Doctor Who: Death To The Daleks by Terry Nation (DVD review).
When the Doctor (actor Jon Pertwee) decides to take Sarah Jane Smith (actress Elisabeth Sladen) to Florana for a swim and a bit of atmosphere, they suddenly find the TARDIS off-course, landing and subject to an energy dampening field which literally turns it off on the planet Exxilon. They aren’t the only ones. A ship of a small team of humans from the Marine Space Corps are also marooned but on a crucial mission to obtain the common element of parrinium to solve a plague. This element is a lot rarer in the rest of the galaxy although there is no indication of how they detect it from afar. While the Doctor is waiting for Sarah Jane to get on some warmer clothes, he is nearly captured by the local inhabitants but rescued by the Corps. Sarah Jane, finally following, discovers the city but caught by the Exxilons who treat her invasion as sacrilege and are prepared to sacrifice her.
The Doctor and the Corps see another spaceship arrive and investigating, discover it’s the Daleks. They are also suffering from the plague and want the same chemical and prepared to exterminate them all except all except the dampening field has disabled their weapons and spaceship. The Doctor convinces them of an alliance but warns the Corps not to trust them an inch. As one team, they head towards the forbidden city and sustain casualties and are captured. The Daleks still on-board their spaceship change their weapon to one that fires bullets and pursue their team to the city. Already there, the Doctor had been trying to rescue Sarah Jane, only to be added to the sacrifice. The armed Daleks arrive shooting the Exxilons and to escape, the Doctor and Sarah Jane head into the caverns where they were going to be forced. They encounter a deadly plant tentacle and a different peaceful pair of Exxilons who rescue them. One of the following Daleks isn’t so lucky and destroyed by the tentacle.
Top-side, the Daleks and Corps are working together getting the religious Exxilons to mine the parrinium. The two remaining human help isn’t totally voluntary, Jill Tarrant (actress Joy Harrison) is being kept hostage for their own good behaviour. After an attack by the tentacle, the Daleks have figured out that the beacon at the top of the city is the cause of the dampening field and have the humans climb up to turn it off.
In the meantime, the Doctor and one of the peaceful Exxilons, Bellal (actor Arnold Yarrow), have found their way into the city by solving problems, followed by another pair of Daleks. Well, from here you’re on your own.
It’s rather interesting to see the Daleks acting intelligent than total destruction all the time and it’s rather odd that we never saw them act that way again. Considering the size of their empire and the subjugation of various races, seeing them connive added greatly to dimensionalising them. They might have an obsession for exterminating anyone who doesn’t obey but I doubt if they do that when left on their own.
The audio commentary is a musical chairs split between director Michael Briant, assistant floor manager Richard Leyland, costume designer L. Rowland Warne, sound effects man Dick Mills, actor Julian Fox and Dalek operator/actor Cy Town. Looking at this list, it tends to look like a low level choice but considering that this story was filmed forty years ago, it’s probably also a survivors list as so many of those involved are no longer around. Things learnt include Elisabeth Sladen was a film buff and this story was under a very tight budget and hence the many close-ups to conceal lack of background scenery. Michael Briant also opted to film from different perspectives, including the monocular Dalek vision which showed just how limited their vision was. One would have to suspect that the Daleks would be forever swinging their eye stem around all the time to see what was going on but I suspect they also watch a variety of sensors from within their war machines. It was also multiple appearances and deaths for stunt arranger Terry Walsh.
The extras are a surprisingly splendid bunch and longer than usual. ‘Beneath The City Of The Exxilons’ covers the making of the story. What is really rare comes in ‘Studio Recording’, showing the recording of scenes. Actors frequently record how much of their work is standing and waiting but seeing how they have to co-ordinate where they stand in shot and need to express the right emotions on cue is very enlightening. Actors undoubtedly make it look effortless on screen but watching this, you really do have to admire the fact that they are also patient as well. ‘On The Set Of Dr Who And The Daleks’ is an oddly different one as it focuses on the Peter Cushing films with actor Jason Flemyng discussing his father, Robert Flemyng, who filmed them and seeing some footage of that. Apart from the Photo Gallery, there is also ‘Doctor Who Stories – Dalek Men’, where two of the actors who were inside the Daleks discuss their roles and the need to be octopuses to co-ordinate all the movements.
It’s understandable to see why this story is a fan favourite. By keeping things to four episodes, the story is extremely tight to events. A repercussion of this, to my mind, is the lack of character development, especially amongst the human team. You can tell from my synopsis that none of them really made much of an impression on me. The making of extra does point out that scriptwriter Terry Nation’s main weakness was lack of strong character development and this one plays up more on his action orientation. This probably explains why some motivations were left hanging in the air.
Whatever, there is a lot in this DVD to offer and you’d be foolish to give it a miss. I doubt if you would do that as the keyword to selling any ‘Doctor Who’ story is ‘Daleks’.
(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD3483. 1 DVD 98 minutes 4 * 25 minute episodes with extras. Price: about £ 5.00 (UK) if you know where to look)
cast: Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen, Arnold Yarrow, Joy Harrison, John Alineri, Julian Fox and Michael Wisher
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