Guerillas in the Midst


Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks.  Original 1974 cover.

Title: Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks
Televised as: Day of the Daleks
Written by: Terrance Dicks
Teleplay by: Louis Marks
Televised in: January 1972
Published in: March 1974

[An earlier version of this post was published on drwhonovels on October 9, 2011]

After having finished the back-to-back publications of Doctor Who and the Cave-Monsters and Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, I realized that it had been nearly two weeks since I last read a Terrance Dicks book. And, after finishing Day of the Daleks, I looked up and saw that the next two books after that weren’t by Terrance either. That’s only four days of Terrance out of a stretch of 27 days of reading.  Going forward, this will not be the norm.

It’s a bit of a culture shock, though, moving from two straight weeks of Malcolm Hulke, back to Terrance Dicks. The only real similarity between Hulke’s and Dicks’ style in the early going is that Terrance also lavishes a much bigger page count on the Episode One material than he does the rest of the story. Episode One of Day of the Daleks takes up more than a third of the novelization. Terrance uses this opportunity to expand the action, and to provide us with brief but razor-sharp bits of characterization, but, outside of Chapter 1, he’s not going to devote pages and pages to the internal thought processes of secondary and tertiary characters. While there are very striking POV scenes, there are also no invented histories, no quickly-sketched portraits of the bad life choices that turned characters into villains. He’s more concerned with plot and action.  But, even with that, this first third of the novelization is pretty riveting, in a way that few people accuse the corresponding TV episode of being.

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 shoehorning into the script didn’t leave the Daleks much opportunity to be menacing.  Louis Marks didn’t completely embarrass himself with Planet of Giants, and would go on to write some good Who scripts after this one, but one of his weaknesses is that he never really elevated 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 spent 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 (all the exterior scenes in both the 20th and 22nd-century time zones, especially drag down the story, in a way that you’d never have thought possible, not if you read the novelization first.

Before the DVD Special Edition came out 35 years later, 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 introducing the Daleks much earlier in proceedings. We begin with a wrecked Earth already in progress, and with the guerillas beginning to experiment with their time-travel scheme – a scheme that will inadvertently cause the Daleks’ conquest of Earth to occur in the first place.

The devastated future world is seen through the eyes of guerilla leader Moni (Monia on TV), and it’s a bleak view.

Moni sat up and looked around cautiously. The enormous dormitory was packed with sleeping forms, drugged into total exhaustion by hours of brutal physical toil. One or two murmured and twisted and cursed in their sleep. A man screamed, “No, no, please don’t … “ and then his voice tailed off into the mutterings of a nightmare. Moni saw that it was Soran. He had been beaten by the guards that morning for failing to meet his work-norm. Soran was weakening daily. He wouldn’t last much longer.

Here at his harshest and most uncompromising, Terrance has Moni envision himself being “torn to pieces” by the Ogrons. The Ogrons, too, surpass their TV realization:

Creatures somewhere between gorilla and man, they stood almost seven feet in height with bowed legs, massive chests and long powerful arms that hung almost to the ground. Their faces were perhaps the most awful thing about them: a distorted version of the human face, with flat ape-like nose, small eyes glinting with cruelty and a massive jaw with long yellow teeth.


Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks.  Revised 1976 edition.

This is Terrance’s second time out writing for the third Doctor, and his first Jo Grant endeavor. 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).  The Doctor rubs his chin twice, for those of you keeping score at home, so that’s five times now in Dicks’ first two Pertwee novelizations. While we don’t get the classic Dicks description of the Third Doctor as having a “young/old face” or “a shock of white hair” (which Terrance would later call “the bouffant” on every single DVD audio commentary that he ever recorded), I quite like when Jo keenly observes the following about the Doctor’s abrasive mentoring style:

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.

The Doctor also amusingly compares travel by the guerilla’s time-machine negatively against the TARDIS: “It was like comparing a trip in a luxury liner with going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.”

But it’s not just the Third Doctor that Dicks describes.  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.

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 is — as if he, like the director, wasn’t aware at this point in the show’s history that the Doctor never shoots first.

Jo Grant, Terrance writes, is “very small and very pretty” (followed by a half-dozen variants of the same phrase).  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.  She’s impetuous, naive, gullible, and sleeps through an important council-of-war in the Part Four material.  Katy Manning made this work on TV through her earnest demeanor (and didn’t fall asleep), and Terrance also tries to salvage the character, in this, the first time he’s written for her. He shows us the Doctor mostly through Jo’s eyes, the same as he did with Liz Shaw in The Auton Invasion, and this helps humanize the character somewhat.

A little more effort is made as well to get inside the heads of the three principal 22nd-century guerillas.  In what will be a future Terrance staple, he introduces Anat and Boaz and Shura all in the same paragraph. Of these, Anat, the leader (and only survivor) of this gang, is the most interesting: “Fierce courage, a passionate hatred of the enemy, and the cunning and caution that made her wait until the best moment to strike”.  Terrance also takes care to imbue Anat with an actual appreciation for her having traveled in time:

Dimly, Anat could see the woods and lawns of Austerly Park. She gazed at the peaceful landscape with a kind of wonder. Then she looked around the study; for the first time she realized that she had actually journeyed into the past. The comfort and luxury of old houses, well-furnished rooms such as this, had long been things of the past when Anat was born. She reached out and touched the softness of the velvet curtains.

And, allowing her a moment of grace in her final scene:

She stood for a moment looking over the sea of rubble, the only world she had ever known. There were streaks of light in the east. Dawn was breaking. If the Doctor succeeded it might be a new dawn for all of them. If not, she could always go on fighting. She began to clamber across the rubble.

Boaz gets a POV scene shortly before his death-by-self-sacrifice in Episode Four; his deaht was badly staged on TV but the addition of a POV scene gives that moment more impact.  Shura’s even larger act of self-sacrifice in the story’s final minute is given a clearer motivation – we also see a lot more of Shura’s journey back to Austerley House in the Part Four material, and Terrance does a good job of inhabiting his head as he embarks upon his futile (and history-wrecking) suicide bombing mission.

Overall, Terrance tries quite hard to imbue the guerillas 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.  Perhaps Lyle Lanley existed in this alternate future?


Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks.  Revised 1980s edition.

The exterior sequences, on film in the original story, are mostly made up of chases and escapes, but Terrance makes these moments far richer in print than on TV, liberated as he is from 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. Dicks is at his most poetic in describing what he thinks the landscape should have looked like:

All around him was a scene of complete and utter desolation. Every inch of the countryside, as far as he could see, seemed to have been built up till not an inch was left, then methodically hammered down. A sea of rubble stretched before him. […] In the distance a group of buildings stood out from the desolation. They were stark and ugly, made of rough concrete. They looked bleak, and functional, with nothing attractive or welcoming about them. They looked – there was only one word for it – “Daleky”.

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.  Terrance lend 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 before the Daleks came.

The Daleks are better 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. One could actually apologize for Bernard here, given that he was expected to show the Daleks conquering 22nd-century Earth, and then re-invading 20th century Earth, with just three working Dalek props. Terrance is under no such restriction here. The Daleks’ human servant, the Controller, even observes fear in these Daleks when they discuss the Doctor — again adding texture and richness that didn’t come across on TV.

That Controller, by the way, also benefits from Dicks’ writing style; he gets about as many POV scenes as Anat does on the guerilla’s side. His journey from Quisling (as Pertwee calls him on TV but not in the book) to Doctor’s ally is given more poignancy here:

[T]he Controller tried to drown the memory of the Doctor’s accusing voice. But it was no good. In his heart he knew that everything the Doctor had said was true.

When he’s first introduced, by the way, he’s watching movement in the Time Vortex, which, for the first time ever, Terrance calls: “that mysterious void where Time and Space are one”. We’ll be seeing that line again.

Dicks writes the fight scenes with a gritty realism absent from much of his later work.  The Doctor’s capture in the 22nd century in Episode Three was a random head-clonking, but here it comes after the Doctor attacked a vicious overseer and prevented an unfortunate human slave from being beaten. Shura’s beating by an Ogron in Episode Two is given a few extra beats, as is Boaz’s Episode Four death scene.

One can also see the words that Terrance loves to use over and over again, showing up several times here. “Gleaming” is used as an adjective six times, and “strange” and “terrible” also show up nearly as often. The Ogrons attack their prey with “a savage roar of triumph”, an archetypal Dicks phrase assigned to alien monsters the way that “he rubbed his chin thoughtfully” signposts the Third Doctor. 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 the Episode Four material, 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, especially when he writes the Doctor as being “at the end of a long and grueling interrogation”.   And, admit it — you just read that in Terrance’s voice.

In the final analysis, as Terrance said on the DVD commentary when describing the TV production of “Day of the Daleks: “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 before 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.

About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
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14 Responses to Guerillas in the Midst

  1. Dicks’ description of the time vortex tells me that he probably doesn’t understand relativity.

    • drwhonovels says:

      In “Time and the Rani”, I believe relativity was described as “The faster a fat man runs, the fatter he will get.”

      • therealemperordalek says:

        Sadly, that’s also the book that describes to us in mind-numbing condescension what a hologram is. Sigh.

      • drwhonovels says:

        In “Day of the Daleks”? Huh — I don’t remember that! In Terrance’s defense, though, writing in 1974, the hologram was still fairly new technology, and he was primarily writing for schoolkids. Heck, two books later, in “The Sea-Devils”, Malcolm Hulke lavishes half a page on explaining “sonar”. 🙂

      • therealemperordalek says:

        Sorry, sorry, I meant that TIME AND THE RANI was the novel that explained what a hologram was! Guess that wasn’t clear from the context! 🙂 I know what you mean about the sonar explanation, but at least that had the virtue of not being immediately familiar to readers at the time. I have a feeling that ANY reader of science fiction in 1987, at any age, would have known what a hologram was. 🙂

  2. MoreThanACat says:

    one of my favourite Dr Who novels. Actually, one of my favourite writers. So vastly underrated as a novelist IMHO. One day I shall have to go back and read his work. Though I suspect I shall need the Tardis in order to achieve it in one day 🙂

    • drwhonovels says:

      Actually the good thing about rereading Terrance Dicks — prolific as he is in terms of sheer number of books published — is that his page counts are very low and thus he’s not a crushing time commitment. 🙂

      • therealemperordalek says:

        I think both of my two panelists on the UNEARTHLY CHILD episode of our podcast said that it was “a quick read,” which is probably a phrase we’ll be hearing a LOT of once we get to an unbroken run of Uncle Terrance’s books. 🙂

      • drwhonovels says:

        Ha! Yeah…by the time you get to a 99-page pamphlet like “Horns of Nimon”, you could probably read the book in real time during the whole length of your podcast, and still have time for critical discussion after!

  3. Offhand I think that Day of the Daleks is the Doctor Who novelization that I have re-read more than any other over the years. I originally bought it in the early 1980s. I had a Pinnacle Books edition, and I read it so many times that eventually it literally fell apart. Several years ago I found a copy of the “Revised 1980s edition” from Target with the Andrew Skilleter cover art on eBay, which I’ve read at least a few times.

    Agreed with everyone that this is an amazing book. On more than one occasion I have referred to it as “the original special edition of Day of the Daleks.” It’s definitely one of the best entries by Terrance Dicks, and I wish that he could have been as good in some of his later ones. Of course, considering that later on Target had him cranking out Doctor Who novelizations at an insane rate, I expect that Dicks’ enthusiasm for the material inevitably flagged.

    One of the elements that Dicks added to the book became so ingrained in my head that I was convinced it was also in the television version. When the Doctor is trying to figure out the real cause of the world war, Anat says something along the lines that every minute they talk is wasting valuable time, because time passes as an equal rate in the past and the future, or something like that, so eventually they won’t be able to travel back in time to a point before the explosion that destroys the peace conference. (I’m at work so I don’t have the book on hand.) I was really surprised when I bought the DVD, watched the episode in the first time in a decade, and realized that wasn’t from the TV version. Perhaps that is what Dicks originally meant when he had the Doctor refer to the Blimovitch Limitation Effect to explain why the guerillas couldn’t just keep returning back to the same point over and over until they succeeded.

    • drwhonovels says:

      I had a couple of Target books with bad binding that allowed all the pages to fall loose (“Claws of Axos”, “Dalek Invasion of Earth”). Until I bought replacements years later, I just stapled the book together into episode-sized pamphlets which I stored inside the original cover.

      I do remember the part in the novelization about time passing at an equal rate in both time zones — but I don’t think Dicks mentions the Blinovtich Limitation Effect in the novelization, interestingly. Malcolm Hulke will explain the Blinovitch effect for real in “The Dinosaur Invasion”…

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