Top positive review
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Doctor Three, Daleks Nil
on 7 April 2014
The Third Doctor knew how to show a girl the Universe. No back story about family ties and complications - straight into the TARDIS and one forced landing later it's a life and death struggle with the Daleks, hostile natives and an all-consuming City that drains power and life from the world around it. Welcome to your first alien world, Sarah Jane! Gloom, doom, power cuts, blackouts and social strife in a bleak wasteland. Just another lovely day on Exxilon.
`Death to the Daleks' sees Jon Pertwee's Doctor faced with the Daleks for the third and final time. It's a curious contrast with his first encounter in `Day of the Daleks'; there a strong script wasn't matched by the special effects and production possible at the time. The superb DVD special edition finally gave that story the glossy look and sound it deserved. In this battle on Exxilon, some plot elements are familiar from earlier Dalek adventures, but the original production quality of `Death to the Daleks' is excellent and remains impressive 40 years later.
Jon Pertwee still has immense charm and style as the Doctor, even though he was never supposed to like stories with the Daleks. Elizabeth Sladen has a superb `alien world' debut for her role as Sarah Jane, cleverly conveying the fear, awe and confusion that anyone would feel in that situation. Of course, Sarah's usual determination wins through to help outwit the Daleks, good work for a first trip off Earth! Sarah's discovery of the City of the Exxilons by night is a high point in the story; acting, music, model work and effects combine to create a genuine sense of wonder.
The stranded Earth expedition is brought to life by a very good group of guest actors but the basic concept and group dynamics are similar to the stranded Thals in `Planet of the Daleks'. The Exxilons themselves are wonderfully masked and costumed so the hostile tribe almost blend into the background of their bleak world. Best of all is Arnold Yarrow as `Bellal', leader of a friendly Exxilon faction that operates literally underground, a likeable character and very well acted. There's a great scene where Sarah adjusts to meeting her first friendly alien and overcomes her fear of the unknown. Bellal is also meeting *his* first friendly alien but is expecting it. Bellal later takes on the `companion' role as he and the Doctor work their way through the City's defences. Jon Pertwee is at his best in these scenes and he and Arnold Yarrow make their characters an enjoyable team to watch.
`Death to the Daleks' could have been just another Dalek story, but it is lifted by very good acting including Michael Wisher's Dalek voices and by being an extremely well made show. Terrifically atmospheric location filming merges almost seamlessly with the studio sets; in the first episode, night on Exxilon is a very unnerving place to be. Most of the models and effects work convincingly in an effects-dependent story, there are a few visible wires and one Dalek shows its rails but under Michael Briant's direction the action flows smoothly. Carey Blyton's saxophone music is an unusual style for `Doctor Who' and not to everyone's taste (especially when accompanying onscreen Daleks) but the unsettling music of the night scenes, the `City' theme and the sacrificial chant of the Exxilon priests are very memorable.
A flight with the Third Doctor is always worth the journey to your DVD player; watch it in the dark to soak up the atmosphere of Exxilon ... 4* story, raised to 5* by the excellent DVD extras.
The commentary is first-rate; entertaining and full of anecdotes from contributors who actually remember details and talk about the show (not true for every DVD). The production subtitles are the usual high standard, interesting and even amusing.
`Beneath the City of the Exxilons' is the best `making of' documentary I've seen yet, done as if you are watching a mission report hacked from the Dalek database, complete with CGI overlays and narrated (as a Dalek) by Nicholas Briggs.
`Studio Recording' is an enjoyable 20 minute insight into the studio recording process from one of the original tapes, showing the normally (hopefully!) unseen retakes and technical hitches that surrounded a show like `Doctor Who'.
`Doctor Who Stories - Dalek Men' is a short feature talking with the men who operated the `Supreme Beings'.
`On the Set of Doctor Who and the Daleks' - a feature about the 1966 movie.