(2019) Eric Saward, BBC Books, £12.99, hrdbk, 189pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94433-8
The universe is at war. Action takes courage.
The TARDIS is ensnared in a time corridor, catapulting it into derelict docklands on 20th century Earth. The Doctor and his companions, Tegan and Turlough, stumble on a warehouse harbouring fugitives from the future at the far end of the corridor – and are soon under attack from a Dalek assault force. The Doctor’s oldest enemies have set in motion an intricate and sinister plot to resurrect their race from the ashes of an interstellar war. For the Daleks’ plans to succeed, they must set free their creator, Davros, from a galactic prison – and force the Doctor to help them achieve total control over time and space. But the embittered Davros has ideas of his own… 35 years after its first TV transmission,Doctor Who fan favourite 'Resurrection of the Daleks' is novelised at last, by the author of the original script, Eric Saward.
Oh, dear, I did want to enjoy this novel version of a much-loved Who story which on screen is a gritty, dark and stark story, ending with a turning point in the life of the Doctor and his companions – no spoilers here, but it really was a seminal story, and somewhere in Hunter Towers there is a box with old VHS tapes in it containing several stories from the Peter Davison days, including this adventure. In many ways I wish I could dig them out and play them again, for sadly, they would be a lot more entertaining than reading this.
Why? One of the reasons is that we get into the minds of too many of the minor characters, even to the extent that we actually come to care for them, even though they are destined to be “shreddies” or cannon fodder in this space-bound siege story where Davros is on a prison ship, and the Daleks want to liberate him, not out of any feelings of loyalty towards their creator, but because they are on the verge of being wiped out by a deadly disease and Davros might be their only hope of providing a cure. Of course, once liberated, Davros has ideas of his own, and soon makes some of the Daleks loyal to him, so we also have a mini Dalek civil war going on within the siege. This emphasis on the minor characters is to the detraction of the major ones; namely the Doctor, who remains a slightly aloof, distant character, realising now that he made a mistake in his Fourth incarnation when he had the chance of destroying the Daleks forever. By killing Davros he can rectify that mistake as the Daleks succumb to disease and then death. His companions – Turlough, and Tegan – don’t come off much better, hardly featuring at all and not having much to do. Turlough stays true to his slippery, self-serving credentials, slinking around the edges of the carnage looking for a way to survive the story regardless of the cost; while Tegan becomes a broken record, going on and on about the violence she had encountered in recent adventures with the Doctor and how much she is sick of it.
The story is 35 years old, and the telling of it feels really dated. Recent books about the Doctor in her most recent regeneration have benefitted from having a smaller, tighter group of characters providing the viewpoint; and while we rarely get into the head of the new Doctor, we do at least get her humour and wacky creativity shining through. Here, the Fifth Doctor is just a dour and grim character in a story that has too many cuts and short scenes which might have worked on the screen but all this chopping and changing doesn’t work on the page. Although a short novel, there is a heck of a lot going on in the ten chapters within it. Saward also has a really broad-brush to the story-telling in places, referencing some of the scripts he previously delivered for the BBC, and there are some “witty” asides to the reader that don’t really work, and why we need references to Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughterhouse Five is beyond me.
Disappointing, but Whovians (Editor: or even Whovers) will probably love it. Me? I’m off to see if the old video recorder is in the cupboard under the stairs and then off to find a box of old tapes.
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