DOCTOR WHO – RESURRECTION OF THE DALEKS / AUTHOR: ERIC SAWARD / PUBLISHER: BBC BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Fans of the fondly-remembered Target Book novelizations of classic Doctor Who serials have long been frustrated by the handful of 1970s / 80s stories which never made the transition to the printed page due to a number of dreary contractual issues. Over the last few years several of these adventures – The Pirate Planet, City of Death and the uncompleted 1979 serial Shada - have finally arrived in book form, albeit not quite as they appeared on television. But former script editor Eric Saward’s two 1980s Dalek serials – Resurrection and Revelation - remained stubbornly un-novelised. Doctor Who fans became understandably agitated a few months ago when BBC Books revealed that Saward had finally been contracted to adapt his two stories and that, at last, after all these years, it would be possible to own an entire collection of every classic Doctor Who story in prose form. Imagine that. Be careful what you wish for...
Unfortunately, the first of Saward’s efforts – Resurrection of the Daleks – is a genuinely terrible book. Fans will remember the 1984 story, of course; a collision of clunky ideas artlessly welded together, dodgy dialogue, ropey characterisation and a plot that meandered and wandered presumably just to fulfil the requirements of two fifty-minute episodes. Doctor Who fans constantly demand a ‘darker’ version of their show, but Resurrection, with its stratospherically high body count and unremittingly grim tone, was far darker and messier than the show ever needed to be. Hopes that Saward might be able to tidy things up, iron out the plot inconsistencies and turn a tangled tale into something more palatable have been cruelly dashed by a book which is significantly worse than its TV serial in almost every regard.
The main problem facing the book – broadly speaking, it’s the story of the fifth Doctor (Peter Davison on the telly) and his companions Tegan and Turlough finding themselves dragged into a ‘time corridor’ operated by the Daleks who are busily liberating their captured creator Davros from a prison spaceship facility in the distant future – is that Saward has done nothing to make the story work as a novel and left the narrative as shambolic and undisciplined as it appeared on television. Saward’s lazy, often quite mundane and boring prose does little to pull the reader into the story; this is a genuinely badly-written book which reads like a hasty first draft, and it’s hard to believe that somebody at BBC Books didn’t take a look at the manuscript and send it back for a top-to-toe overhaul.
Saward’s attempt to give his characters - terrible cyphers on TV - a bit of backstory are clunky, inconsistent and often embarrassing. His depiction of the Doctor is colourless and faceless (he doesn’t even borrow Terrance Dicks’ famous “open and pleasant face” description) and he seems to utterly misunderstand the Daleks who, if not for the occasional shriek of ’exterminate’ could be any other monster from the show’s canon. At points Saward seems to think he’s channelling Douglas Adams via Robert Rankin and Terry Pratchett: “If Daleks could smile this might have been an occasion for them to break out into one. But they can’t. So they didn’t.” One section, an off-at-a-tangent description of the inside of the TARDIS which, we’re told, has a robot chef called Ooba-Dubia, a secret French bistro, a multiplex cinema and a room called the Emotion Explosion where users can enjoy all sorts of strange sensory experiences, really beggars belief. It’s utter nonsense.
At the end of the TV story, the Doctor’s companion Tegan, disenchanted at the death and devastation that seems to follow in the Doctor’s wake, abruptly walks away from the TARDIS. The book makes no attempt to make this a powerful, emotional moment; if anything, it’s made even worse by a lunatic coda which ends the entire book and sees Tegan jumping off Tower Bridge to set off on some unspecified and never-again-referred-to adventures of her own. Too much cheese before bedtime, Mr Saward?
Resurrection of the Daleks was ropey on television, but as a novel it reads as if someone has been given a thirty-second crash course on Doctor Who and the Daleks and then allowed fifteen minutes to make up and write down a story. It’s a wasted opportunity to rehabilitate a bad television serial and, worse, it’s a quite shockingly poor novel in its own right. Purists won’t be able to resist picking up a copy and bunging it on their shelves for the sake of completeness but, for the love of God, leave it there and don’t attempt to read it. You won’t be able to stand the confusion in your mind...