Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Serial 60: Day of the Daleks

Doctor: Jon Pertwee (3rd Doctor)
Companions: Jo Grant

Writtten by: Louis Marks
Directed by: Paul Bernard

Editor's Note: Hey, guys! I have the week off because I'm prepping for what's going to be a really... weird entry in a few weeks. So Cassandra is here and talking about a big ol' loopy time travel story. But with Daleks. Word on the street is she liked it. And you know what they say about 'dem streets...

Background & Significance: This story is kind of a big deal. 

As the first story in Doctor Who’s 9th season, “Day of the Daleks” promised to not only open the season with a bang, but also—well, Daleks.

Since their apparent departure in the epic Troughton serial, “Evil of the Daleks,” the Doctor’s first foes stayed off the air for essentially four years, before the BBC started wheedling script editor Terrance Dicks and producer Barry Letts to bring them back.  

But bring them back they did, and, though originally intended to appear at the very end of the season, instead got inserted into this lively little adventure, to open the season with a bit of spectacle.

“Day of the Daleks” is written by Louis Marks who wrote the enjoyable serial “Planet of Giants” wayyyy back in Hartnell’s second season.  He would later go on to write “Planet of Evil” and “Masque of Mandragora,” which gives him a pretty solid track record, at least in my book.  It’s directed by Paul Bernard, who would later go on to direct “The Time Monster” and “Frontier in Space,” so his track record after this is…not so good.  I honestly have no idea if this was a fluke or what, because… wow.

Anyway.  Enough of all that, let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Commentary!:

Part 1

I like that this first part is a bit… misleading.

It’s an interesting choice, starting off with a more ghost story vibe, and then ending with some Daleks yelling EX-TER-MIN-ATE as they love to do.

Just… everything about this.  The creepy ass house, the creepy ass dude trying to kill Sir Reginald.  How, later, the Doctor and Jo camp out in the house all night, trying to see if they come across anything.  I like how the temporal energy/travel is misconstrued as “vanishing” so we do end up with a ghost story, of sorts.  It’s neat.  It reminds me of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era, how they took horror tropes and repurposed them with a sci-fi spin.  It’s very much that sort of thing, and I really enjoy it.

Granted, the illusion doesn’t last very long because we’re treated with some information from the scary future time that everyone else in the story is not privy to, but then we get some dramatic irony, which I also enjoy.  It adds a certain scope to this story already in the first episode, which only gets bigger from here.

Speaking of added scope, I’ll address this up front: I’m watching from the recently re-released version of this story, with all the added in special effects and tweaks.  And there hasn’t been too much, just a computer-generated establishing shot of the future, but you know what, I don’t mind it at all.  I actually like what they did here.  It doesn’t distract too much, and I think the aesthetic of it fits in with the rest of the story and really adds some of the scope this story relies so much on going forward to be successful.

I mean, we’re only in the first episode, and there’s Daleks, Ogrons, time travel, crazy soldiers on an assassination mission, and threats of global war on the brink of starting.  This is a HUGE story, and, as such, I think it’s awesome that they shined it up a bit, brought the effects up to-date in such a way that couldn’t have been accomplished in the 70s. 

It’s like what they’ve been doing with Classic Trek, making all the shots in space and all the effects nice and pretty and HD quality.  I was skeptical at first, but you know what? I was wrong.  This sort of thing is awesome.

And maybe I’m just over-joyed at getting to see a Pertwee story again, but you know what?  This whole thing so far is awesome.  The sets, the costuming, everything.  I really really dig it.  And it’s nice to revisit with this particular Doctor and companions.  I don’t know what it is, but I really love this era a lot, and I honestly think I take it for granted.  Every time I watch a Pertwee story (though there are notable exceptions where I just want to dig my eyes out of my face with a spoon), I just end up loving Pertwee’s Doctor even more than I thought was possible.  The same holds true here, especially since everyone is on great form.

(Also, is it just me, or does Pertwee somehow manage to eat in every. single. serial. or what?)

And I like how the Doctor and UNIT are investigating all of these occurrences, possibly risking their lives for this asshole politician, just because he’s a key player in the diplomatic negotiations going down with China.  Because he is an asshole.  It’s kind of astounding.  I’m surprised the Doctor doesn’t just go “okay, fuck this,” and leave with a swirl of his fancy cloak.  Especially after the Brig and the Doctor find the soldier from the future and the ray gun.  It’s like, hello, they’ve got concrete evidence that something’s going on here, and you just kinda panic and blow them off?  If you think that’s going to help with anything, man, you really are stupid.  And you’d think a politician would be better at lying (ooh, burn, I’m sorry, it couldn’t be helped).

All that to say, the Brigadier and the Doctor are bosses.  I love them running around and trying to solve mysteries together.  It’s so classic and wonderful.  I just adore them both so much.

Know who else is kind of an asshole?  Captain Yates.  Stealing Benton’s food and he pulls rank on him.  Jesus Christ.  But that’s okay, because a) it’s funny, and b) there’s so much gay subtext in that scene I’m freaking out with weird fangirl joy, so I’ll allow it.

Sigh.  I really just love everything about this episode.  The writing is crisp, and the direction is lovely. Lovely.

Part 2

So I just noticed how the Daleks are voiced by Nick Briggs, who, of course, does all of the Dalek voices in nu-Who.  Which I kind of love, because you can tell that they people behind this restoration really cared about the quality of this story, only changing things for the better.  I might get some hate over this, but whatever.  I think it’s cool that they’re bringing this story more up to date for a contemporary audience.  Because this story ROCKS, and it’s the perfect kind of romp to introduce a newbie to some Classic Who.  And who doesn’t want more Classic Who fans?  Always a good thing.

So I like how this story progresses.  We get quite a bit up front, in the first episode, and in this, Louis Marks takes what we know, and builds on that.  We get the first proper interaction of the 20th century and the 22nd century, through Jo being sent into the future, and, at the end, the Doctor meeting the Dalek in the tunnel.  Which is lovely. 

And I feel like there’s not a whole lot of padding here. Granted, it’s only four episodes, which, thank the lord (not that I have anything against more than four episodes in a story, if it’s done right, but more often than not, it’s not done right, and there’s a shit ton of boring padding, ugh).  But it’s clipping along splendidly, and there’s a lot of great moments.  There’s still the mystery of why the soldiers are even going back into the past, and how the Daleks fit in with all of this.  There’s a great action set piece towards the end of the episode, with the Ogrons and the future soliders making a run for it.  There’s some great funny bits, like the Brig rolling up in that Jeep, shooting down the Ogron for the Doctor, and the Doctor just taking the Jeep right after.  And we have some great character bits, too, like with the Doctor and Jo tied up down in the cellar, giving us some exposition, as well as letting the story breathe.  It’s just a great execution of structure, and I really like this script.  Props to Louis Marks for that.

Now, I haven’t talked about the Doctor and Jo yet, so I’m gonna take the opportunity to do that now.  I just… I love the Doctor and Jo SO MUCH.  So much.  Their relationship, their whole dynamic just works.  And I love them in this.  They’re so comfortable with each other, and you can tell they just really care about each other and the Doctor is so pleased that Jo’s learning, and at how far she’s come.  And sure, he’s still kind of patronizing, but she’s so plucky, it really balances out nicely, I think.

And, can I say again how much I just love Pertwee’s interpretation of the Doctor?  I don’t even care that he obliterates an Ogron with a laser gun (okay, I do a bit).  I don’t know what it is about him, but I’m the most lenient with the Third Doctor when it comes to violence.  Granted, mostly all of it is done in self defense, all that glorious Venusian aikido.  I just eat that shit up.  It just fits the UNIT aesthetic so well. 

But he also manages to be suave and word-savvy and able to talk himself out of a lot of situations, as the previous Doctors did, which is nice, and that happens here as well.  It’s just a nice well-rounded balance of wacky martial arts antics and talking through scrapes.

Though Jo… Oh, Jo.  You’re trusting the wrong people, darling!  Granted, it’s not like she knows any better, and how is she to know this evil motherfucker from the 22nd century is really the true enemy?  I mean, she’s just come from being held at gunpoint by these soldiers, which is pretty traumatic, I’d say.  And Jo, she’s just concerned for the Doctor and looking for help, of course she’d be quick to accept any and all kindnesses thrown her way.  Though, he’s kind of creepy and definitely looks pretty evil.  But I’ll allow it.  It makes sense plot-wise, and character-wise, which is great.

Long story short, this is just so great, all of it.

Part 3

I will say one thing about this, it’s edited together very strangely.  At least, at the beginning of the episodes it is.  It reaches the point of the cliffhanger, and you can hear the crash of the end credits music for a second, and then it’s right back into the scene.  It’s very bizzare, and I’m not sure why it happens.

Otherwise, holy shit is this story superb.  Like, this is how you do a third episode.  You can tell it’s building to some grand finale stand-off action set piece, but it’s still action-packed and awesome in its own right.  There isn’t really any padding in this story at all, and it clips along effortlessly, in my opinion.  The episode is over too soon for me, and it leaves me needing to know how it ends, even though I’ve already seen this before.  So good.

The narrative in this just… blossoms.  That’s a good word for it.  It takes all the mythology and world-building up to this point, and introduces new elements that propel it towards the final episode.  We’ve been teased by all this evil Dalek-y future stuff in the first two episodes, and now we get to romp around in it.

And this story gets so dark in this episode, it’s stunning.  I love how dystopic and bleak this portrayal of the future is.  There’s cameras, and squads of police doing random sweeps.  There’s spies, and guerilla rebels, and a glimpse of what I presume to be the indentured servitude of the majority of the human populace.  And that shit’s dark, bro.  I love it.

There’s even implied torture.  Talk about bleak.  This is how you do a dystopia story right.

And it’s just so well-directed and realized.  The dried out grasses in the plain outside the city.  The dusty, metallic production areas.  Again, the computerized depictions of the city/citadel/green eye of Sauron/whatever that huge building is.  There’s lots of dark smoke and ominous saucers zipping about all over the place.  The sets of the Controller’s area are dark too, everything stark and metallic.  Even the people working there seem sapped of their humanity, interacting almost like robotic drones.  I noticed that they don’t really look each other in the eye when talking, and that’s a really interesting, unsettling touch.  Huge, huge props to Paul Bernard. 

More directorly kudos: the last action set piece, with Jo and The Doctor’s madcap escape.  Whew.  So good.  It’s so fast-paced, and cut together in such a way that it’s just beautiful and exciting and glorious to watch.  I’m not entirely sure if that’s the work of the restoration team or not, but I have a feeling no.  Or at least, I would like to believe that’s original.  It’s so wonderful, and years ahead of its time.

I’m just in love with everything about this story, I’m sorry if it’s a non-stop gushfest.  It’s super exciting to have a quality story to blog about.

It’s insane to me, though, that we’re three episodes in, and we still have no idea what the answer is to the fundamental mystery of this story: why are these guys so keen on changing history and assassinating Sir Reginald?  That’s insane.  And I don’t even care that they haven’t answered that yet!  Because we’re given all these other great mysteries and things to contemplate, like how the Daleks are even here in the first place, or what these production figures have to do with anything and how that all relates.  And how are the Doctor and Jo even going to get out of this one?!  The Daleks have positively identified the Doctor, have him strapped to a table, and they have Jo, too.  It’s just so thrilling. 

(Sidenote: this story is also how you do cliffhangers, in my opinion.  The first cliffhanger is the scary “reveal” of the Daleks, being all intimidating and screaming EX-TER-MIN-ATE in their trademark way; the second, the Doctor comes face to face with the Daleks and understands just how serious this situation is; and the third and final cliffhanger is the most dire of all: the Daleks have the Doctor prisoner, and escape seems highly unlikely.  Each centers around the Daleks, but it steadily builds and builds in intensity and OH SHIT-ness.  Yes.  This is how it is done, boys and girls.)

I also love how… arrogant the Daleks are.  They consider no other alternative to them winning and coming out on top in this whole thing.  They won’t allow for questioning, because to them, it’s already a done deal.  They’ve won, of course they’ve won, because they are Daleks, and they are superior.  It’s quite glorious.  And of course, they’re so sure of themselves, that’s bound to be their downfall.

And you know what?  Fuck Terry Nation.  I love Dalek stories not written by him.  Can you even imagine this story written by Terry Nation?  No.  Because he wouldn’t do this.  This serial is so refreshing, and entertaining, and well-paced, with none of the typical Nationisms.  I mean, sure, there’s a bit of run around and capture and escape, but it’s Doctor Who, for god’s sake, that’s just part of the show.  But I think it’s done quite well here, and I’m glad for that.  There are already too many shitty Nation-penned Dalek run-arounds.  I’m glad this is something of substance, something worthy of the Daleks’ return to the show after four seasons.

Wow, I’ve been gushing.  Let’s finish this, shall we?

Also, Pertwee is eating again. I love him.

Part 4

So, before this is over, I need to talk about the Controller and how awesome he is.  I had this thought before in the last part, but I forgot to talk about it then, so you’re getting it now.  I do what I want.

Anyway.  So I really like the Controller.  Remember how I mentioned in the first part how the ghost-story setting was almost Holmsian?  The same thing, I think, applies to the Controller in this story.  He’s a totally classy, dapper villain, a suitable foil for the Doctor, I think, especially Pertwee.  But he’s really just one part of a classic Robert Holmes double-act.  I mean, think about it.  You have the suave front-man, the seeming villain of the story, but really, just the spokesperson for the menacing Other that is far more powerful and far scarier than the spokesman could ever hope to be.  In this story, it’s the Daleks.  And even though the Daleks are introduced relatively early into the story, the Controller continues to speak for them throughout, until he decides to be all awesome and noble and help the Doctor out, which I love.

Another complaint I have about this story is I feel that it moves almost too fast?  Unless I missed something in a prior part, but all over a sudden this mustached leader of the guerilla fighters showed up, and for a while I thought he was the guy left behind, because they look rather similar.  So that could have been explained more, I think.  But maybe I’m just turning into a cranky old person.  Kids these days.

The thing about this story is it waits until the last possible moment to deliver all this exposition, and you know what?  I don’t even care that they’re just sitting around telling me all of this, because I’ve been wanting it so bad for so long.  It’s quite awesome, if you think about it.  And a really effective story-telling technique, I think.  I mean, I wish it were a bit more subtle than “let’s all sit around the suite and talk about the history of the world for the past 200 years” but hey, it’s still pretty neat.  It also helps that the mythology and world building of this has been superb, so I’m actually interested in what he has to say.

I love how we have all of these things set up in the prior episodes, like the reason why the earth got so fucked over in the 22nd century, why the renegades are trying to kill Sir Reginald, the whole diplomatic conference, the impending attack of the Daleks.  And they just all start falling into place as we race towards the finish, like so many dominos toppling over each other and making one of those pretty pictures.  It’s quite glorious.  This story just does everything right, doesn’t it?  Jesus.

AND THE ACTION.  The action.  Oh my god, I don’t even have words.  I know they doctored it up to look impressive in the re-release, to add some scope to the battle, but it is SO FLIPPIN AWESOME.  Like, it’s still really apparent that they could only afford 3 Daleks, but they edit them rolling out of the tunnel on Earth in such a way that is really quite ingenious, I think. 

I honestly don’t know if I have anything else to say about this, lest I fangirl for the rest of the time.  Ugh it’s just so good, I’m in shock.


Final Thoughts?: So… if you haven’t gathered by now, I love this. Unabashedly. 

Everything about it is excellent.  The Doctor and Jo are in top form.  If I have one complaint, it’s because there’s not enough Brigadier?  But I’m biased, because he’s my favorite.  Love Yates and Benton and the silly repartee they have.  Really like The Controller.  Not so hot on the soldiers, but you know, they did their jobs convincingly enough.

The script is great, the direction is stunning.  Some of the shots in this are just swoon-worthy, they way they’re composed.  I love how the whole thing just starts, and once it starts, it doesn’t stop.  It’s well-paced, moves along at a much fast clip than is expected in a Classic Who story, which I like.  It’s refreshing and wonderful and just a fun romp with some super dark elements that I’d either forgotten about, or wasn’t paying too much attention to the first time around, because I honestly wasn’t expecting them.

And you know what?  It’s a great Dalek story.  I like how the Daleks don’t really get involved til the end, because then they’re in control longer.  Let’s be real; the Daleks are ruling an entire empire.  They have minions to do their dirty work.  They’ve got human puppets to smooth everything over for them.  And that’s exactly what happened here, and I love it.  It’s realistic; at least, as realistic as a show like Doctor Who can get, I suppose.  I just mean in the way it portrays power.  The Daleks don’t get involved until the very end, and it’s set up in such a way that you KNOW shit’s about to hit the fan, because the Daleks are getting their metaphorical hands (plungers?) dirty.  And it’s awesome.

So suck on that, Terry Nation.


Next Time!: First Doctor! Susan! Barbara and Ian (squee)! Creepy ass aliens! Susan has weird mental abilities! And that's all I remember of this story because it's really boring! Matt's back next Tuesday to take on "The Sensorites!"

1 comment:

  1. Ah, there's never enough Brigadier! Somewhere, there's an alternate universe where that proposed series of UNIT stories got made. If anyone finds it, download the episodes for me, yeah?
    :-)

    ReplyDelete