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War of the Daleks

Doctor Who: The BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures #5
Joe Ford

The Quantum Archangel, Strange England, Grimm Reality, GodEngine, The Ghosts of N-Space, Parasite, The Space Age, Heritage, Island of Death, Placebo Effect, Warmonger, Deceit, Loving the Alien, St Anthony’s Fire, Invasion of the Cat People, Tragedy Day, The Taking of Planet Five, Witch Mark, Escape Velocity, Last Man Running…these are just a few books that are less enjoyable than War of the Daleks. What is the beef with this book? It’s not in my worst fifty books, let alone my worst ten. War of the Daleks seems to represent everything that is evil and vile about Doctor Who fiction, a good place for people to point and go “Look, that’s how it shouldn’t be done!” but the truth of the matter (as usual) is that its reputation has been blown out of all proportion. It joins books such as The Domino Effect, Birthright and Fear of the Dark, books which I kind of like but are reviled by fandom.

I was reading an absolutely fascinating interview with Gary Russell on an Outpost Gallifrey where the man speaks frankly about his contributions to Doctor Who. It has made me respect the man a million times more, primarily because he has the guts to admits his strengths and failings and can apply those critical faculties to Doctor Who too. One of the things he mentions is how experimental the NAs were, and how they stopped being Doctor Who because they were trying to push the envelope with every single book (rather than churning out anything resembling the series we so adore, I assume). This could explain why so many people were so appalled by these early EDAs, which are a return to the safer, traditional Doctor Who stories of old. What I am trying to point out is that doesn’t make them bad (although some of them were terrible on their own strengths), just less demanding and in some cases more enjoyable. Obviously people still wanted boundary pushing stories at the time (since Alien Bodies was such a hit) and more conventional action adventure stories were the literate equivalent of having a threesome with Maggie Thatcher and Tony Blair, something to be avoided at all costs (well unless you’re kinda kinky…)

Because when all the politics are pushed aside War of the Daleks is a perfectly fine Doctor Who-ish story with Daleks, Davros, spectacular space fights, Dalek civil wars and anti-pacifist Thals. Don’t mistake my words and start calling me the anti-Christ, I’m not suggesting this is a Doctor Who classic (which it most definitely is NOT) or even an above average book (which it could have been with some tweaking) but as a throwaway holiday novel, a pleasant read that you can skip through in a few hours, it is utterly harmless and quite enjoyable. I certainly re-read it with little trouble, skipping from page to page, ogling at the innovations made to the Daleks and enjoying the shallowness of all the manic action set pieces.

I think every man and his dog is fully aware that John Peel is not the best prose writer in the universe and it shows. His sentence construction is a little off, some of his metaphors are eyebrow raising and his descriptive prose is hardly worthy of the name. But nothing of this really matters when you consider the amount of enthusiasm there is in the writing, this is clearly a man who is thrilled and excited to be writing for the Daleks and it shines from every page. It’s like watching a clearly rubbishy TV episode, say Meglos, but you still enjoy it because of the gusto of the actors. The Daleks are clearly the biggest bad-asses on the space lanes and Peel never lets us forget what kind of firepower these metal meanies have at their disposal. Spider Daleks? Missile Daleks? Underwater Daleks? Weapons platform Daleks? Perhaps his passion for the creatures goes into overdrive but during some spectacular action sequences (that would look delicious on the big screen) we get too see how far the Daleks will go to secure a victory, battering the enemy with as much suicidal firepower is needed to win. When the Doctor and Sam are escorted to Skaro through a layer of defences that seems positively paranoid I was wondering how the hell they would get out. The Daleks are BAAAAD and they’ll kick your ass, that’s all you need to know really.

Unfortunately whereas the Daleks translate fairly well into print their creator is not treated to the same attention. This was a golden opportunity to get inside the head of Davros, the novels much more suited to fleshing out TV villains than the parent series, but Peel fails to seize this chance to shows us what makes Davros tick. He was a raving, ranting monster on the telly so he’s a raving, ranting monster in the books. He thinks of nothing but power and conquest and being in charge of the Daleks. Dead boring really. For a book that enjoys some decent flashbacks to draw lots of Dalek continuity into one coherent universe (you have fun stuff with a Slyther, Mechanoids and Varga Plants!) the one glaring omission is a flashback to Davros’ life before he was Dalek-ised! We could have discovered how he became such a monster! I guess we’ll just have to enjoy Lance Parkin’s Big Finish story Davros for that, which admittedly would have contradicted this severely so maybe we were better off. Mind you War of the Daleks and Terror Firma directly contradict each other as to what happened next after Remembrance of the Daleks so maybe I shouldn’t go there, I might give myself a big canonical sized headache.

This is where I upset some people. The retcon. The planet Skaro was not destroyed in Remembrance of the Daleks but was in fact another planet called which Antalin which the Daleks set up for the slaughter after they realised the Doctor would trick Davros into destroying their home planet. This knicker-twisting plot twist has upset some people so much they formed the LAWOTD (that’s League Against War of the Daleks) and have their annual book burning session (having spent a year seeking out as many copies of the book for their spectacular bonfire!). At least they haven’t discovered mine yet…

Who cares? Who really cares about this turn of events? So Skaro isn’t dead. Good, it has been the setting of some great stories. So the Movellans weren’t the Daleks greatest foe. Good, they were hardly the most terrifying force in the universe (and it makes sense that the Daleks would create these camp humanoid androids as their enemy, given how much they despise humanity). So Davros was tricked. Wouldn’t be the first time. So Time’s Champion got something totally, utterly wrong. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! I can’t tell you how funny that is! It’s hardly the most offensive piece of revisionist continuity I have read (did you know the fifth Doctor and Peri had an entire series of adventures with an Egyptian Pharaoh between Planet of Fire and Caves of Androzani?) and it is incorporated into the book rather well. Why should the Daleks be so interested in not altering established history when it hasn’t bothered them before, I hear you cry? Because this suits their plans perfectly, the Supreme Dalek or whatever calls himself these days can exploit Davros’ huge, planet annihilating error to his advantage. It makes perfect sense in retrospect and this book is built around the twist very well (with mentions of Skaro early on). I can understand if you feel the books shouldn’t have the right muck about with the TV series’ continuity but you have to remember it was the books that kept the series alive whilst it was off air and this was the original Doctor Who of the time. Personally come War of the Daleks, the books have kept the Doctor Who flame alive long enough to take liberties like this. Just like they had every right to blow up Gallifrey.

The Doctor’s looks are becoming a bloody liability! Somebody fancies the pants off him again! Still at least he is using it to his advantage. Rather than the bouncy, jolly, Tigger-ish Doctor the EDAs have set up, War of the Daleks’ eighth Doctor adopts a broody, moody nature, lost in his thoughts about Davros, the Daleks and destroying Skaro. There wasn’t one moment in War of the Daleks where Sam got on my tits which scares me a bit, when Ms Jones is the best character in the book, be scared! Sam is written on the periphery of the story, contributing to the action with some acidic one liners (her unimpressed reaction to the Daleks is hysterical!) and her irritating pacifist nature is used effectively for a change, as she is forced to fight a force that refuses to acknowledge her feeling of war.

The rest of the characterisation is completely bland; this is not a thoughtful novel and does not contain thoughtful characters. Most of them spout embarrassing speeches on the futility of war and the temptation of power, which makes you want to punch them in the face a lot. Loren was the most memorable; I laughed my head off when he started running around with a gun screaming “I’ll kill all those bastards!” when his dad was killed. I think it was supposed to be dramatic.

The twists towards the end of the book get a little ridiculous. Davros has won. No the Dalek Prime has won. The Doctor has escaped…but there’s a Dalek factory on the Thal ship! There’s a bomb in the TARDIS! There’s a Dalek in the TARDIS! Those Daleks really do think ahead, don’t they? I was waiting for one more surprise on the last page, I don’t know, that the TARDIS was in fact a big Dalek in disguise or something…it certainly would fit in with these campy twists!

Sorry folks but I just cannot hate this book; it is so inoffensive I can’t find it in me to even moan about it hat much. Perfectly readable but far from essential, this is a decent page-turner that is too interested in the past to make much impact on the present.

Nick Mellish

‘War Of The Daleks’ will undoubtedly some under heavy criticism for many reasons, and yet I still enjoyed it a lot. I feel it should be my mission to explain exactly why this is…

OBJECTION NUMBER ONE: It is obsessed with continuity!

DEFENCE: Well, worse still is the fact that ‘War Of The Daleks’ is obsessed not just with continuity in general, but specifically Dalek continuity. Among other gems in the book, we are told how the Dalek capsule in ‘Power Of The Daleks’ came to be in the Vulcan swamp, why the Thals have had two different styles of uniform 9they wear one over the other), and why different Daleks have had different colour casing- something that even takes the Peter Cushing-style Daleks into account.

Now, I am not so biased towards the novel to be blinkered from such obsessions. Yes, there is an awful lot of Dalek continuity about and, yes, there are times when it seems to be swamping the plot. However, when you take into account that the plot is actually revolving around such continuity points then the problem, as it were, does not appear to be as bad as it at first appeared.

At least John Peel never tries to hide the fact that this is a novel obsessed; surely it would be far worse if he tried to disguise his obsession with continuity, no? If nothing else, this book is honest.

OBJECTION NUMBER TWO: It contradicts the very continuity it is obsessed with!

DEFENCE: Well… sort of, yes. There are parts that seem to be a bit far fetched, and by this I am specifically targeting the news of Skaro surviving its apparent destruction. As indulgence goes, this pretty much takes the Indulgent Biscuit purchased with Indulgent money from the Indulgent Biscuit Store on Indulgent Lane where Indulgent People walk their Indulgent Dogs and… well, you get the point I’m sure. It struck me not only as a bit unnecessary to include it, but also a tad disappointing. The destruction of Skaro was a shocking and iconic moment in Dalek lore as it were and it seems a shame to rob it of such a defining part. Having said this, its survival fits in very nicely with the direction that the novel takes, and so it is not as annoying as perhaps it could have been. Another nice thing is the apparent death of Davros. Whether or not I really believe he is dead is neither here nor there- Peel certainly leaves a little room for his return- but it is done nicely: his death is very understated, and not the blaze of glory which you would expect, so the restraint shown on Peel’s behalf and both unexpected and in its own bizarre way kind of moving. Here we have an evil genius, responsible for the deaths of many… and his death is as small and short as it can be. He doesn’t get the exit he would have desired, but the one he deserves.

OBJECTION NUMBER THREE: The characterisation is terrible!

DEFENCE: Peel seems to have taken a life out of Terry Nation’s book: every character is who they are and no more; every so often we have a glimpse of something different, which is quickly dealt with, normally with an extermination of said character- very Nationesque. Perhaps it should have annoyed me, but it did not. Peel’s prose is reminiscent of the TARGET novelisations and so I wasn’t expecting miracles. Put it this way- my expectations were met.

The Doctor and Sam suffer the most at the hand of Peel, but no more so than with other writers thus far in the EDA range. The Doctor is still trying to find a unique personality, but instead finds himself coming across as a re-hash of all things Davison and Pertwee. As for Sam… well, to be honest I thought she was more bearable than in other novels. I think this kind of proves my point about her, to my mind at any rate: the authors who recognise her as the bland, petulant and opinionated person she is fare far better than those who try to make her a bit more interesting. That’s not to say that I’m against character development, just that she appears to be somewhat stuck in a generic rut and is pleased to wallow in it.

I think I have pretty much covered the various complaints. ‘War Of The Daleks’, as I said, will be hated by people, and not without due reason. The novel has nice little touches too: the fact that it is split into four Episodes and that each Episode has a short story before it; the fact that Peel is trying to sort out gaps in Who-history to save other people doing so; the fact that by emulating everything Terry Nation was and did, Peel has created a damn good pastiche on Nation’s works.

I must say that I did like ‘War Of The Daleks’, much in the same way that I liked ‘The Eight Doctors’. Both are shameless and leaving themselves open for constant violent criticism but at least they are open and honest about their statuses.

If you do, however, hate with a passion, look on the bright side: at least it has a great cover.

Chad Knueppe

The Daleks are back!

For the past eight years, the Daleks are featured as more than peripheral characters. Certainly they played key roles in Virgin's novels like Cornell's Love And War and Orman's Return Of The Living Dad, but the Daleks have not been directly confronting the Doctor since Aaronovitch's Remembrance Of The Daleks.

In Remembrance Of The Daleks, the Seventh Doctor returned to Totters Yard to retrieve the Hand Of Omega. Two Dalek factions were at war over the device. The Doctor eventually tricked the Emperor Dalek, revealed to be Davros, and thus destroyed not only the Dalek fleets but also Skaro itself.

Now it's nearly a decade later and John Peel gives us War Of The Daleks. A garbage ship has found an artifact that contains the living Davros. The Doctor and Sam happen along and find themselves amid a deal gone wrong when Thals show up and confiscate Davros. The Thals demand that Davros mechanize them and change them genetically and mechanically into beings more apt to confronting Daleks.

The novel begins with a group of Thals defensively trying to survive an attack of hundreds of Daleks. The scene is characteristic of nineties military science fiction reminiscent of Space: Above And Beyond or Starship Troopers.

These Daleks are revamped and ready for the nineties. Without the physical budget restrictions of television, John Peel cuts loose in his description of the Dalek army. We see our traditional Daleks, as well as flying turbo Daleks, Striders (Daleks with long legs that move like the creatures in Henson's Dark Crystal) and Spider Daleks (small compy Daleks with many legs covering large patches of rough terrain in seconds!).

This is a harsh and foreboding novel with Daleks that denounce Davros in trial and condemn him to death. It is the presumption of the Daleks that Davros is insane and has caused many of their failures through his involvement. They don't believe that he created them but that they were destined to evolve. The Daleks of this novel are well defined creatures who exist independently from their creator. This is a brilliant departure for a series that has stuck Davros into the plot of every major Dalek story since his introduction.

Nevertheless, this is the best Davros story since Genesis Of The Daleks. We actually enter into his madness. Davros is a tragic character who caused the death of millions and never honestly knew he was doing wrong. It was his sincere effort to do the best for his race. He mirrors the deranged murderer Adolf Hitler who attempted to conquer the world in his obsessions with racism, eugenics and his idea of a superior race of beings.

Davros is not made likeable here. He is as deranged and evil as ever. But the reader is allowed glimpse of his insanity and is able to understand his plight if not agree with it. Davros is made to pay the price for his actions when his own Daleks stand up to him. They have done so before, on different occasions, but John Peel thoroughly makes us feel the conflict in this rich novel. These are not your typical "exterminate, blah, blah" Daleks. These are warriors. Bad ass killers with an agenda.

The Thals themselves are quite violent and abrasive, killing people without any remorse. Sam has to confront the moral dilemma of Thals who simply want Davros dead when he in incapable of defending himself. It's the whole scenario about wanting to kill Hitler and it plays well.

Sam is truly becoming a three dimensional character finally with her assertive attitude and her amazing crush on the Doctor. Her jealousy watching the Doctor and Chayn is sincere and reminds the reader of the youthful feelings of not wanting to share a person we hold special with anyone else.

The Doctor himself is well defined. He has become aggressive when he needs to. He is no longer the Seventh Doctor who manipulates characters and circumstance to his own ends. This Doctor stands firm and confronts directly. The scene in which he stands against Delani takes much from the stern first and sixth Doctors and much of the dialogue seems to sound like them. He will not approve of the Thals wanting to become like Daleks physically because he knows doing so will sacrifice their humanity and make them more like the real thing than they can imagine.

The new BBC novels have taken shape now. They each seem to have their own personality and story to tell. But whilst some embody the Virgin qualities and others resemble traditional sci fi, John Peel's War Of The Daleks is the best example of "Doctor Who". It feels like the show and it carefully explains in vivid description all the Dalek back stories to easily bring brand new readers into the fold. This is a great book and for traditional fans this is the one you all need most.

Marcus Salisbury

War of the Daleks has a fantastic cover. Startling yet understated, and combining the familiar images of sinister Dalek casing and negative "extermination" effect. Because of the yawning abyss of nostalgia induced in my inner child by this cover, I snatched up the book without the merest consideration for what I might be letting myself in for. It's not too late for a refund, however, so I'm taking it back to the shop on Monday.

John Peel is the writer who rounded off the legendary Target Who novelisations with two outstanding adaptations of classic Troughton Dalek epics. Didn't he attempt to do justice to the rambling brilliance of the Daleks' Masterplan over two volumes? He even made The Chase seem like it had been drafted in advance. Once upon a time, John Peel occupied the position in Who-writing now occupied by Lawrence Miles...the author one book alone couldn't handle. Sadly, as the late, great Quintus Horatius Flaccus put it; the mighty mountain laboured, and gave birth to a ridiculous mouse. The cloister bell has been tolling for Peel since the laboured Virgin PDA "Evolution," and it's finally happened. He's written a bad book.

I think that John Peel once watched "Resurrection of the Daleks" and saw That It Was Good. The only problem is that it WASN'T good...not on repeated viewings, anyway. That story looked good at first, but was in fact hurried, cliched, contrived, and wholly dependent on continuity and the prior knowledge of viewers. In any case, the first half of "War of the Daleks" is a direct descendant of "Resurrection". We have a seedy Earth spaceship, Davros in an escape pod, and the Doctor caught unknowingly in a Dalek gambit in which Davros is the ultimate target. Instead of Colonel Archer's bomb squad, we have a group of Thal Dalek fodder. Instead of the gratuitous Dalek mind-probe flashbacks, we have a series of interpolated incidents from the various Dalek wars. Mercifully, Absalom Daak is nowhere to be found. We even have (gasp) yet another Dalek Civil War, in which Davros leads his Dalek faction against that controlled by the Dalek Prime, a character from the 'sixties TV Comic Dalek! adventures who has been assimilated into Peel's version of Dalekology.

In a way, "War of the Daleks" is what you'd expect from yet another Dalek adventure. Faceless Thals, a garrulous Dalek Prime (wouldn't THAT have worked well on telly?), the usual ranting cipher masquerading as Davros, gratuitous hugs and kisses for the continuity Nazis...it's all been done before. What really lets this book down is a Doctor who seems to desperately require a young-old face, frilled shirt and velvet smoking jacket. The Eighth Doctor's huge potential for depth and originality of character (since addressed with a vengeance in the 8DA range) is nowhere to be seen here. Instead, we get retread Jon Pertwee, with Sam as a retread Sarah Jane Smith (a point seized upon by, of course, Lawrence Miles in Interference). The bumming-around-in-the-smelly-spaceship-waiting-for-the-Daleks scenes are strongly reminiscent of "Frontier in Space," and the book's closing images of carnage on Skaro are a clear reference to the "final end" of "Evil of the Daleks". The warlike Thals i! n daft costumes are straight out of "Planet of the Daleks," and there are wholesale references to "Remembrance's destruction of "Skaro". Doctor Who may be at its best when its roots are showing, but wholesale grafting of other stories onto an alleged new one do not a pleasant reading experience make.

To cap it all off, continuity is used in a way that frankly insults readers' intelligence. We are asked to swallow a series of continuity revisions that reach stellar heights of ludicrousness. We are told that "Destiny" was set on the planet Antalin, refurbished to resemble Skaro. Antalin was rendered desolate to confuse Davros, who had been excavated from Skaro after years (millennia?) buried in the rubble of the "Genesis" Kaled bunker. Davros was placed on Antalin after having been reported as destroying Skaro in the future with the Hand of Omega. Once awakened on Antalin, Davros was put to work combating a confected Movellan "menace," but proved difficult to control and was captured by Earth and imprisoned. Whereupon he was recaptured by the Daleks, escaped again (to Necros), was recaptured, escaped again, and THEN set off to find the Hand of Omega, which he then used to destroy...Antalin. And all to consolidate the Dalek Prime's position in the Dalek hierarchy, when the ex! pedient solution would have been to quietly dispose of Davros's "remains" after they had been first excavated on Skaro. Or at any time in the preceding few millennia.

Calculate the chronological anomalies encoded in the above continuity wank to the nearest decimal place. Or simply hurl the book across the room, as I did.

The Daleks are past their use-by date. I remember watching Destiny of the Daleks (by no means their best outing, but one that looks positively stellar next to "War") as a child. For me, the last truly classic Dalek moment was the Part One cliffhanger in "Destiny," where several Daleks smash through a black glass screen and shriek at Romana. I was, as the cliche dictates, watching from behind my grandparents' sofa that Saturday evening. Everything since has been a sad contrivance, a lazy outing down nostalgia lane in which the potential for cutting-edge storytelling and edge-of-the seat suspense has been wasted. Getting nostalgic about watching them as a kid is bad enough, but recycling this nostalgia into uncritical, unoriginal fanwank fiction is a waste of everybody's time.

The Daleks were once truly alien aliens, but they ran out of steam a long time ago. The things are going on for 40 years old, and they're past it in their current state. They could be updated to incorporate explicitly their true potential as dark products of genetic manipulation, cyborg interfacing and xenophobic obsessiveness. Or they could be quietly put aside. Simply having "a Dalek story" won't do any more...either use them at their full, potentially nightmarish potential, or consign them to the motorised dustbin of TV history. The Daleks at their best embody many modern nightmares. At their frequent worst, they are used as patsies for contrived storytelling and sawdust plots. Surely it's time to move on.

The Daleks in their current paradigm have passed their use-by date, and the saddest thing about "War of the Daleks" is the comprehensive way in which it inadvertently highlights this.

Gary Rothkopf

Well, after the terrible "The Eight Doctors" and the excellent " Genocide", we now get a book that falls somewhere in the middle. The first novel to have featured the Doctor's oldest enemies in years, " War of the Daleks" by John Peel. This book may be great for you EXTREME traditionalist Whovians out there, but for others, this is just passable fare.A quick read chock full of Daleks, Davros, Thals, and all that good continuity stuff we love so much.

Here's the story: The garbage-scow spaceship, the Quetzal, has just arrived in an area recently in a battle involving Daleks and Thals. In the wreckage, the ship finds a mysterious white lifepod.About the same time, The Doctor and Sam arrive in the TARDIS, just before a Thal ship, led by the violent Denali, arrives, wishing to gain the lifepod.Predictably, inside the lifepod is none other than Davros. The Thals wish to have him make genetic and technological adaptations to themselves in order to fight the Daleks better. Instead, however, Davros ends up having a homing beacon to bring him back to Skaro, where the Dalek Prime is waiting. Trials, tons of continuity, and civil war will soon ensue, with the Doctor, Sam, the Thals, and the remaining crew of the Quetzal caught in the middle....

Now, when I first read this, the only other Who book I had read was" Longest Day"(As a certain "Simpsons" Comic Book Guy says, "Worst Story Ever!"), so this book was considered by me to be excellent. Now, after reading a good deal of other Who books, this one has fallen to mediocre. I happen to like Daleks quite a bit, and I do consider myself a Who traditionalist, although I do like seeing new ideas, too(Novels such as The Scarlet Empress ,The City of the Dead,and The Burning spring to mind). So, the Daleks, as well as the various new Daleks (Strider, Spider, Marine) helped make this an enjoyable book. The Doctor was also rather well written, in my opinion, as is Davros. We get to see into his insanity, and see his warped views of life, and this helps him immensly, making him as enjoyable as in his debut in "Genesis". In addition, he gets to leave on a high note as he is actually, truly killed, for Davros is atomized in the end after he loses the civil war.(Oops-spoiler for those who haven't read it!) These are the good points of the novel.This was the writing of John Peel I was used to, the great writing of his Target novelizations.

The rest of the novel is either blase or happens to be crap. The whole truth behind the creators of the Movellans is really stupid, as are the tons of continuity references, many of which are mixed up.Plus, the interludes are rather unnecessary. They are there as somewhat amusing page-fillers, trying to flesh out the novel.The interludes tend to be better than the characters in this novel, as they tend to be quite forgettable.Plus, there seems to be as many, if not more, senseless, violent deaths than in the worst Dalek story,"Resurrection of the Daleks". That, and we have to revisit the "Final End" of" Evil of the Daleks", although this time, there's no child-like Daleks playing with trains, or the complete destruction of the Daleks(No toy Daleks running around killing each other this time Sorry!). Instead, we get the typical shouting from the Dalek Prime of "nothing will stand before us! Nothing!". Peel could have come up with a better ending than that! I'm just glad that

Davros didn't escape this time ( we can only hope!) All that can really be done with him has been done.

Oh, I forgot to gripe about how much I hate Sam again. Possibly because Mr. Peel has made her a bit more of a three-dimensional character, and much better than her first, brief outing by Mr.Dicks. At least that much can be said.

Well, this book wasn't a great novel like "Genocide", but it was a far better, and far more enjoyable romp than "The Eight Doctors". I'll give this book a 5.5-6/10. An enjoyable read that could've done better, but Mr. Peel's Dalek story has it's high points. Better than "The Eight Doctors" any day.

Next up, "Kursaal"!( I can't find "Alien Bodies" anywhere!)

Finn Clark

Oh my God. I've read some rubbish in my time, but this is in a league of its own. At least with something like The Eight Doctors or Divided Loyalties I could enjoy the badness. Not here. War of the Daleks is boring, witless, pointless, self-contradictory, one-dimensional and simply painful. Nothing about it rewards the reader. It doesn't have life or energy. The characterisation doesn't have enough depth to be merely bad; instead it's an affront to one's book-reading sensibilities. This isn't "so bad it's good", but "so bad that your eyes will bleed and you'll lose twenty IQ points".

You know, John Peel's reputation wasn't bad until War of the Daleks came out. He probably wasn't anyone's favourite author, but he'd been chosen to launch the NAs with Timewyrm: Genesys and his MA Evolution wasn't terrible. But this...

Let's start with the cardboard things that masquerade as characters. They all have exactly one dimension, allowing them one character trait each which they display over and over again until you desperately want the Daleks to kill them. The Thals are bad enough, but at least they get to commit some violence. That's nearly worth reading about. But the civilians on the Quetzel... dearie me, what a bunch of losers. Balatan is bad enough, but I cheered aloud when Loran bought the big one. Oh, and Harmon must have had his brain surgically removed.

Then there's the sexual relationships. John Peel has often come across as an arrested fourteen-year-old, and that's here too. Sam fancies the Doctor, but so does Chayn and Sam's jealous. Eurrrgh. Some of this writing is practically slimy. I need a wash. (Need I add that Sam Jones was hardly ever more irritating than she is here?)

The book's first half was so boring that I was desperate for the Daleks to show up and add a bit of interest... but when they do, the book gets worse! If I hadn't read it for myself, I wouldn't have believed it possible. You won't sleep through the Retcon (more on that in a moment), but you will through the pages and pages of mind-numbing Dalek battle between Davros and the Dalek Prime. Gee, will irredemable evil #1 defeat irredemable evil #2 or will it be the other way round? I DON'T CARE WHO WINS! This could be regarded as a flaw. In fairness I was surprised to see that John Peel kills off Davros, though if you think he'll stay dead I have a bridge to sell you. This detail hadn't surfaced in any comments, reviews, newgroup posts or indeed my own previous one-and-a-half readings of this book. Clearly every reader's brain had shut down long before p269 and thus such minor points hadn't registered.

There's some interesting background with the Thals. I liked Delani's plan and would have liked to see it followed through, no matter that we've seen it already in Killing Ground. I also liked the notion that the Doctor was responsible for the Thals becoming inhuman killers, though a millisecond's reflection shows this to be complete bunk. He might as well blame himself for children being napalmed in Vietnam because he gave fire to the Tribe of Gum.

The plot gives the Doctor little to do. He lands on a spaceship, gets captured and taken to Skaro, gets told about the Retcon by a suspiciously chatty Dalek Prime and then escapes. The end. Huh? Even the Daleks themselves don't show up until halfway through, so John Peel inserts some action-packed Daleky interludes to keep them in our mind's eye. These provide the book's best sequences and are sometimes even quite good too. I liked the first twenty pages and was entertained by unintentional amusements like the homoerotic SSS agent on p90 or the way John Peel accidentally uses the same name for his fake Skaro and also an uninhabited waterworld in human space.

I think it's time to discuss the Retcon.

It is ingenious. However the entire world hates it, including you, me and Peel's fellow authors who must have canonised half a dozen alternative explanations of what happened by now. It's hard to believe at times (why not just kill Davros when you dig him up? why explain it all to the Doctor?) and there's that second Antalin to confuse things further. The dates are confusing too. Davros has only been floating in space for thirty years since Remembrance, yet the Antalin interlude is set after Daleks' Master Plan and in their next book (Alien Bodies) Sam says that they've just visited the 40th century. Overall it's unholy wank and the most unwelcome addition to the Doctor Who mythos ever, unless you decide that the only way to make sense of it all is to assume that the Dalek Prime is lying. If you want to look it up for yourself, see p172 for Antalin's history and p186+ for the full Retcon.

This book is a disaster. On the plus side it's high-concept Who that thinks big and gives us a larger-scale story than Legacy of the Daleks. It also works hard to make the Daleks impressive again after all those years of playing second fiddle to Davros and in that it partly succeeds. If you've never read this book before, it might seem exciting. However if you're rereading it, it'll make you want to stick forks in your eyes. Almost completely worthless.