Skip to content

Review of Prisoner of the Daleks by deltaandthebannermen

1 May 2024

When I finished this book a few years ago I wrote the review after watching the first broadcast of Into the Dalek, the second episode of Series 8.  This adds an interesting dimension not mentioned in the reviews of Peter Capaldi’s first encounter with the Daleks.  A lot of reviews are citing the obvious influence of Robert Shearman’s Dalek on Into the Dalek, as well as The Invisible Enemy and, by association, Fantastic Voyage (along with Let’s Kill Hitler’s Tesselecta antibodies).  However, I’ve yet to see any commentator mention the parallels between Into the Dalek and Prisoner of the Daleks.  Both feature a lone Doctor stumbling across a group of hardened soldiers/mercenaries who have captured a Dalek and are holding it prisoner.  The leader of the soldiers doesn’t like the Doctor at all and only tolerates him due to the protestation of another soldier/mercenary, a female, whose trust in the Doctor develops and increases through the course of the story.The similarities more or less end there, but it was striking that the images of the prone Dalek in Into the Dalek were not a million miles away from the visualisation I had in mind when reading similar sections in Prisoner of the Daleks.

I chose this novel on recommendation and probably against my natural inclination.  I’m not a massive fan of the Daleks but felt I wanted to include them in an anniversary book marathon I was working through at the time, which, after all, was designed as a celebration of the 50th anniversary.  I’m rather glad I did as it was a rather good read.

It begins with the Doctor becoming trapped in a room on a deserted planet, only to be released by a group of Dalek hunters.  Before long, the Daleks have arrived and in the ensuing battle, one of the hunters is killed and a Dalek taken prisoner.  Torturing the Dalek leads to information which leads the Doctor and the hunters to the Arkheon Threshold and the possibility that the Daleks are attempting to access the time vortex and wipe humans from history.

David Tennant’s 10th Doctor is well written by Baxendale and his trademark catchphrases ( e.g. Sorry,…I’m so sorry) are present and correct.  But it’s more than that.  The characterisation fits the situation perfectly and the Doctor reacts believably to the situation he is in, which, to be fair, is extraordinary in terms of the TV series.  He is effectively stranded with the bounty hunters, powerless to prevent them torturing the Dalek, tricked into following the Dalek’s dying words and a cavalcade of other horrific events.  The Doctor’s initial impotence in influencing the people he is stuck with and the manner in which the bounty hunters trust in the Doctor is immensely hard-earned is highly reminiscent of the interplay between the characters in the TV episode, Midnight.

The supporting characters are clearly defined and work well as an ensemble.  From what I know of the other solo 10th Doctor novels, he is often paired up with a temporary companion, in the vein of the TV specials’ one-off companions such as Jackson Lake, Christina de Souza, Astrid Peth and Kazran Sardick.  Prisoner of the Daleks is unusual in that no character really fulfils this role.  Stella is the closest and she is murdered by the Daleks within a few chapters.  Even Koral, a feline alien with killer claws, whose trust in the Doctor grows as the story progresses, never really fits into the companion role.

There are some horrific set pieces in this novel which emphasise the period of future history it is set in.  The human-Dalek war is grim.  The massacre of refugees from a destroyed planet; the slaves bonded in small groups who are killed as a group if even one of them is considered weak; the mother and daughter who the Doctor tries to save but can only succeed in having them returned to slavery instead of execution.  It isn’t the most cheerful of books.  That said, the Doctor manages to create an air of hope which does begin to influence the other characters, particularly Jon Bowman, the leader of bounty hunters.The appearance later in the book of Dalek X, a feared interrogator, adds a shot of adrenaline to the final third and this culminates in a very exciting denouement with the Doctor chased through the tunnels on the planet he originally arrived on.

I really did enjoy reading this, despite its slightly harrowing subject matter, it ranks as one of the better novels.

Review created on 1-05-24