aka Doctor Who and the Daleks (1973)
Synopsis: Ian Chesterton meets Barbara Wright and searches a foggy Barnes Common for her missing student, Susan. The pair bump into a mysterious old man near a police box and inside they find Susan, a huge white control room and the beginning of a terrifying adventure in another universe…
- 1. Meeting on the Common
- 2. Prisoners in Space
- 3. The Dead Planet
- 4. The Power of the Daleks
- 5. Escape into Danger
- 6. The Will to Survive
- 7. The Lake of Mutations
- 8. The Last Despairing Try
- 9. The End of the Power
- 10. A New Life
Background: David Whitaker adapts Terry Nation’s scripts from the second Doctor Who serial, broadcast in 1963-4. Published by Frederick Muller Ltd in November 1964, first reprinted as a Target book in 1973.
Notes: David Whitaker’s novelisation begins with a reworking of the first ever episode, with some significant changes. Ian is a science teacher, but is applying for other jobs and recently lost out on a position as an assistant research scientist. Barbara has recently taken up personal tuition as a side-line to her secretarial work; and her pupil is called Susan English. Also, Ian smokes, which would have been handy if this had been a mere rewrite of the rest of An Unearthly Child. As it is, he’s longing for a ciggie as he awaits the Thals to warn them of the Dalek trap, but that’s the last we hear of that!
Across the first two chapters, Whitaker introduces the four lead characters and the ‘Tardis‘ through the eyes of the narrator, Ian, who doesn’t know Barbara as they’re not teachers at the same school. After they board the Tardis, Barbara tells him that she grew curious about her pupil as she seemed extremely knowledgeable on the subject of Robespierre, even down to ‘what walks he took and the measurements of some of his clothes.’ The mistakes that give Susan away differ from the TV episodes: ‘She thought Australia was in the Atlantic Ocean… she thought the Spanish Armada was a castle… she had written that Japan was a county in Scotland.’ When Ian and Barbara find Susan inside the Tardis, she’s described as wearing a ‘most extraordinary scarf’ on her head with ‘thick red and yellow stripes on it and made her look like a pirate’ [See The Edge of Destruction]. Ian’s description of her is clearly from a more innocent age, though it does foreshadow events that the very first readers wouldn’t see on TV for another month or so.
I imagined from what Barbara had said that Susan was aged about fifteen but silhouetted there as she was, with her dark, short cut hair against the white rocks behind her, she looked like a young woman in her twenties, very attractive and vivacious. I wondered briefly what would happen when she met a man she wanted to marry and decided not to travel in the Tardis with her grandfather any longer [See The Dalek Invasion of Earth].
The Doctor’s initially as unhelpful as his screen counterpart, though his mild scuffle with Ian becomes a full-on wrestle to the floor. But he becomes a charmer much quicker as he patiently explains his reasoning to an indignant Ian. By the end of chapter 3, The Dead Planet, Ian realises that they don’t even know the Doctor’s real name or what he does. ‘Perhaps that’s what we ought to call him. “Doctor Who?”.’ The Doctor reveals that he and Susan are ‘cut off from our own planet and separated from it by a million, million years of your time’. Ian noticed that the old man has a kindly smile even when Ian threatens him and later, while Susan and Barbara take his words at face value, he thanks Ian for not exposing his lie about the fluid link.
The Tardis control room is described loosely as we saw on TV, but ‘twenty feet in height and with the breadth and width of a middle-sized restaurant’. One corner contains ‘a row of at least twenty tape-recording spools’ beneath which are ‘a similar number of barometric needles [that] zig-zagged uneven courses across moving drums of paper’, all of which must have seemed futuristic in 1964. Susan provides the explanation of the name ‘Tardis‘ as ‘Time and Relative Dimensions [sic] in Space’, less than a year after the TV version gave us a more singular ‘dimension’ [See An Unearthly Child]. Tardis is said to contain a shower room that pummels the body with oils and warm water jets, a headset that’s programmed to give Ian a haircut and a device the size of a marshmallow that gives him a smooth shave. When using the scanner, the Doctor claims that the Tardis has ‘very strong searchights accompanying the picture… they’re quite invisible outside of the Tardis, of course. They merely serve to make a picture possible at night-time.’ The food machine provides Ian’s bacon and eggs (which looks like a Mars Bar ‘the colour of white icing’), while the Doctor enjoys ‘Venusian Night Fish’, while the next morning, Ian is served a drink that ‘looked like tomato juice and tasted of melon’ that Susan tells him is a concentrate of ‘the winter berries of Mars’.
Initially, Ian tells us the Daleks are ‘a round metal thing about three feet in height, like an upturned beaker with a domed top’ – but when climbing into a casing later, he revises this to ‘four feet three inches’. The Daleks refer to chemicals in the air but don’t mention radiation (is this Whitaker simplifying the science or just trying not to frighten children?), and while the Doctor speculates that the Daleks harness static electricity, this isn’t actually confirmed.
It’s outside the Dalek city that Whitaker allows himself poetic license by improving on what we saw on telly. The Thal males are all well over six feet tall, while Dyoni is nearly six feet and all of them are ‘perfectly proportioned’. During the expedition to the mountains, the swamp creature from the TV show (two glowing eyes on a bladder with rubbery legs) is much more impressive:
Its very size was enough to dry up my mouth as tons of water cascaded off its scaly back and plunged back into the lake. With a body the thickness of a house, its head seemed to be all teeth and on the short neck I could see two pairs of claws… I could see it had six webbed feet on either side of its body, which propelled it forward through the water at a frightening speed.,, I saw one terrible red eye glaring malevolently at me…
As they leave the scene, twenty or more of the beasts devour the body of the one they have just defeated.
The other famous inclusion is the Glass Dalek, which seems to suggest the mutant creature looks like a one-armed Mekon:
The Dalek looked totally evil, sitting on a tiny seat with two squat legs not quite reaching the floor, The head was large, and I shuddered at the inhuman bumps where the ears and nose would normally be and the ghastly slit for a mouth. One shrivelled little arm moved about restlessly and the dark-green skin glistened with the same oily substance that had revolted me before.
Though Ian’s relationship with the Doctor thaws into growing mutual respect, it’s strange to see that he and Barbara are at loggerheads for much of the book. While Ian tries and fails to work out what he’s done wrong, it’s only after the final battle when he overhears Barbara talking to the Thal Kristas that he begins to understand: ‘He hates me. I know he does. I was stupid. Trying to fight… the way I felt…’
The Doctor explains to the pair that he cannot promise to ever get them home, but he and Susan would value their company, Ian gallantly invites Barbara to make the choice for them. As she holds Ian’s hand, he wonders if she seeks ‘comfort? Affection? I still didn’t dare hope it might be love. Only time could tell.’ Blimey! That escalated quickly!
Cover & Illustrations: There have been many covers for this story, the first was a line drawing in the style of the illustrations, while the Armada release in 1965 had a painting showing some bloke in a cloak and a massive non-canonical logo declaring “Dr. Who. Its most famous cover, the first Target-branded version by Chris Achilleos, is a beautiful combination of pointillism shading with colour washes, with Daleks that look straight out of the pages of the TV Century 21 comic strips. Alister Pearson provided a disappointing montage for the 1992 reprint, depicting a pensive Ian,. a Dalek and the Doctor, inset – all bautifully painted but lacking drama. The first edition I saw though was the 1975 White Lion hardback issued to libraries, depicting a stylised psychedelic Tom Baker on the cover! Inside, there are 12 illustrations by Arnold Schwartzman, all faithfully reproducing on-set photos and none of them try to elaborate or embellish what appeared on screen. The best of these, the third, is an odd one as it just shows the Doctor and Ian. It’s supposed to be inside the Tardis, but it’s taken from the side-room with the geiger counter in the Dalek laboratory, and the lighting effect is rather marvellous.
Final analysis: Even though Whitaker is writing this for younger readers, it never feels that he’s talking down to them. I’m still not sure why there are so many changes to the origins of the characters as it creates almost as many problems as it solves. As it was presumably intended to be a stand-alone novel though, Whitaker improves where he can – his Doctor may have alien motivations, but he’s a lot more likeable than his TV counterpart was at this stage. He’s authoritative and commanding, but defers to Ian on occasion as a sign of respect. Barbara comes off as badly as on screen, despite matching the moves of the rest of the party at every step. At the time of writing, Whitaker may not have known the future of the series itself beyond the next six months or so, let alone any potential sequels in print, so the ending is enticing enough for us to want more without writing himself (or other writers) into a corner.