Remembrance of The Daleks by Ben Aaronovitch

The Doctor returns to Totters Lane in 1963 to retrieve an ancient and awesomely powerful Gallifreyan device, the Hand of Omega. But two rival Dalek factions are waiting for him and Ace.

Uniquely among the fiftieth anniversary BBC Books re-releases, the Seventh Doctor is represented the novelisation of one of his TV episodes. Remembrance of the Daleks is the McCoy story that people who don’t like McCoy’s incarnation quite like. It’s also the reason I’m a huge Doctor Who fan.

I didn’t watch Remembrance on its transmission in 1988, but I remember the trailers, and the buzz around this story at school made me tune and catch episode one of The Happiness Patrol. I never looked back and will always be a child of the Seventh Doctor era. Looking back over the entiriety of the series as we are now priveleged enough to be able to do, the massive step up in quality from the preceding season that this story represents is obvious. I sometimes worry that had I started watching in season 24 I wouldn’t have stayed.

The story is one of the few (up to this point) stories in the series where the Doctor arrives with an agenda. I can only think of The Invasion of Time as a precedent. In this sense, and others, the novel is like a blueprint for the Virgin New Adventures. He’s left the Hand of Omega, a stellar manipulator, in I.M. Foreman’s junkyard when he took off at short notice with Ian and Barbara onboard several lifetimes ago. His plan here is not to foil an invasion, but to spring his trap for the Daleks while minimising human casualties. It’s a sophisticated, clever story with great action and the McCoy’s Doctor hitting his stride.

As Ben Aaronovitch wrote both screenplay and novelisation, this is a very faithful adaptation. There is a hugely satisfying amount of background detail and characterisation filled in. The Dalek in the TV serial is at its most impressive hiding in Foreman’s junkyard, unseen and taking out Gilmore’s men. Here, the inner workings of the unseen ‘warrior’ are described in an equally new and alien way. Each member of the RAF team are fleshed out too, and a passage detailing the aftermath of Davros’ injuries sheds new light on a familiar villain.

By far the most impressive innovation is how the Daleks are written. It’s never been done this well before or since. Rather than screaming exposition at each or mindlessly repeating their orders, here they are sophisticated, networked cyborgs. The climactic battle between Imperial and Renegade factions is superb. In the televised version they lost a bit of menace by being so wobbly as they roamed the streets. It’s also an incredibly savvy move to have scenes of the Daleks in a school, and especially the playground, as they’ve been emulated during play times across the land for decades.

Aaronovitch of course went on to pen some of Virgin New Adventures, and one of the preoccupations I remember of that series (apart from sex and swearing) was the Seventh Doctor’s eyes. In those volumes they would be of indeterminate colour, and always betraying his frightening inner intelligence and darkness . This seems to start in this book, with Ace feeling the power of the Doctor’s eyes, Rachel meeting his ‘cold grey eyes’. During the battle in Totter’s Lane he goes from ‘the Doctor’s face became grim, his eyes flat”; to “his eyes bright” when encouraging Rachel to work out their foe is alien. Throughout the book the Doctor is described more by his eyes and the power of his gaze than any other physical characteristic.

The seeds of the so-called Cartmel Masterplan are evident here with scenes featuring Omega, Rassilon and the Other as flashbacks at the top of some of the chapters. These were apparently excised from the show at the behest of producer John Nathan-Turner, but provide some intriguing, and much-needed, mystery to the Doctor and his people. Tying up continuity from years in the series past wasn’t common in the Target novelisations, but here the reward the long-term Doctor Who fan, and make the book feel even more like a springboard for the New Adventures.

The book is also remarkably prescient of the rebooted TV series, with the Doctor holding Ace’s hand and a reference to “pa Jass-Vortan, the time campaign – the war to end all wars.” If the Doctor’s mission in Genesis of the Daleks is considered the opening volley of the Time War, this is can be seen as an important skirmish.

Not read Remembrance of the Daleks yet? Buy now from Amazon:

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks: 50th Anniversary Edition

On Kindle:

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks: 50th Anniversary Edition

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