on 14 October 2013
I didn't watch Day of the Daleks when it was first screened. I have memories, though, of it being shown as an edited compilation on a Bank Holiday Monday, before the new school term started. Sure enough, on referencing The Handbook for the Third Doctor (by David J Howe and Stephen James Walker and recommended here in passing) I see that it was indeed broadcast 3rd September 1973. The only scene that had remained with me, was that of the Ogrons trooping down the embankment by the railway bridge. For months after this, I would peer out of our car window each time we passed under a motorway or railway bridge, to check for signs of Ogrons....
The edited compilation had served for me and probably many others at that time as an appetite following The Green Death at the end of Dr Who's 10th season and the start of what would prove to be Jon Pertwee's final season with the broadcast of The Time Warrior on 15th December 1973.
Watching the episodic version for the first time in 2011 in the digital age, I was more aware of the intricacies of the story, in particular, it's intrigung main plot: a group of guerillas travelling back from the 22nd century with unreliable time travel equipment (probably in the prototype stage of development) to assassinate a high profile politician and prevent his actions that originally led to a Dalek invasion and their subsequent rule. Relevant? It most certainly was in 1972. The IRA were making their point known via a series of attacks that made the term "bomb scare" a part of everyday life and in September of that year, the Olympic Games in Münich were subject to the taking of several palistinian hostages that ended in a grisly massacre.
Day of the Daleks then, has some hard-hitting reference points. I find it a good story, but not a brilliant one. It could have been better for reasons given in nearly all reviews of the story and the features on this special edition DVD and to which I will come to myself in due course.
The story has a suitably sinister start: a gloomily lit house, a ticking clock, Sir Reginald Styles - the political target for the assassins - working late in his study and the sudden appearance of the first guerilla. The Brigadier's first scene takes place in the radio room of UNIT headquarters and judging by the sound of the typewriter, he could well be in the World of Sports studio in place of Dickie Davis.
And then the hero himself appears, and we see the Doctor analysing data from the TARDIS and being asked the relevant questions by Jo Grant. The second Doctor / second Jo subplot reflects Styles' description of seeing a ghost. And then there's a missing biro pen on the TARDIS console (can you spot when it was retrieved?)
The Doctor shows his ususal reluctance to help UNIT in their task and his reaction here - "I'm a scientist, not a politician" - is similar to that in The Green Death: "I'm not a policeman." One of the highlights of Day of the Daleks is without doubt the location shoot at Dropmore Park in Buckinghamshire, standing in for Styles' house. However, the scences in the study are clearly a studio set, but an impressive one at that and the Doctor in his Edwardian style clothes looks more at home here than Styles himself. One thing is missing though: the sight of Bessie parked on the gravel path in front of this beautiful house.
The Ogrons are average enemies and hardly original, the influence of Planet of the Apes being clear here. Shortly after the activation of the time transmitter comes the first sighting of the Controller of Sector 1. The part is played by Aubrey Woods, an actor selected by director Paul Bernard himself as being "outside the conventional". As the scene fades to him, I thought what a ploy it would have been if it had been The Master that swivelled round in the chair. Quite rightly, the production team saved him for later in the season.
The Controller is an interesting villain: intitially ruthless and calculating, but as the story progresses, we gather sympathy for him as he saves the Doctor's life and realises how different his own life might have been without Dalek rule. Although producer Barry Letts expresses on a couple of the features here that Woods' performance is more suitable to the stage rather than television, I find it a commendable one.
Thirteen minutes into Episode 1, we get our first glance of a Dalek. Why this should be, is not quite clear as the impact is lost. Back at UNIT HQ, the Doctor has discovered that the temporal feedback circuit of the time transmitter has overloaded, which he explains to the Brigadier as the fuse blowing - wonderful stuff.
And so the Dcctor and Jo get to spend the night in Styles' haunted house. The cheese 'n' wine scene is a delight and perfectly fitting for Jon Pertwee's Doctor. He gets the wonderful line here referencing Napolean. First time viewers of the story might be forgiven at this point for thinking that the threat is indeed lurking in Styles' house, but the enemy has just arrived in the nearby tunnel and are about to assassinate who they think to be Styles.
There is some unconventional editing at episode 1's cliffhanger as the music's sting is retained for episode 2. I like the initial confrontation between the gurillas and who they think is Styles, especially as the Doctor casually says "By the way, that machine of yours is bit antiquated isn't it?" to which he receives a swift "shut it!" in true Sweeney-style.
The story jumps back to UNIT HQ where the Brigadier's patience is wearing thin, even though Benton and Yates insist that the Doctor and Jo have disappeared. This scene was shot through a transparent screen with a red pattern on it. I would take this to be a map of Styles' house, as there is a similar plan in the novelisation of the story. The audience is treated to one of those coded conversations between the Doctor and UNIT, which would pepper stories throughout the Pertwee era. This one concludes with the Doctor advising the Brigadier: "Don't forget to tell it to the marines."
Jo's threat with the time machine is very much out of character, yet tells us how much confidence she has gained in her first year with UNIT.
And so to the second Dalek cliffhanger, where the Dalek seems to have recognised the Doctor. Episode 3 sees the Doctor arrive in the 22nd century following his getting caught in the gurilla's time field. His main mission here of course is to find out what has happened to Jo. She has in fact been transported directly in front of the Controller and here her naive character returns as she provides him with as much information about the Doctor and thus the gurillas. The Controller reports to the Daleks and the audience becomes aware that they are the ones behind the goings-on all the while. He mentions almost incidentally that the captured girl referred to a companion called the Doctor. The impact of this is quite good, but it is greater in the novel and I would like to quote it here:
"As the Controller left, their voices rang in his ears ...... But there was something different about those voices. They held some quality the Controller had never heard before, and as he walked from the council hall he recognised it. The quality was fear. For the first time in the Controller's experience of them the Daleks were actually afraid."
A sub-plot starts with a production manager needing to justify the recent decrease in output and there is a hint of dissent in the ranks as it turns out that he is actually working with the guerillas. The Controller clearly has Jo and the Doctor eating out of the palm of his hand, as well as letting them eat at a banquet. Here, the Doctor's logic becomes probing: "When I meet a regime that needs to import savage alien life form, I begin to wonder who the real enemies are." Some nice direction follows and as the Doctor explains to Jo about the Daleks the camera moves out to be framed by the monitor suspended in the Daleks' control centre. Interestingly, the Controller fears he may have the wrong man, but the Daleks point out that the Doctor's appearance has changed once before. To double-check their suspicions, they intend to subject the Doctor to the Mind Analysis Machine and so following the run-around tricycle race, there follows for me one of the iconic scenes in Dr Who, namely Pertwee strapped to the MAM, gazed at by Ogrons and Daleks and backdropped by the pattern of the series opening and closing titles and stills of the Doctor's previous selves. A wonderful cliffhanger and the best so far.
Of course, episode 4 opens with the dramatic entrance of the Controller to prevent the Doctor from being exterminated. He convinces the Daleks, based on the evidence that the production manager had proven to be a subordinate, that the Doctor should be kept alive and that he himself will make an interrogation.
The resulting confrontation shows a side of the third Doctor's character rarely seen: he is positively violent towards the Controller as he hisses: "You sir are a traitor and a quisling!" This is quite a contrast to the charming Doctor who is usually prepared to negociate with his opposite party. Help is at hand as the motives of the guerillas have been changed round and they now kidnap the Doctor from right under the Controller's nose. There is method in their madness, however, as they wish the Doctor to go back to the 20th century and assassinate Styles for them. The Doctor, naturally, is not easily convinced that this is the solution and through this (relative late) exposition realises that "This has happened before. You're trapped in a temporal paradox!" He then realises, through the guerilla's description of an explosion at Styles' house, that he may be able to not only save the conference, but stop history from repeating itself again. Thus, he and Jo are allowed to return to the 20th century, but not before the Controller nearly prevents them from doing so. At this point, his character changes from ruthless follower of the Daleks to believing that the Doctor might just be able to save the future. But once again, in the 22nd century, not many are to be trusted as the chief guard witnesses the Controller letting the Doctor and Jo go. The Doctor's question of "Are you going to stop me?" is quite rhetoric.
The Controller's final scene at the fate of the Daleks is rather moving: "Who knows?" he says, "I may have helped to destroy you."
The story concludes where it started - at Styles' house. Media attention is present in the form of a lone reporter telling the masses about the imminent summit meeting at the house that aims to prevent the outbreak of World War 3. I like the scene of the UNIT troops jumping to attention as the Doctor and Jo rush past them (they would receive a similar welcome later in the season from the navy when they board the diving bell ship in The Sea Devils).
I would award Day of the Daleks *** but as this is a review of the DVD release, I give it ****. The story's biggest weakness is indeed the Daleks themselves: the use of only three props is not excusable, even by BBC's standards. Of the studio sets, the best is undoubtedly that of Styles' study, with it's leather furniture and tapestries on the wall. The control room of Sector 1 in the 22nd century is sparse to say the least and looks like an amateur stage production (so Aubrey Woods' performance is perfectly fitting), but this serves as a contrast to Styles' house. What is not acceptable is the use of a multi-story car park with actors tipping gravel from dustbins into a skip to represent, eh, a factory? Once again, there is no excuse on the part of the BBC for this, not even budget constraints. I like the use of the swipes as changes of scenes which are used particularly in the first part of the story.
As to the cast, UNIT as a whole seem to be on full alert here (none of them standing around drinking tea), the Brigadier, Yates and Benton put in good performances as does Katy Manning as Jo Grant. The supporting cast of Styles and the Controller are very good but at the top of the totem pole once again is Jon Pertwee as the Doctor: he remains my favourite Doctor and childhood hero. Granted, other Doctors had some better stories, but Pertwee's charm, warmth and means of getting things done always remains an inspiration to me.
The Now and Then feature here I find interesting. Unlike other locations used at the time, most of those for Day of the Daleks are still intact: Dropmore Park, Harvey House and Bull's Bridge. The UNIT Family feature is a wonderful look back at that era of Doctor Who as is Blasting the Past. In the latter, it is pointed out that as soon as the viewer analyses the ramifications of time travel, he gets trapped in the so-called grandfather paradox. Also, it is interesting that such a time travel plot may well have been an influence on James Cameron's film The Terminator. Dr Who influencing Hollywood? It would not be the first time (witness The Ark in Space in 1975).
A View from the Gallery offers a technical insight into making Dr Who from then-producer Barry Letts and vision mixer Mike Cathaway. Some of their obversations are repeated on the production commentary, which is generally good, in particular the participation by Anna Barry and Jimmy Winston who were not regular members of the cast.
Making this release special indeed is a new version of the story with improved graphics, new Dalek voices and with fluffs edited out. Some keen fans of Dr Who may find it a sacrilege that the origninal story should be tampered with in such a way. Personally, I find this exercise justified. Firstly, some of the paux fais on the part of the cast (in particular the technician's stuttering of the "Time Zone" line) are unforgivable and could easily have been edited out prior to original broadcast. Secondly, unlike a Rembrandt painting, Dr Who as a whole is a piece of art that is very much a product of the times in which it was made and since many of the stories are now being given the digital treatment, it's improvement using modern techniques is fully justified. Finally, this new edition has been put together, not by the get-rich-quick BBC, but by a group of fans with a heartfelt desire and enthusiasm for the series. Well done to all involved.
In general, I like Day of the Daleks and recommend this DVD to any Dr Who fan.