27 April 2015

Target: Doctor Who and the Daleks

Doctor Who and the Daleks is probably best known as being the first novelisation in what would become an extensive and very well-loved range. But David Whitaker doesn't go the way of Terrance Dicks in his process of adaptation; whereas Dicks usually produced what was essentially a reformatted transcript with little in the way of background besides the Doctor and any companions, Whitaker treats this like a short novel. 

In this way, this book completely justifies the 'based on a serial' label adorning the 1992 edition I own. Whitaker takes Terry Nation's original serial as inspiration only for the most part, changing not only aspects of the Daleks, Thals and Skaro, but the entire ending. The most famous aspect of this novelisation is probably that it begins right at the start.

In this continuity, Ian is our narrator and we open with him discovering Ian and Barbara, her personal tutor, in a car crash before following them into a police box on the common. It's a strange opening, and to be honest I think I prefer the televised setup. It's a neat shorthand to get us into the story and interesting to see how Whitaker, who was of course story editor at the time, would have done it given free reign. But beyond that the scenario doesn't hold much merit for me. 

The action on Skaro comprises about three-quarters of the book's 150 pages, and as such is much brisker than on TV. Whitaker creates an interesting narrative, but his Daleks are markedly different to their counterparts. For a start, his are three feet tall (at least to start with, it does vary throughout) and much more talkative. They're led by a glass emperor too, possibly informing a plot point of the 1985 television serial Revelation of the Daleks. It's unlikely that Whitaker knew at the time of writing that the Daleks would be returning but it's still jarring to say the least coming to this with 52 years of baggage. 

It pains me to say this, but Whitaker's prose is hardly gripping either. He wrote some amazing stories for television - The Enemy of the World and The Power of the Daleks to name just two - but he doesn't have nearly as much of a grasp of prose. His paragraphs are unwieldily long - sometimes off-puttingly so - and contain some very odd descriptions. Writing as Ian, the precise height of everything is given. For example, Dyoni is said to be a little over six feet tall (when Virgina Wetherell, who played her, was only five foot six) and Kristas is seven feet tall (Jonathan Crane was six foot two). These are of course sound deviations to make but do pull you out of the plot a little, which is a shame because that's where the strength of this book lies. 

This is overall more of an interesting story than a pleasing one, but it's probably still worth a go. It has some bizarre bits (Ian teaching the Thals wrestling for instance) and an odd style that didn't really grab me but the plot itself isn't to be faulted, and the characterisation is strong throughout. This was clearly written to be an alternative to the TV serial (which Whitaker probably didn't imagine would ever be seen again let alone to the level of freedom we enjoy nowadays) and works in that regard, but unfortunately less so in others.

In a Nutshell: An interesting insight into what could have been but far inferior to its TV equivalent. 

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