The Dalek Factor
1-903889-30-8 (standard hardback)|
1-903889-31-6 (deluxe hardback)
|Synopsis: A Thal platoon arrives on a hostile planet investigating reports that Dalek artifacts have been detected. But what they discover in an underground room is a stranger calling himself the professor, with no memory of who he is...|
A Review by Finn Clark 26/3/04
This isn't a Doctor Who novella. It's a Dalek novella that happens to include the Doctor. In case you think that's a silly distinction, let me explain...
Even after forty years, the Daleks are still the Doctor's number one enemies. It's the difference between a supporting character and a star. The Cybermen, Ice Warriors and Sontarans have taken their turns in the spotlight, with their dastardly schemes and even the odd solo comic in the Weekly, but they're still subordinate to the show that spawned them. The Daleks are different. They've been the stars of a weekly comic strip, a stage play, Big Finish audios, World Distributors annuals and more.
You can't understand the Daleks just from their TV stories. For my money, the most important and iconic Dalek takes were David Whitaker's TV21 comic strips and Terry Nation's seventies Dalek annuals. Those didn't star the Doctor and aren't generally regarded as canon even by the more generous sections of fandom. Nevertheless in some senses the metal meanies are bigger than Who. The Dalek Factor is first and foremost a Dalek book. They're largely kept offstage, but they're always just around the corner. The book's protagonists are Thals, which felt gratuitous for the first thirty seconds but soon became another level of immersion in Terry Nation's universe. The Thals have always been defined by their relationship with the Daleks. Just hearing 'em talk makes your antennae prickle.
Even something as minor as Nathan Skreslet's Dalek design is part of it. Whenever you start a new chapter, that Dalek stares past your left shoulder. By necessity the Who novels have largely built up the Daleks' mystique by keeping 'em offstage and just scaring us with their shadows, but Simon Clark takes this technique to a whole new level.
The Doctor appears eventually. I wouldn't have minded if he hadn't, but as it happens he's vital to the story. As in Cabinet of Light we never learn which incarnation this is, but this time that's not a reflection of the novella's thematic core. It's simply an irrelevant detail. As in Scream of the Shalka, I winced at every use of the word 'eccentric', but otherwise it's a good portrayal. He has memory issues... again... but for once (unlike the million-and-one amnesiac Doctors we've been previously subjected to) there's a point to it.
I liked the Thals, even the one called Tar'ant. Presumably that's a nod to Terry Nation. Simon Clark manages to establish 'em as trained Dalek killers but also allows them warmth and personality. I loved the Grimp story - which in an odd way is reminiscent of the Daleks themselves. Hard shell on the outside, soft creature on the inside. If you let it get under your skin, you might just find yourself wondering what it must be like being a Dalek... which is part of the story too, as the title suggests.
The alien world is cool, the SF reasons for everything are mindbending and the final twist left me gobsmacked. Davros is nowhere in sight, thank goodness, so instead there's an even more classic Dalek icon: the Dalek Emperor. (At first I thought this was the Golden Emperor from the TV21 comic strips, but he's the immobile version from Evil.) He gave me goosebumps. In a sense he's the ultimate representative of all Daleks. Davros is just a selfish old bugger who happens to glide around in a familiar-looking skirt section, but the Emperor is practically a distillation of everything the metal bastards have been since the 1st Doctor walked out on Skaro in 1963. Simon Clark completely ignores the Davros era and harks back to Hartnell in more ways than one. This isn't an exercise in wheeling out some over-exposed bad guys yet again, but in recreating icons.
This is Telos's last Doctor Who novella, but they've gone out on a high. The Dalek Factor is an effective tale that thinks new thoughts about the Dalek mythos. Strongly recommended.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 18/4/04
And so to the end of Telos Doctor Who books. A series I have in its entirety - when they announced they were losing the license after 15 I figured they would pull out all the stops, providing great stories - and they really do look splendid on the shelf! But then again £150 worth of books is a lot of money, especially when you consider you can get 30 such BBC books off Amazon!
Following the stupendous Blood and Hope I really hoped they would go out with a bang - a final 2 books to say to the rest of DW publishing "Look that's the way to do it!" With the Daleks on board everything seemed to be in place for a magnificent finale.
The opening chapters felt to me like the old Dalek stories - for example Dalek Masterplan. The Thals have a crack team of recruits, searching for Daleks on every planet they encounter. The fear that the Daleks instil in people is what makes these chapters stand out. Written in the first person by one of the recruits, Jomi, I was drawn into the narrative - and actually felt part of the team. That has to be writing of the top order - so a gold star to Simon Clark straightaway.
As Jomi describes his experiences, searching for Daleks with his fellow hunters, so the real menace of the Universes main foe is paramount. Even though the Daleks themselves appear intermittently, they are everywhere - they dominate every part of this book. When they arrive on a particularly hostile planet, that has traps all over the place, all these emotions are magnified. It's quite a bit into the book when I realized that we are missing a key character - where's the Doctor?
When the team encounter a strange man, alone, with no memories - I figured this was probably him - I'll leave it as a non-spoiler whether it was or wasn't. The Professor character here is one of the joys of the book. Jomi descriptions of him show an eccentric but likeable character. His slow build-up of trust for this mysterious stranger is one of the features of the latter half of the book. Slowly he turns from suspicious hanger-on to ally. There is also the planet to contend with, and I have rarely read of planet so aggressive. The Professor is vital for Jomi, as he seems to know the way. Unsurprisingly it is these 2 characters who are the focus of the book - with the rest of the Thal party canon fodder.
From planet to Dalek city, another previous Dalek story comes to mind - the original. This is not copying or plagiarizing - this is simply emphasizing what works for Doctor Who and the Daleks. It worked before, it works extremely well again here.
The Dalek Factor is so well written, with characters I wanted to learn about and be with. It was one of those books that I wanted to go on and on. Thankfully it's a little larger than most Telos Novellas - nearly reaching the length of Fallen Gods. But there is no let up here, no flowery prose. I could easily have read twice as much of this story. Simon Clark - one of the recognized authors who has never written Doctor Who before - shows how a Novella should be written. Telos wonderfully has finished on a high. 9/10
And so the Telos range of Doctor Who fiction is no more, and I'm rather sad about that. It's been a good ride, soaring at times, a little bumpy at other times. There's been books I will treasure, and others eventually I suspect I will dispose of. Each novella has been vastly different than another - rarely has a series shown off the variety of Who more.
The range more than anything has shown how ideal this format is for telling Doctor Who stories. Raised on substantial meals from TARGET, no overfeeding - just a balanced diet, this is the natural successor. That's the tragedy of the range finishing. I will definitely check out this new Time Hunter range, because the format is one I really like.
For now I salute the Telos range of Doctor Who books. They weren't perfect, but they showed the kind of imagination that I love about Doctor Who. There's definitely more positves than negatives. Here's a little guide:-
Excellent - Foreign Devils, Rip Tide, Cabinet of Light, Blood and Hope, The Dalek Factor.
Very Good - Time and Relative, Ghost Ship, Wonderland.
Good - Frayed, Companion Piece.
Average - Citadel of Dreams, Nightdreamers, Fallen Gods.
Poor - Shell Shock, Eye of the Tyger.
Thank you Telos - what a shame you were not able to carry on this wonderful series.