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Doctor Who: Day of the Daleks

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // September 13, 2011
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted September 2, 2011 | E-mail the Author
 The Show:
Back in the 70's, as is still the case today, TV producers wanted to get as much publicity for their shows as they can, especially when a new season is about to start.  In the case of Doctor Who and Jon Pertwee's third season, they decided to bring back one of The Doctor's most infamous and evil adversaries:  The Daleks!  It has been 5 years since the bio-mechanical creatures had been seen and their return was sure to boost the ratings.  Armed with the idea, the adapted a script that was already in the works and created a great episode, marred only by some uninspired staging by the director.  Now the four episode serial is available in region one in a wonderful double disc set that contains some great extras including a Special Edition of the story where new special effects have been added in addition to reediting some of the more stodgy scenes. 

Sir Reginald Styles is an important British diplomat and the only person in the world who might be able to avert WWIII.   Thought the causes are never discusses, tensions are high and when the Chinese walk out on multilateral talks everyone fears the worst.  Styles realizes there is only one chance to avert war, and that is to get the Chinese back to the negotiating table, and he is the only westerner that they'll talk to.
On the eve of his departure to Peking however, someone in a strange military uniform breaks into Styles' office in the government-owned retreat of Auderly House and is about to kill the diplomat when they disappear.  Styles' assistant phones UNIT and informs them that a 'ghost' attacked Styles, and naturally the Doctor and Jo Grant are sent to investigate.

Arriving as Auderly House, The Doctor finds a lot of physical evidence proving that someone did attack Styles, including a wounded would-be assassin and his mysterious box.  The Doctor quickly realizes that the box is a crude time machine and so he isn't surprised when three more soldiers arrive at the retreat right after Styles departs for China.  The soldiers from the future take The Doctor and Jo hostage, but when Jo plays with one of their time machines she flung into the far future and discovers that the Earth is ruled by the Daleks.  It's up to The Doctor to stop the chain of events that lead to the Dalek invasion while also rescuing Jo from the future.
This is a great Doctor Who adventure.  It has everything:  mystery, time travel, evil monsters (both Ogrons and Daleks), high stakes, and even a fun chase sequence.  Viewers aren't sure if the people coming back through time are the good guys or the bad guys at first, and though the explanation of what's really going on is put off a bit too long (it's revealed in the last episode) viewers who have even a bit of imagination can figure it out long before that. 

It's also one of the few Doctor Who stories that actually deal with time travel and the paradoxes involved in such actions.  It gives the show a much stronger SF feel than many of the Pertwee stories that are filled with aliens, which is nice.  It's too bad they didn't embrace this and other SF standard plots a bit more in the classic series since this one works very well.
Pertwee is in his element here.  He gets to shout out lines of scientific mumbo-jumbo and engage in a bit of fisticuffs but he really shines when he's calm and collected and solves problems by just being the most brilliant guy in the room.  Though Jo is mainly a hostage, she does show a lot of initiative and a lot of the trouble she finds herself in is her own fault.  Overall a great adventure.

The DVD:

This release is a two-disc affair. The four episode story is on disc one while the second one is reserved for the bulk of the special features.
This show comes with the original mono soundtrack that fits the show just fine.  The dynamic range is nothing to write home about, but the dialog is generally crisp and clear and there is no background noise, tape hiss, distortion or dropouts.  There are optional subtitles in English.

I was pleased with the full frame color image.  The Restoration Team did their usual top-notch job.  The colors are nice and the fine detail is good.  The blacks are pretty strong too, but there is some detail lost in bright, white areas in a few scenes.  It's not a big deal though.  This looks very comparable to the other Who releases from this time frame, which means your getting a pretty solid transfer.   
This disc has some great extras included, as is the standard for Doctor Who releases.  The commentary track includes actors Anna Barry and Jimmy Winston, producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks, and vision mixer Mike Catherwood and is well worth a listen.  The first DVD also has a half-hour long making-of featurette, Blasting the Past.  This, as with all of the Doctor Who behind-the-scenes pieces, is much more than a typical EPK you'd find on a modern show.  It's not a fluff pieces at all, with various members of the cast and crew talking candidly about the director, writers, and actors.  In this, for example, nearly everyone takes the director to task (nicely of course) for not knowing how to film a battle scene.  It's refreshing to hear people involved with the production admitting to mistakes but also giving credit where credit is due.  A View from the Gallery (20 minutes) has Terrance Dicks and Mike Catherwood returning to the mixing studio where much of the Pertwee-era Who stories were created.
The first disc is rounded out with a 5 minute clip from children's show Blue Peter, a three minute human interest story from a news program about a school that won a miniature Dalek.
Most of the bonus material is found on disc two.   The video features start out with 'Special Edition' version of the story.  I really enjoyed this.  I'm not a huge fan of reediting movies or shows, but in this case I feel the result is significantly better than the original, and much closer to the vision of the original creative team.  They updated the special effects, adding laser beams and a nifty time-travel effect along with redoing the Dalek voices so they sounded more closely matched the voices in other classic episodes, but the main difference is in the big battle at the end.  In the original version the director really blew it.  He had the only three Daleks he had along with several Ogron warriors walking placidly across a field in a long shot while battle sounds were dubbed over.  It looks nothing like a battle.  In this SE version, the new director shot some new footage with a single Ogron actor and one Dalek (using the same type of camera originally used to shoot the sequence) along with some scenes of dirt flying from explosions.  He edited this into the original footage, mixing up close-ups and long shots and superimposing the effects of the explosions.  It really makes the scene come alive.  It's not longer a laughable sequence as you can't really tell how many Daleks are present.  It's something the original director should have done but didn't.  The great thing about this SE is that it's an extra.  The main feature is still the original version of the show we all love, and if you don't like it, there's no harm in skipping it entirely.
There's also a 13 minute look at the making of the Special Edition, a 5 minute Now and Then comparison between the two versions, and The Cheating Memory, a look at how memory can play tricks on you. 
Two fun and informative featurettes are also included, The UNIT Dating Conundrum (9 minutes) a look at the clues inside the show that help determine the year when the UNIT era of Doctor Who actually took place.  Except when the clues contradict each other.  There's also The UNIT Family Part 2, a half hour look at the members of UNIT and how well the actors got along behind the scenes.  It was really nice.
In addition there is a pop-up informational text option which is very informative as always.   It does give some dry statistics, like how many people viewed each episode, but there are also some interesting notes such as script changes that were made and background information on the supporting characters.  The extras are rounded off with storyboard comparison, a trailer for the story, a photo gallery, and the listing from the Radio Times in .pdf format.

Final Thoughts:
This is a really good Doctor Who serial.  In the extras several people bemoan the fact that the story isn't as amazing as they remember, having first seen it as a child, but it still has a lot going for it.  (The optional Special Edition version of the story is probably a lot closer to how they remember it.)  With a good amount of action and the Daleks utilized perfectly, it's a high point of the Pertwee era.  Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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