Of all the creatures the Doctor has met in the universe, none are more evil than the Daleks. But what if, in some unforeseen time, they are seen as a force for good? That is the fascinating premise of the new Doctor Who novel, The Dalek Generation by Nicholas Briggs.
The “Dalek Generation” refers to an entire generation who have grown up believing that the Daleks had saved them from an unimaginably horrible life. It is more than a belief actually; it is the truth. The Dalek Foundation took billions of people them from their horribly polluted, deadly worlds and gave them homes on planets which could only be described as paradise. One of these is called “Sunlight 349.”
On Sunlight 349, every day is perfect. It never rains, the temperature is moderate, and the air is clean. Everyone is well-fed, and there is no crime. There is no denying the fact that the Daleks saved these people with their actions. The parents could never forget the hell that they came from, and consider the (admittedly disconcerting) Daleks to be their saviors. All their children have ever known is a pleasant life on this wonderful world.
Science fiction is often used allegorically, and in this case, the comparisons to the Baby Boom generation are unavoidable. Post-World War II American children were born into a nation that was in the midst of an unprecedented economic upturn. They had no real comprehension of the hardships their parents suffered during the Great Depression and the war. The experiences of the Dalek Generation are very similar. If anything, their lives are so good that their only threat is to die of boredom. There is a fix for that too though, in the form of game shows and reality TV.
For a journalist such as Lillian Belle, there is not much news to report. She feels guilty about being excited about a train crash, but she cannot help it. Nothing ever happens on Sunlight 349. It is through her eyes that we see this world and come to know how the Dalek Generation feel about their lives. Even with actual news to report though, she knows that few people will watch. They are fat and happy, and love those game shows.
It is into this world that the Doctor lands the TARDIS, and he is baffled. If anyone knows the Daleks, it is the Doctor, yet for the life of him, he cannot fathom what it is they are up to here. The mystery that sent him to Sunlight 349 in the first place occurred in space, where he witnessed the suicides of Terrin and Alyst Blakely. The Doctor watched helplessly as the couple gave up their lives in order to protect a secret formula from the Dalek who was threatening them.
The Doctor reasons that whatever this formula is, it must be extremely important to the Daleks, and most likely, very dangerous. So he takes the TARDIS to the Blakelys' home planet of Sunlight 349 to investigate. If there is one standing rule among the Daleks, it is to exterminate the Doctor on sight. The somewhat amusing problem for them here is how to do it legally. They are dead-set on maintaining the fiction of being a force for good, and this stifles their actions.
For nearly 50 years now, the Doctor has always had one or more companions along for the ride. At Sunlight 349, these become the Blakelys' now-orphaned children. They are the young boy Ollus and his older sisters Jenibeth and Sabel. His sad duty is to inform them of the fate of their parents.
In this absurd, upside-down world, the law is enforced by the Dalek Litigator. He prosecutes criminals, and accuses the Doctor of kidnapping the children. When the Doctor yells out to the uncomprehending populace that “The Daleks are evil,” he is also charged with treason. The good people of Sunlight 349 have no reason to believe anything he has to say about the Daleks. Even though the Daleks are still somewhat menacing, there is no denying the fact that they saved countless lives. The Doctor is really up against a wall here.
This is a position that our favorite Time Lord has found himself in many, many times over the centuries, and somehow he always finds a way out. In this case, there is an underground resistance among the Dalek Generation, who instinctually feel that there is something wrong with their “benevolent” overlords.
The secret that the Blakelys died for is indeed huge and is located on Sunlight 349. The Daleks' generosity is a ruse, a tool for them to manipulate the people into unlocking the secrets of the Cradle of the Gods. It is a power that the Daleks could use to cause unprecedented ruin in the universe, and as the Blakelys knew, must be kept from them at all costs.
The Dalek Generation is a great story, and in reading it, one is able to “hear” what the Doctor is thinking. One of the more interesting questions that it raises is the Doctor’s morality in regards to time-travel. Since he does have the ability to go back in time, he could conceivably change history so that the Blakelys did not have to die. Four-year-old Ollus is wise beyond his years, and implores the Doctor to go back and save his mother and father. On the telly, we are generally left to infer the Doctor’s emotions. In a book, we have a chance to “listen” to his inner dialogue, and this adds a very intriguing perspective.
The cover of The Dalek Generation features the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith). After reading the book, I realized that my mind placed the First Doctor (William Hartnell) in the role. It could have been any of them, but Hartnell just happens to be my favorite. This bodes well, because the tale is so well-written that one can imagine any of the eleven Doctors in it.
I was surprised at just how satisfying this book was. The idea of the Daleks being a force for good is very creative, and there is plenty of action as well. There would be no point in spoiling the details as to how the plot resolves itself, but I will say that The Dalek Generation would make for a wonderful serial. I enjoyed it immensely, and plan on looking into more of these Doctor Who novels.