It’s 1972 and, after an absence of five years, the Daleks are back in ‘Doctor Who’ - on TV in colour for the first time and pitted against dandified third Doctor Jon Pertwee! Anticipation is, if not at the sort of fever pitch generated by the publicity machine behind today’s version of the series, pretty high. But whilst ’Day of the Daleks’ turns out to be the sort of clever, exciting time-travel paradox story the show, oddly, hadn’t really traded much in before (but which Mr Moffat throws away in a one-liner in a twenty-first century episode) the metal meanies from Skaro were themselves a bit of a disappointment; they looked much as they’d always looked but their voices weren’t quite right and the show made little effort to disguise the fact that the BBC’s Dalek stocks had run down to just three casings. Oddly, ‘Day of the Daleks’ is a brilliant ‘Doctor Who’ story… if only it wasn’t for the Daleks themselves… If any classic ‘Doctor Who’ deserved a CGI wash-and-brush-up ‘special edition’ it’s this one and here, at last, is ‘Day of the Daleks’ with many of its warts removed, its Dalek voices improved, new special effects and even a handful of new scenes seamlessly integrated into the original footage.
Purists may shiver and shake at the very idea of tampering with sacred ‘Doctor Who’ but they can content themselves with the original four-part 1972 edition nestling safely on the first disc of this two-disc DVD set. They’ll also find the usual ‘making of’ documentary reuniting many of the surviving cast and crew (but alarming how many of them - Brigadier star Nicholas Courtenay and Producer Barry Letts in particular - have passed away since the featurette was shot). An amusing clip from a contemporary edition of the BBC magazine show ‘Nationwide’ in which a school kid explains how she gets frightened when the Daleks “desterminate” people, a ‘Blue Peter’ extract where presenter Peter Purves reveals that he used to be in ‘Doctor Who’ “a long time ago - six years ago” before the Daleks invade the studio, ‘View from the Gallery’ where the late Letts and vision mixer Mike Catherwood return to the BBC in Wood Lane and reminisce about making the show in the 1970s, the usual production subtitles, photo gallery and commentary round out disc one. But it’s disc two which the more open-minded will be loading, fumble-fingered, into their DVD players because this is where ‘Day of the Daleks’ really comes alive…
‘Day of the Daleks’, of course, famously pre-dates James Cameron and his ‘Terminator’ by well over a decade; here future terrorists travel back to the present to assassinate the man they believe was responsible for a terrible war which left the Earth weak and defenceless and ultimately vulnerable to Dalek invasion. The beautiful paradox is that it’s the terrorists who caused the war by travelling back in time to prevent it. This is clever stuff, revealed in a slightly-clumsy if unavoidable info-dump in the final episode, but these four episodes, even before their visual updating, are full of action, incident and atmosphere. Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, now in his third year, is in his prime, surrounded by his little UNIT family of feisty assistant Jo Grant (Katy Manning), the doubtable Brigadier (Courtenay) and Captain Yates (Richard Franklin) and Sergeant Benton (John Levene). Comfortable in the role, Pertwee sails through the story with elegance, eloquence and charm aplenty, indulging in spirited fisticuffs with Ogrons and rebels alike and happy to indulge in a bit of high-minded moralism with the Daleks’ human Controller (Aubrey Woods). There are a handful of ambitious set pieces, from the Ogron attack in part two, an amusing chase sequence with the Doctor and Jo bouncing around on a trike with dim-witted Ogrons lumbering after them, and the notorious leisurely attack on the country house by three Daleks. Disappointing as some of these might have been at the time (although I seem to have been reasonably pleased just to see the Daleks again in 1972) there’s a naïve charm about it all and there’s no doubt that the storyline is sophisticated and thought-provoking and some of the more casual violence and brutality quite striking. The CGI upgrades on the ‘special edition’ go a long way towards ironing out the creases though and the four cleaned-up episodes on disc two tighten up the story and make it look a bit more presentable to a modern audience without losing any of the ‘period piece’ charm of the original.
Many of the improvements to ‘Day of the Daleks’ are hugely sympathetic to the original images and some rather shoddy 1970s effects are replaced by glitzy modern CGI. Gun battles have added flash and bang, Dalek extermination effects now feature the ‘skeleton’ negative of the modern series and, deliciously, gunfire which had previously just ‘vaporised’ its target now literally explodes it with a satisfying ‘splattering’ sound effect as disintegrated flesh hits the ground. Perhaps best of all is the removal of the feeble Daleks voices of the original (provided by Oliver Gilbert and Peter Messaline) where it appeared that the BBC had totally forgotten what the Daleks are supposed to sound like, replaced by dialogue revoiced by Nicholas Briggs who provides Dalek voices for the new version of the show. Briggs hasn’t just recreated the guttural madness of the modern Daleks, though; he’s given his replacement dialogue a bit of an echo and it manages to beautifully evoke the controlled hysteria of the original 1960’s Daleks whilst still sounding recognisably like the Daleks as we hear them today. The troublesome final ‘battle’ sequence as a handful of UNIT soldiers languidly fight three Daleks and six Ogrons, moving unhurriedly towards Auderly House, was always going to be a difficult one to rectify as the pace of the original footage is so slow, but it’s amazing what a few more explosions, a bit of flying turf and a few additional CGI Daleks can do. Cheekily, the DVD team even went back to the original location with a Dalek and a handful of extras, used 1970s camera technology, and filmed some new scenes which have been artfully threaded into the original footage. Perhaps the only CGI enhancement which doesn’t really work is the too-artificial futurescape which shows three towers jutting into the sky and a few Dalek saucers whizzing about. To these eyes it looks just a bit too much like something from a cheap 1980s video game but fortunately the rest of the new FX sequences are so well done it’s easy to forgive this couple of shots which don’t quite work.
‘Day of the Daleks’ is great, pretty much essential ‘Doctor Who’ whether you’re a Luddite and just want to see the show the way it was or whether you’re happy to embrace the shock of the new and see the story sizzle, it’s a thrilling, fast-paced adventure with never a dull moment, a few arch performances and, of course, the urbane Jon Pertwee at the peak of his powers and his popularity. With the classic ‘Doctor Who’ DVD releases winding down now, there’s probably not much left in the Archives which could deserve a visual reconsideration like ‘Day of the Daleks’ (save perhaps, ropey 1974 yarn ‘Death to the Daleks’) and after a run of releases which have been a little less than essential (‘Paradise Towers’? Do me a favour…), ‘Day of the Daleks’ really has got ‘must see’ written all over it as is quite possibly the best ‘Doctor Who’ DVD release to date.
Other special features: As well as the obligatory ‘making of’ for the ‘special edition’, cast and crew recall the 1970s in the second part of ‘the UNIT family’ (only the hardest heart won’t be moved by the sight of Benton actor John Levene close to tears as he recalls hearing the news of the death of Master actor Roger Delgado in 1973), a brief feature which tries to unravel the contentious issue of just when 1970s Earthbound ‘Doctor Who’ stories were set, a ‘now and then’ feature which revisits the story’s locations to find many of them largely un changed and ‘the memory cheats’ tries to explain why we remember ‘Doctor Who’ in different ways.
'Day of the Daleks - Special Edition' is out now on DVD