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Doctor Who IX.1: Day of the Daleks

April 30th, 2010 (02:35 am)

Day of the Daleks reveals a Doctor Who team rediscovering the programme's past. The reformatting of the series into a harder-nosed contemporary science fiction adventure of 1970 has been put behind it, though the trappings of UNIT remain. Day of the Daleks is more family-friendly again than was Terror of the Autons the year before. There is little time given to the re-establishment of UNIT as part of the format, unsurprising given that the only time we will see the UNIT lab set again this series are brief moments at the start of The Mutants and The Time Monster. Even more than in the previous year, UNIT seem to be a three-man team, with expendable other ranks drafted in to be disintegrated/exterminated as required.

The Daleks feel like long-lost relatives cautiously making themselves at home. Oliver Gilbert and Peter Messaline's halting delivery suggests this, as does the somewhat flat characterization. None of Paul Bernard's crash zooms, wiped dissolves, oblique camera angles and rapid cutting can ultimately disguise that there are only three Dalek casings available to make the story, and consequently the Daleks seem somewhat fragile and exposed. The Daleks are unconvincing villains here, insufficiently paranoid, complacently relying on Ogrons and a human bureaucracy to enforce their rule. If I had only learned that this became a Dalek story late in its development when rewatching this evening, I would not have been surprised. The parallel between the three Daleks of the twenty-second century, and the UNIT three of the Brig, Yates and Benton is amusing but probably unintentional.

There are some good motifs, though: there are running gags about food and drink, especially wine; from the Doctor's enthusiastic commandeering of Sir Reginald Styles's wine cellar in episode one, mirrored by the Doctor's regret over Jo's using a bottle containing a "good vintage" to knock out an Ogron two episodes later; the Doctor's fight with an Ogron includes some great comic timing as Pertwee swigs his wine between inflicting Venusian aikido on the hapless Dalek henchman. The Controller convinces Jo of his good intentions by presenting her with a plate of grapes, as well as the fundamental Biblical symbol of temptation, an apple. Another theme is the rejection of an inevitable identification of modernism and brutalism: the Doctor's horror at the sight of the tower blocks in which twenty-second century people live is balanced by his insistence that there are limits to his being "old-fashioned". The future of humanity is not to become a component in a machine, but to retain an individual appreciation of vintage wine and good architecture as well as one's own responsibility to make moral decisions.

Anna Barry's Anat is this story's representation of the woman in authority, a figure who crops up frequently in late 1960s/early 1970s Doctor Who; her powers of command are derived from her ability to control her compassion, her anger and the political fanaticism derided by the Controller; whereas her counterpart, the Controller's assistant, delivers her lines without emotion, her personality suppressed, marking her as a slave despite the arguments of her society that the machine culture of the Daleks which she imitates is superior. It's Anat with whom Jo seems to develop something of a rapport, bidding her farewell with a 'Take care'. While I was often annoyed, when an older child, of the Doctor's 'young friends' being addressed as children as Jo is here (see, for example, the relegation of Adric and Nyssa to child status in Black Orchid, which grates particularly concerning the role Nyssa has to play), given that Jo's learning experience is an ongoing theme of the series at this point and that Anat is offered as a role model for Jo (though they share little screen time) it's just about excusable.

Comments

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 30th, 2010 11:46 am (UTC)
Doctor Who

I've always liked Day of the Daleks.

The parallel between the three Daleks of the twenty-second century, and the UNIT three of the Brig, Yates and Benton is amusing but probably unintentional.

It would be clearer if the three Daleks were somewhat incompetent and had a fondness for hot beverages.

the fundamental Biblical symbol of temptation, an apple

Although the apple appears nowhere in Genesis, being added by medieval painters (the fruit in Genesis is unspecified). It's interesting in this context that at least two of the guerrillas have biblical and/or Israeli names, apparently being based on both the Israeli army and the PLO.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 30th, 2010 11:50 am (UTC)
Pertwee

You're right, of course, about the apple. 'Fundamental symbol of tempation in western Christian iconography' then, or the like.

I didn't go into the Israeli/PLO names. Louis Marks is Jewish, of course, which is an undoubted influence. I think I'd have enjoyed the story more in the hands of a director better suited to action, which I don't think Paul Bernard is.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 30th, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
Doctor Who

Louis Marks is Jewish, of course

I suspected as much, but I wasn't sure.

I think I'd have enjoyed the story more in the hands of a director better suited to action, which I don't think Paul Bernard is.

This is possibly one of those occasions where the novel is better than the TV version. The early episodes in particular seem a little under-rehearsed.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 30th, 2010 03:40 pm (UTC)

Indeed on the under-rehearsal. It and the unorthodox recapping suggest that Barry Letts was distracted while this one was in production.