Featuring the first onscreen appearance of the Doctor’s arch enemies in nearly five years, it would be fair to say that, at the time, Louis Marks’ 1972 story Day Of The Daleks was somewhat highly anticipated.
The opening serial of the shows ninth season, and the third to feature Jon Pertwee’s incarnation of the Time Lord, Day Of The Daleks has long had a somewhat clouded reputation among Doctor Who fans.
Praised for its cohesive script, but decried for its somewhat shoddy execution on screen, Day has in many ways been something of a guilty pleasure among fandom these past 38 years. However, thanks to DVD producer Steve Broster, and the brilliant work he’s overseen on this ‘special edition’ release of the story, Day Of The Daleks has graduated into an outright joy.
A clever and recursive tale revolving around a present day peace conference, time-travelling freedom fighters, grotesque Ogrons and the return of the Doctor’s titular arch-enemies, Day is packed to the brim with incident and ambition.
Clearly a victim of ambition crashing up against the practicalities of early 70s television production, most of the show’s problems can be laid at the doorstep of the usual Who complaint of too little time, too little money. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story, and in among the usual rushed scenes and occasional dropped line, there were some pretty horrific faux-pas.
For a start, the bizarre and distinctly un-Dalek-like voices that Skaro’s finest squawk out for much of the story are clearly an on-set mistakes. And as for the jaw dropping, climactic assault on Auderley House by a combined attack force of Daleks and Ogrons… well, it’s jaw dropping for all the wrong reasons.
Prosaically shot, and not even bothering to disguise the fact that the production had just three Daleks and a couple of Ogrons at their disposal, it’s one of the great missed opportunities in Who history.
Add those two major missteps together, and then bundle them up with a whole raft of production shortcuts that classic Who was famous for and, well, you’re left with a whole bunch of flaws that certain people simply cannot see beyond.
The beauty of Broster’s redux version of Day Of The Daleks – with its enhanced effects, specially shot new footage and superbly re-recorded Dalek voices by modern series voice artiste, Nick Briggs – is that it allows the fog of prejudice to lift and the show to be judged on its own merits.
And there are many moments to savour in this story; whether that be the Doctor’s assessment of the quality of Audeley House’s wine cellar, the Brigadier’s (Nicholas Courtney) usual stiff-upper lip charm or the Daleks’ gleeful subjugation of the future Earth.
For my money – and especially in this enhanced form – Day Of The Daleks emerges as the best of the Third Doctor’s three tussles with the pepperpots from Skaro. A more engaging story than 1974’s Death To The Daleks, and a much tighter affair than 1973’s excessively padded Planet Of The Daleks, Day is a solid story in its own right, which is enhanced by the Daleks’ involvement, but not defined by it.
With its use of a time-paradox at the centre of the story, and its reinstatement of the Daleks as world conquering uber-bastards, it’s clear that Day was a profoundly influential story on future showrunners Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat during their formative years.
It’s interesting to note, as so often seems to be the case during this welcome reissue of the classic series on DVD, that once again it’s the Pertwee era that emerges as the true foundation stone of the phenomenon we know as Doctor Who. Under the auspices of producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks, Doctor Who was a show made with love, care and intelligence, and it’s truly wonderful to see those virtues repaid in kind by Steve Broster’s magnificent special edition.
Aside from the special edition of Day Of The Daleks, this two-disc release is jam-packed with other tantalising extras for the discerning Whovian.
The first disc contains the original, unaltered version of Day, over which you get a DVD commentary featuring both Letts and Dicks, along with cast members Anna Barry (Anat) and Jimmy Winton (Shura), as well as vision mixer Mike Catherwood. As with most of the releases from this era, it’s a perfectly entertaining track, though it’s perhaps missing that little extra sparkle of wit that Katy Manning and Nicholas Courtney usually bring to the table.
The making-of documentary, Blasting The Past, is another really good 2/Entertain behind-the-scenes piece, which brings together the cast and crew to reminisce about the show’s relative strengths and weaknesses.
However, what lifts this piece above the standard is the amount of time it spends talking to people such as Paul Cornell, Ben Aaronovitch and Nicholas Briggs about the influence of the story on their own work, and on the show as a whole.
Rounding out the first disc are a pair of a few clips of old Who-related TV spots. First up is an extract from a 1970s episode of Nationwide, featuring a Who competition, while the second is a short clip from Blue Peter, with Peter Purves looking back on his time in the TARDIS as William Hartnell’s companion, Steven Taylor.
Disc two, as you’d expect, is devoted to the special edition of this particular story. Aside from the reconstructed episode itself, we’re treated to an excellent making-of piece for the special edition, which features tons of interesting behind the scenes snippets from the extensive reconstruction process.
A lovely companion piece, The Cheating Memory, explores how our childhood memories are usually at odds with the reality of what we saw in our youth. Introduced by special edition producer Broster, it’s an interesting piece and helps contextualise Broster’s own motivation for revisiting Day Of The Daleks.
Rounding out the second disc are two short pieces devoted to UNIT. The first, The UNIT Family, Part Two, carries on from an earlier release, while the second, The UNIT Dating Conundrum, humorously tries to get its head around just when the various UNIT stories really do take place. Short answer: don’t even bother!
You can rent or buy Doctor Who: Day Of The Daleks at Blockbuster.co.uk.