Written by Terrance Dicks.
Read by Geoffrey Beevers.
There are Doctor Who stories that benefit from being novelized entirely straight, simply transferring the on-screen antics to the page and letting the reader (or listener) revel in the experience.
Doctor Who and the Android Invasion is… not one of those.
It suffered even on screen from the fact that as a story, it was just patently against the rules of logic – but on screen, it’s possible that there was either a) nothing ready to replace it, or b) nothing worth replacing it with, given that it was a non-Dalek story originally by Dalek creator Terry Nation – and by the mid-Seventies, those had simply stopped happening. There may have been careful negotiations to be done in terms of access to the Daleks for Doctor Who, or there may just about have been enough meat on the bones of The Android Invasion to intrigue the triumvirate of Barry Letts (Director), Robert Holmes (Script Editor), and particularly Philip Hinchcliffe (Producer).
The Hinchcliffe Factor
We single out Hinchcliffe particularly because he’s known to have presided over a period in Doctor Who that was heavily influenced by classic and gothic horror fiction, and The Android Invasion does have elements of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers to it. Replica humans with an alien command and control circuit, infiltrating high positions in government, to lower resistance to the actual invasion by the aliens. There’s nothing especially original about that idea, but nothing especially bad or offensive about it, either.
Also, if you have android doppelgangers walking around the place, there’s scope for plenty of creepy, shiver-down-the-spine paranoia and betrayal – an essential part of the Body Snatchers narrative, itself taken from real-world politics and the notion of hidden cells of communists in the America of the Fifties.
Did we mention the aliens?
Oh dear. The aliens. The Kraals – a race of scientific warmongers with a face somewhere between a rhino and a triceratops. They were faintly ridiculous on screen (and there were only ever two of them, one warrior and one chief scientist), and this is part of what we mean by the idea that the novelization doesn’t work when it transfers the content straight from the screen to the novel. Terrance Dicks, bless him, was a master of his craft, both as Script Editor of Doctor Who and chief novelizer of the show for Target books – but whenever he was asked back in the day what his motivations were in writing the show, his response was frequently “to make sure there’s more than dead air broadcast when the time comes.”
He understood deadlines, and he frequently applied his craft with an eye to delivering the basic goods in his Target novelizations. Here, he does exactly that, and it doesn’t particularly work because the script as it made its way to the TV screen was absolutely barmy.
The Barking Mad Space Rhino Invasion
The Kraals’ invasion plan is barking mad whichever angle you approach it from. Their use of androids to recreate a perfectly twee English village (complete with newly-minted identical coinage in the pub’s till) is barmy. Why not run simulations in a replica major city, with organics testing out their androids’ capabilities? No reason beyond budget and potentially imaginative constriction on the part of Terry Nation. And all of that barking madness makes its way straight through to the novelization without so much as a by-your-leave or much by the way of additional Dicksian invention about the Kraals, why they might want to do this damn silly thing in this damn silly way, or much by way of expansion at all, in fact.
The result is a novelization that feels slight even by Target standards. Slight and – did we mention? – barking mad.
The Beevers Salvation
If there’s a saving grace to be had here though, it comes in the translation of Doctor Who and the Android Invasion to audiobook format. And it comes because when you make an audiobook, you need a reader, and Penguin and the BBC, in audio-releasing the Classic Target Doctor Who novelizations, occasionally have an excellent ear for just the right reader.
Here, reading duties are given to Geoffrey Beevers. Geoffrey Beevers, if you’re new around these parts, is an actor and writer with one of the most darkly mellifluous voices you could imagine. So much so that in 1981, Beevers was brought in to play the Master in one of Tom Baker’s final stories as the Doctor, The Keeper of Traken. A halfway portrayal between the raging agony of Peter Pratt’s earlier incarnation in The Deadly Assassin and Anthony Ainley’s incoming version, Beevers’ Master was seductive, coaxing, the voice of the serpent in an outer space Garden of Eden parable.
He’s gone on to record a large number of audio dramas as that version of the Master for Big Finish, and here, he throws his voice all over the shop, from a creditable portrayal of Tom Baker’s Doctor, to a light but believable Sarah Jane Smith, to the rasping, ranting, egotistical Kraal chief scientist, Styggron.
A Fantastic Audio Canvas
Nation’s original script made less than zero sense, but was turned into an at least passably memorable, creepy paranoiac story, more or less destroyed by the reveal of the villains and their crazy plan. Dicks’ novelization in this instance is workmanlike rather than inspirational, but the audiobook is saved and turned at least into an interesting three and a half hours by Beevers’ consummate craftsmanship as a voice actor.
There’s not really any sense in which The Android Invasion was peak Doctor Who – in fact, it was very much a table wine story, rather than anything that ever sparkled or thrilled. That being the case, and Terrance Dicks for once adding very little to what was seen on screen in his novelization, it’s hard to make the case that the audiobook is an absolute must-listen.
But if you think of it as a canvas on which Geoffrey Beevers’ expressive and lithe voice can paint extraordinary pictures, there’s always going to be a reason to buy and listen to Doctor Who and the Android Invasion as an audiobook. In fact, it’s more than arguable that this is the best version of the story you’re ever going to experience, so put yourself in the hands of (ahem) a master, and let Geoffrey Beevers’ voice run up and down your spine, convincing you that malfunctioning androids and space-rhinos are really more frightening than you ever imagined they could be. Tony Fyler