and cracking up, is just the target of his father having a go at him without the empathy to see it; in the book, Mr Farrel Snr worries that his son’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Mrs Farrel, too, is more successful on the page (rather than in front of her fitted kitchen). Terrance is both straight to the point and understated in deftly sketching in her feelings after bereavement, a rare moment in one of his books that I can instantly feel for, while the Doctor solemnly telling her that her husband was one of the first victims of a kind of war resonates with the return of the Autons three decades later.

The Deadly Daffodils



Sandy Wilcock and the Killer Daffodil
 
Posted by Picasa

You thought the picture of me grown up and retouched was scary? Here’s a very early model me, aged 7: “Alexander” still shortened to “Sandy” rather than “Alex”; pre-glasses; hair in mid-shift between curly blond and straight brown; but already a Doctor Who fan, and when everyone else in my class at St Simon’s R.C. Primary School, Hazel Grove, was just getting on with drawing the daffodil, I was wondering if it was going to kill me. And who could blame it, in that outfit?

Doctor Who had obviously made all too great an impact on me very early in life. But, fortunately, pretty much all of that impact was marvellous. Except for the bow tie (no, Matt, I hate to break it to you…). From reading to Richard, life is just better. And unlike my love for Richard, I did eventually learn to love not just daffodils but Doctor Who with a critical eye. So, yes, as I give Terrance his birthday bouquet, he has some reason to be wary, too…

While mostly Terrance’s novel beats TV’s Terror of the Autons hands down, one element that’s definitely inferior in the book is that the Master switches from having a Mark Two dematerialisation circuit to the suggestion that the Time Lords have only had two marginally different TARDISes in their millions of years watching all of time and space. Terrance is clearly making it about the TARDISes themselves as a character point, so that the Doctor in effect sides with the ‘vintage roadster’ against the ‘flashy new model’, but what it gains in ‘moment of charm’ it loses in ‘moment of brain’:
“‘You see my TARDIS is one of the original Mark One’s. Splendid old machine, mind you. Don’t build ’em like that any more. But the Master’s is one of these flashy Mark Two jobs. The two circuits just aren’t interchangeable.’”
Shame about the uncharacteristic Grocer’s Apostrophe, too, but it didn’t harm me as a boy. Terrance’s other books taught me well.

Terrance’s tendency in his Pertwee books most of all is to smooth out any character development, so that the reader can comfortably drop in at any point in the book range and have, say, the Doctor always feeling the same about his exile, always wearing a velvet jacket and always patrician but kind. This occasionally leads to slip-ups such as that on page 79, where Terrance is so familiar with the set-up that he forgets to make it new when it needs to be – Jo has only just met the Doctor and has yet even to see inside the TARDIS, much less believe it works, but when the Doctor plans to slope off:
“She was always a little hurt when the Doctor talked about going away again.”
Both the “always” and “again” being for the first time, as far as she’s concerned.

Terrance’s – and the sub-editor’s – biggest cropper comes on page 104, after a deadly daffodil attacks Jo and a whole chapter after the doll has, empirically observed to have been activated by heat, as the Doctor exclaims on page 92…
“‘What about that poor Mr. Farrel?’ asked Jo.
“‘The doll probably works in the same way as the flowers. I expect he was murdered because he was threatening to cause trouble.’”
A page which might continue:
‘“But, surely, Doctor, you’ve already told me that the doll works in a completely different way to the flowers?”
‘The Doctor rubbed his chin thoughtfully and looked around for his prompt card.’
The book as originally pressed occasionally looks a little cramped in its layout to fit 34,000 words into space for 25,000, crashing in new chapters on the same pages as others end and often lacking even a blank line between scenes, though that does add to the feel of breathless excitement. Even the novel’s closing lines get an ad for other books stuffed in underneath them, which is a bit much! And yet who cares, when the words are so much fun and they have those pictures wrapped round them?

Prisoners of the Master

Although Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons isn’t yet one of the new reprints, an unabridged reading by Geoffrey Beevers was released on CD in 2010, and as with his Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, this later Master has rather a fabulous voice. Though he has a fair range for the characters, he’s usually most effective as the engaging and very slightly creepy narrator – except, of course, that it’s again marvellous to hear more of his silky Master, who at last gets to say “Polynestene”.

There’s more than the reading to these CDs, though. As ever, the audiobook misses the Doctor Who Theme, despite a jolly little tune at the end which, charmingly if inappropriately, segues into the TARDIS dematerialisation noise, a BBC sound that they can afford. There’s considerable development from the early audiobooks, now with far more of their own added music, mostly quite effective though occasionally overwhelming the lines, and sound effects that vary in effectiveness from an echo on the Master’s hypnotism to some rather overdone paper-shuffling and over-literal “pistol shots”.

Another happy development is that they’ve added a ‘third page’ to this one’s folded booklet, thankfully, which means its reproductions of Alan Willow’s interior illustrations (while not large) are no longer postage-stamp-sized as they were in earlier releases. It makes it all the more of a shame that their picture of Alun Hood’s horrific Nestene second edition is still tiny, and hidden within the jewel case.

The End of Round One



Doctor Who – The UNIT Family (yes, every family has a wicked uncle)
 
Posted by Picasa


Most novelisations of stories from this Doctor Who season (the Eighth, in 1971) are highly praised, and I’m solidly with that – most, too, are for me some way ahead of their TV versions. In both the books – where both The Doomsday Weapon and The Dæmons are among the best they ever did – and the TV series – where I’d plump for The Dæmons and The Mind of Evil – I sometimes overlook Terror of the Autons slightly now, yet each time I come to it, in either version, I tend to enjoy it enormously, if not faultlessly. And when I first started reading Doctor Who books, aged five, the crisp pace, inventive plot and the fantastic Master throughout were all exactly that. It was a long time before I starting thinking maybe other writers gave more character than Terrance, or that the plot of this one goes all over the shop, or that the Master was mightily overused that year – the last, certainly, fair in criticism of some stories but never for this, still the benchmark for his character. This story was still brilliant when, a few years later, Doctor Who Magazine started up and showed those fabulous photos of the Pertwee era, still for me unbeatable for, ah, stills, and the best of the lot surely the four main characters posing dramatically with the TARDIS out at the circus. I loved the picture of one of them so much that I drew them myself from it, several times. I bet you can guess which.

When I was a boy, Terror of the Autons was without a doubt the best story of Season 8 and one of my favourites of my early books. And sometimes it’s just a pleasure to revisit this story, and that feeling. Thank you, Terrance.




*Apparently the proper term for the big soft square bits that you put over the frame of your sofa or armchair and form the back or seat that you sit on is just “cushion”. But that sounds like the smaller ‘throw’ or ‘scatter’ cushion that’s more of a decoration or a back support. Yes, it took me a lot more online work to try and find the word for a ‘boxed cushion’ than it did to check any of the Doctor Who bits, both because I’m far more of an expert on Who than upholstery, and because it turns out that the vocabulary of upholstery sites is a bit cruddy. They needed to read more Terrance Dicks as children.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Comments:
Great piece. Terror Of The Autons is one I've not got round to rereading since I was tiny -- and in fact I'd have put money on it being one I'd not read at all, until I saw that eyeball on the second edition cover.I remembered *that* all right -- I haven't been dragged back to my childhood so vividly in years.

Wish I'd realised that Giant Robot was being serialised before the first few parts disappeared from the iplayer.

And I do hope The Book People do the same all six for a quid each deal with the new Targets they did with the last set of reissues.
 
Thank you very much - I wasn't sure if the extra-long quoted passage worked, but I thought, if I want to pay tribute to Terrance, I really need some Terrance...

And funny how that eyeball seems to have an effect on people. I think even Richard was disturbed. Hope it was an exciting trip backwards! It's very much a childhood thrill for me, too.

I must look out for the 4Extra Whos more often and plug them while they're on, but I've been ill and mostly deaf, so looking at the Radio Times even less than usual.

That Book People offer's terrific, isn't it? I think it's still on for that first set (go buy, readers!). In the meantime, I gave in this week and have ordered the new-old ones from Amazon, who at close to half price seem to be the cheapest right now.
 
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?