Doctor Who Monsters: The Daleks (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros continue their look at this cash-in 50th anniversary series...
If you played a word-association game with just about anyone and you mentioned Doctor Who, it’s a fairly safe bet that the word “Dalek” would be the immediate response. The Daleks are generally considered by many fans - and many non-fans - to be the definitive Doctor Who adversary. Created by Terry Nation and realised by Raymond Cusick, the blend of faceless menace, coupled with a tendency to exterminate everything that does not conform to their narrow, Nazi-like views on racial purity really struck a chord in children and the general public alike. Though their inclusion into the show seriously angered creator Sydney Newman - who considered them to be the quintessential "bug-eyed monster" or B.E.M. as he referred to them that there were trying to avoid in the first place - the Daleks secured a place in the national consciousness in a phenomenally short space of time and were pitted against The Doctor in most of his various incarnations over the decades.
THE DALEKS: Though the first Doctor Who story, An Unearthly Child, was popular and had set out the premise and the possibilities of the show, it was with the second story that the future of the series was assured.
Having found their way out of 100,000BC, the TARDIS materialises on an alien world in the far future and The Doctor (William Hartnell), his granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford), her teachers Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) in a petrified forest on an unknown planet, completely unaware that there is a lethal amount of radiation present in the atmosphere. They eventually encounter the Daleks, a race of mutations encased in metallic survival chambers, who seek to destroy the other main inhabitants of Skaro, the peaceful humanoids, The Thals. The pacifistic peacenicks have perfected a drug that allows them to remain on the surface of the planet without feeling any ill effects from the high level of radiation still present in the atmosphere. Needless to say that the Daleks want to get their plungers on the Thals’ marvellous medicine. The time-travellers must not only prevent the Daleks from exterminating the Thals, but they must also get their hands on the TARDIS’ missing Fluid Link in order to leave the planet…
This was the first instance in Doctor Who of the Fluid Link playing up, with The Doctor claiming that mercury is needed to top the thing up and restore normality to the TARDIS. This was a McGuffin to get the protagonists out of the TARDIS and into the action, despite the whole thing turning out to be a ruse on The Doctor’s part. The Fluid Link keeps them on the planet initially and half way through the story it is revealed to be the object that is preventing them from leaving Skaro and causes them to go back into the Dalek city to retrieve the bloody thing.
The main premise of the story involves the Daleks wanting to emerge from their city after centuries of hiding from fallout from a nuclear war and reclaim the surface of the planet Skaro, which has been inhabited by the peaceful - and most certainly humanoid - Thals. It is a matter of public record that Terry Nation was influenced by the Nazis when it came to creating the Daleks; they are driven by hatred a belief that they are the supreme beings and that anything else is inferior and should be exterminated.
The Daleks came into Doctor Who fully-formed (created by Terry Nation, but designed by Raymond Cusick) and it’s easy to appreciate just how fascinating and terrifying they must have seemed when this story was originally broadcast back in 1963. However, the Daleks are a little different here to how they eventually became - and we’re not just talking about the static electricity as a form of propulsion - as they show their emotions a little more than in later stories; when Susan is sent off to get the anti-radiation medicine left for her and the rest of the time-travellers, little knowing that the Daleks intend to use it for themselves, you see the Daleks almost giddy with excitement. Who said that Daleks had no emotions other than malice and hatred? Peter Hawkins and David Graham provide the voices here, and they work well, contrasting with each other to break up the potentially monotonous tones that they might have had if only one of them was providing voices for them all.
The Thals are an interesting creation and make a bizarre contrast with the Daleks, in that they are tall, blonde-haired and aesthetically pleasing, which was the Aryan ideal that Hitler and the Nazis almost lusted after. The Daleks - or what is left after centuries of mutation - are small, twisted and aesthetically repulsive and there is the underlying thought that self-loathing for their own appearance is one of the driving forces for the Daleks to wanted to eradicate the Thals.
William Hartnell is good in The Daleks, still sticking to the original, slightly frosty take on the character. Hartnell oozes mystery and his initial deception regarding the fluid link demonstrates that he is perfectly happy to put the lives of his companions - including his granddaughter - in danger just to have his curiosity satisfied. Even at this early stage, Hartnell’s performance isn’t entirely fluff-free, as The Daleks contains what is considered by us to be his most memorable clanger; during the story, The Doctor and his companions are all very ill due to radiation poisoning and The Doctor makes mention of the TARDIS having radiation drugs that can cure them of their ailment. Sadly, the objects mentioned in the script didn’t come out that way in front of the camera, and Hartnell speaks of “radiation gloves”, before hastily correcting himself.
As Susan, Carole Ann Ford was still in her mysterious stage, radiating an otherworldly vibe whilst still looking and largely talking like an innocent schoolgirl; it’s also great hear her explosive giggles that come at inconvenient moments that help to reinforce the idea that she is still essentially a child. This was seemingly disposed of fairly quickly, which is a pity because the intergenerational relationship between The Doctor and Susan was more interesting because of little touches like this.
Interestingly, it is Ian who comes to the fore, providing leadership when the Doctor realises his failings and is reprimanded by Ian in no uncertain terms. Ian is the prime mover in The Daleks, as he takes charge and intervenes at several key moments when the Doctor is just bumbling around, doing very little. William Russell was the first in an occasional series of male companions who seemed to exist in order to fulfil the necessary action that Doctor Who quite often relied upon. To merely dismiss the character as The Doctor’s muscle would be to do both the character and the actor a disservice, Ian is often more heroic (and certainly more dedicated to the cause of righteousness than his enigmatic extra-terrestrial fellow traveller). As with most companions, Ian Chesterton was there to ask “what is it, Doctor?”, but unlike many others who followed, his courageousness and his function as an intelligent teacher made him often question the situation and The Doctor’s motives and this made for an interesting dynamic. Ian really comes to the fore when it is up to him to urge the pacifist Thals into fighting for what they believe in. It is easy to forget just how much of an vibrant and dynamic character Ian Chesterton was - maybe it’s because we are getting older and we’re now seeing things from his perspective, rather than through the childlike wonder of Susan’s eyes.
If we wanted to wax VERY pretentious about a possible subtext for the scene we mentioned above where Ian goads the Thals into action, you could look upon it as another World War II analogy, with The Doctor and his companions representing Britain, the Daleks being Nazi Germany and the Thals being America, only being goaded into action after realising just how personal the threat has become. Sorry, but that was VERY pretentious.
Jacqueline Hill provides the softer and more level-headed morality; she is the one who is prepared to listen to people and be sympathetic without necessarily agreeing with them. Out of all four of the main characters, Barbara was probably the most superfluous one, as Hartnell providing the leading, wizened man, Ian was the rugged, go-getting action man and Susan was the youthful contrast to the others - the character of Barbara seems a little lost at times when it comes to writing for her (though Hill got a eventually got a cracking turn in the Barbara-centric The Aztecs). Hill shares one or two nice scenes with a couple of the Thals and gets to take centre stage in the lovely calm-before-the-storm scenes that take place during the evening before the big expedition back to the Dalek city to recover the MacGuffin that is the Fluid Link. Hill also gets to have a lovely “what-if” moment at the end, as everyone says their goodbyes and she suddenly realises that she is more attracted to one of the Thals than she had previously realised.
This seven-part story is quite leisurely-paced, with the first two episodes could be seen as being somewhat protracted; the first episode is character-based, helping to hammer home the predicament that Ian and Barbara find themselves in and wondering when - or if - they are ever going to get back to Earth in the 20th century. The main characters hadn’t bonded as a unit - they weren’t the TARDIS crew by this point. We also get to know a little more about the workings of the TARDIS, including how the catering works (artificial food that tastes like the real thing, a la Willy Wonka’s three course meal chewing gum. The first episode closes with one of the all-time great cliffhangers, as Barbara sees a Dalek coming toward her and screams, but all the viewer gets to see is just the plunger of the Dalek as we it it from it’s point-of-view. When the main body of the story begins to unfold, it really kicks into gear and becomes engrossing, regardless of episode six coming across as padding. We usually watch episodes of Doctor Who in instalments of one episode a day, but when we initially saw this on DVD when it was released as part of The Beginning box-set, we ended up watching all seven episodes of The Daleks within the space of 24 hours. It truly is a compelling great story!
Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg produced a big-screen version of this story, entitled Dr Who & The Daleks, and it was quite commendable that the integrity of the story remained intact, despite cutting down the running time to about half the length. It may have had quite a few quid spent on it, but it still can’t hold a candle to the original version (as much as we adore Peter Cushing, we have always felt that he didn’t quite “get” what Doctor Who was all about, although even his customary sincerity couldn‘t win out over what he was asked to do in the role) - the bumbling antics of Roy Castle were no match for the measured, commanding performance of William Russell. There are many who prefer the abridged colourful version from Aaru and we can appreciate that the whittling down of the story to something considerably leaner is appealing, but the stuff you don’t get in the big-screen version goes some way to fleshing out the main characters and many of the supporting ones. There is a greater exploration of the origin of the Thals in Nation's original version of this story; the big-screen one barely touches upon their history and the fleshed-out version certainly makes you appreciate their plight and their pacifist stance, rather than just thinking of them as a bunch of posturing, florid wimps. Oh, and Thals don’t look NEARLY as camp on the original as they did in the movie version…
It seems funny that the old ruse of dressing up and masquerading as one of the enemy is used in the Daleks' first story; Ian bravely steps into one of the Daleks' casings and instantly becomes the most middle-class sounding Daleks in the show's history. Though the sequence where he faces certain extermination seems like a cheat, it is resolved fairly well in a manner that won't have you yelling "bollocks!" at the screen. The subsequent struggle to escape in the lift is a fairly tense scene and is well directed by Christopher Barry, who shared directorial duties on this story with Richard Martin.
We couldn’t review this story without mentioning the man whom we all have to thank for The Daleks continuing to be around for everyone to enjoy - Ian Levine. His dedication and tenacity saved this story, along with numerous others from being destroyed at the hands of rather short-sighted individuals, as he saw that what were thought to be the only surviving prints of The Daleks were about to be consigned to the ashes, when he stepped in. Though Ian may have his fair share of detractors, we’d personally like to shake his hand if we ever get to meet him, as without his efforts, the Doctor Who library would be far less complete.
ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS: Things aren’t well for Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and her husband, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) - they have separated and the divorce papers are just about to be signed. Matrimonial issues are the least of their problems when they are unexpectedly whisked away to join The Doctor (Matt Smith) in the Parliament of the Daleks. The Daleks are eager to destroy the fabled planetary asylum where all defective Daleks are dumped and want The Doctor, Amy and Rory to do their dirty work. Whilst on The Asylum, they are helped in their mission by the mysterious Oswin Oswald, who has been stranded on the planet for a year…
The sheer cinematic scale of the story is something to be admired - when the grand announcement came that each story in this series was going to be like a self-contained film, few of them lived up to this premise, but Asylum of the Daleks was one of the ones that actually manage to achieve this lofty ambition, as it has a sense of scope that comes pretty close to being like watch a movie. The production values on this episode are extremely high, what with the impressive Parliament and the snowy location filming; it would appear that they were throwing much of the budget into this - the first episode of series seven - to start things off with a bang and keep viewers hooked.
The set-up is very much like Escape From New York, where the protagonists are roped into doing the dirty work for a fascist society, are dropped into a hostile environment and have devices to ensure their compliance. Who knows, maybe we’re just reading too much into it?
Matt Smith is commanding during his scene before the Parliament; when speaking to the Prime Minister (a monotonous megalomaniac who has contempt for anything it views as inferior - Hmm, does sound like another PM you can think of?), there is mention made of why the Daleks have been unable to kill him and that is one of the few times when there seems to be a genuine link between the Classic Series and New-Who, rather than just dropping in an odd reference now and again. Speaking of which, at one point, a line that includes the words “…crawling with Daleks” is spoken, and that just sounds and feels like classic Doctor Who dialogue!
Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill still have a sparky chemistry, even if their characters have separated and there is a lovely line when the break-up of their relationship is questioned by The Doctor - “life is what happens when you aren’t around”, which seems to echo the abandonment themes explored in Toby Whithouse’s School Reunion story.
The big surprise in this one was the appearance of forthcoming companion Gemma Louise Coleman; Steven Moffat had appealed to fans at advance screenings to keep Coleman's appearance in this a secret, and to his - and probably everyone else's - amazement, they did. The fact that it wasn't revealed until the broadcast can be considered a fairly remarkable achievement. The chemistry between Smith and Coleman is already evident in this story. Steven Moffat likes to play the long game and sewing the seeds for Karen Gillan's replacement in this story was quite an ingenious one, but there are those who could look upon this as narcissism on the writer's part.
It’s nice to see Arthur Darvill getting some screen time to himself, as he is usually overshadowed by Smith and Gillan. There are some amusing character moments, not least of which comes when Rory confronts a weakened Dalek that is powering itself up, playing on the syllables that make up the word "exterminate"; with the Daleks being so firmly entrenched in Doctor Who mythology, it's easy to forget that companions haven't encountered them before, so when Rory first sees one, he hasn't got a clue what they are, what they look like and that their primary goal is to eradicate anything that is different from itself.
Trying to sneak the name of the show into the dialogue is something that we have always disliked, but Moffat comes up with a way of doing it at the climax that works perfectly and is both amusing and thrilling at the same time.
The only fault we have with it is the distinct lack of classic Doctor Who Daleks; only the truly eagle-eyed will be able to spot some of them. The pre-publicity for the show promised "every single Dalek ever seen", but the reality is that only some of them are shown, and most of them in the background. References are made at one point to several previous encounters with The Doctor, but most - if not all - of the Daleks on view in that scene are New-Who ones. The Special Weapons Dalek from the Sylvester McCoy era is briefly seen, but does nothing - you would have thought that firing that bloody-great cannon mounted on it would have made for a cool sequence, but no, it was a wasted opportunity. You DO get to see a sixties Dalek mindlessly spinning around in the background, looking like it had come straight out of one of those intermission films from the 1960s, but that’s about it.
THE DALEKS: This appears to be the same transfer used for the original release. The picture is about as good as the source materials will allow and the Doctor Who Restoration Team poured their usual amount of love and attention into this story, resulting in something that can continue to be watched and enjoyed nearly fifty years after it originally aired.
ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS: Seeing as this series was filmed in high-definition, there a discernible upswing in the image even in these SD transfers. Presented in 1.78:1, these look pretty good, with strong colours, a fair amount of image detail and pleasing black levels.
THE DALEKS: Making allowances for the age and condition of the materials, we have nothing to complain about.
ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is most pleasing to the ear, as the viewer is bombarded with all manner of sonic attacks during the more action-heavy moments. Dialogue is well represented and never seems crushed or drowned-out by Murray Gold's often overbearing music score.
Not a bloody thing; as with all the other releases in this collection, it would have been nice to have a documentary to help put these stories and the Daleks themselves into context.
The Daleks are nearly fifty years old, yet they continue to enthral and terrify in equal measure. Though there is a vast gulf between the styles of William Hartnell’s The Daleks and Matt Smith’s Asylum of the Daleks, both stories are highly entertaining and demonstrate that Terry Nation and Ray Cusick created an enduring villain that hasn’t needed to be significantly altered in almost half a century.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 30th September 2013
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Easter Egg: No
Director: Christopher Barry & Richard Martin, Nick Hurran
Cast: William Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, David Tennant, Bingo from The Banana Splits
Length: 220 minutes
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