Tuesday, 24 July 2012

60: Day Of The Daleks - A Surprisingly Unusual Time Travel Plot

Written by: Louis Marks.
Companions: The Doctor, Jo Grant, Brigadier, Captain Mike Yates, Sergeant Benton.
Monsters/Villains: The Daleks, Ogrons.
Brief Synopsis: Freedom fighters from the future attempt to thwart a Dalek invasion by coming back in time to assassinate a delegate at the second World Peace Conference.
Rating: 8/10.

Hello wonderful blogtastics, I can only apologise for my absence of late, I've been kept busy with various other projects, auditions and trying to write a musical, but I am back with a vengeance to give you a full report on the first episode of Jon Pertwee's third season and the ninth overall, The Day of The Daleks. Since Dalek creator Terry Nation, was unavailable to write this one we welcome back Louis Marks who wrote the Hartnell story Planet of Giants, and would go on to write two Tom Baker stories: Planet of Evil and The Masque of Mandragora. The script that had originally been submitted wasn't called Day of The Daleks and didn't actually feature the intergalacticly infamous pepper-pots at all. It was called The Ghost Hunters and featured a fairly nondescript group of alien oppressors. Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts liked the story and decided to develop it, substituting it's extraterrestrials for the Daleks, who hadn't been seen for five whole years after being destroyed (for good, supposedly) in the Patrick Troughton story, The Evil of The Daleks.

Radio Times cover.
They pulled out all the stops, including a specially shot television trailer, an illustrated Radio Times cover, and even a contest to win your own Dalek. In 1972 this was Event TV and it clearly paid off as the story received 10.2 million viewers. The Daleks return brought in the viewers and the story was excellent, if flatly directed, but what of the Daleks themselves? They spend most of their time in a control room, barking orders, and then try to invade earth with just three Daleks.

The most interesting part of The Day of The Daleks is it's surprisingly unusual plot that centres around time travel. Uncannily similar to James Cameron's motion picture 'The Terminator' (1984), the story centres around a small group of Guerillas from the future who time-travel to the present day to avert the domination of a totalitarian dictatorship, but end up causing the very events they set out to prevent. In Cameron's case it's Skynet, in the Doctor's it's the Daleks. 

It's the most interesting part of this story because surprisingly Doctor Who doesn't do it very often. You'd think in a series where the main premise centres around a man who can travel in time and space, you'd get this sort of thing all the time, but it's surprisingly rare.

The Doctor with the Guerillas, Boaz and Anat.
The story also has a political connection. The Guerillas Target is Sir Reginald Styles who is on a mission of peace. He is trying to coax the Chinese to attend the Second World peace conference (The first having taken place in The Mind of Evil) and prevent the escalation of war. This is a direct reference to the Sino-Russian border conflicts of 1969 which almost spiraled into a nuclear strike on China by the USSR. Styles's last attempt to broker peace by flying to Peking is also an analogue to the February 1972 visit of Richard Nixon to China that would eventually establish the future Washington–Beijing–Moscow diplomatic relationship. It is also interesting to see that when the story starts we are meant to believe that the Guerillas are "the baddies," but they turn out to be "the goodies." It forces an interesting notion, that the characterisation of good or bad, of terrorist of freedom fighter is totally in the eye of the beholder.

The Daleks have got themselves a police force, the Ogrons.
Rather shockingly the Doctor acts in a very uncharacteristic way in this story. He drinks wine, something we rarely see him do, but much worse than that, he kills two Ogrons. I'm sure the script suggested that he was defending himself but in actuality he seems to calculatedly kill two Ogrons in cold blood. This is certainly one of those moments, much like Hartnell's 'I'm gonna bludgeon this guy with a rock,' moment, where I initiate my selective memory.

"Oh no, someones shot him. Me? No it wasn't me!"
Episode Four was originally to have featured a confrontation between the Doctor and the Daleks, in which the Daleks explain how they destroyed those of their number who were infused with the Human Factor in the events seen in The Evil of the Daleks, and then turned their attention to conquering Earth by means of time travel. This scene was actually recorded but had to be cut at the editing stage for timing reasons. What I would give to see that...

Aubrey Woods gives a stage-like, exaggerated yet excellent
performance as the Dalek's Human Controller subordinate.
He's also really shiny and wears silver nail polish.
The Guerillas try to assassinate Sir Reginald Styles as they believe his death will stop the Daleks future domination of earth, but it is his death that would in fact be the cause. However we don't get this temporal paradox fully explained until an expositional scene in the last episode of the story. In the end the Doctor gets Styles to safety and one of the Guerillas sacrifices himself to destroy the invading Daleks.

Just three??
The story's most infamous moment is when the Daleks have followed the Doctor back to present day and along with a handful of ambling Ogrons attempt to invade earth with just three Daleks. This issue along with many others including, the somewhat stilted Dalek voices, lack of future earth imagery and sometimes longwinded editing has been adressed by Steve Broster in a special edition included on the official DVD release. The special edition includes, new effects shots, extra material including a vastly larger Dalek invasion force and new Dalek voices supplied by Nicholas Briggs. I was lucky enough to attend the first screening. It's an excellent piece of work and really brings the story bang up to date.

CONTROLLER: Where there any complications?
OGRON: No complications!
Without a doubt, one of my all time favourite moments in Doctor Who takes place in this story. I like it for all the wrong reasons. It's the "No complications" line. There are two extra actors who are playing the Ogrons reporting to the Controller on their mission to kill one of the Guerillas. One explains they were successful in his best attempt at how an Ogron might speak. When the controller asks, where there any complications the first Ogron's counterpart replies just a little too abruptly in a comparatively normal and unaffected voice, "No complications." It's hilariously bad and that's why I love it. 

All in all the story is incredibly strong, but it is let down by incredibly poor direction. Steve Broster makes up for some of this in his wonderful special edition, but it's still just a little under par. The prototype 'Terminator' story is excellent, and the political parallells to the story's creation are handled tastefully but the actual return of the Daleks seems a little stilted and inanimate.

Join me next time for the return of the Ice Warriors in The Curse of Peladon.

1 comment:

Bananaman said...

Don't believe all the stuff that idiot Barry Letts says. The directing on Day of the Daleks is very strong indeed. Any flaws are due to the ambition of the script, not the abilities of the director, which is not something you can say about "Terror of the Autons".  As for the "no complications" line, that's only daft when viewed in retrospect of "Frontier in Space." Again, Paul Cornell may be a good scriptwriter, but his analytical skills are piss poor.