Matthew Kresal checks out the Eleventh Doctor novel, The Dalek Generation.
For almost as long as Doctor Who has been on television screens his adventures in space and time have seen him facing, time and again, his enemies from Skaro: the Daleks. Yet the Daleks have rarely featured in the Doctor’s paperbound adventures, appearing in a mere three novels (outside of the Target novelizations of their appearance in the old series - and even then, two of the TV stories were never novelized). 2013 though saw a new addition to those adventures with The Dalek Generation. Featuring the Eleventh Doctor and written by none other than Nicholas Briggs, the man behind the Dalek voices heard in the new series.
For those who might be in the dark as to who Briggs is, he is far more than just the voice of the Daleks on TV. Through his work on the Doctor Who audio adventures produced by Big Finish Productions, Briggs is also a writer, producer and director with many Who stories under his belt, as well as voicing the Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors and other aliens both for Big Finish and on TV. So this isn’t the case of an actor being turned lose to write a tie-in novel simply because he’s an actor on the series. He’s a writer in his own right.
Briggs obviously knows his Daleks well and he puts them to effective use. Fans are used to seeing the Daleks as an invading and destructive force, exterminating all those who stand in their path, but what happens when the Doctor lands on a world where the Daleks aren’t a force of evil, but instead quite the reverse? It’s a premise that has been touched upon only a handful of times by the series (notably in the lost Second Doctor story Power Of The Daleks as well as the Eleventh Doctor episode Victory Of The Daleks) and Briggs puts it to fine use here as the Doctor finds himself on one of the 400 Sunlight Worlds, set up by The Dalek Foundation, and trying to convince people of their being evil. Briggs also brings some new elements for the Daleks, including a Dalek type originally introduced for the Big Finish audios that becomes pivotal to the plot here. The novel then features both classic Who monsters and a classic Who premise put to excellent use.
The Dalek Generation also captures a lot of the feel of the new series as well. Briggs’ plot has a “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey” element to it that becomes more and more apparent as the novel heads towards the end. We're at a time when the Doctor is traveling on his own (judging from both the cover art and certain reactions, it would appear to be set in the gap between The Angels Take Manhattan and The Snowmen) and Briggs does an effective job of capturing the various, often contradictory, character traits of this Doctor. The book features a group of children effectively becoming the Doctor’s temporary companions, something else that we’ve seen in the Eleventh Doctor’s TV stories as well as his excellent rapport with them, with some of the books best moments being the scenes the Doctor shares with them. That it captures the feel of the show has a downside though.
The novel has one very sizeable flaw, one that it shares with some episodes of the Smith era: it’s rushed. Briggs pacing keeps it moving and it's certainly never dull. The problem is that the reader rarely gets a grasp on where they are and what’s going on. The Sunlight Worlds, the Cradle Of The Gods and indeed the Dalek's plan are all highly intriguing concepts but are never fleshed out. For that matter, neither are most of the characters, and with the exceptions of the Doctor and the children many seem like caricatures rather than fleshed out. The result is the Dalek's plan ends up feeling more abstract than concrete. The ending itself is very rushed and feels oddly derivative of some of the episode endings that we’ve seen in the Eleventh Doctor's era and as a result feels quite hollow. The book might just capture the spirit of the new series a bit too well then.
The Dalek Generation is a good Doctor Who adventure, if a flawed one. It puts the Daleks to good use in a new way, captures the feel of the televised series quite well and features a strong characterization of the Eleventh Doctor that could easily come straight out off of the TV. Yet its rushed pace causes its settings and supporting characters to come across as intriguing at best and at worst as caricatures. The results are enjoyable but one can’t help but yearn for more.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.