Doctor Who And The Daleks (BBC)

Written by: David Whitaker.

Illustrated by: Robert Hack.

Sometimes, in this world of ghouls and charlatans, it can seem that we don’t deserve good things.

Then, again only sometimes, out of the clear blue sky comes a thing so good we stop caring whether we deserve it or not, because we’ve just got to have it.

Welcome to the new hardback illustrated version of Doctor Who And The Daleks.

First, a little history.

The first story to ever feature the Daleks has been known by various names across the history of Doctor Who. Sometimes, it’s been The Dead Planet, and, for the sake of simplicity, at other times it’s just been known as The Daleks. The definitive article. The original, you might say.

It was also the first of what would eventually become the Target novelizations of Doctor Who stories, originally published in 1964 (less than a year after the story was broadcast), but arriving in its final form in 1973 (that’s fifty years ago, in case you were wondering about the significance of this release) as Doctor Who in an exciting adventure with The Daleks. Just in case the naming convention wasn’t quite confusing enough already. If we’re going down that route, the Peter Cushing movie version of substantially the same story arrived in 1965, and was called – exactly like this book – Doctor Who and the Daleks.

But we’re getting off the point. The point is that Doctor Who and the Daleks, as it’s long been known by fans and readers, was the first of the Target novelizations that meant fans for the first 25 years of the show’s existence could experience Doctor Who adventures that they’d missed on broadcast, either by virtue of not yet being alive, or because they simply missed them and the stories were rarely shown again in the age before home video releases.

The Whitaker Factor

More than that, it was written by David Whitaker, the show’s story editor during that crucial first season when the Daleks would invade the imagination of children around the country. Having his name on the cover, and his style in the pages of storytelling, added gravitas to the whole proposition, and added power to the writing of the novel. That was just as well, as, when writing the novel of Doctor Who and the Daleks, Whitaker was under orders not to use any material from the first Doctor Who story, An Unearthly Child. But he still had to set up the premise of two teachers, a weird young teenager, and her grumpy grandfather who just happened to own a time machine – so Whitaker gamely set about changing the history of how the original Tardis team got together. (The novelization of An Unearthly Child would not arrive for another eight years after the Target version of Doctor Who and the Daleks – in 1981).

That new beginning – and a handful of other not-seen-on-screen elements, like a controller Dalek in a glass casing, and various elements of Tardis life – have always made the book of Doctor Who and the Daleks something fans have treasured. They usually knew the TV version of the story wasn’t quite like that, but they respected Whitaker for his verve and his imaginative take on getting around the problems he had in writing the book.

Oh, and not for nothing, it was in this book, rather than in the on-screen version of the story, that the Daleks’ catchphrase of “Exterminate!” was really developed into A Thing They Did.

A pretty important book, then, for most Doctor Who fans.

Bring On The Visuals

And then there’s this version.

This version takes all of that weight, and then makes it look abbbbbsolutely bite-the-hardback gorgeous, with frequent images drawn by highly respected artist Robert Hack.

They’re sometimes little things, like pieces of period British currency just highlighting and heightening elements of the storytelling. Sometimes, they’re key pieces of masterful imagination, like a drawn version of a 1964-contemporary Dalek creature (of which, only a kind of claw was ever seen on-screen), curled up in its casing, prior to being scooped out so Ian Chesterton can take its place and lead an escape attempt. And then sometimes, they’re full pages of rich and colourful artwork, including a few of the period Tardis console room, and several of the Daleks in all their alien shape and power.

If you’ve never read or listened to Whitaker’s novel, this is the time, and this is the way, because no expense has been spared in turning it into both a visual and a literary spectacle that will reward you with its art as much as its storytelling.

A Meeting Of Styles

If that sounds like an off-the-cuff equivalence, it really isn’t – Whitaker’s novel is hugely well-regarded by fans, and, lest we forget, acted as the proof of concept for a whole range that, at last count, stood at over 150 titles. To illustrate that story – and with the pressure of rendering the first Dalek story in a way that feels both contemporary to its broadcast and yet in touch with modern artistic sensibilities – is no mean feat. To do it to such a level that it meets Whitaker’s novel on its own terms and massively enhances the experience of reading it? That’s something extra-special.

The illustrated version of Doctor Who and the Daleks – complete with a foreword by longstanding Who-fan and no mean writer himself, Neil Gaiman – is probably the best version you’ll ever own in a format that will make your bookshelf feel better about itself. The audiobook version, read by original Ian Chesterton, William Russell, is something else again, and you should absolutely get both if you can. But the art here, married to Whitaker’s imaginative descriptive style and tense way with a story, makes this a hardbacked nugget of joy in an occasionally bleak world.

Go on, treat yourself. It’ll make your week better.

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