Doctor Who
The Dalek Factor

Author: Simon Clark
Telos Publishing
RRP 10.00 (standard hardback), 25.00 (deluxe hardback)
ISBN 1 903889 30 8 (standard hardback)
ISBN 1 903889 31 6 (deluxe hardback)
Available 18 March 2004

A Thal platoon investigates a hostile planet, following reports that Dalek artefacts have been detected, but they find more than they bargained for. In an underground room is a strange man with no memory of why he is there or even who he is - though the title of Professor seems oddly familiar to him...

Those nice people at Telos Publishing have decided to give us something special for their final licensed Doctor Who publication: the return of the Daleks to the printed page.

I was initially a little mystified to find that the Daleks are not actually present during a large proportion of this novella, particularly since the estate of their creator, Terry Nation, does not issue the rights to use them lightly. However, perhaps author Simon Clark had made the right decision. Whereas on audio you get to hear the Daleks' screeching voices, and on TV you also have the visual thrills of their appearance and their murderous antics, in prose fiction you only get to see the word "Dalek" on the page and have their cruelty described to you, by the author directly or through the characters. Just telling the reader what the creatures are up to would not be very effective, so instead Clark conveys his story through the eyes of a young Thal soldier called Jomi, a person who has an instinctive fear of these hated enemies. The Thal's terrified anticipation as he searches for signs of Dalek activity echoes and heightens the anticipation of the Dalek-hungry reader. As a result, the essence of the creatures permeates the entire narrative, despite the brevity of their appearances in it.

As well as the Daleks and Thals, Clark throws in other sly references to the works of Terry Nation. The planet is a hostile jungle world typical of a television Dalek tale. Imagine the most dangerous aspects of Skaro, Mechanus, Kembel, Mira and Spiridon all rolled into one. As well as deadly vegetation, the Thals and the Doctor (I don't think I'm giving too much away if I reveal the true identity of the amnesiac "Professor") must contend with insects that can group together to form a hive intelligence. A Thal called Tar'ant also reflects a name much favoured in Nation's writing: Tarrant.

As in a previous novella, The Cabinet of Light, the Doctor depicted here is an unspecified incarnation. However, there is an accumulation of evidence to suggest that he is the Eighth Doctor. He wears a simple costume that resembles the garb of his first incarnation, as Paul McGann did in the TV movie, and he possesses "unusually intense eyes". Furthermore, references to the horrors that lie in his kitchen sink, and the line "I refer to myself as 'I'", both seem to be comical allusions to the character McGann played in Withnail and I.

My main criticism of this novella is that it does beat about the bush a bit. Several passages take the form of lengthy discourses or internal dialogues on subjects such as the very appearance of a Dalek or the terrifying implications of a Dalek city, which rather slow the narrative down. These, coupled with the brevity of many of the chapters, mean there is less story than you might expect from a 140-page book.

In all other respects, however, this is an engaging and intriguing finale to the range: like an episode of The Outer Limits but with Daleks and Thals.

Richard McGinlay

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