Doctor Who and the Daleks (MP3-CD)

Narrator: William Russell
BBC Audio
RRP: 19.99
ISBN 0 563 52729 3
Available 07 March 2005

Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright travel with the mysterious Doctor and his granddaughter Susan to the planet Skaro in the space-time machine, the TARDIS. There they strive to save the peace-loving Thals from the evil intentions of the hideous Daleks. Can they succeed - and will they ever again see their native Earth...?

This MP3-CD is a very special product indeed: a pivotal piece of Doctor Who's past has gone all hi-tech. Not only is this reading of the first ever Who novelisation - which is still one of the best - complete and unabridged at over five hours long, but it is performed by the very actor who, in the television series, portrayed the character from whose first-person perspective the book is told: William Russell, alias Ian Chesterton.

Written by the series' original story editor, David Whitaker, this adaptation of the second Who serial - the first Dalek story - was first published in 1964 by Frederick Muller, under the title Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks. It was republished as the first of the long-running Target range in 1973, with cover art by Chris Achilleos, whose beautiful work is reproduced on the CD cover.

In order to introduce the time-travelling characters to the reader, but lacking the rights to adapt the programme's introductory episode - An Unearthly Child by Anthony Coburn - Whitaker concocted his own beginning for the adventures of Ian, Barbara, Susan and the Doctor. Instead of meeting Susan as one of their pupils at Coal Hill School, Ian and Barbara are brought together by a horrific road accident on Barnes Common.

A few aspects of An Unearthly Child remain, however, such as the Doctor's claim that one day he will return to his own world and the fact that he and Susan have spent the last several months in 1960s London. There are also elements of Whitaker's own two-part serial Inside the Spaceship, in particular the striped medicated bandages. Once the travellers have arrived on Skaro, the plot proceeds pretty much as it did in Terry Nation's original seven-part Dalek story. If you must shoehorn this narrative into a wider continuity, you can think of it as Ian's own "fictionalised" account of his experiences, a novel that he wrote following his return to Earth.

The first-person viewpoint is not as restrictive as you might think. Though Susan's account of her solo expedition beyond the Dalek city has to be reported to Ian after the fact, most of the rest of the original serial placed Ian in the thick of the action, so it seems only natural for the tale to be told from his point of view. All in all, the device makes for dramatic storytelling, which is made all the more effective by Russell's compelling narration.

Whitaker's writing is surprisingly adult in tone. The opening segment, in the aftermath of the crash, is very grim indeed, as are the subsequent mutated horrors encountered on Skaro. Ian stops for a ciggie at one point, and there are hints at the possibility of romance between he and Barbara. So all those who have ever said that Who books shouldn't deal with adult topics can stick that in their pipes and smoke it!

The CD also contains a short - very short - interview with Russell, and PC and Mac users can view Arnold Schwartzman's original interior illustrations from the novel. The recording is also punctuated by authentic sound effects from the TV series.

As Doctor Who embarks upon a new beginning with Christopher Eccleston in the title role, let this special reading transport you back in time to an alternative account of the programme's origins.

Richard McGinlay

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