Day of the Daleks [Classic Doctor Who]

Doctor Who has long been my favorite show, but in recent years rewatchings of old episodes have been few and far between.  But lately I decided to spend both some of my birthday and Christmas spending money on some of these adventures, and enjoy them with one or two of my nerdier daughters.

(Daily Doctor Who #307)

Day of the Daleks


Companion: Katy Manning as Jo Grant.
Starring Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor.
Companion: Katy Manning as Jo Grant.
Featuring Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Richard Franklin as Captain Yates and John Levene as Sergeant Benton.
Written by Louis Marks. Directed by Paul Bernard.

Format:  4 episodes, each about 25 minutes long
Originally Aired:  January 1972 (Episodes 1-4 of Season Nine).

The amusing thing is that I owe my kids for the opportunity to watch this story, not the other way around. That’s because they decided to sign up for a free month on the streaming service Stan, in order to watch something or the other, and it turned out that Stan has a bunch of classic Doctor Who stories. This is the only one that I got to watch before the free month was over. But oddly, it turns out that the version that is on Stan is a “special edition” created for DVD, which includes not only updated special effects, but new re-recordings of the Dalek voices and even some additionally filmed footage.

Spoilers Ahead!

There are a few things that stand out with Day of the Daleks. Aside from the ever-popular Daleks returning the show for the first time in several years, the episode is also an early use of time travel as more than a mechanism to get the Doctor and his friends to the location of the adventure. Indeed, the whole story is about multiple parties attempting to use time travel to their advantage. Specifically, you have the Daleks who claim to have discovered the secrets of time travel, enabling them to invade earth again and “change the pattern of history” (this is a nice bit of continuity as the Daleks last invaded earth in the same time period in The Daleks’ Invasion of the Earth.

And then beyond that you have the guerilla soldiers, intent on using time travel to try to change earth’s history so that it won’t be so ready for the Daleks’ arrival, by murdering what they believe is a corrupt politician whose actions will lead to their dark reality. It’s a strong story idea that was memorable enough for John Byrne to apparently unconsciously borrow it for the popular X-Men storyline, Days of Future Past. The difference in this earlier version is that the whole thing turns out to be a paradox–the actions of the guerillas to prevent their future will ultimately lead to it. It’s a bit of a trite story twist but perhaps one that was fresher at the time.

And course, completing our trifecta of time travel elements, we have the Doctor himself (as well as Jo Grant). Both of them wind up in the future as well, where the rule of the Daleks is depicted in a chilling but limited way–there’s not really much of a picture of what life is like, but it’s perhaps enough to get the idea across.

The story also includes an odd moment where the Doctor and Jo meet themselves from a day or two in the future–a brief encounter if the planned follow-up scene (the Doctor and Jo experiencing the encounter from the other end) had actually made it into the episode.

Apparently both Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning have spoken about strongly disliking this serial, and it’s easy to see why. There’s a “boxed-in” feeling to the whole story–with both the present and future action all seeming limited to a small set of locations. The Third Doctor era often worked hard to give us a sense of the story’s impact on modern day earth (or at least modern day London) with hapless civilians would be beset upon by monsters in the streets and so on. Here the story doesn’t allow for any of that, with even the exterior sequences feeling like they were all filmed in a single back yard. Although I did like the sight of the various international dignitaries showing up for the peace conference.

It seems that part of the actors’ complaints was the lackluster nature of the climactic Dalek attack on Auderly House. This has been addressed in the special edition of the story that I watched on Stan (the only version available there), in which the action was punched up with a lot more lasers and special effects. In fact, the whole story was full of updated CGI effects–including weapons and spaceships and, I think, the effect surrounding the Daleks’ “mind analysis machine” (Daleks always tend to be pretty literal with their naming habits). The Dalek voices have also been redone by Doctor Who mainstay Nicholas Briggs, who has been voicing the creature (and many others as well) for the show since it revived in 2005.

Personally, I found a lot of these additions to be more distracting than anything. When I’m watching ’70’s Doctor Who, I do expect to feel like it is ’70’s Doctor Who, and while the updated effects are undeniably better, they just feel out of place. I’m a bit of a purist, I guess, and I’d like to see the story fail (or succeed) on its own terms. Ultimately, of course, it’s not that big a deal that they are there–they just don’t really help the story in any particular way.

On the whole, I found Day of the Daleks to be a bit of a drag. Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning have got a lively dynamic, but they’re surrounded by a group of fairly dull guest characters. I like all the UNIT people but they don’t really get to do much that’s interesting this time around. The final plot twist hinges around the actions of a character who had disappeared from the story an episode and a half earlier–he’d been gone so long that I actually wondered if I’d forgotten his death scene.

There is also a bit where the Doctor tries to outrace the Ogrons on a motorized trike which is completely unconvincing as an action sequence.

The Daleks themselves are also limited by the scope of the production, and never feel like the awesome threat they are supposed to. The Ogrons are interesting additional to the Doctor Who universe, and they have a cool look, but they talk and act like big dopes, and never really come across as being all that effective at being henchmen.

(Incidentally, I was telling my one daughter about this story and I mentioned a group of guerilla soldiers. She asked me if I meant “guerillas” or “gorillas” because with Doctor Who, you can’t be sure.

I told her I meant “guerillas”, but said that amusingly there were these other characters who were a bit like “gorilla” soldiers….

Alone amongst the story elements to really hold my interest is Aubrey Woods as the Controller. I found his quite interesting, and enjoyed the uncertainty about exactly how loyal he was to the Daleks and how concerned he was for the rest of humanity.

I wish they had done more with that storyline, although I was glad when the character “turned” at the end and enjoyed it when he said, “Who knows? I may have helped exterminate you!”

Really, I always like to see the Daleks get their comeuppance.

The story has a bit of abrupt ending. There’s no certainty that the Daleks attempts to invade earth in the future will fail, which obviously would have required a bit more work than the story was prepared to deal with. In the end, this feels similar to the entire serial–unsatisfying, half-hearted and a little bit cheap.

One thought on “Day of the Daleks [Classic Doctor Who]

  1. I felt that the special edition did this story much justice. It was UNIT’s first Dalek battle and so it must have originally earned good points for the opportunity, even though the Cybermen for The Invasion still earn better points.

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