TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 October 2015
Invasion, destruction, treachery and oppression – but also hope, heroism and victory against terrible odds. Set in the future but rooted in an alternative past, this is one of the bleakest ‘Doctor Who’ stories yet also one of the most inspiring and ‘human’. 5* (4 CDs, 4 hours 10 minutes)
It was the only early ‘Doctor Who’ I’d seen. There were no DVDs, no VHS tapes – but there was a film starring Peter Cushing shown on the BBC one Saturday morning in the 1970s. So that’s what the First Doctor was like in his prime!
Err… no, not really. It took the ‘Target’ books to show me the real First Doctor and this is the darkest of them all; a tale of ruined lives, death and destruction set not on Skaro or some other alien world, but right here in Britain. A few centuries in the future, it’s true, but still much too close for comfort.
Terrance Dicks’ novelisation is excellent, from the quietly mysterious opening in ruined, deserted London through full scale Dalek battles and the courage of the human Resistance, to the final dramatic defeat of the Dalek plan - in rural Bedfordshire of all places. It’s a disturbing story of a post-invasion Britain where heroes and villains are not always obvious, reflecting of course the trauma of Nazi-occupied Europe and what might have been here too, but for courage, luck and leadership. Reading the novel decades after that war, but in the Cold War 1970s with the Soviet Red Army massed halfway across Europe, it was, as I’ve said, still much too close for comfort…
The story is told clearly but never simplistically, with its fair share of exciting set-piece scenes and character moments, but for me the very best parts are some of the descriptive passages, where Terrance Dicks evokes pictures of post-apocalypse Earth and the struggles of the last of our people against the invaders. His opening line would do credit to any classic work of literature for concisely setting place, mood and tension and I never forgot it: “Through the ruin of a city, stalked the ruin of a man…”
William Russell reads and performs the Audiobook superbly. It’s very special to hear this story told by “Ian Chesterton” himself, in many ways the central hero of this tale, while also giving his excellent interpretation of William Hartnell’s First Doctor and providing clearly defined voices and accents for all the other characters. Well, almost all… listening with headphones, it was quite a jolt when the first Dalek spoke and William Russell’s English tones were replaced by the harsh alien voice grating in my ears!
Nicholas Briggs’ voicing of the invaders adds significantly to this production, as do the sound effects of battle and alien machinery and atmospheric echoes when characters speak in tunnels and metal-walled Dalek corridors. Combined with the incidental music and above all, William Russell’s performance, the whole effect is ‘visual’, tense and exciting and does full justice to this classic, epic tale. And the ending still carries that mixture of hope and quiet sadness that it must have done for television viewers back in the 1960s, as Susan begins her new life and the Doctor loses his last link with family and home.
The artwork for this Target book was a departure from that of the earlier titles and it’s good to see it used here in all its colourful glory – though as I later discovered, it depicts the film version of the story. Artwork from later editions is shown inside the CD case and alternative artwork (also by Chris Achilleos, in 2007) faithful to the Hartnell-era original story is on the back of the enclosed booklet; a nice touch.
This is a classic in every sense; the original story, the novelisation and this Audiobook. Highly recommended. 5*