Day of the Daleks

Novelization by: Terrance Dicks
TV script by: Louis Marks
Episode aired: January 1972
Novelization released: April 1974

Overview: Part of the second batch of Target novelizations, this was Terrance Dicks’ second adaptation of a story he script-edited for TV.  At that point, it was the most recent televised story novelized by Target.  Coming out at the same time as Malcolm Hulke’s adaptation of Colony In Space, both April 1974 releases expanded heavily on their television original.  This would be one of Dicks’ longest novelizations and, not coincidentally, one of his best.

The original episode: The TV version of Day of the Daleks suffered from a couple of common Jon Pertwee-era problems.  First, it was based on a script that, in spite of many alterations and drafts, just couldn’t find its proper voice.  Second, once written, it was hampered by direction that never quite got the point across.  As is now well known following the DVD release, Day of the Daleks did not begin life as a Dalek story, and their late-in-the-day shoe-horning into the script doesn’t leave the Daleks much opportunity to be menacing.  Louis Marks wrote good Who scripts after this one, but one of his weaknesses is that he never really managed to elevate the companions beyond the screaming-and-being-menaced stage; as a result, Day is not Jo Grant’s finest hour, even in spite of Katy Manning’s best efforts.  Also on the DVD, the late Barry Letts spends a bit of time, gently critiquing (to put it mildly) the directorial choices made by the late Paul Bernard.  Reading the novelization directly after watching the televised episode would appear to vindicate Letts.  The film sequences especially drag down the story, in a way that you’d never have thought possible, not if you read the novelization first.

In Print: Before the DVD Special Edition, the novelization filled a void by adding lots of material either cut for time on TV or never filmed in the first place.  The entire opening chapter (“Terror in the Twenty-Second Century”) adds a gritty prologue, opening the story in the 22nd Century rather than the 20th, and showing us the viewpoint of the alternate-history guerillas who are going to set the historical-paradox plot in motion.  The devastated future world is seen through the eyes of guerilla leader Moni (Monia on TV), and it’s a bleak view.  The TV material proper doesn’t starts until several paragraphs into Chapter 2.  Terrance recreates for the final chapter (“All Kinds of Futures”) a second two-Doctors-and-two-Jo-Grants scene, bookending a similar moment in Episode One; this had been planned for the broadcast but never recorded.  Terrance also adds three new guerilla characters for Moni’s assault on Dalek HQ in Episode Four, to add some texture to a big fight scene that was rather rushed and undramatic on film.  The primary 20th century location, Auderly House on TV, reverts to its original scripted name, Austerly House.  Terrance adds a little more texture to the international politics that forms the basis of the 20th-century half of the story, and, 1984-style, invents a quote from a future-history text describing how civilization ended.  Moreover, the film sequences, which contained most of the story’s chases and escapes, are far richer in print than on TV, liberated as they are from Paul Bernard’s direction.  The Doctor’s escape-by-tricycle in Episode Three is almost exciting here, as opposed to the low-speed escape from slow-walking extras that we got on TV.

A little more effort is made as well to get inside the heads of the three 22nd-century guerillas, who’ve traveled back in time to change their bleak future.  Their portrayal was a bit inconsistent on TV (on the DVD, for instance, they’re compared to both Israeli soldiers and Palestinian hijackers).  There’s a character moment added here where Anat appreciates the luxurious velvet curtains of the past, and another one when she hopefully looks at the sun rise during her final scene; Boaz gets a POV scene shortly before his death-by-self-sacrifice in Episode Four (a moment badly staged on TV); and Shura’s even larger act of self-sacrifice in the story’s final minute is given a clearer motivation.  Overall Terrance tries quite hard to imbue Anat and Boaz with personalities and motivations that never quite came across on TV.  We learn that the guerillas in their secret base sip herbal tea (so 22nd-century China wasn’t conquered by the Daleks, then?).  Less clearly, Terrance asserts that in this story’s 21st century, mankind was both reduced to a Stone Age atavism before the Daleks showed up, and able to build a monorail system.

The Regulars: In what seems to be a recurring theme when Terrance Dicks writes for Jon Pertwee, the Third Doctor curses fluently in an obscure Martian dialect (c.f. Planet of the Daleks).  Jo keenly observes the following:

Sometimes the Doctor seemed to think she understood the most difficult scientific theories as easily as he did himself.  At other times he had an infuriating habit of carefully explaining that two and two made four.

When the Daleks’ mind-control device reveals an image of the Second Doctor, Terrance (writing here before any Patrick Troughton stories had ever been novelized) describes him as having “a humorous, rather comic face”; the original edition’s illustrations also picture Troughton at this point.  Jo Grant, as ever, is “very small and very pretty”.  On TV Jo is not well-served; she accidentally catapults herself forward to the alternate 22nd Century, and once there, immediately falls hook, line and sinker for every lie or half-truth put forward by the Daleks.  Terrance rectifies this somewhat, and restores some of Katy Manning’s dignity to the part, by narrating several exposition scenes from Jo’s point of view.  When the Doctor removes a gag from Jo’s mouth, here he does it by pulling it away with his teeth — an image that puts a whole new perspective on their relationship.  One moment that jarred on TV was the Doctor’s seemingly casual disintegration of two Ogrons during a chase scene at the end of Episode Two.  This scene was heavily George Lucas-ed for the DVD Special Edition but, in the book, Terrance surprisingly leaves it as staged by Paul Bernard — as if he, like the director, wasn’t aware that the Doctor doesn’t shoot first.

The Daleks are also a little deeper than we saw on TV.  Here there’s a Black Dalek in command position serving just under the “even more powerful” Gold Dalek; the Black Dalek is described as “sulky” here when he doesn’t quite get his way.  On TV we had one Gold Dalek, two regular Daleks, and that was it… The Daleks’ human servant also observes fear in these Daleks when they discuss the Doctor — again, adding texture and richness that didn’t come across on TV.

The Chapter Titles of Death: Chapter 4’s title gives a nod to one of the working titles for this story: “The Ghost Hunters”.  Chapter 6 accidentally foretells a future New Series Adventure written 35 years later, “Prisoner of the Daleks”.  The biggest surprise is what’s not in the Table of Contents: a chapter title referencing “The Power of the Daleks”, a variation on which appears in many other Dalek episode novelizations. 

The Cliffhangers: On TV, the Daleks featured in each of the three cliffhangers.  The weakest of these, the end of Episode One, shows all three Daleks chanting “EX-TER-MIN-ATE THEM!” ad nauseum in an empty room.  This seems more a phony attempt to add tension rather than an organic part of the plot; for the book, Terrance hides it in the middle of a chapter, where it can do no harm.  The remaining two cliffhangers are stronger, and both properly go at the end of chapters.

Good prose/bad prose: Dicks writes the fight scenes with a gritty realism absent from much of his later work.  Less impressively, in Chapter 3, the word “laboratory” is used twice in the same sentence.  Terrance is always up for political satire.  During the parade of 20th-century dignitaries in Episode Four, Terrance writes that the TV “commentator was working very hard to make a series of pictures of middle-aged men getting out of their cars sound exciting.”  As a side note, one wishes that Terrance would narrate the audiobook release of this novelization, especially when he writes the Doctor as being “at the end of a long and gruelling interrogation”.  That line would have quite a different emphasis as spoken by Terrance…

Personal Memories: In the mid-1980s, this book was more easily found in U.S. bookstores in its Pinnacle reprint form rather than as an original Target.  The lavish color illustration for Pinnacle featured a more feral, simian-looking Ogron slave and, most famous of all, a UNIT spaceship; we’d have to wait until The Sound of Drums to see one of those on TV.  The Pinnacle series included what seems to be a tongue-in-cheek essay by Harlan Ellison extolling the virtues of mid-1970s’ Doctor Who when compared against Star Trek and Star Wars.  Interestingly, on the DVD special features for this story, several pundits wonder why writ-happy Harlan never filed a lawsuit against this script, as it bears resemblance to a script he wrote for The Outer Limits.  Perhaps he never read the novelizations to which he penned that introduction…

Final Analysis: As Terrance said on the DVD commentary… “Read the book.”  The TV story has a great central premise, let down by indifferent directing.  The book is the closest thing to the perfect image inside Terrance Dicks’ mind as he edited the script and sent it to the director.  The DVD Special Edition corrects a lot of sins, but unless they can find the budget and restage all the action sequences from scratch, the novelization is the closest we will ever get to how this story should have looked.

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About drwhonovels

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

  1. I have lost rack of how many times I have read this novelization. Probably more times than I’ve seen the actual television story, and that’s saying something. I agree with you, long before the DVD release, this was the original “Special Edition.” It is certainly one of Terrance Dicks’ best Doctor Who books.

  2. Pingback: A Word About Pinnacle Books | "Doctor Who" Novels

  3. Pingback: Guerillas in the Midst | "Doctor Who" Novels

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