Russell Cook takes a look at the new reinvention of the very first Doctor Who novel from 1963 that inspired the hundreds of novels that have followed, written by Doctor Who‘s first Story Editor, David Whitaker, and lavishly illustrated by comic artist Robert Hack…
“I stopped the car and let the fog close in around me…” The first sentence delivered in the first person by unemployed scientist, Ian Chesterton, on the opening page of Doctor Who: In an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks…
Hang on, let’s get the facts right! Ian Chesterton is a school teacher, he teaches science at Coal Hill School. What on earth is he doing on Barnes Common on an eerie Autumn evening, when he should technically be on his way to Totters Lane with his friend and colleague Barbara Wright to check on the living arrangements of one of his pupils, Susan Foreman?
Back in the black and white days of the 1960s, television was an instant medium. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy not withstanding, the chances of reliving any television show were virtually nil. Watch once, the memory was allowed to cheat and the shadowy images of the pipe smoking elderly stranger and his time travelling Police Box would ignite the imagination until Saturday teatime the following week. Five episodes into this new Saturday teatime serial and the television landscape changed forever with the first appearance of the Daleks.
Step forward Dalekmania, which for a while knocked Beatlemania into the proverbial cocked hat giving the Fab Four a much needed couple of days off. Merchandisers dreaming of being drowned in an avalanche of threepenny bits and ten shilling notes bombarded the BBC with licence requests, and soon you were never more than a few feet from something Dalek related.
In 1964 without any fanfare, the publisher Frederick Muller published Doctor Who: In an Exciting adventure with the Daleks, a red dust jacketed hardback that made its way to bookshops and libraries across the country. Written by David Whitaker who had been Doctor Who’s first story editor, and based on Terry Nation’s The Daleks scripts it’s a powerful densely written adaptation of the adventure told from the point of view of the unemployed scientist Ian Chesterton. Whitaker had made the decision to ignore the continuity of the television series and wipe the exploits of The Tribe of Gum in and around The Cave of Skulls to the land of memory and imagination.
David Whitaker’s powerful adaptation of seven weeks of iconic television stands the test of time. As the book was published and took its place on bookshelves across the land, even the most confident of the betting world would not have put money on this book being the unexpected template for a series of novelisations that would become part of publishing history few years later with the launch of the Target Book range.
First published in November 1964, the book sold out of its initial 20,000 print run, and was reprinted not once but twice, a paperback edition, published by May Fair Books Ltd, under the “Armada Paperbacks for Boys & Girls” imprint in October 1965.
Now, in 2022, nearly sixty years after its original release, this iconic novel has made its way back to the bookshops in yet another incarnation. Step forward the coffee table style Illustrated version from BBC Books. Time to meet up with the mysterious time traveller known as The Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, plus the aforementioned Ian plus schoolteacher and Susan’s tutor, Barbara Wright, on a winter fog bound Barnes Common. They are a TARDIS trip away from Skaro – and the rest is history.
The dramatic 1964 tale is brought vividly to life with comic artist and illustrator Robert Hack’s illustrations, that capture the story in both literary and televisual form. With this book, it’s hard to separate one from the other. The Daleks are visually chilling, and match Whitaker’s description of the emotionless creatures that are revealed in its pages. The first person take on the tale adds to the tension, as the world of 1960s’ London is turned on its head, lit up by the power of an everlasting match.
Take a trip into this iconic world, it’s a world of possibility and adventure and as it turns out the beginning of a story that continues to this day.
• Doctor Who: In an Exciting adventure with the Daleks by David Whitaker, illustrated by Robert Hack, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman, published by BBC Books, is on sale now from all good bookshops (AmazonUK Affiliate Link) | ISBN: 978-1785948015
David Whitaker was the first Story Editor for Doctor Who, and was responsible for finding and commissioning writers, and it was Whitaker as much as anyone who defined the narrative shape of Doctor Who. He wrote for the Doctor Who annuals, novelised the first Dalek story and worked with Terry Nation on various Dalek-related material including the hugely successful comic strip The Daleks. He died in 1980.
Robert Hack designed covers for several of IDW and Titan Comics Doctor Whocomic series as well as covers for Cutaway Comics spin-off series. Robert Hack’s is a a comic books artist who’s previous work includes Star Wars: Vader’s Castle and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.