“Doctor Who and the Daleks” by David Whitaker: a review

This novelisation by David Whitaker, of the second ever Doctor Who tv adventure, is something of a curiosity and a gem.

It was the first ever Doctor Who story to be published as a novel, and as such had to give a beginning for those who had never seen the original tv stories.

It wanted to go straight in to the Dalek adventure without first visiting the junkyard revealed in “The Unearthly Child” or the quick swing back to prehistory in the adventure that immediately led to.  But it also had backstory to give to launch new readers into the world of Who.

And so it created an alternative beginning, where Ina Chesterton, on his way back from a job interview in Reigate, chances on a fatal road accident featuring a dead soldier, an injured woman (Barbara) and a lost girl (Susan), with the Doctor appearing looking for both of them.  To those familiar with the Who’s origins this is disorientating and exciting.  It’s like finding a new release of one of your favourite films with an alternative opening restored to the cut, and one that works.

This is darker than the original, with the presence of death, and the Doctor himself even more of an unknowable presence, a cranky old man with a malicious twinkle in his eye.

The group repair back to the Tardis and from then on the story begins to segue back into the outlines of the original, but there are continuing creative differences, including a burgeoning romance between Ian and Barbara, and a glass ‘Emperor’ Dalek at the end.

For those of you who don’t know the original, it’s a story that uses familiar 60’s SF tropes including an irradiated war torn planet, a pacifist race being hunted to extinction by an aggressive warlike race, robotic dehumanisation, allegories to fascism, and a debate on the limits of pacifism.  Well, not a debate, pacifism is simply shown not to work, with the Doctor and his friends’ basic message to the peace loving Thals being, “sometimes you just gotta FIGHT!”

It’s the uniqueness of the Doctor and the famous Daleks that lift this above the level of cliché.  Even in this simpler form (they can’t move off metal floors as they need magnetic propulsion) they remain a chilling representation of deliberate, implacable hate, with the shrivelled creatures inside seeming to represent their shrivelled souls.

The writing is clear and it barrels quickly along, as you would expect from a novel written for the younger end of the market, but it has been and will continue to be enjoyed by all ages.  It’s fascinating to see the original illustrations, simple black and white drawings that nevertheless are supremely evocative of the original tv story.  There’s an introduction by Neil Gaiman (who recently joined the ranks of Dr Who writers with a Cyberman story for Matt Smith) who tells what the book meant to him.  He underscores that this was an age when everything was much more vulnerable and subject to loss in terms of film.  If you missed a story you may have been forgiven in thinking that it would never be repeated and you would never see it again, which is the case for a lot of the ‘lost’ adventures.  So, novelisations were a vital bridge back to the original.

At the end there are “between the lines” extras on the history of the story and background on the writers and scriptwriters, and a good analysis of the differences between the novelisation and the tv original.

A genuinely enjoyable read.

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