The novel “Prisoner of the Daleks” by Trevor Baxendale was published for the first time in 2009.
The Tenth Doctor arrives on the planet Hurala in an area that seems completely deserted. When he finds a computer room, he gets trapped in it and has to wait some days, when a group of bounty hunters arrive in search of fule for their spaceship and free him. There’s very little time for pleasantries because a Dalek patrol soon arrives and the Doctor is forced to abandon the Tardis to flee aboard the bounty hunters spaceship.
One of the Daleks manages to penetrate the spaceship before it takes off and kills the youngest of the bounty hunters before being immobilized by the Doctor. From the bounty hunters’ tales, he realizes that he ended up in a time when the Daleks are engaged in a war against the first Earth empire so there are strong chances of stumbling upon more Daleks.
“Prisoner of the Daleks” is part of a series of novels connected to the new “Doctor Who” series. They’re targeted to a wide audience by being linear enough to be appreciated even by very young readers but sophisticated enough to interest more mature readers. This novel is set in the final period of the Tenth Doctor era, of which only pieces were shown between the fourth and fifth seasons of the new television series, when the Doctor travels alone.
During that period, the Doctor also experiences dark moments and the one told in “Prisoner of the Daleks” is definitely among them. By the standards of this novel series, this one has far darker tones than the average and it’s not just a matter of deaths caused by the Daleks. The setting, in the middle of a war across the Milky Way, between the Daleks and the Earth empire, makes the tones even darker in a story in which the Doctor struggles to take a bit of control of the situation in which he ended up.
The Doctor faced the Daleks many times and also found himself in a situation where he had to rely on people who had no idea who he was and didn’t trust him, in this case these risk factors are combined. The fact that the Doctor gote separate from the Tardis is addes, as he must flee on a spaceship of bounty hunters who live chasing the Daleks and when he helps them catch one they decide to torture it to steal its secrets.
Since their first television appearance in “Doctor Who”, the Daleks have been used as a vehicle to add ethical and moral issues into the show. In “Prisoner of the Daleks” Trevor Baxendale takes advantage of the terrible war in progress to talk about the risk of losing humanity due to the violence seen and that used to try to win it. What’s the line between defending yourself from ruthless attackers like the Daleks and using unlimited violence with the risk of becoming like your enemies? Those are complex problems and there are no simple answers.
Some characters that are well developed throughout the novel add strength to the story. The bounty hunters, who can be considered the Doctor’s temporary companions, slowly show facets initially unthinkable and this also contributes to the development of the ethical and moral dilemmas. There’s even a special Dalek since it’s an inquisitor who has the specific task of interrogating prisoners of war and has its own personality that goes beyond the limits of ordinary Daleks.
Even graphically “Prisoner of the Daleks” is a little different from normal in the sense that the importance of the Daleks is stressed also by the fact that what they say was printed with a special font already used in the last decades in books and comics that had the Daleks as protagonists.
The theme of war, with its most brutal consequences, also leads to introspections on issues such as the loss of loved ones that also involve the Doctor. These are themes that offer food for thought and in my opinion make “Prisoner of the Daleks” a novel well above the average of this series, so I recommend reading it.