Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey. For a time travel series Doctor Who is actually about time travel very rarely, especially during its original run. Day of the Daleks feels remarkably fresh and ahead of the game, with people travelling back from the future to change something, and inadvertently causing their future to happen because of their actions in the past. This is a predestination paradox, which then gets overwritten by a temporal paradox, with all the events of the story hailing from a future that no longer exists. It is sophisticated storytelling, of an order that we have never seen before. The Space Museum had a go, but dropped the ball by setting up an interesting mystery and then abandoning it after the first episode. Here the paradox is at the heart of the story.
Also thrown in for good measure is the first ever example of the Doctor meeting himself. It is another Third Doctor, but the images of Hartnell and Troughton that appear on a screen later in the story are also a first in that respect. All of this, in addition to the return of the Daleks, feels like the series is starting to play with its past in a way that it has never done before, in preparation for the impending 10th anniversary. It is a shame we never get to see the meeting between the two Doctors from the other perspective, which would have made more sense of it. That was the original intention but the scene was removed from the story due to running time issues, and reinstated for the novelisation.
So we have an interesting premise for a Doctor Who story, which functions well in its own right, and then something else gets thrown into the mix: the Master. No, wait a minute, he’s actually not in this one. New season, new rules. Instead, the Daleks are back. They were a relatively late addition to the story and it shows. Any monster could have been used in their place, and it’s all a bit clumsy if you’re paying attention and remember that we have already had a Dalek Invasion of Earth in the future. And the problem is that if you are going to show the Daleks in charge of a whole planet, or mounting an invasion, then you really need more than three of them. It’s a common criticism thrown at this story and it tends to be a slightly skewed criticism because it gets things backwards. Due to the four-and-a-half year gap between this and The Evil of the Daleks there were not a lot of Dalek props available sitting in a cupboard somewhere, and not a lot of money available to do the obvious thing and make new ones. That’s not what the problem is though. It is perfectly possible to put together a magnificent story with just a few Daleks. We will eventually get a very effective story with just one. But that limitation has to be the starting point. An author has to be told: “you’ve only got three – work with it”. But if you impose three Dalek props on an author who already has a story in place, and expect him to stick them in as the monster of the week, it’s not going to work. Or at least it’s not going to work very well. The best thing Louis Marks could manage was to keep them off screen as much as possible, and concentrate on the story he wanted to tell, and that works reasonably well, but as the big return of the Daleks it’s lacking.
We also get a lot of the usual Pertwee era problems. The Doctor is a wine-quaffing aristocrat who talks the good talk about human rights while killing a sentient being without a moment’s pause to consider what he has just done. UNIT are playing at being regular army chaps again, providing security for a peace conference, and the Doctor is therefore an adjunct of the army who likes to pretend he is James Bond.
Then we have the Ogrons. I wouldn’t go so far as to label them as a racist creation, because it’s not entirely overt, but then racism isn’t always overt. However, let’s just say that they are obviously never, ever going to reappear in 21st Century Doctor Who.
The DVD release of Day of the Daleks included an updated version, in common with a lot of the DVD range where the special effects got tinkered with. This went further than any of the others, shooting new scenes and redubbing the Dalek voices. Unfortunately they forgot to edit out the Ogrons. And bully boy Captain Yates. And the blondes whose only function is to wave their hands around over their consoles. And
UNIT the army. And Doctor James Bond.
A touch sardonic perhaps, but not cynical.
A touch pretentious perhaps, and also hypocritical. RP
The view from across the pond:
One problem that faced most of classic Who was the length of a story. The original series never had a set length so we went the gamut of having some as few as 2 parts and a number in the 6-8 episode range. (Outliers like a 1 episode story or a 10, 12, or 14 part story are also in the mix but are far less common). Some of the longer ones are tough to get through. Considering the nature of Doctor Who, the stories could be all over a genre map too, so if you liked the horror stories more than an adventure story, landing in a 7 part adventure serial could be draining. By the time of Pertwee’s era, many of his stories go on far longer than they should have making his range some of the toughest to re-watch. The best of his stories tended to be those 4-part stories that usually sat in a season full of 6 (or longer) episode stories. So they stand out as often very strong indeed. (Think: Spearhead from Space, Curse of Peladon, Claws of Axos, The Three Doctors!)
At the very start of his third season as the Doctor, having not seen them in over 5 years, the Daleks returned to Doctor Who in Day of the Daleks. Thankfully, it’s a marvelous, tight story with all the best elements of Doctor Who: Daleks, minions, time travel and time travel paradoxes, UNIT, a creepy old house and some great fun throughout. Special note: I say creepy old house because the production crew knew very well how to use shadow to create a creepy effect. The fact is, the house is lovely and would be a delight to see, I am sure. So how does this story get it so right when so many of Pertwee’s episodes did not? Pacing mostly. The story has a great cadence but we also have the marvelously British old house, a pompous dignitary terrorized by “ghosts” and some strange goings-on in tunnels, with apes! The Daleks are in color for the first time and they look incredible. They have a new group of minions, the aforementioned apes, aka Ogrons, which is an upgrade from Professor Evil Maxtible. (I mean Theodore…). The Brigadier and company are back with UNIT. The Doctor enjoys some cheese and wine, which is so mundane and yet so perfectly Pertwee… And Jo Grant gets her first look at a Dalek – it’s not the last time the Daleks will look longingly at Jo though, am I right? (Ok, enough of that; this is not meant to be a scary commentary!)
There are other, more specific, items of note. When the Doctor is having his thoughts analyzed by the Daleks, we see the “flame” sequence from the opening titles followed by images of the first and second Doctor – always a delight for fans! Unfortunately, this should have given us more of the Doctor when the Episode 1 Doctor/Jo combo would encounter their episode 4 counterparts, but alas, we only get one side of this interaction without the follow-up. A shame: multi-Doctor stories are always a treat, even if it ends up being the same Doctor twice!
The one and only thing that ever struck me as unfortunate about this episode is watching James Bond, I mean the Doctor, come running out of Auderly House and immediately gunning down an Ogron. It may have been the intent that this was in self-defense but the Ogron barely has a chance to even register the Doctor’s presence. It always struck me as poor form on the Doctor’s part. But I often comment about the aliens being treated poorly just because they are aliens. It’s not fair! I know they were lousy conversationalists and you would never invite them ‘round for dinner (this never happens) but they deserved a bit more! But the story compensates by giving us one of those marvelous “future-created-the-past” stories. This is where people from the future travel back to avert an event in the past but end up being the very cause of the thing they are trying to stop. You know, like Terminator! I absolutely love these stories and it makes up for any little gripes I might otherwise have.
Bottom line: there’s an atmosphere to Day of the Daleks that carries throughout and has a great story to tell along the way. If only all Dalek stories were so strong. How odd, a future version of myself just popped up and said I’d be happy with the next Dalek episode if I just give it time and remember this review… Ok, I guess I’ll hit send and wait. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Curse of Peladon