The one thing that always gets mentioned about this story is that it is virtually a remake of The Daleks, with some bits of other 60s Dalek stories thrown into the mix. It’s hard to argue with that. We have Daleks vs Thals, with the Daleks trying to wipe out all other life on the planet from their base. The planet itself is a hostile environment, with killer plants and invisible aliens. With a ten-year gap between the stories, this wasn’t actually a massive problem at the time. A relatively low percentage of the viewers would have seen the original story, certainly none of the children watching, and those who remembered The Daleks would probably have enjoyed the references rather than being annoyed by the recycling of ideas.
So the problem is not really one of familiarity. The problem is that an idea that worked for the first Dalek story doesn’t really work for the eighth Dalek story. The Daleks was our first introduction to them, and they were post-war aliens confined to their city. It made sense for some of their enemies in that war to have survived and still be living on Skaro. But since then the Daleks have become a planet-invading force, successfully conquering the planet Earth at one stage. Terry Nation of course knew that, because he wrote The Dalek Invasion of Earth and part of The Daleks’ Master Plan himself. And he does know that, because here they are on another planet, and…
Somewhere on this planet there are ten thousand Daleks!
It’s not as big a number as he wants it to sound, when you start thinking about intergalactic conquest. Somewhere on this planet are seven billion humans. But it reinforces their ability to do a lot of damage with relatively small numbers, so that’s fine.
Leaving aside that digression, the point is that Nation knows that the Daleks are causing destruction on an intergalactic scale and is writing them here in that context, and yet he also writes them in the context of Daleks vs Thals as per his very first story. And that doesn’t make any sense. How can the Thals still be co-existing with the Daleks on Skaro? The Daleks simply cannot simultaneously be a force of universal destruction, and not be capable of destroying a humanoid enemy in their own back yard.
We can get home. Back to Skaro!
What kind of home could that possibly be? An attempt can be made to rationalise this as being a story that takes place prior to some of the previous ones, which helps, but you can’t get past the basic fact that the Daleks are able to send out invasion forces to other planets, while not being able to successfully invade part of their own.
So we have a writer stuck in the past to the extent that he delivered his scripts complete with individual episode titles (and yes, they are all exactly the 60s clichés you would expect), whose big original idea is to borrow the secret frozen army bit from The Tomb of the Cybermen. It shouldn’t work, but somehow this story ended up as Doctor Who’s greatest triumph of style over substance.
The main reason for that is everyone involved is so assured in what they are doing by now, as I mentioned when we looked at the previous story. Terrance Dicks puts in some intelligent script modifications that add some heart and soul to the story, particularly the Doctor’s anti-war message at the end. Pertwee continues to excel in a season that no longer paints his Doctor as an establishment figure. The Thals could have easily been forgettable characters – there isn’t much in the scripts to hang a personality on, but Bernard Horsfall and Tim Preece are both fabulous actors and work wonders here with what they are given.
Jo spends a lot of the story talking to herself or sneaking around, but she has to try to survive on her own in genuinely dangerous situations, which is quite scary. And there are some good ideas. The floating up the shaft to escape the Daleks is a gripping set-piece, and “molten ice” is an exciting sci-fi concept. I know some people laugh at it and say molten ice = water. But it is clearly stated that the ice on Spiridon has different properties and remains below zero after it thaws, so this is a different substance to water. “Molten ice” is just a shorthand explanation, and it is a frightening idea. Also very scary is how Nation uses his old idea of invisible aliens, and then extends that to the Daleks. They are frightening enough as it is, without raising the possibility that they might be able to sneak up on people unseen to exterminate them.
Most importantly, Nation’s ideas might be recycled, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good ideas. A hidden army of monsters, invisible aliens, killer plants, the Daleks trying to wipe out all life on a planet: even one of these is a decent basis for a story, so throwing them all in the mix keeps it fun and exciting. There is also something hugely entertaining about seeing those Sixties Dalek stories re–imagined in the colourful Pertwee era, with a very different Doctor and companion. We even have a movie Dalek thrown in for good measure. It might not be the most sophisticated Doctor Who story, but when has Doctor Who ever been so much fun? RP
The view from across the pond:
I always loved the 1933 movie, The Invisible Man. Even my kids liked it, and I showed it to them when they were pretty young! Claude Rains’ voice as the crazed scientist is magnificent; his voice is perfect for the role. Invisibility is a great power too; wouldn’t it be fun to be invisible? But when Doctor Who tries it, it always feels like they didn’t have the budget. And on the planet Spiridon, being invisible is par for the course. Daleks can be invisible (which should have been a great cliffhanger if not for another horrible use of title – more on that in a second) and the indigenous race is also invisible. Until they die… which really makes no sense, but then I see a lot that doesn’t make sense and roll with it anyway! So let’s jump right in with the title: Planet of the Daleks. That would be Skaro, one might assume, not Spiridon. But for the pseudo-sequel to Frontier in Space, we will identify Spiridon as the Planet of the Daleks. So when the first part ends with the invisible monster being spray painted to reveal… a Dalek, well, that shouldn’t have come as a surprise! You want me to tell you what animal the invisible horse is in the stable? It’s a horse. You know how you should have known? Because I announced it when I asked the question. This is one of those complaints I had about the classic series. Too often we get titles that completely steal the thunder of “the big reveal”. The Power of the Evil of the Revelation of the Resurrection of the Genesis of the Planet of the Remembrance of the Destiny of the Evolution of the Asylum of the Death to the Daleks! And that’s just Daleks! For a series that relied on cliffhangers to keep the audience watching, spoiling the surprise before the story even started seems like very wooly thinking to me. You know why “Bad Wolf” isn’t a bad title? Because we had no idea what to expect. If it were call “Hideout of the Daleks”, the big surprise would have been a lot less big!
So what we have is another rehash of The Daleks. The Thals are back and it’s clearly a sequel for them since their meeting with the first Doctor way back. They have developed spaceflight and they don’t dress in silly sashes now and their memory of the Doctor and his companions have become the stuff of legend, which is nice because even at this early stage in the show’s history, the Doctor’s reputation was preceding him. And the moment we get that marvelous actor, the ever-squinting Bernard Horsfall, you’ve got a good thing going. He’s just so damned likable. What’s weird is that my first encounter with him was as Chancellor Goth in The Deadly Assassin, so you’d think I’d hate him, but he was also Gulliver in The Mind Robber and the Time Lord of the Knowing Nod in The War Games. How can you not like this dude? But this story still doesn’t scream “epic” the way we’d hope.
Wester is a very likable invisible guy who wears purple cloaks (that also go invisible) and while he’s a splash of new paint, the rest of the plot is a rehash of The Daleks, with very little to make it new. Sure, things are shifted up but it’s still the same plot. Ok, now the Doctor’s legs are paralyzed instead of Ian’s. Or there’s a virus instead of a bomb. But too much is a repeat including the Daleks being trapped at the end. Now, what does make this one interesting is where The Daleks took place largely inside the Dalek city and on the end of a little plateau that the Thals hung out, this one takes place in a forest with ice swamps and it felt more alien. The alien plants helped and added a viable threat as they were dangerous even while hiding inside the TARDIS. And that was the other thing: the inside of the TARDIS and Jo’s little “Captain’s Log” had a cozy but trapped feel to it that was extremely fun. I love when we see parts of the TARDIS that we had never seen before. Jo doesn’t make a great Captain Kirk though, so her reports didn’t feel as dramatic, but then, who can really speak like Shatner anyway? But fine, I acquiesce, that scene was a nice touch as well.
Now, one thing I always appreciate about good Science Fiction is when an important message is relayed, especially when the show is geared for a younger audience. I mean, Adam West may have it down when he reminds Robin not to throw a metal grate from a building (“Pedestrians, Robin”), but the Doctor gives a pretty damned good line himself in Planet of the Daleks.
DOCTOR:… You may be a very brilliant scientist but you have very little understanding of people, particularly yourself. Courage isn’t just a matter of not being frightened, you know.
CODAL: What is it, then?
DOCTOR: It’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway, just as you did.
Sometimes it’s the minor things; the things that feel like two-second, throw-away lines, but they make an impact. They stick with you! Planet, while not officially the sequel to Frontier in Space, comes off as a decent sequel just the same. It worked well in conjunction with the former story even if the Master and the Ogrons were not included, but as I supposed yesterday, maybe that was what the Time Lords were taking care of while the Doctor was recuperating. Either way, this never felt like the long, drawn-out affairs of the typical 6-parter, and it worked very well. I just wish we could get better titles that wouldn’t ruin the surprise!
Guess what spider-filled planet we’re talking about tomorrow? How did you ever guess it was Planet of the Spiders???? Surprise: lost! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Green Death