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Book Review

Book Cover

Doctor Who
Dalek (Paperback)


Author: Robert Shearman
Publisher: BBC Books
192 pages
RRP: UK £7.99, US $10.99, Cdn $16.99
ISBN: 978 1 78594 503 8
Publication Date: 11 March 2021

“The entire Dalek race, wiped out in one second. I watched it happen. I made it happen!” The Doctor and Rose arrive in an underground vault in Utah in the near future. The vault is filled with alien artefacts. Its billionaire owner, Henry van Statten, even has possession of a living alien creature, a mechanical monster in chains that he has named a Metaltron. Seeking to help the Metaltron, the Doctor is appalled to find it is in fact a Dalek – one that has survived the horrors of the Time War just as he has. And as the Dalek breaks loose, the Doctor is brought back to the brutality and desperation of his darkest hours spent fighting the creatures of Skaro – this time with the Earth as their battlefield…

This new novelisation, presented in the style of the Target Books range of the 1970s–1990s, is based on the 2005 episode Dalek. Well, about half of it is.

Given that modern Doctor Who usually takes the form of 45- to 50-minute episodes, many of which eschew the serial format of the classic show, this can cause a problem for novelists in terms of a lack of material to work with. An episode like Dalek runs to about half the screen time of a four x 25-minute serial of old.

BBC Books could have chosen to pair certain standalone episodes under a single cover. I read several novelisations of this nature back in the 1980s, based on programmes such as The Equalizer and Miami Vice. For example, Rose and The End of the World might have worked well as a combined novelisation, since the events of one lead directly into the other, with Rose Tyler joining the Ninth Doctor aboard his TARDIS. Similarly, Dalek could have been united with The Long Game, as both feature the character of Adam Mitchell. The Unquiet Dead and Boom Town would be more challenging to team up, but could perhaps have gone into a Cardiff-themed collection.

Instead, Robert Shearman has had to use other means to get his book up to the required page count. Most noticeable are several brand-new chapters, each detailing the backstory of one of the episode’s supporting characters, including Henry van Statten and his staff – and even the Dalek itself. The latter includes gruesome details about the agonies that young Kaled mutants must endure when they are installed inside their metal casings. This helps the reader to achieve the unusual state of actually feeling sorry for a Dalek (a process that on screen was aided by Billie Piper’s emotive performance and Murray Gold’s manipulative music). There’s also a new prologue, a new epilogue and a new TARDIS scene near the beginning of the book. All of this additional material makes for fascinating reading, but it does slow down the overall pace and runs the risk of being more interesting than the more familiar ‘A’ plot.

Shearman also explores the characters’ inner thoughts at various points in the main narrative – though curiously, when the Doctor first realises the nature of Van Statten’s prisoner, the author does not take the time to explain why the Time Lord fears the Daleks or to detail their long history of battling one another (that comes later). There’s also a surprising lack of description of the museum exhibits when the Doctor and Rose first arrive in the underground vault. Instead we have only the dialogue to tell us what they are seeing. The exhibits do not include the Cyberman’s head that was so memorably seen on screen, possibly because this was added to Shearman’s television script by showrunner Russell T Davies. There is still a Bad Wolf reference, but it occurs at a different point in the narrative.

Shearman’s sentence structures sometimes read more like a script than prose (he is primarily a dramatist). He often uses a comma where I would have ended a sentence, while other ‘sentences’ are really just clauses. Still, this is not a crime that deserves a very harsh sentence – certainly nothing like the punishment meted out by the collector and his torturer in this intriguing adventure.


Richard McGinlay

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