Doctor Who: Day of the Daleks Review

Sir Reginald Styles (Wilfrid Carter), the organiser of an international peace conference, is attacked in his home by a guerilla fighter who then vanishes like a ghost. The guerilla is then attacked and left unconscious by a huge alien called an Ogron. The Doctor and UNIT investigate. The Doctor deduces that the guerillas come two centuries in the future. They come from a future conquered by the Daleks and are travelling back in time to attempt to change that future.

In their five years in their jobs, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks tried to start each season with something attention-getting. With Spearhead from Space it was a new Doctor and a show in colour for the first time, with Terror of the Autons a new assistant, Jo Grant, and a new adversary, the Master. Now, for their third season, the return after four and a half years – and now in colour – the Doctor's most celebrated adversaries.

It was not always so. Louis Marks, returning to Who after the 1964 serial Planet of Giants (not yet on DVD) originally wrote a story called The Ghost Hunters, but Letts and Dicks, having obtained Terry Nation's permission to reuse his creations, asked Marks to rewrite it, by adding another layer of villainy and placing the Daleks there. In later years, Who tendencies to rework its past got out of hand. There are hints of it here, such as the Daleks' use of the mind analysis machine, which recalls their six previous encounters with Doctors One and Two, and Hartnell and Troughton's faces appearing on a monitor. Another shortcoming was that the BBC had just three Dalek costumes in their collection. Director Paul Bernard does his best to disguise the fact that the Daleks' invading army is so short-handed, but it's unavoidable, especially in the battle in the final episode. The Ogrons, the original villains of the piece before the Daleks came on board, are effective lumbering thugs played by tall men in heavy makeup. The rebels from the twenty-second century, led by Anat (Anna Barry) in combat gear, have no doubt intended overtones of the terrorist movements of the time (see, inter alia, The Baader Meinhof Complex, Carlos, Munich and so on).

Jon Pertwee is on good form here, and it's a mark of how serious the proceedings are getting that he becomes distinctly dishevelled at times. He even – gasp! - kills an Ogron in cold blood. As for Katy Manning as Jo Grant, I may be mellowing. While her character's conception may well have been retrograde – there to ask the Doctor all the necessary expository questions - but there's a toughness beneath the little-girliness. The Brigadier, Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton are given good business. Aubrey Woods gives a good – if a little stagey – performance as the Controller. On the other hand, as the usual Dalek voices were unavailable, their replacements (Oliver Gilbert, Peter Messaline) are underwhelming.

Before watching this DVD, I hadn't seen Day of the Daleks since its original broadcast in January 1972, when I was seven and a quarter. I had very little memory of it, beyond vague images of Daleks and Ogrons. So it's good to report that while it may not be the best Dalek story, as a Dalek story, but in its own lights it's a tight four-parter, more satisfyingly complex than most.


Day of the Daleks is presented on two dual-layered DVDs, Disc One encoded for Region 2 only, Disc Two for Regions 2 and 4.

The DVD transfer is in the original ratio of 1.33:1, as all Classic Who was. Leaving aside Spearhead from Space, which was entirely shot on 16mm film, Day of the Daleks is fortunate in being the earliest Who serial to have all its original PAL two-inch videotapes still in existence. Restoration has had to be done, of course, but we have native PAL instead of Reverse-Standards-Converted PAL or colour-restored PAL, and it's all the better for that. 16mm location inserts are softer and grainier, but that's par for the course.

The soundtrack is mono, as you would expect, but clear and well balanced. Hard-of-hearing subtitles are available for the episodes and the extras except the commentary. Also on hand are the invaluable production subtitles, this time the work of Martin Wiggins.

That commentary is an exception to the current trend to have a moderator on hand. Barry Letts, who is present for all but Episode Two (long enough for him to eat a packet of crisps, he says), sounding a little frail, tends to occupy that role. The other participants are vision mixer Mike Catherwood (Episodes One, Two and Three), Terrance Dicks (One, Two and Four), actors Jim Winston (One and Two) and Anna Barry (Two and Four). Episode Three's commentary is a nice deviation from the norm, as Letts and Catherwood talk about the role of the vision mixer, a multi-camera-video answer to the film editor, except doing it live during a studio recording. As much television is shot single-camera these days, vision mixing is something of a vanished art, as vital to light entertainment (Catherwood vision-mixed the Morecambe and Wise Christmas shows, which had peak audiences of half the UK population of the time) as it is to drama.

“Blasting the Past” (30:34) is the making-of featurette. It's a solid run-through of this story from its original conception – as a six-parter called The Daleks in London, to be written by Robert Sloman, before Louis Marks's The Ghost Hunters became retooled – to its broadcast. Barry Letts features heavily, as do Terrance Dicks and Dave Owen (a writer for Doctor Who Magazine). It's a pity that Louis Marks couldn't feature – he died in 2010, after Barry Letts – but there is plenty of commentary from other Who writers Paul Cornell and Ben Aaronovitch, monster designer John Friedlander, Dalek operator Ricky Newby, latterday Dalek voice Nicholas Briggs, actors Katy Manning and Anna Barry. There is some discussion of the similarities in premise between Day of the Daleks and the Harlan Ellison-scripted Outer Limits episode “Soldier”. (Ellison later sued James Cameron over similarities between “Soldier” and The Terminator, settling out of court.) With Episode Two's audience exceeding ten million – the first time this had been achieved since 1965 – the serial was certainly a success, and Letts and Dicks are clearly proud of it.

“A View from the Gallery” (20:00) features Barry Letts and Mike Catherwood visiting the BBC Television Centre in 2009, only a few months before Letts's death. This is nicely complementary to the commentary on Episode Three, in which the two men talk about how multi-camera television was made.

Nationwide was a longrunning (1969-1983) magazine show which was shown after the early evening news on weekdays. Included on the disc is a short item (3:25) in which a Dalek visits a primary school which had won a competition. Another stalwart of Seventies schedules was Blue Peter and here we have a short bit from 1971 (4:49) in which Peter Purves talks about his time on Doctor Who. He refers to The Daleks' Master Plan as Devil's Planet which was actually the title of the third episode of that twelve-part epic and presumably the source of the clip shown. At the end, he says, the Daleks were vanquished, but then two of them pay him a visit in the studio. And, you never know, says Peter, maybe if enough people ask, maybe the Daleks will do battle with the Doctor once more... Do you think he knew something the viewing public didn't?

Also on Disc One are a self-navigating stills gallery (5:32) and a Coming Soon trailer for October's release of Colony in Space (1:37). The Radio Times listings in PDF format, include the front cover of the 1-7 January 1972 edition (yours for 5p), a competition where you finish a story started by Terry Nation, an interview with Katy Manning (she is “23, blonde, five-feet-nothing, trendy and energetic and enthusiastic”, just so you know), as well as the listings themselves, which refer to the serial inaccurately as The Day of the Daleks.

Disc Two features a Special Edition of Day of the Daleks, with updated visual and sound effects and Nicholas Briggs doing the Dalek voices. It is presented in the original episodic format, though there are changes to the credits to reflect the changes. This isn't all that new: the DVDs of The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Ark in Space give you the option of viewing the serials with redone special effects. I wasn't enamoured of the idea when I reviewed those discs in 2002 and 2003 and I haven't changed my mind since. There's a fine line behind correcting subpar work and revisionism, one which George Lucas most notoriously crosses with abandon, and I'd rather the resources be spent in restoration to the way they were seen originally. At least both versions are available, so you can take your choice. This Special Edition gets its own making-of (13:35) in which DVD producer Steve Broster describes the process, which even included shooting new material at the original location with 70s film cameras.

“Now and Then” (5:23) is the latest in the occasional series which revisits the locations where the serial concerned was shot, mainly Dropmore Park in Buckinghamshire.

Next up are a couple of UNIT-related items. “The UNIT Family Part Two” (31:23) follows on from Part One, which can be found on the DVD of Inferno. After a brief recap, this takes up the story from Jo Grant's introduction and finishes with her departure. This implies that a Part Three is in the offing, perhaps on the UNIT boxset due to be released in 2012. Most of the usual suspects are interviewed – John Levene tells a hair-raising story of how he nearly killed off most of the principal cast. It's a pity that (apart from Letts and Nicholas Courtney) none of the departed are represented here by archive footage, but there's plenty to be going on with even if there is nothing here that will come as a surprise to established fans. A bonus is that the clips from The Mind of Evil are now in colour.

“The UNIT Dating Conundrum” (9:04) is a resumé, narrated by Toby Hadoke, that takes us through the vexed question of when the Doctor's UNIT stories are actually set, mostly consistent until Mawdryn Undead gives the date as 1977. I'm someone not bothered with what is clearly a continuity blip, but fannish arguments continue. There's a hint of bad faith about this short item with the implication that if you care for this sort of thing you're nothing but a geek. So who's buying these DVDs then?

In “The Cheating Memory” (8:27), Steve Broster talks about how what was The Best Programme Ever at age six was not quite so great at age nineteen. Dr Sarita Robinson talks about the process of memory and how most of us have only fragments from before the ages of five or six, and talks about how memories and experiences are processed as children grow up. Nicholas Briggs and Ben Aaronovitch are also on hand to talk about the serials that made a big impression on them as children. As I say above, I remembered very little of this serial from first time round, and I suspect that it will be much the same with Colony in Space when I watch and review it.

Disc Two, and this DVD package, ends with a short teaser (0:19) for the Special Edition. There are no Easter Eggs on either disc.

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