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Day of the Daleks

story 60 | season 9 | serial kkk
Ed Martin

I find it quite surprising that it took a show about time travel nine years to present a story that used it as something other than a means of establishing setting; Day Of The Daleks is consequently a groundbreaking story within the programme, if not in science-fiction in general. It’s also, lest we forget, the first appearance of the Daleks for five years. If this wasn’t enough, it also succumbs to the myth that season openers should be big and bold and epic (I’d dispute that as there are plenty of worse season-openers than this, but this story and The Time Warrior get a lot of flak for it so I thought I’d mention it). As you can imagine then, Day Of The Daleks has a lot on its shoulders. While it’s a decent enough story in itself, I can’t really hide a sense of low-key disappointment. It could have been worse – but also better.

Starting from the beginning, the introductory scene is all fairly standard stuff. The obviousness of the set up is staggering, but not exactly bad and the old routines of the window mysteriously open have a certain charm simply through their sheer innocence. Dudley Simpson, who was at his very worst under Barry Letts, here provides a decent score (although a bit too loud in places, particularly here). The only problem with the scene is the guerrilla dress worn by the soldier; if he’d been in rags (which could have worked in the context of a devastating invasion) he would have worked much more effectively as a “ghost”.

Moving swiftly on to the regulars, it makes a very refreshing change (after seeing some of the later Pertwees) to see an intelligent, authoritative Brigadier whom Nicholas Courtney obviously relishes playing. The TARDIS scene (or console scene in any rate – how did he get it through the outer doors again?) is whimsy at first, but basically good, if only because the ‘future selves’ bit is really quite imaginative and ambitious for the time, even if the special effects require a bright yellow wall outside. Katy Manning makes for a less than impressive companion at this stage though, as even in her more intelligent stories she was still the most air-headed companion of them all (even Mel was proactive at times). Some find her wide-eyed earnestness endearing; I can appreciate that, but I just find her irritating now. Maybe I’m too familiar with her. All the stock feed lines (“I don’t understand” / “What’s happening”) are reeled out one by one in this scene, and the reference to Colony In Space lacks elegance. When the Brigadier arrives the scene turns into a massive expositionary vehicle; I tend not to have too much of a problem with this kind of thing as even the crudest plot-reveals can sometimes get by if that plot is good enough, but here it does feel like a definite overdose.

The Ogrons make their first appearance here; I feel from their cameo in the following season’s Carnival Of Monsters and then their larger appearance in that story’s following Frontier In Space that they were intended to become bigger monsters than was actually the case, but I quite like them. Conceptually a monster that is too stupid to be really ambitious but is instead content to bumble around and work for someone else is really quite original, and the make-up is excellent. The only problem are the voices, as the actors’ slurred speech is a very grating attempt to sound stupid, although it’s nowhere near as bad as the Robomen in The Dalek Invasion Of Earth. The further appearance of a guerrilla fighting this one further enhances the sense of mystery.

Wilfred Carter just sounds bored as Sir Reginald Styles, although his character description as an arrogant blowhard provides a convenient get-out. The location shooting is also a bit naff, which is extremely rare, although the weather doesn’t look like it was anything special and the location itself is a bit boring. Director Paul Bernard does the best with what he’s given, and there are some sporadic directorial touches throughout the story that are really quite impressive.

The disintegrator gun being reduced deliberately and obviously to a ray-gun for the purposes of explanation is extremely patronising to the audience. The special effect of it firing is good though. The explanation of the time-travel device is also peculiar: it is extremely inauspicious, which strikes me as odd as Louis Marks has held off revealing that the guerrillas have come from the future up to this point. I also find the Doctor’s condescending line of “top of the class, Jo” to be annoying, a throwback to his thoroughly dislikeable persona in The Daemons. In fact, didn’t he say that very line in The Daemons?

The female technician played by Deborah Brayshaw is absolutely dreadful. I know season nine isn’t notable for showcasing rivals for Laurence Olivier, but this really takes the biscuit. She sounds like a zombie, but then if I was playing a character who nobody could be bothered to give a name to I wonder how much enthusiasm I’d be able to muster either. The Dalek comes as a sudden shock (especially to those who were expecting not to see them until the cliffhanger), but the voices are terrible. The problem is not in terms of the modulation effect like in Revelation Of The Daleks, but that neither Oliver Gilbert nor Peter Messaline have the passion to play them, and in no other story has their monotones been so drawn out.

The Doctor raiding Styles’s cellar is a cool scene; Benton is his likeable self as always, although Mike Yates is uncharacteristically nasty here. The Doctor’s absent-minded karate on Shura is cheesy though; in fact all three of the guerrillas are a bit hammy, with probably Jimmy Winston as Shura coming off best. The set up for this story is very interesting, a sort of reverse Terminator: here the heroes are coming back to assassinate a villain with evil cyborgs in pursuit, rather than the hero coming back to protect a saviour with an evil cyborg in pursuit. However, Jo still asks too many questions, and wouldn’t the guerrillas know what Styles looked like in the first place?

Aubrey Woods as the Controller is deceptively good: he seems like a plank at first but portrays quite a multi-faceted character, eventually double-crossing just about everyone and turning from hero to villain and back again several times. I can’t think of another character who does that. His interrogation of Jo is very well written and subtle, which is good considering how crude some of the exposition has been up to now.

What we have now is possibly one of Doctor Who’s worst-ever scenes though, where the Doctor guns down an Ogron in cold-blood. What happened to peace? What happened to the Doctor not using a gun? In fact, what happened to the Doctor? It isn’t even necessary at all as the other Ogron is gunned down by UNIT troops anyway; it’s simply a complete betrayal of the entire show for no good reason: and the Doctor will refuse to commit murder later in the story. Presumably he’s made his weekly quota by that stage.

This is a slow episode on the whole; in fact, I’m now halfway through the story without mentioning any of the cliffhangers really. Maybe it’s because I’m watching an old edited-into-one version of the story from 1986 which makes them much less notable. Maybe it’s because we haven’t actually been told anything new of significance for twenty-five minutes. This cliffhanger in the tunnels is daft though: the Doctor has never been less surprised to see a Dalek. I feel like I’m blowing hot and cold about this story, but then again that’s exactly what the story does itself.

The portrayal of the Dalek-subjugated 22nd Century is nowhere near as effective as in The Dalek Invasion Of Earth as, run down though it is, a car park cannot be passed of as a labour camp. Even if it is a grotty 1970s concrete affair – I mean, the parking spaces are visible in many of the shots (maybe for those silly motor-trikes that everyone seems to be zooming around on in the 22nd Century).

The line of “Doctor? Did you say Doctor?” is silly as verbal double-takes are hardly very Daleky, and even if it was Shakespeare the inept delivery of the line wouldn’t be able to do it justice. The direction is still above average, but the story is still turning into a bland run-around. The plot elements have been revealed too early, so now all that’s left is to kill time before the (admittedly good) finale.

However, I do like the juxtaposition between the forced labour and the fruit that the Controller offers Jo, which makes for an understated commentary on political pretence that seems even more relevant today. The Doctor’s interrogation is also good, as the veiled threat to the family of the factory manager makes up for any visual flaws in the story’s sketching in of the Dalek invasion. The following confrontation with the Controller is also good and dramatic, but is fundamentally only going over the same ground as before.

The motorised getaway vehicle is a contrivance that makes for a gratuitous and pointless action scene as the Doctor gets captured anyway, leading to the cliffhanger – it’s the best of the story, but nothing much in itself.

The final episode begins with the Daleks saying that they have invaded Earth “again”; as the original invasion hasn’t happened in this timeline this shows up a plot hole, which is something that affects this story quite badly.

The Controllers motivations are also well realised, as his subtle shift in attitude as the Doctor saves his life is wonderful to watch. This leads up to a good ending, with the realisation that the guerrillas have been time-looped all along. Here is where Marks makes a right pig’s-ear of the paradox plot, as there are several questions that cannot be answered easily: how did it get started in the first place? Also, if the timeline is altered so the war never happened, Shura wouldn’t come back in time and…argh! My head hurts.

From a purely dramatic point of view though, the revelation is brilliant, and the Controller granting the Doctor his freedom at the cost of his own life is a very poignant moment.

The final battle is well shot, but it is here that the lack of Dalek props becomes really noticeable; the real problem lies in the fact that one of the Daleks is a different colour so there are only two Daleks that can be passed off convincingly as making up the numbers. The final scene where the Doctor warns Styles not to let the conference fail is very good and atmospheric.

This story has one major ambition in its time paradox, but this is not realised well as a four parter. The Daleks need not be in it at all, and in fact if it was just an ordinary alien race I might like this story more. As it is, this story is no turkey and I’ll give it an average rating, but it’s simply not as good as it really needs to be given its undeniable and unavoidable importance.

Paul Clarke

'Day of the Daleks' was a fairly early video release in the UK, and ended up being a victim to the principle that familiarity breeds contempt; I watched it numerous times, got bored with it, and didn't watch it again for several years. Consequently, on seeing it again I was very pleasantly surprised.

Whilst I wouldn't describe 'Day of the Daleks' as a classic, it is a good, solid little story, well paced and directed and nothing wrong with it that I can really criticize. Jon Pertwee, perhaps refreshed after a season break, is very good here, presenting a far mellower side of the Doctor than we saw in 'The Dæmons', possibly because he is starting to resent his exile less and less as Earth continues to feel like home. The Doctor is far less irritable here, almost jovial in fact, but is as authoritative as ever when the need demands it. There are several scenes of note in this regard; his hugely enthusiastic enjoyment of Sir Reginald Styles' wine is delightful, as his is casual trouncing of the attacking Shura with one hand as he sips his drink with the other. It's amusing without being farcical and is an effective reminder of just how stylish the Third Doctor can be when Pertwee is enjoying himself. The Doctor's scenes with the Controller are also note worthy, as he displays carefully constrained contempt for and anger at this man who has betrayed his own kind to collaborate with the Daleks. He is also impressive when dealing with the guerillas, sympathizing with their plight even as he disproves of their methods.

The other regulars do rather well out of 'Day of the Daleks'. Except for when she unwittingly panics the Daleks by mentioning the Doctor to the Controller, Jo gets very little to do here, but what she does do includes using her escapology skills again and knocking out an Ogron and the script nicely demonstrates her closeness with the Doctor. After the buffoonery of 'The Dæmons', the Brigadier undergoes a minor renaissance, once more in charge of an international peace conference and regaining some of his former authority and diplomacy in the process. Note the trust between him and the Doctor in Episode Four, as the Brigadier readily accepts the Doctor's word that the delegates must be evacuated. Benton is his usual reliable self, and even Yates is convincing here. He gets little to do, but he takes orders from the Brigadier without any of the smug backchat that was so annoying in 'The Dæmons'. Perhaps he got told off afterwards?

And so on to the Daleks. This is the first time that we see the Daleks in colour in a television story, and they look rather good. The Gold Dalek is perhaps a little ostentatious, but still… It has been argued that the Daleks are not actually necessary in this story and that their inclusion is pointless. Whilst I agree that the story could have worked without them, I think it is unfair to dismiss their presence so easily. The point of the Daleks in this story is not what they actually do, but what they represent. In every previous Dalek story, the Daleks have been the main focus of the story; here they are not. Taking a back seat to the time travel plot, they don't provide the same antagonistic threat that they do in past appearances. The Daleks are not counting down to the genocide of the Thals, they are not racing to turn Earth into a spaceship, they are not chasing the Doctor through time and space, they are not poised to unleash a weapon of unparalleled destruction as they invade the entire galaxy, they are not manipulating their way into a position of power, and they are not engaged in a master plan to convert the humans into Daleks through the entire history of Earth. The reason for this is simple: they've won. The Daleks in this story are not the antagonists; they are a representation of the absolute worst that can happen. The characters from the twenty-second century remind inform us that the fate of the entire fate of the world rests on Styles and the peace conference. The Daleks are that fate. Once that is established, the focus of the story is preventing the catastrophe that, years in the future, allows them to invade. To this end, the Daleks represent World War Three. The Daleks could therefore have been left out of the story; a blasted, radioactive world akin to that in Survivors could quite easily have shown the consequences of the potential war just as effectively, but in a serial broadcast at teatime on a Saturday with an audience composed largely of children, the Daleks are far more appropriate. Scary, iconic, and memorable, they represent the horrors of a global war just as well here as they did in their debut story. And besides, I get a fannish thrill when they advance on Auderley House in Episode Four, guns blazing and immune to UNIT gunfire.

The other main selling point of 'Day of the Daleks' is the time paradox plot. Time paradoxes have become almost commonplace in Doctor Who, both in books and in Big Finish audio stories, but this is the first time the idea is explored in the series. The idea that time travel is far more complex than the Doctor makes it seem has been touched on before, with discussions about changing history in 'The Time Meddler', and gibberish about jumping time tracks in 'The Space Museum', for example. This is the first proper demonstration of the dangers of interfering with history, as the guerillas find that they have caused the very catastrophe that gave rise to their nightmarish future. The story takes a fairly gritty approach to this subject matter, presenting us with hard-bitten guerillas that are desperate enough to kill anyone who gets in their way, but whose desperation is entirely understandable. Consequently, the Doctor's dramatic revelation that they are trapped in a self-perpetuating loop has considerable impact and is a marvellous moment in the story.

'Day of the Daleks' benefits from excellent production values, well directed, with effective location footage and good sets. The Ogrons are well realized and bring a brute savagery to the grim future Earth that further enhances the horror of the setting. Totally loyal to the Daleks, they make an effective contrast to the Daleks' human collaborators, one of whom is a resistance fighter working undercover for example. The guest cast is generally very good, Anna Barry's Anat proving an all too rare example of a strong female guest star in the series during this era. Aubrey Woods is excellent as the Controller. His initial impassive air is slowly revealed to be entirely motivated by self-preservation, as he tries to justify his "quisling" status to the Doctor. In fact, he's clearly trying to convince himself. His eventual sacrifice is an example of the Doctor genuinely managing to persuade an enemy that his actions are wrong. It is the Doctor saving his life that gives him the courage to betray the Daleks and in doing so sacrifice himself to give the Doctor the chance to make things better (in a very literal sense). His final scene with the Doctor in the tunnel is marvellous, effectively demonstrating the triumph of free will over the oppression of the Daleks and demonstrating why they can never entirely subjugate humanity.

In summary then, 'Day of the Daleks' is a surprisingly low-key return for the Doctor's arch-enemies, an intelligent, thoughtful story that uses the Daleks sparingly but in a satisfying manner nevertheless.

James Gent

When the Time Lords exiled the Doctor on Earth, and we were introduced to his third generation, the series made a fresh start. The regular UNIT team had been phased in Patrick Troughton’s last two seasons, but other than that Jon Pertwee’s first two seasons had focused on new foes, concentrating more on stealth invasions and the malevolent machinations of the Master.

It was only a matter of time before one of the series’ famous faces from the past made an appearance, and in 1972, the Daleks made their first appearance in colour on TV. Oddly, compared to later colour Dalek stories – where the first episode is a kind of foreplay building up to their orgasmic ‘surprise’ appearance (somewhat undercut by the title of the story, but never mind) – the Daleks are sidelined in “Day Of The Daleks”. Perhaps this was a ploy of the production team, not wanting to cash in too heavily on the past. It seems fashionable to knock the Letts era, but you have to admire their determination to avoid rehashing old villains and more or less start anew. Whatever the reasons, it works quite well. The Daleks as mostly unseen, shadowy conspirators and manipulators gives them a stature that was often lacking in later stories. It is, however, unfortunate that the production could not disguise the fact that they only had three usable Dalek props! The Dalek voices – always a big part of the impression they make – are terrible here, hardly surprising as they are not performed by their usual vocal artists.

At the centre of this story is not another unfeasible Dalek scheme, but a fascinating time travel paradox. The series very rarely addressed the issues of time travel, but “Day Of The Daleks” tackles it head-on with its central enigma of changing history. The discovery that the guerrilla who is trying to prevent the third world war is in fact the instigator of it, is a brilliant revelation, years ahead of a similar paradox in “Twelve Monkeys”. Shades of the brilliant “Inferno”, with its alternate Earth timeline, which is always a winning basis for comparison. The guerrillas are not particularly interesting in themselves, although Anat is another one of those feisty women that Doctor Who throws up every now and then. Guerrillas are a very 1970s element of the story – the Badher Meinhof terrorists were in the news at the time, although I’m not sure if that was before or after “Day Of The Daleks” was written.

Aubrey Woods is excellent as the Controller. The Third Doctor’s era is often criticised for its ‘woolly’ politics, but it is certainly no less idealistic than the dubious moralising of some of the New Adventures – and in the Controller, the series acknowledges that corrupt regimes are not merely comprised of ‘pure evil’ bogeymen like the Daleks but equally quislings such as the Controller. The two sides to the Controller’s Earth that Jo and the Doctor see is a good representation of the Seventh Doctor’s philosophical rumination, “You live in Paradise, you start to wonder who empties the bins”. Jo sees the fine food and wine, and is charmed by the Controller’s smooth talk of productivity and efficiency, and is so dazzled by the surface that she does not question the inner workings, whereas the Doctor – by no means a materialist, although the Doctor and Jo’s ghostbusting slumber party does show that the Doctor appreciates the finer things in life – sees the corruption and oppression. In the real world, there are many people like the Controller, cogs in the machine – reminiscent of the characters in Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” – and it’s good to see the series acknowledging that ‘evil’ can be complex and ambiguous.

“Day Of The Daleks” is a noteworthy story for many reasons, although the Daleks are one of the least significant of them! It has a certain believability lacking in later Pertwee stories, possibly because of the use of a BBC newsreader as himself in one scene, the world powers setting, and UNIT here at their most competent and serious.