PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

BBC Books has republished the three novels which began the Doctor Who literary phenomenon back in the mid-Sixties in their original hardback format with beautiful facsimiles of the original dust-jacket covers. They are, almost without exception, things of joy and delight. However, Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks (it’s the full title, honestly!) is not only the best of the three but also surely the very best work of Doctor Who fiction ever published, a brilliantly atmospheric work of fierce intelligence and imagination even now, some fifty years after the event.

David Whitaker, Doctor Who’s original story editor, in retelling the story of the Doctor’s first exciting encounter with the dreaded Daleks, has deftly rewritten the show’s history in a manner which would cause today’s continuity-obsessed purists to strangle themselves with their own multicoloured scarfs and choke on their jelly babies. Whitaker refashions the famous 1963 origin episode An Unearthly Child by recasting Ian Chesterton (on TV a teacher at Coal Hill School along with Barbara Wright) as an ex-teacher who – almost literally – bumps into Barbara on foggy Barnes Common on his way back from a failed job interview. Teacher Barbara has been involved in a road accident with a lorry and her passenger, a mysterious pupil named Susan, has disappeared into the night. The pair encounters a strange, wily white-haired old man and eventually stumbles upon a mysterious Police Box inexplicably sited in the middle of nowhere. So begins the story of what would become a TV legend, but not quite how its young audience might have remembered it from two years before the book’s publication.

Whitaker ditches the stagey, talky caveman serial which was the show’s first televised adventure and instead pitches his travellers in Space and Time straight to a blasted, irradiated planet where the survivors of a terrible atomic war are locked in a ferocious struggle for survival. In their gleaming metal city the Daleks, hideously mutated and encased inside sleek, lethal travelling machines, plot to wipe out the peace-loving Aryan Thals who are struggling to stay alive in the planet’s petrified forests and want nothing more to become allies of the city-dwelling Daleks. But as we know all too well, friendship isn’t high on the agenda of the Daleks…

Whitaker’s book is a magnificent, mature piece of storytelling, firmly rooted in an archetypal smoggy, mundane monochrome post-War British landscape before launching its incredulous (and incredible) characters into a thrilling adventure on a far distant planet populated by extravagant and extraordinary creatures. Whitaker never writes down to his young audience (or maybe young readers back in the 1960s were a little more literate?) and his core cast – the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan – are beautifully, intricately characterised, the story told from Ian’s point of view as he battles to adapt to the impossible on a hostile world inhabited by monsters and creatures way beyond his experience and imagination. Anyone minded to dip their toes into the world of Doctor Who fiction needs to start their journey here with an enthralling story of an adventure in Space and Time, if only to remind themselves that there really was a period when Doctor Who wasn’t just a succession of colourful, lightweight, gag-a-minute hi-jinks.

Whitaker also adapted his own second season historical adventure The Crusade as Doctor Who and the Crusaders, another mature and thought-provoking narrative in which the Doctor, Ian and Barbara – now accompanied by space orphan Vicki following the departure of Susan in the wake of a rematch battle with the Daleks – turn up in 12th century Palestine at the time of the Third Crusade. Barbara is captured by the Saracens and Ian sets out to rescue her as the Doctor and Vicki become involved in intrigues at the court of Richard I. Fast-paced and florid, The Crusaders is a gripping time-travel story which never shies away from depicting the realities of life in a blood-drenched period in human history and, in its first chapter, delivers a well-considered rumination by the Doctor on the morality of time travel – without a hint of either wibbly wobbly or timey-wimey. The reprint collection is rounded off by Bill Strutton’s brusque, no-nonsense adaptation of his bizarre 1965 serial The Web Planet, an early serial which demonstrated the show’s fearlessness in telling stories it was utterly financially unequipped to bring to the screen. On the planet Vortis, the Doctor and his friends meet intelligent man-sized ants, flying butterfly-men, deadly venom grubs and a pulsating intelligence that have spread its web of terror across an arid, desolate planet. The least literary of the three original books, The Zarbi is a straight-forward fantasy romp and easily the best way to enjoy a story whose TV episodes are pretty much unwatchable for a modern audience.

Original prints of these novels are now rarer than venom grub’s eggs and whilst the BBC Books Logo on the spine belies the provenance of these editions as reprints, they’re still beautiful books in their own right, a gorgeous exercise in nostalgia and a handsome addition to any Doctor Who fan’s groaning bookshelf.



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