Doctor Who: The Novelization of the Daleks

As I have mentioned before, one of the ways I am going back to “rewatch” Doctor Who from the very beginning is taking advantage of the opportunity to listen to these classic episodes in the car as audiobooks.

Yet other than the lost episodes, the recordings of the actual soundtracks of Doctor Who episodes generally lack narration, meaning that unless the episode is fresh in one’s mind or familiar, some portions may simply be eerie music or sounds that it is difficult to interpret without images to go with them.

For that reason, I chose to listen to the audiobook of the novelization of the second Doctor Who episode, “The Daleks,” released under the title Doctor Who and the Daleks. The novel was written by David Whitaker, one of the editors who originally worked on the televised episode, and is read by William Russell who played Ian Chesterton. Even so, the novel takes a few major liberties with the story as it aired: it introduces a new manner in which the characters met (this was the first Doctor Who novel to be published, and so perhaps this was felt to be necessary in order to introduce the characters and their circumstances of being together quickly); it makes Susan’s fake surname “English”; it has a glass Dalek as the leader of the Daleks; and it highlights the romantic feelings that develop between Ian and Barbara. Other than these details, the novel largely remains faithful to the spirit of the actual television episode, and in many cases to the precise wording of the dialogue.

There are a number of aspects of “The Daleks” that could be worth talking about. With World War II a much more recent event, Terry Nation’s script intended to depict the Daleks’ determination to be the sole inhabitants of Skaro in a manner reminiscent of the Nazis. The Daleks are ironically trying to wipe out the blond-haired Thals, who are reminiscent of the ideal Aryan of the Nazis, while themselves not recognizing their own ugliness and deformity – to say nothing of their evil.

But the element that struck me most was the Doctor’s remonstration of Ian for his skepticism, his unwillingness to believe that which seems impossible to him. The Doctor views Ian’s skepticism as a failing, and I think there is a discrepancy in how different sorts of skepticism may be viewed by the same people – a discrepancy that is telling.

On the one hand, if someone views claims about superior technology, contact with aliens, or anything else that currently has a science fictional character, they would be considered praiseworthy in what we might call the “skeptical community.”

On the other hand, if someone from an isolated and technologically underdeveloped part of the world were to express skepticism about space travel, modern medicine, or evolution, they would be viewed as having an unwarranted skepticism that simply showed the limitations of their “primitive thinking.”

As I listened to the Doctor berate Ian, I wondered whether one can really have it both ways and be fair.

Surely the same sort of skepticism is being adopted in both cases, the only difference between the one that is viewed with admiration and the one that is viewed with disdain being the way they look based on our own current state of knowledge.

Science fiction authors and fans have often found themselves caught in this tension, viewing those who react to more advanced technology with skepticism as pathetic and primitive, while those who fail to be skeptical of claims about that which is currently – or in the fictional world of the sci-fi story in question – impossible are likewise viewed as credulous and foolish.

Yet ironically, the more recent episodes of Doctor Who have called for increasing suspension of disbelief, as the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver becomes a magic wand that can accomplish anything.

What do you consider the appropriate balance between skepticism and an openness to believing the seemingly impossible? Does the line conveniently run along the edge of our current scientific knowledge? Ought it to be situated there, and if not there, then where?

Speaking of edges, the next episode will be “The Edge of Destruction”!

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  • Anonymous

    I used to buy these books with my pocket money. 50 pence each IIRC. Encouraged my reading and it was the only way to hear these stories before home video was introduced.

  • randall.morrison90

    McGrath, you have gone over the deep end with the science ficiton stuff.

    Why don’t you tell us straight out what you are really planning?

    We know you are going to come out with it eventually.

  • James F. McGrath

    Randall Morrison, what is it that you think I am really planning? What do these repeated comments reveal about what you are really planning?

    Randall Morrison, do you have anything you would like to say about Doctor Who?

  • Just Sayin’

    Jesus was an alien?  [Maybe what Dr. MacGrath is being accused of coming out with eventually?]  Just guessing . . .

  • Gary

    “Jesus was an alien?” Of course he was…poor, no papers, born in a “non-state/nation” (palestine), and thus not a citizen of any nation…so an “illegal” alien at that. Imagine Jesus trying to sneak across our border fence. He’d be in lock-up for 6 months, then shipped back to Tijuana, to makes fish tacos and tortillas for the many. Who knows what would happen to Jesus if he had the misfortune to end up in Alabama.

  • James F. McGrath

    There are a few things I had meant to mention in this post and had scribbled down but neglected to include. 

    The Doctor is made to say that he had met Christopher Columbus, and yet botches the history by saying that people then had thought the world was circular. 

    There is also, as I indicated, a lot of emphasis on things that are “beyond reason” that one “just has to accept” – with the Doctor saying things like “Skepticism is a failing in your world” and describing humans as “so dogmatic. They can’t accept anything they can’t explain.”

    Do long-time and/or recent fans of the show consider the statements about reason and skepticism to be in keeping with or divergent from the Doctor as depicted subsequently?