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23 January 2014

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

Day 388: Death to the Daleks, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Somewhat ironically, just this afternoon at work, I was telling a college about the way I used to melt polystyrene. We’ve just been doing a rather large re-build of some sections, and we’ve amassed quite a big pile of polystyrene waiting to be crushed into little bricks for recycling. I was explaining how - when I was a kid - I used to cut up chunks of polystyrene to make shapes (usually castles, complete with cocktail sticks to put bars over the windows) and then allow drops of glue to melt away at the material. It used to fascinate me, the way that it simply ate at the polystyrene until there was little remaining.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I reached the end of today’s episode to find that they’d used pretty much that exact same technique to depict the city collapsing in on itself! It’s well done, and even though we get a shot of the beacon being blown up (one which, I’m sorry to say’ doesn’t really work for me. That entire part of the structure breaks off in one, which just makes it look more like a model), it’s nice to see that they’ve gone for something other than simply blowing up one of the main settings for the ending of this story. Makes a nice break with tradition.

It’s a shame that the city has somewhat bored me today. Having been impressed by the various logic puzzles at the end of the last episode, the ones here become increasingly dull - essentially boiling down to ‘spend some time in this empty room without either going mad or killing each other. And, of course, we’ve got the resolution to that bizarre ‘floor tiles’ cliffhanger from yesterday, too, which boils down - after some careful examination from the Sonic Screwdriver - to simply ‘don’t stand on the red tiles, now there’s a good chap.

That’s not to say there aren’t nice bits - the person watching on the screen adds a nice, sinister edge to the proceedings, and I rather like the idea that he’s been sat there so long that he turns to dust the second the air in the room gets to move again. The only downside is that all the tension the appearance of this mysterious figure is dissipated almost instantly, and then the Doctor simply has to fiddle with a few wires before making his way back out of the city once more! It’s even worse for the Daleks, who trundle along, getting a bit beaten up by the various tests along the way, are attacked by the ‘antibodies’, and then spin round and leave again! They’re not even the comedy Daleks from stories like The Chase, which is a pity, because I rather like the idea of a Dalek double act trying to make their way through a series of logic tests in a hyper-intelligent city!

You may have noticed that I’m not being all that warm towards today’s episode, and I’m sorry to report that it just hasn’t grabbed me. After such a strong start a few days ago, I’ve really gone off this story, and it’s turned out to be simply the slightly bland four episodes that I’d been expecting. Even the Daleks don’t really need to be there. The fact that they can’t use their weapons means that they’re not really all that integral to the plot, and the story might actually be more interesting were it to be a group of humans acting as the bad guys, who wish to take the minerals with them to spin a profit.

It’s a real pity in most ways, because that first episode showed some promise, and I thought that we might be in for something of a hidden gem with Death to the Daleks. I think I’m reduced to simply being glad that it’s only a four-part story, as opposed to six episodes long - I’ve little doubt that Terry could have stretched out the city’s many puzzles for another 23 minutes!


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