Thursday, 20 October 2011

‘Doctor Who: Prisoner of the Daleks’ – Trevor Baxendale (BBC Books)

Despite my best efforts, I’m still horribly behind as far as watching the current series (season six I think) of ‘Doctor Who’ goes. I managed to watch the odd episode here and there but I’m once again forced to wait for the DVD box set to turn up cheap in the sales whilst still trying to catch up with season five. What’s that? I should get a TV licence? Don’t get me started...
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Doctor Who books are a great way of getting stories about an iconic sci-fi character in between series. Whereas the old Target novels adapted stories already shown on television; the latest books tell original stories and that’s even better as far as I’m concerned (I know I’ll get round to catching up with the TV show sooner or later, it’ll just take a while). I really can’t get enough Doctor Who; can you tell that I’m a fan....? ;o)

I’d heard, here and there, that ‘Prisoner of the Daleks’ was a book that was a little bit darker than the normal fare; I love to see a family friendly character tackle something a little bit darker so I made it my mission to pick up a copy as soon as I could. As it happened, this took a little longer than expected but my birthday trip to an amazing second hand book shop came up with a copy. ‘Prisoner of the Daleks’ is a dark read, very dark in fact...

The relentless advance of the Daleks into systems under the control of Earth has got humanity fighting in every way it knows how, trying to deny Dalek control on all fronts. While Earth battle fleets face off against the enemy bounty hunters hover on the fringes of the conflict, looking to take advantage of the Earth Command edict that a bounty will be paid for every Dalek killed, the eyestalk to be provided as proof of a kill.
Forced to leave the TARDIS behind, the Doctor finds himself stranded on board a starship with a group of bounty hunters who have just found themselves in possession of the ultimate prize, a deactivated Dalek ready to be interrogated for its secrets. Is it quite that simple though? The Doctor knows that the Daleks are quite capable of springing vicious traps and the only thing worse than death at their hands is to become their prisoner...

As with all the Doctor Who books that end up getting a mention here, this will be a shorter review than normal; for the simple reason that ‘Prisoner of the Daleks’ is only two hundred and fifty pages long. Don’t let the length of the book deceive you though. It took me a lot longer to finish ‘Prisoner of the Daleks’ than I thought, there’s a lot to chew on here.

I said that ‘Prisoner of the Daleks’ was a dark read and I’ll go even further to say that it’s possibly the darkest Doctor Who novel that I’ve read. When the Daleks make an appearance you know that the resulting death toll is going to be high, it’s what Daleks do after all. Despite this knowledge though, I wasn’t prepared for just how much death Baxendale was prepared to have the Daleks rain down on anyone who just happened to be passing through, let alone have got in the way... No-one is safe (except the Doctor and even then you’re not sure sometimes) and no sooner have you got to know a character then they are dead. In this respect, ‘Prisoner of the Daleks’ is a sobering read that leaves you in no doubt as to how utterly deadly the Daleks can be, whether it’s torturing prisoners or just killing them out of hand. Passages like the one below really drive the message home,

‘And you know how those Dalek guns work don’t you? On full power, they can blast a human being into atoms in a split second. But they never do that. Every Dalek dials down the power on its gun stick to the specific level that will kill a human being. Then they lower the power setting just a tiny bit further, so that the beam burns away the central nervous system from the outside in, meaning that every human being dies in agony. So it takes a full two to three seconds for a Dalek to exterminate one of us – and it’s deliberate.’

Once you get past this, the plot itself is a familiar one to readers who have grown up with tales of Dalek conquest over the years. A little too familiar in fact, I appreciate that Daleks are single minded and their machinations now need to tie in established canon but... again? I wouldn’t have minded seeing them try out something a little different for a change.

Despite that though, the book is still a lot of fun to read; especially when you get to see events play out on a planet that has been half destroyed (our heroes get to look over the edge, a spectacular moment). Baxendale imbues David Tennant’s Doctor with just the right amount of rage (in the face of his most deadly enemy) and childish curiosity (like I said, looking over the edge of a planet!) to power the plot forwards at a very fast rate. The Daleks do their fair share here as well (they don’t give up and this lends added impetus to the pacing) and the arrival of the monstrous ‘Dalek X’ raises the stakes even further. The outcome may not be in doubt (is it ever) but the odds are high enough to keep you reading in the meantime.

When push comes to shove, ‘Prisoner of the Daleks’ might not do anything new in terms of the Dalek’s motivation it’s still a read that sets the stakes high and lets you know all too clearly that hardly anyone will make it to the end of the book in one piece. You can’t help but read a book like that.

Nine out of Ten

No comments: