Eric Saward’s adaptation of his own Resurrection of the Daleks gets a handsome new Target edition. But also an opportunity for reappraisal.

The new crop of Target novelisations is an eclectic mix. Not just because it covers seven different Doctors, comedy, horror, adventures in history and far flung futures, either. But because this selection features brand new adaptations, major reworkings of existing adaptations and, finally, more or less straight reissues. While elsewhere The Witchfinders gives us our very first Thirteenth Doctor novelisation, and The Pirate Planet is given a remodeling worthy of Grand Designs, Resurrection of the Daleks has changed little from its original hardback release in 2019. All the same it will be a prized purchase for many collectors. Even if simply by being in the classic Target paperback format, with a typically magical cover by Anthony Dry.  And it also gives us the opportunity to reevaluate Eric Saward’s adaptation of his script. And if there’s one thing Doctor Who fans love, it’s reevaluations.

On its first release, Resurrection didn’t receive the warmest of receptions from some reviewers. In truth, that’s partly due to the weight of expectations placed upon its shoulders from the moment it was announced. For almost two decades the Target library of 20th century stories had sat frustratingly almost complete. But then the line was reborn with a plan to plug the last few gaps. The news that Eric Saward was adapting his two Dalek stories signalled the end of a seemingly impossible quest. So perhaps it’s understandable that disappointment reigned when this journey of a lifetime ended with a book that was… alright.

 

Resurrection makes no attempt to address the story’s more eccentric plot points but gives many of the cast deeper emotional arcs

Resurrection of the Daleks is actually pretty good. True, it does stubbornly refuse to conform to reader expectations. But like many Doctor Who TV stories, a second look makes it easier to love it on its own terms. As a television story, Resurrection has long been admired for its atmosphere and genuinely unnerving moments of violence.  Though perhaps fans wondered if the plot quite made sense. But Saward defiantly refuses to revisit those aspects.

While almost all the guest cast gets expanded backstories, we don’t get any more insight as to why the Movellan virus is being hidden by the Daleks on Earth millennia ago in their past. Nor why the Daleks are orchestrating such complicated, overlapping plans. Why simultaneously involve 20th century Earth, the Movellan War in the 46th century, and the invasion of Gallifrey? We don’t even find out where Davros’ brainwashing injector came from.

But we get more understanding of the confusion in Stein’s mind. Plus a deeper sympathy for Tegan’s disillusionment as she sees good people gunned down time and again. And, moreover, is shaken by the Doctor’s apparent brutality in return. We also get a minor plot hole regarding Lytton fixed. Saward handily establishes the Doctor and the mercenary have met before the events of this story. And, indeed, that Lytton agreed to take the job for the potential opportunity to become The Man Who Killed the Doctor. All the same, it’s hard not to see it as a missed opportunity in terms of tying up loose ends.

 

The Doctor (Peter Davison) & Tegan (Janet Fielding) Say Goodbye - -Doctor Who - Resurrection of the Daleks
One of the strengths of Saward’s adaptation is a deeper, growing sense of how bady the violence of Resurrection of the Daleks is effectiung Tegan, leading up to her departure

Rather than the wall to wall grimness of the TV version, Saward reinvents Resurrection a Douglas Adamsesque jaunt subverted by an inexorable slide into darkness

The first impression of the novel is that it also dispenses with the dire, almost misanthropic tone of the original in favour of sub-Douglas Adams whimsy. But a second look reveals that Saward is actually doing something braver and clever than that. Because that strand of humour is heavily loaded towards the start of the book, petering out as the body count mounts. It mirrors Tegan’s own journey as her time with the Doctor stops being fun.

The novel rewards taking it on its own merits, rather than with the episodes in your mind’s eye. Taken that way it creates an effective sense of a normal, lighthearted Doctor Who going off the rails. Almost as if Tom and Lalla romped through Paris only to turn left and find themselves knee-deep in a Tarantinoesque blood bath. It also gives us some wonderful new ideas. These include Time Corridor controls disguised as a tea chest, with the readouts disguised as ever-changing pencil written notes. And a semi-sentient computer virus that can emerge as a physical code-snake.

With its new format and look, Resurrection is a worthy addition to any Target collector’s shelf

The overall effect is effective, though it does lead to the book taking a while to get going. It’s just under a third of the way through before the Doctor himself actually appears, and there are lengthy descriptions of the fantastical rooms Stein would have seen in the TARDIS if he’d explored it, including the restaurant of robot chef Ooba-Doa. But he doesn’t explore so he doesn’t see them. While long sections devoted to describing the history of Butler’s Wharf and Tower Bridge read more like encyclopedia entries than anything else.

Elsewhere the language borders on a flamboyance worthy of Saward’s contemporaries, Pip and Jane Baker. Characters have “a decided perspicacity” or when meeting an attractive woman even “a sense of lasciviousness.” In fact, possibly as a holdover of Saward’s primary field as a screenwriter, much of the text feels designed to be read aloud. In has a pleasing flowing rhythm that’s almost soothing, even when describing people’s faces being melted off by ZP gas.

With It’s a Sin’s Resurrection pastiche fresh in people’s minds, there’s never been a more appropriate time for this edition. Whether you were holding out for a Target cover to sit with the others on your shelf, or seizing the opportunity to reevaluate it, it’s worth picking up.

 

BBC Books - Resurrection of the Daleks by Eric Saward - Target Novelisation (Cover) Anthony Dry Fifth Doctor
Resurrection of the Daleks by Eric Saward. Cover art by Anthony Dry. (c) BBC Books

Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks

The universe is at war. Action takes courage.

The TARDIS is ensnared in a time corridor, catapulting it into derelict docklands on 20th century Earth. The Doctor and his companions, Tegan and Turlough, stumble on a warehouse harbouring fugitives from the future at the far end of the corridor – and are soon under attack from a Dalek assault force.

The Doctor’s oldest enemies have set in motion an intricate and sinister plot to resurrect their race from the ashes of an interstellar war. For the Daleks’ plans to succeed, they must set free their creator, Davros, from a galactic prison – and force the Doctor to help them achieve total control over time and space. But the embittered Davros has ideas of his own…

35 years after its first TV transmission, Doctor Who fan-favourite Resurrection of the Daleks is novelised at last, by the author of the original script, Eric Saward.

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