I don’t say this lightly, but this might just be the best way to experience Doctor Who’s very first Dalek story. Written in the first person from Ian’s point of view, Doctor Who and the Daleks takes everything exciting from the TV version of the story and just improves upon it in almost every conceivable way. It’s the story you know, but with an added layer that turns it into something entirely new.
If you’ve seen “The Daleks”, then you know the basic story. The TARDIS turns up on the planet Skaro, where the Doctor, Susan, Barbara, and Ian encounter the deadly Daleks and the mysterious Thals. Soon, they’re drawn into the middle of a centuries-long war, desperate to find a way to defeat the Daleks and leave this planet before the Daleks blow it to smithereens. A familiar story, and one that’s recreated fairly faithfully. But this isn’t a perfect, line-by-line adaptation. No, Whittaker adds a few twists to the story, spicing things up.
For starters, the first few chapters offer an alternate origin for how Ian and Barbara join the Doctor and Susan in the TARDIS. This new origin hits many of the same beats as the original, but it’s been tweaked just a bit. And that’s very much the case for the book as a whole. It’s the story you’re familiar with, the story you’ve loved for all these years. But it’s just a little bit different in ways only a really good book can be. And that’s what makes it so exciting.
Here, the story’s not restrained by the constraints of a 1960s BBC budget. The Daleks and their world can be as alien, as frightening as you want them to be. The Thals can be this very sci-fi group of perfectly manicured people. The action can be larger than life, the sets can be as huge and intricate as you want them to be. The story can be paced perfectly, without needing to pad out its runtime to fill a certain number of episodes with a certain amount of allotted screen time. Everything about Whittaker’s adaptation just works, elevating the story off the page and into the depths of your imagination.
This elevation is helped brilliantly by Robert Hack’s very retro illustrations. Hack doesn’t try to recreate the episode’s imagery, nor does he try to recreate the Peter Cushing film’s take on the story. Instead, he offers an alternate view of what “The Daleks” might’ve looked like had it been able to reach the heights the script clearly aimed for. And his illustrations are the best reason to get the specific edition of the book as they really do add a lot to the experience. Awash in very retro colors, lots of oranges and blues, and quintessentially 1960s sci-fi imagery. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, for sure. And I definitely think the book could’ve used a bit more illustrations than it had, especially smaller ones to help break up the larger sections of text without illustrations. But as a whole, Hack’s illustrations elevate Whittaker’s prose into something truly special.
At the end of the day, if you’ve never read a Target Doctor Who novelization, this illustrated edition of Doctor Who and the Daleks is the perfect place to start. Offering a new take on a familiar story, the writing itself is a joy to read. Quick-paced, action-packed, yet still full of lovely character moments. And the illustrations just add an extra level of enjoyment to the whole affair. In this, the year of Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary, what better thing to give a Doctor Who fan than this gloriously illustrated edition of the show’s very first novelization?