Planet of the Daleks

Novelization by: Terrance Dicks
TV script by: Terry Nation
Episode aired: April – May 1973
Novelization released: October 1976

Overview: The beginning of the Terrance Dicks doldrums.  Dicks published six separate novelizations in 1976, his busiest year to date and the kickoff of a five year-long run where he’d write nearly every Doctor Who novelization under the Target banner (just about three out of every four).  With a reduced word count and less sophisticated prose compared to his 1974-75 output, books written by Dicks during this span would vary wildly in quality.  If the TV script was great, so too was the book.  If the TV script were, say, an indifferent word salad from an author merely marking time until his US TV career took off (to pick a random example), then the novelization suffered accordingly.

The original episode: Ummm…  Terry Nation made more money off Doctor Who than anyone else from the early years.  That’s not to say deservedly so.  Then he left, and suddenly the Dalek scripts got markedly better.  Starting in the early ’70s, however, he’d come back to the show that made him famous, and contribute one Dalek script per year.  Planet of the Daleks is one of those scripts.  It’s a throwback to the early ’60s, where the TARDIS is still supplied with amenities like oxygen cylinders and a recording log; Thals (the planet Skaro’s nicer inhabitants) stroll across our TV screens for the first time since 1964; there’s even a reference in Episode One to the original companions, Barbara, Ian and Susan.  On the planet Spiridon are invisible aliens, a lush and aggressive jungle, and unconvincing use of toy Dalek models.  All this had happened before and much of this would happen again.  Planet of the Daleks sets the bar very low, and only just clears that hurdle.  Probably it would have worked better as a four-parter than six, but then again you can say that about many other Pertwee-era stories, too.

In Print: Presumably written to appeal to the less-discriminating 7 year-old, the novelization of Planet of the Daleks lacks all the subtlety and wit which Dicks lent to other Pertwee-era novelizations; The Claws of Axos and Carnival of Monsters are much better examples of the genre.  The word count is the same as for any four-part story from the era, so much economy of prose was necessary to make the story fit.  We know from the DVD release that Dicks had to do quite a bit of work to salvage the scripts for filming in the first place; predictably, the most successful scenes in the book are those which Dicks added for TV, such as the Doctor’s musings on courage with Latep or on the horrors of war with Taron.  In one slight improvement, the noble self-sacrifice of a red-shirt Thal named Marat is given a context that was pretty unevident on TV (instead of randomly throwing himself in front of a Dalek gunstick, Marat here observes that “the Daleks were near enough to fire.  There wasn’t enough time.”)

Jarringly, however, the first chapter does not match up with the end of the previous novelization, Doctor Who and the Space War.  That one ends with the Doctor fully conscious, a departure from its TV parent, Frontier in Space.  Here, when the Doctor accurately opens the novel in a near-coma, a discontinuity arises within the Target range.  If you were interested in that sort of thing.

The Regulars: As on TV, Jo gets moments of bravery (leaving the TARDIS to fend for herself when the Doctor is ill) and stupidity (getting infected with deadly fungus), usually in consecutive scenes.  In one annoying alteration, Jo’s asking the Doctor to take her home to Earth at the end of Episode Six is replaced with the Doctor being the one to suggest that they visit “this little world”.  This removes the foreshadowing that Jo would leave at the end of the following TV story, The Green Death.  In a novelization this slim, Dicks doesn’t have much to say about the Doctor’s psyche, but at one point he does have the Doctor curse “fluently in an obscure Martian dialect.”

The Chapter Titles of Death: Mirroring not only an episode title, but also a chapter title from nearly every other Dalek novelization ever, Chapter 4 is “In the Power of the Daleks”.  Chapter 9 blatantly spoils “Vaber’s Sacrifice”.  And, correctly predicting the title of a Tom Baker episode released a year after this novelization, the back cover blurb warns us of THE INVISIBLE ENEMY.

The Cliffhangers: In a 12-chapter outing, each cliffhanger comes as the end of every even-numbered chapters.  Terrance on autopilot…

Good prose/bad prose: Moving away from Target’s early use of footnotes to refer the reader to previously-published novelizations, Terrance adds a summary of the previous story, Frontier in Space, directly into the dialogue, as Jo speaks into the TARDIS recording log; Jo’s backstory as a UNIT agent and the basic plot of Frontier are neatly condensed into one paragraph of added text.  Most of the prose is strictly functional; the end of Chapter 1, as the TARDIS inexplicably runs out of air, ends on the undramatic revelation: “When the oxygen was exhausted, he [The Doctor] would die…” The Thals are characterized quite efficiently: good guy Taron is “at once kindly and stern”; the doomed (as we learned from the table of contents) Vaber has “a fierce angry look about him.”   No more characterization than that was needed.  The invisible Spiridons are described, unhelpfully, as having “footprints completely alien in shape.”  A bored Terrance solves the how-are-they-eating? problem by describing the Thals’ backpacks as having “seemingly inexhaustible” supplies.  Desperately trying to add context (or to keep himself awake at his typewriter), Terrance gives Jo a waking dream about sunning herself on the French Riviera.  Nicely, a Dalek is seen “calmly… relaying a story of an unmitigated disaster.”  Finally, worst of all, “Jo and the Doctor joined the jubilant Thals in an orgy of hand-shaking and back-slapping.”  SO!  All those rumors about the Jon Pertwee years were true after all!

Personal Memories: Back when I was 12 and my parents kept threatening to forbid me to watch Doctor Who on TV, I tried to convert them into fandom by having them read some of the books and thus see what the TV show was all about.  After my father pretended to enjoy reading Doctor Who and the Daleks, I gave him this one to try next.  Naturally, he didn’t finish.

Final Analysis: Not one of Terrance Dicks’ prouder moments, but given the TV scripts with which he had to work, there wasn’t much more of interest that he could add to the novelization, especially given the word counts of the day.  Even had this come out in the late ’80s, when the most obscure Hartnell and Troughton titles were finally published, and when the books were 20 pages longer, the end result likely wouldn’t have been any more memorable.  Thus, we’re spared endless discourses on the Spiridons’ native invisibility, and the reproductive cycles of all the hostile jungle plants.

About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
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5 Responses to Planet of the Daleks

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