Death to the Daleks

Written by:
Terry Nation
Directed by: Michael Briant
Starring: Jon Pertwee
Year: 1974
Video Availability (NTSC Version): Try

You know, I've really nothing against Death to the Daleks, in fact I quite enjoy watching it. It's clearly below par, but somehow it does contain some form of charm that its immediate Dalek predecessor did not. It's likeably inept. Affably shite.

Just about everything in Death to the Daleks is below normal qualitative standards. Direction is adequate at best, acting by the guest cast is horrific and Carey Blyton's music is a serious challenge for worst-ever, including Keff McCulloch. I was going to suggest that it sounds like a man trying to strike a match, though as the theme is the quest for light, then maybe this was intentional and Blyton really is a clever guy after all?

The first script-editing job of Robert Holmes's career, it somehow never feels like anything other than the usual Nation hack job, with the Tardis malfunctioning, Sarah and the Doctor splitting up and Sarah yelling "What is it, Doctor? What's going on?" in the first two minutes. (Have you noticed that the third Doctor and SJS are never together in their stories?) Previously a competent investigative journalist, she's now given to screaming at a bit of smoke and flashing lights. In fact, Sarah's such a simpering twit that when she finds blood on the oil lamp she's less worried about the Doctor, more worried about getting it off her hands.

The episode begins with a fairly interminable opening scene, Sarah's boyish figure doing nothing for me in that outfit. If only Zoe dressed up in a bikini at the start of each story. Pretty soon we're out on the planet surface, quite good on location filming, where the dusk light gives it an unsettling air. Less effective when it's a polystyrene recreation in the studio. There's also, of course, a bit 14'55m in where we witness what would be the most obvious stunt double in the Pertwee era, were it not for the following story.

Actually, the guest cast are a lot better than I remembered, even if Joy Harrison as Jill Tarrant has clearly never had an acting lesson in her life. Pretty soon an old dustbin lid purporting to be a Dalek ship lands, and Dalekssssss come out with Blyton's jazz fart stings of music introducing them with no sense of urgency. Naff episode, but strangely enjoyable.
* * ½

The Daleks look cool with their new (one off) casings, even if there is clearly one standing around without an operator. This is the only time when the Daleks open fire on the Doctor without warning, only to find their weapons are inoperative. Don't they have a run of bad luck, eh? Still, at least they show good sense by discussing their plans within earshot of the Marine Corps. Their kinetic writhings and constant movement is a nice touch, even though it more than makes obvious the dummy container. Their remark that "they must continue to believe that there are only four of us" could be an ironic statement from the pen of Holmes.

The bit where they're surrounded by the hooded aliens is remarkably like the one in Star Wars, made three years later. This is maligned slightly by the exploding-for-no-very-good-reason Dalek, but a silver Dalek on fire does look cool. There's much to place this story above Planet of the Daleks, even if it's just the fact that it's two episodes shorter and doesn't feature that silly jungle. But this is arguably the Dalek story where Jon acts the most, seemingly liking his co-stars and the new dynamic the story brings to the creatures he finds so tedious. This is the Nation Daleks at some of their most thoughtful. Okay, it's a far cry from Poweras here they've practically conquered the planet in about half an episode, but their alternate weapons are seriously stylish, and their dialogue is above Planet's catchphrase banality..
* * ½

Here the Doctor faces one his deadliest foes - a pipe cleaner on wires with a bike indicator light at the front of it. It's very similar to an equally silly creature seen in The Krotons, which at least had the virtue of being in black and white. Meanwhile, substitute companion Bellal comes along happily delivering exposition to any who'll care to listen.

You know though, I reckon season eleven is a step up from season ten. I know it's not a traditional view, but the introduction of a new companion generates more enthusiasm from Jon and the stories overall are stronger. Yes, there's nothing to equal the highs of Carnival or The Green Death's climax, but on a story-by-story basis this is stronger too. Even The Monster of Peladon isn't as bad as The Three Doctors, and as I've said, this story is a notable improvement from the anniversary Dalek tale.

Watching this one all in one go can tire quickly, however, even if it's just irritation at Blyton's repetitive "Da dum da dum…" refrain. This is the worst episode, but still okay to watch. And I've never noticed before, but aren't the Space Marine Corps's badges remarkably like those of the Federation in Blake's 7? Also strange is the way the Doctor caresses his companion's face and neck. Come on, Jon - keep it in your trousers!
* *

At last, it ends. This story is alright actually. Sure, it's a kiddie version of the series, but it's also a (relatively) self-contained story that anyone can tap into and get some fun out of. It's not the most intellectually taxing of Doctor Who, but this sort of silliness is what most people remember the series to be. And the use of a quarry has never been less disguised, meaning that it's ideal for a "let's pretend we're in a Doctor Who story" games when you walk past one. On a similar note, then the Dalek self-destructing is a much-acknowledged stupid scene, but when you're seven it's a series highlight. Maybe this is the reason the Daleks have building blocks in their spaceship, too.

Hasn't Joy Harrison got a big ass by the way? I probably would though if I'm being honest. Anyway, this episode is like a pre-run for The Crystal Maze or The Adventure Game, with one scene (the chess board) lifted direct for The Five Doctors. Okay, Pyramids of Mars ripped it off too, but at least it acknowledged the debt.

This is clearly the best episode of the story actually, with Jon rarely more likeable in the lead role. I also like the eerie way the Doctor and Bellal are being watched, only to discover it's a dead body all along!
* * *

I'm going to have to give this one a below-par rating, but for entertainment value then it's actually a lot higher. It isn't terribly good in itself, but is arguably the most enjoyable Pertwee Dalek story.
* *