Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros review the final Classic Doctor Who Dalek story out on DVD...
The year was 1974 and Jon Pertwee's tenure as The Doctor was coming to an end; Elisabeth Sladen had slotted into the series rather nicely, but Pertwee's back problems, coupled with a general feeling that the Who family was breaking up (Roger Delgado had tragically been killed, Katy Manning had left and both Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts had decided to leave), meant that it was time to move on. Before Pertwee's Doctor was to have that fateful encounter on Metabelis III, there were still a couple of adventures to be had, including one with his old nemeses...
Following the troubles with dinosaurs and Operation Golden Age, the TARDIS suffers an energy drain mid-flight and The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) find themselves on the planet Exxilon, where they discover that an Earth space-vessel containing a group of humans from the Marine Space Corps, have also been stranded by the power drain and they have been waiting for a rescue ship. The Doctor is horrified to eventually discover that the occupants of this other interplanetary (most extraordinary) craft just happen to be Daleks!
Terry Nation penned this story, based upon a suggestion for a storyline by Terrance Dicks; as part of an agreement, Nation was given first refusal on writing a Dalek story when the BBC wanted to produce one and he agreed to pen Death to the Daleks. The concept of having the Daleks without the ability to exterminate is an interesting one, because if you take away their weapons, the Daleks really are just a bunch of hysterical, shouty individuals who seem to repeat things twice. It allows Pertwee's Doctor to have a great moment when he realises that his old adversaries are powerless, in much the same way that Christopher Eccleston would do a similar thing around three decades later in Rob Shearman's wonderful story, Dalek. This was to be the last Doctor Who Dalek story of the original run before Davros was introduced and it depicts them as being more cunning and conniving than ever; their ability to exterminate with conventional weapons being removed by the mysterious power drain makes forces them to think and find a way to carry out their most basic, genocidal function using non-electric weapons. The Doctor mentions that the Daleks are "brilliant technicians" and their ability to think and function independently in this story at times makes you wish that the character of Davros had never been created and that the Daleks could have carried on being this devious and conniving.
The opening scenes featuring the power failure in the TARDIS are wonderfully atmospheric, featuring only an illuminated console and the two leads playing their parts in a most agreeable fashion. This scene shrouded in darkness seems to be a reference to the ongoing energy crisis that was still very much in the public eye at the time (the following story, The Monster of Peladon would use this topical subject at its central theme), but matters are soon alleviated by Pertwee pulling out an antique oil lamp and using that to light their way "Hooray for old-fashioned oil!" exclaims Sladen - if this script had been written by Malcolm Hulke, it would have then had The Doctor launch into a monologue arguing for the need to reduce pollution and explore alternative forms of power.
Michael Briant's atmospheric direction continues as The Doctor and Sarah-Jane venture outside of the TARDIS to see what is causing the power-drain to the ship, with Pertwee leading the way holing the oil lamp and Sladen following behind, whilst the camera tracks them from a high vantage point as they make their way through fog and into a well-timed and well-executed scare. We know that there are many Doctor Who fans who aren't keen on some of the more 'eccentric' elements of the score to Death to the Daleks (more on that later), but the use of music in this scene is nothing short of wonderful and makes you remember just how eerie Doctor Who could be when in the hands of a good director who was suitably engaged with the script.
Though Jon Pertwee was about to depart the role that made the former comedy actor be taken seriously by the public, he still gives a compelling performance as the Third Doctor; a noticeable amount of his enthusiasm for the part had disappeared into the fifth dimension, but seeing as he had bags of it to begin with, the loss of a little of that enthusiasm wasn't such a big deal. The back problems that were getting steadily worse for Pertwee were indirectly evident during Death to the Daleks, mainly in that stuntman Terry Walsh in a bad bouffant wig had to be employed to undertake a pretty straightforward gag that involved The Doctor being wrestled to the ground, which just happened to be soft.
Lis Sladen was settling nicely into her role, giving little glimpses of the playful relationship that she would share with Tom Baker; though many write off the chemistry that Sladen and Pertwee had in favour of the later pairing of Sladen and Baker, there is much to like in the relationship between Sladen and her first Doctor; the dynamics are very different, with a distinct paternal vibe coming from Pertwee, as opposed to the friendly/almost-partners one that was displayed later. This relationship is crystallised during episode three, as The Doctor is about to go off to the forbidden city, facing almost certain death, and tells Sarah that she must stay behind - at the end of the scene, they share a poignant moment where nothing is said, but the performances speak volumes and both actors are tremendously good, with Pertwee running his hand down the side of Sladen's face and she reacts in a manner that suggests they might not see each other again. During episode one, Sladen really excels during the scene where she runs back into the TARDIS to avoid the approaching Exxilons, oblivious to the fact that one of them has already made his way in and is sneaking up behind her as she manually cranks the door shut; after clubbing the poor sod to the floor, Sladen really sells the traumatic nature of the moment, with a palpable and honest depiction of hysteria, so realistic that it stops short of snot trickling out of one of her nostrils. It's more than just a typical screamy companion - she's absolutely distraught and its' a testament to the acting ability of the late Ms Sladen. Later on in the story, Sarah Jane is captured and is prepared for sacrifice by a group of chanting Exxilons who sound like the Welsh Satanic Choir (if you listen, you'd swear that you could hear Roger Delgado in there) and is forced to inhale what appears to be incense - well, if the sacrifice had gone ahead, then at least she'd have died happy, or at least with a pleasing fragrance up her nose...
Of the guest cast, the stand-out member is Duncan Lamont as Weapons Officer Dan Galloway, who has a very imposing physical presence and a heavyweight Scottish accent that seriously conveys that he is someone not to be messed with. Lamont had enjoyed a career in film that included several Hammer films, epics like Ben-Hur and even worked with Alfred Hitchcock in The 39 Steps and the experience of decades of cinematic work experience really translates to the small screen, as the result is a character that is more than just the sum of Terry Nation's words.
Coming in a close second is Arnold Yarrow as Bellal, who gives such an endearing performance that he almost makes you wish that he could have stayed on as a companion. Yarrow's winning performance is due to a combination of several elements - Yarrow's physicality, along with the fact that he studied animals for inspiration and Bellal's little movements of his head are classic animal movements; the costume was also very good (even if his mask - like quite a few of the other Exxilons - didn't quite fit properly) and he couldn't see much out of the mask, so he had to be very timid and cautious with his gait, but the most important thing is that Pertwee seemed to really take a shine to Yarrow and you can see that there is real chemistry between them and Pertwee liked to make his fellow actors look good because it made him look good.
Continuing the theme of Pertwee wanting to look good, he probably wasn't that impressed with a shot that had him with his head down, and a bald patch can quite clearly be seen - perhaps, to quote Terrance Dicks, Pertwee's hair become more and more bouffant as the show went on was because he wanted it to be the equivalent of a comb-over.
Death to the Daleks presents those dastardly despots with a look that was unique to this story, and - in our opinion, anyway - quite possibly the coolest-looking design there has ever been for them. On paper, the black and silver look might seem somewhat clichéd for science-fiction robots, but it works awfully well for the Daleks. It's a pity that when Skaro's antisocial denizens were brought back for Genesis of the Daleks, they opted for a pretty dull colour palette; the silver colour scheme seen here isn't exactly subtle, but they aren't the rainbow-hued monstrosities seen in the Rosenberg/Subotsky films, either. What is interesting is that this is the first time that the Daleks were likened to Earth-based objects in a derogatory fashion on television (OK, they were called "motorised dustbins" in Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150AD, but that was on the big screen), with Weapons Officer Galloway calling them "wee salt-shakers"; the Daleks had been referred to as many things in the press and by the public, but this marked the first time that such comparisons found their way into the show.
Speaking of the Daleks, there were always a limited number of Daleks in each episode of the original series, and various methods were used to multiply their number, but what was different with Death to the Daleks was that there were more Daleks than there were Dalek operators and that was apparent in episode two, where four Daleks conferring about whether or not to call a truce with the humans and The Doctor, director Michael Briant obviously tried to get the Dalek operators to instil as much movement into them as possible and the end result shows the Daleks almost having itchy feet (or should that be casters?) and it looks most effective... except for the one stuck at the back which doesn't move at all, not even a slight twitch from his plunger - the Dalek in question was an immobile one that was borrowed from the publicity circuit. The non-moving Dalek situation is quickly remedied by having the Exxilons destroy it in a rather poorly-staged action scene; we certainly appreciate the inherent problems in staging action sequences in the studio when shooting with multiple television cameras, but when it's out on location, using 16mm film, the restraints are much less and any directorial problems can be sorted out during the editing. The exhibition Dalek pops up several times during the story, coming in handy whenever a Dalek needed to be blown up - this thing was the Doctor Who equivalent of Captain Scarlet. Michael Wisher, the man who would later portray the creator of the Daleks, is on hand to provide the voices of his future televisual offspring and makes a pretty good job of it, having been left to do them all by himself owing to an availability problem with one of the regular Dalek voice artists.
There is much arsing around in a quarry pit (which looks quite a lot like the one seen during the climax of Frontier in Space), but it's an impressive location and works rather well in this episode, with director Briant employing many inventive camera angles and the appearance of a small lake during the third episode added to the possibilities. Speaking of the lake, this is where the main appearance of the snake-like root makes not only Michael Briant cringe, but also many Doctor Who fans, as little attempt was made to cover the wires that held up the fearsome beastie, which was puppeteered by some poor sod in a cherry-picker just off-screen - if you can overlook the screamingly obvious method of bringing it to life, then it's pretty impressive and makes short work of Daleks. It's a pity that the Restoration Team couldn't have digitally removed the wires, but it certainly would have been one hell of a job. Michael Briant also puts in some little touches that impress in very subtle ways, such as a conversation about the Exxilon city fades away as the scene dissolves to one showing Sarah Jane approaching the location just being talked about, selling to the viewer not only that the place is dangerous, but that our plucky journalist is completely oblivious to this.
The music of the Pertwee era could best (and most charitably) be described as 'eclectic', with a mixture of traditional Dudley Simpson compositions and experimental works that sounded like R2-D2 simultaneously farting and having a stroke during a cocaine binge. The incidental music featured in Death to the Daleks was performed by The London Saxophone Quartet and whilst some of it actually adds to the atmosphere of (Sarah Jane approaching the forbidden city is given a real boost by the subdued and very effective score), but much of it is toe-curling stuff and sounds like it was performed by the drunken inhabitants of a music pit in a strip-joint just before chucking-out time. The almost surreal musical stylings heard here could be rationalised by arguing that the Daleks without their ability to exterminate are reduced to ineffectual figures of fun and the score underpins this idea, but the Daleks quickly regain their lethality and this musical motif continues, reducing their on-screen menace considerably.
As the story enters the final act, The Doctor and Bellal find themselves in the Forbidden City and they face a multitude of traps and tests - such a premise would resurface in later stories, most notably The Pyramids of Mars, but this lethal environment would give rise to one of the most ineffective cliffhangers in Doctor Who's history; The Doctor spots a red and white mosaic-like pattern on the floor and urgently tells Bellal to stop - that's it. It screams "didn't have enough time in the studio before the lights went out at 10pm". A pity, really, as with a bit more effort, it could have been reasonably effective.
Terry Nation's derring-do World War II-inspired heroics that were often seen in Doctor Who (usually by Earth-based military types) were fine for the time, but in the present climate, the idea of someone willingly ending their life by detonating a bomb for their cause is pretty dodgy. One of the members of the Marine Space Corps makes the ultimate sacrifice and it can be seen as the sci-fi equivalent of "my... last... grenade!" gallantry, but this can be seen very differently these days, as one person's noble sacrifice is another person's suicide bomber.
Sadly, the original film elements for the location footage and the results - even after the Restoration Team worked on this story - are pretty disappointing. It's entirely possible that Death to the Daleks contains quite possibly the most grotty-looking film elements in Classic Who history, with a combination of factors making it look terrible - shooting on 16mm always meant that a degree of grain was going to be present, but this is not usually a flaw; next up was the decision to shoot quite a bit of the location footage day-for-night, which can make on-screen action harder to see, as everything seems to be put through filters; finally, the process of transferring the film footage on to video can have a hand in making film sequences look even worse. The Restoration Team have done what they can with the film footage and even having a quick comparison to how this stuff looked on the VHS release, there is a definite improvement in, but it still falls somewhat short of some of their other restorations.
When the action switches to studio, it is another matter entirely - the scenes shot on videotape look wonderful, as the original Quad tapes survived (though episode one only existed in NTSC up until 1992, when a PAL copy was returned from Dubai) and they have been lovingly remastered. Because Barry Letts had a particular penchant for using Colour Separation Overlay, many of the scenes that would have ordinarily been achieved by shooting on location or on film were executed entirely on videotape and as a result, the amount of filmed material was minimised.
No problems to report here - everything sounds fine, even the schizophrenic score by Carey Blyton has a certain drunken charm to it. It is worth pointing out that Pertwee's exclamation of "Daleks!" at the end of episode one is still squashed by the music score, but this was obviously down to the original audio mix and very little could be done it.
Audio Commentary: Once again it’s Tobe Hadoke grabbing the reins to another fun-packed audio commentary with those involved both in front and behind the camera, giving everyone a chance to exorcise the ghosts of television past whilst preserving the thoughts of a diminishing breed of individuals. Certain participants drift in and out between episodes, providing a great mixture and stops the flavour becoming too familiar - we call it the Adam Richman technique. It’s all good fun, but did you expect anything else?
Dick Mills brings his wonderfully unpretentious style to the fore as he explains his method for creating a complex audio mix for a subterranean environment: “If you are underground or in a cave and with limited vision… I try to do a [signature sound] for each sort of level, like sort of Ladies’ Underwear and then down to Kitchens and then things like that.” He tries to be diplomatic about the less-than-celebrated work of Mr Blyton when doing his job, too: “With Carey’s music being too sparse, I had to get something of an atmosphere in between the notes”. Damn, that man should work for the U.N.…
Richard Layland Assistant Floor Manager notes that Pertwee was “…a difficult man to work with”, agreeing with the consensus that he really didn’t like change, bringing out his irascible nature. Interestingly, Briant recalls that the Bouffant’d One just wanted to look good on screen, a task he describes as “easy” and that working with Tom Baker was much more of a trying time. Layland also relays the story he was told when he came onto the show, that all of the previous Dalek props/suits were no longer in existence, having been chopped up for firewood in the wake of the declining figures during Pat Troughton’s era, not expecting Doctor Who to last very long after that.
With the third Doctor being a diehard dandy, it is no surprise that Pertwee got on well with costume designer L Rowland-Warne, who comes to his defence amid calls that he was difficult, “I found him quite easy to work with,” he confesses, “…As long as you paid a certain amount of attention, he was perfectly alright”. He lavishes more higher praise on Lis Sladen, almost bristling when he says that she “…was such a lovely lady to work with. I think she was the best partner to Doctor Who (sic) ever.”
Trundling in for a couple of episodes is veteran Dalek Operator Cy Town, who deftly grapples with the 4th Dalek which sits around in the background doing almost nothing as the others take on the real tasks. When the subject of ol‘ Ringo comes up, Town asks Briant that question most would want to have answered: “Why didn’t you have a prop-man with a long stick poking it to make it look as thought it was animated?” The director wastes no time in replying: “Because it weighed half a hundredweight!” He is just as quick off the mark when Hadoke demands he explain just why the Daleks use small models of the TARDIS for target practice: “Well… it seemed like a really good idea at the time…” OK, one more apology from Briant, and we’re finished on it: the Exxilon root is a real howler for all concerned, and you might wonder about the thought processes behind it, so take it away, Mr Director: “The root was something which was absolutely wonderful in the office, and when we were discussing it and planning it, it seemed like a really, really good idea, but the reality… I think domestic duct-tubing with a light at the end of it on bits of nylon line is not perhaps the best thing in the world…”
The elusive Joy Harrison is an actress desperately wanted for her participation in the extras on this disc, but even the best efforts to get her directly involved proved unsuccessful. Commentary alumnus Julian Fox did all he could: “We sort of lost touch", he remembers, “I think she went away to live in a castle somewhere… I may be wrong about that, but when tried to get hold of her for the [documentary] for this, even Equity couldn’t come up with [her contact details]. I didn’t realise she was out of the country”. Thanks to Mr Hadoke and the ever-resourceful Richard Bignall, Harrison was tracked down to Canada and sent along an email about her thoughts on getting the role and being involved, not to mention the expressions required for actress in Doctor Who, which is dutifully read out to eager fans. Any other outfit would have just not bothered, but leave it to these guys to really push the boat out!
There is a good rapport between departments, and lots of warm humour to be found. Briant talks a mile a minute, and is always interesting, and between his efforts and Hadoke's expert way to metaphorically poking the older participant with a sharp stick, everything zips along nicely. There are only so many commentary tracks to come, and we’d like to impress upon viewers to take time out to listen to them whilst they are still coming. We have the funniest urge to break into a chorus of Big Yellow Taxi for some reason - never mind! Reassuringly solid stuff once again from the guys.
Beneath the City of the Exxilons: Nick Briggs (in character!) narrates this entertaining look at the story that saw the Daleks get all narked when their guns just can’t quite shoot a mighty bolt the way they used to, and Mr Briggs even gets a caption on the screen reading “World’s Biggest Death to the Daleks Fan” when interviewed out of character. Is this going to be a fun look at a fondly-remembered story? You bet your sweet bippy it will!
Strap yourself in for a look at the nuts and bolts that held those metallic monsters together for Pertwee’s second tussle with Skaro’s finest. We’re happy to report that you’ll find the usual mixture of engrossing factoids and titbits which will have you snigger with delight, and although many of the principles are no longer available to give their side of things, the people brought together to tell the story of Death to the Daleks is no less effective than if Pertwee and Sladen themselves had been around to participate. Things kick off well as Assistant Floor Manager Richard Leyland recalls the parallels of the time in the seventies when national strikes saw periods of blackouts across the country, mirrored by the TARDIS experiencing such problems, extending to the same thing during rehearsals where they would often perform run-throughs in darkness. With an opening gambit this good, you know you are in for treat.
Director Michael E Briant reveals that he was ensnared from the outset when he read the script, cynically expecting the usual procession of Daleks at the opening of the story, only to be impressed at being dropped into the heart of something mysterious - is it any wonder he accepted? Anyone with experience of Briant’s anecdotes before will know that he really can rattle off amusing stuff, and delivers a belter about the Bouffant‘d One heavy-handed approach to getting a Dalek moving along its rails by giving it a vigorous shove.
Speaking up for the cast members either not top of the bill or hidden by a mask is Julian Fox (Peter Hamilton) who spins a terrific yarn about the problems facing actors when confronted by a monster which is considerably less than convincing, with all of the wires clearly visible to anyone possessed of a pair of eyes. Keep watching for the time he got a tutorial on holding a bow from none other than Jon Pertwee himself.
We like when those responsible for the aesthetic side of things get to tell their side of things, and loved costume Designer L Rowland Warne’s master class on trying to bring menace to what is essentially a human-form monster, through the magic of a bunch of latex and wadding. Briant echoes the sentiment of how difficult this can be to achieve, being determined to learn from the mistakes he made on such matters on Colony in Space, and make the Exxilons blend into the their environment. Clearly it worked, as Fox recalls one instance where he thought all of those playing the creatures had gone home for the day, when they later found fast asleep in the dunes!
There is some great use of the studio footage found elsewhere on this disc, with Pertwee and the guys put through their paces, and the Man With The Bouffant is shown blowing his lines a couple of times. The setting up of CSO is always good for a chuckle, as the sight of some hairy technician walking around a background as though a wandering giant can’t fail to raise a smile. Speaking of our leading man, Arnold Yarrow (Bellal) has nothing but good things to say about Pertwee, the seasoned thespian more than a little concerned by the restrictive nature of the alien costume, and went out of his way to make sure he was a comfortable as possible.
There are times when an actor can bring a fresh approach to post production, and Fox recalls when he was invited to sit in on the editing process, specifically when the exploding city was having the audio mix done. After various expected sounds where exhausted, Briant asked Fox his opinion as to how it should appear in the final episode, and the actor pointed out that as it is a living environment being levelled, then the sound of screams should dominate. Naturally, he spent the rest of the day as part of the group taking care of such lung-ripping duties! Apparently, Briant did the best screams, but you would expect that from a director…
Everyone has good things to say about Death to the Daleks, and they all think that it holds up well to this day, in spite of the technical limitations inherent of the time. Even though the end of the Doctor Who releases is in sight, there is certainly no dip in the efforts of the guys when putting their extras together, and we really had a good time with this fun documentary.
Production Subtitles: We might be biased, but this is the special feature we look forward to the most, in spite of the peerless quality of the rest on offer. Such vast quantities of enlightening stuff has never been as digestible and downright fun than the Doctor Who Production Subtitles. More user-friendly than Universal’s U-Control, less intrusive than Fox’s Maximum Movie Mode and more edifying than Disney’s Cine-Explore. If we had our way, it would be an option to select from the main menu rather than being filed away in a dark corner amongst the extras.
We are treated to the saga of the second episode of Death to the Daleks being deemed too frightening for the youngest of viewers, with Monica Sims (Head of Children’s Programmes) putting forward the notion that the show should be moved to a later slot after the five-to-seven age group were safely in bed. Good research allows us to see the wave of support for Doctor Who from BBC staff, all countering the both Sims’ initial claim and her suggestion of changing the time of transmission. Just compare this to how one vengeful schmuck was able to bring the show to its knees during the eighties, with few at the BBC leaping to its defence as they did over a decade earlier.
It even spills the beans on the rather cruel game played by Pertwee and Sladen when boredom was setting in, where they would play out a scene during rehearsals only mouthing so as to make the sound think there was something wrong with their equipment. Naturally, they had a good arse-kicking from all concerned for pulling such a prank. For more information about how Pertwee staved off the tedium of filming, please see the Studio Recording section below.
We always look forward to the keen sense of humour interlaced into these tracks, and the approach favoured about the infamous “Dummy Dalek” is than of putting it into the form of a question. “Q: Why is the Dalek at the top-right so still compared with the others? A: Because there is no-one inside”. Never wishing to leave things on a just a laugh, it goes on to report that this was referred to as a “Goon” by the production, a name given to any of the monsters which were there just to boost the numbers rather than contribute any movement.
If you presume that you’ll get an exhaustive rundown of all changes between various drafts, material added during filming and stuff dropped from the final edit - you’d be dead right! It’s this tenacious drive to get hold of every scrap of information about the story which is at the heart of every Production Subtitle track to grace a Doctor Who release, let alone bringing it fruition in a form both assessable to the layman and detailed enough for the hardened fan.
You’ll find out just how Pertwee’s bad back meant a major re-jig of the schedule to accommodate the ailing actor, the Problems with an over-eager makeup artist who decided to really go for the “Sci-Fi” look with Liz Sladen and you even get to find out which catering company took care of the cast and crew whilst on location, with Cinefood being the firm in question! The details are infinitesimal, but never less than a whole lot of fun to experience. The Production Subtitles have always operated on a 1:1 ratio of effort put in and enjoyment derived from it, and the track gracing Death to the Daleks maintains the impossibly high standards set by itself long ago.
On the Set of Doctor Who and the Daleks: Revolving around the discovery of documentary footage from an ITV show entitled Movie Magazine, any other company would have just put these silent clips out accompanied by music, but we all know that this isn’t the approach that the producers of Classic Doctor Who DVDs would ever take! These guys take the stuff, go out and get interviews with a whole bunch of people and fashion it into an utterly fascinating look at the “interesting” big-screen adaptation of the BBC’s ratings smash.
Marcus Hearn (We’re never going to let him forget that he wrote for The Dark Side, as along with Samhain, it furthered us into the horor and exploitation world) fills us in the circumstances around the footage, and we get a load of others to explain just how significant the movie was at the time, both personally and culturally. Building up a profile of the director, First Assistant Director Anthony Waye asserts that Gordon Flemyng was damn good at what he did, and son Jason asserts that his father was loved by those good at their jobs, and hated by those who weren’t.
Dalek Operator Bryan Hands joins the chorus of voices praising the importance of Shepperton Studios to the British film industry (we concur, as we’ve also filmed there) not to mention the equal importance of the Red Lion pub found onsite. It’s funny to think that Peter Cushing was cast as The Doctor not through careful choosing as to which actor would be appropriate for the role, but just because Rosenberg and Subotsky held him over from their previous Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors. Ditto Roy Castle!
Hands shows a script he was given to enable the operators to sync up the flashing lights to the dialogue. Most people just reading this will be thinking the same thing - what the hell happened with that, then? The crowning glory of the footage has to be to clip of Cushing and Castle performing an energetic dance number together, which shows a sense of levity and clowning which you really didn’t get to see in Cushing, and it’s wonderful that an instance like that has found its way into the archives.
There are lots of little delights to be found, but best of all are Jason Flemyng’s feelings towards the movie and the footage, as he has spent the past twenty years locating material on his father. We’ve always liked the guy (oh come on, Mr F, was Seed of Chucky worse than a lot of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?) and it’s a pleasure to he him speak to fondly about Doctor Who and the Daleks, with the best being how he’s waiting for his infant kids to become old enough to play the movie for. This is lovely stuff, and we fail to see how anyone watching won’t get a real charge out of it.
Doctor Who Stories - Dalek Men: They’ve had their own movies, been plastered over a mind-numbing variety of mugs and even a series of piss-poor dressing up suits, but they finally get their own edition of the entertaining Doctor Who Stories. Obviously the monsters themselves aren’t much for conversation, so they leave it up to John Scott Martin and Nicholas Evans to speak on their behalf, which they do so admirably.
Getting the job through an acquaintance with Richard Martin, Evans recalls how he was unaware of the role he would be playing, misguidedly believing that he got the part through his acting prowess. Needless to say that things were soured somewhat when he turned up at the studio and was shown over to the Dalek costume he was to be locked inside. This is the perfect example of getting the job purely because you were the only one the suit would fit, like a desperate department store looking for a Santa on Christmas Eve.
With Martin now in the realms of the beyond, it does the old heart good to get another opportunity to hear him say that “…it helped if you were an octopus” when trying to get a performance out of a Dalek. Given that this is the last opportunity for him to tell his tales, nobody can get huffy that Martin spins yarns of playing one a Zarbi in The Web Planet, and the posture-destroying nature of the costumes. With our man being the backbone of the Daleks during the original Doctor Who, it’s a damn good job that the insectoid shell didn’t do his spine any permanent damage. Not to be outdone in the one-off creature department, Evans is particularly pleased that he was the only person ever to play a Slyther on the show, going into how the costume wasn’t even finished for the end of the episode, but was completed when they went to film the recap for the following one.
The popularity of the Daleks, scaring the shit out of kids in public, how to take a slash when bolted into the costume, the enduring appeal of the show, it’s all here to be discovered and enjoyed. Both guys are proud of their association with Doctor Who, and it’s certainly poignant to hear Martin wax nostalgic about days gone by. These guys deserved their own Doctor Who Story, and they haven’t been short-changed, and anyone watching it will not be cheated out of a great way to spend 13 minutes.
Studio Recording: There exists a hell of a lot of material from the recording of this particular show, and to have put the whole lot together would have bored even the most enthusiastic of fans senseless, so here we get over 20 minutes of edited highlights which perfectly encapsulate the atmosphere and mechanics of being in the studio during the taping. Anyone who has gone through the repetitive nature of filming in a studio will know that the boredom factor sets in after a certain length of time, and even the most professional of actors will erupt into spontaneous bits of mischief to stop themselves from going mad. A perfect example of this sees Pertwee finish the end of a sequence with a jaunty little tune with the words “ Bye, bye, Dalek, it was me”.
The illusion that Skaro’s finest are capable of instilling fear across the galaxy is given a severe knock throughout this footage, as there are plenty of instances where their integrity was saved through careful framing and judicious editing tricks. One of the evil pepper-pots trundles too far inside the entrance to the ship, magically emerging on the other end of the screen when the set runs out and intrudes on the CSO sheeting. If these guys could do such a teleportation trick all the time, they really would conquer the universe! Although it’s blatant when watching the final product, the infamous “dummy” Dalek is even more lifeless here, clearly seen being pushed into place by a helpful hand as the metallic menaces emerge. Also included is an unused take where the Daleks hatch their plan, which was dropped due to the feeling that to have the fiends whispering to each other didn’t seem to fit the piece.
With the Daleks in mind, there are plenty of chuckles to be had, especially when the ammo is depleted during the testing of their modified weapons, where one of the operators is clearly heard to say “I’m out” one the firing has stopped. He didn’t even try to sound like a Dalek to maintain the illusion! The laughs continue with some helpful captions to draw attention to certain things, all in the style of the factual/humorous tone of the Production Subtitles, with our favourite being the pointing out the “hideous 1970s mattress” used to break the fall of a stuntman.
This is golden stuff, and probably the most candid of such material to be released, giving you a real flavour of just what it was like to be around the pressured environment of a BBC studio when trying to get everything done on a complex shoot. The quality of the footage is excellent, and will please anyone wanting to give it a spin and play “spot of signs of irritation” in Pertwee’s mannerisms every time someone doesn’t do their job to his exacting standards!
Photo Gallery: You want colour? How about black and white? You don’t have to worry, as both are given equal treatment in one of the best galleries to feature on a Doctor Who release, with a pretty extensive assortment of photos which show off the best aspects of the show and make you want to experience it all again. When looking these stills, the Exxilon costumes are incredible, blending in with the surroundings perfectly, just as originally designed, and we get to see couple of variations of the much-used photograph of a Dalek on fire. There are some wonderfully moody monochromatic shots that damn-well look like art. It’s a terrific collection of images, and all set to Carey Blyton’s score - but try not to let that put you off. Hell, that’s what the volume control it for, after all.
Isolated Score: As we just mentioned the work of Carey Blyton, it seems only fair to warn you that his score is presented without the impediment of dialogue and effects to spoil your enjoyment. It’s really cool that the effort has been taken to include it, and we are sure that there are fans of it out there. Oh, the Exxilon chants are also to be found in their unfettered form, too.
PDF Materials: The usual Radio Times listings are niftier than those of late, episode accompanied by a deeply cool illustration which would have had kids climbing the walls to see them at the time. Just as terrific is that each comes with a plug for the Radio Times Doctor Who Special - with full details how to make your own Dalek - for only 30p! Such wonderful memories…
Coming Soon: The Skrotons. Oops, we mean The Krotons. When many of the Troughton stories were wiped, that this particular story escaped is akin to the entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation being killed in a explosion at a convention centre with only Wil Wheaton surviving the attack. Still, they have cut together a pretty entertaining trailer for it, and anyone able to make The Krotons look good is surely to follow in the footsteps of Peter Hunt and Stuart Baird in the annuls of legendary film editors.
Death to the Daleks represented something of a minor milestone in Doctor Who's history - the production team that made up Jon Pertwee's tenure as The Doctor were moving on and members of the cast were falling away, but Death to the Daleks is quite possibly our favourite story in Pertwee's final season. There is an air of melancholy about it (augmented by the saxophone-led music score), but there's much to enjoy, with cool-looking Daleks, plenty of action and a great guest cast. In short, It's Jon & Lis' Excellent Adventure...
This story also represents a significant milestone in the release of Classic Doctor Who titles on DVD, as this is the final Dalek story to be released and there is a degree of sadness as we finish this review, knowing that there will be no more classic adventures featuring the most iconic villains in television history (unless more missing episodes featuring the Daleks miraculously turn up) and it signals that another giant stride toward the end of the Doctor Who releases DVD has been taken.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 18th June 2012
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Beneath the City of the Exxilons, Studio Recording, Doctor Who Stories: Dalek Men, On the Set of Doctor Who and the Daleks, Isolated Score, Production Subtitles, Photo Gallery, Coming Soon Trailer, PDF Materials
Easter Egg: No
Director: Michael Briant
Cast: Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen, Duncan Lamont, Joy Harrison, Michael Wisher
Length: 98 minutes
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