With the Third Doctor, Jo Grant, the Brigadier, Benton, Yates and the other UNIT chaps, troops galore, a little bit of CSO and a theatrical villain, Day of the Daleks screams 1970s Doctor Who.
Day of the Daleks is something quite special, though. It has often been noted that, for a show about a time-traveller, Doctor Who doesn’t do ‘time travel stories’ very often. Now, anyone solely familiar with Moffat’s era of the show may scoff at this – it’s now hard to imagine our favourite sci-fi not playing with time – but in the past, they were quite a rare occurrence. What’s more, Day does it so well.
In the 20th Century, a peace conference is called in order to stop World War Three. But there’s a report of a ‘ghost’ at Auderly House, the site of the conference, and UNIT are brought in to investigate. The ghost is, in fact, an assassin from a bleak future, and the Doctor and Jo soon find themselves on 22nd Century Earth… ruled by the Daleks.
It’s been said that the Daleks are just shoe-horned into the story, and the commentary suggests this is largely correct. The initial plot consisted of guerrillas coming back in time to avert a future where humans are slaves. It was producer, Barry Letts, and Script Editor, Terrance Dicks, who wanted something to “catch [the viewer’s] eye at the beginning of the season.”
And it feels right that the Daleks are the ‘big baddies,’ menacing it over the Controller (Aubrey Woods), who acts as a front man. The first reveal is fantastic – short and sweet, just enough to keep you enticed. If it weren’t for the title, it’s almost an unbelievable moment, leaving you to rub your eyes or think you’ve seen some sort of ghost. After five years away from screen, we can only imagine how thrilling it was for the Daleks to finally be back.
Yes, they’re there to grab your attention – and a Radio Times cover – but it works!
They’re not the only monsters on-screen either. The Ogrons make their debut in this story and Dicks describes them as “curiously lovable.” Despite their dimness, and ssloooowww speech, they’re just brilliant. They’ve appeared now and again – most notably in Frontier in Space – but the Ogrons are certainly waiting in the wings for a repeat performance. (Are you listening, Mr. Moffat?)
Forget Daleks, Ogrons and time travel; the Doctor causes quite a stir too, and this is investigated in the Blasting the Past documentary, in a section lovingly-titled, “Dandy, connoisseur… Murderer!” The first port of call is his stay at Auderly House, sampling vintage wine. There’s always a bit of controversy over our favourite Time Lord’s tipple of choice; the Fifth Doctor’s teetotal (he’s probably lost his ID and can’t prove he’s of age), the First Doctor has some whenever it’s offered on the whole (though claims he never touches alcohol when Doc Holliday offers him some prior to some dental work), and the Eleventh Doctor spits wine out, initially presuming it’d “taste like the gums.”
But the Third Doctor knocks it back like Boris Yeltsin. Letts reasons that “if the shape of your nose is going to change, maybe your tastes change as well,” while Dicks comments that it was “certainly good for Jon Pertwee.” Both are probably right.
The biggest controversy of Day of the Daleks is the Doctor gunning down an innocent (ish) Ogron. Terrance admits it seemed very unlike the Doctor to do this, and says it was a “mistake.” Then blames it on the director, like any good Script Editor.
Paul Bernard gets quite a bit of stick, actually. It’s quite a surprise; this was his first Doctor Who, and he was invited back to direct The Time Monster and Frontier in Space. There’s the impression that Bernard wouldn’t listen to anybody else, particularly Barry Letts or Terrance Dicks, the latter of whom freely admits he didn’t always get on with directors… including Barry! Terrance says Bernard was “very opinionated,” while the documentary, Blasting the Past brands him as ‘The Monster Director.’ Deliberately ambiguous, don’t you think?
To his credit though, Day of the Daleks looks excellent. The gleaming Auderly House – actually Dropmore Park, Buckinghamshire – is a great location to set a conference, ‘haunted house’ story and Dalek and Ogron attack against. It’s revisited in Now and Then, narrated by Toby Hadoke, who’s becoming very familiar to Whovians. Despite being twice badly damaged by fire, the house still looks fantastic, while other settings are less-than-spectacular, like Middlesex’s Bulls Bridge. And eventually, you’re forced to ask the question, ‘how different can wasteland look?’ It’s pretty tame stuff, but well worth watching. You somehow feel nostalgic… even if you weren’t alive in the 1970s.
Hadoke also presents The UNIT Dating Conundrum, a fun look at the “single most controversial question” in Who history. So just when are these stories set? Dicks says it’s deliberately vague. Day of the Daleks re-enforces this, with the Controller saying that Jo has already told him the year she comes from between scenes.
So what conclusions does the special feature draw? The Web of Fear is “1975 definitively.” The Invasion is 1979 (with a nicely cheeky nod to Shada thrown in). In fact, everything’s fine until The Pyramids of Mars, when Sarah Jane upset fans nationwide. Hadoke makes a nice deduction about the Pertwee era… before his theory is kicked repeatedly by Mawdryn Undead.
UNIT plays a good role in Day of the Daleks. As ever, they’re there to shoot the baddie, but they also act as a search party and add an element of humour to proceedings (‘RHIP’ indeed). The Brigadier, Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton shine throughout, though UNIT itself is mostly side-lined to episodes one and four.
But this is only half the story: this is not just an ordinary release. This is a Special Edition with brand new effects, new Daleks, and – thankfully – new voices, provided by Nick Briggs. But how does it really compare to the original…?
Tune in later on…
Day of the Daleks Special Edition was released on Monday, 12th September and you can order your copy now from Amazon for just £12.93!