Day of the Daleks

Written by:
Louis Marks
Directed by: Paul Bernard
Starring: Jon Pertwee
Year: 1972
Video Availability (NTSC version only): Try Amazon

"A touch sardonic perhaps, but not cynical."

Okay, let's get one thing straight right from the outset: season nine is rubbish. Disinterestedly made with Pertwee only acting in one out of five stories, they're also the silliest things you've ever seen too. After doing interviews about how his new monsters were so much better, the team repay Pertwee by bringing back the Daleks, the Ice Warriors and remaking the Silurians as The Sea Devils. Except that so little money has been thrown at it that there's famously only three Daleks, the Ice Warriors are friendly support to a talking pea and onion bhaji, and the Sea Devils is a laugh-in with Delgado, while simultaneously praising the virtues of the Royal Navy. As for the two original stories, then who's ever been prepared to stick up for The Mutants or The Time Monster? Yes, make no mistake - season nine is dumb, shallow and just plain silly. Yet more importantly than all that, isn't it such great fun??

As the first season nine review, I'm going to do something I could have done long ago: count the times Pertwee strokes his chin. That's right, when Jon can't be bothered to put in a performance, he just rubs his lip in a vain effort to indicate some inner turmoil. It's "acting" by shorthand, just two or three stages away from phoning in his performance. We'll call this lip scratching laziness Pertwee Mouth Stroke Syndrome, or PMS Syndrome for short.

Okay then, Day of the Daleks. Well, less of a "Day", more of a two-minute stop for a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon if we're being honest. It's well documented how much Jon loathed the Daleks, but even if you didn't know it then you'd be able to tell it from his performances opposite them - Planet particularly. This is his best out of the three (not saying much), and it's fair to say that UNIT doesn't really work with the Daleks. They could have done, given a sharper script, but that's in the boundaries of "what if…" and not really a judgement of what we see on screen.

Four minutes in and Jo - kinky tan or not - has already said "Doctor! What happened?" and "I don't understand." Yet following on from a story that had BBC3, here we have a UN conference that could lead to World War III. Well, according to the Brigadier, anyway. Pretty soon Jo and the Doctor are holed up in a "stately home", a TV set shot on video tape and lit so brightly that you're never convinced it's real.

Best bit is Aubrey Woods, one of the series' finest scene-stealers. Worst is the dumb (in concept, as well as reality) Ogrons. Their voices seem ill advised, while one of them forgets to do the slow talking on the line "no complications". Yet, largely due to Jon's obvious boredom, there's a curiously hollow feel throughout this, and it never really engages. As the most exciting stories this season are The Sea Devils and The Curse of Peladon then it's a clear sign that UNIT has already outstayed its welcome. The patronising, exposition-crammed dialogue makes it a serial for five-year-olds, while Jo's info request questioning makes her the ideal companion to reach Pertwee's "top of the class."

Yes, the Daleks do have rubbish voices and are undersold in the extreme. So bad is this episode that Jo and the Doctor even have a "rhubarb, rhubarb" style silent conversation while the Brigadier's on the phone. And Jo's mock fear at having to spend the night in a haunted house makes her look like a baby seal before you're about to club it. Irritating.
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Almost as camp as it's humanly possible to be, Aubrey Woods (great name, too) is exceptional here. Sadly though, the Daleks sound like your Uncle Derrick talking into an old tin can, and I don't think much of their cheapo set or stiff dialogue either.

However, this episode is a definite improvement because the plot, flabbily alluded to in part one, is here properly introduced. It's quite a neat plot, too, and more fully rounded than the ultimately aimless one from The Evil of the Daleks. However, as the first Dalek tale since that story (five years earlier, the longest gap between Dalek adventures) then it seems remarkably low key and unambitious. The fact that some of the casings are clearly sitting there with no operator doesn't help matters, and there's a lax, "it'll do" attitude to it all. Not only that, but after David Whitaker's first-rate Dalek scripts, then the presence of their Magnotron is back to pure Nation territory. They're not so much cunning tacticians as lazy gits sitting around talking while the rest of the story carries on without them, as much a part of the narrative as the two old men are actively part of The Muppet Show. And yes, I did forget to look their names up. Wallace and Bernstein or something, wasn't it? I'll come back later and edit it, make it look as if I knew it all the time.

The direction by Paul Bernard is quiet snazzy in this one, a rather bog standard Brig/Yates/Benton scene being shot through a transparent map. But all the tricksy direction in the world can't save the patronising dialogue of the now overbearing third Doctor. There is a small bit of postmodernism with "even if I released you, you'd probably ask me a lot of fool questions", though this can't make up for the appalling scene where the Doctor guns down an Ogron. And "Doctor, come back at once!" is rapidly becoming a Brig catchphrase.
* * * ˝

Episode three, and time for more adventures with Pertwee's velvetty Doctor and Jo's redneck chic. For the first time the third Doctor meets the Daleks, though as he doesn't seem to be in the slightest bit interested in them then it's an immense anti-climax. Note that the Doctor doesn't even have a single conversation actually with them. They say stuff, and so does he, but never to each other. As befits an episode three, this is packed full of running around and padding, including a thoroughly stupid getaway on a tricycle.

Often all this doesn't feel like a real Doctor Who story, but more of a fan video, with some gorilla masks and paintball enthusiasts running around the countryside while aged Dalek props try to pretend to be an army. One thing this story really lacks is a music score to add tension. Though this is perhaps fortunate as when the incidental music is present it's a hissing, maracas-strewn monstrosity by Dudley. There's some half-hearted Nazi overtones to this one, but they're more affectations than genuine social commentary. In fact, nothing in this story seems to happen without it being there to entertain the kiddies. All it needs is jelly, ice cream and a bouncy castle.

Two plus points: Jon gets one or two nice lines, and does threaten to act on occasion. Plus, you get first-hand evidence that Katy Manning likes wearing red knickers. The episode ends with the Daleks cruelly torturing the Doctor by infecting him with CSO.
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There's a huge info dump at the start of this one, and, by virtue of there being no music, it seems to go on for hours. Soon we cut to shots of guerrillas fighting gorillas, as guns and burnt-out casings litter a deserted, run-down tower block. Sounds like Manchester.

The Doctor takes a moral objection to being asked to commit murder here, despite obliterating an Ogron in the last episode. And, on the subject of hypocrisy, he describes Styles as "vain to the point of arrogancccce" There's still a lack of pace and urgency in this final instalment, and when the Daleks took over Earth before it was shot with far greater scope and filmic quality. This is just a glorified promo for the territorial army. (Actually, that'd make a good spoof woudn't it? One of those army campaigns ads for UNIT. On second thoughts, no - the Pertwee years are so silly and camp that they're impossible to send up as they do it to themselves anyway).

Alex MacIntosh (A real presenter, though I didn't know it before, and audiences today wouldn't anyway - what a shame they didn't have the foresight to book someone who's still famous) does one of those fourth wall breaking reports to camera. "Clever" editing tries to make us think that ten Daleks come through the tunnel, which might have worked better had they not shown multiple shots of the gold leader Dalek. (Do you think if ever they released a Pertwee Dalek story on DVD they'd have an optional extra where you can get a ray effect from the Dalek's weapons?) In many ways, while people knock the fun daftness of The Chase or the ironic send-up of Destiny, this is the Daleks' nadir. While there are arguably three weaker Dalek stories in Who's oeuvre, is there anything more undignified than seeing three Daleks surrounding a house? This is also the first episode in the story where Pertwee doesn't have a fight.

The climax is a "it never happened after all" conclusion, which is, I suppose, quite clever for a Pertwee story at least. Yet I did get a shiver down my spine as Jon talks of what the future holds if the UN Peace Conference doesn't work out - it's almost as if it was written today, isn't it? Sadly, suggesting that war with Iraq would lead to Earth being populated by tower blocks, gorilla masks and three Daleks only serves to highlight how silly it all is.
* * *

While arguably more entertaining than The Mutants, in many real senses this is the weakest season nine story. Unremittingly shallow and a further decline in the quality of Pertwee stories, it's also arguably the weakest season opener to that date. However, it does work adequately as throwaway, passable entertainment. Yet it's just lazy, bare basic Who with little inspiration or effort gone into any of it. It's also the best of Jon's three Dalek stories - God help us!
PMS Syndrome: 4
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