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The Only Good Dalek

The Only Good Dalek
Justin Richards and Mike Collins
$20.99 (Bookstore)
Random House

Review by Andrew J. Adams

BBC Books’ first “Doctor Who” Graphic Novel

The first aspect one notices about this book is the format.  It’s hard-covered, 128 pages, the width of a regular comic book but an inch shorter in height. Shockingly, the price is $21.  Even on Amazon, its $15.75.  With that price, I doubt many casual readers would be willing to pick it up.  So I suppose I should review this as a “Dr. Who” book, and not isolated on its own merits.  I guess it’s acceptable (but not great) on both levels.

The story is set on Station 7, a satellite where the Earth military sends all equipment captured in the war against the Daleks.  The idea is to analyze the technology, but most proves beyond human understanding.  The Doctor (in his current 11th incarnation) and Any Pond arrive on the space station and, in the course of their explorations, discover a host of things that should make a long-time “Who” fan smile with recognition.  They come across things not seen since the1st Doctor’s era: a Magnadon from the 1st Dalek story, Robomen and the Slyther from the 2nd Dalek story, a Mechanoid from the 3rd, and Varga plant monsters and Space Security Agents from the 4th.  They even encounter Ogrons from the 3rd Dr.’s Dalek stories.  At the heart of it all is a scientist trying to develop a Dalek free of hate and aggression: the only good Dalek.  (This concept was examined in both 2nd Dr. Dalek stories, by the way.)  Of course, it all ends in tears.

I admire the art very much.  It reminds me of the style in the more “realistic” newspaper comic strips.  The story was very reminiscent of the earliest Dalek stories (and the NuWho Dalek stories), without being loaded with awkward continuity reference like the dreadful American IDW “Dr. Who” comic.  Here the Daleks are an all-powerful wave of death, like a swarm or army ants devouring all in their path.  You can’t out-think them, you can’t out-fight them, and you can only out-run them for so long.  I honestly find them dreary.  In fact, I hated the book, as I do most Dalek stories.  Far too much death and carnage, though mercifully the worse gore was off-panel.  However, being absolutely objective, I have to admit that, as Dalek stories go, it hit all the buttons. The author may have had a check list of Dalek clichés, but I only sensed that in retrospect.  The story is very fast paced, and you don’t have time to reflect while reading it.

Despite my not liking the book, I’d still recommend it for a reader who is a Dalek fan.  On that level, I’d give it at least three, maybe four, out of five stars.  If you are a “Dr. Who” fan, it depends which era you fancy.  If you like 60’s Dr. Who or the 00’s revival series, this book is for you.  If you grew up with 70’s Who, or if (like most Americans) Tom “the one with the scarf” Baker is the only Dr. you know, you’ll be disappointed by the lack of humor and excess of violence.

That’s the end of my review, but I would like to go on for a bit about Dr. Who and the Daleks.  If you care, please continue reading.  If not, go away now or your eyes will soon cross with boredom.

I think the Daleks have been much over used since the series returned.  At the “Dr. Who” site I’ve seen posts about how “you can’t have one without the other.”  But I insist not only do the Daleks need a rest, but also that “Dr. Who” very often does very well without them.  If you look over the history of the show, the Daleks were only prominent during the 1st, 10th, and 11th Doctors’ tenures.

Specifically, in classic “Who” the Daleks were only plentiful in first four seasons.  They appeared in 7 episodes in the 1st season, 12 eps of the 2nd, and 13 eps of the 3rd.  They also were in 13 eps of the 4th season (both 2nd Dr. stories) and that was it.  A Dalek serial was repeated at the end of season 5, and then the first wave of Dalekmania was over.

They didn’t reappeared until season 9 (a 4-ep story) but then featured in each season for a four-year run (6 eps in season 10, 4 eps in season 11, and 6 eps in season 12).  Then Daleks were not again seen until season 17 (4-eps story),followed by a cameo in “The Five Doctors” and a story in season 21 (4 eps). Their final appearances were a story in season 22 and then in 25 (both 4 episodes), and that’s all until the revival series.  (All of the above does not factor in cameos or flashbacks, I should clarify.)

By the way, the quantity of Cybermen appearances is even less impressive, having predominantly appeared with the 2nd Dr. and 5th Dr. (and one-offs with the 1st, 4th, 6th, and 7th).  And the Master was predominantly with the 3rd and 5th Dr. (and one with the 7th, two with 6th, and one with 4th, plus the three-serial arc in which the 4th regenerated into the 5th).

Anyway, why do fans keep asking the producers to bring back (fill in the blank) old monster/villain?  Looking over the history – old “Who” never really did that.  Bringing back characters, from former companions to former adversaries, is much more a “New Who” element.  As a fan in the U.S., I grew up watching the 4th Doctor stories.  During his sever-year reign, how many villains were seen more then once?  Only three (Daleks, Sontarans, and the Master), and even they only for a second story.  (Well, three stories for the Master, but the last two were part of a story arc, so one could argue it was only two storylines.)  So keep the show fresh ands stay with original characters.

Buy this book from Amazon or your local comic shop or bookstore.

February 24, 2011
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