Monday, 8 June 2009

Doctor Who: Day of the Daleks

Part One

"Yes, a most good-humoured wine. A touch sardonic, perhaps..."

A story by Louis Marks, whose one and only previous story was back in 1964! And as we'll see, while fully in tune with the programme as it is in 1972, in a number of ways this is written like a Hartnell story- and that's no bad thing.

Another bleeding peace conference looms, but at least this time the apparent presence of the paranormal means there's a reason for UNIT to be involved. And in spite of such allusions to the recent past there's something forward-looking about this season opener, not the least of which is a growing impatience with the series' now well- established Earthbound format.

The Doctor and Jo discussing the events of Colony in Space, and the Doctor's irritation with the Time Lords ("No one's going to turn me into an intergalactic puppet.") isn't just a nod to the events of last season- it's looking forward to an immediate future in which the Time Lords will use the Doctor to carry out missions on other planets in two of the next three stories. Plans are being laid. But it's not just that; already it feels as though the UNIT family is no longer a full time fixture.

There's more foreshadowing, of course, with the silly time accident with the Doctor and Jo, but this time looking forward to the events of this story. For now though, this is an excellent build-up; strange futuristic paramilitaries, alien gorilla people, and best of all, after four and a bit years and for the first time in colour, a Dalek. It's such a more powerful moment in the context of the marathon than it has been my many previous viewings.

The Doctor seems much mellower and much likeable in this story- arrogant, certainly, and prone to be somewhat patronising to Jo, but the nasty edge he has acquired of late seems gone. Perhaps it's the writing. This is a good, old-fashioned script with all the hallmarks of the best of mid-sixties Who; a clever plot, great ideas, good characterisation and fast pacing.

The Doctor with his wine and cheese is one of my few favourite moments of the Pertwee years so far. It's so perfect for this Doctor. I also like the "RHIP" scene between Jo, Benton and Yates, although it seems to be there to give Yates and Benton at least one scene where they do something that's not utterly functional to the plot. Nice though it is, it's a sign of the UNIT family starting to become decentred from the programme.

There's so much happening in this episode, and just to top it all, the Third World War's about to start. But the last five minutes ratchet things up even further. The Doctor's attacked, uses some Venusian karate on his attacker, finishes his wine (classy, although a little early in the day!) he and Jo are captured- and then we cut to three Dalek. And that noise pulsating just like it used to. I'm pleased they brought the sound back- i hadn't registered before the marathon that it was in this story. But never mind that- the Daleks are back! In colour! Shame about the voices...

Part Two

"Changing history is a very fanatical idea, you know."

Hang on, something's wrong. Something's very wrong. Yes! That's it! No cardboard cutout Daleks! How could they? Now Doctor Who is ruined for me forever. The voices really are a bit crap: "en-e-my of the Daleks". Still, the plot thickens. This is still good; an intriguing mystery plus excitement. I'm trying to see this from the point of view of someone who doesn't know what happens, probably not very well, but I remember being impressed when I first experienced the twists and turns when I first saw this story. Twenty years ago.

Interestingly, although Louis Marks certainly gets the Third Doctor right and certainly has a handle on the show's current style, there's a Hartnellesque quality to the way he writes the Doctor, which seems to make him more likeable. Other interesting things are the first mention of the Blinovitch Limitation Effect and the Controller's line "Now, you've told me the year...", so brilliantly useless for purposes of UNIT dating.

Part Three

"Doc-tor? Did you say 'Doc-tor'"?

The first bad thing I really have to say about this episode is something very odd- the "sting" to the cliffhanger is still there with the reprise for the second episode in a row. Very odd. And while it's great to hear the music from the Dalek city in Skaro again, why is it used for the tunnel by Auderley House?

There's a nice scene where the Daleks snap at the Controller by using the same line he used earlier with the Ogrons: "Wait! You have not been dismissed!" There's a clear pecking order here. Also interesting is the Dalek line "production targets must be maintained!" This story seems to have had an uncanny influence on senior management techniques in the public sector. This theme turns more serious with the exchange between the controller and the factory boss though, establishing very effectively, as much in this story does, the human reality of a totalitarian state.

There are some great Doctor scenes in this episode, not least his exchange with the Controller about the true nature of this society. The Controller is very well written, if no more than competently acted, and his arc works well.

Interesting that this time around the Daleks don't recognise the "new" Doctor. And so for the first time ever we get to see some pictures of the other two Doctors! Never before in Doctor Who has there been so much nostalgia.

Part Four

"You, sir, are a traitor!"

An odd line from the Daleks: "We have invaded Earth again." it's subtle, but nevertheless it's an actual reference to a story from seven years ago. Extraordinary.

More nice developments in this episode, not least of which is a satisfactory dénouement to the Controller's arc. His character illustrates something central about this story; the Daleks don't get much screen time and are often represented by proxies, but the story is about them, and the things they've always represented, so in a sense it doesn't matter.

"Vain to the point of arrogance, a trifle obstinate perhaps, but basically a good man." Sorry, but who's the Doctor talking about here again? Pot, kettle...

We manage to squeeze in a quick fight scene between UNIT and the Daleks before everything's wrapped up very nicely indeed. Not only is it a great twist that it was the guerrillas themselves who paradoxically caused everything in the first place, but Marks even manages to find a plausible way of quickly blowing up the Daleks at the end.

A magnificent story, a 5/5 and no ordinary one at that. Perhaps the most satisfyingly plotted story yet to be seen, with a nice use of time travel, an unusually fast pace for this era and nice handling of the regulars. All the same, I can't help notice that yet again a story manages to be excellent only by escaping the show's Earthbound format...

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