Finally available in the classic Target Books format, Revelation of the Daleks concludes the original range with an uneven adaptation
Here it is at last, the final 20th century Doctor Who to be novelised. Now, technically, joint last with The Pirate Planet and Doctor Who: The TV Movie to be released in the classic Target Books branding and format. Unlike those two books, however, this new Target edition of Revelation of the Daleks is largely unchanged. The text here is almost identical to the 2019 hardback release. That’s perhaps a shame, as it remains a distinctly strange read; a wildly over the top plot told via distinctly workmanlike, even basic, prose. As a whole the Target ranged has varied wildly between adaptations that thoroughly rework the source material and those that do little more than add the requisite ‘he said,’ or ‘she said’ to the lines of the script. But the grand guignol quality of events in Revelation sits particularly awkwardly with the matter of fact descriptions.
Revelation of the Daleks, of course, was always a story that reveled in the macabre and grotesque more than most. The Sixth Doctor takes Peri to Necros to visit Tranquil Repose, where they inter the galaxy’s great and good. Some dead, others merely stored in cryogenic storage in the hopes that whatever terminal disease they had will one day be cured. It’s also a world where horrifically mutated former residents prowl the woods. And in the catacombs Daleks experiment on brains in jars, and transform disembodied heads into Dalek-Human hybrids. And, at the heart of it all, Davros schemes and plots to conquer the universe with his new breed of Daleks. Oh, and then there’s the cannibalism. Can’t forget that.
In novel form, the storyline’s debt to Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One is even more stark than before
But what’s perhaps most surprising about all this is writer Eric Saward’s choice of Evelyn Waugh’s 1948 novel The Loved One (and more directly the 1965 movie adaptation) to use as a foundation. Doctor Who has a long standing light fingered attitude when it comes to story ideas. Some of the time it’s been riding the wave of popular trends. The Smugglers and The Highlanders, for instance, followed on the heels of the Disney adaptions of Dr. Syn and Kidnapped! Others tap into old archetypes while adding a distinctly Doctor Who spin, like the robot mummies of Pyramids of Mars or the patchwork monster of The Brain of Morbius. But the relative obscurity of The Loved One, combined with how completely Revelation of the Daleks recreates it feels different. It feels more like a shortcut to constructing a plot than playing with SF or horror standbys.
The Loved One features the dark goings on at the Whispering Glades funeral home and cemetery. Central to the action are the sex pest embalmer with an improbable toupee, Mr. Joyboy, and his guileless assistant Ms. Thanatogenos. Joyboy makes excruciating and awkward passes at every beautiful woman who passes within range. Meanwhile Thanatogenos has an almost religious devotion to ‘The Blessed Reverend,’ Whispering Glades’ mysterious and little seen ruler. But the Blessed Reverend isn’t the selfless benefactor he pretends to be. And his intentions for the corpses in his care are bizarre and unexpected. Meanwhile, the love triangle at the story’s heart resolves itself with a lethal injection of embalming fluid. There’s even a character called DJ. And all these shenanigans kept under the radar of senior government dignitaries visiting for the funeral of a national hero.
Eric Saward has thought out expanded back stories for his cast, but delivers them in clunky infodumps
The key differences include Joyboy pursuing his beautiful assistant, while Jobel overlooks her more homely TV counterpart, Tasambaker, in favour of leering at Peri. And she ultimately commits suicide with an embalming machine rather than taking her revenge with one. While the Blessed Reverend’s scheme to fire all the bodies into space so he can sell their graves in a real estate con makes the Great Healer’s Soylent Green inspired plans seem almost sane.
Slightly surprisingly, in novelising his own script Saward doesn’t take much advantage of the extra time. There are no changes which make it more distinct from Waugh’s. No greater effort, for instance, to integrate the Doctor into the plot. He and Peri still take a virtual age to actually arrive at Tranquil Repose since there’s no role in The Loved One for them. If anything, Saward instead makes the parallel more explicit. Tranquil Repose’s clients are now referred to as the Loved Ones. That’s the very same custom at Whispering Glades that gave the novel its name.
This adaptation does expand on the original script, at least. But never when it would have been most useful. Despite the format setting it free from runtimes and set space, Kara’s capture by the Daleks is as curiously pedestrian as ever. Two “gold sphere Daleks” (as they’re rather flatly referred to throughout the book) simply glide into her office. They command her to go with them, and she meekly follows. Meanwhile, some characters are given expanded backstories but these too are delivered in a decided dump of information, as if transcribed directly from Saward’s note. As such they seem dislocated from the plot around them, as if simply helping fill the word count.
Revelation of the Daleks will hold a special place in Target library history, but the next phase continues
The new subplots are are somewhat awkward too. They devote many pages to explaining the engineering principles of the two pyramids seen in model shots of Tranquil Repose on TV. Which itself leads to a literary syndrome Blogtor Who will have to deem ‘Chekhov’s Belt.’ When your plot requires a Doctor whose costume doesn’t include a belt to destroy a pyramid with his belt in the third act, you must make a big fuss over him deciding to wear both braces and a belt in the first act.
For many, though, the quality of this adaptation is almost irrelevant. The gap on their shelf it will fill, creating an unbroken run of 196 classic Target books, guarantees its place in history. It would, however, been a rather unremarkable end to such a beloved line. So it’s probably just as well that history is already moving on. The resurrected Target Books imprint has already novelised seven of the 21st century’s Doctor Who stories, with more set to come. That leaves with ninety adventures, give or take, left to adapt, even as the TV show adds more to the list every year.
It’s a quest that goes ever on.
Beware the hands that heal.
The Doctor and Peri land on the planet Necros to visit the funerary home Tranquil Repose – where the dead are interred and the near-dead placed in suspended animation until such time as their conditions can be cured.
But the Great Healer of Tranquil Repose is far from benign. Under his command, Daleks guard the catacombs where sickening experiments are conducted on human bodies. The new life he offers the dying comes at a terrible cost – and the Doctor and Peri are being lured into a trap that will change them forever.
At last, the only classic-era Doctor Who adventure never to be novelised is here, and by the author of the original script, Eric Saward.
Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks(Target Collection) is available now from Amazon and other retailers.