Author Talk - John Peel

Continuing the discussion from Book Club: Timewyrm: Genesys:

What are your general opinions of John Peel’s Doctor Who novels. It’s probably fair to say his efforts aren’t at the top of anyone’s ‘best of’ lists but he did have a monopoly on Dalek stories both for the novelisations and for the original novels.

  • The Chase

  • Mission to the Unknown

  • The Mutation of Time

  • The Power of the Daleks

  • The Evil of the Daleks

  • War of the Daleks

  • Legacy of the Daleks

  • Evolution

He’s also written for the Lethbridge-Stewart range, including:

  • The Grandfather Infestation
  • On His Majesty’s National Service
  • It Came From the Isle of Man

I remember enjoying Evolution which featured Arthur Conan Doyle and his reference work, The Gallifrey Chronicles was a often perused book for my in my early fan years.

His Dalek novels left me cold (and were criticised at the time for the continuity-busting elements), although I do remember enjoying his two-part novelisation of The Daleks’ Masterplan.


I actually really enjoy his two Eighth Doctor Dalek novels. War of the Daleks is a really fun action ride. The continuity rewrites somewhat make sense, not that I agree that they were needed (and the whole Terry Nation doesn’t like Remembrance sounds a bit bogus since Nation allowed it to make it to TV and didn’t veto it during production), but it does make sense for cunning, time-traveling Daleks to take measures to trap both the Doctor and Davros and ensure their own existance and survival.

And Legacy of the Daleks is a fun novel being both a sequel to The Dalek Invasion of Earth and a prequel to The Deadly Assassin. Granted, the sequel aspect of the novel has since been superceded by the much better stuff from Big Finish featuring that character. But it was one of the first Doctor Who novels I read and I have a soft spot for it.


Of Peel’s work, I’ve read Timewyrm: Genesys; Evolution; War of the Daleks; and Legacy of the Daleks (in that order, as well as his contribution to Happy Endings, though that’s so small I won’t mention it here.) I have very mixed feelings on his work… he has some interesting enough ideas, and he clearly understands what a typical Doctor Who story looks like, why/how threats to the team work etc… but I don’t know, it’s like something in him - probably just a difference in preference between us - veers his work into territories which I feel a little weird in. I’ll start with my favourite of the four and go from there.

I actually really enjoyed Evolution and read it pretty quickly. I think that when Peel is allowed to do his own thing, he does it pretty well; barring 14/15-year-old Rudyard Kipling having a thing for Sarah Jane (which, I mean, is fine, I guess, it just felt weird - I was removed a few times, wondering why Peel spent time focusing on this, but I could/can let it go quite easily), the book felt like a suspenseful mystery which actually enjoyed its mystery elements. The Fourth Doctor and Sarah are unmistakable, and the ‘guest cast’ (for want of a better term) are also quite fun. Perhaps not the most realistic characters, but it’s not a story which strives for realism; one thing I do respect about Peel’s work overall is that it’s always proud and uncompromising. He’s a very honest writer; his opinions can’t help but reflect in the way he writes everything, from the characters to the setting to even the concepts he favours exploring in each scene. Perhaps this is why Evolution is so good - Peel is able to actually play with stuff that he loves, and to be honest - as an audience, his joy is infectious! I was really caught up in the adventure and a little surprised when the story ended - I had become so wrapped up in it. Whilst perhaps not a book I’d immediately choose of the VMA shelf (through sheer competition, not for any weakness of Peel’s part - again, I think we just have different preferences), it’s one I had fun with and wouldn’t say no to reading again.

In contrast, Timewyrm: Genesys felt a bit… stale. I’ve made most of my thoughts on Genesys clear in the book club thread, but in short, it is far too obvious that Peel doesn’t really care about 7 or Ace that much, which is a shame. Peel was eager to write the first VNA and start the series, but I’ll admit the book doesn’t feel like much more than that. It’s not full of the swearing and sex of later VNAs like Transit, but it does experiment with adult content such as child prostitutes and introducing ‘outdated’ attitudes - and how the TARDIS team should address them - in a deeper manner than before. If you enjoy a more stern historical drama, you’ll enjoy Genesys, I’m sure. It reminded me of George R. R. Martin’s work in its matter-of-factness. For me, I was only really interested in the more sci-fi bits, because all the rest just isn’t my thing. Peel does a good job again with the Timewyrm, and there are some bits in here where he pulls through and just about writes 7 and Ace, to his credit. Again, very clear that he understands the important parts of a book. Despite this, I will say, although I don’t ‘hate’ the book, I do think an author’s first book with us always leaves a pretty strong impression on us for a very very long time, if not for life. Ever since, I must admit I’ve felt a little nervous starting a new Peel, in case it’s another like this - decent at what it does (and again, full of Peel’s opinion), but not my opinion or my interest at all.

His two EDAs are another kettle of fish. I thought War of the Daleks was Okay, with a capital ‘O’. It was really just fine. He wrote the Daleks well (I suspect given his training with his four previous novelisations) and I thought Davros felt in character too. The Eighth Doctor, ironically, had a similar issue to Timewyrm: Exodus with Dicks - neither author had seen much of their Doctor (8 had only had the film at the time though), so kind of reverted to the ‘typical’ Doctor type. That Peel can recognise this problem, and also recognise the typical archtype of the Doctor’s traits, and employ them, is admirable. Sam was… again, Okay. I don’t have the strong, strong hate a lot of fans had for Sam - I actually love, 8, Sam and Fitz as a team especially - so I was fine with her here. Again, she fulfils a general companion role (in a similar way to Ace throughout much of Genesys - I suppose it helps that both are young, rebellious teenagers) with admittedly a few annoying moments of overbearing panic and fussing. The story itself? Fine. I think that the (major War of the Daleks spoilers here:) decision to retroactively change Skaro’s fate is a bit weird, and a bit silly? I think my main gripe with it is that it retroactively affects the kind of power and way we look at 7 (in my opinion, anyway) and I just don’t get why Peel couldn’t write a book exploring the Daleks without a home to return to. Again, it seems to me that Peel thought it was stupid, so he had to get his way and rewrite events. This is the double-edged sword of a Peel novel; you must either agree or move on. I imagine if you had similar views on Doctor Who to him, you’d love all of his books all of the time. Lastly, unlike Evolution, I didn’t really care about the Thal characters, either. They just kind of existed, like in Genesys, except that Genesys at least had an interesting neanderthal servant! Despite its high aspirations and ideas, it was a book I forgot almost immediately - probably not helped by being followed by the radical, complex, totally new Alien Bodies afterwards.

Finally, Legacy of the Daleks. I liked this one. I don’t have too much to stay - the book is a brief 245 pages in which Peel invites us in, tells his story, and gets us out. It’s a decent sequel to both The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Deadly Assassin ahead of Big Finish’s exploration of the two a few years later. To be honest, it feels nice reading here without being bogged down by the years of lore which a Big Finish audio featuring these characters seems to have today. For me, the Daleks were easily the best part of this. Again, Peel has a pretty good grasp on all his characters, and this time a nice idea on what 8 should be like. The Master is also written well - I saw the reveal coming from his first scene, but didn’t mind at all - it’s fun to see the Master at work! I think my only issue with the book was with Susan… I’m not her biggest fan but I think the book goes out of its way to make her miserable - I’m really not sure why. Maybe John Peel just hates her? I don’t know. I thought the scene with Susan putting on her aging make-up - and in-depth description of her attempts to age - was tragic; Peel genuinely moves me, but I’m really not sure what for? In all, Legacy of the Daleks was a pretty straightforward story which knows we’re here for the Daleks and gives them their due respect. Unlike War, I felt much more invested for some reason - maybe the lower page count and interesting character ideas, living on a tormented world. I don’t hate the book at all, I just like it. It’s fine.

One last thing: Perhaps because of his personality, I don’t know, but Peel writes very straightforward prose. His style is very clear, very factual. I am a big fan of the more abstract and dreamlike Cornell, Orman and Rose style myself, so perhaps that’s why we simply don’t get on? I really don’t hate any of his work, in fact, I enjoyed two of them in a weird way, but I just don’t think I’ll ever pick them up again in a hurry unless they come up in the book club. Peel is the kind of author you meet, and assume he’s nice, but very quickly forget the moment you meet. It’s not the kindest legacy, but, in true Peel style, it’s very honest. I suppose there are worse fates to have - as some of the women in his books and the Master in Legacy of the Daleks can tell you.


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