24 – Day of the Daleks

I was six years old when I discovered Doctor Who. Like most six year olds who discover Doctor Who, my first thought after discovering there were MORE stories was to want to see every possible Dalek adventure. So when I saw that the Day of the Daleks VHS cover was plastered with Daleks, I simply had to see it! I recall being disappointed at the time at how little the titular Daleks featured in the adventure, but still really enjoying the adventure. 25 years on, it’s still a firm favourite with many reasons to enjoy this four part story.

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To begin with, despite the name, this isn’t really a Dalek story. Author Louis Marks originally wrote the story imagining a completely different alien race as the foe, before the BBC publicity machine had the great idea to bring back the Daleks to arouse interest in the brand new Season 9. While the Daleks have a disappointingly short amount of screen time, this is more than compensated by the quality of the story itself.

Still trapped on earth, the Doctor is summoned by the Brigadier to Auderly House, home to top British diplomat Sir Reginald Styles. The world is on the brink of a nuclear war, and Styles has been disturbed by an unusual armed apparition, who attempted to murder him before vanishing into thin air. While Styles jets off to try and arrange a peace summit, the Doctor discovers that the apparition was a guerrilla from earth’s future, sent in the belief that Styles caused a nuclear war that left Earth devastated, and unable to repel a Dalek invasion.

The story rises to a thrilling climax as the Doctor and Jo are transported into earth’s future to discover mankind living in slavery. Meeting with the guerrillas they realise that the war began due to a bomb blast as Sir Reginald’s peace summit – but that the bomb was detonated by one of the guerrillas! The Doctor is forced to race the Daleks back to the 1970s to save the peace conference, and prevent a global catastrophe.

The plot is stunning in its simplicity and its brilliance, exploring creatively the classic time travel paradox of past actions impacting the future. Not only do the regular cast put in a superb turn, they are complemented by outstanding performances by the guest cast also. If one ignores the Dalek focus, the story works exceedingly well – it’s a bad “Dalek” story, but superb  science fiction.

There is however one  but. The story was rather let down by some production decisions – not least the poor quality of the Dalek voices. You do have to get past that – or embrace a crazy alternative option. The BBC Restoration Team took the unusual step when preparing the DVD to create a Special Edition of the story, replacing the Dalek voices and improving many of the special effects. The results were so good that this story could pass muster in contemporary Doctor Who – and that is high praise indeed! I know fans are very much divided on changing anything about the original stories; Day of the Daleks is unusual for the near universal praise for the Special Edition. It is very much worth the price of the DVD.

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You can watch both the original and Special Edition of Day of the Daleks in this DVD release, available on Amazon

Next time: You resemble very closely a man determined to be dictator of the world …

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 …

35 – The Mind of Evil

By 2014 I was tantalisingly close to completing my Doctor Who DVD collection. Notwithstanding the agonising over whether to buy the DVDs with currently missing material (The Moonbase for example) a few stories remained, not least this one. And while it was kept until last, it was certainly one of the best!

First of all, let me share why such an excellent adventure was off the shelves for so long. Not only did the BBC get rid of the original broadcast tapes for the Hartnell and Troughton eras, Jon Pertwee’s era was also badly affected. While his entire era survives, certain of his stories only survived in broadcast quality in black and white – examples including Terror of the Autons, The Daemons, and The Ambassadors of Death. For most, they were able to procure low grade colour versions, which could be combined with the high resolution black and white prints to produce something approximating the original broadcast tape – the Destruction of Time website has a good account of this process.

The Mind of Evil is somewhat unique however, in that no colour footage at all survives of the story. To recover the original colour, the BBC had to use an ingenious process called “Chroma Dot Recovery.” In short – when the BBC converted the original broadcast tapes to black and white film to sell overseas, little dots (the aforementioned chroma dots) were included, indicating what the original colour had been. Using this information, the producers were able (at length and great expense) to recreate the original colour, as they had done for the Ambassadors of Death – a video showing how this process was used for Dad’s Army can be watched here.

So far so good. Except episode one doesn’t have any chroma dots! As Richard Molesworth would explain in Wiped! the dots were due to a mistake in the process of creating the film, and for the first episode the BBC technicians had processed the film properly – leaving no dots! For us in the 21st century, the only way we are now able to enjoy this episode in colour is thanks to the reconstruction team who painstakingly coloured in EVERY SINGLE FRAME of the 25 minute episode. With that in view, the greatest miracle is that they were able to produce the DVD at all!

Once complete and colourised however, the story is far from a disappointment, and is a real highlight of the U.N.I.T. Era of Doctor Who. The Doctor and Jo travel to Stangmoor Prison to watch a ruthless criminal be processed by the ‘Keller Machine’, a device supposedly able to deprive individuals of their most evil impulses. The Doctor suspects all is not well, and he is right to do so – for his old enemy the Master is at work in the background. The machine is in fact an alien creature that targets the worst impulses of those who come into contact with it and imbibes them. The Master proposes using the device to seize control of the prison, then to use the inmates to steal a highly destructive weapon from U.N.I.T (it must be acknowledged that this story is not Captain Yates or Sergeant Benton’s finest hour …)

Convoluted though the plot perhaps is, as ever it is the principle stars that make the story a joy. Delgado and Pertwee shine in every scene, especially where they face one another, and Katy Manning very quickly shakes off the damsel in distress stereotype of Terror of the Autons, being active and assertive. And of course, who can forget the wonderful moment in episode five where the Brigadier infiltrates the prison, dressed in civvies and affecting a Cockney accent …

You may reach the end and ask one pertinent questions: why is the Master trying to start World War 3? Why seize control of the prison in such a convoluted manner? How come Benton and Yates are the only people not murdered by the convicts? To pick on these quibbles however is to rob yourself of the enjoyment of an excellent, gripping, and entertaining drama. It may have been the Pertwee story I waited longest for, but the wait was certainly worth it!

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The Mind of Evil is available to download on the BBC Store for £9.99

Next Time: Set your multi-loop stabiliser for Douglas Adams’ first Doctor Who adventure

36 – The Three Doctors

Back in 1973, a bright spark at the BBC suddenly realised that Doctor Who had reached a significant milestone – its tenth season. To mark the occasion, the producers took the bold step to write a story featuring every one of the Doctor’s incarnations, and the resulting story was entitled exactly what it was: The Three Doctors.

Of all the ‘multi-doctor’ stories, I believe that this one is the best. Unlike The Five Doctors it is not overly self-referential, instead telling quite a good story; unlike The Two Doctors it is clear and cohesive, and reasonably well told! It has to be said that, in my view, it is the participation of the Doctor’s first three incarnations in one story that makes what might have been a quite ordinary U.N.I.T. adventure into a truly great one, and one that is a pleasure to enjoy.

At the beginning of this story the Doctor is still trapped on earth; but having found a variety of different ways to circumvent the BBC’s restriction (or rather, dressing up in different ways sending the Doctor off on missions for the Timelords) the BBC finally gave up and decided it was time to let the Doctor off his leash. The narrative device to restore the Doctor’s freedom was for Gallifrey itself to come under attack from an unknown source, requiring the help of the Doctor to overcome it. When it transpires he requires the assistance of another Timelord, the High Council decide there is only one other person they can spare – the Doctor’s past self!

The villain of the piece is one of the original Timelords – a chap called Omega who harnessed the power of a star near Gallifrey, creating the conditions in which the Timelords would be able to travel in time. He himself was thought lost in the resultant supernova, but had in fact been sucked into a parallel anti-matter universe. The force of his will enables the world to exist, but he cannot escape it without someone else willing it to exist. He is therefore seized of two purposes – to destroy the Timelords (who he felt abandoned him) and to bring to himself another Timelord to take his place and enable him to return to the matter universe.

The Three Doctors does require you to shrug your shoulders and go along for the ride – but it is an extremely enjoyable ride! The scenes between Pertwee and Troughton are genuinely funny rather than forced, leaving it only a pity that Hartnell was so unwell that he could not participate as fully as one otherwise would have hoped, appearing instead in pre-recorded scenes from the TARDIS monitor. It also feels like the beginning of the end for the U.N.I.T. family – at the end of this story the Doctor is given his freedom by the Timelords in gratitude for defeating Omega. As The Brigadier and Benton depart to ‘mop things up’ while the Doctor prepares the TARDIS for take-off, one rather senses that the dismemberment of the U.N.I.T. family, which would start in the season finale The Green Death was already taking place.

The Three Doctors is by no means the most complicated Doctor Who you will ever watch – but it is good fun, easy to follow, and features some extremely enjoyable acting – not least from the three leading men. As the Brigadier famously remarks: “Wonderful chaps. All of them.”

Next time: A savage introduction to a new companion, facing against a schizophrenic computer

43 – The Ambassadors of Death

Ask most fans to name their favourite serial from Season 7, and the two most likely candidates would be Inferno or Spearhead from Space. It is a testament to the quality of Jon Pertwee’s first season as the Doctor that the other two stories are also absolute humdingers. The Ambassadors of Death is perhaps even more unusual than The Silurians because it should not have been a success. Where Silurians was specifically written for Pertwee, Ambassadors of Death was originally written to feature the Second Doctor with Jamie and Zoe, and suffered innumerable rewrites and production problems. Somehow, despite these issues, the BBC managed to turn out a thrilling and classic adventure.

The story centres around a rescue attempt to bring back lost astronauts from Mars Probe Seven. The rescue capsule returns to earth, but it transpires that the three suited beings inside are not the original astronauts, but alien ambassadors. The Doctor and UNIT have to discover why the ambassadors have come, where the original astronauts are being held, and why their efforts to reconcile earth and the alien powers have been hindered thus far.

We must recognise that a lot is going on in this story, in no small part due to the continual re-writing of the script. Despite this, and perhaps because the story runs to seven episodes, it works astonishingly well. Thread one is the Doctor trying to understand the alien intelligence communicating with UNIT, being continually set back by internal saboteurs. The second thread is the ambition of the head of the saboteurs, namely to hold on to the ambassadors to provoke an interplanetary conflict. On top of that there is a third thread – that the hired muscle employed by the saboteur is keen to use the alien ambassadors to serve his own criminal schemes. The interplay between the three should not work, but amazingly it does.

Perhaps the key reason it works is the character of Reegan, the villain’s hired muscle. Rather like Scorby from The Seeds of Doom, Reegan is amoral, resourceful, and quite cheerfully looking out for his own interests. Every moment that he arranges new sabotage, or engineers a break in, you cannot help but admire his audacity, and it’s the strength of this character that ties the different threads in the story together. The other characters also play their roles superbly, including the highly under-rated Caroline John as Liz Shaw.

This was one of the very last Pertwee DVDs I purchased, not by choice, but because its release was delayed many times as the BBC looked to restore the colour to the surviving black and white prints. While it is occasionally noticable, it certainly does not detract from a story I was very much looking forward to, and certainly not disappointed by. As with all seven part stories, you may well be advised to break the viewing into smaller chunks – but you will thoroughly enjoy the tale that is told!

50 – The Sea Devils

We have reached the heady echelons of the top 50 in the countdown! Along the way we have already reviewed some superb stories, all worthy of challenging for the top 50. By now, we are getting into some of my best enjoyed stories, and kick off with a classic Jon Pertwee adventure. As regular readers will recall, Roger Delgado’s Master appeared in every story of Season 8 – a decision I am not entirely persuaded was the best, especially for The Claws of Axos and Colony in Space. So it was something of a relief to discover that Delgado did not make his return until the middle of Season 9 – and oh what a return!

After their last encounter in Season 8 finale The Daemons, the Master was sent to a high security prison. We find the Doctor and Jo visiting the Master in prison, to discover that nearby oil rigs have been attacked by a presence unknown. Investing the disturbance, they discover that the Master has hoodwinked the Prison Warden into believing he can prevent an incursion by enemy agents. Meanwhile, the Master has made contact with the titular ‘Sea Devils’ – ocean based cousins of the Silurians from the eponymous episode who bear a distinct resemblance to sea-turtles in humanoid form. His plan is very simple – to escape his imprisonment, and in so doing to help the Sea Devils destroy humankind.

Compared to their later appearance in Warriors of the Deep, the Sea Devils make for a very effective foil – certainly untrustworthy and prepared to be vicious, but also (as with their Silurian cousins) displaying the distinct impression of being an intelligent and civilised race, no worse than humanity in their viciousness. Other guest characters put in a very respectable showing, not least Naval Captain Hart who plays the equivalent role of the Brigadier in this story. A special mention also goes to the submarine crew for their scenes spent kidnapped by the Sea Devils – but especially to the BBC effects’ crew, who mistakenly managed to recreate a British nuclear submarine propeller by sheer co-incidence, and had a call from British intelligence asking where they had received the information from!

But the reason this serial is so high, as with many of Pertwee’s stories, is the personal interaction between Pertwee and Delgado. Whether their sword fight in the episode 2 cliffhanger, or the moment when Pertwee cheerfully informs Delgado “It may interest you to know, that I reversed the polarity of the neutron flow” (“You’ve done what?!“) – every moment they spend jousting on the screen is absolutely wonderful. Couple that to a genuinely good story, and you have vintage and enjoyable Doctor Who. Highly commended!

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.