Planet of the Daleks Review

Jon Pertwee’s third outing against Skaro’s finest. Planet of the Daleks was also Dalek creator Terry Nation’s first story in almost ten years.

It also featured the first appearance of the Thals, the Daleks old enemies since the first Dalek story.

Plot

Jo Grant helps a wounded Doctor into the TARDIS. The Doctor sends a telepathic message to the Time Lords, asking them to help the TARDIS follow the Dalek spaceship to their base. In the last story Frontier in Space, the Doctor prevented the Master from provoking a war between the earth and Draconian empires. Though he was successful, he discovered that the Master was working for the Daleks, who were assembling an army to invade both empires regardless. The Masters plan was to simply make things easier for the Daleks conquest.

The Doctor blacks out after sending the message. As soon as the TARDIS lands on a new jungle planet, Jo ventures out to try and find help for the wounded Doctor.

Jo is soon attacked by a plant monster that poisons her before a group of blonde haired, blue eyed humanoid aliens are able to take her to the safety of their ship.

They tell Jo that they are Thals, and that they are here on an important mission. They promise to try and help her friend, but insist that she stay here for her own safety.

Whilst they are away however, an invisible creature breaks into the ship and kidnaps Jo who has passed out from the poison.

The Thals are able to pull the Doctor who has now recovered from the TARDIS. The Doctor knows of the Thal people from his first visit to Skaro and realises that they are here to deal with the Daleks plans too.

Along the way the Doctor and the Thals discover a Dalek that has mastered the power of invisibility, though doing so ultimately drained it of all power.

The Doctor also learns the name of and history of the planet he has landed on. The planet is called Spirodon, and its inhabitants, the Spirodons are a race of primitive creatures who are invisible.

The Daleks easily conquered them, slaughtered most of their population and have turned them into a slave force. According to one of the Thals named Vabor, there are only a few Daleks on Spirodon, but they are working on not only becoming invisible, but a new secret weapon that will allow them to conquer the galaxy.

Vabor clashes with the leader of the mission, Tarrant who he considers to be weak and scared. He believes that they should strike now whilst the Daleks are weak. At one point things become so tense between Tarrant and Vabor, Vabor actually pulls a gun on his commander!

The Spirodon who captured Jo meanwhile cures the poison in her arm. When she comes too he tells her that his name is Wesker, and that he is part of a tiny resistance movement against the Daleks. Jo tells him that she wants to find the Doctor, but Wesker tells her she needs to rest for now.

The Doctor meanwhile is captured by the Daleks along with one of the Thals named Codal. Two Daleks find the Thals spaceship first and decide to destroy it. The Doctor however thinking that Jo is still in there, pleads with the Daleks for her life, but the monsters stun him (as they want to interrogate him) and destroy the Thal ship.

The Doctor along with Codal is able to escape from the Daleks cell however ironically by turning the tape recorder Jo left him into a makeshift weapon.

On the other side of Spirodon another Thal ship arrives. One of its team Rebecc tells Tarrant that somewhere on this planet there are over 10 thousand Daleks!

The Thals are able to make their way into the Daleks base where they are reunited with the Doctor and Codal. Though the Daleks corner them, and exterminate one of their number along the way named Marat. The Doctor and the Thals are able to escape up a ventilation system.

Jo Grant meanwhile manages to sneak into the Dalek base with Wesker’s help. There she discovers that the Daleks are planning to unleash a virus capable of destroying all life in the galaxy. After she escapes Jo is later able to stop a group of Daleks from stealing the Thals bombs by setting one off and destroying them.

She then reunites with the Doctor who is overjoyed to see that she survived, and the rest of the Thals. Despite this however tensions continue to rise between the group which results in yet another fight between Vabor and Tarrant where Tarrant assures him that next time he will kill Vabor.

Enraged and tired of Tarrant’s lack of action. Vabor takes the two bombs and attempts to launch a kamikaze attack on the Daleks. Along the way however he is jumped by Spirodons who take him too a Dalek partol. The Daleks exterminate Vabor when attempts to flee, despite Tarrant and Codal’s attempts to rescue him.

Unfortunately the two Daleks follow them back to the camp. The Doctor however is able to defeat the Daleks by pushing them into a lake of molten ice which kills the mutants inside. One of the Thals then gets inside the Dalek, whilst the Doctor and a handful of Thals disguise themselves using Spirodon cloaks (the Daleks make the Spirodons wear purple cloaks to see them.)

Wesker meanwhile having found out what the Daleks are planning foils their plot to unleash their poisonous plague on planets across the galaxy by releasing it into the Daleks base. The Daleks section leader is forced to seal himself and his subordinates in a small room to prevent the plague from escaping, as they were the only ones who were immunised, if it escapes it will kill everything on Spirodon, including the Daleks themselves.

The Doctor and the others are soon discovered by the Daleks who chase them to the lower levels of the base. 

Meanwhile the Dalek Supreme, a member of the high council arrives on Spirodon to check on the progress of the plans. He is angry at the loss of the plague and exterminates one of his subordinates in response. He demands that their army be awoken from the ice to begin the invasion of the galaxy.

The Doctor however in the lower levels is able to use the last of the bombs to cause an explosion which sets off the ice volcano near the base. The entire Dalek base as well as their army is buried under several tons of molten ice.

The thals then use the Dalek Supreme’s ship to escape from Spirodon back to Skaro. The Dalek Supreme and a few of his subordinates who escaped meanwhile chase the Doctor and Jo through the jungle, but the two are able to escape in the TARDIS. 

Despite these setbacks the Dalek Supreme insists that the Daleks have been delayed, but not defeated as the Daleks are never defeated!

In the TARDIS, the Doctor wonders if Jo, who got close to one of the Thals named Latep has regrets about not going with him back to Skaro when he asked her, but she tells the Doctor that she just wants to go back to her own planet and the Doctor obliges.

Review

Planet of the Daleks is definitely one of the weaker Classic era Dalek stories. In fact I’d say its probably the weakest of the 70s after Destiny of the Daleks.

Still that does not mean its a bad story, as all of the 70s Dalek stories are excellent (in fact they include two of the all time greatest stories from that decade, Day of the Daleks and Genesis of the Daleks.)

I’d say that Planet is an above average story. Above all else its extremely enjoyable. Nation always knew how to pace his stories brilliantly. There’s just non stop action and what’s great is that all of the cliff hangers to this story help move the plot along too. Sometimes, particularly with longer Doctor Who stories the cliff hangers can feel like they are just tossed in there at the last minute to have our characters be in some kind of peril. That’s not the case here however.

A lot of people have knocked the cliff hanger for the first episode when the Doctor acts surprised to find a Dalek on the planet despite having followed them there. However the Doctor is not surprised to find a Dalek, simply an invisible Dalek.

Nation also does a brilliant job in making Spirodon feel like a fully fleshed out world, by filling it full of diverse and bizarre creatures. Nation’s planets always felt a bit more fleshed out for this reason than other authors.

Compare say Telos in the Tomb of the Cybermen. All we see is the Cybermen and their city and that’s it. We don’t know what animals live on the planet, its history, or even see much of the planet except for the city and a few landscapes.

With Aridius from The Chase however, which only plays a minor role in the story, we get the full history of the planet’s ecosystem, of how it used to be a an ocean world before it dried up, we also get to see its animal life such as the Mire beasts, as well as the main humanoid life forms, the Aridans.

Similarly with Skaro in the first Dalek story we were also given a glimpse of the various animal life forms, such as the mutants in the lake, the petrified lizard like animal in the forest, as well the history of the planet, and various different set pieces from the jungles of the planet, to the treacherous cave system our heroes have to journey through, to the Dalek city.

Planet of the Daleks continues this tradition brilliantly. We see the Spirodons, the main humanoid life forms, as well as various forms of intelligent and hostile plant life, and hostile animals who attack the Doctor and the Thals during the night. We also get to see more of the planet, discover how it functions, and how its various species survive and live with each other too.

The Daleks themselves meanwhile in some ways are more effective in this adventure than previous Pertwee Dalek stories, whilst in others they are less.

In terms of being a direct threat they are far less dangerous. In Day of the Daleks and Frontier in Space we saw how just a few Daleks were able to slaughter their way through dozens of heavily armed humans without being slowed down for a second. Here however we see Dalek grunts get overpowered and killed by unarmed Thals and humans!

I wouldn’t say the Daleks are feeble in this story however. They are suitably ruthless such as when they ignore the Doctors pleas for Jo’s life and when they later shoot Vabor in the back as he attempts to flee. (I always loved the way that one of the Spirodons who chased Vabor is caught in the Daleks blast, but the Daleks just don’t give a shit at all.)

I think not having that many targets for the Daleks to shoot is a big problem in this story. In Day they had dozens of UNIT soldiers to mow down at the end, but here the supporting cast is just a tiny group of Thals.

Apparently Terry Nation did intend to have the Daleks exterminate all of the Thals in the final episode, but this was veteod by Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts who were still concerned about the previous complaints of violence directed towards the series.

I think its a shame that they took this approach as had all of the Thals been killed then it would have made the story much darker, would have certainly made the Daleks seem more formidable, and would have also perhaps lessened the comparisons to the first Dalek story too.

Also another drawback is that the Daleks are not given a slimy, devious humanoid villain to play off either. In fact this is the only Classic era Dalek story after The Daleks Masterplan that doesn’t give them this type of character to interact with. Even their brief appearance in Frontier in Space gave them the Master to play off of.

Without this character the Daleks do feel a bit more like generic invaders. Its an important ingredient in the Dalek stories that I think should always be included.

Still the Daleks being an intergalactic power is explored in greater detail here than in other stories.

I like the way that the Spirodons are not freed from the Daleks rule at the end. They suffered an invasion every bit as bad as the earth in the 22nd century. The Daleks bombarded their planet, exterminated most of their population, have turned the unlucky survivors into a slave force, and have performed the most horrific experiments on them.

There is a disturbing scene where Wesker tells Jo Grant after the Daleks have captured the Doctor that if they perform their experiments on him, he would be better off dead. One can only wonder what Wesker has seen them to do other members of his kind, including most likely his friends or family.

Weskers fate is also a very dark moment as he is forced to kill himself in order to stop the monsters.

As seen with Wesker the Spirodons are clearly a race capable of both evil and good like humanity, but they are left to suffer at the end of the story. Its not because the Doctor doesn’t care about them, its because there is genuinely nothing that he can do to free them.

What’s worse is that no one else will probably even be aware of the Spirodons either. They aren’t a big galactic power like Earth or Draconia. They are just a primitive race,  who exist in a barely inhabited solar system, far away from earth or anyone else. They’ll continue to be dominated by the Daleks until the monsters have no further use for them after which they will most likely exterminate the Spirodons.

Its disturbing to think that there will be thousands, even millions of other races the Daleks will have done this too. Whole cultures they will have wiped from existence, and the Doctor, nor anyone else will ever have any idea who they were.

The same thing would have happened to humanity too in the 22nd Century. We just lucked out in that the Doctor, because of his grand daughter Susan, took a particular fondness to our planet.

But that’s the point however is that sadly the Doctor can’t help every planet that the monsters take over. Some like Spirodon he won’t even be aware of, and this story reinforces that.

That’s actually the scariest thing about the Daleks. They are a swarm across the universe, capable to erasing whole species in the blink of an eye, and the Doctor no matter how hard he tries can never hope to fully wipe them out. All the Doctor can hope to do is keep their numbers down, and save the planets that he is aware of like the earth.

When the Dalek Supreme says that they have been delayed, not defeated he’s right. Its not just the usual “you win this time hero”. The Doctor has stopped them from launching their plague and their army, but he hasn’t dented their empire, and hasn’t actually freed any world from their influence either.

Furthermore all they will have to do is free their army and recover the data that was lost about the plague, which will take them time. Maybe enough time for Earth, Draconia and other powers to regroup, but ultimately the Daleks will recover, and the Doctor will have to be ready for them.

To me this is far more frightening than in other stories where the Daleks are completely wiped out at the end. That to me makes them seem more like cartoon villains, who have to be completely defeated by the hero at the end of every story. This story instead makes them a grand force that the Doctor can have small, but notable victories against, but that’s it.

I also like the way that all of the Daleks enemies in this story are aliens too. Again constantly having the Daleks be obsessed with humanity can often make them seem small. They are supposed to have the greatest empire in the universe, yet they are always obsessed with destroying, and constantly lose to our small, seemingly insignificant planet?

Here however you get the feeling that that they are a danger to the whole universe, with humanity just being one of many races they intend to exterminate, and again the fact that its not earth they have conquered means that there is no reset button where all of the Daleks have to be wiped out on Spirodon and the planet goes back to normal in a short time like in stories such as Doomsday and Journey’s End.

The Daleks are also far more active here than in Day of the Daleks. Director David Maloney really handles the Daleks well, shooting them in a way where they seem large and imposing, yet also quite fast too, which was obviously difficult given the limitations with the props.

The Doctors interactions with the Daleks are also quite interesting in this story too. Here the Doctor is actually shown to take a sadistic delight in murdering a Dalek, exclaiming “for a man who abhors violence I must admit I took a great satisfaction in that”.  The idea of the Doctor taking a pleasure in destroying the Daleks is something that we’d see in later stories.

Its a key ingredient in their relationship that helped the Daleks to stand out as the Doctors worst foes, as whilst the Doctor is always prepared to kill, the Daleks are the only monsters he’s ever shown to be positively giddy when slaughtering.

Planet of the Daleks is the first story that really begins this aspect of their relationship.

The Doctors grief at Jo’s apparent death is also well acted on Pertwee’s part. His rage and hatred against the Daleks and desire to avenge Jo are there, but they’re subtle, and you can see it reflected when he murders the Dalek in the cell.

As for the guest characters, well they are by and large just bland good guys. The only one with any kind of personality is hot head Vabor, but he’s a complete moron.

Still Tarrant the Thals leader is played by one of the shows best guest actors, Bernard Horsefall. Its a slightly unusual part for Horsefall, as normally he tended to play more edgy or even villainous characters like Goth and Gulliver.

Still he’s really good at the dashing, square jawed hero, and he and Pertwee have a brilliant chemistry with each other too. I think Horsefall would have made an amazing Dan Dare based on his performance in this serial.

Of course the story does have some negative qualities. As almost every review of Planet of the Daleks has pointed out, this story reuses elements of not only the original Dalek adventure, but other Terry Nation Dalek stories too. There are the invisible aliens from The Daleks Masterplan, the hostile jungle planet which is similar to Kembel, the city of the Daleks that our heroes must cross a treacherous cave system to enter, and finally there is even someone who hides inside a Dalek casing in both stories too.

Also I think the anti war message of this story is very heavy handed and clumsily done too. The final speech about not glorifying war goes on too long and sadly just comes across as patronising. It seems like either Terry Nation or Terrance Dicks were trying to emulate Star Trek here, as Kirk was often fond of giving big speeches to aliens such as the famous “We’re not going to kill today”. Sadly whilst it worked most of the time for Kirk, I just don’t think its quite as good a fit for the Doctor.

The production values for Planet of the Daleks are also quite shoddy in places. The scene of the monsters attacking the campfire are laughable. Its a shame because its really well written, and the actors give it their all, but all the great writing, directing and acting in the world can’t hide the fact that the monsters are just a pair of cheap eyes on the wall.

Still the jungle set is impressive, as is the set for the city of the Daleks too and most of the time Mahoney is able to get round any limitations.

The biggest fault with Planet of the Daleks is that it doesn’t really follow on from Frontier in Space that well. Other than a brief mention in episode 4 about the events of Frontier in Space are barely acknowledged. Also I think it would have been more interesting seeing the Draconians and the humans have to overcome their differences against a common threat, and the Master and the Daleks working together.

Sadly however its all tossed in the bin, and Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks despite being billed as essentially a 12 part epic, are really two completely unrelated stories, linked by a cliff hanger ending.

Still despite these faults, overall Planet of the Daleks is a very enjoyable, and exciting action packed adventure and a welcome return for Terry Nation to the series.

Trivia

  • The Dalek Supreme prop that was used for this adventure was an old recycled prop from the second Cushing Dalek movie. It had been given to Terry Nation after the film, and he loaned it to the BBC for use. As a further homage to the Cushing films, a few notes of music from the movie Doctor Who and The Daleks play when the Dalek Supreme first emerges from his ship and later when he first enters the city.
  • During the filming of this adventure David Bowie and his band at the time The Spiders From Mars visited the set and mingled with the cast. Bowie was a huge fan of science fiction series like Doctor Who and Dan Dare.
  • Two different stories across two different mediums have returned to the setting of this story. In the comic strip Nemesis of the Daleks, Davros escapes to Spirodon (after being captured in Revelation of the Daleks.) And revives the frozen Dalek army. In Return of the Daleks however the Daleks attempt to free the frozen army instead.
  • Whilst the Doctor foiled the monsters plans to invade, spin off material shows that there was still a war between the Daleks and the alliance of humanity and Draconia. The novel Prisoner of the Daleks featuring the Tenth Doctor is set in this time. The last great Dalek war is also mentioned in their next television appearance, Death to the Daleks.
  • This story marks the first and only time in the Classic era where the Doctor is shot by a Dalek.

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