OK, here we go with the first of what will, in time, I hope become one of many Doctor Who reviews. When reviewing Doctor Who serials, we will be not only looking at the how the DVD has been put together, but also reviewing the serial more generally. I hope this makes sense.
I was a bit undecided as to where to start with the reviews for the good Doctor, as I have so many favourites.. ..indeed, up until Peter Davidson took over the helm, there were only a few serials I really didn’t enjoy. As you will see as my blog continues I am not really a big fan of the newer Doctor Who’s.. ..don’t get me wrong the productions are fantastic and some of the stories look really interesting, but for me there is just something missing. Truth be told, I think when Tom Baker relinquished his lengthy reign as the Doctor I started to ‘tune out’. So most of the Doctor Who reviews on Retrollection.net will be celebrating the first four Doctors tenure.
So, shall we start with ‘Genesis of the Daleks‘, or maybe ‘Pyramids of Mars‘? No.. ..for my first review I have decided to tackle a quirky little story from the Pertwee era, not quite sure why I have started with this one, it is certainly not ‘classic‘ Who.. ..maybe because it has always made me smile. Anyway, here we go.
The story (contains spoilers)
‘Death to the Daleks‘ was story number 72 in the 11th season of Doctor Who, with the 3rd Doctor being played wonderfully by Jon Pertwee. It was first shown in four weekly parts, from 23 February to 16 March 1974. I think I like this serial because although it is a mainly ‘by the ropes’ number, it is enjoyable and has novel aspects. I also really like the character Bellal!
The main novelty of this particular serial is that the titular Daleks are unable to ‘exterminate’, well at least not initially.
The Tardis is being drained of energy and the Doctor and Sarah have to make a forced landing on Exxilon. As usual they soon get into trouble and are captured by the savage Exxilons, whilst also discovering a gleaming city. After escaping the Exxilons the Doctor is rescued by Human Space Corps. They are on the planet mining ‘Parrinium’ – a mineral only on found on Exxilon – which can cure and give immunity from a deadly space plague (there are some nods towards ‘Dune‘ here). Whilst Sarah is to be executed by the Exxilons for going too near their city, a Dalek space ship arrives (they too have come for the Parrinium).. ..as usual they start to immediately throw their weight around and attempt to kill everything and everyone. But.. ..their weapons don’t work due to the power drain.. ..ha!
At first an uneasy alliance is formed between the Humans and Daleks to mine the Parrinium, but they are ambushed by the Exxilons – a battle ensues, with both a Human and a Dalek being killed. Both groups are captured and taken to the Exxilon caves, where the Doctor interrupts the sacrifice of Sarah Jane and is promptly condemned to death himself. In a novel twist they are saved by a mob of Daleks who have armed themselves with machine gun like firearms and attack the Exxilons. The Doctor and Sarah Jane escape and the remaining Exxilons and Humans are forced to mine the Parrinium for the Daleks, who want it not as a cure, but to keep and thus help spread the plague across the universe.
Whilst in the caves the Doctor and Sarah meet some fugitive Exxilons, who are more intelligent and passive, led by a cute little fella called ‘Bellal’. He explains that the temple like city was built by their ancestors, who had mastered space travel. He also reveals that the city can self-maintain and repair; defending itself if necessary. After the city was completed and gained self-consciousness it turned against the Exxilons and regarded them as a threat, destroying most of them (pretty neat huh, remember this is 10 years before ‘The Terminator‘ came out, using similar ideas). Bellal’s group are determined to complete their ancestors aim of destroying the city they built, in order to ensure the survival of their race. Bellal tells the Doctor about some markings on the side of the city, which the Doctor recognises as similar to ones he once saw on a temple in Peru. The Doctor also realises that the shining beacon on the summit of the city is the source of the power drain and heads off with Bellal to investigate.
Meanwhile, the Daleks have also come to the same conclusions and use Humans to plant timed explosives on the Beacon.. ..but one of them, Galloway, secretly keeps one of the devices to himself. The Doctor and Bellal enter the city, with two Daleks in close pursuit. Both the Doctor and Bellal and the two Daleks have to, as separate groups, pass a series of intelligence tests to progress further into the city. The Doctor surmises that the city is testing those who enter so that only those as intelligent as it will progress; it will then add their knowledge to its own data-banks.
As the Doctor tries to sabotage the ‘brain’ of the city it creates antibodies which attack the Doctor and Bellal.. ..once again the Daleks arrive just in time to cause a diversion, allowing the Doctor an his new friend to escape. The Daleks are destroyed in the city by the antibodies as the beacon is also destroyed by the Dalek bomb, ending the power drain.
The Daleks order the Humans to load the Parrinium onto their ship, where they plan to fire a ‘plague’ missile towards Exillon after their departure. They would then have all the Parrinium to themselves and hold the rest of the galaxy to ransom, threatening millions of lives. As they depart Sarah reveals that the Daleks in fact have only sand on their ship, the actual Parrinium has been secretly loaded onto the Human ship destined for Earth. We also discover that Galloway has sneaked onto the Dalek ship with the final bomb, detonating it just before they fire their ‘plague’ missile. Back on Exxilon, the City collapses and the Doctor muses that the Universe is now down to only 699 wonders.
‘Death To The Daleks’ begins Philip Hinchcliffe’s reign in the spirit that it was to continue.. ..somewhat Gothic and increasingly horrific. The story was written by Dalek-creator Terry Nation, who I think was taking a slight ‘tongue in cheek‘ ‘dig’ at the early 70’s miners strikes, which resulted in many ‘black out‘s. He is also borrowing from other stories such as ‘War of the Worlds‘ and ‘Forbidden Planet‘.
Pertwee is, as usual, excellent as the Doctor and Liz Sladen makes the most of a somewhat subdued role in this story.. ..in my mind she was the best companion to ever grace the series. The story does get a bit ‘plodding’ at times (the Doctor, Bellal and Daleks chase through the city comes to mind – an almost desperate plot device, later shamelessly re-used in ‘The Five Doctors‘); personally I think Nation was somewhat running out of ideas for the Daleks by this point. Apparently he was berated by the Beeb for this but eventually came back to form and went on to write the fantastic ‘Genesis of the Daleks‘ before creating the exquisite ‘Blakes 7‘. The interior of the city scenes also play host to probably the worst ‘cliff hanger‘ in the history of the show.
The other actor who does a sterling job is Arnold Yarrow, as the delightful Bellal.. ..a diminutive character, but with a performance that is far greater than the writing for it.. ..and we don’t even get to see any of the heavily costume clad actor!
The special effects, as usual for classic Doctor Who’s, are a real mixed bag. The Chroma key is mostly excellently done, but some of the models, especially the space craft are laughable. The city, whilst looking OK from a distance, is obviously made of Polystyrene.. ..the melting scene at the end being particularly obvious (the same as the ‘bubble wrap‘ ‘slime’ in ‘The Ark in Space‘). The ‘roots’ of the city (which look great) are also a little too obviously held up with clearly visible wires.. ..but hey, I think this is also somewhat endearing and more pleasing than a lot of the characterless CGI we are bombarded with these days!
DVD extras and quality
DVD extras include an interesting commentary track featuring actor Julian Fox (who played Peter Hamilton), Dalek operator Cy Town, director Michael E Briant, assistant floor manager Richard Leyland, costume designer L Rowland Warne and the guru of the radiophonic workshop, Dick Mills.
‘Beneath the City of the Exxilons‘ is an interesting 27 min documentary featuring Arnold Yarrow, Michael E Briant, Julian Fox, Richard Leyland, L Rowland Warne and ‘Who aficionado‘ Nick Briggs.
An interesting ‘Studio Recording‘ feature (showing some comical special effects ‘bloopers‘, see still), ‘Dr. Who and Daleks’ and ‘Dalek Men‘ shorts (neither of the latter two relating to the main story) complete the package. Finally the single disk includes .pdf original TV listings for the serial.
The video transfer is adequate and the picture has been cleaned well, not bad for a Pertwee era serial. The aspect ratio is 4:3 and the soundtrack mono, as might be expected.
Would I recommend it for purchase? Yes, but this is by no means a ‘must have classic’, so maybe one for the collectors/fans only.