In the golden olden days of the Target novelisations, there were a few casualties that never made it through to the end of the run. The two Patrick Troughton Dalek stories were novelised shortly afterward by John Peel under the Virgin Books label and the two televised Douglas Adams stories were brought to life by James Goss much later, when the original author was no longer around to protest. The two Dalek stories written in the 1980s by Eric Saward continued to prove elusive – until now, when the original author has novelised the final two original series stories Resurrection of the Daleks and Revelation of the Daleks for BBC Books. The latter will be released in October, but first we have the 1984 Fifth Doctor story that was the Daleks’ first appearance in five years.
I’ve always felt a bit sorry for Eric Saward. Somewhere along the line, professional fandom decided that he was the enemy and heaped a lot of blame on him for elements of the show that, by all rights, should have been laid at the door of producer John Nathan-Turner. But JN-T, lambasted for many years by the very same people, was now being hailed the saviour of the series in the 1980s, so the obvious failings of some of the serials of that time had to be blamed on someone. Script editors Christopher H. Bidmead and Eric Saward had both been outspoken about their time on the show, so… well, you can work the rest out for yourself. Such is Doctor Who fandom. For my money, Saward did a sterling job under difficult circumstances; the stories he wrote, with the exception of the too-many-cooks hash that was Attack of the Cybermen, were all pretty strong and had an action-adventure feel that reflected the big-screen ethos of the time.
BBC Books have a very schizoid approach to their Doctor Who range; they’re never quite sure if they want to produce pulp books for kids or weighty bookstore hardbacks, so they releases emerge in a dazzling variety of shapes, sizes and designs. Once you get past the cover, which looks like it was designed by someone whose previous job was branding bottles of Kentucky Bourbon, what you have with Resurrection of the Daleks is a book that lies somewhere between the swift simplicity of the Target novelisations and the deeper insights of the hardback range. This isn’t a heavyweight Doctor Who tome, laden with continuity and obsessive plothole-filling; this is a fast, light read that nonetheless fleshes out the original adventure.
For those of you unaware of the TV version of Resurrection of the Daleks, it takes place in the aftermath a devastating war between the Doctor’s pepperpot arch-nemeses and the Movellans, the dreadlocked disco robots last seen in Destiny of the Daleks (who mercifully do not appear in this story). The Daleks have suffered a crushing defeat, mainly down to a deadly anti-Dalek virus, and their creator Davros has been put in cold storage and shipped off to prison. But the depleted Dalek forces, their numbers fleshed out by mercenaries led by the morally redundant Lytton, attack the prison ship to get back their creator, in the hope that he can analyse canisters of the virus found hidden on Earth and come up with a cure.
The Doctor’s TARDIS is caught up in the Time Corridor between the Dalek spacecraft and an abandoned warehouse in London, where Army bomb disposal experts are examining the virus canisters in the belief that they are unexploded bombs. The rest of the action takes place between the warehouse, the Dalek spacecraft and the prison ship that it is attached to and is a complex web of switching allegiances as Davros struggles to usurp the Supreme Dalek for control of his creations. Seen in retrospect, it fits nicely into Dalek continuity; it leads seamlessly into Saward’s second Dalek story Revelation of the Daleks and from there into Ben Aaronovitch’s Remembrance of the Daleks (the three of which are as a loose trilogy). It can also be seen as a movement towards the new series’ Time War, as the Daleks plot an attack on Gallifrey, home planet of the Time Lords.
Eric Saward sticks quite closely to the TV story, occasionally tightening up the narrative for dramatic effect. His main expansion is in the characterisation of the original characters. The crew of the prison ship in the serial are a bland, if somewhat bitchy, bunch; here, he gives them back stories and motivations. Mercer doesn’t really want the responsibility of being ship’s captain, but he is thrown into the role when the actual captain – unseen, as on TV – is killed, and Dr Styles is a neat freak, who keeps her laboratory spick and span even though the rest of the ship is falling apart. Styles’ assistant is here described as being a humanoid robot, although whether this was an element dropped from the original script or a back-handed reference to the wooden acting of the actress in the (small) TV part, is unclear. The Daleks are also fleshed out a bit; this may not please some fans, but it’s kind of necessary because there are a lot of scenes of Daleks talking to Daleks, which would be as dull as ditchwater if they didn’t have a little bit of a personality.
Saward ties the book in with his other TV scripts and the novelisations he wrote for Target Books in a number of ways. The prison ship was unnamed on TV, but here it is said to be the Vipod Mor, which is the same ship from the Sixth Doctor radio serial Slipback, which he later novelised. Terminology such as references to ‘Bastick’ as an explosive and ‘Voxnic’ as an intoxicant are recurrent throughout Saward’s scripts and books, and this is no exception. I like this kind of thing because it brings a sense of continuity to the crossover between the Fifth and Sixth Doctor, which was a very turbulent and disconnected period on TV.
Apart from the return of the Daleks, Resurrection of the Daleks is famous for being the last story for companion Tegan Jovanka, who was present throughout most of the Fifth Doctor’s reign. On TV, her departure was rather abrupt, but on the printed page Saward is allowed the luxury of seeding her discontent a lot earlier in the story, though I have to say that I’m not entirely sure what the brand new epilogue was all about.
We’ve waited a long time for Resurrection of the Daleks and I’d say that, by and large, it was worth the wait. It’s not going to blow your socks off with an encyclopaedic expansion of the original narrative, but that’s a refreshingly good thing. I, for one, have become rather tired of the tendency to explore in microscopic detail even the tiniest elements of Doctor Who. It’s nice to read a book that is just a rollicking good adventure story. If I had to pick fault with Resurrection of the Daleks, it would be (apart from that dreadful cover) the fact that the production seems a bit rushed; I picked up on quite a few typos. That can hardly be said to be Eric Saward’s fault, of course… which won’t stop some Doctor Who fans from blaming him for it.
‘Doctor Who – Resurrection of the Daleks’ by Eric Saward is published in the UK by BBC Books / Penguin Random House (2019)