Reviewed: Doctor Who and the Daleks

I have a confession to make. Doctor Who and the Daleks is only the second Target novel I’ve read, the first being Marco Polo. I’m sure that means I’ve got 100% more experience than some picking up this reprint, but also less than 1% experience than others who’ve read the whole range. Twice.

And that’s just about right. I’ve no doubt that the reprints will draw in a great number of people who have only come to the series via the 2005 revival, as well as a huge amount of dedicated collectors, eager to pick up a shiny new edition of a book they first read when they were six. Perhaps just to glimpse the new ‘special features.’

It’s also right that this is the first in a series of reprints that now includes The Ice Warriors, The Three Doctors and The Ark in Space (and pretty soon seven more such as Doctor Who and the Zarbi, The Visitation, and Battlefield). Doctor Who and the Daleks is, in fact, the very first Doctor Who book. This is what started it all. And you can see why it’s the foundation of such a huge, ongoing legacy.

The book was first released in 1964, under the title, Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks. With the titular monsters shortly returning to screens in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and Dalek-mania stirring across the country, the decision of which serial to adapt must’ve been a fairly easy one. The main issue, of course, was introducing the Doctor, Barbara, Ian and Susan, who had first appeared in An Unearthly Child – so this book sees a very different version of events that brought two school teachers into the TARDIS on a foggy night.

Well, that’s one thing that’s stayed the same. We join Ian on said foggy night. He’s driving back from a job interview, and has never met Barbara before. For those of us who are well-versed in early-Who, the idea of Barbara and Susan being involved in a collision with a lorry is a really shocking and grim set-up. Then there’s the worry that it’ll all go up in flames. It’s a lovely transition period between the ordinary and the extraordinary, when Ian’s worries go from unemployment to matters of life and death. Enter: The Doctor.

This is the true ‘Doctor Who,’ a mysterious man who’s completely unpredictable and is quite willing to risk the lives of others to get his own way. He’s presented as even more devious as the events unfold from Ian’s point-of-view. The first-person telling is another surprise, one which initially seemed a stupid decision. We miss out on some of those iconic moments – the Dalek’s plunger advancing on Barbara; Susan screaming her way through the, uh, screaming forest – simply because Ian wasn’t there.

Doctor Who and the Daleks illustrations

But it’s actually a genius move. The TV story does, let’s face it, drag on a bit throughout its seven episode run. Seeing it all from Ian’s viewpoint, however, is really refreshing and makes for an extremely well-paced novel. The action shifts between the emaciated industrial heart of Skaro to the flaky wasteland forest. It’s great to learn more about Ian, particularly as he’s such a contrast from the initial ideals of the Thals, the Daleks’ enemies. He’s cast as ‘the action hero’ as he tries to teach them that they have to fight in order to survive.

All the characters are well-written, actually. Barbara and Susan get the least amount of ‘screen time,’ but there’s a touching scene at the end of the novel centring on the former. Barbara’s relationship with Ian is surprising too, and we see them all evolve as the book proceeds.

An early 1960s audience wasn’t clear as to who Doctor Who’s main character was either – Ian, the relatable hero, or the Doctor, the alien anti-hero – so the first-person standing reflects this well. Plus, of course, Steven Moffat said that Doctor Who’s the story of the companions…

The wonderful cover by Chris Achilleos focuses on the Doctor, however. And quite right too. He’s surrounded by two Daleks and the TARDIS… sorry, I mean, Tardis. (That still doesn’t feel right to me!) It’s such an iconic, familiar drawing, we might forget how well-designed it is. It exudes otherworldliness and the core of the show. One man and his magical machine, off to see the wonders of the universe – and battling a fire-spitting baddie or two.

Arnold Schwartzman’s scratchy illustrations are spread throughout, and I originally considered them somewhat out-of-place against the pop art-esque Achilleos’ cover. But their stylish charm fits in perfectly, with recognisable characters and some well-realised Daleks.

And speaking of those metal menaces, it’d be churlish to ignore a couple more reasons why this book’s so significant. Firstly, it features the first regular use of the Daleks’ catchphrase, ‘exterminate.’ But this isn’t the only glimpse into the future of the series: chapter four is entitled, ‘The Power of the Daleks,’ a name which would be reused in 1966’s, uh, Power of the Daleks, written by – guess who – David Whitaker!

Okay, so there’s more of importance here than those two facts, but it’d take too long to list it all. And that’s where ‘Between the Lines’ comes in. This worth-while addition to the book is a great retrospective look at the tale, pointing out all those little nuances that might slip past the casual reader.

Another ‘special feature’ is an introduction by The Doctor’s Wife writer, Neil Gaiman, who explains how important the Target novels were in the days before VHS. And these reprints prove that they’re still as relevant today.

Doctor Who and the Daleks may be the second Target novel I’ve read, but thanks to Whitaker’s writing, the great illustrations, and the quality of these fine reprints, it certainly won’t be my last – a sentiment echoed throughout a new generation of readers, who are discovering the early adventures of a bloke from Gallifrey.

It’s the book every Doctor Who fan needs to read.

Doctor Who and the Daleks by David Whitaker is available now for £4.99. Or if you’d prefer it read to you by William Russell himself, the audiobook is also out now!

COMING SOON: DOCTOR WHO AND THE CRUSADERS!

  • TheLazyWomble

    My first Doctor Who book was the Crusaders (in paperback) . It alluded to a Dalek book but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Then target started and I found it. A very different beginning. A brilliant novelisation that had the courage to create its own context. As you say, Philip, an essential read.

  • TimeChaser

    One Target book I haven’t read yet, so I will have to fix that in the near future.

    My very first Targets were The War Machines and The Smugglers.

  • Simon Danes

    A superb novel; to my mind, the best of all of the novelisations. Beautifully written, too. I can remember picking up the original Target issue in W H Smith’s when it first came out: there was a big display of them, together with ‘and the Crusaders’ and ‘and the Zarbi’. Worth noting that Avon published a paperback edition in the US in 1967, with a cover featuring Herts Plastic Moulders Daleks and a blurry photo of some people pretending to be the TARDIS crew. Just a point of pedantry: the original title of the novel, cf the spine of the first edition Muller hardback, was actually ‘Doctor Who’. Nothing else: just the plain, vanilla title. ‘In an exciting adventure with the Daleks’ isn’t originally part of the title; it’s a by-line — though it’s become part of the title for obvious reasons (just as the TV movie isn’t called ‘Doctor Who’ by most people). Another incidental point: the Schwartzmann illustrations are much better printed in the Muller edition. Whitaker gets the chance to do another draft of the first Dalek story, tweaking it and tightening it up. Although the TV version is marvellous, the novel is in many ways the best of the three versions of ‘The Dead Planet’ (which is what we should call the TV story; ‘The Mutants’ was just a title jotted down to distinguish these seven episodes from the others for the convenience of the production team; it was never meant to be a ‘canonical’ title).

    And welcome back, all! Best wishes for the site’s future!