I Am A Dalek

Dear reader, during a recent bout of insomnia I decided to pick up my copy of this book on the grounds that with any luck I'd be asleep by the end of it. Forty-five minutes later I was still as wide awake as ever but I had managed to finish the story in double-quick time, hence why I can provide you with this review only the day after I bought the book.

As a "Quick Reads" book - it's a scant 104 pages long - it's clearly aimed at an even younger audience than the new series novels. Whilst the cynical amongst us might say that that would take some doing without the inclusion of lift-up flaps and the plot involving the Doctor looking for a dog called Spot, this doesn't actually impact the book in a negative way; the lighter plots of the new series novels can apparently withstand being compressed into a briefer format whereas dragging them out to full novel length has resulted in some of them being rather plodding. Indeed, I suspect that more than one of the NDAs might actually have been better if they had been compressed into a Quick Reads format from the get-go.

The plot is necessarily brief, but it involves the TARDIS landing in present-day England just in time for the Doctor to be present when a Dalek is unearthed at a Roman archaeological dig site. Obviously the Dalek, despite having been buried for the better part of 2,000 years, contrives to come back to life, and then go about doing what Daleks do best - shouting a lot and killing people. It turns out that the Dalek managed to seed the Dalek factor (presumably the same as that seen in The Evil of the Daleks) in the human population before it "died", but not very well, and its discovery triggers this "dormant gene" in a young local woman with the unfortunate name of Kate Yates. This makes her become the Dalek's unwitting servant as she contrives to reactivate the Dalek and then assist its escape from Earth.

Even though the book is quite short there are one or two memorable moments, perhaps the best being the Dalek - searching for and homing in on its gun, which the Doctor had removed before its reanimation and which is hidden in the bag of the dig site manager - attacks a train. As in the episode Dalek the Dalek uses its sink plunger as a pretty effective weapon in its own right, and once it gets its gun back it goes on to kill everyone on the train just because it can. Another nice moment is the very final scene, which I won't ruin for you; suffice it to say that it feels both very new-series-y (shades of New Earth) while recalling the "script-editing" the 7th Doctor performed in NAs like Timewyrm: Revelation.

The Doctor and Rose are lightly but not badly characterised, but this works in a short format - having seen them in action you can fill in the blanks yourself easily enough. Kate is somewhat bland and faceless but then given the length of the story and that she spends over half the book wandering round as a Dalek in human form that's forgivable. In fact I have only two real problems with this book.

Firstly, the Dalek. Apparently the most energetic extinct species in the universe, this represents yet another survivor of the great Time War that was supposed to finish them off for good and all. Including this book, they have now appeared in four stories since the new series returned last year - which is more stories than they featured in throughout the whole of the 80s (ignoring a Dalek's brief appearance in The Five Doctors, of course), and all stories after they're supposed to be dead. I've always thought that if you're going to make the Daleks, or any monster, big and hard and scary and nigh-on unstoppable and make its return from beyond the grave an actual big event, then the best way to do it is to use it sparingly. Already we're seeing the results of this overuse, in that the 10th Doctor is clearly not terrified of them in either this book or Doomsday in the same way the 9th Doctor was in Dalek, and neither is Rose, despite her mother's claim to the contrary. They're already starting to go back to that "shouty but not terribly effective" thing of old where they never think to kill the Doctor while he makes fun of them to their faces and they can be defeated at the end by just pressing a switch or throwing a lever. On the plus side, the Dalek in this story does actually do an awful lot of killing. However, it also does an awful lot of talking, and frankly lines like "you cannot kill me, Doctor, you will not do it" and it waffling about "my glorious Dalek ancestors" just don't seem terribly Dalek-y to me.

Secondly, the Doctor is prepared to sell out to the Dalek at the end and let it escape scot-free to the distant future with a Gallifreyan Time Ring that he just happened to have lying around the TARDIS, just to get it away from present-day Earth. Regardless of the fact that it wants to go to the most peaceful period in galactic history, build a new army of Daleks and kill untold millions of people, he's prepared to go along with it because the Dalek promises to spare Earth and humans if he lets it go. This sits very, very uncomfortably with me. Like Rose I first thought it was all an elaborate bluff until the Doctor admits privately to Rose that he can't bluff Daleks because they're too clever and they'll detect any time technology-related trap he lays for them (umm... Remembrance, anyone?). Indeed, the Dalek is only defeated because Kate's human qualities are brought to the fore at the last minute by Rose wittering to her about The X-Factor, mobile phones and custard as the Doctor stands idly by (frankly the Doctor's lucky I wasn't the one possessed by the Dalek Factor - being reminded of The X-Factor and mobile phones would have probably compelled me to condemn the whole planet to Extermination on the spot). This to me seems like a very weak ending, especially given that it's Rose who saves the day while the Doctor seems totally unable to, but then that's something the new series is good at, so I suppose I shouldn't really mind too much in a novel like this.

In that regard, I am a Dalek shares many of the flaws of the new series. Indeed, it feels much like an unfilmed episode of the new series - same sort of length (it took me less than an hour to read so I could easily picture the events occurring in real time on screen), same roughly-modern-day British setting. You can almost imagine this book as a modified script given that it consists almost entirely of events and dialogue without the sort of background exposition or examination of motivations you'd normally expect from a novel. It's not a bad read, but anyone expecting big events or complex examinations of the Time War, the Doctor's character or Dalek history is going to be sorely disappointed - though that does beg the question as to why you'd be looking for those things in a 104-page story in the first place!


Review by Valedictorian


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