Graphic Novel Reviews

Dr Who: The Dalek Project

(2012) Justin Richards & Mike Collins, BBC Books (Ebury Random Ho), hrdbk, 14.99 / US$23.99, ISBN 978-1-846-07755-5


An archaeological dig presumably of Bronze Age artefacts in France stumbles into a chamber wakening a century-dormant dalek. Fortunately the TARDIS materialises and with the doctor onboard they soon put matters to right. But how did the dalek get there? The Doctor (in Matt Smith guise) has the answer and tells them a story set in World War I

What we have with this graphic novel is an enjoyable enough a romp. There is a fairly decent story that throws up a good number of SFnal images (such as juxtaposing Daleks with WWI and even steampunk daleks) that are competently visually presented in full colour artwork.

All well and good, but this is not a Dalek story from the golden age of Dr Who script writing. Some things seemed more than a little contrived. To give an example near the beginning of the graphic novel, the Doctor never gives one-off rides to those from one adventure to have a cup of tea with those from another adventure even if the two escapades are somehow linked. Quite clearly this was a mechanism to weave a larger second tale into what is in effect an introductory set up (and not least to include a journey in the TARDIS) plus to have a decent, final wrap-up page over a cuppa.

It also has to be said that the new re-incarnation of Dr Who (Ecclestone onwards) has seen the plot basis for the franchise begun to paint itself into a corner. Some parts of time cannot be revisited (fair enough) but the qualification as to which parts is cloudy. We know that there was a huge war between the Daleks and Time Lords (in our future) but given that both the Daleks and the Time Lords exist in our time, how come the Doctor cannot visit and interact with these? (After all he does with other characters he has met before and out of temporal sequence.) All this is germane as this graphic novel involves a Dalek time ship (we know that more advanced dalek technology of the future has these). In short this graphic novel sits more or less comfortably within the Dr Who franchise but the franchise is losing its way; the BBC might find employing bona fide SF authors (Neil Gaiman being one obvious choice) to create a script-writer bible very worthwhile if they expect the series to continue for any length of time. This is a germane point as this story has some inconsistencies within the broader Dr Who arc but these I leave for the reader to discern rather than give plot spoilers.

Having said that, this graphic novel does have a few peculiarities of its own. Century-old alien high-tech dalek remains being mistaken for primitive Bronze Age artefacts by a trained archaeologist. Really? Terry Nation (and others involved in early Dr Who scripts such as Kit Pedler) would never include such paper-thin plot devices, and one of the things that Dr Who gets (some) kids to do is to think. (Well it did me as a youngster as to what was possibly possible (given the technology) and so was SF, and what was not and so was fantasy. Albeit that I never thought of it quite in those genre terms.) Furthermore, the story needs some minor (but significantly important) exposition as to what it is the daleks were creating in this graphic novel: suffice to say that daleks are meant to be aliens from Skaro embedded in what is effectively an artificial exoskeleton. However seasoned fans can overlook such shortcomings by imagining for themselves some plausible explanation (even if that should really be the author's job).

Overall this graphic novel will be eagerly devoured by Dr Who's younger teenage viewers as well as older die-hard Dalek fans who will either forgive or be oblivious to the story's deeper inconsistencies (or even its shallower ones). In short this is a fair enough offering. BBC Books (and Dr Who) could do worse. But by and large this does nothing to help assuage my qualms as to where the series' basis for plot arcs is going. Yes I know, I worry too much.

All of which does make me wonder, what with Dr Who's 50th anniversary coming up, whether some graphic novels might be straight adaptations from the original dalek Dr Who episodes? Such might be commercially challenging projects but financially eased if serialised first in one of the Dr Who magazine strips and the writer- artwork costs shared between the comic and resulting collected graphic novels spanning a few dalek volumes. Yet, especially if advertised by the BBC, these would sell not only to current younger viewers but also to parents (who watch the episodes the first time around) and, of course to die-hard Who fans and comics collectors. Just a thought.

Jonathan Cowie

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