Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Review: Prisoner of the Daleks

Ah, Prisoner of the Daleks.

How do I hate this book? Let me count the ways.

1.) Daleks are scary in the same way Aquaman is cool: Meaning, despite a concerted effort by the people now controlling these properties, they haven't been able to sell these concepts. We've gotten to the point where the Daleks can't be fixed without changing what they are. I mean, it's possible to make the Care Bears frightening with enough changes, but by the time you do that, you've transformed them into something fundamentally different.

Of course, the Daleks have an almost unbroken 50 year track record of being routed every time they stick their domes up, so I think their menace has been exaggerated anyway.

Now, stories requires a certain level of buy-in. It's not fair to say, "Oh, Dracula was a crappy book because everyone knows vampires aren't real." If the author is telling a story about scary Daleks, it's churlish of the reader to say "Pffffftttt...I reject your reality and substitute my own. Daleks aren't scary. " I will accept, arguendo, that the Daleks in this story are legitimately frightening and effective if it's clear that this is the story the author is trying to tell.

But at the flip side of this contract is that, after a certain point, I'm going to need more than the author's word for it. I want him to show it. I want him to prove it. It's not enough to have the characters talk about how scary they think the Daleks are. I want to see them doing something that makes me (or even just lets me) believe that Daleks are adversaries to be feared. They are almost comically ineffectual in this story, and the gulf between what we're supposed to think of the Daleks and how they actually perform is vast indeed.

Also, they take a ridiculous amount of sass from "Cuttin' Edge", one of the Dalek Hunters.

Hmmm...Dalek Hunters? Where have I heard that before? "Cuttin’ Edge, I served with Abslom Daak. I knew Abslom Daak. Abslom Daak was a friend of mine. Cuttin’ Edge, you're no Abslom Daak."

Seriously, the amount of backtalk the human prisoners give would get me fired by a boss who likes me. When it's directed against Daleks, already itching for an excuse to EXTERMINATE, it doesn't make our heroes seem brave (on the contrary, since it becomes clear very early on that there is no consequence for this); it just makes the Daleks seem impotent.

2.) The Doctor is a Jerk: The Tenth Doctor is occasionally a jerk anyway,  but he's in full on raging arsehole mode here. When an alien laments about being the last survivor of her species, the  Doctor says "I know the feeling," and he just strikes me as the kind of guy here, where if you told him you had a clown at your birthday party would tell you that he had TWO clowns at his.

He has every answer before the questions are even asked. The only tension in the story comes from not listening  to the Doctor, but the only reason he ever gives for listening is "Because I said so." He knows everything, but he never gives anyone a reason why they should listen to him, and his manner  is such that those who meet him are inclined to distrust him. He's constantly telling everyone what to do without telling them why. He's a deliberate Cassandra and he's more than willing to toss aside those who disregard his misleading truths.

I swear, I'm going to write a book with the Doctor as a villain some day.

3.) The science is bad: Okay, it's not like Doctor Who is a model of  scientific accuracy anyway, but this book is just ridiculous. Dalek planet splitter missiles have blown a planet in half. Literally. Half of the planet has been destroyed and the other half is just hanging there in the void, a perfect half a sphere, like a grapefruit someone has sliced in half. I do expect at least a grade school understanding of science from my science fiction.

4.) The Doctor is a hypocrite: At his worst, and he's certainly at his  worst here, the Doctor is a technical pacifist. He reminded of a character I hated in the 1988 War of the Worlds series,  who refused to carry a gun, but spent every episode setting up some elaborate Rube Goldberg strategy to kill the aliens. It drove me nuts. The  Doctor is like that here, but squared and cubed, a smug moralizing prig who automatically judges and dismisses anyone who uses a weapon. Apparently,  since the Time War, the Eye of Harmony is now defunct, so the TARDIS is now powered by the Doctor's sense of self-satisfaction.

Whether a man dies in his bed, or the rifle knocks him dead/ brief parting  from those dear is the worst man has to fear/ though gave diggers toil is  long/ sharp their spades, their muscles strong/ they but thrust their  buried men/ back in the human mind again..."

As Yeats told us, dead is dead however you get there. I don't think it matters too much if you mastermind a plot to have your enemy trigger some kind of genocide weapon against themselves (the Seventh Doctor seemed to do this every other  episode), or if you gun them down like a dog in the street or drop a high voltage line into the lake they're swimming in.

He's constantly judging everyone by the moral standards he holds. It would be bad enough if he were consistent in this, but he's just capricious, so he's effectively judging people by how he feels at a particular moment and that's just fucked up.  

5.) Daleks are stupid: Psalmanazar, the famous fraud, claimed that the priests in his homeland sacrificed the hearts of 18,000 young boys every year. Note only is it a ridiculous number on its own, but he refused to back away from it even when pointed out that this was higher than the annual birthrate he had claimed.

The Daleks are Saturday morning cartoon villain evil. Their small pool of slave laborers fell behind schedule because of a brief interruption. Their solution? Execute the least productive worker every hour to motivate the rest. Twenty workers at 80% efficiency are going to get more done than ten workers at 90% efficiency.  I mean, there's being evil, and there's being evil for the SAKE of being evil, and then there's being so cartoonishly over-the-top-eighteen-thousand-human-sacrifices-a-year evil that you're just destroying any chance of success you might have and the Daleks fall in the latter camp.

The Daleks fall for the, "If you're so confident in your plans, you'll tell me exactly how to stop them" ruse. Even Goldfinger knew better than this in 1964. They fall for the "Whatever you do, don't flip that switch" ruse, which my daughter saw through at four years old.

6.) It had a line that made me smile: I wish I could hate it unreservedly,  but when Doctor finds out that Daleks are trying to meddle in history, he remarks, "As if Dalek History wasn't confusing enough before the Time War,"  which really did make me laugh. Nicholas Briggs does a good job reading it.

Also, it mentions the Osterhagen Key, which was a nice bit of continuity  porn, even if Doctor Jerky-Jerk goes on a tear about how humanity are the  real monsters for choosing a quick death by suicide over capture and torture by the Daleks. (Later on, he goes on at length about how terrible it is to be a "prisoner of the Daleks", so I guess it's no win for the poor humans in the book.)

Bottom Line: It was a very bad book with almost nothing to redeem it. It was clear that the book was awful pretty early on, but I stuck with it, but by the end, I was only listening so I would have more ammunition for this review.

No comments:

Post a Comment