(2019 / 2021) Eric Saward, Target – BBC Books, £7.99 / Can$16.99 / US$10.99, pbk, 179pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94436-9
Finally, the last of the old-school Who stories is released as a Target book, following on from the hardback edition that was published in 2019. It has been a long time coming given that the story was originally broadcast in 1985. I do remember it well, recording it straight of the telly on VHS tapes now consigned to the bin. I was a fan of Colin Baker’s Doctor and this story had the bonus of featuring the Daleks and Davros and a top-class supporting cast including Eleanor Bron, Clive Swift, Alexei Sayle, but more importantly was the inclusion of actor Richard Gaunt, better known in some quarters as Richard Barrett from the 1960’s TV series The Champions. What I didn’t realise at the time was that script writer Eric Saward, who was also a script editor for the BBC, took the names of some characters from words he encountered on a holiday in Greece. Nor, did I realise that the plot, characters and events were inspired by the novel The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh, which is a satire about the American funeral business.
Funerals in Doctor Who, I hear you ask. Well, there has certainly been plenty of deaths over the years, but yes, Revelation of the Daleks takes place on the planet Necros, and the funeral home “Tranquil Repose” where the dead are interred, and those who are nearly dead are placed in suspended animation in the hope they can be revived and cured of whatever ails them. Of course, all is not as it seems as mutated shambles stalk between the trees outside and in the depths of Tranquil Repose the Daleks are Davros are experimenting on human heads and brains as Davros tries to create a new breed of Dalek through which he can conquer the universe, and I’ll leave the reader to find out what he uses the other body parts for. Yes, it’s all very Hammer horror with a Doctor Who twist.
What we get for our £7.99 is a reasonably straight forward version of the TV episodes with some added extras in keeping with the Target tradition, the added extras here being some additional characters and an additional subplot. The supporting cast become more rounded in the novel form with some of their backstory and motivations added in, which possibly could have been delivered a bit more subtly as there is a lot of tell, instead of showing, however, there is some attempt at comic banter between some of the double-acts that appeared on screen and in the text, which offer a nice counterbalance to the very dark deeds which take place throughout the story. “Beware the hands that heal” warns the blurb on the back cover, and it is a warning worth heeding.
Those familiar with Waugh’s The Loved One, which was published back in the 1940s, will see the parallels between the novel and Saward’s script. For Waugh’s Whispering Glades funeral home we have Tranquil Repose. For “The Blessed Reverend” we have the Great Healer, who both have their uses for dead bodies, and there are also similarities involving character names and sub plots, and Seward even calls Tranquil Repose’s clients “The Loved Ones”. Still, I suppose novels are there to be borrowed from. I remember talking to science fiction writer Norman Spinrad who freely admitted he had borrowed the plot of Moby Dick for his classic Star Trek episode 'The Doomsday Machine'. Perhaps, by drawing inspiration from Waugh, Saward has given us a book that is a lot better than his Resurrection of the Daleks adaptation, which wouldn’t be difficult, and hats off to Anthony Dry for another great cover illustration.
See also Peter's take on The Revelation of the Daleks.
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