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DVD Review: “Doctor Who: Day of the Daleks”

Hidy Who, everybody!

Last month, BBC and 2 Entertain released, in my opinion, one of the best Doctor Who DVDs yet: “Day of the Daleks.” The two disc set features two different versions of the 1972 serial as well as a slew of interesting and engaging special features.

Written by Louis Marks and directed by Paul Bernard, “Day of the Daleks” was the opening four-parter of the show’s 9th season, the third to feature Third Doctor Jon Pertwee. It involves the Doctor and his UNIT cohorts investigating a report of a ghost at a large manor house, which is the site of an important peace conference, one that could very well stave off World War III. The “ghost” was spotted by Sir Reginald Styles, the key figure in the peace talks. Not surprisingly, the ghost is not a ghost at all, but rather an assassin from the 22nd Century attempting to avert a future where the human race is enslaved by Daleks and huge, hulking mercenaries called Ogrons do their bidding. The Doctor maintains, however, that murder, even one to prevent a terrible future, cannot be condoned. Soon, the Doctor’s companion, Jo Grant, is transported to the future and Daleks begin coming back in time and it’s up to the Doctor and UNIT under Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart to prevent Styles’ murder and save the future.

This is a very strong opening story for a season and one of the few instances in the classic series of time travel being used as a plot element and not merely a transportation. This is the serial that introduced the concept of “The Blinovitch Limitation Effect,” the fictional theory that states that one cannot, or at least should not, cross one’s own time stream. The story at its core is very similar to James Cameron’s film The Terminator, which came out twelve years later. Author Harlan Ellison sued Cameron over the similarities between Terminator and a couple of episodes of The Outer Limits he wrote, but I think “Day of the Daleks” writer Louis Marks could also have had a case if he so cared. Marks’ initial idea for the story did not include the Daleks, but they were put in after having not been onscreen for five years.

As is common when 2 Entertain does their special edition-style DVDs, the “Day of the Daleks” release contains two versions of the story. On disc one you have the four part story as it was initially broadcast. Unlike some filmmakers who shall remain nameless, the BBC and 2 Entertain have always maintained their belief that one should have the right to see the story as it first came out, albeit with some clean-up and vidfiring done to it. On the second disc is the special edition version of the story. It contains specially shot sequences, updated special effects, and, my personal favorite addition, the Dalek voices have been completely re-recorded by new series Dalek voice, Nicholas Briggs. In 1972, since the Daleks had not been seen since 1967, people forgot how to do their voices and so aren’t in keeping with the way the baddies are portrayed normally. Briggs, a lifelong fan of the show, brings his style to the pepperpots, yet does it in a way authentic to the time. For the most part, the special edition versions that have been released up to this point are somewhat inferior or unnecessary, but in my opinion, the “Day of the Daleks” update is absolutely fantastic and blends together new and old together almost seamlessly. I defy anyone to watch it and tell me it doesn’t enhance the story.

Disc 1 features a commentary on the broadcast version by actors Anna Barry and Jimmy Winston, who play two of the future assassins; vision mixer Mike Catherwood; script editor Terrance Dicks; and late producer Barry Letts. This is a very nice commentary, though it’s clear Letts, who died of cancer in 2009, was very sick at the time of recording, which makes for a bittersweet listening experience. Other features on the disc include “Blasting the Past,” a lovely 30 minute making-of feature; “A View from the Gallery,” in which Letts and Catherwood talk for 20 minutes about what a vision mixer does; a photo gallery; and short segments from the shows Nationwide and Blue Peter pertaining to the serial.

Disc 2 features a 13 minute featurette about the making of the special edition version of the story; a five minute “Now and Then” featurette comparing the locations used in the serial both now and then; and “The Cheating Memory,” an 8 minute dialogue with various people about how the memory of watching “Day of the Daleks” as a child is very different from what it’s like to watch it now. Also on this disc are two of my favorite features. The first is “The UNIT Family — Part Two,” a continuation of a feature on the “Inferno” DVD. This 31 minute program talks about Doctor Who during seasons 8, 9, and 10 as they pertain to the actors and characters within UNIT. This feature is lively and there are plenty of enjoyable anecdotes from actors Nicholas Courtney (the Brigadier), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), John Levene (Sgt. Benton), and Richard Franklin (Capt. Mike Yates). The final feature is the 9 minute “The UNIT Dating Controversy,” in which comedian and Whovian Toby Hadoke discusses the continuity (or lack thereof) as it pertains to the Earthbound UNIT years. There’s been a dismaying lack of consistency about when the UNIT stories take place, and Hadoke lovingly and humorously takes the piss out of the show for confusing and angering him and so many other fans over the years.

All in all, “Day of the Daleks” is a marvelous DVD outing. As a huge fan of ’70s Doctor Who and of the Pertwee years specifically, I’m pleased as punch that so much care and love has been put into it. If you’ve never watched the classic series and want a DVD to give you a good idea of what the show was like between 1970 and 1974, I would absolutely say pick this up.

-Kanderson can also do Venusian Aikido while sipping wine. Follow him on TWITTER.

Image: BBC

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  1. Alexis A says:

    How did the Daleks get Shepard Fairey to make them Obey posters?

  2. Scott S says:

    Pertwee’s always been my second favorite Doctor, after Davison. I haven’t seen this story in a long time, but I liked Death to the Daleks with Pertwee and Sarah Jane quite a bit. It’s hard to believe there was ever a time that they’d go years without any Dalek shows.

  3. Remster says:

    Oh, nice, this review is very apropos for my family. See, I started as the first Who fan, and one by one have managed to introduce everyone in my family to the show (it took some sneaking and conniving, but by god I did it) and now that everyone from my mom to my nephew are nearly caught up, they’ve been asking questions about the older series’, which I actually know little about. The few times I’ve watched them have been painful and I’ve tended to avoid them, but I’ve been itching to find a good place to start– this, my good sir, sounds like that launching pad. Thanks!