Friday, 12 September 2014

I am Joe's Eye-stalk

We're going beyond the beyond of beyond,
 and getting under the enemy's skin...

Doctor Who is back after it's longest break since Paul McGann left San Francisco in 1996, and so far it's been rather good. Inevitably I'd like to write about the new series here, but I don't want to slavishly post a review of the latest episode every week, either.  A plethora of up-to-date, well-written reviews are a few key-strokes away on Google, so I'm going to try something a little bit different.
What I'm planning to do is occasionally dip into the new series with a more peripheral look at a particular episode. For example, I covered the first story by banging on about Peter Capaldi for paragraph after over-long paragraph (well, he's great, OK?).
This week's episode has been almost unanimously, and deservedly, declared an instant classic. It delivered exactly what its title: Into the Dalek promised: a miniaturised 'fantastic voyage' through the inner workings of the Doctor's greatest enemy.  So I'm going to look at the first time many fans took the same journey - within the pages of a very special book.

“BEYOND the BEYOND of BEYOND”, we intoned solemnly into the cassette recorder, bellowing every time we came across a word spelt unnecessarily in BOLD CAPITALS, “at the DARK endless edge of ETERNAL SPACE!”.  We were eleven years old, and my friend Adam and I broke off helpless with mirth at our own prepubescent wit.  We were reading from possibly the first ever Doctor Who coffee table book, the legendary 1976 tome Doctor Who and the Daleks Omnibus, and specifically the stunningly illustrated but erratically ‘bold/Caps locked/strip: ‘Invasion – the Enemy Within’.

We might have been mocking, but we loved that book.  Like the Doctor's recent foray, the wonderful cutaway diagram 'The Anatomy of a Dalek' allowed us to see inside a Dalek. We learned that the gun was called a ‘multi-range variable power destructor’ (only here and nowhere else as far as I know), although the organic creature itself appeared to be a large collander of effervescent pea soup. We speculated whether being shot in the pinky finger by a multi-range destructor might kill you.

At the back, every Dalek serial was listed with a tantalising brief description, the closest thing to any kind of programme guide we'd ever seen at this point (even if few of the story names were actually correct).  This ended with the then-latest dalek adventure called Genesis of the Daleks.  The Omnibus was very focused on this serial which we had never seen and a good part of the book consisted of an apparently abridged reprint of Terrance Dick’s Target novelisation - a meticulous on-line Fan has since calculated that almost 5% of the original prose has been removed.  (This was months before I even knew what a Target novelisation was – but I digress, there will be much more about these wonderful little books in an upcoming post).  Pages of the actual Genesis script and images from the story were reproduced, along with a gorgeously lurid illustrated portrait of Davros.

 This all made Genesis of the Daleks seem like the greatest story ever, even though it was clearly inaccurate.  We all knew that the Daleks evolved as a result of a neutronic war with the Thals, not genetically engineered by some wizened, wheelchair-bound slap-head – how could the programme get that so wrong?
The third Doctor story Planet of the Daleks got similar treatment in the second half of the book, which I loved even more as I was, and remain, a steadfast adherent to the gospel according to Jon. And then some glorious colour stills including  a thrilling scene from Genesis where the Daleks apparently corner the Doctor in a BBC carpark (I had no concept of publicity stills at this age).

Like the modern programme-makers, the publishers of the Omnibus were clearly enarmoured with the stack-platformed, long-eared (that’s what the diagram said the Dalek ‘lights’ were) big-screen Dalek versions, as they featured in most of the illustrations.  Oh, the illustrations! Here we finally come to the reason why this book is utterly essential in any fan’s library.  No Doctor Who artist (and there have been many talented professionals over the years), ever came near the verve, spectacle, and sheer insanity of the magnificent work done by the General Illustration Company for this book.
Colour and texture which in isolation might border on unsightly are blended into stunning visions by a masterclass application of composition and technique.

 The illustrations for the Genesis of the Daleks prose are the most bold and surreal, broadly rendered and sparingly coloured, with beautiful use of negative space.
But personally, the artwork accompanying the Planet of the Daleks section is where the book really soars for me.  These are all beautiful pieces boasting a richer palette and more precise rendering, but still masterfully slick and never laboured. My own favourite is the contents page for Planet, featuring the Thals grimly removing the remains of two partially submerged Daleks while the Doctor looks on.  The composition puts the villains at the front, giving the two Daleks a sense of menace despite their predicament, while desperate determination is clear in the Thal's expressions. The Doctor is three-quarter length at the top centre, directing proceedings with a calm authority which is pure Pertwee.

I only wish we could properly credit the criminally anonymous geniuses of the general Illustration Company, the real stars of the Dalek Omnibus. From the startling cover to the literally stellar depictions of Skaro’s solar system and the mighty Dalek Deep Space Cruiser – this was artwork which convinced you of the might, the evil and other-worldliness of the Daleks in a way the programme itself never could.

(With special thanks to my Aunt May. Ten dollars was the most money anyone had ever given me in my ten-year-old life, but at least I spent your generous gift on a book which is still a prized possession and inspiration all these years later.)

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