Doctor Who: Day of the Daleks
(4 episodes, s09e01-e04, 1972)
The Daleks are back, and they seem to have recovered from the Second Doctor’s confrontation with the Emperor Dalek so long ago.
I really loved this story because of how it is framed. What starts as a simple UNIT investigation of a diplomat being stalked by strange ghost-like guerrillas ends up being much deeper than many of the stories from the last set.
Sir Reginald gets attacked by a strange human warrior with a gun who vanishes without a trace, almost like a ghost. Another guerrilla appears from thin air and is instantly attacked by an ape-like creature in an act of gorilla on guerrilla warfare. (Okay, that was a bit insensitive.) And then, as if we needed more conflict, the Daleks enter the stage, and even though they aren’t front and center in this story, they’re still menacing and sinister because they’re pulling all of the strings on all of these puppets.
All of this before we even get to the time travel, and I was riveted.
And then the creative team turned this exploration of the human condition up to eleven.
After spending a night at Sir Reginald’s house (and raiding his extensive wine cellar), the Doctor and Jo are attacked by the guerrillas and held hostage. Jo escapes and is inadvertently transported to the future. She innocently tells the Controller where to find the Doctor, and the Controller sends a team of Ogrons (the ape-like creatures) to kill the guerrillas. The guerrillas escape, the Doctor gives chase, a Dalek chases all of them, and the Doctor and the rebels end up in the future. After a series of political ping-pong events, the Doctor ends up in the care of the Controller, gets the down-low on what happened to the planet, and eventually sways the Controller’s attitudes on the peril of humanity and his role in a lineage of “Quislings“.
As events come together like a jigsaw puzzle, the Doctor discovers that these events are a predestination paradox started by one of the rebel guerrillas setting a Dalekanium bomb in an attempt to stop the future of enslavement and death from coming to pass. At that point, my jaw dropped.
This. Is. Doctor Who.
It’s hard to find highlights here because the whole story shines so brightly: I loved how the Doctor was so much more civil with the Brigadier than in past interactions, including their building trust and synergy (“do tell the Marines”); I adored the (hopefully budding) relationship between Sgt Benton and Jo; I enjoyed watching Jo finally expanding her horizons and learning to be a worthy companion for this Doctor.
The Doctor is still working on the TARDIS, and his new-found civility extends to Jo as he frankly tells her that he doesn’t want to be an intergalactic puppet for the Time Lords and their High Council. He’s moving beyond his childish temper tantrums and taking action with what appears to be a new sense of purpose. Ironically, it was the Time Lords who provided it by allowing the Doctor and Jo to travel in the TARDIS once again.
The quick (almost non-sequitur) time loop a the beginning was fascinating, especially since the recent incarnations of the Doctor are very cautious about crossing their own timelines. This thread is never mentioned again in the story and left me wondering why it was important.
On the downside for this serial, the Doctor uses a gun to kill an Ogron. Sure it was self-defense, but it was also way out of character.
I also questioned the role of the Ogrons. I mean, yes, they make great hired muscle, but isn’t it uncharacteristic for the xenophobic Daleks to even consider working with them? Or is this more of a “use them then lose them” plan like the alliance in The Daleks’ Master Plan? Speaking of the Daleks, they discovered the secret of time travel for this story, but hadn’t they done this before?
On the new sound for the Dalek death rays, I don’t like it.
Finally, swinging back to the good things, it was nice to see that The Daleks don’t recognize the Doctor’s new face. They know that he has changed appearance before and use a mind analysis machine to determine if he is indeed the Doctor, but it took an extra step to establish that logic. Thank goodness.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Curse of Peladon
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.