BBC Books Quick Reads
I am a Dalek
|ISBN||0 563 48648 1|
|Synopsis: Equipped with space suits, golf clubs and a flag, the Doctor and Rose are planning to live it up, Apollo mission-style, on the Moon. But the TARDIS has other plans, landing them instead in a village on the south coast of England; a picture-postcard sort of place where nothing much happens. Until now... Archaeologists have turned up a Roman mosaic, circa 70 A.D., depicting mythical scenes, grapes - and a Dalek.|
A Review by Finn Clark 1/12/06
Wow, they weren't kidding about the "Quick Reads" thing. Is it about 20,000 words? No more than that, surely. I enjoyed this book but it feels like nothing else Who-related I've read in decades... there's something slightly staccato about it, as if it's straining at the constraints of its word count. Even Short Trips stories are more languid. It feels like the Target novelisation of a Tennant TV episode, which may well have been the brief.
In a way, it reminds me of Gareth's DWM comic strips. It's plot-heavy and Gareth Roberts-light. Chapter One made me laugh, but thereafter the book was oddly uncharacteristic of the qualities I associate with this writer. His authorial voice is oddly muted. Gareth at his best is a rollicking rambling raconteur, with the brilliant natural storytelling of a drunk old stand-up comic who could have you in stitches with the Doctor stuck in a cupboard. There's something slightly off about his rhythm here, which I don't think can be blamed entirely on the format. 20,000 words isn't War and Peace, but neither is it two sides of A4. I suspect that Gareth wrote a fantastic version of this story which came in at 30,000 words, so had to start snipping.
That's a tiny nitpick, though. I'm sure most readers would be wondering what the hell I was banging on about, since basically the book's fine. I've been talking about what it lacks, which is doing it a grave disservice because at what it does it's very good indeed. The plot is strong and driven by the characters. Kate owns the book. Gareth obviously loves writing for her... she gets some wonderful moments and can be very funny. I couldn't quite believe in Frank, but he's charming. The Doctor and Rose are fine, although Tennant's Doctor doesn't spring off the page quite as strongly as Eccleston's. Finally there's the Dalek, whose Dalek Factor is compared with humanity exactly as David Whitaker was doing in Evil of the Daleks. Gareth also has fun with these new Daleks' powers, writing this one as a pepperpot-shaped Terminator instead of the wobbly and easily evaded BBC props we're more familiar with.
I still have a niggle that in a longer book Gareth could have done more with these ideas. You could have a ball with Daleks in Pompeii, for instance. (Admittedly it's not actually Pompeii, but that's the mental image you take away with you.) There's a full-length novel waiting to be mined from this pamphlet-a-like, although in fairness that's a compliment. This feels like a proper narrative, instead of just a book-shaped collage of familiar elements. You know which authors I'm talking about.
At the end of the day, this story is about its characters. It has heart and I'll forgive a lot for that. There's some lovely stuff in here, especially the ending which is almost beautiful. Admittedly you don't get many words for your money, but with a price tag of just under three of your Earth pounds it won't exactly break the bank. It doesn't feel deep. I wasn't kidding about that Target novelisation feel, but despite its word length it's nowhere near the shallowest BBC Book published in recent memory. It's nice.