Eric Saward Talks Daleks, Violence and Collectors

It’s a good day to be a Dalek as the first of two original Doctor Who serials not to be novelised hit the shelves. Resurrection of the Daleks is available to buy now and I spoke to author Eric Saward about his new take on some classic Dalek stories.

Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks will publish on 18 July 2019 in hardback priced £12.99

Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks will publish on 14 November 2019 in hardback priced £12.99

Eric Saward

Born in 1944, Saward cut his teeth in drama writing radio plays before being recommended to Doctor Who’s incumbent script editor Christopher Bidmead. Saward’s first story – The Visitation – introduced the Tereleptils and destroyed the sonic screwdriver for the remainder of the original series. Later in the season, Saward’s second story, Earthshock, featured the surprise return of the Cybermen and the death of the Doctor’s young companion Adric.

Eric Saward (c) Jane Judge
Eric Saward (c) Jane Judge

Having taken over the role after Earthshock, Saward served as script editor of Doctor Who through its twentieth season and held the role under producer John Nathan-Turner for several years. However, Saward would take up writing duties twice more during his time as script editor. His 1984 serial, Resurrection of the Daleks, saw the Daleks return to television after a five year absence alongside their creator, Davros. The following year, Saward followed this up with Revelation of the Daleks as his fourth and final credited Doctor Who script.

This would not be end of Saward’s time with Doctor Who. Eric wrote three novelisations of Doctor Who serials (including his own story The Visitation) and an adaptation of the 1985 radio play Slipback. However, Saward’s Dalek stories never received the novelisation treatment. There are rumours to why, but Saward told me that it was nothing so conspiratorial…

I simply didn’t want to do them. I was very tired after five years of script editing Doctor Who. I needed a rest.

Eric Saward

But it sounds as though thirty-five years was rest enough and Saward has bowed to the fans clamouring for the Dalek duology in book form.

Fans asked me at conventions when I was going to write Resurrection…and Revelation. As there seemed to be so much interest, I decided to go ahead.

Eric Saward

Death and Resurrection

The original serial enjoyed a very positive reception on broadcast, though some complaints were levelled at the amount of violence. The opening scene, in particular, came under fire: henchmen disguised as police officers are seen gunning people down. The rationale being that figures of trust and authority should not be depicted as villains. It was a different time.

Indeed this story has the highest body count of any classic serial. I asked Eric if such a brutal script for a family show would get produced today…

I don’t accept this script was ‘brutal’. We live in a violent world. Modern drama should reflect this at every level.

In the real world, there is conflict and wars. Dictators take over and the consequences are hard to handle. The harsh truth is people die in certain situations. Sometimes good people trying to fight a cause. 

You can’t put a veneer over abject evil. 

Eric Saward

Resurrection of the Daleks

So he wasn’t tempted to tone down the violence, but was there anything else in Resurrection of the Daleks he wanted to alter? In interviews and DVD commentaries, Saward is open about his dissatisfaction with the final product. In particular he’s criticised the script’s distracting subplots which resulted in a frantic and unfocused pace. However, Eric was coy about what he decided to alter in either Dalek books…

I changed some things in both.

Eric Saward

That being said, the novelisation hews pretty close to original television story, at least in the broad strokes. The scenes are recreated faithfully with reworked dialogue that makes the pace a bit more manageable than the broadcast episodes. Coming in at just over 200 pages, however, there’s a disappointing lack of new material in the way we’ve come to expect from recent novelisations of Doctor Who stories.

Resurrection of the Daleks by Eric Saward - Novelisation
Resurrection of the Daleks by Eric Saward

Most of the new stuff is mere window-dressing around the main plot. The space station where Davros is a prisoner has been given a name (repurposed from Saward’s previous novel Slipback), backstory and more development for the crew than the TV script could afford them. This is where the novelisation shines for me. Mercer and Styles, crewmen on the Vipod Mor, are given a lot more focus and it elevates an undercooked part of the original serial. However, as if to emphasise Saward’s unwillingness to tone down the violence, Mercer’s fate is given a rather visceral description that’s all the more vivid for how much we’ve come to know the character.

But it’s an otherwise fairly workmanlike rendition of the story without the texture of a full-length novel. The book has plenty of new, but very short, interstitial scenes that ease the movement of characters between the story’s locations. Meaning up and down the time corridor like the Assyrian Empire. But this time might be better spent finding out about the characters and their lives in more depth, especially considering that Stien’s past forms a crucial part of his arc. Instead, the author seems more concerned with forcing a Tereleptil reference into every other sentence.

When Stien is introduced to the TARDIS just past the halfway mark, five pages are devoted to a lengthy description of the ship’s interior. Though this detour is a little self-indulgent, it’s a fine piece of writing that shows off the depths of the author’s imagination. But I can’t help thinking it’s superfluous. While some levity in a dark story is usually welcome, it stifles the tension a little when the narrator starts talking about the unseen robot chef in the TARDIS and its elusive French bistro.

This story marks the departure of Tegan, the last of the Fifth Doctor’s inherited companions. Just as on TV, Saward has rendered the brash Australian’s exit in the same intense and frantic way. However, this is immediately followed up by a short coda that brings the book to an abrupt and somewhat confusing end.

On the Books

Before home video was a thing, let alone repeats, the novelisations were the only way to relive the Doctor’s past adventures. These days, every serial is available on DVD and blu-ray releases are coming thick and fast. But the novels remain a remarkably popular way to experience Doctor Who. Even new series episodes, which can be streamed instantly on Netflix and BBC iPlayer, are receiving novelisations. As the most recent author to add to that collection, what does Eric Saward attribute its popularity to?

Doctor Who fans seem to be a pretty determined bunch who are happy to collect most things to do with the show.

Eric Saward

Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks will publish on 18 July 2019 in hardback priced £12.99

Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks will publish on 14 November 2019 in hardback priced £12.99

Eric Saward photograph (c) Jane Judge

Thanks to BBC Books and Penguin for help with the interview.

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