Doctor Who: The Dalek Collection DVD box set review

All of the dalek stories from the revival of Doctor Who in one box set! Er, haven't we got them all already?

I can’t help wondering who would want to buy the Dalek Collection DVD box set. It could be either aimed at obsessive completists who need to own everything, or aimed at occasional viewers who can’t be bothered to get any other DVDs but absolutely love the Daleks. I’d suggest that whoever buys it is likely to be disappointed. Other than an interview with David Tennant, the box set contains no new material and with the strange omission of Army Of Ghosts/Doomsday doesn’t even contain all the Dalek episodes in the new series.

The fact that this is released in the same month Frontier In Space and Planet Of the Daleks have been packaged together as the Dalek War box set, suggests a similar attempt to use the box set format to construct a retrospective mythology, a reverse engineered arc storyline that ties all the new series appearances of the Daleks together and pretends that Russell T Davies had a plan after all. This is not a bad idea. We all like to think Davies had a plan. This is what made the ‘Bad Wolf’ arc so appealing, it played on the fans’ natural OCD desire to organise and tidy, to connect and link and catalogue.

The very existence of this box set could be a comforting reassurance to fans that everything has a destiny, that the Doctor’s story is pre-ordained, particularly apt when considering the ultimate example of retcon/loose-end tying in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.

I guess the only way to tackle this is to look at each episode (or two part episode) to assess whether it contributes, as the existence of the box set suggests, to a coherent, ongoing narrative of the Doctor versus the Daleks.

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The first episode in the box set reintroduces the Daleks by surprisingly presenting them in the singular. The intention of this is to delay the impact of seeing an army of Daleks in the climax of the first season, but it also has a more subtle effect. Pitting the new Doctor and Rose against a single, at first seemingly defenceless Dalek, slowly reveals to the viewer the antagonistic relationship between the Time Lord and the monster.

The episode acts as a close reading of the Dalek design, relying on Christopher Eccleston’s superb emotive performance rather than bombastic spectacle to relay to the viewer the reason why the Dalek is such a durable icon. Introducing the individual Dalek on an emotional rather than spectacular level is at the same time a cautious and brave thing to do. Brave because it goes against audience expectation and delays the visual impact of a Dalek army, and cautious because it allows Davies, as nearly happened, to replace the Dalek at the last minute and introduce a replacement.

Dalek is an important episode, setting the parameters of the new series approach to the monster while, at the same time, providing a teaser for the climactic final episodes when…

Bad Wolf/The Parting Of The Ways

…the Daleks are initially ignored and overshadowed by a self-indulgent episode of pop-culture references and a return to the scene of The Long Game, possibly the weakest moment of the first season.

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Perhaps I’m being unfair. Bad Wolf slowly introduces the idea of a temporal manipulation and, as the episode unfurls, the scale of this grows in intensity. The reveal of the Dalek battlefleet and the Doctor vowing to destroy them is perhaps the most exciting thing to happen in this episode.

The real Dalek story kicks off the following week. The Parting Of The Ways is, for me, the best of the four season climaxes. Davies uses the two part nature of the episodes to throw the Doctor into the action from the outset. The sight of a legion of Daleks surrounding Billie Piper is one of the many memorable images of the new series, fulfilling thousands of fans’ dreams of seeing Daleks en-masse without the need to resort to unconvincing models or second hand Rolykin toys.

The Doctor’s desperation as he attempts to ‘Plan A’ and ‘Plan B’ his way out of the situation ratchets up the tension and, at the same time, demonstrates the power and endurance of the Daleks.

The final regeneration scene is, as in Caves Of Androzani, entirely in keeping with the preceding story. It doesn’t feel tacked on, but instead becomes a culmination of the grand rebirth of the Dalek threat. This threat is developed in the following season climax, where the Daleks are pitted against the Cybermen in a spectacular battle that had fans drooling, an episode which is inexplicably left out of the box set. Instead, we move on to…

Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution Of The Daleks    

Judging by the recent DWM poll, this two-parter is among the least loved of all the new series episodes. Watching it again, I can’t help thinking this is a little unfair.

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While it is certainly the weakest adventure in this box set, the story does have aspects that are commendable. Placing the Daleks in a historical setting is an underused but very satisfying conceit and the period details are convincingly presented. The problem here is that the historical setting turns out not to be very interesting.

Compared with the previous Dalek episodes, these seem small and contained. In the context of the mythologizing arc claimed by this box set the story becomes a filler between the Emperor Dalek and Davros, almost a Dalek holiday. The concept of a human/Dalek hybrid is suitably creepy and well done, but I can’t help preferring the realisation of a similar idea in Revelation Of The Daleks.

For me, despite the claims of the production team at the time, the world of Art Deco and Dalek design don’t gel easily. In all, the season three Dalek episodes have the appearance of a desire to include the Daleks regardless of story.

I’m not a huge fan of the endlessly repeated ‘surprise’ appearances of Daleks at the end of the season, but if you are going to include them, it is best to make them the centre of the story. This criticism cannot be levelled at the final two episodes in this box set.

The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End 

With the exception of Bad Wolf/The Parting Of The Ways, I’ve always found the penultimate episode of the seasons to be more satisfying than the last and, for me, The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End did not break this trend.

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The Stolen Earth is spectacular. This doesn’t mean it’s great. I’d contend that the best episodes of the new series, Human Nature, Blink, Utopia, achieve greatness without spectacle.

The penultimate episode of season four manages (just about successfully) to cram in all the tenth Doctor’s previous companions and to link the previously unlinkable worlds of the Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood without contradicting the ethos of either series.

Drawing these elements together, Davies proves himself to be the best puzzle solver in the business. I can’t help thinking that if faced, as Robert Holmes was, with the challenge of writing The Five Doctors, Russell T Davies wouldn’t have blinked.

The presence of familiar faces, and of characters who are aware of the Daleks makes the monsters introduction one of the most emotive and exciting of the series. The fear shown by Jack Harkness, Martha Jones and Sarah Jane, matched by the grim resolve of Rose, serves to demonstrate the gravity of the Dalek invasion. It’s just a pity the Doctor and Donna are absent from the action for most of the first episode.

On watching the faux-regeneration for the first time on TV I was genuinely thrilled thinking, perhaps naively, that the ultimate deception had been pulled off by the production team. The resolution the following week was, to say the least, underwhelming, but these episodes are saved by Julian Bleach’s creepy, pitch perfect depiction of Davros, the true and original Dalek/human hybrid.

Once again, the season ends on a downer, Donna’s ‘death’, but unlike the Doctor’s regeneration in The Parting Of The Ways, these scenes appear to be just delaying the end of the episode. After so many goodbyes, Donna’s fate seems detached and superfluous to the story, which is a shame because it is a genuinely sad scene brilliantly played by Tennant, Catherine Tate and the soon to return Bernard Cribbins.

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The Collection

This box set is a mixed bag of episodes that the target audience presumably already own or have seen four or five times on BBC Three. It has some corking moments, but, bizarrely, by leaving out Army Of Ghosts and Doomsday, it does not even contain a complete set of the Dalek episodes. It feels a little like a marketing department exercise in legacy building to me – a way of thematically bottling the last four seasons to create a defined Russell T Davies ‘era’ before the start of Steven Moffat’s run as producer. While I can’t blame them for attempting this, I would suggest that it could be done in a cheaper and, perhaps, a less cynical way.

The box set comes with one special feature: an interview with David Tennant. This doesn’t really contribute anything new and is more self-congratulatory than analytical. Indeed ,a great deal of time is spent during the interview talking about Doomsday, only drawing attention to the episode’s absence from the collection.

I’d give the episodes more stars individually than I would give the box set – but the box set I would give two stars.

Doctor Who: The Dalek Collection will be released on October 19.

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2 out of 5