The Novelization That Isn’t


Title: Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure With the Daleks
Written by: David Whitaker
Published in:November 1964
Chapters: One and Two

So here’s a true story.  I may have told it before.  It’s so embarrassing that it has to be true, anyway, cause I wouldn’t make up a story that makes me look quite so neckbeardy.

But, when I was about 12 years old, we’ll say mid-to-late 1985 or early 1986, I found a copy of the novelization of The Daleks on my mall’s bookstore’s shelf. I was elated. I hadn’t seen the story on PBS yet, but I knew that this was, like, the Holy Grail of my burgeoning novelization collection. Or, whatever’s the Holy Grail equivalent for a kid a year away from his bar mitzvah. Naturally, I bought the book.

And then returned it half an hour later.

Before we even left the mall – during an endless clothes-shopping trip for my mother in some other store – I flipped the book open and started reading Chapter 1.

And it was all wrong. Made of lies!

The Daleks was one of the first three stories to be novelized – printed by Frederick Muller in the mid-1960s, during the initial burst of Dalek-fueled Doctor Who mania. The editorial choice was to not begin the book in media res, as did the TV story, but rather to start off with an origin story. And since they didn’t have the rights to Anthony Coburn’s script for An Unearthly Child, David Whitaker just went up and made his own origin story. That’s why the first two chapters of Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks (as the thing was originally called) bear very little relation to what we eventually got on screen.

In Whitaker’s alternate take on the origin story, Ian is not a happy-go-lucky, pop-music-loving teacher at Coal Hill School, but rather a disaffected schoolmaster who’d rather have a scientific research job at an engineering firm. As he drives home from a failed interview one night, he’s confronted with a car wreck in Barnes Common, a local nature reserve and very poorly lit at night. He meets a blood-soaked survivor, who turns out to be Barbara Wright; Barbara was driving Susan home in the fog, and their car was hit by a runaway army truck (and that driver’s corpse is described in some detail, too). Barbara here is not the stern Coal Hill schoolmistress, but rather a burned-out secretary and substiute teacher, who’d been hired on through a newspaper ad to become Susan Foreman’s full-time history tutor.

Except Susan Foreman here is renamed Susan English, and we don’t learn much about her in these first two chapters, except that, as in the original TV broadcast, she’s shockingly well-informed about some areas of Earth history and comically inept at others, such as believing Japan to be a country in Scotland.

The Doctor is still about as sinister as he was in the original script. Here, Barbara faints immediately upon entering the TARDIS; Ian then trips over her, bumps his head, and blacks out. The Doctor dematerializes while the two are unconscious, and briefly keeps them prisoner in a bedroom until the ship lands. He’s just about as patronizing as you remember from TV, but also rifles through Ian’s pants pockets and reaches Holmesian deductions about the man’s dismal career prospects.

Whitaker also takes the opportunity to expand the TARDIS design, with a series of glass pillars lit up in rotating colors, and making the console room set even bigger.  What might have been, on a proper budget…

The TARDIS then lands on Skaro; Ian is finally persuaded that they’re on another planet, although Whitaker also tells us a couple of times that we’re not even in our home universe anymore (“the next Universe but one”).

The most interesting narrative conceit here is that Ian is the narrator of the book, and the whole thing is told through his first-person POV. Which will lead to some interesting deviations from the original TV story, once we get to the parts of the book adapting the seven episodes of The Daleks proper …

About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
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8 Responses to The Novelization That Isn’t

  1. I read the David Whitaker novel a couple of years before I had an opportunity to see the actual serial. Since I had already read the novelization of An Unearthly Child, I knew that Whitaker had devised a completely different first meeting for Ian, Barbara, Susan and the Doctor. But until I saw the TV version of The Daleks, I didn’t realize that Whitaker had also a bunch of different lake monsters, and the long climb up the mountain, and the leader of the Daleks being a “glass Dalek.” Consequently, when I finally did get to watch the serial, I was sorta disappointed, because all this cool stuff I thought was going to be in it actually wasn’t.

  2. drwhonovels says:

    Will be discussing this in the next post — thanks!

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  6. Joe Nash says:

    Just finished the novelization and found it dull. It never helps to know in advance the major plot points and to know as well, as the series progressed that they go nowhere. The Daleks will survive along the Tardis and its crew and the Thals are doomed no matter what happens in the book. The Doctor finding the missing TARDIS part in the hand of the “Glass Dalek” was too convenient. In general the novelizations are the most enjoyable when the exposition in the TV version is unclear or the, as in the 7th Doctor’s final season, the story is so compressed as to be incomprehensible. Then after reading the novelization one can watch the TV show as an illustration of the story with greater understanding.

    • drwhonovels says:

      Had this story not been novelized until 1977 or 1985 or 1990, that’s probably what you would have seen. But this one was the first of its kind, and Whitaker was aiming for proper literature, so he chopped up Nation’s scripts and just told the story he wanted to tell. This will also be pronounced when you get to his novelization of “The Crusade”, which takes similar liberties, cutting out whole chunks of story and adding new ones. I think we’re lucky to have it, even if it is a period relic that doesn’t fit the house style of the later Target line.

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