Title: Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks
Director: Michael Briant
Starring: Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen
Released: 18th June 2012
The TARDIS is suddenly drained of power and forced to land on Exxilon. As the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith explore the planet they come across other survivors: a group of humans and Daleks. The disparate groups join forces as Sarah is kidnapped by the natives but the Daleks are developing powerless weapons. Can the Doctor save them all before his oldest enemies go on the rampage again?
As the Doctor Who DVD range draws to a close, I seem to be listing ‘lasts’ every time. This story is not only the last of the short run of Third Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith stories but the final classic series Dalek story. This is assuming that Power of the Daleks, Evil of the Daleks and The Daleks’ Master Plan don’t turn up in someone’s loft in Streatham or get new animated episodes, but for the meantime the remaining episodes were released in the Lost in Time box set. This is the first time I’ve seen Death to the Daleks, it’s a story I haven’t heard that much about and seems to be synonymous with a picture of a blown-up Dalek in the sand. Although the serial comes up with some great ideas, it ultimately wastes its potential by going down a more traditional route.
If you think that gothic Doctor Who started with the Holmes and Hinchcliffe era, then think again. The first episode of this serial is a joy and has a great atmosphere. Power cuts were commonplace at the time so having the TARDIS drained of energy was a nicely topical move. We are used to seeing quarries as alien planets but never swathed in deep fog and the Doctor cuts a strong figure striding across the landscape with his oil lamp (set to the appropriately named tune Hammer Gothic). Sarah hand cranking the TARDIS doors is also a lovely touch. When the Daleks do show up at the end of the episode as a not very shocking cliffhanger considering the title, they are essentially neutered, as their weapons don’t work. For once, the Daleks have to team up with the Doctor and the humans to find a solution. It’s a shame that this doesn’t go on a bit longer but once we get into the daylight and the Daleks get some firepower back, they set out on the rampage once more and the story settles back into a regular Dalek run-around.
Anyone familiar with Terry Nation’s writing will recognise certain tropes, such a lone figure striding across the landscape at the very beginning of a story, a small band of humans, Daleks forcing everyone to mine and a character called Tarrant. In fact the Exxilons themselves, covered in their sandy camouflage, are reminiscent of the invisible Spiridons and their purple furs in the previous year’s Planet of the Daleks. They make quite a fearsome presence especially when they kidnap Sarah and start chanting, although their immovable masks do show them up somewhat. In fact the soundtrack here, from Carey Blyton, is marvellous for the most part especially in the first couple of episodes - apart from some oddly jolly music when we see the Daleks. Nation also writes Sarah as more sarcastic than spunky here which, to be fair, is not his fault given that she was a new character. His cliffhangers are less than gripping too.
Most of the last two episodes is taken up by the Doctor’s quest to get the power switched on which entails him venturing through the Exxilons' living city to disable the computer. So that’s basically hunting for a big ‘off’ switch. As Sarah is on the outside, the Doctor is joined by the affable Exxilon Bellal for a series of puzzles including a maze, a psychedelic mind trip and an explosive floor, sponsored by the Umbrella Corporation, on which you have to use hopscotch to escape. For once we see the Doctor using his mind and it would be nice to see a bit more of this sort of thing in the new series, although this sequence does tend to drag a bit. We also see the Daleks going through the same tests and it’s nice to see them show some intelligence and logic rather, than just being the killing machines we usually see them as.
Overall, this is a surprising story which takes the Daleks in some new directions, as well as having a fabulously atmospheric first episode, but it ends up dragging its heels and turning back into a more familiar tale. It doesn’t really live up to the thrilling war cry of the title and it’s a pity that Nation couldn’t have been a little more daring in this, as he would with his next script, Genesis of the Daleks, which would rewrite Dalek history. Although the inclusion of Davros in Genesis did tie them to him until their return in 2005. This story does count current Dalek voicebox Nicholas Briggs as a big fan and I would recommend a watch of this, although it’s not one of the better Dalek tales.
Extras: Commentary with Julian Fox, Cy Town, Michael Briant, Richard Leyland, L Rowland Warne, Dick Mills and is, as ever, moderated by Toby Hadoke. Beneath the City of the Exxilons is our ‘making of’, On the Set of Dr Who and the Daleks tells tales from the first Peter Cushing film and Doctor Who Stories: Dalek Men examines what it’s like to be inside a pepperpot. There’s also some studio recording footage, isolated music score, text commentary, PDF material, Easter egg and Coming Soon trailer.
Continuing Adventures: The Exxilons also feature in the New Adventures novel The Left-Handed Hummingbird (1993) by Kate Orman starring the Seventh Doctor, Bernice and Ace in which their influence on the Aztecs is covered. Their visit to Yamaya 4 is mentioned in Sleepy (1996) also by Kate Orman. They are also one of the races that took part in the Millennium War mentioned in BBC Books’ The Quantum Archangel (2001) by Craig Hinton, which featured the Sixth Doctor and Mel.
Trivia learnt from the disc: The Exxilons’ sand camouflage was so good that when two of the actors playing them fell asleep on location they could not be found by the rest of the crew for a few hours.