BBC Books, out 11 April
Can the Daleks really be the benefactors they seem to be?
Set prior to Asylum of the Daleks during a time when the Eleventh Doctor was travelling without the benefit of the Ponds, this is a very assured novel debut from Briggs, who, for the benefit of those who only know him from his vocal appearances in the new series, is an accomplished script writer for Big Finish. Among his best work has been the Dalek Empire series, and although there aren’t specific links with those, this has the slightly bittersweet tang of those tales.
There are links, though, to Big Finish’s series of encounters between the Time Lord and the Daleks, particularly the involvement of a particular Dalek, who has been a pain in the side of a number of different incarnations. If you don’t recognise the title when you meet it in the book, it doesn’t matter – everything you need is explained (and frankly, a lot of it is self-explanatory!) It means that we know from the start that the Doctor is being manipulated.
Briggs pairs the Doctor up with three orphans for whom he ends up taking responsibility, something which this most child-friendly of Doctors is suited to doing. There’s far more time spent inside the Doctor’s head than in the average Who novel – long, long gone are the days when it was virtually forbidden for writers to dare to set out the Time Lord’s thought processes – and there are some moments of painful self-knowledge on his part.
The story pays homage to such predecessors as Power and Victory of the Daleks, with the metal mutants apparently being a force for good, and there’s a terrific scene where the Doctor tries to persuade the local population of the truth to no avail. It’s also a very timey-wimey tale: the Doctor has to be careful about crossing his own timeline, and some of the predictable questions about what he can and can’t do to help the children are asked by the grieving youngsters.
With an ending that gives a whole new twist to the Doctor’s rant at Davros about “unlimited rice pudding” (well, that’s what it reminded me of anyway!) this is a strong addition to the rebooted range.
Verdict: Unsurprisingly, Briggs delivers a Dalek story that satisfies on many levels. 8/10