Legacy of the Daleks.

Books  John Peel's Legacy of the Daleks is something of a guilty pleasure. Like listening to Heat Radio, you know that it' s inherently crap, that you really shouldn't but something good happens and you put your fears aside and you know you can survive (that's right -- I am listening to Heat as I write this and Mariah Carey has just been on -- there's a hero if you look inside your heart you know). Just to be spoilery, and friends it's going to be one of those reviews, there's really no need for the appearance of Susan on a post Dalek Invasion of Earth Earth or a rationalisation for how the Delgado Master went all mushy in time for The Deadly Assassin. But having sat through the final few episodes of the fourth season of 24 recently I've suddenly a real taste for gratuitous last minute cameos by popular characters. Now that I've established that this is going to shockingly a sort of alright review (I know -- I can't believe it either) perhaps I should begin with what doesn't work.

Sam's missing. We understand. But is there a reason why she don't get so much as a cameo in this book? If this had been a television story and the actress had gone off to have a baby/drug treatment/holiday in Cromer it would have made perfect sense. Even when Gillian Anderson's pregancy became an issue in The X-Files and Agent Scully was abducted, the writers kept cutting back to her to increase the tension. I think that knowing that the character wasn't too popular amongst fans the series editor and Peel decided to show us what it would be like not have her around. A sort of experiment in absense making the heart grow stronger. But I really like Sam. There are mysteries surrounding her which I'm excited for them to reveal and for her not so much as looking soulfully out of an airlock is a real shame.

The Doctor. Something I'm slowly realising about Eighth is that in these early days with only the tv movie and McGann's previous roles to work from the portrayal inevitably changes from book to book. Much of the time you can imagine a person being at the centre of the story and then something like this novel pops in and spoils things for two hundred and fifty odd pages. He sounds about right here in his vernacular but his behaviour is just eccentric. The TARDIS lands on Earth for the umpteenth time because y'know Sam might be there (although surely the last place he saw her might have been the best idea but as I said, Sam's missing; we understand. Maybe next book he'll get a clue). He opens the TARDIS doors and walks face to face into an armoured knight. The usual behaviour would be to step cautiously. Instead he invites her in for dinner and gives her a bed for the night before walking into London with her and blabbing on like a demented Tom Baker about being a timelord ... blah blah blah ... I've fought the Ice Warriors y'know. It's perfectly natural that the knight might think he has another agenda.

The thing that I really loved about the book though is that it felt so old fashioned. Unlike War of the Daleks, which read like someone trying to drunkenly rewrite a Nick Briggs audio play, this is Target novelisation of the Troughton era territory, with a big denoument in which the Daleks buy-it in a big explosion. The plotting is refreshingly straightforward. The reader is aware of where the players in the story are at all times and can almost see the ragged intercutting between the studio scenes and those shot on 16mm in Lime Grove or Ealing or whereever. The sense of place is extremely good, extrapolating the world of the television story forward in a realistic way -- the prejudice against women who can't conceive in a world were repopulating the species is of paramount importance for example. I've always loved that the series both whilst it was in production and since has seen the Dalek invasion as a historical event with lasting consequences, not something easily forgotten. It gives the show a legacy.

It's also nice that for once the characterisation is so clearly defined. Once of the issues with previous books is the over proliferation of people with unpronouncable names and bland personalities. Here, the reader is absolutely clear who everyone is and what they need/require/want from their fictional lives. The proxy companion for this adventure is the aformentioned knight, Donna, a victim of prejudice who defends her country. As I've hinted, her and The Doctor have a good rapport even if he's a bit forgiving of her methods now and then. Barlow, or the man who would be Tarrant, is a neat surprise -- the expression of how someone who might seem dark is actually doing things for what they think and could be perfectly good reasons. Haldoran, the villian is a bit panto, but in a good way. He's a very charismatic bastard -- the kind of man you always saw the girl you really fancied going for at univeristy. Although oddly, I think him and Professor Zaroff from The Underwater Menace would get on like a house on fire and no doubt think of another way to destroy Atlantis. The extrapolation of the older David is about right -- he's not too brave, a bit desperate -- he just wants to see his wife again.

Speaking of which. Susan Foreman. I've seen reviews of the book hither and thither which take real issue with the portrayal of The Doctor's first companion but I'm pretty happy. As is suggested in a nice moment when The Doctor compares her exile on Earth with his own, she's bound to change and grow and simple become a different person. Even timelords mature, presumably when they're not with their own kind. Nice rationalisation of why she seems older in The Five Doctors too. Dropping the Delgado Master into the mix is refreshing if a bit of a continuity puzzler. He's just right too -- just the right side of pompous. The method of hiding his identity is perfect. Especially if you consider a certain mid-Eighties film with William Shatner. Nice one Bill. My only issue is that The Doctor doesn't spend nearly enough time with either of them, Susan in particular. It's only been thirty years for her, but over five hundred odd for him -- presumably they'd have bags to talk about. But then we might not have had the gloriously Return of the Jedi moment at the end when ... well you'll have to read it. Suffice to say Peel's sewing up continuity again -- but in a good logical way.*

So yes, a pleasant surprise. Dreamstone Memorial next which has a very intriguing cover. I really hope The Doctor and Sam at least bump into each other. Because the timelord could really do with a reminder of why she's so important to him.

*Could someone who's also read the book remind me exactly what happens when he sees Fourth in The Deadly Assassin? Does it make sense?

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