April 14, 2013

Who50: "Day of the Daleks"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #30: "Day of the Daleks", a 1972 four-part serial written by Louis Marks and directed by Paul Bernard.

I generally dislike Jon Pertwee's tenure as the Doctor. It's not Pertwee himself, although to be honest I could give or take his version of the character. It's more the actual series surrounding him at the time: the idea of television's ultimate freewheeling rebel would settle down and work for the military strikes me as deeply counter to everything the series demonstrated before or since. That aside, the UNIT set-up does work sufficiently for one year (Season 7) before the arrival of Jo Grant, Mike Yates and the vaguely ridiculous and cozy "UNIT family". After that it's just four years of what seem like interminably long, vaguely tedious serials where - more often than not - the Master pops up like a Scooby Doo level antagonist.

This in mind, I'm somewhat surprised that - once I've gone through all the Doctor Who serials ever made and picked out the 50 I like the most - Pertwee stories keep cropping up on this list. "Day of the Daleks" is the 21st story I've written about, and the fifth to star Jon Pertwee. I've only blogged about Tom Baker stories three times. Sylvester McCoy, still my sentimental favourite among the 11 Doctors, has only come up once. If nothing else, assembling this list is making me re-evaluate my opinions on the Jon Pertwee era. I still don't think the majority of his stories are very good, but when they are they really do shine.
"Day of the Daleks" hinges on an oft-used time travel story trope, albeit one not previously used in Doctor Who: a group of rebels, fighting the Daleks in Earth's future, travel back in time to prevent the invasion from ever occurring - not realising that it is their interference that causes the invasion in the first place. It's a storyline that done exceptionally well: complex enough to engage, but told in a simple enough manner that kids watching can easily understand it. It's also a very well paced serial, rattling along quite amiably across four episodes without any obvious padding or dragging around.

This serial is the first of two to feature the Ogrons, gorilla-like shock troopers for the Daleks. It's an interesting angle, but possibly not one that really fits with the xenophobic nature of the Dalek race. They're a nice addition to Doctor Who's pantheon of aliens, however, and it's a shame that after the following season's "Frontier in Space" they're not used in the series again.

This must have been a sensational season opener back in 1972: the first appearance of the Daleks in five years, and their first appearance in colour (not counting the Peter Cushing movies, of course). From here they appear annually for the next three seasons, in "Frontier in Space", "Planet of the Daleks", "Death to the Daleks" and finally in the phenomenal "Genesis of the Daleks". Had producer Barry Letts not insisted on bringing them back here, it's possible we may never have seen them again.


  1. I do like the Pertwee era, but if there's any one great criticism you can make then yes, it's padding. And Jo Grant. Padding and an idiot.

    On a completely fanboy note, can you imagine how great the daleks would feel if we had seen them in "Genesis..." and then nothing until "Dalek"? And then nothing after that because, frankly, every story since then has been pretty much shit. The fact that I can genuinely consider a Dalek story-- Daleks Take Manhattan-- as among the worst Dr Who stories every told, saddens my fanboy heart quite a bit.

  2. There are plenty of bad Dalek stories before "Daleks in Manhattan": "The Chase", "Planet of the Daleks", "Destiny of the Daleks"... okay three, and Planet isn't bad so much as enormously dull.

    I did like the Daleks returning en masses in "The Parting of the Ways", and didn't mind them in "The Stolen Earth" (but *not* "Journey's End"). You do pretty much have a point though.

    1. The Daleks should be Who's version of Bruce the Shark: frightening because they're not right in front of you, just "out there, somewhere", so that when they do, in that one instant, appear, the immediate reaction is utter fear.

      Every first Dalek moment should be the head emerging from the river, or the eye-light appearing in the darkened cell. We should never be thinking "Oh, is it that time of the season already?"

    2. It's true we're back to the days of the mid-Pertwee era, where the Daleks have their annual round with the Doctor.

      If it was me running the show (and naturally it should be) I'd declare a moratorium on old monster appearances for at least two seasons.


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