33 – Death to the Daleks

This adventure was a childhood favourite, and remains a delight to this day. Falling in Pertwee’s final season, this was the third and final time he would face the evil intergalactic pepperpots before regeneration at the close of the season. The story sees the TARDIS crash land on an unknown planet, suffering from a mysterious power loss. They quickly find an Earth survey ship suffering from a similar loss of power, and are soon joined by a spaceship full of Daleks, also mysteriously deprived of power.

The loss of power makes for a wonderful dynamic, with the Daleks initially deprived of their ray guns, and forced to develop conventional rifle style guns. Until they regain their weaponry, they display much the same sort of villainous cunning they displayed in Power of the Daleks – perhaps this is what Pertwee’s Doctor has in mind when he urges the earth taskforce “don’t trust them – not even for a minute!”

Both crews are ostensibly there for the same reason – needing a rare mineral that is the only known cure to a great space plague that is decimating the galaxy. They unite behind this purpose, and also to discover whatever it is that is causing the power drain. It transpires that the inhabitants of the planet, known as Exxilons, worship an incredible self-sustaining city, and this is the source of the power drain. After saving Sarah from being sacrificed for the crime of approaching the forbidden city, the Doctor allies himself with a fugitive Exxilon known as Bellal, the leader of a group determined to destroy the city. While the Daleks enslave the Exxilons to mine the planet, the Doctor has to find a way through a series of traps within the city to destroy its deepest workings, and enable the travellers to escape.

There are occasions when one must overlook the production values of this story; it is certainly not the most complicated or sinister Dalek adventure ever produced, and the episode 3 cliffhanger has to go down as the most pointlessly dramatic ever – as the Doctor urges Ballal not to step upon a patterned floor! If one overlooks these small details however, one finds a highly enjoyable a straightforward adventure, made all the better for a superb supporting cast and the involvement of the Daleks. That it is not the best Dalek story available says rather less about this adventure, and rather more about the quality of Dalek stories in general! It is also the last Dalek adventure of the classic era not to feature their villainous creator, Davros, although it did feature the actor who would portray Davros in his debut adventure, Michael Wisher, here providing the voices of the Daleks.

It saddens me to say that this is also the last adventure of the Pertwee era that I find myself able to enjoy. Even in this adventure you find the sparkle beginning to diminish, and for his final two adventures The Monster of Peladon and Planet of the Spiders the spark is completely gone. There have definitely been occasions when I have felt that either this story or The Green Death would have been more fitting swan songs for a truly great Doctor …

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Death to the Daleks is available to download on the BBC Store for £4.99

Next time: A classic Tom Baker adventure which takes him to the edge of the known universe …

Probably the best Doctor Who EVER: My review of The Power of the Daleks

Merry Christmas readers! I’ve been sitting on a review of The Power of the Daleks for a while, and so I have decided to use the Christmas break to pen my thoughts on the wonderful animation provided by BBC Worldwide.

As long term readers of the blog will recall, Power was one of the three stories I was most keen to see recovered, for the reasons I set out in this blog post. Indeed, so curious was I to sample Patrick Troughton’s sadly missing first adventure that I eventually gave in and watched the Loose Cannon recon – and it only increased my excitement for the animated release when BBC Store confirmed the animation project.

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Now I have watched the animated reconstruction … several times. In such a short space of time, I think that is probably the highest complement I can pay The Power of the Daleks – one watch (even two!) simply has not been enough to enjoy a high quality adventure. I was nervous what standard the animation would be, with the quality varying substantially between previous BBC releases (The Moonbase was excellent, The Ice Warriors less so). In the end, I need not waste any words commenting on the quality of the animation – it is excellent, and a worthy alternative in the absence of the original prints. Sure there is the odd niggle here and there, but one is not only able to follow the story, crucially one is able to enjoy the story and establish some degree of empathy with the characters.

Which comes to the crux of this review: Power of the Daleks is an excellent piece of Doctor Who. The very best stories combine a good story, good characters and a good cast – and the most excellent stories have that extra edge that leaves you hooked. Power of the Daleks excels on all of these counts and then some. Even before you add the unique variable that this is the first regeneration story, it is already a fine example of Doctor Who well done, and would stand up well if it were any other Doctor, and indeed not even a regeneration story. As it is, Patrick Troughton’s first foray into the role of the Doctor is the cherry on the icing that makes this story exceptional.

The plot itself is relatively straightforward: the newly regenerated Doctor arrives with his startled companions Polly and Ben on the planet Vulcan. The earth colony on the planet has three resident challenges: a group of discontented colonists planning a rebellion against the governor; a discontented member of the administration plotting to use the rebels to usurp the governor, and an obsessed scientist who has discovered a space capsule containing what he takes to be three machines – but that the Doctor has no hesitation in identifying as dormant Daleks! When the Doctor witnesses the murder of an Examiner sent from Earth, he steps into the shoes of the Examiner to investigate the mysterious circumstances of the colony. As the wonderful extras explain, much of the tension in the episode stems from the Doctor (and the viewer) knowing that the Daleks are evil and not to be trusted, while the earth colonists are deceived by the Daleks’ pledge of servitude. The viewer knows full well that sooner or later the Daleks will betray their human ‘masters’, and the tension ramps up as the schemes of the rebels, the discontented administator, and the Daleks themselves reach a dramatic and violent climax.

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In fact, if one had to identify one reason why this story is a triumph, it is precisely that word: tension. Power of the Daleks is a glorious lesson that modern television writers could heed well – sometimes the best way to develop a drama is to allow the tension to ramp up slowly, carefully, and deliciously much more slowly than the viewer finds comfortable. Undoubtedly one could argue that without the regeneration and some of the background scenes, this could easily be a four part adventure. I think that would be a shame however – the slower pace allows you to enjoy the excellent characters – and while we can only judge by the voices of the original cast how good their performances were, it seems the cast were all on top form; most importantly, at no stage is there any sense of a cast member being superfluous – each plays their role and plays it well. You find yourself draw in and emphasising with the characters, and hoping that somehow the Doctor can help the colonists to defeat the Daleks.

That said, there are two outstanding stars in the performance who deserve particular praise. Top of the list has to be the incomparable Patrick Troughton – right from “It’s over!” he absolutely nails the part of the Doctor. The BBC took a bold decision to completely recast the role of the Doctor, and if it had backfired they could well have pulled the plug after this adventure. Right from the start Troughton puts his own inimitable charm upon the role, and this is certainly a much better introduction to Troughton than the more comic persona he adopts in his earliest surviving episodes in The Underwater Menace. The animators deserve a lot of credit for taking the soundtrack with all of Troughton’s character, and managing to convey something of that in their animations – it is a simple fact that Patrick Troughton not only made this story a success, he also saved Doctor Who for future generations.

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As a brief aside, it is worth saying that the regeneration (referred to in the story simply as a ‘renewal’) is both better explored and less explored than in future stories. The first ten minutes are entirely focused on the TARDIS, where Ben and Polly try to work out who this ‘new’ man is. Their suspicion and incredulity is well played, and essential for helping the viewer to weigh up the ‘new’ Doctor for themselves. In the end, the Doctor throws himself straight into the action, almost akin to Matt Smith in The Eleventh Hour, and demonstrating the fundamental continuity to the departing William Hartnell by doing what the Doctor does best – getting involved! I think for the first ever regeneration it was very well handled, and it was a delight to experience it.

The other stars are the Daleks themselves, in what is perhaps their most clever and nuanced appearance in the show. Most often we are used to the Daleks adopting their standard method of Dalek Diplomacy (“Seek, locate, exterminate!”) – so it comes to a shock to the senses when the episode two cliffhanger has the Dalek professing “I am your ser-vant!” The craftiness of the Daleks is a joy to behold, and especially the moments when the Daleks momentarily forget that they are meant to be concealing their true natures: witness the Dalek correcting himself from “Daleks are b- are different to humans!” in episode three; or the delicious moment when a Dalek, exhulting in the prospect of their own power supply, says: “With static power, THE DALEKS WILL BE TWICE AS … *pause* … useful.” There is something scarily human in the way the Daleks reason and plot; a potent reminder that their appeal was not least due to a sober reminder of what humanity can become when it gives in to its own worst instincts.

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Even without the original footage I am ready to make the controversial statement that I think Power of the Daleks is the best Doctor Who story ever. It certainly runs my top three very very close, and the only doubt remaining is precisely because we are not able to see the original footage. I feel confident however, that were Philip Morris to work a miracle and recover Power of the Daleks against all of the odds, this story would justifiably take its place as one of the best regarded stories in Doctor Who fandom. It is that good.

Enjoying the #missingepisodes: The Power of the Daleks

Back in the summer, in the heady days before the now infamous leak of the Power of the Daleks animation footage, there was only ever one candidate when I decided I wanted to sample a Loose Cannon reconstruction, and that was Patrick Troughton’s first adventure. Right from the very start of this blog I made no secret that, like most fans, I really wanted to experience the disconcerting sensation of watching Patrick Troughton make his mark on a role that, until that point, had been solely defined by William Hartnell.

So that was my plan. Until we had some confirmation I would watch the Loose Cannon reconstruction of The Power of the Daleks. Then this showed up:

That put me in a bit of quandary. Should I press ahead with my commentary on the Power of the Daleks given that we were about to experience a much fuller reconstruction of the lost episodes? In the end, as evidenced by your reading of these words, I thought it gave even more reason to write the blog. There are some fans out there that prefer Loose Cannon recons to the official animations. This post gives the chance to share my impressions of these reconstructions, and then (in just over a week – how exciting!) to compare it to the new animation.

So let me begin with an explanatory note for those unfamiliar with what Loose Cannon recons are. As noted in previous posts, and especially my post on The Macra Terror, there are two principal ways that missing footage has nevertheless survived – off air fan recordings of the audio, and tele-snaps taken of the live footage. A company known as Loose Cannon (for more details, read here) took it upon themselves to combine audio and tele-snaps to produce a rough approximation of what the on screen action would have been like. While their website is now sadly missing, their videos are still available on sites like youtube and daily motion.

I am already familiar with what it is like to watch such a reconstruction as part of a largely complete episode. When The Tenth Planet was released on VHS it featured a recon of the missing episode 4 that was a combination of telesnaps and audio, and a similar recon was used for The Web of Fear episode 3, and (rather less successfully) for episodes 1 and 4 of The Underwater Menace. I did wonder however what it would be like to watch a completely missing story made up of just tele-snaps.

I have to say, I absolutely loved it, and it was a joy to experience The Power of the Daleks in this way. Undoubtedly the strength of the story itself contributed to that, being a gripping and clever tale that built the tension wonderfully across the six episodes. Even more than that though, I felt the presentation was a reasonable substitute given the absence of the original episodes, never once feeling like I couldn’t understand what was going on. In contrast to just listening to The Macra Terror I found it significantly easier to picture what was happening, and fill in the gaps between the different shots.

The recon also, tantalisingly, includes such surviving footage as exists, including a few pitifully brief shots of Troughton in episode 1, filmed by an amateur viewer pointing a cine camera at his television during the broadcast. It makes watching Doctor Who in his way arguably even more painful, as you are able to get a glimpse of what it would have been like, piquing one’s desire for the original prints to somehow, miraculously, be found. It also pointed out all of the little quirks and mannerisms in Troughton’s portrayal of the Doctor, sadly lost when his episodes were wiped. If the animations truly mean that Phil Morris will never find the original prints of The Power of the Daleks, then it is a huge loss for British TV heritage.

The bottom line is that I could very easily see myself dipping into the Loose Cannon range in future for other missing stories. Alongside novelisations, they are an excellent way to reimagine lost classics. As we are about to discover on Saturday however, I still suspect that the very best way to enjoy currently missing Doctor Who is through animations.

But all that will come in my forthcoming review of the Power of the Daleks animation!

Don’t forget – Power of the Daleks is set to be released at 5:50pm GMT on Saturday 5th November, 50 years to the day after the original broadcast on BBC One.

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44 – The Dalek Invasion of Earth

I have to confess to two heresies – that the first version I saw of this adventure was the movie version featuring Peter Cushing as the Doctor; and that I didn’t really enjoy this adventure when I first saw it on UK Gold. I think I expected more, having enjoyed The Daleks very very much indeed when I had first watched it. In time however, I have only come to enjoy and appreciate this story more and more.

This story is striking for two significant events – the return of the Daleks, and the departure of Susan. Until this point Doctor Who had seen the TARDIS crew go from one adventure to the next, not returning to any previous adversary. Given the mass popularity of the Daleks after their first adventure, it could only be a matter of time before the deadly mutants would make their return to viewers’ TV screens. While it seems an inevitability with the clarity of 50 years’ hindsight, we must not forget how much of a delighted shock it must have been when the Dalek emerged from the Thames at the end of episode one. (Don’t ask why the Dalek thought taking a swim in the Thames was a good idea, it just did!)

The story itself is strongly influenced by the legacy of Nazi occupied Europe, not least in the Daleks’ continued radio broadcasts to the hidden human rebels. Watched with this legacy in mind, the story becomes even more powerful, and not just a straightforward adventure, exploring the deep concept of having one’s liberty taken away and having to fight against the odds. The show is made all the more powerful for being filmed in contemporary London – while nothing will persuade me to enjoy the two minutes of bongo music that accompanies the set piece, the sight of Daleks crossing Westminster Bridge or swarming around Trafalgar Square is truly astounding, and would have been even more so at the time it was first shown.

Of course the story sees the Doctor and his human allies defeat the Dalek menace – in a theme that is later revisited in the new series episode The Stolen Earth the Daleks are attempting to mine the core of the planet and turn it into a battle station. But while the story is simply enjoyed for what it is, I think the more significant moment comes as Susan falls in love with earth resistance fighter David Campbell (amusingly given the surname Cameron in the book adaptation!) and elects to remain behind on earth. Hartnell’s farewell speech is truly moving, and in many ways this would set the tone for Ian and Barbara’s departure in The Chase and indeed for Hartnell’s own departure in The Tenth Planet.

This makes The Dalek Invasion of Earth not just a very good story, but a very important story. The precedent was set to bring back previous foes, and even to bring them to our own planet. And it was acknowledged that the show did not have to die when the main cast changed, paving the way for the most radical change two years later. It may not be as good a story as the first Dalek adventure, but it is certainly a story that I am glad has survived fully intact to be enjoyed today!

52 – Planet of the Daleks

As readers of my earlier post on Frontier in Space will note, I am not entirely persuaded that the Season 10 effort to produce a 12 part epic to rival The Daleks Master Plan really worked. For all that however, Planet of the Daleks is an entirely enjoyable Dalek adventure in its own right.

We join the fray with the TARDIS arriving on the planet Spiridon, the Doctor unconscious following his encounter with the Master in the previous adventure, having used the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits to request the assistance of the Timelords. It transpires that somewhere on the planet Spiridon there is a Dalek taskforce of 10,000 Daleks just waiting to be revived and led to assault the galaxy. The Timelords, in their usual cheerful manner, decide that the best thing to do is to send the Doctor to solve the problem!

The story sees the Doctor and Jo team up with an expeditionary team of Thals (making their first appearance since the Daleks’ first appearance in the eponymous William Hartnell story) to defeat the Dalek force. An added twist is the presence of the Spiridons themselves, an entirely invisible alien species, who are being threatened into helping the Daleks to learn their art of invisibility. Most collaborate, but Jo is helped in her adventures by a friendly Spiridon named Weston who ensures she survives in the jungle.

This is by no means a complicated story, and is best enjoyed if you sit back and enjoy the ride. Undoubtedly it would have benefited had it been a faster paced four parter that stood alone, rather than the second part of an epic twelve part adventure. But it still makes for thoroughly enjoyable viewing, and as ever the Daleks fail to disappoint.

A very poignant note from this story is that for most of it the Doctor and Jo spend the adventure apart from one another, each convinced that the other has been killed. Their relief in finding the other alive is very genuine, and paves the way for the pathos of Jo’s farewell in the next serial The Green Death. It was another important marker towards the end of Pertwee’s time in the role.

56 – Remembrance of the Daleks

Okay – I think it is vitally important I start with one clear statement: I really like this story.

It’s important to begin there, because every Seventh Doctor fan and apologist will be apoplectic with disbelief that this story does not feature in my top 50 stories. Indeed, they will notice some of the stories not yet reviewed (thinking for example of Terror of the Vervoids or The Three Doctors) and wonder how I could think these stories better than Remembrance of the Daleks. So, let me repeat again, I don’t think this is a bad story – it is an excellent story, and a fine example of what the McCoy era should have been like. I have no hesitation in saying that if McCoy had been given a full 26 episode season with stories like this (and the budget of the 1996 TV Movie) I would have thoroughly enjoyed it. This story is fantastic Doctor Who.

Why then is it not in my top 50? For no other reason than personal taste – I hugely enjoy the stories in my top 100, and even have a soft spot for patently rubbish stories like Four to Doomsday (absolutely NOTHING however, will make me ever like Paradise Towers). Remembrance of the Daleks suffers from no great flaw other than being slightly less enjoyed than the stories above it. But that is no shame at all – rather a testament to 26 superb seasons of drama.

This story could have come directly from the classic era of Pertwee and the UNIT family, even featuring characters pretty much in the style of the Brigadier (Group Captain Gilmore), Mike Yates (Sgt. Mike Smith) and Liz Shaw (Dr Rachel Jensen). It features not one but two Dalek factions, each fighting to gain control of a Timelord artefact known as the Hand of Omega – a device that engineers stars to enable time travel. In a plot device later revisited to less good effect in Silver Nemesis the Doctor intends that the Imperial Daleks (under the control of the ‘Dalek Emperor’) should gain control of the device rather than the rebel Daleks.

A superb combination of well paced action and intrigue, the story features several memorable moments – not least that cliffhanger showing a Dalek hovering up a flight of stairs, debunking the myth of Destiny of the Daleks that Daleks are foiled by elevation changes. Also memorable is the revelation that the rebel Daleks are not controlled by Davros (as the TV angle suggests) but by a child conditioned to be a battle computer for the Daleks, and the the Dalek Emperor is in fact Davros. Ace famously takes on a Dalek with a souped-up baseball bat, and Sylvester McCoy gives his most memorable speech, in which the phrase ‘unlimited rice pudding’ features to describe Davros’ insane and insatiable desire for universal domination.

I cannot enthuse enough – this is a great story, and a great way to introduce anybody to classic Doctor Who. It’s only a pity that there are 55 stories I like better …

57 – Resurrection of the Daleks

Originally scheduled to be the concluding story of Season 20, a strike by BBC staff resulted in that season ending with the rather less inspiring The King’s Demons, and the intended adventure, originally entitled The Return being pushed back to Season 21. It in the very least ensured that Peter Davison got to face off against the Doctor’s oldest and deadliest enemies …

Owing to a clash with the 1984 Winter Olympics, this story is significant for being recorded as four 25 minute episodes (as per the rest of the season) but released as two 45 minute episodes to work around the Olympic schedule taking the series’ regular timeslot. As with Season 22, it demonstrated that longer episodes did allow for greater character development – it only being a pity that the format was not preserved beyond Season 22.

The story is also significant in providing the first appearance of Terry Molloy as Davros (Michael Wisher originally lined up to return, but unable to make the rescheduled shoot), and the final appearance of Janet Fielding as Tegan. An unrelentingly grim story, it features two concurrent stories between contemporary London, where UNIT are investigating what they think are bombs but are actually chemical weapons, and a space station in the future, where the Daleks have rescued their imprisoned creator Davros. Losing their eternal war against the Movellans (introduced in Destiny of the Daleks) the Daleks seek out their creator to return their cutting edge in battle, and provide an antidote to the chemical weapons (stored on earth) that the Movellans have used against them. Davros however has other plans – intending to create a new race of Daleks loyal to him. As if such a degree of complexity was not enough, it transpires that the Daleks have been duplicating humanity, including the Doctor’s companions Tegan and Turlough, and intend to use a duplicate of the Doctor to travel to Gallifrey to assassinate the High Council of the Timelords.

It all makes for a very good and engaging story, but one that requires several watches to get your head around. There is also no escaping how grim the adventure is, with an incredibly high mortality rate. Perhaps more than anything else, it is Tegan’s departure that marks out this story and provides its significance. I remember strongly resonating with Tegan’s impassioned outburst the first time I watched this story: “It’s stopped being fun Doctor!” A lot of good people end up dead in the story, and it doesn’t feel like many people win as a result – leaving the viewer to identify with the tearful Tegan regretfully concluding that it is time to go. I enjoyed rediscovering the DVD, but can remember why I did not enjoy the VHS – it doesn’t make for cheerful viewing, and is a rather poignant pointer to the quickly approaching end of the Davison era two stories hence …