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Show: Doctor Who (1963-1989)
Episode:  The Day of the Daleks (Part 1)
Review by: Michael Hickerson
What a difference ten or more years can make in the "classic" status of a Dr. Who serial. When the BBC started releasing Who on VHS all those years ago, one of the first Pertwee stories to see the light of day was Day of the Daleks. I remember that when it came out, it was heralded as just a great story, a classic, one that every fan had been dying to own for years. Fast forward about ten or so years to the days of DVD when the entire series is being released again on DVD and Day of the Daleks hasn't even shown up on the radar, nor has its name even been thrown about as a possible future DVD release. Has a story that was once considered a classic fallen so far in the fan estimation, simply by making it readily accessible to the fan community through the wonder of VHS?

It appears so.

Certainly, when I reviewed this story several years ago, I stated that while it was a good Pertwee story, I didn't necessarily find it to be the classic that a lot of other fans found it to be. And years later, as I dust off my old copy and watch it again, I have to admit that while the story has grown on me in some ways, I still have a lot of the same problems with it that I did back when it first saw the light of day on VHS. Does this mean I wouldn't buy it on DVD? Absolutely not. I'd love to have an episodic copy of the story, but you can chalk that up to my obsessive nature as a Who fan and not the classic status of the story.

Day of the Daleks certainly starts well enough. The premise of ghosts coming from the future to kill a current political leader who may just send the world spiraling into the third world war is an intriguing one. With the world events of today, the references to a possible war and there being one last chance for peace are hauntingly familiar and a bit eerie. There is something very disconcerting about the scenes of the Brigadier listening as the world situation deteriorates seemingly moment to moment to the brink of utter destruction. And it's interesting to see that the world will in fact, go to the point, thus allowing the Daleks a chance to come in and conquer Earth, as they failed to do during the Hartnell years. (Thankfully, none of the absurdity of making the Earth into a giant spaceship to travel the cosmos is brought up here).

Day of the Daleks is one of Who's most serious examinations of time travel and its possible consequences. Surprisingly enough, the script does a good job with this, creating a future that is a temporal paradox and having the Doctor set about making it right. It almost makes one wish that a hero such as the Doctor existed in reality to see the future of where world events are taking us and then give us a nudge in the right direction to keep history on its correct course. There is something reassuring about seeing the Doctor not only be able to defeat his greatest enemies, but also have to deal with the possibility and the ramifications of a time-paradox and being caught up in one. One of the greatest themes of the Pertwee years is that humanity is it's own worst enemy and that theme shows up here time and again.

We even see the Doctor get a chance to make some impassioned speeches about the role of conquers and aggressors. The scenes in the Dalek command center as he debates the Controller are strikingly well done. And it's also interesting to see Jo so easily persuaded that the Controller is doing the right thing and is actually one of the good guys. That little bit of conflict between the Doctor and Jo is surprisingly refreshing and well done. It was rare in the Pertwee era to Jo openly disagree with the Doctor and while it's not quite as open as Ace or Sarah Jane would be, seeing her argue with the Doctor is a nice touch.

And the first two episodes do set up an intriguing premise for the story. And the first two episodes seem to go by at quite a good clip, easily flowing from one scene to the next.

It's once the focus shifts to the future and the Daleks step up and become more of the catalyst for the action that the story begins to fall apart a good deal.

The final two episodes just don't have the fun factor or the intensity the first two do. Part of it is that a lot of episode three is meant to show us the terrible future and then have Pertwee get a chance to ride around on a giant go-cart (an embarrassingly bad scene since it requires the Ogrons to basically pace after the car menacingly in an attempt to make it seem as if the machine is going faster than five miles per hour). Because of this, episode four is packed with trying to figure out what went wrong, overthrowing the Daleks, fixing history and saving the day. That's a lot of material to pack into 25 minutes of screen-time and the final episode suffers a good deal because of it.

Also, another problem with the story is the inclusion of the Daleks themselves. After a five-year absence from the program, I was honestly expecting more from their return visit than we got here. Part of this I think is because the original script didn't include them. The production staff felt the story needed an extra spark and the maybe the metallic pepperpots could provide that. But the Daleks are so limited in what they do on-screen (mainly screaming and threatening the Controller) that they because a bit of a parody of themselves. They don't feel like they're really all that menacing or an integral part of the plot.

I will, however, admit that I do like the Ogrons and find them some of the more effective and intriguing Doctor Who monsters from the Pertwee era. The costume, the make-up and the design of the Ogrons is nicely done and it's easy to see why they're brought back later in the Pertwee years for a second visit.

I will have to admit that I think part of my disappointment with Day of the Daleks stems from the fact that I read the superb Terrance Dicks novelization of the story first. Terrance takes the story and expands it, giving us backstory and characterization that just simply can't be realized on screen. This was before he was turned into a novelization machine by Target and the dedication, effort and work show in the novel. I always wonder if my reading the book put unrealistic expectations of the story in my head and that no matter what happens a four part story could never live up to them. I'm not sure, but that may be part of what keeps me from enjoying this story as much as some of my fellow Who fans. If you're looking for a good Dr. Who novel read, I recommend this one highly, if you can find it.
Last Updated: 3/13/2006
Other Reviews by Michael Hickerson
1) The Celestial Toymaker (Updated: 10/25/2006)
2) The Parting of the Ways (Updated: 11/15/2006)
3) The Ultimate Foe (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
4) Colony in Space (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
5) Paradise Towers (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
6) The Web Planet (Updated: 10/25/2006)
7) The Happiness Patrol (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
8) The Hand of Fear (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
9) Vengeance on Varos (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
10) The Tenth Planet (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
11) Terror of the Vervoids (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
12) The Brain of Morbius (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
13) Time-Flight (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
14) Spearhead from Space (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
15) Caves of Androzani (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
16) The Curse of Fenric (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
17) The Gunfighters (Updated: 10/25/2006)
18) Aliens of London (Updated: 10/25/2006)
19) World War Three (Updated: 10/25/2006)
20) Dalek (Updated: 11/15/2006)
21) City of Death (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
22) The War Machines (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
23) Boom Town (Updated: 10/25/2006)
24) The Ark in Space (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
25) Mindwarp (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
26) The Massacre (Updated: 10/25/2006)
27) The Mysterious Planet (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
28) The Pyramids of Mars (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
29) The Rescue (Updated: 10/25/2006)
30) Planet of Fire (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
31) Full Circle (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
32) Mawdryn Undead (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
33) The Two Doctors (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
34) The Myth Makers (Updated: 10/25/2006)
35) Attack of the Cybermen (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
36) An Unearthly Child (Updated: 10/25/2006)
37) Underworld (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
38) Timelash (Part 1) (Updated: 10/25/2006)
39) The Steel Sky (Updated: 2/13/2006)
40) Invasion (Part 1) (Updated: 2/14/2006)
41) Delta and the Bannermen (Part 1) (Updated: 2/20/2006)
42) Tomb of the Cybermen (Part 1) (Updated: 3/1/2006)
43) The Daemons (Part 1) (Updated: 3/2/2006)
44) Terror of the Zygons (Part 1) (Updated: 3/3/2006)
45) The Day of the Daleks (Part 1) (Updated: 3/13/2006)
46) New Earth (Updated: 4/20/2006)
47) Tooth and Claw (Updated: 4/27/2006)
48) The Idiot's Lantern (Updated: 5/31/2006)
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