Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who:  Dalek

(2021) Robert Shearman, BBC Books, £7.99 / Can$16.99 / US$10.99, pbk, 186pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94503-8


The Doctor and Rose Tyler are travelling through space and time in the TARDIS when they pick up a distress signal. Following it, the TARDIS materialises in a vast, deep underground complex, one floor of which is a museum of alien artefacts.

It is the near future and the complex is owned by the ruthless multi-billionaire Henry van Statten. As it happens, he is seeking help to get a mechanical monster he calls the Metaltron to talk. So far, to do this, he has employed a sadist to torture the mechanical creature.

On seeing the Metaltron, the Doctor realises it for what it is… a Dalek. What's more, the Dalek recognises him!

This story is based on an episode originally broadcast on 30th April 2005. It was the Christopher Ecclestone's Doctor's first encounter with a Dalek, hence the first Dalek story of the re-booted Doctor Who era.

Here, this story sets up one of the backstory arcs that ran across multiple forthcoming seasons of the show: that the Time Lords had wiped out the Daleks in a giant Time War battle and then vanished, presumably (at that point) themselves having the same fate as the Daleks. This last meant that the Doctor was the last extant Time Lord. As such, this was a pivotal episode (story) in the modern Doctor Who canon.

While the afore is in both the novelisation and the broadcast episode, I have to say I always had difficulty buying into the central storyline's conceit of a last dalek. For, even if the Daleks were defeated in a far-future Time War, that generation's ancestors would still be alive today: our present, the Time War's past. Any Dalek travelling back in time fleeing the end of that future Time War could meet up with their ancestors. (Indeed, as future seasons would reveal, the Daleks were still around.)

This contradiction is a feature of Doctor Who's longevity that has seen, over the decades, its plots painting the script writers into a corner from which they can't escape. So it is best not to look at any Who story's logic too closely.

Returning to this novelisation. It is part of the re-branded BBC Books' Target styled series of Doctor Who novelisations harking back to the original book livery.  This novel is one of the latest tranche of Target releases.

The very first Doctor Who novelisations of the original (Hartnell, Pertwee, Troughton, Baker, etc.) series were adaptations of adventures that ran over four, five and six (even occasionally seven or eight) half-hour episodes. These could easily fill 150 – 200 pages (and remember the original Doctor Who Target books also had several whole-page black and white illustrations). Conversely, the re-boot series are mainly single 45-minute episodes with just occasionally two-parters even if a whole season has a connecting story thread.  Transforming 45 minutes into, in this case, 186 pages either means padding – which in the hands of an unskilled writer can so easily become bloat – or to add in additional plot elements. The problem with the latter is that it risks compromising the original story.  Robert Shearman has got around this by going into the backstory of half a dozen of the episode's characters.  So we see how Henry van Statten acquired his wealth and the Metaltron, and how some of his employees came to work for him.  This largely works even if the characters are somewhat cartoonish with exaggerated traits, but then that too is part of the show's feel: it has to cram a lot into a short episode.

This novel is short, easy-to-read, and an adult could absorb it over a day's single sitting. And so it should appeal to teenagers and slightly younger readers. Doctor Who is, after all, a family show.

Jonathan Cowie


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