Review of Doctor Who ‘Day of the Daleks’ (Series 9)

Neela Debnath

dalek final 300x225 Review of Doctor Who ‘Day of the Daleks’ (Series 9)In the run up to the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’ in November 2013, Neela Debnath, with the help of BBC DVD, will be writing a review focusing on one story from each of the previous 31 series of the show. Each review will offer readers a snapshot from every series of ‘Doctor Who’ and celebrate the longest-running science fiction television programme in the world.

A temporal paradox, a failed assassination attempt and a trip to the 22nd Century, Day of the Daleks kick-started the ninth series of Doctor Who.

When UN representative, Sir Reginald Styles (Wilfrid Carter) is nearly killed by a gunman, who mysteriously vanishes into thin air, the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) is enlisted to investigate. Before long the Doctor uncovers a Dalek plot to take over the earth by changing an historic event in the 20th century which would send the planet into a third world war. The Daleks would then seize power when the human race is at its lowest ebb.

Despite the exciting premise, Day of the Daleks is not a strong serial. The only real redeeming quality of it seems to be Pertwee’s performance and the presence of the Doctor’s greatest foe. With each series the third Doctor becomes more defined as a character and his performance gets better and better.

Also, as the Pertwee era progressed, the Doctor’s wardrobe seemed to get more outlandish with each series. In this serial audiences saw the Time Lord dressed in a burgundy velvet jacket and a ruffled white shirt complimented with a black and purple cape. The Doctor ends up looked like a vampiric dandy, saying this, the whole mishmash worked together and simply adds to Pertwee’s incarnation.

Sartorial choices to one side, Katy Manning offers up another so-so performance as the naïve Jo Grant. Her moment of bravery turns into a moment of stupidity when she threatens to break the resistance fighters’ crude time travelling machine unless they release the Doctor. Instead she ends up getting sent to the 22nd century and the Daleks. Admittedly, all assistants do something foolish at one point or another but generally they grow and develop as they spend more time with the Doctor. However, Grant has yet to develop a canny instinct and she seems to have learnt very little during her time with him so far.

She never really comes into her own in this serial and it is frustrating to see how quickly she trusts the Controller (Aubrey Woods) without any evidence of his honesty. She does not even question his kindness or the motives behind his hospitality. Perhaps, she was won over by the food that he gives her when she first arrives in the future.

If anything, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) would make a better companion than Grant because he is more sensible and on par with the Doctor in terms of commanding authority and confidence. He can hold his own and stand up to the Doctor. Courtney is always great, never failing to entertain, and his interactions with the Doctor are humorous to watch. His character never knows the full story and is often left in the dark and feeling slightly perplexed which is amusing.

The pacing of Day of the Daleks is quite slow and it is not until the very end that things get exciting. It is a race against time when the Doctor realises that the resistance fighters have inadvertently written themselves into history and will be the ones to instigate a third world war. But on the whole it feels quite disposable, something that can be taken or left.

This is very much a story about ideas that looks at dystopian worlds and time travel. Yet this serial feels flat and the way in which the ideas are explored leaves a lot to be desired. The ideas alone are not engaging, they need a human element to them which the audience can connect to. Perhaps if there had been more focus on the guerrilla resistance fighters or the lives of individual people in the 22nd Century then it would have added the depth that is needed in this serial.

Aside from the regular cast, there are no likeable characters and everyone comes across as irritable. There is no sympathy for the resistance fighters because the audience never really gets to know them, so it is difficult to understand them or the cause they are fighting for. Not even the Controller allows the audience a way in, it is all very vague and it’s difficult to relate to them. The only reasons to watch the serial are the Daleks and Pertwee who is as marvellous as ever.

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DVD & image credit: BBC

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  • Martin_Kinsella

    I really like Day of the Daleks. It is partly out of nostalgia as I remember it at the time (the clue to my love of Pertwee is in my Avatar) and I do like the temporal paradox the show deals with. As a child I lover Pertwee as the Doc and he is great in his early stuff.

  • Huw Turbervill

    “The ideas alone are not engaging” – people who are suffering, going back to the past to change the timeline: James Cameron thought the idea was engaging enough when he made Terminator 12 years later…

  • paulthorgan

    What a pathetic review. In the context of Dr Who, at the time, this was a tightly-plotted story, very linear, few distractions. Pertwee’s first encounter with the Daleks.

    The problem the writer has is that she is viewing a 1970s drama through 21st-Century eyes. I had the privilege of seeing it when it was first broadcast and owned the video for a number of years as well as reading the Target novelisation. It is actually one of the finest storylines produces in the whole canon.

    The modern Who, with its single episodes within a story arc is not the way it used to be and these original shows should not be compared to that.

    The visualisation of Dalek-ruled Earth was superbly done with nice touches like the unexplained shiny faces of the human collaborators and the first view of the Ogrons who were superbly visualised.

    Neela Debnath should have more patience and appreciate the pacing.

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