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September 14th, 2019

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There's a new novelisation out of the Fifth Doctor story Resurrection of the Daleks by Eric Saward, which prompted me to go back and rewatch the original 1984 story on which it was based, and also to reread the fan novelisation published some years ago by Paul Scoones.

I missed Resurrection of the Daleks when first broadcast. When I watched it in 2007, I wrote:
In keeping with my practice of watching the later Davros stories backwards (see Revelation of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks), I tried the Fifth Doctor's only encounter with his chief foe, from 1984. Well, it did explain the plot line about there being two different factions of Daleks, which had passed me by completely. Apart from that the story makes little sense. It is memorable for lots of big name actors - Leslie Grantham in his first TV role, apparently - all getting shot (apparently this has the largest number of on-screen violent deaths of any Doctor Who story) and running around for no apparent reason. When Turlough reappears in the middle of it I was taken by surprise as I had forgotten he was in it. I did like Rodney Bewes' performance. (And Sneh Gupta.)

There's some dire Doctor/Davros dialogue (note alliteration) but some good Davison moments too, like when he remembers the previous companions and incarnations, and his reaction to Tegan's farewell (and she's been laid out horizontal for most of the story and so missed most of the gore). Basically, this is one for completists. (But if you're reading this, you probably are a completist.)
When I rewatched it in 2011, I wrote:
Resurrection of the Daleks is the first time we have seen the malignant pepperpots since Romana regenerated, four and a half years ago. It looks fantastic - tremendous moody shots of Docklands and studio sets, action scenes with much mayhem (the highest on-screen death toll of any Who story, I believe, making Tegan's desire to get the hell out entirely comprehensible), and decent performances from an extraordinary array of guest stars, Rodney Bewes, Rula Lenska, Chloe Ashcroft, the glowering Leslie Grantham in his first TV role, Terry Molloy doing Davros for the first time.

It's a shame therefore that the story doesn't make a lot of sense. Every time I think I understand what the various factions (human and Dalek) are up to, there is another twist and I lose track. Viruses? Assassinating the Time Lords? I give up. There are some good set-pieces - Rodney Bewes' character's redemption, the confrontation between two sets of Daleks in the middle of episode 2 - but some weak bits as well, including in particular the Doctor's rather contrived decision to execute Davros and his failure to then carry through this decision.
Coming back to it again, I found myself even more annoyed than previously at just how little sense the plot makes. It's never clear exactly what is going on, and it's difficult to care. I also find it difficult to forgive the inconsistent characterisation of the Fifth Doctor - not just with other stories, but within the same story. And Turlough's invisibility and Tegan's immobility are a peculiar approach to the regular cast. Rodney Bewes is indeed the standout guest performance, but again his behaviour is not really consistent with that of a Dalek agent. I do recommend TV Tropes' dissection of the story.

Having said all that, I can't agree with Eric Saward, who himself described Resurrection of the Daleks as "the worst Doctor Who story ever written". The Twin Dilemma, two stories later, is for my money by far the worst Doctor Who TV story. (See my write-ups here and here. There are several worse Who stories in other media.)

Thirty-five years on, Saward has produced an official novelisation of Resurrection of the Daleks. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
In another part of the room, lounging in front of the deep space scanner, was Senior Ensign 'Baz' Seaton. Seeming to spend endless hours staring blankly at the machine before him, it was difficult to appreciate precisely what he was registering. To some of the crew he was considered one of the dimmest people aboard. That was until a recent computer glitch had mistakenly caused the crew's personnel files to be published. This revealed, much to some people's irritation, that Seaton not only had the highest IQ of the crew, but also had a PhD in astrophysics and another entitled 'Dark Matter contra the Time-Space Continuum'. To make things even worse, Seaton was also an inspired cook and his pop-up dinner parties were now famous. In spite of all this, the reasons for him being in such a lowly position aboard the prison ship remained a secret.
Just as The Twin Dilemma is my least favourite TV story, its novelisation is my least favourite novelisation of a TV story, though not in fact my least favourite book by Eric Saward. The new novelisation is not great, but it's not as bad as either of those. Saward has done his best to fill out the incidental characters with some background, particularly the crew of the battlecruiser (which is named the Vipod Mor and therefore should be identified with the ship in Saward's audio story Slipback). He still slips into trying to channel Douglas Adams a bit too often, his writing is surprisingly unpolished in places for someone of his track record, and the story itself remains a complete mess which he (perhaps wisely) doesn't attempt to untangle. I think it's still one for completists only.

I compared and contrasted it with the 2000 Paul Scoones unofficial novelisation, the second paragraph of whose third chapter is as follows:
Tegan scrambled across the floor to assist the stunned Turlough. ‘You all right?’ she asked him. He nodded groggily.
I noted when I first read it in 2008 that it is:
a decent effort, drawing in some of the background material invented by David Aaronovitch for his novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks but otherwise sticking fairly closely to the story as broadcast, including the humungous body count.
I think I stand by that assessment; Scoones doesn't do a lot more than write what appeared on the screen, though he does do a bit more, and his writing style is confident and competent, without Saward's excesses or Saward's flaws. As a sample, here's the way the two treat the cliffhanger between the two episodes:
Saward:

The Doctor was suspicious when, in spite of the TARDIS having been yanked along the Dalek's time corridor, their arrival on the battlecruiser was surprisingly without incident.

‘Trap or not, I need to find Turlough,' he announced.

Switching on the scanner screen, he saw the reception area was empty. He cautiously opened the door, peered out of the TARDIS and, surprisingly followed by a fully composed Stien, entered the reception area.

After looking around for a moment, the Doctor called Turlough's name.

No response.

Stealthily he moved to the entrance of the corridor.

He called again.

This time, there was a response, not from his companion, but from a member of Lytton's Elite Guard. With his weapon raised, the soldier moved towards the Doctor. The Time Lord reacted quickly, grabbing the barrel of the weapon, twisting it to break the attacker's grip and sending the Trooper tumbling over an outstretched leg.

The Doctor saw Stien removing a weapon from a rack of machine pistols. ‘Quickly,' he urged him. ‘Back into the TARDIS.’

Stien didn't move. Instead he pointed the gun at the Time Lord.

‘This is madness!’ said the Doctor. ‘The Daleks won't thank you for capturing me, they’ll kill you.’

Stien moved towards him. ‘I didn’t quite tell you the truth,’ he said. ‘I serve the Daleks. I'm a Dalek agent.’

No sooner had he said this, than Daleks and Troopers poured into the area and advanced towards a distraught Doctor.

Lytton strode in and joined Stien to watch as a Dalek pressed the Doctor hard against the wall.

‘I am the Alpha Dalek.’

Alpha Dalek! That's a new title, thought the Doctor.

‘You will obey me,’ it continued to rasp. ‘You will bend to the power of the Dalek race.’

Inside his head, the Time Lord smiled. The title might be new, but the rhetoric was just as jaded.

‘You will follow me, Doctor. If you try to escape you will be exterminated!’

Although the Doctor had been threatened by the Daleks many times before, his rude health attested to their wanton lack of success. Unfortunately, the tone of this Dalek suggested it might be the one to succeed.

‘You will not resist. You will be taken to the Duplication Chamber,’ the Alpha Dalek snorted as it prodded the Doctor across the reception area.

Lytton and Stien continued to watch as the Time Lord entered an adjacent corridor and was gone.

‘Impulsive, aren’t they?’ said Stien eventually.
Scoones:

As soon as the central column juddered to a halt, the Doctor operated the scanner control. The screen showed that they had arrived in the time corridor reception area, just to one side of the terminal entrance.

‘We're on the Dalek ship,’ observed Stien, and watched through a haze of pain as the Doctor moved around the console and operated the door opening mechanism. ‘Where are you going?’ he asked.

‘I must find Turlough,’ the Time Lord replied. ‘You wait here.’

Stien started after the Doctor, but as he approached the exit, the aching pain in his head was suddenly and abruptly washed away. At once he could see and think clearly. He knew what he had to do. With a new determination he strode confidently out of the TARDIS.

Outside, the Doctor was looking around, calling ‘Turlough! Turlough!’

The Time Lord didn't notice as Stien closed the TARDIS door and went over to a wall locker. Stien pulled out a machine pistol, one of the weapons that Lytton had brought back from Earth earlier.

‘Foolish boy,’ the Doctor muttered, peering off down one of the corridors.

Without warning, a trooper rushed into the chamber, blaster raised, but the Doctor was on his guard, and skilfully wrenched the weapon from the man's grasp as he passed. The Doctor pushed him to the floor and covered the trooper with the weapon.

‘Quickly!’ he called to Stien, ‘Let's get out of here.’

‘No, Doctor,’ Stien replied, now standing right beside him.

The Doctor turned, and saw that Stien was pointing the machine gun at him.

‘This is madness!’ insisted the Doctor. ‘The Daleks won't thank you for capturing me. They'll kill you!’

‘I didn't quite tell you the truth,’ Stien replied, with an unfamiliar cold tone entering his voice. ‘I serve the Daleks. I'm a Dalek agent.’

Before the Time Lord could reply, three Daleks entered the reception area. The ambushed trooper got to his feet and recovered his weapon from the Time Lord's unresisting grasp as the Daleks moved in, shouting in unison. ‘Exterminate the Doctor! Exterminate! Exterminate!’

Commander Lytton saved the Doctor from certain death. ‘Wait!’ he ordered, hurrying into the reception area.

One of the trio of Daleks spun round on Lytton. ‘He is an enemy of the Daleks. He must be exterminated!’

‘He must be duplicated first,’ Lytton persisted. ‘Confirm with the Supreme Dalek.’

The Dalek turned away and engaged in an silent exchange with the Supreme. It turned back. ‘Supreme Dalek confirms the order. We must take the prisoner to the Duplication Chamber. Proceed.’

The Doctor glared silently at Lytton and Stien as the three Daleks surrounded him and herded him away down a passage.

‘Impulsive, aren't they?’ said Stien, once the two men were alone in the chamber.
Saward's style is just that bit worse, isn't it? The repetition of "surprisingly" early on, dropping Stien's dramatic "No, Doctor" (the climax of the first of the two TV episodes), and the awkwardness of "a distraught Doctor", "jaded" and "wanton", not to mention a general jerkiness, are all pretty awful. On the other hand, he's taken the opportunity to rewrite it to make a bit more sense - the TV version (and Scoones' novelisation) has the Daleks threaten to exterminate the Doctor and then change their mind, which sits rather oddly with Stien describing them as "impulsive"; Saward makes them more consistent and also brings in his new character, the Alpha Dalek.

Anyway, as I think is clear, in my view it's all a bit of a mess. You can get the DVD of the original TV story here, Saward's novelisation here, and the Paul Scoones version here.

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