Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 387: Death to the Daleks, Episode Three
I realised today that, despite not knowing much about this story, there was something else I was aware of from it – Belal. The design of this particular Exxilon (and his friend, I guess) has always struck me as a little bit rubbish, and when he first emerges after the cliffhanger resolution, I was a bit downhearted by it. I mean, of course I didn’t like it. The whole thing is an ill-fitting rubber suit, with an obvious join at the neck (a similar problem that beset the original Silurians). I’d always vaguely known of this costume – probably via a clip in something else – and I’d always thought it was rubbish, but when I was less than impressed by the alien creatures from Colony in Space, I assumed that I’d just mis-remembered one of those creatures as featuring in a later story.
I made a note about how rubbish the costume was, and continued to think it through the rest of the episode… until I started to quite like it. Yes, it is ill-fitting. Yes, it is ridiculously rubbery. Yes, the neck join is painfully obvious (and actually, that’s still the thing that niggles the most). And yet despite it all, it’s hard not to row fond of the creatures. I think it’s the huge eyes that do it, which would make sense if they mostly confine themselves to these caves (and in Episode One we’re told that the creatures only usually show up at night), and they’re quite cute in a way. The cloaks worn by the majority of them hide some of the costumes’ other flaws, but I can’t help but think that they just don’t look like a Doctor Who alien.
And actually, I like the idea that these people used to be highly advanced, space travellers. It’s even stated that they must have visited Earth and taught some of our own ancient civilisations how to construct huge structures in the style of their own city. It makes a nice change from the usual races where they’ve yet to develop any kind of technology of their own, and I love the idea that they became victims of their own success, creating an intelligent city so powerful that it takes over and becomes a kind of deity to the species.
In some ways, I even quite like the design of the city. The glowing wall decorations are very well realised (it’s using the same technique applied to the bow in Sliver Nemesis, I can recall that much from the documentary on the VHS for that story), and the whole tough-sensitive idea is very ahead of its time. It’s the kind of effect that you think they’d probably not do as well these days as they did back then – I get the feeling that if they were to design a futuristic, intelligent city now, it wouldn’t be quite as… streamlined… as this one.
I’m less keen on the city’s ‘roots’, though. I think I quite like the idea that it has these various tendrils that reach out and gather both knowledge and power (is that actually what they do? I may have just filled in that bit of detail in my own mind), but it seems strange that they turn up in the cave system and under some muddy water on the planet surface, acting more like animal life than technology. The various battles between the tendrils and the Daleks aren’t as exciting as I’d like them to be, but they do feel very much like something I can imagine the TV Comic stories doing – and I do love seeing a destroyed Dalek tumbling down into the water.
In all, the Daleks look better here. There’s a couple of shots towards the end of the episode, where they’re in a formation of three, shot from a slightly lower angle, and the sun appears to be setting somewhere in the distance. The combination of elements makes it quite a nice shot, and it’s surprising how much I like having the Daleks back in silver again – it makes them look so much better than the flat grey versions more familiar from other recent stories. The only real downside is having all the ‘bumps’ in black – they just look very dull, whereas the silver/blue versions used in the 1960s have always felt far more appealing to me!