Given that most potential purchasers of this book back in 1964 would have been well aware about how the television series began, it’s a little odd that David Whitaker spent the first fifth of Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks crafting an alternative origin story for the Doctor and co.
But I’m awfully glad that he did, because it’s absolutely gripping – a tale of fog, Barnes Common, everlasting matches, a strange telephone box, dead soldiers hanging out of lorries and a malevolent old man searching for a lost key ….
I love the way that Whitaker returns from time to time to the events of An Unearthly Child. In both the book and television versions there’s the disturbing notion that the old man has (for reasons unknown) secreted a young girl inside a telephone box. Plus Barbara remains the one who’s questing for answers to the mystery of Susan – with Ian a helpless passenger buffeted along by events.
Subtle touches to other television stories – when we first see Susan she’s wearing the same sort of bandage memorably sported by the Doctor in The Edge of Destruction – are woven in whilst Whitaker also takes the opportunity to expand upon the wonders of TARDIS. He was clearly very taken with the food machine scene (repeating it here virtually verbatim from Nation’s script). Indeed, he loved it so much that he later popped a food machine scene into the first draft of The Power of the Daleks (which was then snipped out by Dennis Spooner).
Whitaker’s additions include the metal skull cap which gives Ian an excellent haircut (“as good a barbering as I would have received at Simpson’s in Piccadilly”) and the oil and water shower. Clearly TARDIS had plenty of mod cons, although we never learn who cleaned and pressed Ian’s suit (was it Susan or was it all done by machines?)
Given the limited page count, the story has to be streamlined somewhat from the transmitted version, but little of substance is actually missing even if certain key scenes where Ian wasn’t present (Susan’s meeting with Alydon, for example) have to be re-told in the slightly clumsy way that was always a problem with first-person narratives.
There are scores of memorable descriptive passages, such as Ian’s shocked discovery about the horror which lurks inside the Dalek casing.
It was an evil monstrous shape. There was one eye in the centre of a head without ears and with a nose so flattened and shapeless it was merely a bump on the face. The mouth was a short slit above the chin, more of a flap really, and on either side of the temples there were two more little bumps with slits in them and I heard the Doctor mutter that they must be the hearing parts. The skin was dark green and covered in a particularly repellent slime. I felt my stomach heaving and I bit the inside of my mouth until I tasted blood.
In both of Whitaker’s novels, Ian and Barbara seem to be more than just good friends (this is made explicit in Doctor Who and the Crusaders where their future life plans have already been settled). Things are less certain in Doctor Who and the Daleks (after all, they’ve only just met) but a notable Whitaker addition to the second half of the story is Barbara’s cold fury towards him (“I suppose you imagine I like you hanging around me all the time. Well you’re wrong! We’re forced together, I can see that, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it!”). Does the lady protest too much? At the end of the story this question is answered.
Another interesting wrinkle by Whitaker is the way he reverses the viewpoints of Ian and Barbara concerning the question as to whether the Thals should be formed into a fighting army to help recover the Doctor’s fluid link from the Daleks. In the novel, Ian is gung-ho whilst Barbara is keen for them to make their own minds up. The boxing match – organised by Ian – is an entertaining addition.
The slow descent into the Dalek city via the caves by Ian, Barbara and a small group of plucky Thals is probably the lowpoint of the television version. These scenes work better in print, although it’s a pity that Antodus’ ever-growing fear has been deleted. On the plus side, Kristas is greatly expanded and becomes wise and sage-like. It’s therefore something of a shock to realise that the television original is a much more anonymous character.
Doctor Who and the Daleks never fails to engage. Certainly one of my top ten Targets.