Review: Doctor Who - Prisoner of the Daleks / Author: Trevor Baxendale / Publisher: BBC Books / Release Date: Out Now
The Doctor, travelling alone, jumps a time-track (he does that sort of thing, you know) and finds himself at a point in history before the Time War wiped out the Daleks and the Time Lords. Landing on an abandoned refuelling station planet called Hurala, the Doctor quickly finds himself locked in an underground chamber. Inadvertently rescued by a shambolic bunch of intergalactic bounty hunters, he escapes aboard their battered spaceship, The Wayfarer, as the planet comes under attack by the Daleks. They flee the planet with a Dalek prisoner who, when tortured, leads the Doctor to suspect that his oldest enemies are about to embark on their most audacious campaign of all and that Creation itself is under threat. Crikey.
It's good to see the Daleks make their debut in the BBC Doctor Who book series – this title was originally published in 2009 during the TV show’s ‘reduced duties’ final year for David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor – in a story cleverly constructed not to interfere with the fragile ongoing timeline established for the Daleks since they reappeared in the new series. Trevor Baxendale's exciting book is any number of things; it's a 1960s Dalek comic strip on the written page, it's a big ol' space opera, the sort of thing we all secretly yearn to see the new series do at least once; and it’s virtually unputdownable. The plot borrows liberally from several televised Dalek yarns – the Daleks at their most brutal, the Daleks excavating the core of a planet using humanoid slaves, a Dalek being savagely tortured by its human captors and, in best new series tradition, the Doctor having a bit of a heart-to-heart with the grisly innards of a Dalek casing. It's also got spaceships, exploding shattered planets, massive armies of Daleks, killer zombies in the ruins of a city in space.
The Dalek plot is typically audacious and wonderfully, utterly insane. It transpires that they've discovered a rift in time at the core of the planet Arkheon, a planet which they've already torn apart. They intend to use this rift to gain control of Time and to wipe Humankind from the face of history! Metal bastards! But with Daleks swarming all over the place it's not long before the Doctor and the crew of The Wayfarer are quite literally… (drum roll)… prisoners of the Daleks. For once the Doctor has absolutely no idea how to thwart his oldest enemies who finally have the upper sucker and it looks like he's met his match in the metal casing of the ruthless and implacable Command Dalek.
Baxendale's made a good fist of capturing the mercurial nature of Tennant's Time Lord; he's fast, funny, deadly serious, omniscient when he needs to be – and, unusually here, completely powerless and at a loss. The Daleks have really never been better portrayed in off-screen fiction and Terry Nation himself would be proud to see his notorious neo-Nazis depicted as the merciless, pitiless exterminators he created back in 1963. It’s certainly a relief to read a Dalek adventure where they’re ruthless, plotting killing machines rather than the convenient knock-'em-down skittles they’ve become in their most recent television appearances.
The small supporting cast of characters is comprised of the handful of crew members of The Wayfarer and they're a well-drawn, if fairly typical, rugged space bunch, from the off-hand commander Bowman, gruff pilot Cuttin' Edge and fresh faced crewman Scrum. It's a nice twist to find the Doctor in the company of people who aren't automatically deferential and in awe of him; they remain suspicious of and belligerent to him throughout much of the book and it's good to see the Doctor not having such an easy ride and finding it harder to get things done his way.
Prisoner of the Daleks isn’t hardcore sci-fi, it’s not especially deep and it’s certainly not meaningful. But if you want a quick dose of genuinely rattling space adventure laced through with the spirit of Doctor Who circa 2009, Prisoner of the Daleks comes very highly recommended indeed.