Reviewed: Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion by Malcolm Hulke

“Through the windscreen, the Doctor could see the gigantic shape of a tyrannosaurus rex blocking the road.”

So goes the attention-grabbing extract on the back cover of this reissue of Malcolm Hulke’s 1976 novelisation of his story from Jon Pertwee’s final season. The single word most associated with this book, and perhaps with the story itself, wasn’t written by Hulke but was depicted in vivid block letters by cover artist Chris Achilleos – ‘KKLAK!’, that glorious comic-book style caption which makes this probably the most famous of all the Target covers.

It’s reason enough to buy the book, one of seven from the Target range to be republished this month. The books, which come with a gold embossed Doctor Who logo, are rather lovely to look at but it can’t just be me who feels it’s a shame that BBC Books couldn’t find a way to incorporate the Target logo, just for old times’ sake. The introductions added to earlier reissues by the likes of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss which told us why these books meant so much to people who grew up reading them are sadly missing from this batch though we do get helpful information (‘The Changing Face of Doctor Who’) to fill us in on the Third Doctor, UNIT and Sarah Jane Smith and brief ‘About the Author’ details at the end.

Target Dinosaur Invasion Achilleos

The story feels like a collection of ingredients which nicely sum up the Jon Pertwee era: the UNIT team dealing with a crisis, pre-historic monsters, the Doctor railing against officialdom, the Brigadier spending a lot of time on the phone… and there’s plenty of fun to be had reading a book that compresses six episodes of action into a page count well below 200 (an unsung skill of those Target writers that some modern authors could learn from).

There are two main weaknesses to Invasion of the Dinosaurs which have meant that it’s never been widely regarded as a classic and have sometimes left it open to ridicule. One is the dinosaurs themselves; famously rubbery, immobile beasts in the television version, a case of the Doctor Who production team’s ambition hugely exceeding what resources could deliver. This poses no problems on the page, however, where the reader’s imagination very easily makes up for any shortcomings when it comes to marauding dinosaurs, although it’s possible that youngsters buying the book back in the 1970s may have been a bit disappointed that the story doesn’t feature a bit more dinosaur action, especially if they were lured into parting with their pocket-money by that slavering t-rex on the cover.

There’s no escaping the second issue, however; that of the plot, and the leap of faith it asks us to take regarding the spectacular gullibility of the prospective New Earth colonists who have been convinced by Operation Golden Age’s proponents that they are on a three-month voyage to a previously undiscovered sister planet (I’d love to see the sales brochure for that trip) when in reality they are stuck beneath the London streets. Thankfully, Sarah has her wits about her sufficiently to realise that the sore bump on her head means she can’t have been in hibernation for that long. Ah well, Doctor Who has a long and noble tradition of characters swallowing colossal fibs so maybe it’s unfair to single out this story…

Dinosaur Invasion UNIT

Better to enjoy the ride in a story which moves along nicely with some effective jolts as, one-by-one, the conspirators are revealed. Hulke uses techniques open to the novelist to offer a different insight into the story from that which television viewers had: we occasionally see things from the dinosaurs’ point of view (‘The stegosaurus, thirty feet long and weighing two tons, stood bewildered in a narrow Hampstead street’). The author seems to have enjoyed himself on this book, as in a later sequence when field reports from across the city are used to illustrate the chaos as creatures’ rampage through the capital:

“…Time 0927. UNIT patrol 57 to UNIT Headquarters. Pterodactyl at Tower of London is attacking the ravens. UNIT personnel moving in to fight and destroy…”

Unsurprisingly, there are some reminders to the modern reader that this is a book published some four decades ago. The Doctor’s attempts to talk to the looter he and Sarah are detained alongside in a language he will understand are worthy of Enid Blyton at her most patronising (‘It was you what grassed on us!’ he bellows in a ‘loud, Cockney accent’ and my personal favourite ‘Get on your feet, you low-down dirty stool pigeon!’). And Sarah’s rudeness in a later chapter, albeit to someone who’s locking her up, is positively alarming to modern sensibilities: ‘You’d be quite handsome without that scar, you know.’ Don’t bother with that application to the diplomatic service, Sarah…

Dinosaur Invasion UNIT T-rex

But it all adds up to a fun read, a slice of Doctor Who very much of its era and one which, taken as a package with that wonderful Chris Achilleos cover (look out for our interview coming up soon…) gives a reminder as to why readers who bought these books treasured them so much.

Malcolm Hulke is one of the most fascinating characters to have worked on Doctor Who is its long history, a Navy veteran and Communist Party member who, as was recently revealed in declassified files, was monitored by MI5. As the book’s notes mention, his scripts typically present us with no clear villains but rather characters with an alternative, valid point of view. It may be first and foremost a rollicking adventure but it’s impossible to read Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion and not feel, knowing what we now know about its author, that he had a good deal of sympathy with the people who through Operation Golden Age sought to return the world to an earlier, simpler time.

The Target reissue of Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion by Malcolm Hulke is released Thursday, 28th April.

  • bar

    That word KKLAK made my day! I don’t know about the book, but the TV version is nowhere near as bad as made out. The scene with Sarah in the enclosed space with TRex works like Rose with the lone Dalek, or Mary with the Cyberman in The Silver Turk.
    As to your last point, Miles & Wood’s comment in About Time 3 still amuses:
    “Richard Franklin, whose character in IotD joins a lunatic organisation that wants to turn back time to a mythical golden age of ‘green and pleasant lands’ stood as a candidate in the 2001 British general election on behalf of UKIP. Non-British readers probably won’t see the funny side of this.”

  • Dr. Moo

    One of Jon Pertwee’s very best. I haven’t read the book but when the TV serial is as good as it is then I have no doubt the book is a good one. It was the first time I got to see the 3rd Doctor in action and I loved what I saw.

    • TimeChaser

      You know, I can’t remember what my first Pertwee story was. I can remember the first ever Doctor Who I saw, which was The Face of Evil, and I’m pretty sure my first Davison was The Five Doctors, and my first McCoy was Dragonfire. The rest, no clue. I have a terrible memory. I can’t recall most of my life in much more than basic detail.

      • Dr. Moo

        I could reel off my firsts for all thirteen. Whether that’s good or bad is another matter.

        • TimeChaser

          Well for the new series it’s easy. My firsts were all their firsts. 😛

          Pointless geek trivia is good. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise!

          • Dr. Moo

            1 & 2 – Three Docs
            3 – Dinosaurs
            4 – Genesis
            5 – Resurrection
            6 – Two Docs
            10 – Pompeii

            Debut stories for the rest. Yes that includes T&tR!

          • Philip

            That’s interesting. So you watched Series 1, or at least Rose? What made you turn away from the series until 2008?

          • Dr. Moo

            I wondered whether anyone would pick up on that.

            I saw Tennant’s Pompeii episode via repeat on BBC3, basically a case of “Let’s See What All The Fuss Was About”, and enjoyed it so when the next series, specifically series five, started I watched it. I caught up on everything else later.

          • Philip

            Ah right! So did you watch Series 1 when it aired?

          • Dr. Moo

            No, I watched all of the episodes from Rose through to The End of Time in the summer/autumn of 2010. About one year after that I dived into the classics… I remember being thrown off-guard by the 25 minute serialised format and how I had to learn to get used to that!

          • Philip

            2010 must’ve been quite a year for you! 😀

          • Dr. Moo

            You could say it was My 2005.

            As someone once said: “No, don’t do that.”

  • TimeChaser

    I don’t have this book in my Target collection, so I will definitely be getting this reissue.

    I’ve always wondered how Golden Age managed to dupe the “colonists” into believing they were on a “spaceship”. I mean, were they put into “hibernation” (probably just a drug-induced state) before they supposedly boarded? That’s the only way I can think of, because it’s a long way off between a bunker and a spaceship. Some more detail in that area would have been nice. That’s probably the single biggest plot hole in the story.

    • Mark North

      Go back to the original premise of the story. The “colonists” were told that the earth had been rendered uninhabitable. It was through their leader’s ” benevolence” that the colonists survived. This is also an episode where the dangers of unquestioned obedience are portrayed. You notice how quickly the colonists turned on their “benefactor” when the truth of what has been happening was brought out…

      • TimeChaser

        It still doesn’t make any sense. Yes, once they were supposedly aboard the ship, they could have been told anything. But how did they end up there in the first place without anyone questioning thing at any point? They couldn’t have been shown the ship, since none was ever built. And how were they supposed to be hibernating? No such technology existed, so were they put in drugged-induced comas? The story asks a lot of viewers/readers to accept how incredibly gullible these people had to be to fall for any of it.