Monday, November 30, 2015
Five Reasons to Read Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With the Daleks – Doctor Who 52 Extra: B
Introducing Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With the Daleks…
…as it was named when first published and which, remarkably, it still is (though currently in print simply as Doctor Who and the Daleks).
David Whitaker’s 1964 novelisation of the Doctor’s original encounter with the Daleks on their dead planet Skaro was the first ever Doctor Who novel. But on the page William Hartnell’s Doctor is less the lead character than one of many threats faced by first-person hero Ian Chesterton – a stylistic choice which both adds depth and feeling and gives the book an unusually ‘rugged adventure’ flavour.
Today is the fifty-second anniversary not just of the second episode of the very first story, An Unearthly Child, but also of the first episode – again – which was repeated to give the new series another chance with viewers (after its launch was overshadowed by the assassination of US President Kennedy). This book is another go at starting the series, too…
Five Reasons To Read Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With the Daleks (warning: spoilers lower down the list)
1 – The first person.
“I began to feel better. The Doctor had told me the wisest thing to do would be to open my mind and accept what had happened.Reviewers tend to talk about how influential the first ever Doctor Who novel was, by definition. Its Target Books 1973 reprint spearheaded a massively successful series of novelisations over the next two decades. But the moment you start reading one thing jumps out that’s different from almost all the others – the first-person narration by Ian Chesterton gives it much more of a different feel to the TV version even than the many changes of story detail. It was more than twenty years and nearly a hundred more novelisations until another first-person narrative, and though Donald Cotton’s three books also featured William Hartnell’s Doctor they’re played for comedy. That’s rather a contrast to this one.
This novel starts starkly: Ian is in a savage mood after a terrible day, and it’s about to get worse than he can possibly imagine. Where on TV Ian was paired with fellow teacher Barbara and they discovered the mystery behind their pupil Susan together, here he begins utterly alone, trusting nothing and nobody he encounters. All of this makes the book far more about Ian and his feelings, perceptions and prejudices than any other, seeing the Doctor in particular as incredibly alienating and even malevolent, in contrast to the TV’s more impish mischief (down both to Mr Whitaker rewriting the Doctor’s lines and actions and losing Mr Hartnell’s irrepressible fun in the role even when he’s playing Doctor Git). It’s a great relief when he eventually starts to relax a bit.
2 – The first person being read by the first person. A decade ago this was also the first Doctor Who novel released (in various formats) in a continuing audiobook series. Though the music is much more minimalist electronica than later releases, it’s appropriately read by William Russell, who played Ian on TV and many years later inhabits the role again vividly. He still has a marvellous voice and sounds like they’re his thoughts, rather than just reading them, and it’s still one of the best.
3 – David Whitaker was Doctor Who’s original Script Editor, similar to today’s lead writers, and one of his fascinations was the TARDIS itself. For TV he wrote scenes of its fabulous food machine; given a novel to play with, he adds more of it – plus similar details for the Thal people, who serve hot Ratanda because every civilised race must have something like tea – along with a little buzzing barber robot and the TARDIS home appliance I most wanted, the oil and water shower that cleans and tones you and exercises your muscles without your having to do anything. It’s this more than anything else that seems at last to start rubbing Ian up the right way, so to speak.
4 – The pictures. Published all over the world and with many different covers, the most memorable and the one on current editions is Chris Achilleos’ striking image used to launch the Target Books range. It isn’t technically a great likeness of William Hartnell, with fabulous comic strip-influenced Daleks and a stylised TARDIS… But for all that, it’s one of the most iconic covers in the series, thrillingly composed with flaming Dalek gunfire and a Doctor that contains all the swirling galaxies, making him mysterious, dangerous and unforgettable. The early novelisations also had internal illustrations, and this is the only one to have had two contrasting sets. Arnold Schwartzman’s are detailed sketches based on BBC photos and have lasted from the first edition through to the current ones – but for me the unique 1965 Armada paperback wins out with its odd pictures out, Peter Archer’s less ‘correct’ but more excited drawings inspired by the book rather than based on the TV. He gives us a very buff Temmosus dying in a blaze of Dalek fire, for example, and a memorable glass Dalek…
5 – The glass Dalek. Terry Nation’s TV script was given massive boosts by Brian Hodgson and Tristram Cary’s eerie soundscapes and, above all, Ray Cusick’s fantastic designs both for the petrified jungle and metal city that make up the world of Skaro and for creating the Daleks. David Whitaker is stripped of these advantages and just left with the script. So, like several Doctor Who authors after him (perhaps most notably Malcolm Hulke), he makes sweeping changes, not just obviously cutting scenes where Ian’s not present – losing much of both the Doctor and the Daleks – but changing story and characters to fit his own.
The most famous change is the book’s opening. The Daleks had been Doctor Who’s second story on TV, but with no video release or even novelisation in prospect of the first, An Unearthly Child, Mr Whitaker offers an alternative beginning, starting with a meeting in the fog on Barnes Common, dangerous from the first in a very earthbound death followed by an unearthly twist. It offers none of the story of An Unearthly Child but a similarly abrupt coming together of Ian, Barbara, Susan and the Doctor (with several of the same lines, suggesting dialogue Mr Whitaker had added to the initial scripts).
The most pervasive changes are in the characters, with the relationship between Ian and Barbara developing from resentment to romance (‘Women are strange!’) and in the Thals, the other race on Skaro, who here are much more physically ‘perfect’ for Boys’ Own adventures like climbing the impossible cliff, with Kristas promoted from ‘Thal at the back with a few lines’ on TV to a giant with the most magnificent musculature and so the most lines to go with it (‘Men have admirable bodies!’). Mr Whitaker also has a very different conception of their pacifism than Mr Nation: Ian arranges a boxing match to teach them to be suitably manly which goes hilariously wrong, and there’s none of the TV story’s ‘dirty coward who must redeem himself by dying like a Man should’.
But the most memorable change is in the Daleks; the book’s erratic descriptions of their machines and their voices pale next to the TV, but revels in more ghastly descriptions, none more effective than their leader in a glass casing, jumping up and down in constant fury before being smashed in the book’s far more effective climax. A glass Dalek finally appeared on TV more than two decades later, though this novel had earlier success in influencing other novelisations: the chapter title Escape Into Danger becomes iconic and much-repeated (though for some reason The Last Despairing Try didn’t catch on).
What Else Should I Tell You About Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With the Daleks?
From the 1964 edition first published by Frederick Muller, through launching the Target Books range in 1973 that carried on for another hundred and fifty novelisations and many New Adventures beyond, to the 2011 BBC Books ‘special edition’ with background notes and an introduction by Neil Gaiman, Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With the Daleks has been republished more often than any other Doctor Who book. And no wonder: it’s still a cracking adventure story, and it was based on one of the most important Doctor Who stories: The Daleks (sometimes called The Dead Planet or, by pedants, “The Mutants”), the Doctor’s second ever adventure with the first monsters, the reason why the series is still going strong today. You can buy the TV version as part of the Doctor Who – The Beginning DVD Box Set and in several other releases.
The book’s downside is that its attitudes sometimes show its age, magnified by giving us Ian’s inner thoughts and making it all a heroically physical Boys’ Own adventure. Women are stranger creatures than the Daleks at times, and while Ian is attracted to Barbara he finds heavily muscled Thal men far easier to bond with (Thal women getting about a paragraph and likened to precious jewels). On the bright side, just because Ian doesn’t understand Barbara doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a personality, even if we have to infer the bits Ian misses. I’m still taken aback every time he meets an injured “girl” in the fog and it’s not teenage Susan but grown woman Barbara, though. Even to set up threats with petrol and introduce the Doctor’s “everlasting matches,” Ian’s cigarettes are briefly startling and won’t be found anywhere else (just as the Doctor only ever smokes a pipe in An Unearthly Child, which in this case I’ll call the TV alternative first story). Perhaps the element of the adaptation that works least well is in Mr Whitaker’s enthusiastically hideous descriptions of what lives inside a Dalek casing, and the reactions he has the Doctor and Ian give to it. There’s always been a tension between Doctor Who’s wonder in the alien and ‘green scaly rubber people are people too’ ethos and its presenting ugly monsters to scare us, and rarely is that more blatant than in The Daleks, the first time viewers were given that contradiction. On screen, the Doctor says it doesn’t matter what form an intelligence takes and the Daleks are evil because they dislike the unlike – but they’re also physically repugnant, while the Thals are presented as attractively Aryan. In the novel the awkward subtext becomes the text, as on seeing the slimy, hideous thing inside the Dalek machine, the Doctor confirms that if he’d not made up his mind about them, one look at it tells him it’s evil! So that rather undermines the moral.
And, if you need one, my score:
If You Like Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With the Daleks, Why Not Try…
Practically any Doctor Who novel owes a debt to this in one way or another, most immediately the other two 1960s novelisations, Doctor Who and the Zarbi and David Whitaker’s own Doctor Who and the Crusaders. And of course the original TV version, the feature film adaptation and even the colouring book adaptation of the film version. The 1985 TV story Revelation of the Daleks finally brings a glass Dalek to the screen, and is brilliant (one of those really should have been the Dalek Prime Minister in 2012’s Every Dalek Ever Except the Ones That Aren’t story).
But I’m going to point out Mark Gatiss’ docudrama about the early years of Doctor Who, An Adventure in Space and Time, starring David Bradley as William Hartnell, for its opening on a police box in the fog on Barnes Common.