The second original Doctor Who graphic novel, The Dalek Project was initially scheduled for release in 2009, before The Only Good Dalek, and featuring David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. But certain similarities to Victory of the Daleks halted its publication – and Richards and Collins had to use Matt Smith’s Doctor instead. In fact, there’s a lovely tribute to the original, Tenth Doctor cover late in the graphic novel, forever hinting at its troubled production.
Still, Richards and Collins are seasoned professionals, the former having written novels like The Deviant Strain and The Burning, and audios including the exceptional Whispers of Terror and The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Thirteenth Stone. Mike Collins has a semi-regular gig illustrating Doctor Who Magazine’s comic strip, with recent stories including The Cruel Sea and The Stockbridge Child. With such good track records, it’s no wonder BBC Books have chosen them to carry their graphic novel range so far.
The Dalek Project’s premise is really great: a team of archaeologists discover a burial site strewn with strange metals. The Doctor knows what they are, of course, and it’s a story that takes him back to 1917, and the height of the First World War. In Hellcombe Hall, the doors don’t lead to where you’re expecting; you can find yourself in an armaments factory, under the sea – or on the front line.
And Lord Hellcombe has created the perfect war machine: a Dalek.
Yes, it does smell a little of Victory, but it actually feels fresh and original. It’s not the only TV tale The Dalek Project is somewhat reminiscent of: there’s something of Remembrance of the Daleks about the ending (don’t worry, Skaro doesn’t get blown up again), and the scene with the Doctor in the burial site echoes some of the grimness in Asylum of the Daleks. There are some great images of Daleks in disrepair, and even though I like the new Dalek Paradigm, the Bronze RTD-era ones that are mostly used fit perfectly in to the dark surroundings.
There are quite a few new Dalek designs, all impressive, with very effective reveals. Two spoilerific models are particularly cool, channelling the ‘steampunk’ feel. There are some brilliant visuals, especially when a few Daleks emerge from the ground, and there’s a scene that’ll take readers back to that surreal cliffhanger in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.
The first page to feature the Doctor portrays him excellently, though it sadly varies from then on. He’s always recognisable – thanks to the hair and the bow tie! – but a lot of the art is scratchy, and, dare I say it, lazy. I like Collins (his art was the first I saw in DWM, in fact) but it does feel rushed from time-to-time. It’s a massive shame as the book has a cinematic scope and he makes the pages interesting. Page 11, in particular, has a strong layout, enhanced by wonderfully contrasting colours by Kris Carter and Owen Jollands.
The story is exciting and adds a lot to Dalek mythos, but it sadly loses its drive. Effectively the prologue, the scenes at the burial site feel like filler, and it’s odd to see a Dalek floored by a digger. There’s some nice banter, however, and I love the look of all the Dalek parts spread out. I like that the Dalek top is labelled ‘Cooking Utensil,’ but I can’t see how the archaeologists could feasibly think sink plungers are ceremonial staffs of office from the Bronze Age.
The story really starts when we arrive at Hellcombe Hall in 1917. The idea of opening a door that could lead anywhere has massive potential, and it’s explored quite nicely – even managing to surprise. There are also Daleks galore, and the black Dalek overseeing the action is spectacular.
However, the narrative loses focus now and then, and the book unfortunately drags a little. The conclusion is excellent, though, and there are plenty of likeable notions that push the reader forwards (including a Dalek that fires bullets).
Remnants of the Tenth Doctor linger and some Eleventh Doctor traits seem shoehorned in. (“I’m the Doctor. Doctors are cool – really.” Oh dear.) But the story’s adapted well for Matt’s Time Lord, and it’s good to finally see the book on shelves.
The Dalek Project may not be the perfect graphic novel, but it’s definitely a fun read that deserves to be on Christmas lists nationwide. You’ll find it on Amazon for just £9.59, much less than the £14.99 RRP, and there’s also a Kindle version for £8.54.