Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Remembrance of the Daleks

This is where Doctor Who began.

Well, okay, there was a TV series before that, one with a very respectable 26-year run on television and several adaptations in other media as well. But that series got canceled in 1989. It was, despite the hopes and wishes of fans, over and done with. It would be over fifteen years before the BBC decided to launch a new TV series, one that kept the same continuity but changed just about everything else imaginable. And that TV series, that approach to Doctor Who, that show that triumphantly emerged in 2005 as a major hit...that started here, with Ben Aaronovitch's novelization of 'Remembrance of the Daleks'.

This is a Doctor Who story that gives us deeper, more realized supporting characters than anything we ever saw on screen. This is a Doctor Who story that really cares about crafting excellent prose (the descriptions of the Special Weapons Dalek from the point of view of other Daleks, which called it the Abomination and loathed it almost as much as it loathed itself, the brilliant moment where the Supreme Dalek gets confused by its link to its small-child-as-battle-computer and wants to skip...) This is a Doctor Who story that actually gets into the heads of its villains. Everything about this book is a template for the direction the New Adventures, the audios, and eventually the new TV series would take, right down to its depictions of Rassilon, Omega and the Other (who wasn't capitalized here, but would be soon everywhere else.)

And it's bloody marvelous, to boot. Aaronovitch takes one of the best TV episodes ever, and magnificently fleshes it out in ways that the budget couldn't afford. The scenes of a few poncy Daleks exchanging primitive CGI laser blasts becomes an apocalyptic civil war on the streets of London. Flashbacks to ancient Gallifrey turn the Doctor's exposition into an epic that stretches back ten million years. Skaro boils away into space in a way that they might still not be able to do, even with Steven Moffat's budget. Characters are given extra depth, and the story feels like it's been freed of the confines of the small screen. It is no wonder that Virgin suddenly decided that they could sustain a series of original novels after reading this manuscript.

If Doctor Who was dead in 1989, Ben Aaronovitch showed us in 1990 just how it could live again.

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