Hardly a great Doctor Who story, ‘Planet of the Daleks’ does disappoint in several ways. Not only does it ignore the events of ‘Frontier in Space’ (apart from a few token references), it also resists plot in favor of a Flash Gordon runabout, and, worse, suffers at times from a cruelly slow pace (especially in the first two episodes). On top of this, the balloon escape is a complete joke.
But having prepared myself for the worst when preparing to re-watch this story, I was surprised how much I actually enjoyed it. It’s quite generic, but not bad for all that – a basic Pertwee Who – and it has more things to like about it than not. First of all, the Spiridon jungle backdrop is fun. One of my favorite aspects of classic Who is its theatrical quality; the wobbly sets, the line flubs, the makeup and costumes – it all amounts to a semi-live performance ‘feel,’ one you’re hard-pressed to find on TV nowadays. In other words, yes, this ‘alien jungle planet’ is obviously a set – what of that? This is Doctor Who, right? And at least the production team has made this one look dense and difficult to get through, unlike so many Who caves that have perfect human-sized tunnels cut into them. And the fungus-spitting plants are great.
The presentation of the Daleks is another satisfying element. Oh, they look kind of shoddy, but they’re believably menacing as they quickly respond to problems (cutting through the door, producing their anti-gravity disc - this was of course before the days of ‘ELEVATE!’). As with the next Dalek story, ‘Death to the Daleks,’ they are depicted principally as scientists here, not the simple squawking tanks they would become in the post-Pertwee days. Their dialogue, although often a bit wordy, is delivered at a brisk pace, which I always feel makes them seem smarter.
Which brings us to the question of the voice artists. The combination of Michael Wisher and Roy Skelton as the Dalek voices is of course an extremely happy one, especially after the awful voices in the previous Dalek story. The success of any Dalek story depends somewhat on successful characterizations by the voice actors, and while Dalek fans don’t ever really get their ‘EXTERMINATE!’ fix here, Skelton at one point really lets ’er rip with his hysterical “LOCATE AND DESTROY! LOCATE AND DESTROY!! *LOCATE AND DESTROY*!!!” And Wisher’s “WAIT!” when the Dalek realizes who the ‘Spiridons’ really are is chilling, and made me jump.
The Dalek Supreme looks great (too bad about the lights, of course) and is generally well-used. There’s nothing all that supreme about many of ‘Supreme Daleks’ in the classic series: most seem to be mere low-level foremen, in fact. But this Supreme Council Dalek, arriving in state with its own attendant guard, gives the impression of a powerful establishment behind the small Dalek control group on Spiridon. Furthermore, when the Dalek Supreme turns and exterminates the Dalek group leader for incompetence, it emphasizes the authority and coldness of the Dalek command. Wisher and Skelton sell this scene beautifully, clearly trying to outdo one another with their rising inflections.
Roy Skelton is also good as the wheezing Spiridon Wester – amazingly likeable and resonant as a character, given his few scenes. He is touching in his moments with Jo (‘Goodbye’), and heroic, even tragic, when he sacrifices himself to sabotage the Daleks’ plague weapon. (This scene is particularly well handled: Wester’s peaceful face fading in as the Daleks shriek with horror - ‘WE CAN NEVER LEAVE HERE – NEVER! – NEVER! – NEVER!’ – is a classic Who moment from my childhood.)
As for the Thals, Taron and Vaber are certainly believable as the bickering astronauts. In particular, Bernard Horsfall really convinces as Taron – he is sympathetic and likeable . . . and yet we can also see why Vaber is so frustrated with his cautious leadership style.
As for the Doctor and Jo, Jon Pertwee phones it in a bit, but he radiates (genuine?) contempt for the Dalek when they’re in the elevator together, which is nice. And Katy Manning is likeable as ever, and her low-key acting manages to keep her ‘love’ plotline from feeling too forced.
All in all, ‘Planet of the Daleks’ shouldn’t win any prizes – it’s a routine Pertwee story, all right, but it’s more than worth a watch for some good moments.
'Planet of the Daleks' is bad: really, really bad. The fact that it is so bad is triply disappointing given that it (a) features the Daleks, and (b) follows on from the rather splendid 'Frontier in Space'. In its favour, the Daleks look and sound better than they did in 'Day of the Daleks', but the Dalek Supreme undermines even that slight bonus. The whole thing is just rubbish.
Things get off to a bad start in Episode One, with the revelation that the Doctor has decided to clutter the TARDIS console room with cheap and nasty self-assembly furniture. This is followed by the even more unlikely development that the TARDIS, like some kind of time travelling submarine, needs to replenish its oxygen supply on landing, a hitherto unmentioned drawback that makes the long-term viewer realize how lucky the TARDIS crew were not to unexpectedly suffocate during 'Inside the Spaceship' or 'The Mind Robber'. Even if we accept that the TARDIS is reliant on an external air-supply, it is a remarkable stroke of misfortune (or to be more accurate, a sign of very bad writing) that the first time we ever learn of this problem is when the TARDIS happens to be covered with fungus such that the Doctor cannot open the door. In addition, we are also presented with the TARDIS log, again hitherto unmentioned, which luckily for us allows Jo to indulge in some clumsy plot exposition.
The episode continues in a similar vein. It is implied that Jo didn't realize that the Doctor had asked the Time Lords to send the TARDIS after the Daleks, even though at the end of the previous story Jo and the Doctor found out about the Daleks and then the Doctor sent a message to the Time Lords; I know that Jo's intelligence depends on who the scriptwriter is each episode, but even so, this isn't rocket science. However, if Jo had put two and two together she would never have ventured out of the TARDIS in search of help for the Doctor, and Nation would have to think up a more intelligent way to separate the pair of them. Mind you, Jo not realizing that there are Daleks around pales into insignificance next to the Doctor's seeming lapse of memory, which lasts precisely until the resolution of the Episode One cliffhanger, when he suddenly remembers that he specifically set out to find the Daleks. If I was feeling kind, I might suggest that his shocked exclamation of "Daleks!" at the end of Episode One refers specifically to the fact that he is surprised to find an invisible one, but Pertwee's performance fails to convey this, so I won't.
Episode One out of the way, the story launches into its sparse and economical plot. I use the word economical because it is largely recycled. The plot is this; there is a frozen Dalek army on the planet, and the Daleks that aren't frozen are experimenting with invisibility. The Thals want to stop them. That's it. What then follows is one-and-a-half episodes of the Thals and the Doctor separately entering the Dalek city, and then spending another one-and-a-half episodes trying to get out, before meeting up again on the surface for a bit. Then, the Doctor and the Thals spend one-and-a-half episodes getting back into the city, they blow everything up and go home. Along the way, we get a kind of sampling of Nation's greatest hits. I can excuse the Daleks bombarding Spiridon from space with bacteria ('The Dalek Invasion of Earth'), because it makes sense for them to reuse a successful technique, but everything else is just taking the piss. We have a hostile jungle planet with deadly plant life ('Mission to the Unknown', 'The Chase') inhabited by invisible creatures ('The Daleks' Master Plan'), and somebody hiding inside a Dalek casing so that they can sneak around the Dalek city ('The Mutants'). The resolution (Thals successfully sneak into the Dalek city and manage to immobilize the Daleks) is lifted directly from 'The Mutants'. The horrendously contrived romance sub-plot between Jo and Latep is a pale imitation of the sexual tension between Barbara and Ganatus from the same story; there, Nation carefully hinted at their attraction over a period of time, whereas here he forces it kicking and screaming into the final episode, with Latep suddenly spouting cheesy chat-up lines to Jo. If he was obviously just trying to get his end away, I could understand it, but this obviously wouldn't have been acceptable viewing for Saturday teatime, so instead we get some ludicrous implication that they have deep feelings for each other. Jo's brief moping in the TARDIS at the end is unbelievable; she's just been propositioned by someone she hardly knows and has only just met, but for a moment or two she acts as though she's just had her heartbroken. It's tacky, sloppy and unconvincing. Typical of 'Planet of the Daleks' in fact. Finally, whilst on the subject of recycled plot threads, we even get a rehash of a brief scene from 'The Daleks' Master Plan', when the convicts on Desperus hear a Screamer overhead; on this occasion the Thals hear some winged beast flying overhead, but the scenes are almost identical.
The return of the Thals does not improve matters. In 'The Mutants', Nation used the Thals to address issues of pacifism and the need to fight for what you believe in. In doing so he presented the Thals as naïve but noble, and made them work through skilful characterisation. Here, they are utterly pathetic, badly-scripted clichés spouting cringe worthy lines about space medicine and doing absolutely nothing useful except providing the Doctor with rope and bombs. Bernard Horsfall is incapable of bad acting, and Prentis Hancock can play short-tempered unstable characters in his sleep, but the other Thals are unmemorable at best. Codal is the worst offender; Tim Preece makes an effort, but his character exists only so that the Doctor can piously lecture him on the subjects of cowardice and bravery. Although it must be said that the worst example of this is near the end of the story, when in a cringe-worthy monologue the Doctor asks Taron to teach his people the horrors of war. Apart from being nauseating, it's internally inconsistent; if the Thals share Skaro with the Daleks, the horrors of war should not be news to them.
Production wise, the story looks ghastly. The jungle sets are obviously studio-bound, and contrast painfully with the location footage used in the "ice pools" scene. The plain of stones is even worse, the studio backdrop looming obviously over polystyrene rocks; the 100-watt glowing eyes of the encroaching wildlife are especially woeful. The Dalek city is OK, but even the most ham-fisted set designer should be able to manage blank, featureless corridors. The rock face in the refrigerator cavern looks tackily plastic, although it positively shines compared with the horrendous model shot of the bomb exploding, when jagged broken edges of polystyrene are actually shown. And the Thals spaceship is crap too, suggesting as it does that they shop at the same bargain furniture warehouse as the Doctor.
There isn't much else that I can say about 'Planet of the Daleks'. Pertwee puts in a surprisingly good performance given his known dislike for Daleks and the quality of the scripts, as does Katy Manning even if her character is reduced to the status of an imbecile here. The Spiridons are pure window-dressing. In summary, 'Planet of the Daleks' is rotten and a massive letdown after 'Frontier in Space.
Doctor Who’s tenth season commenced with “The Three Doctors”, the official anniversary story. In many ways, however, the real anniversary story is “Planet Of The Daleks” – a nostalgic space romp with the Doctor’s most famous adversaries, an epic six-parter in the style of the Daleks’ 1960s stories.
The Daleks entered the colour era with “Day Of The Daleks”, but their spectacle was much diminished as the BBC only had three Dalek props at their disposal, and story-wise they were obscured by the Controller and the guerrillas. “Planet of the Daleks” returns them to centre-stage, their domination of Spiridon recalling the almighty Dalek Empire of “Evil Of The Daleks” and the twelve Dalek props enhanced by the special guest appearance of the impressive Dalek Supreme. Their next TV serial, “Death To The Daleks”, would see the Daleks reduced to a small crew on the planet Exxilon, and after the introduction of their creator Davros in “Genesis Of The Daleks”, their plans for total domination became replaced by internalised power struggles. “Planet Of The Daleks” is the last time we see the creatures as a force to be reckoned with.
The story follows directly from “Frontier In Space”, although describing it as a sequel is pushing it a bit. The “Frontier”/”Planet” story arc was an attempt to echo the audacious twelve-parter “The Daleks’ Master Plan”, hence these two stories have been given the unofficial umbrella title, “The Master’s Dalek Plan”! The scene of Jo in the TARDIS with the unconscious Doctor are quite touching, as we have seen this partnership become very close since their first meeting, and foreshadows the third Doctor’s ‘death’ before the giant spiders the following year. More pertinently, the scene towards the end, when Jo considers Latep’s invitation to stay with him, is a nice build up to the events in the next story, “The Green Death”.
The jungles on Spiridon are among the most effective seen on the series – imagine how much better “Kinda” would have looked with a lush jungle set like this – and the plants that squirt fluid have the ‘yuk factor’ important to any Doctor Who story!
The story reintroduces the Thals, the Dalek’s enemies and fellow inhabitants of Skaro, whose ancestors appeared in the second story ever. The third Doctor’s era is one of the most continuity-free in the series’ history, and Jon Pertwee made the role so utterly his own it was easy to forget that there had been previous incumbents, and the references to the first Doctor, Ian and Barbara is a lovely touch, almost like being reminded about old friends. The Thals are well portrayed by the actors, considering that they do not have much personality, although Bernard Horsfall is excellent as Taron, particularly when the Doctor gives him his philosophical lecture about bravery, and when he has to strike a balance between his duty as a leader and his feelings for Rebec. Tim Preece as Codal also has some good moments, but Prentis Hancock’s headstrong Vaber is not much different from Salamar, his equally one-dimensional character in “Planet Of Evil.”
The highlight of the story is the chase sequences set in the Daleks’ city on Spiridon. Most of these take place in the episode, which only survives in black and white. In a way I’m glad about this, as the entrance to the Dalek city looks much more impressive in monochrome, and the steel corridors are reminiscent of “The Daleks” and “Power Of The Daleks”. As I said before, “Planet Of The Daleks” is an old-fashioned space romp, and scenes such as the attempt to escape from the Daleks by ascending the chimney with the canopy are more reminiscent of scenes from “Dalek Invasion Earth 2150 AD” or the Dalek comic strips of the 1960s!
The only problem with the story’s structure, apart from the fact that six parters are almost always very tiresome in one setting, and tend to feature a bit of padding towards the end, is that the Doctor, Jo and the Daleks spend too much of the story apart. One of the highlights of the third Doctor’s stories is Jon Pertwee’s wonderful interaction with Katy Manning, which had matured into a strong, believable friendship from the tutor/student friction of “Terror Of The Autons”. Nevertheless, Jo’s scenes with the invisible Wester are nice, although she does seem separate from the story for a bit too much of the serial. The story also lacks those wonderful Doctor/Dalek showdowns, which are always a highlight of Dalek stories, from Hartnell’s “Conquer the world, you poor pitiful creatures?” to McCoy’s “Unlimited rice pudding, et cetera”.
As mentioned earlier, there are Daleks aplenty in this story – although most of them appear to be immobile. This is a great improvement on “Day Of The Daleks”, and things brighten up (literally) in episode six with the appearance of the Dalek Supreme, a modified version of the impressive movie Daleks, although his lights flash out of sync with his dialogue, which is a bit distracting. The Daleks’ voices have been giving a grating quality and are a big improvement on their last story. The concept of an frozen army of thousands of Daleks also gives the story much of its epic quality, and the shots of the cave full of model Daleks is quite effective in suggesting the scale of this army.
After the Doctor gives the Thals a typically Doctorish lecture on war, the Doctor takes a homesick Jo back to Earth. But the viewer is left with a couple of tantalising loose ends. The Dalek Supreme escapes, knowing that they still have an army of the Daleks they can defrost at any moment. More importantly, we are no closer a resolution to “Frontier In Space”. What happened to the Master? How come we never hear from the Draconian Empire again? Surely both Draconia and Earth would be after the Master for trying to start a war between them, and you can just imagine the Doctor being dragged into it, caught between the two empires and his arch-enemy? Maybe one day someone will complete the trilogy?