Where to Find It?
Physical copies can be found at Bookfinder.com.
A detailed synopsis can be found at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.
The pursuit of the Timewyrm leads the Doctor and Ace to London, 1951, and the Festival of Britain — a celebration of the achievements of this small country, this insignificant corner of the glorious Thousand Year Reich.
Someone — or something — has been interfering with the time lines, and in order to investigate, the Doctor travels further back in time to the very dawn of the Nazi evil. In the heart of the Germany of the Third Reich, he finds that this little band of thugs and misfits did not take over half the world unaided.
History must be restored to its proper course, and in his attempt to repair the time lines, the Doctor faces the most terrible dilemma he has ever known…
The fabric of time was badly torn, Ace. You can’t stitch it up like repairing an old shirt.
While John Peel had become a regular hand at writing Target novelizations, Terrance Dicks had a much more intimate résumé where Doctor Who was concerned. He was script editor during the Pertwee years. He wrote televised stories for the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors (possibly more uncredited). Having this second original novel in the range written by Dicks is a great way to bridge the two series, lending credibility and blessing, passing the torch as it were.
In Exodus we travel to the heart of the Nazi Reich at its beginning stages. And it struck me as I read about Hitler, Himmler, and Goering that up to this point, Doctor Who had not really dealt with Nazis in their context. The first time the show overtly portrayed them was during the Seventh Doctor story Silver Nemesis, and even those Nazis were 1980s exiles, war criminals trying to recapture the glory of the Reich. The show had often drawn parallels between the Daleks and Nazis, but the human figures themselves were almost never portrayed. Had Doctor Who been an American creation, there is no doubt in my mind that the Doctor would have gone up against the Nazis as soon as possible, but this was one era of history that the show never really covered. On some level, I can see why. Doctor Who debuted in 1963. The war had only been over 18 years. The memory was too fresh and too painful. The narratives of the war in the U.S. and England are very different. For the U.S. it is a story of foreign citizen soldiers coming into the fight to do what needs to be done to defeat the enemy. For England, it is a story of endurance and survival. These are generalizations of course, but the narratives are there. For the U.S., defeating the Nazis was a given, a divine destiny. For England, it was hoped for but not necessarily a guarantee. And it is into this uncertainty that the Doctor and Ace track the Timewyrm.
The novel opens with the two arriving in 1950s England. They find that the Reich won the war and England is under German rule. This emphasizes one of the major themes of the novel, that the outcome of WWII was not a certainty. Any number of factors could have changed the result, and in the case of Exodus outside influences were present in the form of the War Lords (a primary interference) and the Timewyrm (a secondary interference). The War Lords reappear after their defeat in the Second Doctor story “The War Games,” which was a collaboration of Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke in 1969. The War Lords attempt to create the perfect soldier, typically by removing armies from different points in history and making them fight one another. Their scientific advisor in the process is a renegade Time Lord known as the War Chief. The War Chief now has an added goal: to get revenge on the Doctor. What is particularly interesting (and gruesome) in Exodus is the revelation that the War Chief wasn’t killed as was portrayed in “The War Games”; he regenerated—almost. The damage to his body caused the regeneration to fail, so the process aborted partway through, creating a monstrosity of bodily horror. Ultimately, the War Chief wants to transplant his brain into the Doctor’s body. Dicks is also mining “The Brain of Morbius” for ideas, it would seem. Added to the mix are internal Reich politics, Himmler’s obsession with the occult, and the Doctor’s struggle to insert himself into an unstable historical situation in an attempt to rectify two types of interference that the result of previous adventures.
Along the way Exodus tries to avoid explaining Hitler’s Reich in terms of alien interference or the supernatural, but never quite succeeds. All the elements that led to WWII were present; the Timewyrm and War Lords magnified what was already there, but I was still left with a distinct impression that Hitler only came to power because of the magnification, not because of his own human attempts. This is a bit of a problem, I think, because it can serve to undermine the horror of WWII and the Holocaust, events which are arguably the worst of humanity. So often WWII is portrayed as a grand adventure (typically in American film) rather than the morally complex and horrifying war it was. Making Hitler a puppet of aliens doesn’t really feel right to me, especially since some of the attitudes held by Hitler and his followers were not as extreme in the 1920s and 1930s as they seem to us now. We look back on these attitudes with our perceived modern enlightenment and typically see them as fringe and aberrant, but they weren’t. They were popular and common. The Nazis were merely the end result of Western existential angst that coalesced around a nation that no longer had anything to lose and everything to gain.
This particular failing aside, the novel is still quite good. It is an easy read, likely the result of years of Dicks writing the Target novelizations. It is fast-paced and engaging. It is plotted extremely well. It deals with things the classic series probably couldn’t have pulled off with a great deal of success. It doesn’t fall into the excesses of Genesys where “adult” means sex and nudity. In the case of Exodus, “adult” means exploring ideas that may be inappropriate for children’s television: anti-Semitism, black magic and occultism, human sacrifice, torture, and Nazi zombies—although, it would have been interesting to see some of the larger moral complexity lurking underneath the alien puppetry. The secondary characters are memorable and interesting. Dicks humanizes Hitler, Goering, and Himmler without ever making them less atrocious than they were in real life. And despite the science fiction elements, there is an air of historicity to parts of the novel.