The Scribes are handed out by The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers for excellence in novels based on TV shows, movies, and games, which. I suppose, makes it the Booker prize of novelisations and shared world fiction. Lance is facing competition from a Primeval spin-off and something from the Disney Club.
When I returned to Doctor Who in the late nineties, one of the elements which surprised me was how well ‘documented’ and developed the Dalek chronology is. From the outside, the Doctor’s battles with the giant pepperpots look like a basic fight between good and evil, with the timelord upending whatever dastardly scheme they have on the boil only to have them pop up again somewhere down the line.
Yet, the Dalek story has merrily hovering along its own magnetised pathway outside of the main series almost as its own franchise, developing Terry Nation’s comic and annual stories from the 1960s into a complete set of eras and conflicts, with various bands of humans standing toe-to-toe with them in an unending struggle, in war after war. It’s the place were Nick Briggs sets his Big Finish Dalek war stories and Absolom Daak plies his trade.
The new series has run stark naked away from all of this, time wars effectively reseting continuity and simplifying it for new viewers, with talk of time locks and unseen battles and the Dalek race being all but wiped out at the close of each story. Yet, there’s still room for an anomaly and so here’s Trevor Baxendale’s Prisoner of the Daleks, which says actually I miss the idea of the Dalek race stretching across the galaxy and not simply turning up on mass for one invasion at a time and I’d quite like to see how the Tenth Doctor handles being plunged into this Dalek Empire, in which the most he can do is be victorious in a single skirmish. If I was a child whose only experience of the franchise is the new series, picking this book up would both confuse and delight me as I’d wonder what I’d been missing; as an adult it reminds you of a delightful time when the Daleks had the capacity to frighten and fascinate you.
A companionless Tenth Doctor, the TARDIS having skipped a time track (explaining how he ends up in the old continuity), lands on a deserted planet which used to be a staging post for prospective colonists. Through the usual series of mishaps and misunderstandings he falls in with some visiting bounty hunters just as the Daleks enter their end of space and after capturing one of them, the timelord realises that his ultimate foe has a huge wonking great plan that could see them wiping out the human race and whoever else they feel like. As ever with these shorter novels, to reveal any more than that would effectively render reading the thing pointless, but needless to say (since it’s in the title) the Doctor is eventually captured and taken into the core of the Dalek fleet were he awaits torture at the hands of the chilling Dalek X, the pepperpot equivalent of 24’s Jack Bauer. Brrr.
Essentially, Prisoner of the Daleks has everything you'd want from an old school
Dalek story, crackpot plan to take over the universe, millions of the
buggers flying through the air, bit of slavery, Nazi allusions, a
moment where the Doctor realises that he's made a terrible mistake, exterminations, sacrifices and no Davros. In his acknowledgements, Baxendale calls the Daleks ‘the ultimate Doctor Who toy’ and he’s clearly in his element exploring their mythology, picking and choosing from Terry Nation’s conception onwards, so though the new design is on the cover and in some of his words, he’s actually envisaging the Daleks from the TV21 comics with the anti-gravity platforms and a design for every application, be it breaking through a wall or investigating the intricacies of TARDIS.
They’re also the flavour of Dalek which is able to hold proper conversations with one another, or in one case philosophical discussion with the Doctor and best of all BBC Books have printed all of their dialogue in their classic zig-zaggy font, the one which usually crops up in comic books. I’ve not seen that done in a novel before and it really fills in some of the menace lost through not actually being able to hear the things. As your eyes glance around these bits of text, bolder than whatever else is on the page, you can almost hear Nick Briggs’s ring modulator grating away. It also has that rare sense of occasion which comes from smacking old and new continuity together to see what happens. I'd love it if the new series were brave enough to try something like this on television; would it be so wrong for the Doctor to bump into an old style Dalek or Cyberman and having some fun explaining away the incongruity?
The Doctor’s on good form, happy to flesh out any relevant bits of
continuity, masking a genuine anger at seeing his foe in such a strong
position with a mix of bluff and humour and offers a surprising reaction during a particularly nasty sequence with the captured
Dalek were the crew all break out into a lovely shade of grey (if you see what I mean). There's also an
interesting surprise related to the figure whom you're expecting to
become the companion which blows all expectations. I'd be particular excited if the television
version was brave enough to do something like that and it's one of the
ideas which shows that Baxendale has thought about what he's trying to
achieve and not simply trotting out the usual tropes.
With the exception of the human characters. Perhaps Baxendale had in mind the crew of the Liberator, Red Dwarf or
Serenity, but, probably because of the needs of the story, they’re
sadly mostly just the kinds of generic types that usually populate
Doctor Who stories, a square-jawed captain, the vet, the cute girl, the
cannon fodder (see The Impossible Planet and 42) and the surprise guest
(you’ll see) that don’t tend to work on the page because the actors
voice or manner aren’t there to flesh things out. A prime example is Cuttin’
Edge. I think he’s supposed to be a homage to Cat from Red Dwarf
all ‘mans’, jokes about his fashion sense and slang, but he’s not especially funny (assuming he's supposed to be the comic relief) and is just
the stereotype that would be injected into a story in the late 80s in
an attempt to be ‘with it’ and missing the mark by several hundred
rels. Couldn't we have had a Tarrant instead?
The esteemed organ Den of Geek is reporting that the new Sky Mag confirms the Easter special is indeed unsurprisingly going out on Easter Sunday, though I wouldn't click the link -- it's almost like being drenched in spoiler nepalm. The photos! The link titles! My eyes! My eyes!
Who wrote those questions? Was that you Pixley? I'll get to the special episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures in the next paragraph, but it’s worth pausing for a moment to take in the Mastermind Special that followed it. As well as offering journalists a mallet to hit Davina McCall over the head with because she couldn’t identify the inspiration behind the tv show that made her famous (bless), we were also treated to the awesome moment during David’s specialist subject round where, after a series of questions about the new series, whomever it was (Gary Russell? Gary Gillat? Spilsbury?) wrong-footed us all (well, those of us playing along at home) with a poser about Delta and the Bannermen (one for the kids), allowing us and David, after a few seconds to get our bearings, to shout ‘Ken Dodd!’, as incongruous an entertainment name as you’re likely to hear on the modern floor of Comic Relief. Well done you.
And well done the production team of The Sarah Jane Adventures for collecting a prestige slot on this year's telethon, ten years since The Curse of the Fatal Death seemed to be the last time we'd ever see anything Who related on the small screen, and turning in something rather fun. Sure, the plot was rather less complicated than Moffat's time twister, amounting to Ronnie Corbett beaming into someone’s house and inflicting his one man show on them, but there’s not a lot you can do in five minutes, with just your main set, seven regular cast members to give something to do and a special guest star. Quite rightly given the context, writers Clayton Hickman (first tv credit!) and Gareth Roberts offered some good puns and a parade of fart jokes. I honestly didn’t get the two Rani’s until the second time around, but the sudden appearance of the chair and meandering story worked, as did the veiled references to Ronnie Corbett's golfing buddies.
It’s interesting, how, after so long in the post-Barker wilderness, in the past few years Corbett has been rehabilitated enough by his prat fall in the Peter Kay video for Comic Relief (Is This The Way To) Amarillo) for him to be a perfectly reasonable addition to the earlier evening end ofComic Relief. He certainly looked the part in that suit (perhaps a shrunken version of the one John Cleese wore on The Frost Report?) and I quite like the idea of an ambassador for the Galactic Alliance whoever they are and whatever they do. You might grumble that he turned out to be yet another Slitheen and the mass of exposition that explained the appearance, but like it or not, they’re the most recognisable nu-Who invention to have previously turned up in SJA and for once the gas ventilation whatsitthingamydoodaa actually sort of made sense in context.
Squint closely enough at whatever this was called (‘Funny for Money?’
‘The Two Ranis?’) and for better or worse you could see a microcosm of the
first couple of seasons of the series; visiting comedian playing the
bad guy, Luke looking earnest, Clyde and Rani trading jokes, Sarah Jane
momentarily holding back the tears, plenty of nostalgic references for
the adults that constitute the real audience, a combination of Mr Smith
and the Sonic Lipstick saving the day and a speech reminding the
villain not to mess with this world saving dysfunctional group dynamic
that meet inside the roof of Georgian-style property.
They’re already nitpicking on the Doctor Who Forum (“The Slitheen aren’t a race, they’re family.” “cringeworthy writing and acting” “really slowing down and dissipating the atmosphere” “obvious 'plot'”) which is a shame because it’s heart was in the right place. True, it was no Time Crash, but it’s wasn’t trying to be – different motives and deliberately trying to make you just laugh not cry as well (for a change) (damn you, Moffat) and I did. Laugh I mean. Hah, ha. Plus, has there been a funnier and disrespectful use of K9 than clamping him and having a red nose appear on his schnoz? It's certainly more entertaining than what his creators have done for his own spin-off. Have you seen that? Ugh.
I would love to fly in the face of conventional wisdom and tell you that Attack of the Cybermen is a neglected classic, but I can't. It's shit.
Now, I could bang on about how the plot doesn't hang together; how the continuity laden script is completely at odds with the design (couldn't they afford a stencil?); how the Doctor suddenly has an arch enemy that he's never really met before (how does he even know Lytton's name?); how most of the running time is spent listening to muffled Cybermen commenting endlessly on their inability to attack anything, or how they can now be taken out with shovels (and not even gold shovels!); how the incidental music sounds like an outtake from Fingerbobs; how the Doctor is a smug, patronising git and how Colin Baker doesn't help matters when he falls over with all the finesse of a break-dancing clown; how the Cryons make the Sensorites look impressive, or how the TARDIS transforms itself into two of the most boring objects imaginable. That don't even have any doors.
But I won't.
Instead I'll try to dwell on the positives. Namely, Maurice Colbourne and Brian Glover as Lytton and Griffiths. Why they didn't get their own spin-off is beyond me. Who wouldn't want to watch a 26-part series featuring this pair of reprobates robbing diamond
merchants and high-tech military installations, bickering at each other as they try to evade the Old Bill and UNIT, before settling down for a nice, warm pint in The Winchester Club each night? But since this is a Paula Moore script, everyone dies. Which is a shame.
have to ditch Malcolm Clarke's Theme for Lytton and Griffiths, though. Even Waterman couldn't have hummed along to that. Incredibly, there's a isolated score on this DVD, and while the Cyberman March from Earthshock never fails to raise a smile, the rest of Clarke's output is all over the shop, ranging from cheap gags (JS Bach collides with Steptoe and Son) to twee, irritating arpeggios and the obligatory atonal clanging that would have put Test Dept to shame.
Aural rape aside, the first episode is actually quite good. It's
nicely lit for a start. But when we leave the atmospheric sewers of London for the over-lit tombs of Telos (think post-apocalyptic Beejams) it doesn't take long for the ennui to set in. The hero is unlikable, the companion doesn't stop whining, the
villains take ineptitude to dizzying new heights and the convoluted plot gives you a headache. And since I didn't bother to watch this mess when it originally went out, I can't even lean on the crutch of nostalgia to help me through it.
And finally, isn't treating Lytton's death as if it's in the same league as wiping out the Silurians a bit rich? As much as I love the scoundrel, did Lytton really redeem himself just because he was working for an oppressed race of ballet dancers instead of a bunch of Nazis? Surely he's just a equal-opportunity bastard?
No matter how "bad" the story might be, the extras are usually worth the price of admission alone and, thankfully, Attack is no exception.
Kicking things off is The Cold War, a nicely produced making-of documentary that features interviews with Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Terry Molloy, Eric Saward, Ian Levine, Sarah Berger and director Matthew Robinson. Well paced and thoroughly researched it covers every aspect of the production in a fair amount of detail; it even managed to surprise me a few times (I honestly had no idea that Griffiths was almost played by *spoiler*). What I don't understand is why anyone would want to take the credit for writing Attack of the Cybermen. Why don't Levine and Saward pin the blame on Paula Moore/Woolsey/Lucan - a woman who seems to have dropped off the face of the planet and who's only known photograph resembles something from Crimewatch - instead of fighting over its authorship? Take the alibi and run with it, you fools! In fact, everyone concerned seems very proud of this story and while there is a token nod towards the perceived wisdom I alluded to at the beginning of my review, it's dismissed out of hand by the culprits.
Next up is The Cyber Story,an illustrated history of the silver giants from The Tenth Planet to the Tenth Doctor. While it probably won't tell you anything you don't already know, it's imaginatively presented with some very slick graphics and impressive CGI titles. Sandra Reid, designer of the original Cybermen is great value and the ongoing discussion about the design of the monsters over the years is handled particularly well. It only falls apart with the introduction of a weird coda that features Professor Kevin Warwick, the world's first cyborg. Which isn't as sexy as it sounds. Here is a scientist who has managed to secure the funding required to fire electrodes into his brain so he can control things via the internet. Which means that one day we'll be all Cybermen. Probably.
This is all well and good but does this man really deserve another extra all to himself? And an Easter Egg? Is there no end to this man's talents? He's building an army of evil skeleton robots, you mark my words. He's our version of Tobias Vaughan. I can imagine him drawling 'Packer' in that strangely hypnotic drone of his. According to Warwick, it's a small step from controlling an iPod with your eyebrows to talking like Roy Skelton in a depopulated world of the future. Hasn't it occurred to him to stop his research before its too late? Hasn't he learned anything from watching Doctor Who?
Back on topic, The Cyber-Generations is a montage of stills from every classic Cyber-story set to music. I thought I'd dismiss this out of hand, but the quality of the images, coupled with some truly great Cyber-themes (I can't stop doing it now), made for a pleasant trip down memory lane. It's a bit like distilling the history of the late twentieth century down into silver foil and synthesisers, as well as a great primer for the wife. Having recently purchased 3 out of 4 of the classic series Cybermen figures I only needed one more to complete the set (and the Controller from Tomb of the Cybermen to boot) and when I knew she was planning to go to Tesco (which occasionally resembles a branch of Forbidden Planet) I told her which one to look out for. She exclaimed, "Cybermen all look the same to me". Unbelievable.
If that lot isn't enough, there's also an above-average audio commentary that features Baker and Bryant in very good
spirits, with Terry Molloy and Sarah Berger providing ample support on episodes
1 and 2 respectively. It bubbles along quite nicely and Colin admits that Gangsters
is one of his favourite TV shows of all time (here! here!), he reveals that Telos now
contains all of his household's waste, and he laughs at Michael
Kilgarriff as the Fat
Controller (there, I've said it). Who knows, maybe the new production team will invite an actor back to maintain continuity even
if he's turned into a bit of a porker? It can happen.
Rounding things off are the Radio Times listings, the continuity
trails (more arpeggios!), production notes, a photo gallery, and a pant-wettingly scary trailer for Image of the Fendahl.
that my Who-related web sites (Tachyon TV and Behind the Sofa) have a substantial audience it seemed like a good
idea to make it a Dr Who themed auction - and this is where you come in
as I am hoping to use my - albeit limited - Dr Who connections to make
this dream a reality.
If you would like to help me out I would be
looking for a unique, special, signed or rare items that you can bear to part
with in the name of a good cause. Anything and everything helps.
addition, if you could possibly pass this message onto anyone else in the world
of Who that you may know who might like to take part that would be
If you think you can help out please send me an email
letting me know what you would be prepared to give. If anyone else you
know would like to help out please ask them to contact me on:
I'm happy to take flags and items to the summit with me if that helps! ;-)