Friday, 5 July 2013

Day of the Daleks written by Louis Marks and directed by Paul Bernard

This story in a nutshell: The Daleks have invaded the Earth in the 22nd Century thanks to an infraction into the past…

Good Grief: Both Pertwee and Manning have made no secret that they consider this to be their weakest adventure and yet it is a story that captures both of their characters extremely well and really capitalises on their excellent chemistry. I thought I detected something of the ninth Doctor when he declared rather patronisingly that ‘humans are always squabbling over something’ but he gives the Brig his full attention when he learns that it could end up breaking out into full scale warfare. Having the Doctor and Jo discussing the events of Colony in Space feels like an simple but effective way of continuing the serialised nature of the Pertwee years. In contrast the awkward way the characters talk about their previous adventures in the 80s doesn’t work at all and shows the difference in quality of their respective script editors. Clearly he doesn’t have any time for mouthy politicians, even when he is trying to protect them from harm. It always cracks me up when the Doctor treats Styles’ house as his own holiday country house, helping himself to cheeses and wines and indulging in stories about Napoleon Bonaparte. Underneath all that bluster and arrogance is a rather charming old rogue breaking out, sinking into a leather chair in his purple velvet smoking jacket, indulging in fine foods and enjoying his time with his attractive companion. Although some of his season eight persona creeps in when he gets impatient with her anxieties in the supposedly haunted house. Only the third Doctor would get away with incapacitating a hardened thug from the future whilst holding a glass of Whiskey, taking a sip and then dealing with him again. Sometimes he is the epitome of cool. Strange, complicated people seem to have a problem with the Doctor picking up a gun and shooting an Ogron into oblivion as if he is better than that but as usual with these things they seem to forgetting the countless other times that the Doctor has taken lives through his various incarnations. Is it an intelligent response? Possibly not, but when your life is in danger sometimes you react swiftly. He’s not above criticising the actions of men who have sold out to save their own skin and yet does so whilst behaving like a Roman Emperor, lounging on a settee and feeding himself with grapes and wine. Condemning a society whilst enjoy their finery. Before The Three Doctors, this is the first time we have been fortunate enough to have a firm reminder of previous Doctors as the Doctor is strapped to the Mind Analysis Machine. It must have been a real thrill at the time to see Troughton and Hartnell in the flesh again. Despite questioning his character, the Doctor does offer a moment of defence for the Controller when his life hangs in the balance (‘they would always have found someone…’). The guerrillas asking the Doctor to become their personal assassin is a supremely dramatic moment, only trumped by Jon Pertwee’s awesome delivery of the shock twist that the guerrillas are responsible for their own subjugation in the future.

Hippy Chick: It is nice to see Jo written as an intelligent young lady and not falling back into the companion traps of old as was so often her curse in her first season. Rather than standing in the background scratching her head and asking silly questions, Jo is directly involved in the action throughout and often has some very intelligent things to say. Had the Doctor presented the stay at Styles’ house as something less uninviting as a ghost hunt then Jo might have been able to relax a little more. As it is she is completely on edge the whole time, finding menace in every mundane occurrence. The conversation between Jo and the Doctor in the cellar is essential for filling in information about the guerrillas and their intentions but doesn’t consist of Jo asking a lot of fool questions but genuinely engaging with the Doctor and figuring it out for herself. If that sounds patronising it is because she often had to have things spelt out to her in other stories. I liked how she was prejudiced against them as well, and how the Doctor helped her to see things from their point of view. Jo being beamed into the future is a great device, one because it encourages the Doctor to follow but it also proves that she is more than capable of holding up her own narrative thread if needs be. She’s pretty handy with a decanter of wine when the Doctor’s Venusian oujia doesn’t seem to be taking effect (‘a pity, that was rather a fine vintage…’).

Chap With Wings & The UNIT boys: This is the last real stab of the show attempting to show the Brigadier coping with the (fictional) politics of the time. He’s fine when he is being asked to protect the delegates from harm but I think he might need to brush up a little on his diplomacy (‘Be quiet, sir!’). The RHIP shenanigans out in the corridor between Jo, Benton and Yates might be one of my favourite moments between the UNIT boys because it feels perfectly natural and because the banter seems to spring authentically from the actors rather than being inserted into the script.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Do you run all your factories like that Controller?’ ‘That was not a factory, Doctor’ ‘Then what was it?’ ‘A rehabilitation centre. A rehabilitation centre for hardened criminals’ ‘Including old men? Even children’ ‘There will always be people who need discipline, Doctor.’
‘Then why do you need so many people to keep them under control? Don’t they like being happy and prosperous?’

The Good:
  • I will make no secret of the fact that I am watching the DVD special edition. It is probably the ranges greatest accomplishment to date (besides the cut down, spruced up Enlightenment which I still maintain to this day is the superior version of that release) and besides the misguided Planet of Fire SE (which adds a poorly shot prologue that gives away the shows central twist, takes away most of the music that gives the story its pace and adds an irritating heat haze effect to all of the location work in Lanzarote so much of its beauty doesn’t reach the screen) I have found that the tweaks and improvements that the organisers of these DVDs have arranged have been to the benefit of the stories. Kinda finally has the climax it deserves, you can now watch The Invisible Enemy with the cringe factor turned down and the Vardans in Invasion of Time are more of an insubstantial threat than a tin foil wrapped disaster. They even managed to make Battlefield palatable by toning down the music, adding some much needed establishing shots and structuring the story a little better. When the Day of the Daleks release was in the preparation stages the BBC Enterprises made the biggest mistake, and it’s something that keeps being repeated at the moment. They made an announcement of an announcement. It’s a bizarre practice that is supposed to get the fans excited for their latest treat but unfortunately people seem to forget that the very nature of the show that Doctor Who fans have over active imaginations. Often this leads them to rumours that missing episodes have been returned (such as the recent 90 episode furore – oh how I wished that had been true) or that the Doctor is going to regenerate when the truth is the far less exciting news that Richard E Grant is going to guest star in the Christmas episode or that Day of the Daleks is going to receive a special edition release. In the latters case this was over hyped beyond all reason and the result was there was a lot of fans scratching their heads and going ‘is that it?’ A shame, because this is a genuinely innovative piece of work that features new material shot in the same style as the old stuff, some terrific CGI effects, polished picture quality and a real sense of pace and dynamism injected into the already impressive story. It would take far too long to recount every addition that has been made but if mention aspects of the story in this review that you do not recognise, this is why.
  • The one aspect that the story is greatly improved upon in the special edition is with the Daleks themselves. Three dowdy looking props are all that on display in the original with the worst voice work since The Dalek Invasion of the Earth. There is new material filmed at Styles’ country house with a new Dalek prop, CGI additions are made to the sequence at the end of the story so it feels like there is a real army of Daleks attacking the house (well five instead of three!), Dalek saucers can be seen arcing about in the skies on the future Earth and their voices are now voiced by the inestimable Nicholas Briggs. The net result is that they come across as a formidable fighting force and an iron fist that has captivated the planet – it is a come back with bang instead of a whimper. The Daleks are at their best when gliding around the tunnels, shot in shadows and seen gliding about silently.
  • Barry Letts berates Paul Bernard for his outmoded method of direction on the DVD extras but I personally believe that the latter delivers much more polished work than the former, and generally more dramatic material too. Bernard has a love of slow pans and drawbacks of the camera to encapsulate a scene and it often works very well to his advantage, giving each scene a sense of movement that is missing in the usual point and shoot approach. His use of handheld camerawork when the guerrilla is running from the Ogrons is startlingly dramatic. He has characters talking directly at the camera and pulls away from shots that are on scanner screens. The story seems full of inventive little touches that add to the overall experience. The Ogron attack on the house in episode two is a mixture of studio and location work but the cuts between them are seamless and it is edited together with real pace and excitement. It certainly doesn’t jar in a way that much television did in the 70s when it was constantly cutting from OB to interior shots. And you have to remember that Bernard is bringing to life a time paradox story without it disappearing up its own ass (as they so often can) but he ensures that all the scenes imparting information are precise enough so the audience are completely up to speed when the twist comes.
  • Any Doctor Who story that opens with the assassination attempt of a high-ranking politician by a ghost gets my vote. What a cracking way to start the season. The story takes in several genres as it progresses, from political thriller to haunted house horror to action packed science fiction. As an example of the ground Doctor Who can cover in four episode there is no finer example.
  • Whoever came up with the conception of the Ogrons is a genius. The key word is strength and it is something that they exude without trying from their ape like appearance and leather smocks to the way they effortlessly knock people unconscious at the swipe of a hand. These mock-Neanderthal creations are very frightening and one of the finest of the era and it doesn’t surprise me that they had a second airing in Frontier in Space, albeit for much more comedy value there.
  • Having watched Colony in Space, The Mutants and now Day of the Daleks in close succession it is becoming clear that the Letts/Dicks administration does not envision a glorious future for humanity. The first two tales paint a picture of the planet at the point of total collapse, over populated, starving and seeking new planets to exploit to unburden the load. Day of the Daleks offers a peek 200 odd years into the future and it is a ghastly dystopian landscape of tower blocks being circled by Dalek saucers, the populace working under the crack of a whip and blank faced beauties hovering their hands over computer consoles as though they are an extension of them. Aside from a few privileged exceptions like the Controller (and he is a prisoner of his own cowardess), humanity is enslaved and powerless to resist their masters. There are Ogron patrols seen marching the streets to ensure human compliance and the Doctor stumbles on a particularly nasty example of slave labour, work being committed under the crack of a whip. There is a fascinating layered approach to this society that sees the Daleks at the top threatening the Controllers and they in turn threaten their section leaders who threaten their guards who threaten the slave workers. It is a society built around the fear of death, for yourself and your loved ones. There is a great moment when the Controllers assistant gives him the filthiest look when he can no longer see her that says everything you need to know about how the populace feel. They are compliant as a necessity but this is a miserable, beaten race. Marks chooses to include a rather nasty, thuggish guard Captain which provides another layer to the story, a glimpse at those who use the invasion of Earth to their advantage to indulge in their violent impulses. He’s got his eye on the Controllers job but will enjoy torturing potential spies in the meantime. They don’t have the budget to realise the aftermath of a full scale invasion of the planet and so instead the writer cleverly adds a lot of intelligent detail to the situation to flesh it out in smaller, more intimate ways.
  • I really admire the performances of the four main guerrillas that we meet in this story and think that they have all been extremely well cast. Anna Barry has an effortless screen presence and seems perfectly natural in this most unnatural of roles. Anat is reasonable when the Doctor presents a logical case that he is not Sir Reginald and whilst naturally suspicious for a while soon begins to learn to trust and value his input into their fight against the Daleks. Strangely enough Barry Letts (a man who I consider to be generally on the ball when it comes to his opinion on Doctor Who) considers Aubrey Woods’ performance as the Controller to be an overly theatrical one that takes you out of the story. I couldn’t disagree more, for me he is one of the most fascinating villains of the era and very precisely brought to life by Woods. My eyes are always drawn to him on screen and he always seems as though he is a man with secrets but also a repressed anger, a slave to his families decision to ally themselves with the Daleks. He has to sum up a world of slavery and repression through his intense performance and for me he succeeds admirably. Before the CGI landscapes were added to the special edition I could see that terrible, insane world under Dalek rule just through the way Woods describes their arrival and subjugation. The Controller is able to charm Jo with false promises and stand up to the Doctor when he accuses him of betraying his people and yet he is not above instilling fear into his workers in the most sinister of ways to ensure that his production quotas are met to save his own skin. The Controller is a very nuanced character, neither good nor evil and painted in shades of grey. They are usually they most interesting kind. Dramatically he is essential to the plot, his conversation with the Doctor feeding his already strong beliefs that the Daleks must be defeated and ultimately proving to be their method of escape when they are caught trying to escape the time zone.
  • One of my favourite scenes in all of Doctor Who comes in the final episode where the paradox is revealed and the Doctor states with absolute conviction that ‘Styles didn’t cause that explosion start the wars! You did it yourselves!’  It isn’t often that the script is one step ahead of the audience like this and is waiting to drop an intelligent bombshell at the eleventh hour but once it is revealed it seems and obvious answer given the evidence that we have already seen. They way everything dovetails together is seamlessly handled. The climax is proof that the future isn’t set in stone, that free will is an illusion and that we can make the world a better place if we make the right choices. Although I would love to have seen how Styles managed to explain to the other delegates about the terrorist attack on the peace conference.

The Bad:
  • The sequence with the ‘ghostly’ Doctor and Jo is superb but instead of providing a bit of fun at the beginning of the adventure it is basis of what this whole story is going to be about – the temporal paradox. Even if the show was overrunning they should have included a scene at the end of the story where the two characters fulfil their destiny as seen here. That is, after all, rather the point of the story.
  • There is one rather bizarre diversion to the otherwise tight as a gnats backside story which features Jo Grant having the most unconvincing screaming fit and her and the Doctor hot footing it to a tricycle that chugs away from the Ogrons at a glacial pace. Hurrah again for the special edition which has tightened up this sequence to the point where you can (almost) believe it was an effective method of escape. Although Manning’s faux screaming is still rubbish.
  • Some of location work set in a mundane bunch of garages does occasionally look exactly like what it is.

The Shallow Bit: Katy Manning has often been quite vocal about her ‘Doris Day’ outfit in this adventure but I think she looks rather fetching.

Result: ‘You’re trapped in a temporal paradox!’ Almost the perfect Doctor Who story in its execution, pacing, levels of interest, action and intelligence; Day of the Daleks is four episodes of pure class right in the heart of the Jon Pertwee era. It is a beautifully paced story that never feels rushed but also unfolds at a speed that maintains your attention throughout and never suffers from the interminable padding that afflicts the weaker stories of the time. It is one of those adventures that comes together beautifully in the final episode, all the elements having been well set up so they can dovetail into a beautifully formed climax that features guerrillas rescuing the Doctor and Jo but creating their own future and a Dalek attack on the house that that ultimately thwarts their invasion of the planet. Time paradox stories are tenapenny nowadays but this was the first one I ever had contact with (I had the original VHS bought for me when I was ten) and the idea as presented here gripped me, a storytelling device that later made me want to study and explore the construction of narrative. Along the way we are offered a gripping glimpse into a potential future of the planet Earth under Dalek rule told through the eyes of several fascinating characters, some beautifully executed action sequences, gorgeous location work, terrific performances from all of the guest cast (unusually for Doctor Who there is no weak link) and a memorable role for both the Doctor (who gets to play the ultimate capitalist whilst condemning others who enjoy the lifestyle) and Jo (who is written far more intelligently than usual). If you are a purist then the original version achieves near perfection but with some tighter editing, spanking new effects and material and a much better realisation of the Daleks the special edition has a great deal to offer as well. I figure that Terrance Dicks could give this script to prospective writers for the show to show them how it should be done. Quietly classy without ever feeling as though it is showing off, Day of the Daleks was one of the first ever Doctor Who stories I saw and remains one of my favourites: 10/10

1 comment:

BSC SSC said...

Totally agree-this is one of my all time favorites.