John Connors on the new whizz bang very special edition of the Doctor Who classic `Day of the Daleks`
This was an event and a half in 1972. The Daleks back for their first story in seven years, heralded by a stunning Radio Times cover. As a season opener, being this Doctor’s first rematch against a former incarnation’s enemy and also a time hopping tale that encompasses a possible world war it is within touching distance of classic status. Why doesn’t it quite reach? Well, when the Daleks finally travel to our time to invade there are, let’s face it, three of them. And all the beautiful autumnal Sun filtered filming cannot disguise this fact. It shouldn’t matter but it does.
There’s always been something exciting about the novelisation of this story and the way it gives the scale that the televised production does not. There are those who say we shouldn’t entertain the idea of re-wired versions of old stories but if `Day of the Daleks` is to be found wanting, it’s in the budget department. The look this story demands is a grander one than originally broadcast because, despite being filmed with loving care and odd angles, there is no disguising how few and how rickety those invading Daleks are. Their voices are odd too and as for the ray guns, they are a bit rubbish really.
In almost every other way, `Day` doesn’t put a foot wrong. Sparking with ideas, populated with a strong cast, some evocative locations and a political heft running through it, the story keeps your interest from start to finish. Ambitious in scope, Louis Marks’ original idea did not include the Daleks but they surely add a flourish that stop proceedings being too earnest. Terrorism was as much in the news in 1972 as it is today so it retains a topical flair too. Meanwhile the Doctor is at his most imperious, strutting about like he’s the Duke of Alderly – in this form Jon Pertwee is at the height of his powers (or the `hai` of his powers perhaps?) They knew how to do monsters in the 70s too. Even now, the Ogrons impress, walking guard dogs that visually balance the Daleks and somehow make the invasion look a little more convincing. Plus, you’ve got Aubrey Woods, one of those premier antagonists who make the 70s a rich time for villains. Yes, he’s proclaiming like a stage actor would but that only makes him better.
There have been effective special editions of old stories before- notably `The Time Warrior` with its subtle additional effects and `Curse of Fenric` re-edited to appear in the right order. Yet this is the most radical yet, more than merely added extras, this is something fresh and new. The panoply of extra visuals and re-edits will thrill long time fans and newcomers.
The new effects are terrific and bring dynamism to proceedings without detracting from the story at all. The most noticeable ones add a pizzazz to the temporal journeys with a golden coloured vortex inspired by the modern title sequence and a fizz to the weaponry. The battles change from being well filmed but ultimately stagy sequences to tremendously chaotic crossfire. Beams whizz everywhere, churning up the ground and splattering victims. Dalek rays match the current style, skeleton and all. The unexpected gem is a beautifully rendered vista of 22nd century Earth’s central zone, all greens and distant Daleks saucers- it is awesome! We see it both at night and during the day and it remains in the back of our minds adding a larger perspective just like the old Target book made it out to be.
There’s also been some editing done; the odd dialogue error is erased and more significantly that slightly odd looking quad bike chase- with the Ogrons running as slowly as they can- has been reworked to make it far more exciting. More subtle additions include security and Dalek screen displays and new on screen pictures of the previous Doctors. The attack on Alderly House in part 4 has been very lovingly added to with a few more Daleks and Ogrons, but it stays within context and works a treat, particularly the newly filmed inserts which blend seamlessly with the cleaned up film.
Yet the even bigger surprise is what they have done with the sound. The Dalek voices- long a cause of complaint- have been re-done by the current voice of the metal meanies Nick Briggs, whose trademark timbre adds a layer of well suited malevolence. The battles’ melange of new comic book noises matches the brio of the new effects. Everywhere, the birds are clearer, the footsteps more gravely, the makeup so visible it’s possible to see the Controller has painted his nails grey! There’s an extra member of the guerrilla group whom nobody has ever really noticed before! The point is that these additions only make a great story even better complementing Paul Barnard’s excellent work. Steve Broster and his team should be applauded for their efforts.
If `Day` was a less stylishly directed story, many of these additions would jar but Paul Barnard’s original work is forward looking in its approach. These production aspects still impress yet more so now. The richly decorated Alderley House interiors almost smell of polish and wood. The veneered desk, the leather sofa and tapestries really do match the opulence you expect from the exterior shots of the house. The outside scenes are shot from unusual perspectives; Barnard makes full use of the shrubs surrounding the lawn and when it comes to the tunnel entrance he shoots low to make both Daleks and Ogrons look as menacing as possible. Even the Controller’s office has a futuristic sheen and even if takes slightly too long to open, the door to the Dalek’s lair is different. It’s surprising when you listen to some of the team discussing Paul Barnard in less than favourable tones on the DVD extras. It seems he infuriated a few people but perhaps it was his technical background that helped enhance the look of the story.
This is essentially a very straightforward tale, even for the era in which it is set but the subject matter resonates across the decades because it addresses seemingly never ending world problems. Louis Marks’ script- with presumably some input from both Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks- brings out a balance between large global concerns and the personal story that affects the main players. The pivotal peace conference has an air of one of those G7 summits and interestingly includes Chinese and African delegates at a time when in the real world it would have been the USSR and US that would have hosted such an event. Barry Letts and co always delight in making the British role so important.
The narrative demonstrates how you can introduce time paradoxes without being overly tricksy about it. The ultimate way in which Shura causes his group to become part of history - “you did it yourselves” scolds the Doctor- is a neat touch. The story also opens up the idea to a young 70s audience of how freedom fighters and terrorists can become indistinguishable, which would have resonated at a time when the country was seeing bombs going off in Northern Ireland and the mainland. We get the view from both sides- Anat and co passionately describe how the death of Styles will avoid a third World War while the Controller keeps stressing to Jo how dangerous the guerrillas are.
The temporal guerrillas could be more distinct- early on they establish themselves well enough, with Anat’s tough but fair leader and Boaz’ fanatical hothead but later they become homogenous and a bit dull. Rarely for the series there are too many of them and their fanaticism gives way to dry map reading and rescues during the second half. There are some strong to-the-point supporting players too.
The Doctor and Jo’s evening sojourn at Alderley shows how well Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning work on screen. Jo Grant is possibly the most under rated of all the companions; she is closest to the current series characters. There’s a lot to be written about how good she is, about how intuitive and natural and about how she plays a crucial role in humanising this most pompous Doctor acting as a counterpoint. If the 2005 series’ Doctor and Rose were based on anyone, it’s surely this Doctor and this companion and they are lovely together.
The regular cast are by now at their peak. Nicholas Courtney has developed a wry response to the Doctor’s fussing- a raised eyebrow and a dry comment play so well against Jon P’s imperious hectoring but there are subtleties from both of them. Courtney also gives us some brilliantly convincing `on the phone` acting. Pertwee’s big moment comes later when he squares up to the Controller in two excellent exchanges- the Doctor does enough to create a chink in the Controller’s armour - “don’t they like being happy and prosperous” he digs when the Controller tries to explain the guards. Interestingly it is the Doctor’s decision not to let the guerrillas kill the Controller that paves the way for the latter to allow them to escape later. As the Controller starts to see things unravelling, Woods has a way of looking like he’s expecting the floor to open up and swallow him any moment. He conveys the character’s weaknesses so well that when he finally stands up for himself at the end, it’s a heroic moment deserving of applause.
In every respect the Special Edition is a must have purchase for any Doctor Who fan; it lifts an already great story to become the classic it deserves to be remembered as.
As the rickety Dalek door closes on this review, This way up is taking a break until next month. Now, where’s that cheese and wine?