Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who: In an exciting adventure with the Daleks

(1964 / 2016) David Whitaker, BBC Books, £9.99 / US$13.99, hrdbk, 157pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94055-2


One foggy evening, Ian Chesterton comes across a car crash on Barnes common. One of the crash victims, Barbara, is looking for her passenger, Susan, who she was taking home. Together they think they have found the solution to their problems when they glimpse through the murk a police box. However this police box turns out to be nothing less than an other-worldly space time machine that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Its occupant, a wizened old man, takes them on an unbelievable journey to the strange planet with a petrified forest. They discover that this world has had in the past a devastating nuclear war with just to groups of survivors: the peace-loving Thals and the seemingly robotic, and intolerant, Daleks…

In terms of Doctor Who novelisations this is something of a Whovian classic. David Whitaker was overall story editor for the first season (and co-story editor for the second season) of the iconic television show that began in November 1963. Now, this novelisation originally came out in 1964 just months after the show's broadcast. This novelisation's first chapter, and the first half of the next chapter, is actually a complete re-working of the show's pilot episode, 'An Unearthly Child' and its next incarnation (re-filmed) as the first episode of the first adventure '100,000 BC'. In this novelisation Ian Chesterton is not a teacher colleague of Barbara, but is a scientist who is returning home from an unsuccessful job interview. The book then segues (skipping the first – '100,000 BC' – adventure in the Stone Age) straight into the show's second adventure: the seven-part 'The Daleks' (also known as 'The Dead Planet' as well as 'The Mutants') that was scripted by Terry Nation. What follows subsequently in the rest of the book is closer to the Terry Nation story.

What seems to be going on is that David Whitaker, then the show's overall story editor, appears to be setting up a run of novelisations (some of which he wrote as he did this one) of some of the Dr Who episodes that had their own script writer. (The job of overall series story editor is to ensure that the screen stories from individual adventures' script writers mesh into a coherent whole: the job of series script editor and episode script writer are quite different.) This oddity of this novelisation originally published by Frederik Muller Ltd., is now a long forgotten part of Dr Who history. Subsequently, 1973, Target books would bring out a new edition of this book entitled Doctor Who and the Daleks but BBC Books has with this edition returned to the book's original title.

So, how did this new version of Ian and Barbara meeting and then encountering the TARDIS come about? Well, one can only speculate. I am no great Dr Who expert, though I am reasonably steeped in SF and I do remember watching the show's first season at the time it was first broadcast now over half a century ago (a worrying thought). The series' original producer was the late, great Verity Lambert and her BBC management superior had instructed her, when giving her the series to produce, to keep it educational with the Doctor visiting historical figures. She was also, apparently, specifically instructed to avoid robots. Could it be that Verity saw the strength of Terry Nation's Dalek adventure and had it slated for the first episode but, to keep her bosses happy, put in a Stone Age adventure instead? Or was it Whitaker and the publisher omitting the Stone Age '100,000 BC' for the book series and jumping in with a sure winner? (The Daleks were a hit with viewers from their very first appearance.) In this scenario Whitaker was simply bringing coherence to the book series; after all, bringing script coherence was his job. We will never know, but we do have this parallel adventure in the book-space-time continuum compared to the TV-space-time-continuum, and stranger things have happened in the multiverse. Either way, this is one novelisation that sercon Doctor Who fans will want on their shelves

All three editions of this novelisation contain black and white pencil illustrations by Arnold Schwartzman. Presumably these were originally included to entice younger readers. Even back in the 1960s it was apparent that the show had a broad age appeal. Now, with this 2016 BBC Books reprint, you too can re-live the Doctor's first encounter with his most feared foe.

Finally, for completeness' sake, a brief mention should be made of the subsequent 1965 film Dr. Who and the Daleks starring Peter Cushing as the Doctor. The Dr. Who and the Daleks film was very much based on the Terry Nation script on which this Whitaker novelisation was largely based: Terry Nation was paid for the rights.  The film was the twentieth biggest British cinematic box office earner in 1965.

Jonathan Cowie

See also Ian's review of Doctor Who and the Daleks as well as Peter's review.

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