Resurrection of the Daleks – Eric Saward (BBC Books)

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“The greatest Time Lord of them all was having a really bad day”

The announcement that the final two stories of the classic era of Doctor Who yet to be put into writing (Resurrection of the Daleks and Revelation of the Daleks) were finally to be novelised, and by their original author, former script editor Eric Saward, was met with some considerable excitement by the Doctor Who fandom. Finally, those spaces in the shelves would be complete. Although not being put out as part of the famous Target Novels range but by BBC Books Penguin Random House they still bring about the end to those glaring omissions.

Resurrection  of the Daleks was the first Dalek story of the 1980’s (not counting a brief cameo of a rather battered Dalek prop in the 20th anniversary story The Five Doctors) and it was my first Dalek story as a child too. Airing early in 1984 in Peter Davison’s last season as the Doctor, it had a profound impact on Seven-year-old me. It was a story with striking visuals, body horror galore and it introduced me to my favourite Doctor Who villain, Davros. It still has a reputation for its bleak cynicism and vaguely incoherent plot, so I was certainly intrigued to see how that would translate into the written word, especially from authors own hand and after so much time.

It’s been a long time since I read a Doctor Who novel, and even longer since I read one based on an actual televised story. I didn’t have the opportunity to pick up the recent Target novelisations of some of the modern era stories, so this review is proving a little tricky for me. Maybe I expected too much from this or hoped that some of that rambling, incoherence of the televised story would be edited, explained or omitted from the novel, but it’s all still there in all its incoherent glory.

There has been expansion of course, some of the prison ship’s (the Vipod Mor) crew have been fleshed out, and there has even been a subplot added for the notorious ‘melting face’ member of the crew. None of this adds any sense of loss when their various horrendous and inevitable deaths ensue though. It is only Stein and Lytton who are treated in any way sympathetically by Saward, his love for the ruthless mercenaries shining through.

The titular Daleks themselves are written, well, oddly, but then Daleks can’t be the easiest things to write for, so I certainly won’t hold this against him. Saward has indeed come up with a clever way of individualising each Dalek too that works well throughout. I mentioned earlier that Davros is my favourite Who villain and I’m not sure that Saward has given either him or the Daleks the necessary weight or gravitas to make them the convincing Universe threatening villains that they need to be. The novel format gives the author the opportunity to expand on mindsets, motives and the emotional drives of both the protagonists and the villains, but as with the television story I feel Saward is more interested in the visual and visceral than the psychological.

The TARDIS team of Turlough and Tegan are nicely realised however, especially Turlough who has a lot more to do, being thrust into the main plot of the story earlier than the rest. The Doctor however has always felt out of character in this story to me, even as a child watching it. He is only too ready to pick up a gun and kill the Dalek mutant, to take on the mantle of Davros’s ‘executioner’.

Maybe it’s a case of not all readers suit all writers, or maybe it’s a case that I was hoping that Saward would use this opportunity to add some clarity to a muddy and confused jumble of plots, but although its not a difficult read I found I had to keep stopping and starting with this. The prose style was oddly jarring and the choice to put a six-page description of the TARDIS interior halfway into the story was a strange one as it completely broke the momentum. Other than that brief tour of the TARDIS the story itself generally speeds hastily from set piece to set piece, as though willing itself to get to the end. Speaking of ends there is Coda that gives Tegan a post departure scene that’s unusual to say the least.

All in all, this is a necessary and valuable addition to any avid collector of the novelisations, and if you enjoy the gritty death and destruction of mid 1980’s Doctor Who then chances are this will be exactly the novel for you. I also really do like the presentation; I know that has received criticism, but I find it bold and stylish. It’s just a shame I couldn’t judge this book by its cover.  Jeff Goddard

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