The second of the long-anticipated Eric Saward novelisations of his 1980s televised Dalek stories has at least one thing in its favour even before the novelisation gets out of the gate.
It has a plot.
A reasonable, contained, followable plot.
So score one for Revelation of the Daleks over Resurrection of the Daleks, which had…well, things, certainly, but not exactly a plot that withstood even the most basic of prods with sticks or questions.
But beyond what you might, bless your optimistic little hearts, think would be a given, how does Revelation fare now it’s been officially translated from screen to page by its original author?
Actually, the headline might surprise you, because overall, it fares pretty well, thank you for asking.
Firstly, the plot makes a kind of contained, increasingly claustrophobic sense and is pushed along by a whole theatre full of people, among whom there are plenty of Saward’s trademark miserablists and thoroughly unpleasant people, from Davros, squatting like a toad in his lair and actually showing us here what a space-Nazi’s godawful sense of humour looks like, through people happy to mince their own grandmothers for profit, a pair of dubious bodysnatchers, a pair of even more dubious flower arrangers-cum-thugs, the space-Weinstein of the funerary world, the woman who loves even him, and the world’s most godawful hospital DJ.
What’s not to love there?
The whole point about Revelation of the Daleks is that it’s a comedy blacker than the Black Panther stuck in a black hole viewed through a blacked-out telescope from deep in a hole in the ground. So you have to make certain allowances for that dark stream of humour that turns the whole thing into grand guignol.
But alongside the humour, it’s also got some solidly science fictional bones in it, re…erm…cycling the plot of Soylent Green and having people inadvertently eat their own relatives to avoid starving to death, and to validate the mechanisms of commerce and mega-profit in the process. It also has some high-end Doctor Who continuity advancement – we saw Davros begin to make his own rebel Daleks in Resurrection, but here, he’s not only doing the same again, he’s actively advancing his version, making them more intuitive, making them capable of generation anywhere, without Kaled tissue. In fact, he’s taking a leaf out of the Cybermen’s book, creating Daleks out of whatever happens to be lying around – in this case, the severed heads of prominent experts and thinkers.
As ya do.
The whole thing is so disturbingly dark it makes you laugh by reaction.
All of that remains in place in the book, but – and here’s the crucial thing – it gets more time to breeeeathe itself into your brain as a book than it does on TV. There are nuances lost in the choice of shot, in what’s filmable to time and budget, and the book allows Saward to expand everything we had on screen into a broader world. There’s at least one entirely unseen-on-screen character added in here, and he has quite a pivotal role. We learn the origins of a lot of the characters – Takis and Lilt, the punchy flower-arrangers get a backstory, and we learn how they met, and the personal tragedy that blighted one of their lives, making him the man he is today. Jobel the Chief Embalmer and Handsy McWigworth of the nauseatingly-named Tranquil Repose likewise gets more of a backstory – the product of a make-up artist and a butcher, he inherits the skills of both his parents and rapidly progresses up the funerary ladder by employing them both. See? Really, really black comedy.
Natasha Stengos comes much more alive in the novel than she got the screen-time to do on TV. We learn of the campaign to find out what’s going on in Tranquil Repose, the crushing bureaucracy, the stench of cover-up, and the Doctor’s meetings with her father. When Natasha meets her end in the novel, it’ll make you genuinely gulp.
More than any of this though, the novel teaches you something you should have known all along about Revelation of the Daleks on screen, but which you probably won’t have realised until the novel makes it obvious. The plot, relatively elegant as it is, actually falls a little to bits at the end – there’s a big bang, and that’s announced as having killed Davros’ new generation of Daleks, while not by any means actually razing Tranquil Repose to the ground.
The novel takes you on a whole plot-loop you’ve never seen before. Introduces you to a new character, shows you something both moderately comical and utterly tragic about the new Daleks, but more to the point, shows you where they’re actually held – rows and rows and rows of the buggers, in a bit of a nod to Planet of the Daleks. And it takes the time out to have the Doctor and his friends Do Some Clever Engineering that is already likely to destroy the new generation of Daleks, meaning the bomb at the end plays a big role in helping that process on its way, but only underpins some sensible Doctorish tinkering, while still leaving enough ground for some of the survivors to stand on at the end.
Now, it’s true that Saward continues to re-mine his own creations more or less mercilessly – in this book about Daleks, there are two mentions of Terileptils, three references to the squashy metal they mine, tinclavic, and no fewer than eight references to voxnic, the best drink in Saward’s universe, meaning you begin to realise there’s quite a bit of alcohol in this story. Kara and Vogel’s cocktails? Voxnic. Contents of the flask owned by shaky-handed moralist Grigori? Voxnic. Voxnic, voxnic, voxnic. On the other hand, there is one glorious little piece of dialogue-recycling which one doesn’t particularly expect to come across, and which for me at least, it was a delight to discover. Any tinclavic fans in the house won’t fail to spot it when they see it, and will shake their heads, but grin at the same time.
There are quirks and inconsistencies that you or I might not have put into this book, (including a last line that will make you roll your eyes) but it’s a damn sight more coherent and consistently enjoyable than the novelisation of Resurrection was. You get more characterisation, more motivation, more plot and therefore more sense in this version of Revelation of the Daleks than in the TV version, and a wider understanding of the cosmos in which Necros exists too. That’s got to be worth your money. Crack open the gorgeously cream and gold covers of Revelation of the Daleks, and get bodysnatching now. Tony Fyler