If there has been one glaring omission from the classic Doctor Who Target novels audiobooks line, it’s “The Day of the Daleks.” One of the first serials adapted by Terrance Dicks, “Day of the Daleks” was one of the first Target novels I read (though it was under the U.S. Pinnacle reprint, including the fantastically, ranting introduction by Harlan Ellison) and it’s easily one of the strongest adaptations the line ever produced.
And while I was delighted that the story was finally getting the audio treatment, part of me was still a bit nervous about visiting this old friend from my Target-obsessed days. Could it live up to the greatness associated with it in my memory?
The good news is that it not only lived up to my fond memories of it, it may have even exceeded them.
“Day of the Daleks” shows exactly how good Terrance Dicks is at adapting the television series when he’s given time to really get into and develop the story and he’s not constrained by a page count. In fact, this adaptation is so good that when I finally got to see the four-part televised version a few years later, I was a bit let down by it. Dicks does a fantastic job of character and world building on the pages of this story, making the story far richer than anything we see on our screens. Even a recent “special edition” on the DVD that adds some new effects, corrects some Dalek voices and offers a few other tweaks can’t compare to just how effective the printed version is.
For a series about time travel, classic Doctor Who rarely looked into the mechanics and implications of it. “Day of the Daleks” is an exception where time travel and its implications play a pivotal role in the story. When a high ranking British official is mysteriously attacked by commandos who seemingly vanish into thin air, the Doctor and UNIT are called in to investigate. Turns out the guerrillas are resistance fighters from the future, trying to change history so the Daleks won’t conquer the Earth and enslave all of humanity.
Dicks’ adaptation not only develops the characters of the various guerrillas who travel back in time but also gives us a more nuanced looked at the top human servant of the Daleks, the Controller. Dicks delves into his motivations and even makes us understand and feel a bit of sympathy for him, even as he’s trying to help the Daleks maintain their stranglehold on humanity.
The world-building involves a far bleaker view of the future than was realized on the screen, where it felt like it was just another Doctor Who episode filmed in a rock quarry. Limited only by the power of the reader’s imagination, Dicks paints a world like something out of the pages of Orwell. Dicks even manages to make a weakness of the serial (the absurdly silly chase on a motorized tricycle) seem exciting, fast-paced and memorable.
All in all, Dicks turns “The Day of the Daleks” into an absolute delight and one of the true highlights of the Target range.
Returning to the audio range for “The Day of the Daleks” is Richard Franklin, who starred in the original serial as Mike Yates. Franklin has delivered some solid audio performances with a couple of other Pertwee-era stories, so I was looking forward to seeing what he’d deliver here. Maybe it’s that Yates isn’t quite as pivotal or as involved in this story as he was in “The Claws of Axos,” but this one doesn’t feel like Franklin’s strongest work. For every good choice he makes (the Controller’s accent, the Ogron voices), there are some that left me scratching my head. The biggest is how Franklin interprets the voices of the Doctor, the Brigadier and Benton. I suppose that part of it could be familiarity with the actors who play these roles on screen. But something felt distinctly off about how Franklin brings them to life in this reading.
And since this is a Dalek story, we get Nicholas Briggs bringing the Dalek voices to life. Briggs does a superb job of distinguishing one Dalek from another (helped immensely by Dicks creating some distinction between the pepper-pot shaped baddies). The voices used are authentic to how Dalek voices were created on the show at this point in the series run. They are more from the corrected special edition DVD than the original version. (The original voices were VERY off due to the long absence of the Daleks from television as their creator tried to find new ways to exploit them).
I’ll admit part of me wished that Briggs (and the production) would really have a good go at fans by delivering the Dalek lines in the original television voices.
Again, “Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks” is a highlight of the Target novels. And while the audiobook isn’t quite as solid as I’d hoped it would be, it was still a fun way to revisit my fond memories of reading this story during my early days of Doctor Who fandom.