Doctor Who: Death To The Daleks REVIEW
After three episodes of flirting, it was the Doctor who made the first move.
Release Date: 18 June 2012
1974 | U | 98 minutes | £19.99
Director: Michael Briant
Cast: Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen, Duncan Lamont, Julian Fox, Joy Harrison
“Death To The Daleks” – now that’s a title! Sadly, this Third Doctor adventure isn’t anywhere near as stirring as that rousing war-cry. Like the iconic cover of the novelisation (which featured a Dalek exploding in flames) it positively vibrates with the promise of pulse-pounding action. Sadly, what you actually get is a rather thin script (“visual storytelling” is the euphemistic phrase bandied about in the extras) in which Dalek creator Terry Nation dusts off all his favourite tropes one more time; for seasoned Who fans, half the fun is ticking them off your mental checklist.
Both the Doctor and a saucerful of Daleks end up stranded on the planet Exxilon thanks to an advanced city (a living thing whose creators, the Exxilons, have long since devolved back into a bunch of grunting extras in crud-smeared sacking) which sucks all the power from their spacecraft (and the Daleks’ weaponry). Also present are an Earth expedition who came in search of a rare mineral which can cure a plague that’s killing millions. Amusingly, no-one seems to have noticed that said mineral’s name, Parrinium, is only a couple of consonantal shifts away from that hinterland between your bumhole and the goods. It’s rather like setting a story on the planet Claytorus.
“Humiliation Of The Daleks” might have been a more apt title, since the “wee saltshakers” (as one expedition member labels them) are repeatedly made to look a little bit daft. One self-destructs in a tizzy after a prisoner escapes; Sarah manages to pull off a switcheroo with the sacks of Parrinium right under their eyestalks (the Daleks brought sacks?); and bizarrely, when the Daleks fit new weapons, they test them out on a teeny-tiny model of a Police Box! Their sole moment of triumph comes when one barks “PRIM-I-TIVE WEA-PONS MOD-ER-ATE-LY E-FFIC-IENT!” after mowing down some primitives with a machine gun, in a rare display of the Skarosians’ mastery of comedy understatement.
The interest curve dips in episode four, as the Doctor is tasked with solving a series of puzzles to gain access to the city’s central control room (given that script editor Terrance Dicks recycled this device in 1983’s “The Five Doctors”, maybe we should lay the blame at his door). And the sole female character, Jill Tarrant, is dismayingly feeble, there basically to gawp in wide-eyed terror and bury her head in Jon Pertwee’s manly shoulder.
Having said all that, “Death To The Daleks” is a perfectly adequate four episodes of generic action-adventure. The opening ten minutes, which see the Doctor and Sarah venturing out onto the fog-shrouded planet surface at night after the TARDIS suffers a blackout (how very 1974), are extremely atmospheric; director Michael Briant’s use of POV shots is neat (although there’s little sign of his claim, in the commentary, that he was hugely influenced by Jean-Luc Godard at the time – maybe we blinked and missed a jump-cut); and an unusual score by composer Carey Blyton (nephew of Enid) effectively conjures an air of the uncanny via weird saxophone hoots. But the real star is Bellal, a friendly Exxilon who becomes a sort-of one-time-only companion, played with great animation and huge charm by Arnold Yarrow. So though the story may be lacking in power, it won’t leave you angrily waving a spear and chanting “Death to Terry Nation!” either.
Flesh-avatar-for-the-Spotlight-Directory Toby Hadoke moderates a commentary with a revolving cast which includes the director, guest star Julian Fox, the AFM, the costume designer, a Dalek operator and Who’s Chief Swarfega Squelcher Dick Mills (special sounds). Lacking any particularly charismatic personalities, it’s a pretty nuts and bolts affair.
“Beneath The City Of The Exxilons” (27 minutes) is a better than average Making Of, enlivened by the enthusiasm of Dalek voice-man Nicholas Briggs, who outs himself as a massive fan of the story; he also wins “one-liner of the release” for his description of Yarrow’s Bellal as “Derek Jacobi playing Bungle”. Twenty-four minutes of on-set footage offers an amusing insight into a studio session, with stuntmen falling onto a horribly-patterned ‘70s mattress, and one Dalek clearly being pushed into shot by the crew.
“On The Set Of Dr Who And The Daleks” (eight minutes) integrates some recently-discovered trims from an ITV report on the 1965 movie into an overview of the film. This is a wise move, since they’re mute, black and white, and short (none last more than four seconds). A brief flash of Peter Cushing and Roy Castle dancing together for the camera is the chief delight, while the interviewees include Jason Flemying (whose dad, Gordon, was the director). Finally, “Doctor Who Stories: Dalek Men” (13 minutes) recycles interview footage with a couple of Dalek operators, shot in 2003 for the documentary The Story Of Doctor Who. Highlight: a priceless anecdote about Daleks queuing up to pee in a grate during filming in Trafalgar Square! The usual informative info text, photo gallery and Radio Times PDFs complete the package.
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