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10 November 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 314: Day of the Daleks, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Almost as soon as I realised that Day of the Daleks was a story in which people come back from the future to prevent a certain chain of events from happening, I knew that the guerrillas would be the cause of that particular time line. It’s a strand of science fiction that’s reared its head time and time again over the years, in everything from The Twilight Zone (in a story that sees Hitler killed as a baby, and then replaced by another child… who grows up to become the ‘Hitler’ we know from history) to the third Harry Potter book.

There’s a risk that this story could suffer from being based around such a well-known concept, but I’ve rather enjoyed it. Watching the Doctor piece everything together is fun (obviously he’s not read The Prisoner of Azkaban by this point!), and I was even slightly surprised that they’d managed to overturn everything by the end of the story. For a while, I suspected that they’d tie this Dalek occupation of the planet into the one from Season Two, and simply gloss over the fact that this back story doesn’t fit the one we were given way back then. It’s good to see that it’s not the case, and that the Doctor is able to save the day in the end.

I’m disappointed by how much the big ‘Return of the Daleks’ has been wasted in this story, though. The production team at the time really went to town to shout about the return of the Doctor’s greatest enemies, but then they barely feature throughout the entire story. Perhaps the biggest shame is that Pertwee only gets to direct a single line at his foes, when he warns them that they can’t succeed in their plans. Over the years, many of the actors to play the Doctor have commented that they really didn’t feel that they ‘owned’ the role until they’d faced off against the Daleks, so it’s a shame to see that Pertwee’s first meeting with them is a bit wasted.

Even away from the Doctor, these Daleks feel like a bit of an anti climax after nearly five years away. As a fan of the programme, I’m well aware of the ‘Three Daleks and some Ogrons’ battle at the end of the story. Knowing that I was planning to watch an episode of this story in its Special Edition form, I was almost tempted to do so for this one, in the hope that it could improve the scene. As it is, I decided that part of Doctor Who’s charm is that we get the invasion of a world peace conference by three Daleks and a couple of gorillas. The highlight is surely when one of the Daleks gingerly opens the back door to the house, and slowly moves inside, with all the charm of a neighbour calling in for a cup of tea.

When I think back to the Dalek stories of the 1960s, the moments that stand out to me are when they’re at their most impressive. The Dalek production factory from Power. The Egyptian massacre during Masterplan. Even that first shot of the plunger headed towards Barbara. The Dalek image from this story really should be the sight of them filing out of the tunnel interspersed with the Ogrons – in many ways it’s designed to be similar to that shot from Power. Even this doesn’t quite work for me, though. The implication throughout has been that the gold Dalek is the top dog, but they re-use this prop in the sequence a few times, just as they do with the standard grey drones. The ultimate effect is that having only three of them becomes even more obvious.

I’m also surprised to see that the ending to this story is pretty much the same as the ending to the last story – the main building around which the action has been set is blown up. Once again, it’s a very good effect (I’d probably go so far as to say that this shot, along with the destruction of the church in The Deamons count as the best effects shots of the 1970s so far), but when you’re watching the stories in quick succession, it does rather feel like de ja vu.

It sounds like I’m really having a moan about today’s episode. Almost everything I have to say about it is broadly negative. And yet, I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s the kind of episode that I can simply switch off and watch. I don’t need to pay much attention to the plot, because I know what’s happening. For today, it’s all about watching UNIT get blasted by the Daleks. It means, though, that I’m in a bit of a tricky place today.

When I give my rating out of ten to an episode, it’s based simply on gut instinct. I usually declare my score out loud to the flat as the end credits roll, almost as a way of cementing it in my mind. The last three episodes have all been a ‘7/10’, but I’ve enjoyed this one more than the last few episodes. It’s certainly not an 8/10 (it just doesn’t feel like an 8/10), so let’s call it a high…

Mind you, UNIT’s not going to be tasked with any more peace conferences, I’m guessing. The last one saw them lose a missile that could start a Third World War, and even if they’ve managed to save the delegates from death, they’ve failed to spot a man in the basement of the house with a bomb. Having failed to find the Doctor and Jo hidden in the same location a few episodes ago, you think that really someone should have a word with the Brigadier about what this ‘security’ work involves…

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