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Doctor Who: Day of the Daleks

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
2 Entertain
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Paul Bernard
Jon Pertwee
Katy Manning
Nicholas Courtney
John Levene
Richard Franklin
Bottom Line: 

In 1972 it had been nearly half a decade since that ultimate  DOCTOR WHO foe, the Daleks, had last appeared on screen in the series. After 1967’s David Whitaker penned “The Evil of the Daleks”, their creator Terry Nation’s plans for an American produced Dalek spin-off series had been in large part responsible for then producer Innes Lloyd deciding from that point on to make the Cybermen the show’s number one returning villain for the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. The conclusion of what was at the time assumed to be the very last Dalek story, saw the apparent total destruction of Skaro’s finest, and the iconic pepper pots were rapidly now becoming merely a part of the programme’s shadowy mystique – something from the mysterious, now unobtainable past that parents would tell their rapt children about as they watched the new, dandyish third Doctor, played by Jon Perwee, do battle on Earth against all manner of alien invasion forces, from Autons and Axons to Daemons and arch nemesis the Master.

Producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrence Dicks -- the team who masterminded the entire span of the Pertwee era apart from the first story -- had already proven themselves extremely adept at reinventing the show for the 1970s, successfully developing the family spirit of the UNIT team and being noticeably keen to introduce new foes for the Doctor to battle against in the series’ new home counties setting, without relying on regularly returning monsters from its illustrious past. Ratings were at an all-time high during this period, even though Pertwee’s Doctor never went head-to-head against, for instance, the once-popular Cybermen, for his entire five year stint. Letts and Dicks were nevertheless keen to find interesting new approaches to kick off each new season of serials in an attention grabbing way: in their first year this had been done for them with the casting of Pertwee and the new earth-based location pre-established by outgoing producer Derrick Sherwin. In the following 1971 series, the team introduced the recurring character the Master, and played up to a Sherlock Holmes versus Moriarty relationship between the third Doctor and his Time Lord adversary which was set against a backdrop of Quatermass-style alien invasion stories. Letts and Dicks were not averse to bringing back the Daleks as a showstopper finale to the 1971 season, but the mooted six-part Robert Sloman penned “Daleks in London” never in the end materialised.

That might well have been the end of the matter had not the BBC’s managing director at the time, Huw Wheldon, turned out to be  a huge Dalek fan, who specifically suggested to Barry Letts that they should return to the show soon. Letts saw an opportunity for making the reappearance of the Daleks this season’s big opening attention-grabber but Nation was too busy at the time working as story consultant and associate producer on the camp adventure series “The Persuaders!”, starring Tony Curtis and Roger Moore, so was unable to provide a script himself; instead “Day of the Daleks” had a somewhat unusual and torturous inception, which, although the resulting serial is in many ways flawed and occasionally horribly mishandled, has played a large role in making this four-part story an engaging and enduringly popular part of the Pertwee era. Although previously reluctant to play up to the show’s history, Letts and Dicks now made clear that they knew how to utilise it to create a sense of anticipation for the new series when they needed to: not only  was it made known that the Daleks were returning to the series after a long absence, it became a notable selling point that they would also, of course, now be seen in colour for the first time; that’s if you didn’t includes the non-canonical, Gordon Flemyng-directed Dalek feature films from the 1960s, starring Peter Cushing – themselves long in the past.

“Day of the Daleks” was heralded by a pre-show publicity campaign that highlighted, arguably for the first time, DOCTOR WHO as a part of television heritage; Dalek props appeared on children’s magazine show “Blue Peter” to menace former companion Peter Purves and bewilder Petra the “Blue Peter” dog; a Radio Times competition was held for primary school-aged children to win their very own ‘mark 7’ Dalek by writing the concluding paragraphs of a Terry Nation-penned Dalek story, and the legendary monsters appeared on the front cover of said listings magazine, illustrated by Frank Bellamy and headlined with the words ‘The Daleks are Back!’ Letts and Dicks and the BBC publicity department could be seen as unwittingly instigating the whole DOCTOR WHO heritage industry here -- an industry which thrives more than ever today in the form of popular exhibitions, Proms concerts, copious merchandising and branding overseen by BBC Worldwide Enterprises, and the diverse content of the official BBC DOCTOR WHO website, all of which seeks to treat the entire history of the series, from its lowly beginnings in 1963 to the present day, as one big on-going story.

But there was still the little matter of how exactly the programme’s famous cult icon was to re-enter the 1972 series. The solution script editor Terrence Dicks hit on was to take another non-Dalek story which had already been in development for some time, and to simply shoehorn them into it. Thus, writer Louis Marks’ “The Ghost Hunters” was re-invented as “Day of the Daleks” by Dicks himself. Once you know this, it is surprisingly easy to see just how extraneous to the plot the Daleks actually are in terms of their limited involvement in the story. They spend most of it viewing events on a  monitor in their private control room, concealed behind a motorised door panel while their human stooge, the silver-faced Controller (Aubrey Woods) heads up a team of space-age, stone-faced ‘computer-say’s-no-like’ office drudges from Dalek headquarters, and sending out the lumbering, semi-moronic, ape-like security detail the Ogrons (an attractive design by John Friedlander that bears more than a slight resemblance to the soldier gorillas from “Planet of the Apes”) to do all the grunt work. The Daleks don’t really get to trundle into the action themselves in any concerted way until the last five minutes of the fourth and last episode, when the entire might of the Dalek fleet – all three of them – stage a curiously feeble invasion of earth which is summed up by the sight of a lone Dalek gingerly attempting to gain entrance to a country house by nudging its way through the French windows. All this looks considerably less exciting than many of the serial’s dynamic production photographs from the time let on. The fact that Pertwee is seen wearing a completely different cape to the one he wears in the actual episodes reveals that these were staged publicity photographs rather than stills from the actual story. If you’d grown up with those misleading photos as your only way into visualising the content of the serial (as had many fans in the 1980s until the release of the story on VHS cassette) then the episodes are rather a disappointment when you finally see what was actually transmitted as opposed to what the imagination was able to conjure with those publicity material aids.

Yet there are certain original features of the story marking it out from many of the past Dalek adventures, which would often follow an overly familiar narrative routine (especially if they’d been written by Terry Nation). Instead, the first episode of “Day of the Daleks” plays more like a classic ghost story, and the viewer is invited to speculate on what exactly the Daleks could possibly have to do with the rum goings on at Auderly House, where pompous Government official Sir Reginald Styles (Wilfrid Carter) is being menaced by a strange phantom intruder in combat fatigues pointing a futuristic ray gun at him from behind the curtains of his study, and then promptly disappearing. UNIT is called in by Styles’ worried personal secretary because he’s due to fly to Peking the next morning to arrange the Chinese’s participation in a vital summit meeting of nations pre-arranged to take place at Auderly in the last ditch hope of averting World War III. The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) arranges for himself and Jo (Katy Manning) to spend the night at the spooky Georgian pile, effectively on a ghost hunt, although the appearance of an Ogron early in the story hints that the reason for the apparition is more alien-based than supernatural. The story has fun with the whole night vigil element of the plot, with the Doctor raiding Styles’ wine cellar and pigging out on Gorgonzola cheese, while Jo frets and jumps at every shadow and night sound.

It soon becomes apparent that this is a time travel story: the strange manifestations are really futuristic guerrillas from the 22nd century, on a dangerous mission in earth’s past to avert the war that will eventually weaken the planet and leave it defenceless against a future Dalek invasion onslaught. They believe Styles to be a traitor, their history books telling them that it is he who causes rather than prevents the coming war which destroys civilisation in their own time. The soldiers have adapted stolen Dalek time-travelling technology in order to travel back to the 20th century and kill Styles on the eve of the summit, thus preventing the war from ever happening and averting everything that followed on from it. In other words this is a version of the story familiar to most people these days from “The Terminator” franchise, although the story had precursors in science fiction literature and in Harlan Ellison’s episode from “The Outer Limits”, “Soldier”. The Doctor and Jo eventually become involved with the guerrilla faction, who come to believe that the Doctor is vitally important to their mission because of the Daleks’ agitated reaction when they hear his name mentioned; they travel into the Dalek-infested future, where the earth is being plundered of its resources with the help of the quisling Controller and his imported alien security guards the Ogrons. The Daleks are expanding their empire and are using the human population of earth as slave labour in their factories and mines, plundering the planet of its minerals and metals and shipping the raw materials back to Skaro. The ape-like Ogrons are the brute muscle keeping the slave humans in their place and are issued orders by the Controller: a human collaborator who gets to live a luxurious life in the Dalek headquarters in return for his treachery to his own species.

A casual aside from the Doctor about something called the Blinovitch Limitation Effect -- a piece of techno-babble cunningly introduced by Terrence Dicks in an attempt to dismiss Jo’s question of why the human guerrillas couldn’t just travel back to the same point in time where they previously failed to assassinate Sir Styles and have another go (a perennial and obvious question plaguing all and every story that involves time travel) has come to have a great deal of significance in the programme’s subsequent lore, especially in these days of timey wimey shenanigans introduced by current show-runner Steven Moffat across the present series’ story arc. Mostly though, this story has some surprisingly radical things to say about violent insurrection against the state. This serial was broadcast against a political backdrop of aeroplanes being hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the emergence of armed South American revolutionary armies and on-going tensions between the west and China in a Cold War context. The whole summit plotline references the fact that such meetings were a common element in the international politics of the time. It’s interesting how the guerrillas are handled in this story: the leader of the unit we spend the most time with is a woman (Anna Barry) called Anat -- a strong woman leader being a great novelty in itself for 1972 -- while the male companions she shares a cigar with are all modelled on the fashionable revolutionary chic associated at the time with the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara -- all long hair and droopy moustaches. The story spends a lot of time contrasting the violent actions of these combat-fatigued time warriors with the apparent urbane and civilised humans in the Dalek city who treat Jo with nothing but hospitality when she accidently transports herself to the 22nd century using one of the guerrillas’ unstable time traveling devices (it means poor Katy Manning spends an awful lot of time, here, flashing her bright red knickers when rising from the cross-legged-on-the-floor eating position enjoyed in the hospitality suite of the Controller!) It takes the Doctor’s special insight to reveal to the naive Jo that though the guerrillas (at the time believing the Doctor was Sir Reginald Styles) had been the ones who tied them up and threatened them with execution, it is the Controller who is the real enemy; his civilised front obscures the slavery of the human race and the rape of the planet’s resources to further the Dalek empire, as they prepare to take control of all planets in all time zones in the universe with the aid of their time travelling technology. 

The inventive mix of elements (ghost story, time travel tale, political allegory) keeps the story moving along at a fair lick across the four episodes, but there are several missteps in the execution that let it down overall: the Daleks’ voices are thin, feeble and very un-Dalek-like; their absence from the screen for so many years perhaps meant that director Paul Bernard wasn’t overly familiar with how Daleks were meant to sound, and so we end up with an unenthusiastic stilted delivery from the two actors involved, and the analogue ring modulator usually utilised to aid the electronic staccato urgency of the Dalek delivery wasn’t made use of here for some reason. Second, the hurried nature of the shooting and a perhaps misconceived effort to indulge Jon Pertwee’s love of exotic vehicles leads to an ill-fated chase scene between the Doctor and Jo riding on a motorised Honda trike and a troupe of Ogrons following on foot. Unfortunately, the rough patch of wasteland the chase takes place on meant that Pertwee could only drive the vehicle (then a newly developed, state-of-the-art form of quad bike arrangement) very, very slowly -- leaving the pursuing actors who were playing the Ogrons forced to jog amiably behind the trike as though they were even more lumberingly useless than  normal. The last episode indulges in too much forced exposition to explain what should have been obvious to the guerrillas all along – that their attempt to change a history they have in fact misread by blowing up Auderley House and killing the innocent Sir Reginald Styles, is what actually leads to the war they are trying to prevent all along – and the last half of the final episode involves the Daleks invading 20th century Buckinghamshire to make sure their version of history comes about after all, while the Doctor and Jo rush to prevent an errant guerrilla, earlier left behind in the vicinity of the country house, from carrying out the original plan to blow up Styles and the other delegates. The Dalek invasion force is hindered by the obvious fact that there were only three full Dalek props still functioning when Bernard came to shoot the scenes, a hindrance which becomes laughably clear when the Dalek attack force and their Ogron helpers attempt to lay siege to Auderley House. But still, with a little more time and skilful editing, something more might have been made of this ludicrously flat scene. But more time was not available and the useless Dalek strategy ends up being for the three simply to approach very slowly in plain sight with the strolling Ogrons (who look like they’re leisurely promenading in a park on a Sunday afternoon), moving in a straight line across the fields at the back of the house while the delegates simply walk out of the front exit and drive away in their limousines!

This 2-disc special edition pays tribute to the exalted place this adventure continues to have in the hearts of many fans of the classic series while also attempting to fix some of the things that went wrong with the original version by incorporating new visual effects, revising some of the editing decisions, re-recording the Dalek voices courtesy of Nicholas Briggs – the voice of the Daleks in the current series – and even including some extra newly shot footage to jazz up the battle scenes.

Disc one includes the original unadorned episodes, looking exactly how they did at the time, but cleaned up by the BBC restoration team. We get an audio commentary by producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrence Dicks, who are joined at various points by actors Jim Winston and Anna Barry and vision mixer Mike Catherwood. This is an amiable but generally serious and honest look back at the story and its various faults and successes. The accompanying thirty minute documentary, “Blasting the Past” runs through the production history of the serial in even more detail and includes contributions from actors Katy Manning, Jimmy Winston and Anna Barry, producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrence Dicks, Ogron maker John Friedlander, Dalek operator Ricky Newby, and Dalek voice artiste Nicholas Briggs. As well as covering in detail the making of the serial, the documentary also addresses the iconic place it has attained in DOCTOR WHO history with contributions from classic series writer in the 1980s Ben Aaronovitch, new series writer Paul Cornell and Doctor Who magazine writer Dave Owen. The information completest will find all manner of extra production info included in the accompanying text subtitle commentary.

“A View from the Gallery” is a conversation between Barry Letts and vision mixer Mike Catherwood as they revisit the original studio gallery at BBC Television Centre (the historic site criminally slated to be sold off and to close in 2013) in which the two attempt to explain what was involved in making DOCTOR WHO using the multi-camera system in the ‘60s,’70s and ‘80s. The art of the vision mixer, which involved a form of live editing using camera feeds and played-in film footage, is explained and discussed in some detail.

Disc one rounds off with two historical clips of film from the time; one, a feature from weekday evening magazine show Nationwide, is a report from a primary school as it prepares to take delivery of its prize Mark 7 Dalek (a half-sized toy model) – the reward for winning the Radio Times writing competition mentioned earlier. A selection of duffle-coated youngsters line up in the playground to enthusiastically greet their new arrival, a table-full of children are interviewed on what they find scary about Daleks, and one of them play acts being exterminated – something we probably wouldn’t see today in a post Dunblane massacre world! A clip from “Blue Peter” follows, in which the three Daleks seen in “Day of the Daleks” invade the BBC studio. The whole feature is introduced on the pretext of a viewer writing in to ask if the long-haired, flouncy shirted Purves is the same man who used to accompany Doctor Who on his travels back in the mid-sixties. This prompts a clip from “The Dalek Master Plan” and for Purves to urge viewers to write to the producers of DOCTOR WHO asking for a new Dalek serial (even though “Day of the Daleks” had already been shot by this point).

Disc 2 features the special edition of “Day of the Daleks” conceived by DVD extras producer Steve Broster and executive producer Dan Hall. For the most part the newly incorporated effects by graphic designer Michael Dinsdale work extremely well and aren’t too intrusive. The newly edited battle sequences are indeed an improvement and the new footage has been cunningly shot on the original BBC 16mm workhorse, the Arriflex 16BL camera, supplied by vintage camera nut John Kelly. A new Dalek prop in the original style was commissioned from prop maker Toby Chamberlaine as was an Ogron replica. The small crew returned to Dropmore House in Buckinghamshire to film new insert material, which was then degraded so that it fits perfectly in with the older film. The two battle scenes are now much more visually dynamic and convincing and the team even took the opportunity to fix what many fans felt to be a ‘mistake’ in the original series when the Doctor kills an Ogron who is posing no threat to him at all. Many felt this to be out of character, so now Broster and the team have altered the scene so that the Ogron shoots first, prompting a necessary response from the Doctor. In fact, Pertwee now shoots two of them, as well as executing his Venusian karate at every opportunity.  The one thing that doesn’t feel right about this re-modelled version are the graphics effects shots which replace the block of  flats that originally doubled as the Dalek headquarters; these new CGI sequences jar considerably and are clearly nothing like the kind of thing possible in the 1970s. A 16 minute featurette, “The Making of Day of the Daleks: Special Edition” is included on disc 2 along with a number of the regular featurettes DVD purchasers will be familiar with by now: “Now and Then” sees Toby Hadoke revisiting all the old locations of “Day of the Daleks” while “The UNIT family – Part Two” covers all the stories that UNIT appeared in across the Pertwee years in a nostalgic half-hour documentary. Most of the information imparted can be found on the making of documentaries already existent for those serials that have already been released, while the rest offer a tantalizing glimpse into what we can expect when stories such as “The Mind of Evil” and “The Daemons” eventually make it onto DVD sometime next year.

“The UNIT Dating Conundrum” is a ten minute light-hearted look at fan attempts to make sense of the frankly nonsensical chronology of the UNIT stories, voiced and written by Toby Hadoke, while “The Cheating Memory” sees DVD producer Steve Broster exploring why our childhood memories of watching DOCTOR WHO rarely survive a cruel encounter with reality when we see those episodes again years later. Psychologist (and DOCTOR WHO fan) Sarita Robinson provides the ‘science bit’ while Nicholas Briggs and Ben Aaronovitch recount their own personal experiences of the phenomenon.

Finally, a ‘coming soon’ trailer for the forthcoming third Doctor DVD release of “Colony in Space” rounds off an entertaining brush with the Doctor’s past and a passable attempt to make “Day of the Daleks” play as our memories once reconstructed it, rather than in the more accurate but faltering, sometimes clumsy style it actually resembles in its original form. I still think I’ll be sticking with that original version, though, despite the generally excellent job the team behind the Special Edition have done on it; even with its badly voiced, un-dynamic Daleks and rubbish laser gun battles on manicured country lawns, the original still works better than it has a right to thanks to a versatile story and committed performances that can spark the memories of childhood much more effectively than gimmicky attempts to supply a visual spectacle that tries to recreate them ever can. This is a recommended release though.

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