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Doctor Who: War of the Daleks Paperback – 6 Oct 1997
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There have been times in the latter part of the TV series that the Daleks have seemed nothing but stooges to Davros, but War of the Daleks takes the ideas from Remembrance of the Daleks and runs with them, emphasising the divisions between Dalek ranks - being those loyal to Davros and those loyal to the Dalek Prime, hence the war. It is interesting to see Daleks starting to think for themselves again like in the good old days, and unlike some of the new range of Dr Who novels this story actually stays true to the TV version and doesn't seem like something completely different trying to compete with American sci-fi. If Big Finish make an audio version of War then I'll be the first to buy it.
In particular, why was Skaro seemingly abandoned by the Daleks ? Subsequent to 'Destiny of the Daleks', it seemed as if the Daleks had definitely lost their 'galactic superpower' status and were instead doomed to a near-eternity of civil war between those Daleks loyal to the memory of the 'true' Emperor Dalek (destroyed in 'Evil of the Daleks') and Davros who ultimately made himself 'Emperor' of a new Dalek race engineered on Necros (Revelation of the Daleks),
'War of the Daleks' resolves these issues in an ingenious fashion. In a fascinating dialogue between the Doctor and the Dalek Prime (the last survivor of the original 'prototype' Daleks build in the Kaled bunker), it emerges that both Davros and the Doctor have been misled by the Dalek leadership through all the events of 'Destiny of the Daleks' through to 'Remembrance of the Daleks'..
There are a number of interesting characters in 'War of the Daleks'; Delani is a Thal officer who has been morally brutalised by the hereditary war with the Daleks; the Doctor himself comes across as a little out of his depth as his dialogue with the Dalek Prime unfolds ; the Dalek Prime is described as having an appearance that resembles the Emperor Dalek featured in the 'TV21' comic strips of the 1960s - more importantly its existence is clear testimony to the Daleks return to being an autonomous species capable of devising its own strategies.
If there is to be a 40th anniversary special, 'War of the Daleks' is a prime candidate to provide its core plot. The novel's scenes are too epic for the BBC, but the plot, if portrayed properly, would restore 'Doctor Who' as a leading science fiction series.
Throughout the novel, John Peel does a great job of showing us how good it could have been, as he breaks up the main plot with small vignettes from the greater galaxy as it grapples with the Dalek threat. These are gripping stuff indeed, epic adventures against an implacable and ruthless foe. The opening scene, a vast battle between the Daleks and Thal special forces, is equally gripping and for some reason reminds me of many of the scenes in Heinlein's "Starship Troopers". If the book had continued along those lines, it would have been superb; miltary SF in the Doctor Who universe is something we really haven't seen before, and Peel infuses the battle scenes with great tension and drama, whether they be between the Daleks and lone security agents, custodial robots or Draconian starships. He proves that he certainly has the ability to write this kind of stuff well, which is why the direction he takes with the rest of the novel is so irritating.
In between the battle scenes, Peel manages to create some very interesting characters and then gives them very little to do. The Doctor, supposedly the hero of the story, literally does nothing to affect the plot at all throughout the entire book. Yes, he gets to solve problems, but it is plain that those problems are largely of no consequence and that most of the events of the novel would have occurred in exactly the same way were he present or not. Given that Peel's characterisation of the Doctor is extremely generic, I'm convinced the book would have been far better had it been written as a standalone book without the Doctor in it at all.
The biggest problem with the book occurs when the plot moves to Skaro, the Dalek homeworld. Since the Doctor blew it up in the TV episode "Remembrance of the Daleks", the fact that it still exists drives what is left of the plot. It's at this point that pretty much all the characters switch their brains off and Peel reveals the real reason the book was written in the first place; to undo the destruction of Skaro as seen on TV. Apparently the creator of the Daleks, Terry Nation, objected to the destruction of the Dalek homeworld, despite okaying it for broadcast (he had script approval and the ability to veto anything he didn't like), and Peel took it upon himself to "undo" that event. To do so, he concocts the most bizarre, convoluted, risky and ultimately pointless conspiracy I've ever come across, rewrites over a decade of Doctor Who history and makes both the Doctor and Davros (the mad scientist who first engineered the Daleks) look like complete idiots. When the book was first published, the sound of Dalek fans all over the world going "huh?" was almost deafening. After waiting years for a new Dalek adventure, to be presented with something so mediocre that showed the skeleton of the classic it could have been was almost too much to take.
And yet I keep re-reading it, almost as if I keep hoping that since the last time it'll have metamorphosed into the book it should have been. It's the literary equivalent of a dumb popcorn movie, complete with spectacular set pieces, implausible plot and dodgy acting. If I can keep my brain stunned into silence for the duration, I enjoy it. It's only when I start asking questions that I realise how bad this thing is. Still, if you - like me - love the Daleks and have been starved of new adventures for years, you could do worse than pick this up. Just don't say I didn't warn you.
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