Review: Doctor Who - The Dalek Project / Writer: Justin Richards / Art: Mike Collins / Release Date: Out Now
The Dalek Project, the latest full-length hardback graphic novel-style Doctor Who adventure, was originally due to see the light of day in September 2010 and was envisaged as featuring David Tennant’s tenth Doctor. But publication was shelved and in 2010 a ‘replacement’ story, The Only Good Dalek appeared with newbie Matt Smith now ensconced in the title role on TV and, consequently, in the comic strip version. It’s been suggested that The Dalek Project was postponed because of certain conceptual similarities to then in-production TV episode Victory of the Daleks - the Daleks in a wartime setting (albeit World War One rather than the TV story’s Second World War) and the idea of Daleks being deployed as the ultimate human warfare weapon - but now the book’s finally seen the light of day it’s probably fair to see that the TV audience drew the short straw back in 2010 and that The Dalek Project is the better story. Of course it’d be absolutely unfilmable as a TV episode but then that’s the beauty of Doctor Who in strip form, the ability to tell stories on a visual scale way beyond even the best BBC budget.
Where The Only Good Dalek was a very traditional Doctor/Dalek runaround, The Dalek Project, whilst sharing similar breathless traits, is a better and more intricate piece. The Doctor - travelling alone with nary a Pond in sight, mercifully - arrives at an archaeological dig in France in 2017. The excavation has unearthed relics which the Doctor immediately recognises and soon a long-dormant Dalek saucer buried underground is juddering into life and its Dalek occupants are quickly recharging themselves ready for a refreshing bout of human extermination. But defeating one particular phalanx of reactivated Daleks isn’t the end of the story and the Doctor, along with some faceless archaeologist or other, is quickly pitched into a time-travel yarn which leads him back to 1917, through a series of portals which connect disparate locations and war-zones, a sunken Dalek saucer and even a WW1 bi-plane piloted by a ‘robotized’ human Dalek slave.
It’s romping, page-turning stuff and it’s full of Daleks (presumably set before Steven Moffat’s recent TV episode which reset the Daleks to a never-heard-of-the-Doctor setting) and artist Mike Collins clearly relishes the opportunity to create battle sequences featuring Daleks en masse and in various states of colourful destruction. Like TV’s Victory we see a new breed of Daleks here (and none of those pesky giant fairground ‘paradigm’ Daleks), ferocious battle-tanks equipped with machine guns and tank treads and as the convoluted story progresses we discover that it’s not just the English who are using these powerful new weapons as a means to bring the war to an early conclusion. The flailing-arm excesses of Matt Smith on TV are thankfully absent here and whilst it’s not difficult to imagine the actor voicing the fairly generic Doctor dialogue (and equally easy to imagine it uttered by the tenth Doctor it was originally planned for) there’s fortunately only a couple of the eleventh Doctor’s seriously overused ‘hats are cool, doctors are cool’ business. There’s not much flesh on the bones of the supporting characters and, apart from a quick reminder to readers to remember those who fall in battle at time of war at the end of the story, nothing much to engage those who connect with the emotional beats now so fundamental to the TV episodes.
The Dalek Project is light, unpretentious good fun, clever, fast-paced and packed with colourful comic book action and a real big screen scale. It’s hardly classic Doctor Who but fans will find it an agreeable way to while away an hour or so while they’re waiting for the arrival of the next TV episode.