BBC Books Quick Reads
I am a Dalek

Author Gareth Roberts Cover image
ISBN 0 563 48648 1
Published 2006

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.

A Review by Andrew Feryok 20/10/13

"I'm sorry," said the Doctor mildly. "Did that word upset you in some way? Have another look at your data store, boy. I might be in there under Oncoming Storm, The." "Doc-tor," the Dalek groaned. Its weapon socket clicked again. "The Doc-tor!" He waved "That's me!" "The Doc-tor is an enemy of the Daleks!" "Wrong! The Daleks are an enemy of the Doctor..."
- The Doctor confronting the Dalek infant, I Am a Dalek, Chapter 7, Page 60

This is the first of the Quick Read books, which, unlike the regular books, were aimed at younger readers with a smaller page count, larger print, soft cover and themed around a popular monster from the series. I thought this was going to be a dull but fast read, but was surprised that it actually turned out to be one of the cleverest books since The Stone Rose!

For a book aimed at younger kids, this book is quite complex, with a deep and somewhat disturbing character piece centered around Kate who is infected with and struggles against the Dalek factor within her. But all the serious character bits and complex ideas are also mixed with some straight-out action as the Doctor goes toe-to-toe with a Dalek in the final stretch of the book. In many ways, this book is a bit of a rip off of Robert Shearman's Dalek from Season 1 of the new series. But the idea works just as well here and actually becomes more horrific. In Dalek, the overriding tension was whether or not the Doctor could stop the Dalek from reaching the surface and become unleashed on the general population. In this story, nothing the Doctor does can stop this Dalek from getting out and we get to see it massacre an entire town towards the end of the book! On top of that, through Kate we also learn about the Dalek mentality: their dream of an ordered universe in which they are the only lifeform, and their complete and utter contempt for all life forms played so well through Kate's human bitchiness.

The Dalek itself is just as terrifying as the one from Dalek, if not more so. I mean, it starts out with its gun taken away and nothing but its sucker arm. And yet we see this Dalek being just as deadly! I love the moment when it picks up a police car with its sucker arm and flings it far away with inhuman strength! There is also a great moment when the Doctor has a final showdown with the Dalek in the ocean and we think that he's shown no mercy and killed thing, only to discover in the next chapter that the Doctor has actually only succeeded in helping it! The Dalek becomes a truly unstoppable force of nature and a terrifying opponent for the Doctor and Rose.

The story of how the Dalek arrived on Earth from the Time War into ancient Rome is also clever and makes for a great reveal at the beginning of the story. The Doctor and Rose come off extremely well in this story. I don't normally care for the "I'm Mr. Wonderful" Tenth Doctor, but he comes across very well here mixing his darker, more serious side with a flippant humor that makes him well-balanced and appealing as a hero rather than annoying. Rose is a bit more generic, but still her wonderful caring self. It's also nice that Rose herself is intimately aware of the threat of the Daleks due to her wiping them from existence in The Parting of the Ways and here she gets a taste of what the Doctor must feel like: even after wiping them all out, they still defy the odds and come back to rampage across time and space again.

On the whole, this kicks off the Quick Reads extremely well and reassures me that the authors aren't going to lower their standards to appeal to younger readers. This could easily go toe-to-toe with any of the feature length novels at the time. In fact, this feels like a typical book adventure only with all the excess cut out so that we go straight to what matters in the characters and plot. Here is hoping that they maintain the quality with the rest of the Quick Reads. A brilliant and fantastic book from Gareth Roberts!