Doctor Who: DALEK Target Novelisation Audiobook Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: DALEK Target Novelisation Audiobook Review

It's 2005 all over again for Matthew Kresal. And that's no bad thing.
Back in the 1970s and into the 1980s, the only way fans of Doctor Who often could encounter an older story was by reading it. The Target novelizations were slim books, frequently running little more than 150 pages. Yet, they became the cornerstone of the show's merchandise. These days, of course, that isn't the case with options including DVDs and streaming platforms. That hasn't stopped such demand for new Target-style novelizations of twenty-first-century episodes, which BBC Books began obliging with in 2019, with a new batch released in spring 2021. One of the most anticipated was Dalek, the novelization of the 2005 episode that brought Doctor Who's greatest monster back to the screen and penned by its original scriptwriter, Robert Shearman.

When the original Target books were in their heyday, they generally came in two types. The first, and by far the most common, were straightforward adaptations of the episodes that (at worst) felt like a copy and paste of the script with a few lines of description and "said" added. On the other hand, you would also get books that expanded upon the televised stories with more detail and backstories or, in some cases, reinstating material cut for time. Shearman's Dalek falls into the latter category, and the results are nothing short of intriguing.

For starters, Shearman interspaces little interludes at intervals between moments from the TV episode. Variously called "The X's Tale" by Shearman, they offer insights into the past lives of the characters we meet in the underground base in Utah. They range from Dalek torturer Simmons and how billionaire Henry van Statten acquired the Dalek to an almost complete reinvention of the Diana Goddard character. The best of them, The Soldier's Tale, comes late in the book but is a powerful and even unsettling piece of storytelling in its own right. Each of them, and one about the guard who helps Rose and Adam escape to safety about midway through the narrative, are highlights. Together, they tell the story of how they ended up half a mile underground in Utah while adding to its emotional pull.

Those aren't the only changes that Shearman makes. Fans of the TV episode (as this reviewer is), are going to be surprised by how much Shearman essentially rewrites the episode. Character introductions are moved about or reimagined, and pieces of dialogue (such as the exchange between van Statten and Goddard about who the next US President should be) get repositioned. Elsewhere, moments such as the Cyberman's head in the museum are entirely missing. Shearman also puts in much of his trademark dark humor, toned down during the original TV episode's adaptation from the Big Finish story Jubilee, including a delicious flashback to a golf game with the US President. Many of the changes work wonderfully in context, though I can't help feeling that the changes to the ending undermine the characters of van Statten and Goddard to an extent. In doing so, Shearman creates a version of Dalek (to paraphrase the strapline of the Virgin New Adventures of yesteryear) broader and deeper than what viewers saw in 2005.

There's a certain symmetry in the fact that Dalek has also gotten an audiobook version. After all, as mentioned above, it started life as a Big Finish audio drama. Having voiced Daleks in Jubilee and the TV episode, Nicholas Briggs was a perfect choice as the audiobook's reader. Listening as he gives voice to everyone from the Ninth Doctor to American accented characters, the audiobook showcases Brigg's talents as a voice actor. But when he brings his Dalek voice on again, it's like it's 2005 all over again, capturing the incredible vocal performance he gave all those years ago. And, for those who know Jubilee, you might even spot a character's voice from that Big Finish audio in the same role here. Backed by a spare but effective soundscape of sound effects and music that have become a hallmark of these Doctor Who audiobooks, the audiobook offers an experience of Dalek all its own.

Perhaps the best way to sum up this version of Dalek is that it isn't so much a novelization as it is a slight reimagining of it in prose. From expanded character backstories to new twists on familiar scenes, Shearman creates an intriguing new take on his classic episode. Brought to life by Briggs' reading and voicework, it forms an engaging experience in its own right, in some ways bringing Dalek back to its audio roots. For fans of one of the best episodes of the 2005 series or Shearman's writing, Dalek is simply a must for their collection.

Listen to Doctor Who: Dalek Audiobook today with a 30-day free trial of Audible.

Matthew 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.

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