Saturday, 26 July 2014

Doctor Who Books Read and Heard, Part 10: THE DALEK SPECIAL!

Just as I threatened some considerable time back - here is a themed post from the Who Readathon (and, er, now Listen-athon too).  I realized I'd gotten to a stage with the reading where purely through my lackadaisical (yet highly logical!!) way of selecting what I read next, I had lined up several dalek stories.  So I added a bit of audio to it, and here we are.  THE DALEK SPECIAL!

Stories and audio here from: first, second, third, fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth Doctors.  Sadly, only missing the Fifth, this outing!  Happenstance.

  1. Doctor Who, Short Trips: Dalek Empire, ed. Nicholas Briggs, various authors, Big Finish hardback)
    (Many Doctors, in different segments.  This was the first Short Trips short story collection I’ve read, and I liked it very much.  The stories were all linked, across different timelines, and in different parts of the same long story event: a massive dalek invasion. Stanley informed me that the whole frozen dalek army under Spirodon was done first by the comic strip years ago, and Big Finish must’ve borrowed this storyline for this part of their long dalek arc. There were some really affecting stories in here; for the first ever time, I understood why people find the daleks scary, as an idea, and it wasn’t just the section at the end explaining why they had death camps and seemed totalitarian being explained in terms of human history and the last great war disaster we lived through.  It was their implacability and loathing of the unlike – which I know has been shown in many of their stories before, but I got it here, felt it, for the first time.  The consequences and choices of war were well done in this collection: ordinary people shown betraying each other to protect others, their families, were well written in Natalie’s Diary Part 3 by Joseph Lidster.  A child getting in the way of 2 old veterans and getting killed in the crossfire, in Museum Peace, by James Swallow.  What it feels like to lose hope, and realise you are a traitor, a collaborator, but yet may be able to do some good, in Suz, by Sharon Gosling.  There wasn’t a duff story in the whole thing; it was all good.  Lots of this book was a downer, because it was about people at war making terrible choices, being oppressed, limited options.  There was no Boys Own about it.  Heroes – but tarnished ones, unlikely accidental ones [an opportunist comedian gets the credit for some good the Doctor did at one point].  Yet I liked it; me who NEVER reads war books.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  2. Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks, by Terrance Dicks (Target Original)
    (Fourth Doctor.  Hmmm.  I have watched this one to death with the small one, and I never enjoy it that much.  Despite the iconic “Do I have the RIGHT?” moment of anguish for the Doctor wondering if he should destroy the daleks or not, I always feel the story is sad, grey, flat and I can’t wait for it to be over.  I found the same of the book, which surprises me, since usually the ones I don’t enjoy on TV I enjoy much more in book form.  The only think I found I did enjoy more than watching here, was reading about Davros’s cunning and manipulation, his scheming and planning.  I felt myself struggling to understand him and his motivations [I was trying for a bit more depth than ‘he’s clearly insane’].  I didn’t succeed on getting any more depth, but I enjoyed thinking about it and felt drawn in.  But overall, I was really glad to see this one end.  I didn’t feel the daleks were any more or less unarresting for me than usual.  I felt Harry was underused, and Sarah had the best action. 

    I felt the ‘muto’ character Sevrin was tragic and noble; and also too simplistic.  I think I can say that considering classic Who quite often managed some very adult characters.  Sevrin was a tragic hero, pure and simple; afraid but acting anyway, so notable.  As always, these moments of heroism, which could’ve been played in modern times for great emotion – too much emotion – are played down here.  They are noted and you remember them, but they are not sentimentalised, there’s no display about it.  I think this is what allowed a children’s programme to address so much death: it made it a fact of life.  Even tragedy was a fact of life.  The Doctor strove against injustice and needless death and waste of life, but never dwelt overly on it – he acted and he kept quiet – and jolly, mostly. 

    I’m unsure whether this is a cultural hangover from the ‘stiff upper lip’ English era, or whether it’s genuinely a more helpful way to get through life and not be paralysed by tragic things: to accept death as simply part of life, mourn and move on, playing up the good things and the joys of companionship and adventures.  Less of the dwelling and endless analysis and examination and returning to sadnesses over and over again, that we do now…If anyone wonders why I am giving this quite so much thought, its because I’m an often very sad person, so I take lessons where I find them…ACTUAL BOOK.)
  3.  Doctor Who: Dalek Empire Part 1 – The Genocide Machine, by Mike Tucker (Big Finish monthly audios, no.7)
    (Seventh Doctor.  I wasn’t sure I was going to warm at all to this part of the Big Finish audios – and was tempted to miss it out altogether, and continue with the monthly stand alones.  But when I realised I was going to do a Dalek Special, I thought adding some audio in would be a good way to break up the books – and to judge if a modern approach to dalek’s while still within the framework of old Who, might work better for me.  This segment certainly did.

    It started well because the premise began with a hidden library and a dotty librarian.  I love libraries [quiet ones that is – modern libraries seem to be getting increasingly noisy and lacking in seats].  This library was an ‘aqueous data storage facility’, a ‘wetworks’.  The entire knowledge of the universe had been gathered into water.  This turns out to have a twist, of course, when it becomes clear that the water is sentient – there’s a sort of raindrop race that can exist in any water on this planet [including human, leading to some odd possession scenes of dead bodies], and have been enslaved and maddened by the librarian, who has been forcing them to be data storage mules.  This is discovered when the Doctor almost dies and ends up temporarily a rain creature himself, his consciousness in the wetworks for a limited time.  He is extremely angry, in his sometimes self righteous [but usually correct] way, when he regains human form and confronts the librarian.

    That is the backdrop to the story of the daleks trying to access the wetworks in order to gain all knowledge and use it to timetravel back and forth infiltrating all events until they are masters of the universe [as usual – why do villains never think this through; they would be very bored when done and all is ‘perfect’].

    Ace is duplicated and spends some time helping the daleks and doing a creepy dalek voice – which you can tell Sophie Aldred enjoyed very much.  This segment did sit well with me, because I enjoyed the planet Karshorak and the library set up, I enjoyed the limited but well painted characters, and I enjoyed Ace helping to sort everything out at the end via a well timed explosion to free rain creatures and release the data.  This was a good beginning. 

    The daleks themselves had a good kill scene, where you remember how ruthless and merciless they are – and it was allowed to go on just a few seconds too long, so that you really felt the complete nature of the massacre of the library staff, the distressing sterility of the universe were the daleks to succeed.  Sound palette wise, I really enjoyed the sound of the dalek ship pulsing; that was hypnotic and well done.  I’m actually looking forward to the next bit.  There’s a first, dalek wise…ON DOWNLOAD.)
  4. Doctor Who: The Apocalypse Element [Dalek Empire, Part 2], by Stephen Cole (Big Finish Monthly Who audios, no.11)
    (6th Doctor. Oh dear oh dear – and after I started so well with the first in this series.  What was it that went wrong here?  I like Colin, always have.  Evelyn Smythe is a great companion character, but those other than her original creator aren’t writing her as bouncing off him in quite the same way – she has come across the last 2 stories as a slightly querulous old lady smart arse , which I find annoying and unnecessary.  Considering she has a major plot role in this segment of Dalek Empire, it’s even more bothersome.  The re-emergence of Lalla Ward as Romana II should have saved this story singlehanded [one of my favourite companions]…and she has some very strong moments.  But it didn’t save it. 

    The weird thing about this audio was that I was very much poised to love it – because I had liked the first one when I hadn’t expected to [plus the tie-in Dalek Empire Big Finish book, very much].  And I was fully present, striding up and down the living room listening, as it was pouring with rain outside and I was exercising indoors – giving the story my full attention.  And yet it slid off me repeatedly after episode 1.  I often felt I had no real clue who was where, saying what to who and why.  I kept rewinding. 

    The plot was full of ideas both large and ambitious [to do with mining, and an evil plan - dalek of course - to cause 2 planets to collide so no one would know what they had been up to with them, and the interesting introduction of the Monan Host, a new temporal power].  The fact that the story concerns a cleverly handled dalek invasion of Gallifrey itself; and that the Timelords are as hidebound and corrupt as ever they were, being so eager to get their hands on the Monan time technology any way they can [as power over time must be kept in Gallifreyan hands of course], the whole thing should have had lots of enjoyment for me.  I love Gallifrey based stories!  I love Romana [either of them]!  I loved the ruthlessness of the daleks [at one point they cut out someone’s eye to use it for its retinal scan; later Evelyn becomes a retinal scan masterkey for everything on Gallifrey, which amusingly annoys the snobbish and xenophobic Timelords]!  There were dalek mutants, always interesting…there was the creation of a whole new area of space, the Serephia – four times the size of the Milky Way – which falls victim to what The Apocalypse Element actually is (it’s a focussing thingy for the daleks, go listen).

    But…I kept realising I wasn’t following correctly.  I actually listened to this story twice, in the end [was quite long too, way over 2 hours].  I was sure it was brilliant because it had so many elements in it that I would usually like.  And I certainly got it better second time round; not that it was complicated.  But I just kept ending up Bored, and I Cannot Quite Tell You Why.  I can just say you need to go and try this one for yourself.  It bamboozled me.  ON DOWNLOAD.) 
  5. Doctor Who: And The Day of the Daleks, by Terrance Dicks (Target original)
    (Third Doctor.  There isn’t really much to say about this one, except that I always like it when I watch it – a certain incident with cheese and crackers and a Jason King level of early 70s cool aplomb always makes me laugh…this very scene is completely absent from the book!  Which is treated much more seriously, and as a good time travel yarn.  Terrance Dicks stays close to the plot and simply tightens all loose ends here.  The daleks are as ruthless as ever, but the focus is on the humans and how they react to them: do they collaborate, turn traitor, join a resistance movement?  This is the angle that Big Finish extrapolated so well in their short story collection; the human reaction to a threat of extinction and slavery.  In this sense, this story, though much maligned amongst Whodom [I don’t know why] – is actually, in my opinion, a little unsung classic, a proper science fiction book, as it manages a ‘What If’ on 2 levels – not only a what would you do to take time back to where it was, what would you sacrifice?; but also a general ‘What If’ the world as we know it was overrun?  Simple but lovely, I think this story is.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  6. Doctor Who: Legacy of the Daleks, by John Peel (BBC 8th Doctor Series)
    (Eighth Doctor.  This one was a decently, VERY decently written extrapolation of what happens some time after the events ended in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  It’s the end of the 22nd century, the UK is split into 'domains', there are knights , some of them are women – it’s sort of medieval, but with technology…it all works for me.  The way some things from the past are treasured and vital now – cats are very useful and prized; and the way there’s still plenty of technology but its used to fill gaps, the world is no longer so utterly reliant.  The world is understandably mixed up, old and new rubbing shoulders.  A strangely convincing mishmash world.  This one also appealed to me very much because The Master was in it – being satisfyingly short-termist and dastardly as usual, and so was Susan, one of the most underused companions ever – in a strong and vital role in the story.  This whole outing felt thoroughly plausible, and I liked it more than I would have otherwise because the story cleverly did not revolve around the daleks actual presence – much of it concerned stopping them from coming back, and what would happen if they did.  Power struggles amongst humans, plots, revenge, pragmatism: more politics than fighting.  Best John Peel I’ve so far read, and more like this would be good. ACTUAL BOOK.)
  7. Doctor Who: And the Dalek Invasion of Earth, by Terrance Dicks (Target original)
    (First Doctor.  Huh.  I did not expect this to be the best dalek story I’ve ever read.  Not sure why it was either.  It did rattle along from the very first.  I was annoyed that Susan immediately sprained her ankle [no wonder she got fed up of the show and left – she had such possibilities too]; but adored Barbara being so brave and resourceful – the running through and over the dalek blockade, the using of Dortmun’s plan’s to connive her way into the dalek control room to see what was happening.  Ian was doing his usual resourceful action man stuff too, diverting a bomb from inside the deployment tunnel when he gets stuck down there.  There’s a wealth of new characters, most of whom die, as is so often the case in Who.  Noteworthy is the grumpy Jenny, who reminded me of my idea of what I’d probably be like in such a situation – I was glad she survived till the end, in order that she might be able to live a less fraught and more peaceful life.

    All the characters get separated early on, allowing Susan and David to form a bond, prefacing her attachment to him and the Doctor shutting her out of the TARDIS at the end because she wouldn’t have been able to leave him otherwise.  Its odd, considering the way things are done nowadays on TV [and in life to an extent], that something so emotionally charged as Susan falling in love and having to choose between her grandfather and a man, and then the Doctor doing it for her, which must have hurt very much…being dealt with in such a calm and understated way.  Its just…told.

    [Like the end of Inferno – where I felt the alternative world’s destruction could have been operatically sad and tragic; but Terrance Dicks chose to write the tragedy quietly, baldly and to not overwhelm the story, and the positive forward momentum it needed – and the programme as a whole needs to move on.  Also, come to think of it, a bit like when the lovely Murray and the Navarino’s are all killed in Delta and the Bannermen, and this is glossed over, more or less – Mel knows, but it’s not given much air time.  Maybe…shock horror…we all concentrate too much on tragedy these days?  And allow ourselves to be crumpled by despair and futility in the face of it, instead of moving on and acting for good?  Dwelling too much on tragedy makes us give up, instead of act.  For that to happen, we need to know what happened, but not be held down and back by the sadness of it…Ok, so I’m talking to myself here.  But maybe it applies to other of us too.  What would The Doctor do?  He’d get on with the next thing that needed doing to make a good thing happen.  Be it a selfish thing [Pertwee usually], or a good thing for everyone else…]

    Anyway – possibly because of the fact that everyone played an almost equal part in this – all were resourceful, all  acted and helped; possibly because the Doctor was indomitable in this one, really impressive [physically and in terms of brain power]; and possibly because the daleks were subsidiary to what the humans had to do to overcome them – so the story was about their effect on us, rather than about them – I loved this one.  Best dalek book ever!  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  8. Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks, by John Peel
    (Second Doctor.  Oh my goodness.  This one was the weirdest reading experience I have ever had with a Doctor Who book – weirder even than my very slow conversion to Paradise of Death.  It took me over 2 months to read this book in between other things, because it just did not hold my attention till very late.  [This is the reason for the delay of this entire post – it was the last thing I had planned for it and I just couldn’t progress at a decent speed.]  I found the whole Victorian setting problematic, and I’m not sure why.  Possibly because I was completely unimpressed with the characterisation of either Waterfield or Maxtible, or Terrall.  The way  that Victorian characters of a certain class are usually presented on TV and in books as unbearably stuffy and longwinded, allied to the fact this was the 60s, this era of story - where there's still quite a bit of BBC stuffiness going on too...and you have 3 Extremely Stuffy Characters.

    Waterfield angsted a lot without doing anything until very late on, and because of the convoluted nature of the plot [obviously related to the episodic structure of the original TV episodes for this story] he just comes off as vacillating and annoying.  Maxtible seemed to think himself quite clever and urbane and ruthless, yet failed to use this quick mind to see he was quite obviously being lied to by an alien species with no morality even vaguely related to humans – I think he made the mistake of viewing the daleks as ‘amoral’ and therefore as susceptible to greed as him.  I read him as incredibly deluded and stupid, and allied with his pomposity [and sudden skills as a hypnotist at one point], I just found him very frustrating.  Terrall was the oddest character of the three.  I didn’t feel he was written consistently at all, and I didn’t feel that the inconsistencies were well enough explained by the mind control device he was subsequently shown as wearing.  In one episode [the pitchfork in the stable with Kennedy], I almost believed he was dead and reanimated somehow.  I found him and his fiancé completely unconvincing.  [Why would she even speak to him after his quite over the top dressing down of Mollie in front of her?  I don’t think that can be explained by Victorian attitudes toward servants; surely the fiancé would have thought, ‘blimey, my Promised One is acting insane – how does this bode for my marriage?’ and…maybe broken it off???]

    Now – that dealt with my problems with the book – mostly caused by 3 very unlikeable [add Kennedy to that and you get 4] and confusingly written characters who I didn’t understand enough to either love or loathe them – they just irritated the hell out of me.  There’s plenty about this book that after I got over the annoying appearances of those three, I DID like.

    I liked the Doctor’s odd behaviour in this book.  Whilst he too was irritating me, as I like to think I have a vague idea where the Doctor’s mind is most of the time, I just like to think he’ll sort things out more tidily than me because he’s quicker and more knowledgeable and more lateral thinking; his odd compliance with the daleks was well focalised by Jamie’s distrust of him.  I felt for and with Jamie on this.  I didn’t get his behaviour and I felt he could have explained it better.  This is one of the ways in which Troughton is the best Doctor for this story, because he always played each story just a little differently; he was always a bit inconsistent as a Doctor.  He had his clowning and his recorder and his funny faces – his little trademarks; but his underlying seriousness and his manipulative tendencies [shown nicely in Tomb of the Cybermen in particular, I thought] made him unknowable in some ways.  That facet of his characterisation was a strength in this story.  Unlike Maxtible and Terrall, I actually wanted to know what the hell was up with the Doctor in this story.

    The idea of the human factor and the dalek factor, the idea of experiments to isolate each one didn’t grab me at all at first.  But the more it went on – showcasing Jamie and his loyalty, resourcefulness, co-operation [the alliance won through respect with Kemel], and compassion [the way he felt for Victoria as a person all alone in a scary situation; not just wanting to help her because she was pretty, though no doubt that did her cause no harm]; I started seeing what an interesting idea it was.  Even though the Doctor was behind matters, not realising the daleks were doing the opposite to their stated intentions – actually trying to isolate the dalek factor NOT the human factor, to make themselves stronger, I still found it interesting.  The experiments were a good way to show the daleks limited but thorough thinking, and their coldness; and a good way to develop Jamie’s character, to have created relationships we cared about with both Victoria and Kemel.  His distrust of the Doctor was both understandable and protective, as was his baseline morality, the “revulsion” at Maxtible when he discovers what the betrayal was all about – alchemy of all things: all marvellous stuff, and all prompted by the device of these experiments.

    In their turn, the image of the original 3 daleks infected with the human factor and shown to play trains with the Doctor, has really stuck in my head.  I can’t decide if its silly, cute or poignant.  Seeing them start to learn and be as wilful and annoying – and sweet – as human children was thought provoking.  When the Doctor-instigated ‘revolution’ goes on at the end, I felt sad that the human factor, now infecting so many daleks, was causing them to fight – it worked for the Doctor and his party, they could escape during this, but it was sad, in a way, to see the daleks reduced to the lowest level of humans: fighting amongst themselves.  That sad little point was almost lost amongst the amusing nature of them constantly saying ‘why?’ when told to obey, or ‘why not rebel?’ when told to comply.  Their innocent questioning made it sound like they could have a future, but that future was only being crushed by the non infected daleks; and if not – the trauma of what fighting and killing does to a small human mind, if they had survived, because they were still very much like tiny children.  It was sad to see them humanlike, as it didn’t reflect well on us, and it didn’t really give them a better future either – even though John Peel had the Doctor speculate that it could have done, at the end [as of course this novelisation was much enlarged in terms of internal points of view, than the TV version allowed].  I felt this angle of the story raised issues it didn’t fully or even partially deal with.  Not that it needed to tie them up neatly, but I felt it really didn’t follow its implications very far at all.

    In some ways, this story felt too long – too much in the 60s London setting before the Doctor even met Waterfield in the shop, too much time finding out that the Waterfield artifacts were actually new Victorian, and the time travel cabinets etc, before getting to the Victorian setting.  I found the most interesting parts related to Skaro.  But when it moved along – during the experiment bits, and the bits related to the Dalek Prime [a nice change to the later Davros, and reminding us that this story was originally intended to be the last dalek outing], it did move ahead with quite a will and pace.  By the end I was enjoying it and eager to know what would happen next.  And because this is one of the most sought after of the famous Missing Episodes of Who [we only have 1 ep extant], this book is the closest we'll come to this story, unless a copy is eventually found, somewhere.  ACTUAL BOOK.)

The overall thing I’d say about my experiment in themeing here, reading lots of books about the same villain all at once, was that I did become impressed by the variety of stories the daleks can be a cause for.  I started to see that whilst they do undeniably irritate me – it’s their monotone voices and their rigidity of movement, rather than what they do or stand for: i.e it’s a visual/auditory problem; their actual use as a plot device is brilliant.  The way you can bounce human behaviour off reaction to the daleks is very good.  They might not look scary, but in the right hands, a story with them as the opposition can be genuinely wrenching.  Most of these stories took war, preparations for war, or the aftermath of war, as the starting point.  And they would: the daleks are all about domination on a universal scale, their disinterest in reasoning and their inbuilt insistence on their own supremacy and intellect leave no option for dealing with them but all out war of one form or other.  The variety of reactions this brings about in humans was the thing that made these stories so interesting. 

As far as interaction with the Doctor, they are such a pure villain for him because he opposes any interference with free will (not necessarily development, just the free will of it), therefore you know his brain will be engaged in some labyrinthine scheme to oppose them, whether we as readers or watchers understand it or not (particularly the case in Evil of the Daleks).  The way those plans twine or not with the humans he meets are also a vital part of these stories.  In Dalek Invasion of Earth, so much opposition was going on all at once, with or without the Doctor, that it was just a heartening and hearty read from the point of view of being a human – we showed ourselves off well!  As Sevrin did in Genesis – the heroism we humans can write for others, for an oppressed and violated 'other' in this case, is always good to be reminded of in these times where greed and a warped over individualism (instead of a healthy but integrated sense of self) is emphasized.

I don’t like the daleks themselves any better than I did – and you know how it is FUN to lovingly loathe a villain?! – but I understand them more.  And I definitely see their continued releavnace in the Who universe.  As long as we all fear being taken over and enslaved, fear the lack of reason and unquestioning, fear the bleakness of a world of grey with no laughter – then the daleks will remain relevant as a story device.  Its been instructional.  And I’ve read some books I liked very much!


Next up: some more of the regular Doctor Who readathon.   

My next Who Special will be a Companions one – but I haven’t even started reading for that one yet, just planned out what will be read (and heard), so don’t hold your breath.  You might not get that one till winter is back!

1 comment:

  1. I agree that Dalek Invasion of Earth is a great book, and also that it's a great surprise that it is! I think the thing that makes it better than the TV version is the Doctor. He's very central to the story, more than he is in a lot of his stories, but on TV William Hartnell is terrible - it's one of his worst ever performances. In the book of course he shines. David also is poorly acted on screen so better in the book. As it's only Terry Nation's second story, he's still got new things to say and this is his first proper go at the whole Blitz/invasion/nazi/resistance/survival stuff which he did so many more times (in Who but also Survivors and Blake's Seven) later. Here, it's fresh and it works.

    Day of the Daleks - another great read and for a similar reason, but not that the Dr is a let-down on screen; this time it's the effects. Thankfully the wonderful Special Edition now lets us see how the story should be shown, but the book did it first. You don't mention illustrations so it may be you're reading a late edition, but I think these are great - especially the map at the start and the third doctor being mind probed while the second doctor looks sadly on from the view screen. Biggest disappointment on page and screen - the Dr never gets to interact with the daleks properly. His only line to them is a muttered "you'll never succeed." As it's a story in which he hardly does anything at all of consequence anyway, a nice set-to with them would have been great. One other nice thing that the book has and the TV version doesn't, is a repeat of the Dr-and-Jo-meet-themselves-scene at the end.