Day of the Daleks Review

The first Dalek story of the 1970s. Day of the Daleks is one of the few stories of the classic era to actually use time travel as integral part of the plot, rather than just as a way to get the Doctor somewhere.

Hugely popular at the time, Day of the Daleks helped to kick off a mini revival of Dalekmania throughout the 70s. Sadly it has become a somewhat polarising story in the decades since, with some critics slating its low key production values and poor Dalek voices.

Still overall I’d rate this as one of the best Dalek and 70s Doctor Who stories in general.

Plot

The Doctor and UNIT are called in to investigate the mysterious appearances of ghostly soldiers who have been appearing and then vanishing at Sir Reginald Styles house.

Styles is due to hold a peace conference which many (including the Brigadier) see as the last chance to prevent World War 3.

The Doctor discovers a highly advanced weapon near the house, whilst UNIT later stumble upon a soldier who has been beaten half to death. As they take him to the hospital however, the soldier vanishes into thin air.

The Doctor and Jo decide to spend the night in the house whilst Styles is away to find out what the real problem is.

In the morning they encounter more soldiers wielding futuristic weaponry, who are battling hideous, savage, ape like creatures called Ogrons. 

The soldiers leader explains that they come from over 200 years in the future. They have come to kill Styles who they claim will cause a third world war. According to the rebels Styles is a radical who will blow up all of the delegates, and himself too when he holds the conference in a few days time.

In a confrontation with the rebels, Jo Grant is accidentally sent forward into the rebels time. The Doctor then follows the rebels back to their time, where he discovers much to his horror, that his archenemies the Daleks now rule the future they come from.

After the world war that Sytles kicked off destroyed most of humanity, the Daleks saw their opportunity and conquered what was left of the human race. Most humans were rounded up into labour camps where they were forced to build weapons for the Daleks and mine the planet earth for resources.

The Daleks essentially turn the earth into a giant factory to build weapons and star ships to conquer other planets. The Daleks are also served by a race of ape like monsters called the Ogrons.

The human rebels who tried to kill Sytles are the last tiny pocket of resistance. With the aid of an inside spy, they managed to steal some of the Daleks own time travel technology with which they hoped to kill Styles and change history so that the war never happened. 

The Doctor searches for Jo in the wasteland of the future, but he is captured by Ogrons and brutally tortured by the Daleks human servants (who assume he is just another spy) for information.

The Controller however (latest in a line of the Daleks human servants who monitors the camps.) Halts the interrogation as he plans to use other means to find out what the Doctor knows. 

Jo Grant had earlier materialized in the middle of the Controllers base. After speaking with her, the Controller learned of the Doctor. Naturally when the Controller later mentioned the Doctor to the Daleks they were terrified.

The Controller believes that the Doctor can’t be broken, so he tries to trick the Doctor and lie to him that the rebels are the villains. 

Though Jo falls for his lies, the Doctor knowing who is in charge, and having seen the Dalek labour camps is disgusted by the Controller and brands him a Quisling. 

The Daleks do not recognise the Doctor (as he has regenerated since they last saw him.) So they torture him with a mind probe to discover his true identity. The Doctor resists the torture until it almost kills him, but his true identity is eventually discovered.

The Controller once again stops the Daleks from killing the Doctor, claiming that he can get more information out of the Doctor.

The Doctor however still refuses to tell the Controller anything. The Controller tells the Doctor that he does not serve the Daleks willingly, but that he thinks its futile to try and fight them as all who have tried have failed miserably. The Controller argues that he has made things easier for the people in their camps and has even saved lives, but the Doctor still views him as a traitor however.

The rebels meanwhile learn from their spy that the Daleks fear the Doctor, and so they decide to rescue him. Though many are killed in the fight, their mission is successful. The Doctor stops the rebels from killing the Controller, who is subsequently given just one more chance to find the Doctor by the Daleks.

The Doctor learns from working with the rebels that ironically Styles was not responsible for the explosion that kicked off the war. One of the rebels named Shura blew the house and himself up in a kamikaze attack against Styles. Unfortunately he was unaware that the peace conference was going on at the time. 

The Doctor and Jo head back to stop Shura, but along the way they are ambushed by the Controller and and a group of Ogrons. The Doctor convinces the Controller that he can finally free humanity from the Daleks. The Controller is skeptical at first, but eventually comes to believe the Doctor after having seen how scared the Daleks were of him. He also releases the Doctor as he feels he owes him for sparing his life when the rebels attacked.

The Daleks exterminate the Controller for his treachery, and decide to launch an attack on the conference to make sure that their version of history isn’t changed.

UNIT however are able to hold off the Dalek and Ogron attack force that arrives in the past long enough for the Doctor and the Brigadier to get Styles and the other delegates out of the house in time.

When the Daleks finally make their way into the house, they are killed in Shura’s explosion instead.

The story ends with the Doctor telling Styles to make sure his conference can go ahead as planned now, as he and Jo have both seen what will happen if he fails.

Review

Day of the Daleks is a brilliant reintroduction for the Daleks. At this stage the monsters had been absent from Doctor Who for 5 years (their longest ever break from the show, not counting the hiatus between 1989 and 2005.)

The Daleks needed a strong story that would remind older viewers why they had been such a big deal in the first place and show the new generation of Who fans how special they were.

Day of the Daleks accomplishes this by playing on all of the strengths the monsters had in previous stories.

Just like in great 60s stories like The Power of the Daleks, we get to see a manipulative side to the Daleks here, as the monsters create a situation where the humans ironically destroy themselves.

The Daleks are clearly aware that it was the rebels who destroyed the conference from the start, but they are able to trick the humans by letting them think that they have scored a victory in stealing their time machines, and planting a spy in their base. They even send Ogrons back to try and fight them in the past, all of which makes the rebels think that they have finally beaten the Daleks, when ironically they are playing right into the monsters hands.

This story also gives the Daleks a devious, manipulative human character to play off of too, which again had always made the monsters more interesting in the 60s (and would do so again for many decades to come.) Previous examples included Mavic Chen, Lesterson and Maxtible. The Controller from this story however might actually be the most interesting example of this type of character outside of Davros himself.

The Controller is not just a greedy, corrupt, power mad megalomaniac like Mavic Chen. There are moments that show he clearly enjoys being the Daleks right hand man, due to the power he can wield over other people. We see this in a memorable scene when the Controller threatens the family of one of his subordinates.

Aubrey Woods plays the scene brilliantly, with the little sadistic smile on his face as the man pleads with him not to hurt his loved ones. You can see how the Controller, who is constantly nothing more than a slave to the Daleks, is absolutely relishing in his chance to treat others like dirt.

Still despite this its obvious that deep down the Controller does mean what he says when he tells the Doctor that he is doing all he can to help the people suffering in the Daleks camps.

He genuinely pleads with the Daleks for their slaves sake several times in the story, and is utterly horrified when the Daleks show no regard for their well being. I love the way that even with a lifetime under their rule, the Controller can still be surprised at how evil the Daleks can be. It shows you how there truly is no limit to the Daleks cruelty.

Ultimately the Controller proves where his true loyalties lie in the end when he lets the Doctor escape which costs him his life.

The Controller is someone who has spent his entire life under the Daleks thumb. He has seen countless people try and face them only to all fail miserably. Furthermore his father, his grandfather, his ancestors all lived their lives in exactly the same way too. So really its no wonder that he feels its hopeless to fight them, and that the rebels will ultimately only make things worse for future generations under the Daleks rule.

With the Doctor however he is the one person the Daleks have ever shown fear of. Whilst the Daleks have never shown even the tiniest bit of concern over the rebels. Even with all of their attacks and supposed victories. The mere mention of the Doctors name is enough to make the Daleks literally shake and panic, something which the Controller could have never conceived of before.

Ironically for all his sins, the Controller dies a heroes death. His final act of defiance to the Daleks before they shoot him is excellent as he finally tells the monsters who have dominated his entire life that he may have finally brought about their end.

The Controller also spares the Doctor because the Doctor prevented the rebels from killing him as well, further showing that unlike Chen or Maxtible or the later Davros who were all just greedy and selfish. The Controller was capable of genuinely selfless acts for others.

The Daleks finally are also portrayed as powerful and dangerous. Throughout the story they are creatures that humanity knows it can never possibly beat in a fair fight, so they have to basically cheat and change history.

People often knock the final battle between UNIT and the Daleks because there aren’t that many of the monsters on screen. In reality there were only 3 Dalek props at the BBC at that time.

Still I think this works to the benefit of the story as much like the later Dalek, and the earlier Power of the Daleks, here we see the massive damage just a few Daleks can do.

UNIT have been shown to be capable of fighting off hordes of the most dangerous aliens in previous stories. Look at their first story The Invasion where they blow up dozens of Cybermen with their rocket launchers, then there are stories like The Silurians, Spearhead From Space and Claws of Axos where they are shown to be able to hold their own against monsters like the Autons and the Axons.

Even in this story they blast their way through dozens and dozens of Ogrons. With just three Daleks however? The Daleks absolutely slaughter UNIT, who aren’t even able to slow down one Dalek!

Honestly this story I think sold the idea of one or two Daleks being capable of destroying everything in sight better than any other Classic era adventure.

Power of the Daleks obviously showed us how they were able to manipulate people, but we never actually got to see how much physical damage a lone Dalek could do, as by the time they were ready to attack they were an army.

Here however we get to see how just 3 of them can decimate UNIT in matter of minutes. They do feel like mini tanks that just roll their way through bodies of men no problem.

The only real drawback with the Daleks portrayal is their voices. The actors (who only supplied them for this one adventure) don’t capture the anger and hysteria that the Dalek voices need to have.

The Daleks are not like the Cybermen who just speak in dull monotone voices. There has to be an emotional content there, as the monsters are after all, driven by an irrational hatred of other life forms.

Still overall I think this is a great showing for the Daleks. It doesn’t do anything new with them per se, but it does use them in the most effective ways it can.

Jon Pertwee is also on top form in this story. Ironically he hated the Daleks in real life, but I think he works his disdain for the monsters into his performance really well. You can really feel the Doctors disgust for the monsters when he comes face to face with the gold Dalek.

Its in the scenes with the Controller however that Pertwee really shines. I love the way the Doctor doesn’t buy into the Controller’s bullshit for a second and tears into him for seemingly selling out his own people. When he condemns the Controller as a Quisling. Pertwee’s anger is understated, but powerful.

At the same time however what’s interesting about the Doctors portrayal in this story is that it actually the Doctors compassion that saves his life.

Had he not spared the Controller then his replacement, who later sold the Controller out to the Daleks and was shown to be genuinely greedy and power hungry. Would not have allowed the Doctor and Jo to escape when he cornered them.

Thus we get to see many different sides to the Doctor in this adventure and Pertwee excels at them all. I’d say its one of his best performances.

The story overall also moves along at a great pace. There’s no padding, the mystery around the house builds up well throughout the first episode, but doesn’t drag and there is also plenty of action right the way through even with the budget limitations.

The twist that the rebels created their own horrible future is brilliant and helps the story to stand out from the usual more straight forward aliens invade earth adventures that had come to dominate the series at that point. Whilst the Daleks are obviously the main threat. Ironically its entirely the humans who bring about their own downfall.

Even before the Daleks show up, humanity has already exterminated itself. Later the Controller describes the years of the war as being the hardest humanity ever endured, including the Dalek invasion!

Overall Day of the Daleks is a an enjoyable, action packed, intelligent story and a brilliant way to start the next generation of Dalek stories.

Day of the Daleks vs Days of Future Past

Day of the Daleks was the main inspiration on the classic X-Men story arc Days of Future Past. Its author, Johnny Byrne was a big Doctor Who fan, and openly admitted to being inspired by this story. He even joked that he was lucky not to get sued!

Days of Future Past revolves around a dark future where mankind has been overrun by gigantic robots called the Sentinels.

The Sentinels were originally created to deal with mutants, but soon turned on and exterminated most of humanity. The few unlucky survivors are rounded up into ghettos and work camps. A tiny pocket of resistance remains however, and one of the X-Men, Kitty Pryde is able to travel back to the 80s to stop the mutant Mystique from assassinating the president, which sparked anti mutant hostility and eventually led to the creation of the Sentinels.

Days of Future Past would later be adapted in various X-Men animated series including the classic 90s series, and as the 2014 blockbuster Days of Future Past (where Wolverine took the place of Kitty Pryde.)

Both Days of Future Past and Day of the Daleks follow the same basic idea. In the future humanity has wiped itself out in a war. The survivors are then taken over by horrifying, xenophobic, mechanical monsters who round them up into camps. The last pocket of resistance knows that they have no hope to beat them in a fair fight, so they travel backwards in time to change things.

In both cases the war that wiped out humanity was not only caused by a political assassination, but by a radical who believed that they were ironically helping their people. Mystique who thought she was standing up for Mutant’s rights, and Shura who thought he was killing Styles and preventing the war.

Of course Days of Future Past is not just a rip off of Day of the Daleks. Its a classic piece of Sci Fi in its own right, that has been adapted successfully across many different mediums.

Still you can see how Day of the Daleks was its predecessor in a number of ways.

Notes/Trivia

  • Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning said this story was their least favourite.
  • This appeared to be the only Dalek story by another author that Dalek creator Terry Nation was pleased with, calling it an exciting batch of episodes.
  • The Daleks made their third appearance on the cover of the radio times to promote the first episode of this story.

  • In order to accompany this story Terry Nation wrote a short story for the Radio Times called “We Are The Daleks” which explained their origins. This story was different to the later Genesis of the Daleks.
  • A special edition of this story was later released on DVD that featured new and improved effects and a new Dalek voices supplied by the voice of the Daleks in New Who and Big Finish, Nicholas Briggs.

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