CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO: Day of the Daleks / DVD Review

Day of the Daleks
January 1972

"It's very complicated thing, time, Jo. Once you've begun tampering with it, the oddest things start happening."
With a Dalek making a fleeting appearance in Patrick Troughton's swansong The War Games in 1969, as the Time Lords do a bit of a Crown Court on their errant prodigal son, and then last seen reaching their 'final end' in the destructive climax of David Whitaker's The Evil of the Daleks two years previously, it had been some time since Skaro's children had trundled their way through a Doctor Who adventure by the time they kicked off the ninth season of the series in 1972. Their appearance in Day of the Daleks was altogether not entirely by design.

In 1971, Letts and Dicks had turned to seasoned television writer Louis Marks to develop a story idea he'd pitched to the Doctor Who production duo about a group of guerrillas travelling back in time to the present day in order to prevent the rise of a dictatorship that would rule a future Earth. Under the title of The Ghost Hunters, Marks devised one of the series's first proper attempts to not only explore the nature of time paradoxes and but also the blurred distinctions between terrorism and guerrilla warfare against a backdrop of strained global relationships between East and West. The elements of his story that survive into the finished serial therefore reflect the escalation of acts of transnational terrorism that emerged from the collapse of rural guerrilla warfare in the late 1960s.

... a direct reference to the Sino-Russian border conflicts of 1969 
By the 1970s, organisations such as the IRA, Baader Meinhof, ETA, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Red Army Faction (RAF) were making the headlines. Marks's development of the guerrillas in the story, with their Middle Eastern sounding names (confirmed in the production notes on the DVD), was apparently influenced by the joint RAF - PFLP hijacking, in the so called 'Black September' period in 1970, of five planes bound for New York. It's entirely possible that the female character of Anat (played by Anna Barry) was analogous to the 'poster girl of Palestinian militancy', Leila Khalid, who attempted to hijack one of the planes.

Let's also not forget that in the story we also have diplomat Reginald Styles's mission of peace to Peking to coax the Chinese to return to the conference table and prevent the escalation of war on the Sino-Soviet border as a direct reference to the Sino-Russian border conflicts of 1969 at the Ussuri River, on Damansky–Zhenbao Island and at Tielieketi. These conflicts almost teetered into a nuclear first strike on China by the USSR and it's this threat that is reflected in the scenes where UNIT are monitoring the military chatter from the area. Styles's last attempt to broker peace by flying to Peking is also an analogue to the February 1972 visit of Richard Nixon to China that would eventually establish the future Washington–Beijing–Moscow diplomatic relationship. 

Anat and her fellow rebels echo Marks's original intention to underscore the revolutionaries social origins, ideological outlook and lack of faith in the ability of representative government to bring about effective, significant, and lasting sociopolitical change. His original storyline focuses on an oppressed minority attempting to change history and therefore their inability to exert influence through the ballot box on a totalitarian regime by attempting to remove or prevent the cause of their oppression. The time travel and predestination paradox elements also reflect a number of previous television and fictional narratives, such as Harlan Ellison's 'Soldier' episode of The Outer Limits, Philip K Dick's The Skull, Robert Heinlein's By His Bootstraps and All You Zombies, for example.

The time paradox theme is initially introduced in the opening sequence in the Doctor's laboratory where, as the Doctor works on the TARDIS, he inadvertently causes a 'future' version of himself and Jo to appear. However, a bookend to this scene was shot and initially intended to provide a climax where the Doctor and Jo returned to the lab to see their past incarnations at the TARDIS console but was then cut by director Paul Bernard not only because the episode was overrunning but it was also a scene he wasn't particularly keen on. Script editor Dicks restored the scene in his novelisation of the serial.

In episode four, the Doctor explains the nature of the predestination paradox to the guerrillas, underlining that it is their own actions that eventually causes the war that weakens the Earth and domination of it by the Daleks. This is also the story that introduces that handy bit of restrictive practice for all time travellers, the Blinovitch Limitation Effect which allegedly prevents the guerrillas, having failed once, nipping back to try their assassination of Styles again and it's a fictional explanation that in fact has a real world scientific conjecture in the Novikov self-consistency principle.
... fuses the countercultural image of the revolutionary hippie with the space age aesthetic
While Marks was busy putting The Ghost Hunters script together, BBC Managing Director Huw Weldon was nagging Letts and Dicks about bringing the Daleks back into the series. This was not an unusual request from Weldon whose mother-in-law was apparently such a fan that a similar demand resulted in the 12 part epic The Daleks' Master Plan back in 1965. Letts and Dicks approached Dalek creator Terry Nation, secured permission to use his creations and then commissioned a six part serial The Daleks in London from writer Robert Sloman. The serial was intended to be the finale for Season Nine but it was both felt that another Dalek invasion of London was simply repeating the central conceit of 1964's The Dalek Invasion of Earth and that Marks's script about time travelling assassins needed a hook to help launch the new season in January 1972. The Daleks thus found their way into The Ghost Hunters and it eventually evolved into Day of the Daleks.

Even though Marks's script was injected with the Dalek factor (and had originally suggested that the civil war on Skaro depicted in The Evil of the Daleks was lost by the humanised Daleks), its themes did dovetail with the political tone of the speculative dystopian futures depicted in the series at the time, from Hulke's Colony in Space and his later Frontier in Space to Baker and Martin's The Mutants for example. On a lighter note, Day of the Daleks representation of those kicking against the oppression of Doctor Who's resident fascists on castors gleefully plugs in to the visual culture of the 1970s and fuses the assimilated countercultural image of the revolutionary hippie - check out the Guevara moustaches on Jimmy Winston playing Shura and Valentine Palmer as Monia - with the space age aesthetic on a budget - Aubrey Woods as the quisling Controller in silver make-up and Nehru jacket.

Day of the Daleks may well be regarded as another use of the UNIT 'family' but it also attempts to mark time on the series format that Dicks and Letts had been left with after the departure of Derrick Sherwin and Peter Bryant during Season Seven. Both of them felt that the exile to Earth format was too restrictive and had been thinking of ways to get the Doctor back to exploring time and space again. They'd already started to mix Earth based stories with occasional missions for the Time Lords (the Doctor as undercover agent and "galactic yo-yo") in the previous year's Colony in Space and had also introduced the regular villain of the Master as part of the reshaping of the series. Here they manage to have the Doctor travelling into the future to an Earth ruled by Daleks, offering another peep into alternate time. 

Present and correct are the trademarks of the Pertwee and UNIT era. The Third Doctor finds diplomat Styles rather insufferable ("Look, try and use your intelligence, man, even if you are a politician"), as he does most politicians at this stage, but later recognises at heart that he's a "good man"; he is at his most preening and pretentious in the lovely scenes in Styles's house tucking into wine and cheese ("That's a most good-natured wine. A touch sardonic, perhaps, but not cynical. A most civilised wine, one after my own heart") and namedropping Napoleon as he and Jo await the return of the time travelling rebels; then he manages to 'hai!' kick and karate chop his way past several of the Daleks' ape-like bodyguards, the Ogrons.

When Shura bursts into Styles's house and is confronted by the Doctor there's a rather cool moment where the Doctor, carrying his drink in one hand, karate chops the intruder, and then calmly finishes his drink before rejoining the fray. A moment Jason King would be proud of. Just in case you haven't had enough Pertwee-isms, the Doctor's penchant for trying out interesting modes of transport sees him and Jo misappropriate a rather flatulent quad bike that even a tortoise could outrun and there's an opportunity to spot a fair bit of Pertwee gurning as the Daleks torture him with their mind analysis machine.

It good heartedly mixes a haunted house mystery, a political thriller and Bondian action adventure formula with one of the series's first proper stabs at time paradox narratives, depicting a ruined future Earth dominated by Daleks (well, by three of them at least) and trading on their juxtaposition with the period trappings of Auderly House in the same way that The Evil of the Daleks saw them fused with Edwardiana. Director Paul Bernard, a former production designer who'd worked on everything from The Avengers, Maigret, Armchair Theatre to ITV Play of the Week, here makes his Doctor Who debut and the results waver between the clunky and the inspired. While he conjures up great atmosphere in the location scenes around Auderly House and in the railway tunnel, aided and abetted by the subtler cadences of Dudley Simpson's score, some of the studio scenes are often a bit flat.
... Dalek voices from the never-heard-of-again duo of Oliver Gilbert and Peter Messaline 
However in episode one there are some stylish touches, from the hand held close up of the guerrilla, panicking and running as he realises that he's not the only time traveller trespassing in the gardens surrounding the house, to the rather neat dissolve between a shot of the Controller rapidly pulled out of focus and a close up of the mislaid ray gun to bridge the two time periods of the story. This also ushers in Bernard's repeating motifs of bold crash zooms and pulling focus on objects and faces to open new scenes.

Episode one's climax is crippled by the production team's inability to remember which setting to use on the ring modulator, terrible Dalek voices from the never-heard-of-again duo of Oliver Gilbert and Peter Messaline and three inanimate Daleks who look like they're waiting for a bus until Bernard whips them into a frenzy with lots and lots of vision mixing. When you get to episode two, the reprise of this even includes the sting of the theme music crashing in before an abrupt edit that suggests that Bernard had some trouble in the assembling of the episodes. Whether Bernard was attempting to play with the existing construction of a Doctor Who episode is unclear. The misplaced musical stings in two of the reprises and the overlay of Pertwee's credit before the end titles kick in on episode three are perhaps just the results of very rushed editing in contrast to episode four and his deliberate use of fading to black as the story switches from one time zone to another.

That said, Pertwee is in fine form and truly settled in the role at this point and for all the fondly appreciated cliches of the era there are also some well performed scenes to savour. As well as the warmly self mocking tone of the night vigil in Auderly House, added to immeasurably by Jo taking pity on a famished Benton, he's great locking horns with Aubrey Woods as the Controller of the future Earth's factories. Letts complains on the DVD commentary that Woods overplays the part and is too theatrical but I've always enjoyed his fruity performance as the character evolves from a pitiless slave of the Daleks into someone with a real shred of human decency after all. His long speech about the terrible aftermath of the wars on Earth is also highly evocative. The interrogation scene where a sweating and exhausted Doctor is taunted by the senior guard (a part that Andrew Carr seizes and turns into something quite sublime) and the similar after effects of the mind analysis are equally tense scenes that show Pertwee's prowess for physical expression.

Episode four is rather exposition heavy as the Controller provides the back history of the Daleks conquest of the Earth and the guerrillas unravel the time paradox for the benefit of the audience. Once that's out of the way, Day of the Daleks finally plays its trump card of UNIT troops battling Daleks and Ogrons that clearly left such an impression on the young Steve Broster that he felt he had to reimagine it some thirty nine years later for this release's 'special edition'. More of that in a minute but whichever version you watch it is still painfully obvious that Bernard and his production team had to try and make three Daleks and half a dozen Ogrons credible as an invasion force. You have to give him points for trying. Still, there's a giddy pleasure in seeing Lethbridge-Stewart, Benton, Yates and the UNIT lads clashing with the series's iconic adversaries in the grounds of a country house. As one of the DVD features The Cheating Memory eloquently summarises, sequences of this nature fired our childhood imaginations and, until the advent of home video, formed our past recollections of Doctor Who as so much more than the sum of its parts.
... there are still only very few Daleks invading Earth
This brings us to Steve Broster's 'special edition' of the story. He takes this premise, that we recall classic Doctor Who on a much more epic scale in our own childhood imaginations until we clap eyes on the real thing as adults and see it for the low budget adventure that is obviously is, as his starting point. It's no better illustrated than in the return from Hong Kong of the lost episodes of Tomb of the Cybermen in 1992.

Until their release on VHS that year, the four episodes of this Troughton story had been mythologised into the status of an epic by fans who had first seen it on transmission. However, it was deemed something of a disappointment when fandom finally got to see the real thing. Therefore, this 'special edition' is perhaps not just the culmination of the Restoration Team's mission to offer alternative effects sequences that are more sophisticated than the originals (the Mara snake in Kinda is perhaps the latest and most successful example of this) but also of Broster's desire to create the version of Day of the Daleks that he thought he saw as a child.

In part it works really well and runs the gamut from very subtle effects used on video screens and control consoles in the Controller's domain to an all guns blazing reworking of the effects of Ogron and guerrilla disintegrator fire and replacing clunky Dalek extermination effects with something closer to the modern equivalent, complete with irradiated skeletons. The future Earth is one of dark skies filled with circling ships rather than a shot of modernist high-rise flats in Brentford seen fleetingly through some shrubbery. But no matter how many Ogrons and UNIT troops we see blown apart or how jazzy the new time travel effects are, nothing can really change the view that there are still only very few Daleks invading Earth despite valiant attempts to add more Daleks in some shots. It's never really going to live up to The Parting of the Ways.

I would also debate the claim that all of the effects that blaze their way through this version of the story are commensurate with the type of effects that the production would have been able to produce if it had had the budget per episode of, say, Space:1999. Personally, I think a lot of the less subtler effects, particularly the gun battles, are still of a very modern digital effects idiom, not quite in keeping with the 1970s aesthetic of the programme, and actually become rather repetitive and a bit self-indulgent. There are also some brief instances were the over-manipulation of the available footage, stretching out the guerrilla attack on the Dalek factory with freeze framed shots of Ogrons for example, is a little too evident.

In conclusion what this 'special edition' says is that you can only go so far with introducing modern effects techniques into nearly forty year old drama before it ceases to be anything resembling the original. The point is that even as adults we understand the intentions of the original production team and can still allow our imaginations to take flight without necessarily having them realised on screen. However, some kudos needs to be given to Broster for some excellent effects and for going back to the original locations and filming new material with Daleks and Ogrons to beef up the action sequences and numbers. The subtler stuff of his reimagining works well along with the real triumph of re-recording the Dalek voices and, thanks to the dulcet tones of one Nicholas Briggs, they sound far more credible, far more threatening than the rather weedy versions in the original episodes.

Despite these misgivings, this is an impressive two-disc set, crammed with special features about both versions of the story and the 'special edition' is an enjoyable alternative that ramps up the comic book visual appeal of the original and captures something of the spirit of that iconic Frank Bellamy Radio Times cover that launched the season.

Special Features

Disc 1 - Original Edition
Commentary - with actors Anna Barry and Jim Winston, producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks and vision mixer Mike Catherwood.
Blasting the Past - cast and crew look back on the making of this story. With actors Katy Manning, Jimmy Winston and, Anna Barry, producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks, monster maker John Friedlander, Dalek operator Ricky Newby, Dalek voice artiste Nicholas Briggs, classic series writer Ben Aaronovitch, new series writer Paul Cornell and Doctor Who Magazine writer Dave Owen.
A View from the Gallery - producer Barry Letts and vision mixer Mike Catherwood talk about the art of vision mixing on a multi-camera studio show like Doctor Who.
Nationwide - a report from a primary school on the day they took delivery of a Dalek, first prize in a Radio Times competition.
Blue Peter - presenter Peter Purves remembers his time as a companion to William Hartnell's Doctor and is joined in the studio by a trio of Daleks.
Photo Gallery - production, design and publicity photos from the story.

Disc 2 - Special Edition
The Making of Day of the Daleks - Special Edition - producer Steve Broster guides us through the creation of his Special Edition of this story. With voice artiste Nicholas Briggs, audio engineer Mark Ayres, cameraman John Kelly, Dalek builder Toby Chamberlain, UNIT soldier Kevan Looseley and Ogron Nick Nicholson.
Now and Then - the latest instalment of our long-running series revisits the locations used in Day of the Daleks to see how much or little they have changed over the years. Narrated by Toby Hadoke.
The UNIT Family - Part Two - the second instalment of our series looking at the Doctor's years on Earth as scientific advisor to the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce and the strong family bonds created during that time. With Katy Manning, Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks, actors Nicholas Courtney, John Levene, Richard Franklin and Fernanda Marlowe, stuntman Derek Ware.
The UNIT Dating Conundrum - over the years, many fans have tried to rationalise the chronological setting of the UNIT stories from clues within the narrative, despite the obstacles seemingly put in their way by the production team. Narrator Toby Hadoke explains why dating the stories is so difficult, assisted by Terrance Dicks, Dave Owen, Nicholas Briggs and Ben Aaronovitch.
The Cheating Memory - Special Edition producer Steve Broster tries to discover why the reality of Day of the Daleks doesn't quite live up to the memory he has of first seeing it, aged six. With psychologist Dr. Sarita Robinson, Nicholas Briggs and Ben Aaronovitch.

Day of the Daleks
BBC 1972
2 | entertain / Released 12 September 2011 / BBCDVD3043 / Duration: 100 mins approx / Cert: PG

Bookmark and Share

5 Responses to “CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO: Day of the Daleks / DVD Review”
  1. KAOS says:

    "...Live up to The Parting of the Ways."

    Hahahahahahahahahaahaha... *collapses sobbing in a corner*

  2. KAOS says:

    But seriously - great write-up, as always.

    Interesting points about the new effects et cetera. I'm an ancient 29, and think Tomb of the Cybermen is the best thing since thick-sliced, seeded organic wholemeal bread - I missed the fan hype and found it to be as brilliant as it is (and not the brilliant a 60-year-old remembered it to be).

    When I first saw Day of the Daleks, however, 10 years ago or so, I found it a huge disappointment (those Dalek voices...) Like you, I found Aubrey Woods to be a saving grace, and Pertwee is, frankly, God.

  3. I'm talking about scale and Dalek numbers rather than the actual quality of the story in The Parting of the Ways. Let's face it Steve Broster's hardly going to have the same budget to enable him to deliver millions of Daleks!

    I was one of those disappointed by Tomb of the Cybermen, when I caught up with the episodes in 1992 simply because they didn't resemble the story I thought I saw as a five year old. So I kind of understand where Steve Broster's coming from. Glad to know that as someone not caught up in the hype you had no preconceptions and enjoyed it.

    Colony in Space next. God help us!

  4. KAOS says:

    Hehe... I'm quite fond of Colony In Space! Or perhaps I give Malcolm Hulke's wonderful novelisation too much credit.

    Look forward to your thoughts on it... play nice ;)

  5. Nice one! I had completely forgot they hadn't already released this one, until I saw it in HMV on the new release shelf.

    As to the new SFX I don't mind them as long as they include the original aswell I.e. not George Lucas and Star Wars.

Viewing Figures

The Legal Bit

All written material is copyright © 2007-2023 Cathode Ray Tube and Frank Collins. Cathode Ray Tube is a not for profit publication primarily for review, research and comment. In the use of images and materials no infringement of the copyright held by their respective owners is intended. If you wish to quote material from this site please seek the author's permission.

Creative Commons License
Cathode Ray Tube by Frank Collins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.