Doctor Who complete reviews: Day Of The Daleks
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The deadly pepperpots prove a pointless intrusion into a solid Pertwee story. All three of them...
The only problem with Day Of The Daleks is… well, the Daleks.
After an absence of nearly five years, the Daleks were back, back, back! Even if the second Doctor mused over their apparent “Final End” in The Evil Of The Daleks, in fact, it just turned out to be a rather lengthy pause. Especially when there are ratings to be had.
You can understand in a way why the evil tinpots were wheeled out again. Having achieved good ratings for season eight, Barry Letts and Uncle Terrance wanted to consolidate this success for the next one. What they now always came up with was a hook, something to tempt viewers to BBC One on Saturday evenings. Having produced a new arch enemy in the form of The Master in Terror Of The Autons, Barry and Uncle Terrance decided that the Daleks should be brought back for a rematch.
In the short-term, the ploy worked, with some good ratings. Job done. In the long-term though, the Daleks actually hinder what’s otherwise a clever, well-told story. Apparently, the original Day Of The Daleks hadn’t featured the overgrown pepper pots, who had been pencilled in at the last minute. There’s two main problems with the inclusion of the Daleks, which are:
1. There’s only three of them. OK, so the Doctor Who budget in the early 1970s wasn’t exactly big. These days, it wouldn’t be a problem, since you could use computers to copy the Daleks and create an army of millions. No such technology existed then, and so it’s very difficult to get past the fact that there aren’t many Daleks around. It’s odd - there are other stories in which a small group of Daleks are meant to represent an army. Genesis Of The Daleks is one such tale in which you don’t really notice, but for some reason, this is glaringly obvious in Day.
It’s not as if they do much anyway. For the most part, they’re stuck in a huge metal box with a wobbly door. They never seem to leave this box, but the reason for this becomes obvious when we see them in “action”. Poor old Paul Bernard does his best to convince us that there are many Daleks around in the closing battle on Earth, but he sadly fails. No matter how many zoom-ins and repeat shots of the Daleks gliding out of the tunnel, he still can’t hide the fact that there are only three of the blighters. There’s too many tell-tale long shots which give the game away, which is a shame, since the rest of Bernard’s direction is actually quite good.
"The thing about the Daleks is that they’re meant to be alien, and the Day Of The Daleks' Daleks don’t sound alien at all. They sound like two very human men speaking in Annoying. Broken. Up. Sentences."
2. The voices. Rumour has it that when Day Of The Daleks surfaces on DVD, there will be the option to listen to brand new Dalek voices. Which I hope contain a bit more oomph than what we get in the original. Actually, what I do hope is that this is only an option, since archive TV, for better or worse, should still be allowed to be seen in its original form.
And anyway, I kind of enjoy ripping the piss out of the god-awful voices, which sound like your Uncle Stan or Arthur or whatever getting a Dalek hat for Christmas, and then doing a bad impersonation for the kids. The thing about the Daleks is that they’re meant to be alien, and the Day Of The Daleks' Daleks don’t sound alien at all. They sound like two very human men speaking in Annoying. Broken. Up. Sentences.
A pity, since Louis Marks’ script is very well thought out, turning from a mild ghost story into a weighty piece on slavery and the complexities of time paradoxes. The initial haunted house episode is well achieved with a spooky atmosphere established by good direction from Paul Bernard and some great sets from David Myerscough-Jones. It must be said that the third Doctor reaches an apex of cool in the first episode, swilling wine and eating smelly cheese like a well-dressed food and drink critic in a swanky hotel. I also love the bit in which he karate chops Shura with a yell of “Hai!!” and then just casually takes a swig of drink (vodka?) as if nothing had happened.
The remaining episodes change gears, as it’s established that the ghost is actually a guerrilla from the future, who’s come back to kill the man who he thinks is responsible for causing an explosion at a peace conference. This caused an outbreak of war, leaving the Daleks to swoop in and rule the humans. The remaining guerrillas want to pick up where the wounded guerrilla left off, but as The Doctor later discovers, the explosion is all the work of Shura. Caught in a temporal paradox, in fact, the guerrillas are responsible (“You did it all yourselves!” thunders The Doctor). It’s all expertly reasoned, and surprisingly, is one of the few early Doctor Who stories to make such a big deal of time travel. The guerrillas are quite well acted, even if, with their hippy hair and moustaches, they look like they should form the new New Seekers (all they have to do is draft the dozy radio operator or the equally dozy monotone Controller lackey to make up the female numbers).
"Like many Pertwee stories, Day Of The Daleks is still topical today, with the great divide between wealthy rulers who are perfectly happy to live the life of luxury, while your average Joe is finding it even more difficult to make ends meet"
The bleak future Earth is also well depicted, and a hark back to the gritty days of season seven. This is where Paul Bernard really comes into his own, with some desolate location filming and a good contrast between the rulers and the ruled. In this case, it’s the Controller, a man who, despite, his apparent top banana status, is no more than a glorified slave himself. He’s perfectly happy to throw his weight around and give luckless workers ultimatums when it comes to achieving impossible targets. Like many Pertwee stories, Day Of The Daleks is still topical today, with the great divide between wealthy rulers who are perfectly happy to live the life of luxury, while your average Joe is finding it even more difficult to make ends meet.
And yet despite this, The Controller is oddly sympathetic. After several angry face-offs with The Doctor, you can’t help but feel sorry for a man who gradually realises his folly in helping the Daleks achieve their power. He protests at one point to The Doctor that he has helped people and saved lives, but it feels like he is trying to convince himself more than The Doctor. And as The Doctor points out to the guerrillas, the Daleks would have always found someone else to do the Controller’s job anyway. In the end, it’s gratifying to see the Controller betray the Daleks by letting The Doctor go and change the world. He remains stoic and unflinching when he is about to be executed, and even quite proud of what he’s just done. “Who knows?” he says. “I may even have helped to exterminate you.”
Aubrey Woods tends to be remembered both for this and the ridiculously OTT Krantor in the Blake’s 7 episode 'Gambit', but there’s no denying that his performance as the Controller is the best out of the two. Woods gives the Controller real gravitas and pathos, successfully conveying that underneath the delusions of grandeur and the red tape, there’s actually a decent human being who’s got involved in a situation that’s way out of his depth.
Quite what’s with the odd make-up though is another matter. For some odd reason, in the 22nd century, it’s customary to walk around in ridiculous war paint, like everyone’s auditioning for Pan’s People. The other workers all tend to be a faceless bunch, the worst offender being the monotone woman who talks in a tewwibly posh voice while giving The Invisible Man an Aromatherapy Massage (and fluffing her lines dreadfully in the process).
Far more memorable are the Ogrons, who are actually better monsters than the Daleks in this story. The masks are very well designed, and it’s a neat idea that the Daleks have resorted to using gorilla-like mercenaries to do their dirty work (“Guard dogs” as The Controller puts it). They’d prove popular enough to return for Frontier In Space, when their stupidity and gullibility are a lot more apparent.
A strong start overall, to the ninth season. Paul Bernard’s direction, apart from the clumsy handling of the Daleks, is well done. There are some imaginative shots, such as when we see a conversation between The Brig, Benton and Yates through a patterned window. He also keeps the action rolling in 21st century Earth, and adds to the bleak realism with minimal incidental music (luckily Dudley Simpson’s starting to blend in other instruments such as timpani and maracas with his 70s synthesisers).
"Even if the Daleks are a bit useless, there’s still enough for viewers to latch on to here"
The UNIT family also strike the right balance between efficient duty and relaxed camaraderie. Benton and Yates may be on patrol, but they still find the time to sneak off for a quick plate of cheese and a swig of wine - even if Yates pulls rank in the most blatant way possible. The Brigadier, too, is still authoritative and in control, rather than the silly fool of The Three Doctors and Planet Of The Spiders.
Even The Doctor’s mellowed at last. I mentioned in the review of The Daemons that from that story on, The Doctor becomes more relaxed and less abrasive. And while he’s still poking fun at The Brigadier’s pomposity or Jo’s relentless questioning, The Doctor is generally nicer to the UNIT family. His relationship with Jo is really starting to blossom here, and as we’ll see in The Curse of Peladon, this will be built upon even more.
In fact, The Doctor only saves his angry temper for The Controller, who gets a right earful. This only shows that the third Doctor is always driven by a sense of fair play and morality, giving the wrong-doers a hard time to hopefully bellow some sense into them.
Even if the Daleks are a bit useless, there’s still enough for viewers to latch on to here. An intelligent but action-packed script (love the groovy big bike chase), generally fine direction and the consistently great performances from the regulars all get the ninth season off to a good start. Just try and forget about the uncles and their bad Dalek impressions.
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.