First published in 1964 with the title Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks (a title they really should have kept, in my opinion), this is the first Doctor Who serial to be turned into a novel. The book was written by one of the head screenwriters on the show, in a time when it was not common to repeat television, and before Doctor Who was the long running cult (and now mainstream) television series that it is today. For many people, it was the first introduction to the story of the time travelling Doctor and his companions, and Whitaker was free to adapt and even alter the story from the television series.
In terms of the TV show, the seven episode run of The Daleks follows on from the very first episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child, where viewers were introduced to the strange and brilliant school girl Susan, her teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, and her eccentric and mysterious grandfather, known only as the Doctor. At the end of the episode, Ian and Barbara are whisked away in the Doctor’s time machine, the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) and in their first adventure on an alien planet meet the terrifying cyborg race known as the Daleks (long before these creatures became known as the Doctor’s most feared enemies).
Whitaker starts by rewriting the events of An Unearthly Child somewhat, with Ian never having met Susan and Barbara before he finds them at the scene of a car accident, but the end result is still the same. He and Barbara, trying to help Susan, meet her seemingly misanthropic Grandfather, and end up in his wonderful space craft, kidnapped by the Doctor, so they can’t reveal his or Susan’s existence to the authorities. The story is told entirely from Ian’s point of view. Ian is a trained scientist, and while he is initially convinced that the TARDIS is some elaborate set, and the Doctor and Susan are delusional, he can’t ignore the evidence in front of him as they arrive on and start exploring the alien home planet of the Daleks.
The Doctor, always interested in exploring alien civilisations, deftly sabotages his own ship, and the travellers have no choice but to explore the city they see in the distance in order to find mercury to fix the TARDIS’ fuel supply. Ian is pretty sure he’s being manipulated, but doesn’t really have a choice but to go along if he wants to leave the planet again any time soon. He certainly doesn’t want to send a woman and a young girl along with a bossy old guy who he’s still not entirely convinced is completely sane. So off they go, through the strangely ravaged country side, to a city where the streets are paved with metal. Susan and Barbara start feeling ill, and soon the whole group are captured by the little robot creatures known as the Daleks.
The planet’s atmosphere is slowly poisoning the humans, and Susan is sent off alone to find an antidote for Barbara and the others (left outside the TARDIS earlier). While away from the Dalek city, she encounters one of the Thal, a race of peaceful humanoids inhabiting the planet. He explains that there used to be a terrible civil war that left most of the planet scorched and petrified, but that the Thals only want peace and to be left alone by the Daleks. The antidote Susan has to find was created by the Thals, who can’t breathe without it, and Susan promises to plead the Thal case to their Dalek captors.
While it seems as if the Daleks are receptive to a peace agreement with the Thals, just before the Thal delegation are set to arrive, Ian and the others discover that the Daleks plan not only to ambush the Thals, but their ultimate plan involves taking over the whole planet, killing off the Thal race completely. The Doctor and his companions escape the Dalek city with the surviving Thals, and try to assist them in setting up a rebellion against the ruthless Daleks.
Doctor Who and the Daleks is a book aimed for children, but is action packed, well written and surprisingly violent (at least to anyone who hasn’t seen classic (or even current era) Doctor Who). Ian and Barbara are given a lot more characterisation than in the early episodes of the show, because in a novel that’s much easier than on TV. There is also more of a romantic tension between Ian and Barbara than what is shown in the TV episodes, but as the series progressed, it was obvious that the two were meant to be together, so I think Whitaker was only hurrying along the inevitable.
The benefit of a novel over the TV series, is that in a book the author can conjure up exciting set pieces without having to worry about a budget. My husband, a massive fan of the show, confesses that having read the book as a boy, he was a bit disappointed when finally seeing the actual episodes, as the exotic and alien locations, characters and various action sequences were described so vividly in the book, and weren’t quite as faithfully rendered on screen (no wonder, as the TV show came first, the book just elaborated on what had already been shown). It’s a fairly short, and very exciting story. One of the most interesting aspects is the strange experience of Ian and the others trying to convince a pacifistic, harmonic people that they need to learn to fight and in effect resume a civil war, rather than continue their peace loving ways and be exterminated by the ruthless Daleks.
A very good choice for my first Read-a-thon book this spring, it can be read in a couple of hours, and gives a nice introduction to the first Doctor and his companions for new fans, or an interesting contrast to the TV series for existing fans. Well worth a read.