Doctor Doctor Who Guide

I find it quite surprising that it took a show about time travel nine years to present a story that used it as something other than a means of establishing setting; Day Of The Daleks is consequently a groundbreaking story within the programme, if not in science-fiction in general. It’s also, lest we forget, the first appearance of the Daleks for five years. If this wasn’t enough, it also succumbs to the myth that season openers should be big and bold and epic (I’d dispute that as there are plenty of worse season-openers than this, but this story and The Time Warrior get a lot of flak for it so I thought I’d mention it). As you can imagine then, Day Of The Daleks has a lot on its shoulders. While it’s a decent enough story in itself, I can’t really hide a sense of low-key disappointment. It could have been worse – but also better.

Starting from the beginning, the introductory scene is all fairly standard stuff. The obviousness of the set up is staggering, but not exactly bad and the old routines of the window mysteriously open have a certain charm simply through their sheer innocence. Dudley Simpson, who was at his very worst under Barry Letts, here provides a decent score (although a bit too loud in places, particularly here). The only problem with the scene is the guerrilla dress worn by the soldier; if he’d been in rags (which could have worked in the context of a devastating invasion) he would have worked much more effectively as a “ghost”.

Moving swiftly on to the regulars, it makes a very refreshing change (after seeing some of the later Pertwees) to see an intelligent, authoritative Brigadier whom Nicholas Courtney obviously relishes playing. The TARDIS scene (or console scene in any rate – how did he get it through the outer doors again?) is whimsy at first, but basically good, if only because the ‘future selves’ bit is really quite imaginative and ambitious for the time, even if the special effects require a bright yellow wall outside. Katy Manning makes for a less than impressive companion at this stage though, as even in her more intelligent stories she was still the most air-headed companion of them all (even Mel was proactive at times). Some find her wide-eyed earnestness endearing; I can appreciate that, but I just find her irritating now. Maybe I’m too familiar with her. All the stock feed lines (“I don’t understand” / “What’s happening”) are reeled out one by one in this scene, and the reference to Colony In Space lacks elegance. When the Brigadier arrives the scene turns into a massive expositionary vehicle; I tend not to have too much of a problem with this kind of thing as even the crudest plot-reveals can sometimes get by if that plot is good enough, but here it does feel like a definite overdose.

The Ogrons make their first appearance here; I feel from their cameo in the following season’s Carnival Of Monsters and then their larger appearance in that story’s following Frontier In Space that they were intended to become bigger monsters than was actually the case, but I quite like them. Conceptually a monster that is too stupid to be really ambitious but is instead content to bumble around and work for someone else is really quite original, and the make-up is excellent. The only problem are the voices, as the actors’ slurred speech is a very grating attempt to sound stupid, although it’s nowhere near as bad as the Robomen in The Dalek Invasion Of Earth. The further appearance of a guerrilla fighting this one further enhances the sense of mystery.

Wilfred Carter just sounds bored as Sir Reginald Styles, although his character description as an arrogant blowhard provides a convenient get-out. The location shooting is also a bit naff, which is extremely rare, although the weather doesn’t look like it was anything special and the location itself is a bit boring. Director Paul Bernard does the best with what he’s given, and there are some sporadic directorial touches throughout the story that are really quite impressive.

The disintegrator gun being reduced deliberately and obviously to a ray-gun for the purposes of explanation is extremely patronising to the audience. The special effect of it firing is good though. The explanation of the time-travel device is also peculiar: it is extremely inauspicious, which strikes me as odd as Louis Marks has held off revealing that the guerrillas have come from the future up to this point. I also find the Doctor’s condescending line of “top of the class, Jo” to be annoying, a throwback to his thoroughly dislikeable persona in The Daemons. In fact, didn’t he say that very line in The Daemons?

The female technician played by Deborah Brayshaw is absolutely dreadful. I know season nine isn’t notable for showcasing rivals for Laurence Olivier, but this really takes the biscuit. She sounds like a zombie, but then if I was playing a character who nobody could be bothered to give a name to I wonder how much enthusiasm I’d be able to muster either. The Dalek comes as a sudden shock (especially to those who were expecting not to see them until the cliffhanger), but the voices are terrible. The problem is not in terms of the modulation effect like in Revelation Of The Daleks, but that neither Oliver Gilbert nor Peter Messaline have the passion to play them, and in no other story has their monotones been so drawn out.

The Doctor raiding Styles’s cellar is a cool scene; Benton is his likeable self as always, although Mike Yates is uncharacteristically nasty here. The Doctor’s absent-minded karate on Shura is cheesy though; in fact all three of the guerrillas are a bit hammy, with probably Jimmy Winston as Shura coming off best. The set up for this story is very interesting, a sort of reverse Terminator: here the heroes are coming back to assassinate a villain with evil cyborgs in pursuit, rather than the hero coming back to protect a saviour with an evil cyborg in pursuit. However, Jo still asks too many questions, and wouldn’t the guerrillas know what Styles looked like in the first place?

Aubrey Woods as the Controller is deceptively good: he seems like a plank at first but portrays quite a multi-faceted character, eventually double-crossing just about everyone and turning from hero to villain and back again several times. I can’t think of another character who does that. His interrogation of Jo is very well written and subtle, which is good considering how crude some of the exposition has been up to now.

What we have now is possibly one of Doctor Who’s worst-ever scenes though, where the Doctor guns down an Ogron in cold-blood. What happened to peace? What happened to the Doctor not using a gun? In fact, what happened to the Doctor? It isn’t even necessary at all as the other Ogron is gunned down by UNIT troops anyway; it’s simply a complete betrayal of the entire show for no good reason: and the Doctor will refuse to commit murder later in the story. Presumably he’s made his weekly quota by that stage.

This is a slow episode on the whole; in fact, I’m now halfway through the story without mentioning any of the cliffhangers really. Maybe it’s because I’m watching an old edited-into-one version of the story from 1986 which makes them much less notable. Maybe it’s because we haven’t actually been told anything new of significance for twenty-five minutes. This cliffhanger in the tunnels is daft though: the Doctor has never been less surprised to see a Dalek. I feel like I’m blowing hot and cold about this story, but then again that’s exactly what the story does itself.

The portrayal of the Dalek-subjugated 22nd Century is nowhere near as effective as in The Dalek Invasion Of Earth as, run down though it is, a car park cannot be passed of as a labour camp. Even if it is a grotty 1970s concrete affair – I mean, the parking spaces are visible in many of the shots (maybe for those silly motor-trikes that everyone seems to be zooming around on in the 22nd Century).

The line of “Doctor? Did you say Doctor?” is silly as verbal double-takes are hardly very Daleky, and even if it was Shakespeare the inept delivery of the line wouldn’t be able to do it justice. The direction is still above average, but the story is still turning into a bland run-around. The plot elements have been revealed too early, so now all that’s left is to kill time before the (admittedly good) finale. 

However, I do like the juxtaposition between the forced labour and the fruit that the Controller offers Jo, which makes for an understated commentary on political pretence that seems even more relevant today. The Doctor’s interrogation is also good, as the veiled threat to the family of the factory manager makes up for any visual flaws in the story’s sketching in of the Dalek invasion. The following confrontation with the Controller is also good and dramatic, but is fundamentally only going over the same ground as before.

The motorised getaway vehicle is a contrivance that makes for a gratuitous and pointless action scene as the Doctor gets captured anyway, leading to the cliffhanger – it’s the best of the story, but nothing much in itself.

The final episode begins with the Daleks saying that they have invaded Earth “again”; as the original invasion hasn’t happened in this timeline this shows up a plot hole, which is something that affects this story quite badly.

The Controllers motivations are also well realised, as his subtle shift in attitude as the Doctor saves his life is wonderful to watch. This leads up to a good ending, with the realisation that the guerrillas have been time-looped all along. Here is where Marks makes a right pig’s-ear of the paradox plot, as there are several questions that cannot be answered easily: how did it get started in the first place? Also, if the timeline is altered so the war never happened, Shura wouldn’t come back in time and…argh! My head hurts.

From a purely dramatic point of view though, the revelation is brilliant, and the Controller granting the Doctor his freedom at the cost of his own life is a very poignant moment.

The final battle is well shot, but it is here that the lack of Dalek props becomes really noticeable; the real problem lies in the fact that one of the Daleks is a different colour so there are only two Daleks that can be passed off convincingly as making up the numbers. The final scene where the Doctor warns Styles not to let the conference fail is very good and atmospheric.

This story has one major ambition in its time paradox, but this is not realised well as a four parter. The Daleks need not be in it at all, and in fact if it was just an ordinary alien race I might like this story more. As it is, this story is no turkey and I’ll give it an average rating, but it’s simply not as good as it really needs to be given its undeniable and unavoidable importance.

Filters: Television Series 9 Third Doctor