A History of the World in 10½ Chapters
Wednesday, 26 January 2022
This essay was originally published in You on Target, an anthology of essays about the Doctor Who Target novelisations, released in 2020. In it, I talk about (among other things) Malcolm Hulke’s novelisation of the Doctor Who story Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
Thank you to Christopher Bryant for commissioning it.
66 million years ago
Somehow, the pterodactyl was glad to be back. It had been a very difficult day.
Just this morning, it had been sunning itself in this sandy clearing. It must have fallen asleep, for the next thing it knew was that it was somewhere else, in a giant underground cavern. There was some kind of mammal there, a mammal with a head covered with a shock of white fur. The mammal was holding a searing bright light, which had sent the pterodactyl off screeching to the roof of the cavern. But then mammal had gone away, and the pterodactyl had settled down to wait for sunrise.
Still, that’s all over now, it thought.
But this very thought was interrupted by a loud, high-pitched buzz. The pterodactyl looked up to see two more of the brown-coloured mammals, appearing out of nowhere in a swirling eddy of light.
It couldn’t understand the ugly noises coming from the mammals’ mouths, of course, and it couldn’t admire the highly polished fingernails of one or the expensively cut lounge suit of the other. But it knew that they would attract the attention of the Monster, who would soon be along to enjoy them as a between-meals snack.
So it flew off, the tip of one leathery wing grazing the cheek of one of the mammals as it went. The Monster was coming.
Silence. A sound of thunder.
12 January 1974
At teatime today, Part 1 of Invasion of the Dinosaurs is broadcast for the first time.
(I will turn five in three months, but I don’t appear in this chapter of the story.)
Part 1 is a pretty good episode. The Doctor and his new assistant Sarah Jane Smith are exploring a mysteriously bleak and deserted London. They are mistaken for looters, and are quickly arrested. No one will even listen to their story: they are apparently powerless to escape from a rigid and tiresome military bureaucracy.
And then, at the cliffhanger, they are menaced by a roaring puppet Tyrannosaurus.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs will not become an instant classic. Last year’s finale, The Green Death, featured simple rod-and-string puppet maggots, and psychologically scarred an entire generation of children. But no one will be scarred by Invasion’s puppet dinosaurs, because they are plangently, lamentably bad. They float in mid-air, amateurishly CSO’d onto poorly-directed location footage. They burst suddenly through cardboard walls. Instead of roaring, they actually seem to be saying the English word ROAR. One dinosaur retreats out of shot, pulled by the tail by an off-screen hand. Another two dinosaurs fight, menacing each other with bendy rubber teeth. (Or are they snogging? It’s honestly hard to tell.)
Six weeks later, a man with polished fingernails and a man in an expensively cut lounge suit will vanish completely from a secret government base underneath an evacuated London.
19 February 1976
Malcolm Hulke’s fifth Doctor Who novelisation is published: a version of Invasion of the Dinosaurs called Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion.
Unlike the televised story, it’s a triumph. And not just because it doesn’t include a single puppet dinosaur.
Consider how it reveals the backstory — the evacuation of London and the mysterious appearance of the dinosaurs. In Part 1 of Invasion of the Dinosaurs, the Doctor and Sarah hear about these events in some fairly unremarkable expository dialogue. But in Chapter 1 of the novelisation (London Alert!), we see the same events through the eyes of Shughie McPherson. Shughie is a young unemployed man from Glasgow, who has come down (up?) to London with some mates to see the Cup Final. He misses the evacuation because he is too tired and hungover to leave with them.
He wakes up in a London that has been completely abandoned. There’s no electricty, so he decides to leave the house, only to discover that the entire street is deserted. Terrified by the sight of the broken body of a young milkman, he falls to his knees and recites the Lord’s Prayer. And then he is attacked and killed by an unseen dinosaur.
In the televised version of the story, there is no one as interesting and skilfully characterised as Shughie McPherson. And no one like him has ever appeared in Doctor Who before.
Malcolm Hulke is brilliant at backstory and characterisation. There’s an entire chapter in Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters devoted to the odd, one-sided relationship between Dr Quinn and Miss Dawson. In Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, we learn all about Jane Leeson — a character who gets a couple of minutes of screen time on television — what her life was like on a miserable, overcrowded earth, how she met her husband, and why she left to colonise the planet in whose soil she will finally be buried. And in Doctor Who and the Sea-Devils, we learn how Captain Trenchard aspires to be a hero, and how he is tragically killed by his own buffoonish incompetence.
21 June 1978
Here I am, appearing in the story at last. I’m ten years old, and tonight I will watch my first episode of Doctor Who.
A couple of weeks ago, my best friend at school showed me my first ever Target book. It was called The Doctor Who Monster Book. Somehow, Luke and I managed to spend hours of class time looking through it, when, presumably, we were meant to be doing mental arithmetic, or reading English books, or doing whatever the hell you do in Fourth Grade in primary school.
The Doctor Who Monster Book had a picture of Tom Baker on the front cover, apparently drawn by someone who had never actually seen him, even in photographs. There were sections on each of the Doctors, double-page spreads for all of the top-tier returning monsters, and even pages covering the the Zarbi, the Sensorites, and the Uxariean mining robot.
Because it was a Target book, many of the pages reproduced Chris Achilleos’s cover art for the novelisations. On pages 52 and 53, you could even see the classic cover of Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion, depicting Pertwee’s Doctor, his hand protecting his face, as a Tyrannosaurus rex advances on him from behind, and a pterodactyl snaps at him with an almighty Roy-Lichtenstein-inspired KKLAK!
But the star of the books was the Daleks. Five pages were devoted to them, chronicling their exploits in every Doctor Who story of the sixties and seventies, culminating in the Doctor’s attempt to avert their creation in Genesis of the Daleks.
Tonight’s episode, Luke tells me, is called Death to the Daleks. And so I will go home after school, and announce to my family that at half past six, on Channel 2, we will be watching Part 1 of my first ever Doctor Who story.
It will change my life.
Later in 1978
At ten years old, I am already a voracious reader. Summer is hot in Sydney, and we are lucky enough to have a swimming pool in the backyard. Sometimes I come home from school and sit on the top step of the pool and read. I’m often reading a Target novelisation.
By now, I’ve got quite a collection going. I get a couple of dollars a week in pocket money, in exchange for simple chores like wiping up the plates after dinner and not coming downstairs to annoy my parents after bedtime. I use that money to buy novelisations. David Jones at Warringah Mall has a bookshop, just near the butcher. We go there every week to buy meat, and after that I choose five or six novelisations and put them on lay-by until I can save up enough money to take them home with me. I write my name and phone number on the first page of each book.
Soon I have dozens of them. They’re almost always Pertwee or Baker stories, although I do have Doctor Who and the Cybermen, starring a strange old Doctor who I have never even seen. Some of them, like Doctor Who and the Giant Robot, Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear, Doctor Who and the Seeds of Doom, I have seen on television. Others, Doctor Who and the Mutants, Doctor Who and the Sea-Devils, Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion have not been on television since I started watching Doctor Who.
I’m in an airport, in the United States somewhere. My family are here on holiday: perhaps we’re travelling across the country, from LA to New York, I think. In my bag, there is an exercise book in which I use a biro to write an account of the trip; there are also a few Target novelisations from my collection.
My edition of Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion doesn’t have the cover with the pterodactyl saying KKLAK! It’s a later edition with a T. rex on the cover, based on a painting by Charles R. Knight, standing in front of a building I will later learn to identify as St Paul’s cathedral.
This is my first vivid memory of reading a Target novelisation: Sir Charles Grover, with his expensively cut lounge suit and delusions of grandeur, tells the Doctor that he is “in time to be present at the most important moment in the world’s history.” The Doctor, unimpressed as ever by the most important moments in the world’s history, replies, "On the contrary. I am in time to prevent a crime.”
I think I might be in love.
Interlude: Nathan meets Tom Baker
It’s March 1980, the last year of primary school. I’m still friends with Luke. He has told me that Tom Baker is visiting Australia, that he’s coming to Warringah Mall, and he’s making an appearance in the Grace Brothers car park.
My father has agreed to let me go. The night before, in preparation, I watch a new Doctor Who episode, Part Something of The Creature From The Pit. I also go through my collection to find a novelisation for Tom to sign. I settle on Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng Chiang: it has the best likeness of Tom on the cover. He is dressed like Sherlock Holmes, staring grimly out of the picture with his piercing brown eyes.
My mother is in hospital for the first time. Over the next ten years, she will often be in hospital. Now, in the distant future, I still remember going to see her years later, reading Doctor Who Magazine on the bus, clutching it in my hand as I go to visit her in the room where she will eventually succumb to the cancer that kills her.
That’s still ten years in the future. Right now, I’m in a long queue at the rooftop car park. Luke and his sister Rachel are with me. Immediately behind me in the queue is a boy who I will actually meet and befriend many years later: one of my co-hosts from the podcast Flight Through Entirety — Richard Stone. He has just about forgiven me for what happens next.
Many more people have turned up than the organisers expected. But we’re not very far from the front. Behind us, the queue snakes off into the distance. Ahead, I can seen Tom in the distance, wearing his costume from last night’s episode.
While we wait, I talk to Luke about my mother’s trip to hospital. I am overheard by a kindly old lady who is walking up and down the queue to keep everything running smoothly.
It takes an hour, I guess, but now we’re just about standing in front of Tom himself. An announcement is made. Tom needs to leave now, and so the people in front of us will be the last people to get to speak to him.
But the kindly lady intervenes. “This boy’s mother is in hospital,” she says, and I’m allowed to go up and speak to Tom. No one behind me in the queue will get that opportunity.
I can’t remember what I said. But I do remember Tom signing my Target novelisation and saying, “Your mother’s in hospital? Well, you know, if you ever need help, let me know. I’m a Doctor.”
His eyes are piercing and blue.
5 November 1984
In Sydney, in the late seventies, Channel 2 shows repeat after repeat of Doctor Who, four or five nights a week, at 6:30 PM, just before the news. They start at Spearhead from Space, and go up to the most recent episode with Tom Baker, and then back to Spearhead from Space again. Weirdly, they leave out anything scary, anything only available in black and white, and anything with the Master.
But tonight, they’re showing Invasion of the Dinosaurs for the first time. Part 1 is still only available in black and white — the colour version was deliberately incinerated — and so they’re renumbering the episodes to make it a five-part story. Watching Part 2, now re-branded as Part 1, is the first time I ever see the televised story, and it opens with the Doctor and Sarah inexplicably menaced by an unconvincing puppet Tyrannosaurus.
26 June 2010
I’m all grown up now. Crazily, I got rid of my whole collection of Target novelisations years ago. There were dozens and dozens of them, but I only kept one. Now the books are available in a completely new format — audiobooks. And so I start my collection up again, buying a copy of Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion.
Unlike my previous copy, this has the orange cover with the pterodactyl going KKLAK! It’s read by Martin Jarvis, who played Butler in the episode.
Martin Jarvis is, of course, superb. He does great accents for poor old Shughie McPherson and his mates, and great voices for the Doctor, Sarah and the Brigadier. More impressive, of course, is his note-perfect Martin Jarvis impersonation. Butler is much kinder and more working class here than the posh and distant character he was in the televised version. Hulke has given him a livid facial scar, to help us to recognise him when other characters don’t know who he is. When Sarah taunts him about that scar, she is embarrassed to learn that he got it saving a terrified child trapped on the ledge of a high building.
Hulke has a genius for backstory and characterisation.
And now, in the distant future, my iPhone contains dozens of audio versions of Target novelisations, even ones that I have never owned before, like Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters, tantalisingly referred to in a footnote in Chapter 3 of Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion.
My favourites are always the novelisations by Malcolm Hulke. I have all of them now, except for Doctor Who and the War Games. (Why don’t I have that? Wait here a second while I go and put it on my Audible wishlist.)
And my favourite audiobook is still the first one I ever bought.
5 billion years from now
The sun expands, and the Earth is destroyed, but nobody watches it happen. The Doctor is there, with his new best friend Rose. Later, or earlier, they will go out to get chips.