Sunday, 4 August 2013

Planet of the Daleks written by Terry Nation and directed by David Maloney

This story in a nutshell: 'Somewhere on this planet there are 10,000 Daleks!' 

The Mighty Nose: Has the Doctor ever been on his soapbox more than he is in this story? It's almost as if he has been practising a number of commanding, thought provoking speeches in front of a mirror and just couldn’t wait to get them all out wherever they visited next. Fortunately the Time Lords realised this and sent him to Spiridon where he could spread his anti-war/pacifist/heroism/bravery message to all and sundry. Pertwee drones out the moral in episode six, I’m surprised he didn’t stare right at the camera and address the kids directly. It was around this time when the show had established itself enough under Barry Letts' tutelage that it could start making a few moralistic points. Petwee is a Doctor with gravitas so he seems the perfect choice to demonstrate some ethically strong behaviour. Still it's nice to hear him admit how much he enjoys killing a Dalek even though he deplores violence; it makes him more of a flawed hero. There are a couple of moments where I stifled laughter…when Codal and the Doctor are trying to pool the contents of their pockets to try and escape he pulls out a silk cloth and declares ‘Fancy hankie!’ Also we get to experience Pertwee of Arabia, screaming ‘Aieeee!’ and waving his flaming torch about. The moment when he thinks the Daleks are going to exterminate Jo on the Thal spaceship and he throws himself in the path of their extermination blasts says everything you need to know about the strength of their relationship now. They are a self sacrificing pair, and it is going to be heartbreaking to see them torn apart at the end of the season.

Groovy Chick: Very impressive to see Katy Manning take centre stage in episode one, she is clearly far more comfortable in the part than she was in, say, The Claws of Axos and the script offers an independent Jo who will venture onto an alien world alone to help the Doctor. In fact hardly interacts with another character until episode four and there is a period where the audience genuinely believes that she is dead. When she is reunited with the Doctor it is really rather touching especially since both thought the other was dead, a common misconception on their part. Her incoherent babble as she tries to explain her adventures is really cute and only Manning could play dizziness that way and get away with it. Latep is so agonisingly wet only drippy Jo could ever fall for him, however I would have lost all respect for her had she chosen him to run away and live with. I do like it when Jo turns on the Doctor and insists that she is going to risk her life to help, she has been slowly gaining this independence for many stories and now is willing to stand up for her beliefs. This is mirrored in The Green Death where she ignores the Doctor's offer of a holiday in time and space (like that ever ends well!) for a crusade against pollution. Planet of the Daleks features Jo’s second proposal in the show and the third is coming up. Tellingly, Jo tells the Doctor that she wants to go home after three adventures away from her home planet.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘If I have to die I want it to be for more than providing nourishment for a flesh eating tentacle’ and other such macho nonsense that wouldn’t look at all out of place in an Eric Saward script.

The Good Stuff: I love how we pan around the jungle in black and white (almost a literal homage to The Daleks) and the sudden shock of the gunk spitting on the scanner made me jump out of my seat. It isn't like Doctor Who to resort to shock tactics like this so when it does it almost always strikes home. Pretty much everything about the fungus plants is superb, an original and nasty Terry Nation creation and rather wonderfully they cover the TARDIS door in hardened foam and prevent Jo from getting back in and the Doctor from getting out. The lighting in the jungle is really moody in the early episodes (and the sound FX help to sell the idea that the jungle is abundant in wildlife) but it really should have been shot on film just like Planet of Evil (also directed by Maloney). There is much scoffing of the end of episode one but has anybody stopped to think that maybe the Doctor is less concerned that there are Daleks on the planet (which he knew, that was why he was sent there after all) and more concerned that they are invisible? The pace of episode one is so languid that when the Daleks show up it livens up considerably. They blow the bollocks out of the Thal ship and the Pertwee's interpretation of the Doctor's reaction makes this as dramatic as it can possibly be. Most of episode three is very dynamic, especially in comparison to the rest of the story. The molten ice is another take on an old school style plot device (the erupting volcano) but it is handled very well. The ice tunnels (shot on film) look very authentic and it’s a refreshing change of location from the lush, verdant forest and the stark design of the Dalek city. Maloney manages to get some real tension out of the torrent of slimy molten ice that oozes towards the camera in a POV shot of the characters attempting to escape the onslaught. Fantastic lighting throws a Dalek shadow on the city wall to signal their pursuit, Maloney's moody direction at its best (he would go on to use the same trick to even greater effect to signal their presence in Genesis of the Daleks). The Doctor’s plan to float away from the Dalek City makes no sense whatsoever and would require raising the temperature to such an extent that all involved would have the flesh melted from their bones but it looks great, especially when they are pursued by the anti-gravitational Dalek. Biological warfare is a particular favourite of Nation's and it rears it's head here, years before his work on Survivors. Letts and Dicks were really aiming for something ambitious and epic with this twelve part narrative courtesy of Hulke and Nation, match only be excursions into stories of this length before (Masterplan, The Invasion, The War Games). Frontier in Space saw them attempting to set the universe alight with a potential war between Earth and Draconia and then dispatch the 10,000 strong Dalek army to pick off the survivors and invade. Dudley Simpson suddenly wakes up when the Supreme Dalek arrives and he provides him with a quirky and fun score. It would be easy to criticise the toy Daleks but what else could they possibly do in this pre-CGI time?  When the Doctor jumps down amongst them, dozily bashing casings it really helps to sell the visual. Conceptually the ice volcano smothering the Daleks is awesome.

Never let it be said that I have no sense of humour – Planet of the Daleks sees the show promoting the comedy value of the Daleks better than anything since The Chase. It is made worse because everybody is selling the story in deadly earnestness. Much of my entertainment in the latter episodes was in watching these inept Daleks having rings run around them. It all starts with the high Dalek who collides with a wall and moves on to the Dalek who glides along the corridor as though he is going for an afternoon stroll. ‘Prisoners located!’ one screams and all their eyestalks shoot upwards like a Hitler salute! One Dalek proudly holds out a post it note on the end of his sucker but how is he supposed to read it? Perhaps it would have been better on a screen. Jo spins a Dalek as though she is doing the hokey pokey and turning him around (that's what it's all about). When the bacterium is released two teenage Daleks have an absolute hissy fit about being grounded. ‘You are late!’ screams one as though he has been stood up for a date. One Dalek shoots off the set like a bullet out of a gun as though the operator has just been informed it is lunch time. I felt rather sorry for the section leader Dalek who babbles out excuses of why he is so lame at his job before being shot dead. Typical men, the Daleks barge and bang against the doors when trying to budge it rather than trying to think through the problem. I can see why Maloney was pleased that he had another crack at the Daleks. He manages to realise some fun set pieces and create the odd moment of tension with them (there is one great shock moment when one turns a corner and shoots when the Doctor and Codal are tying to escape the city) but on the whole he is fighting a losing battle with a script that resorts to ambitious set pieces beyond the reach of the shows budget. Genesis would see Nation and Maloney hit their stride together, something that would carry on to their work together in Blake's 7.

The Bad Stuff: Ugh, the Doctor has tacky MDF furniture in the console room! How cold would you have to be to get layers of frost on your face? Episode one is very sixties; a lot of atmosphere but little content and whilst David Maloney tries his damdest to make it as atmospheric as possible it still feels a little empty. Is this the first appearance of the Prentis Hancock frown? I don't see why he was always chosen to play the bullies as the few times I have seen him play against type he has been superb. His scenes are so exhaustively repetitive because he is merely a plot function (to get in the way) rather than a living, breathing character. Invisible aliens, again? No wonder they liked inviting Nation back – he’s so cheap. The Thal spaceship is the ultimate wobbly set…although this time deliberately so. I really don't like that old school style of direction and storytelling that informs the audience of something that is about to happen long before it actually does (I wanted that rock to crack open Jo's skull long before it actually does the job). The second wave of Thals arrive in the cheapest spaceship landing ever; a light to suggest the fuel ignition dying away and some wind kicking up the leaves…we don’t even get an establishing model shot. Despite the superb work of the restoration team am I the only person who preferred episodes three in black and white? One of these days I will have to watch the whole story in monochrome and see how it fares (the storytelling seems to have leapt from the 60s so I'm willing to bet it would add much atmosphere). Marat is the Doctor Who equivalent of a Star trek red shirt, he just turns up to be murdered. Jo would have suffered severe brain damage from a rock that size hitting her on the head. Luckily it bounces. The idea of the Plain of Stones as night time storage heaters is another exciting (if cheesy) Nation idea but its execution of polystyrene rocks and hilarious glowing eyes made me toes curl. Given that his other two roles in the show are Gulliver of Lilliput and Goth of Gallifrey, Bernard Horsfall seems to have drawn the short straw with Tarron. Horsfall doesn't know how to give a bad performance but this is the blandest material he has been given to play. Given it's frequency in 70s television (of which I am a massive fan) I can handle some pretty ropy studio to film cuts with only a mild suspension of belief but the shift from the plastic jungle of Spiridon to a slate grey quarry of ice pools is so jarring there is no realistic connection between the two. The cliffhanger to episode six, the Dalek spotting the boots under the furs, shows the writer has completely run out of tension building devices and the time has come to wrap the story up. The Dalek’s bottle cap spaceship explains why we never saw the Thal ship descend. Latep is such a vacuous bloke, he has no character at all besides having the hots for Jo and the second she turns him down he walks away, his function completed. Exit stage left as they say. The Dalek Supreme’s half-hearted ‘The Daleks are never defeated!’ sounds as though even he can’t bring himself to believe it.

The Shallow Bit: I love Jo’s season ten look, she has flowing golden locks like a young Goldie Hawn. Codal is a cutie pie. Pertwee looks so suave in his gorgeous purple velvet jacket. When he adorns a giant purple fur he looks like some kind of horrific drag act (Lily Savage eat your heart out). The Dalek Supreme with his glowing eye lens is very glam – he is such a bossy Diva it is a shame that he never got a second airing.

Result: You can see how an eight year old might think this was the most exciting thing ever (well, young kids and Terrance Dicks whose style of storytelling exposes him as such). It is placed in season ten which has been trying with is last couple of stories to push the show into more sophisticated areas with its outer space adventures, but this feels like an engaging throwback to the sixties where things were a lot simpler. The best thing you can say about the story is that it’s competent, the writing and direction are both quite average with some nice touches sprinkled about. It wants to spread a message of anti war but it does that by engaging in a game of Cowboys vs Indians, not exactly the most subtle of morality plays. As an action adventure it is hampered by its lack of budget and being trapped in a studio which leaves much of the action static and unconvincing. The recently coloured episode three proves to be the best of the lot, a genuinely dynamic chase through the Dalek City but it plays out beat for beat like a similar episode long set piece from the original Dalek story (right down to the Doctor trying to escape whilst the Thals are trying to make their way in) and because nothing that follows can quite live up to the excitement of that it leaves the latter half of the story a complete anti-climax. It is perhaps not the best use of the Doctor and Jo either because despite the latter getting the bulk of the action in episode one they spend so much of the story apart in what would turn out to be their penultimate adventure. Pertwee is sleepwalking his way through this one, his eyes glazing over as he tries to drive the message home to the kids. I hate to knock something that has no ambition but to entertain you with some engaging action for a couple of hours but to put something this undemanding out for six weeks is a real test of patience, every other adventure in season ten is aiming for something a little more intellectually stimulating than Planet of the Daleks. As I said, switch your brain off and slip back into the mind set of an eight year old and you will get much more out of this story: 5/10


Pink!Dalek said...

Hi Joe
Are you planning to review the 50th anniversary stuff? I mean:

- The eshorts Puffin books
- Continue reviewing Destiny of the Doctor
- Prisoners of Time

and from the Big Finish, are you planning to review Foe from the Future? it's hilarious!(or, at least, I found it hilarious)

Keep with you amazing blog, it's one of my points of reference in the Who reviews world!

Joe Ford said...

Hi there,

Many thanks for taking the time to say such lovely things and I am pleased you are enjoying the blog. The audios you mention I will definitely get around to in the near future but as for the books, they might take a little longer as I haven't read much recently. But as with all these things the reading bug will catch up with me again! Again thank you for commenting, it is really appreciated.