The Dalek Book
|Authors||David Whitaker and Terry Nation|
|Illustrations||Richard Jennings, John Woods and A.B. Cornwell|
|Starring the Daleks, Susan Foreman and Jeff, Mary & Andy Stone|
A Review by Finn Clark 14/5/04
Glorious and strange. This book takes itself deadly seriously, but can be unintentionally hilarious. Its Daleks are as brutal as anyone could ask for, but sometimes lapse into ridiculously inappropriate behaviour. The 25th century universe we see here is full of rich, imaginative detail about the Daleks and hardly matches anything else in all of Doctor Who.
First of all, the very idea of a Dalek book is extraordinary. They're villains! We're accustomed to the idea now, but imagine trying to sell it to a publisher today. "The book's heroes want to invade Earth and kill mankind!" Imagine another SF show doing the same. The Darth Vader annual? The Klingon comic book? The Evil Galactic Conquerors monthly magazine?
These Daleks are bastards. They rack up a serious body count, not all of it offscreen. I liked the bit in The Oil Well where a Dalek sentry spots a shine in the Venusian jungle and instantly blasts the living shit out of it. ("Something is flashing in the forest KABLAM"). But then in Monsters of Gurnian they get dialogue like, "It will be amusing!" Okay, it's a horror planet. I like the idea of sadistic Daleks sending our heroes out among monsters, but it's hard to get your head around lines like, "We shall enjoy watching you walk amongst them."
However that's merely odd. The Message of Mystery is... hmmm, better leave that for later in the review.
The book's stories combine to make a decade-long arc of Jeff, Mary and Andy Stone fighting the Dalek invasion of the solar system (2400-2409 AD). The best stuff is at the beginning with the Daleks conquering Venus; once they get beaten back in the confusingly written climax to The Secret of the Mountain, things just ain't the same. The Humanoids is silly and The Small Defender is risible, giving us a Dalek invasion of Earth that's foiled by a baby mole whose parents let him out to play. You know, a mole. The furry digging animal.
The comic strips are better than the short stories, if only because that medium is better suited to outrageous adventure. Invasion of the Daleks is awesome, The Oil Well is also great and I even had fun with The Monsters of Gurnian. However what I liked best about this book's comic strips was their sheer quantity. There's loads of 'em! Here's the full breakdown:
Invasion of the Daleks - 10 pages
The Oil Well - 8 pages
City of the Daleks - 6 pages
The Humanoids - 8 pages
The Monsters of Gurnian - 8 pages
Battle For The Moon - 5 pages
That's what I call value for money! What's more, Richard Jennings does lots of painted art just like his TV21 comic strips. (We even meet the dome-headed Emperor Dalek again.) Mind you, the Daleks are poorly rendered. I swear these artists bought one of those awful sixties Dalek toys and drew that.
The most distinctive thing about these sixties Dalek spin-offs is their fictional universe. Our solar system teems with life... the Super Man of Mercury, singing fish, silver ants, primitives on Jupiter's moons and monsters on Saturn's moons. There are two extra planets: Vulcan (near Mercury) and Omega (beyond Pluto). Skaro flies into Earth's solar system (!), despite the fact that on p84 we learn that the planet has twin suns. Meanwhile we also get the Anatomy of a Dalek on pp54-55, The Dalek War Machines on pp70-71 and The Dalography of Skaro (i.e. an atlas) on p72. Geographical, geological and astronomical details about the planet kept appearing in Dalek books and annuals, all tied in with each other, until by 1979 we almost knew Skaro better than Earth.
This tourist's approach to the Daleks is taken to extremes in City of the Daleks, a painted comic strip that's simply a six-page guided tour of Skaro. No plot, just a wide-eyed "ain't it cool" gawp at Dalek civilisation. A comedy highlight is the Report from the Ministry of Re-Education: "ancient Earth mystery now solved - the Shakespeare plays and sonnets were written by our Emperor". Guess those NA stories of Dalek poetry weren't so far off the mark, eh? Oh, and Daleks "eat" by breathing nutrient gases formed from pulverized plants. ["Urp!" "Your intake valve needs regulating!"]
Still more entertaining are the facts revealed in Anatomy of a Dalek. Prototype Daleks would literally explode with rage or kill each other for want of bumpers on their skirt sections, while every Dalek's built-in Attractavon lets it climb vertical surfaces as easily as crossing a flat road. (Maybe Davros modified the Attractavon to make his Imperial Daleks fly up stairs?)
But best of all is the Dalek Dictionary! Rels measure hydro-electricity (not time, as in DWM's comic strip), J is the forbidden letter of the Dalek language and Zquivilly means farewell!
And then there's The Message of Mystery.
This eight-page photo-story was assembled from telesnaps with Daleks and Carole Ann Ford. It has nothing to do with the book's main narrative arc, but as a service to fandom I've typed out its complete text. If I merely described it, you'd think I was nuts. (Don't worry, it's short.) Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin...
THE MESSAGE OF MYSTERYAnd that's the end of The Message of Mystery! (Susan's message decoded was: "Peace and good will to all".) Join us when we review The Dalek World! Zyquivilly!
Centuries before the Daleks thought of universal conquest, their capital city on Skaro was a storehouse of wonderful inventions, and a thousand-and-one brilliant new aids to progress were made there. Of course, the Daleks knew about life on other planets. They could observe it on their scanners, but they had never communicated in any way with these worlds. Then, one day as they watched, they saw on their flashing control panels, a small metal object plunge from the sky and fall near the city. Inside was a message they couldn't decode. <>Was it a cry for help? Or a declaration of war? With all their complicated computer systems, they couldn't make sense of the mystery message. One Dalek urged that immediate war preparations were necessary. Two others agreed, and such is the law of the Daleks, that war preparations were immediately put into effect. The peaceful capital became a city ready for war.
In a petrified jungle just beyond the outskirts of the city, a visitor landed within hours of the discovery of the mystery message. It was Susan, Dr Who's grand-daughter. She had borrowed her grandfather's time-and-space machine, the "Tardis", intending to visit Venus, but she had landed on Skaro by mistake. A puzzled and frightened Susan decided to explore the forest.
After what seemed like hours of fighting through the undergrowth, she reached a clearing and saw, in the distance, what appeared to be a city. Through her binoculars, she studied the strange Dalek City.
The Daleks, on scanner-watch in the city's headquarters, were aware of her arrival. Warnings were flashed from their main control room to scanner screens throughout the city. They thought the human in the forest, and the code message, were connected. Before Susan realised it she was surrounded by Daleks. They took her to the city. Although they guarded her closely, she managed to elude them at one point. Daleks chased her through the bewildering maze of corridors in their headquarters and finally caught her again when she became trapped beneath a sliding door.
Escape seemed hopeless. To ensure that she didn't get away again, they manacled her to a wall. They decided not to give her any food until she agreed to decode the mystery message for them. Naturally enough, because she was so hungry, she said she was willing to try, so the Daleks took her to the main control room. Susan wandered around the room at first, admiring intriguing devices the Daleks used.
Her captors secretly liked her because she wasn't afraid of them. They admired the manner in which she stood up for herself and demanded food before she decoded the message. The Daleks had to concede defeat on that point, and treated Susan to quite a feast... and then, keeping her promise, she tried to unscramble the jumble of letters they had found in the metal object that had plunged from the sky. The Daleks were fascinated by her, and talked constantly about her. Susan, ready to make sense of the strange code, asked for a table and pen and paper. A Dalek hurried off to comply with her request and soon returned dragging a table into the centre of the control room.
Susan sat down, and the mystery message was handed to her. It read: (1) ODZBD (2) YLB (3) DLLA (1) VHKK (3) QL (2) YJJ. She worked all day struggling to find the answer. All over the city, Daleks talked of the pretty young creature, and wondered whether she would be able to warn them of approaching trouble. One Dalek didn't want her to decode the message. It had grown fond of the girl who showed no fear, and wanted her to stay. The Dalek was to be disappointed.
Susan, using what she called her "Dalekode", suddenly gave a gurgle of laughter. "I've solved the message!" she cried. "I know what it says," she added, delighted with her success. But her laughter had a strange reaction on the Daleks - they had never heard such a sound before, and many slithered away in fright. Susan watched in amazement.
Most of the Daleks in the main control room were so frightened that they lost control of themselves, bumped into each other, and fell over.
Susan became scared too. She didn't realise her laughter had caused the panic. She felt the best thing was to get away from the city. In the pandemonium when the Daleks' defences were down she ran back to the forest and the time-and-space ship "Tardis"... only to find one Dalek waiting for her. "Don't go away," begged the Dalek. "Stay with us." But Susan ran past into the space ship.
After she had gone, Daleks kept constant watch on their defence scanners, convinced that enemies were coming, until one Dalek, examining Susan's notes and two numbered and lettered discs she had also left behind, also recognised the secret of the message from nowhere. [You can find out what it was by studying Susan's DALEKODE on the adjoining page.]