THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Planet of the Daleks
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and The Planet of the Daleks

Author Terrance Dicks Cover image
Published 1976
ISBN 0 426 11252 0
First Edition Cover Chris Achilleos

Back cover blurb: Jo peered through the panel and saw - nothing. Yet someone had entered the cabin. She could hear hoarse breathing and stealthy padding footsteps. A beaker rose in the air of its own accord, then dropped to the floor... THE INVISIBLE ENEMY After pursuing the DALEKS through Space, DOCTOR WHO lands on the Planet of Spiridon, in the midst of a tropical jungle... and finds more than Daleks. Vicious plants spitting deadly poison, invisible Spiridons attacking from all sides and, in hiding, a vast army waits... for the moment to mobilise and CONQUER.


Reviews

A Review by Finn Clark 17/5/02

Planet of the Daleks is pure Terry Nation. It's grim, it's macho and it doesn't crack a smile from start to finish. These were Terry's first Doctor Who episodes since 1965 and The Daleks' Master-Plan in the Hartnell years (and he only wrote half of that).

A decade had passed since. Someone should have told Terry.

This book made me realise how unlucky Terry Nation was with his production teams. He didn't get bad producers and script-editors, but they weren't best suited to his style. Planet of the Daleks is a gritty, atmospheric slab of fear and tension. Hinchcliffe and Holmes could have done this brilliantly (and indeed did with Genesis of the Daleks, which is identical to this but with Davros). It out-Sawards Eric Saward. If they'd only made this scary, we'd be still raving about it today.

But no, Terry Nation found himself working with those cuddly teddy bears Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts. And when he comes back for Destiny years later... wahay, it's Graham Williams and Douglas Adams! That poor bastard. Don't get me wrong, both the aforementioned eras produced good Doctor Who stories... but not in the Terry Nation style.

Y'see, Terry still thought 'twas 1965. There's enough plot here for a two-parter. Maybe a three-parter, if you stretched it out a bit. The black-and-white stories could get away with that kind of thing, partly because of different expectations and partly because the Hartnell and Troughton eras knew all about telling stories through tense character drama rather than explosions and plot twists. However this was the technicolour Pertwee era. I confess I've only seen half of Planet of the Daleks, but IMO the suspense isn't wound as tightly as the story needs.

What's more, there's a problem with plot structure. The good guys (the Thals and the Doctor) never confront the bad guys (the Daleks) because they're so badly outgunned that it would be suicide. Thus they're reduced to sneaking around, running away, making plans and squabbling among themselves. For six twenty-five minute episodes. Oh dear.

But this isn't a review of the TV story. I'm talking about Terrance Dicks's novelisation.

This book took me less than an hour to read. We're talking 119 pages of huge, huge print. Episode one goes so fast that it hardly seems like enough material for the first scene on TV, let alone the first episode... but no, that's the "invisible Dalek" cliffhanger. Barely five minutes have passed since you started reading.

Doctor Who and the Planet of the Daleks is pure story. There's no comedy, no continuity, no Terrance-isms - just sheer fast-paced action. You don't have time to breathe. What's more, in print the Saward-esque grimness works. These Daleks are brutal. The Thals aren't even slightly camp, but desperate survivors in a lethal alien jungle. Its opening contradicts the Frontier in Space novelisation by sticking to the televised version, but this kicks off the book on a perfect note of desperation. The Doctor's apparently dead and Jo's stumbling out into an alien world of man-eating plants and poison fungi spores. Fuckin' hell. This isn't cosy reading.

It's hardly unpredictable. Even a child would guess that Wester the friendly alien is fated to die in a heroic act of self-sacrifice. But at this pace, the ideas come thick and fast enough for Spiridon to seem colourful and strange. Heat-drinking stones! Icecanoes! Molten sub-zero pools! And the massed army of Daleks is impressive too.

p79 - re. Rebec and Taron. "Back home on Skaro they had become close friends, with an understanding that they would eventually marry." Mmmm, romantic!

Doctor Who and the Planet of the Daleks reads like a story from a seventies Dalek annual. Remember those? Unsettling stuff they were too, a million miles from the happy kiddie fare of their sixties equivalents. You probably couldn't sustain for in a full-length novel, partly because of the breathless pace and partly because it would be too depressing. But I suspect this novelisation gets far nearer the intent of Terry Nation's scripts than the TV episodes did, and for mood and tension it kicks your average Dalek book's arse from here to doomsday. Far more effective than I expected.


So what does a Dalek look like? by Tim Roll-Pickering 26/1/04

Upon opening this novelisation the seasoned Target reader will note that there is a complete break in continuity with Doctor Who and the Space War. That book altered the ending so that the Doctor was not shot at the climax and announced he was going after the Daleks, but here the book opens with the Doctor close to death after "an ambush with the Daleks" (although later on Jo expresses complete surprise at the Daleks' presence). It's a sign that Dicks is strongly following the televised version, indeed so strongly that all the cliffhangers are present at the end of the relevant chapters, but also a sign of Target's willingness to allow the novelisations to contradict each other heavily and confuse readers. Unless I've overloooked something, Dicks also completely fails to describe what a Dalek actually looks like, leaving the reader to rly upon existing knowledge and the cover, though there is at least a description of what the Dalek Supreme looks like. (In an interesting attempt to reconcile the Nation and Whitaker visions of the Dalek hierarchy, Dicks specifies that the Dalek Supreme is head of the Supreme Council and beneath the Emperor.)

Although this is a predominantly straightforward translation of the camera scripts into a book, there is still much to recommend about it. Whereas on television Spiridon was for the most part a world of rubber trees, lit by studio lights, here we get descriptions of a terrifying world, full of true hostility, creating an environment of real tension and fear. All of the characters are fleshed out, putting real drama into the confrontations between Taron or Vaber, or outlining how Taron and Rebec were engaged on Skaro but they find they react to each other very differently on Spiridon. The Thals are people on a suicide mission and few punches are spared. Equally the violence is stronger, with the Daleks now firing energy, producing smoking corpses, rather than the clean video effect seen on television. This is how the story should have been done, though it would have produced howls of complaints had they tried to screen it at teatime.

The climax of the story retains the weakness that is clear on television, with the Dalek Supreme announcing immediate plans to have the Dalek army recovered from the iceano. A simple addition could enhance this, something along the lines of:

But the Supreme Command never dispatched any rescue ship. The Daleks on Spiridon were abandoned for all eternity.

Otherwise there's little depth to this novel, but with six episodes to cover and only 119 pages there isn't really the space to provide much. Instead this is a fast paced novelisation that can be read extremely quickly and still provide much entertainment. Doctor Who and the Planet of the Daleks is intended to be an all out action adventure to be read quickly and preserve the story in the printed form. Here it succeeds and is well recommended. 7/10