“You know what the Daleks are?” the Doctor asked.
“Yes,” said Sabel. “They help people!”
“Help people?” The Doctor was appalled. “What do you mean by that?”
You have to envy Nicholas Briggs
. Aside from living every young (and old) fan’s dream as a voice artist on the modern Doctor Who
TV series – as the embodiment of the Daleks – he has also established himself as a prolific storyteller. Since the inception of Big Finish’s Doctor Who
audio range, he has contributed countless serials for the medium, including numerous confrontations with Skaro’s infamous pepperpots (whom he has also voiced), as well as four seasons of the excellent spin-off Dalek Empire.
Given that he has spent over a decade virtually living and breathing Daleks, it’s a wonder Briggs did not exhaust every ounce of his creativity on the creatures long ago. His enthusiasm for the monsters has never waned and he has still been able to develop fresh angles for the Daleks in his stories, emphasising them as astute, rational and devious villains. The Dalek Generation
, Briggs’ first official work of Doctor Who
prose for BBC Books
, also offers an unconventional take on the metal meanies. However, whereas Briggs’ Dalek tales are regularly epic, ambitious, action-packed and cleverly structured, The Dalek Generation
is a mishmash of competitive elements and styles. The story is part urban noir, part urban thriller, part ancient mystery and part children’s drama. It is also more intimate and introspective, emphasising characterisation over action. Unfortunately, the presence of so many competing elements means it is hard to envisage exactly what kind of story Briggs is trying to tell as you listen to it.
The premise of The Dalek Generation
is more implied than spelled out. The prosperous and harmonious Sunlight colony worlds are convinced the Daleks are saviours and philanthropists, not conquerors and devastators. The excellent prologue hints at a Dalek snake in an all too perfect Eden where people are happy and wealthy and (in typical fascist style) the bullet trains run on time! Like the classic Who serial The Happiness Patrol
, doubters and dissidents are sought out and reconditioned – or “rehabilitated” - and the general populace are distracted by the joys of consumerism and reality television, oblivious to the true nature of their overlords. But as fascinating as this premise is - it certainly shows us another facet of the Daleks’ ingenuity and cunning - it is not as well developed as it ought to be and it is covered much too late in the story. Indeed, you are led to believe from the prologue that the book will focus strongly on the Doctor (as he so often does) arriving to “turn this mad upside down world up the right way again”. The book defies that expectation. Briggs at least convincingly portrays the Doctor’s failure to show the Sunlight colonists the deceit of their Dalek saviours. However, the underbelly of this so-called perfect world could have been so much more chilling, horrific and graphic. Past Dalek tales like Revelation of the Daleks and Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways
have taken no prisoners when unveiling the horrors (both graphic and implied) that the Daleks hide behind a façade of civility.
The major strengths of this novel are actually in the characterisations of the story’s core juvenile characters which I suspect Briggs has based closely on his own young children. Like many fans, if you despised the presence of Clara’s “brat pack” Artie and Angie in the recent episode Nightmare in Silver
, then brace yourself. In The Dalek Generation
the Doctor, in the absence of a regular companion, befriends three orphans he rescues in the opening chapters. While the three children – Sabel, Jenibeth and Ollus Blakely – could have been extremely irritating, they are, through strong writing, sympathetic and endearing. Their innocence and straightforward attitudes, completely devoid of the pretentiousness of adults, also ably complement the madcap Eleventh Doctor, a man who is extremely hyperactive and who is (despite his great age) child-like and childish in equal measure!
Other themes in this story also resonate with the reader but again seem disjointed in the overall narrative. Not so long after the tragic conclusion of The Angels Take Manhattan
, the ugliness of time travel rears its head again. We are reminded why, for all the good he does, the Doctor’s propensity for meddling, coupled with the Daleks’ machinations, can have an unintentionally tragic impact on the course of people’s lives. Briggs definitely knows how to tug at the heartstrings and convey the Time Lord’s anguish when the Doctor must explain to the Blakely orphans why he cannot go back in time and rescue their parents:
The Doctor could still hear Sabel’s crying and when a big sister cries, he thought, so would her little brother and sister. He was right. He could hear Ollus and Jenibeth start to sob. Here he was, thought the Doctor, the man who could bring empires to their knees, stand up to and defeat the most terrible creatures the universe had to offer, and when it came to children crying, his arsenal of rhetoric, ingenuity and witty ripostes was utterly bare. For a moment, all he wanted to do was run away. How could he tell the children he couldn’t go back and save their parents?
Indeed, the Blakely children’s full life story is very affecting and the book’s conclusion is bittersweet. The conclusion, however, would be more powerful if it is not so rushed. Briggs ties together all the distinct elements that make up the book so that you finally understand the scale and depth of the Daleks’ nefarious (and rather over-complex) plan. However, I feel the book’s deus ex machina – the so-called Cradle of Life – is both an unnecessary and clichéd SF staple. It fits in with Briggs’ penchant for giving the Daleks extremely overcomplicated, long term schemes of conquest but clashes with the more personal, intimate story that he has also been striving to write.
Briggs ably performs this audio reading of his own work. Naturally he brings out the voice modulator for the Daleks but he also performs the other voices for his characters, from the naive, bolshie Blakely children to the Peter Miles
-like delivery of a colonial judge on the Sunlight world Carthedia (an unashamed nod to Miles’ classic performance as Nyder in Genesis of the Daleks
). Briggs also reasonably apes Matt Smith
’s performance as the Doctor. Smith’s Doctor has been described by many fans as the “shouty” Doctor and Briggs definitely conveys this trait in his portrayal of the Time Lord. You can literally visualise the exclamation marks whenever Briggs delivers some of the Doctor’s more excitable lines and his rants are a contrast to the Daleks’ calmer, rational, calculating and emotionless tones. This is particularly noticeable given the pepperpots are uncharacteristically on their best behaviour and at their most reasonable!The Dalek Generation
is an oddity from Nicholas Briggs. Its premise is interesting but underdeveloped and has also been recently bettered by Malorie Blackman
’s Doctor Who e-short The Ripple Effect
which offers its own superior vision of a benevolent Dalek society. The story is also teeming with too many other complex, interconnected ideas and themes for the reader to absorb in one sitting. Nevertheless, Briggs’ attempt to write a more personalised, intimate tale between the Doctor and the Blakely children is the highlight of the book and does show that the author is, despite his inner Dalek, capable of subtlety and empathy.