Planet of the Daleks ***

"Terry Nation rummages in his Dalek grab bag and picks out all the best elements from previous tales"

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Doctor Who story guide
Mark Braxton
Mark Braxton
Planet of the Daleks ***

Season 10 – Story 68

"They've got an army based here, Jo - the mightiest army of Daleks there's ever been" - the Doctor

Storyline
Before falling into a coma, the injured Doctor sends a telepathic instruction to the Time Lords to pilot his Tardis in pursuit of the Daleks. The ship lands on the perilous jungle planet of Spiridon, which Jo explores in order to find help. She meets a party of Thals, who are investigating reports of a 10,000-strong army of Daleks on Spiridon. Together with the now recuperated Doctor, they combat Dalek plans to learn invisibility from the native life forms, to release a lethal bacteria and to revive their dormant forces to conquer the galaxy…

First transmissions
Episode 1 - Saturday 7 April 1973
Episode 2 - Saturday 14 April 1973
Episode 3 - Saturday 21 April 1973
Episode 4 - Saturday 28 April 1973
Episode 5 - Saturday 5 May 1973
Episode 6 - Saturday 12 May 1973

Production
Location filming: January 1973 at Beachfields quarry, Redhill, Surrey
Filming: January 1973 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: January 1973 in TC4, February 1973 in TC6 and TC1

Cast
Doctor Who - Jon Pertwee
Jo Grant - Katy Manning
Taron - Bernard Horsfall
Vaber - Prentis Hancock
Codal - Tim Preece
Rebec - Jane How
Wester - Roy Skelton
Marat - Hilary Minster
Latep - Alan Tucker
Dalek operators - John Scott Martin, Murphy Grumbar, Cy Town, Tony Starr
Dalek voices - Michael Wisher, Roy Skelton

Crew
Writer - Terry Nation
Incidental music - Dudley Simpson
Designer - John Hurst
Script editor - Terrance Dicks
Producer - Barry Letts
Director - David Maloney

RT Review by Mark Braxton
Venomous plants, a multitude of Daleks, massive winged creatures, invisible aliens, ice volcanos… sounds fantastic on paper, doesn't it? And that, in a nutshell, is the trouble with this enthusiastic, tenth-anniversary-year Dalek adventure. It's an exciting story, but a tawdry spectacle.

After the lavish, freewheeling Frontier in Space, the Who crew was obliged to make savings. Planet of the Daleks was not the script on which to make them. We can only imagine seasoned director David Maloney's anguish at the time, for as a production it is wretchedly and continually compromised.

One inadequacy follows hot on the heels of another. To select just a handful: daybreak on the planet is conveyed by a studio light being switched on; Prentis Hancock wrestles with a length of rubber hose to suggest an attack by a tentacled horror; Jo is struck unconscious by a falling polystyrene rock (in real life the size of the rock would have killed her); a Dalek on an anti-gravity disc is clearly hauled up by wires; and nocturnal pack animals are portrayed by pairs of lights stuck in a row of cutouts.

For all the diversity of species on this hostile planet, not one of them convinces. Even invisibility, you'd think, would be hard to get wrong… but no, the Spiridons are poorly realised by a CSO-suspended bowl or stick and the rustling of some fake foliage.
Filmed sequences of Thals crawling through fissures and Daleks hurtling towards their icy doom are gutsy and atmospheric, but next to all the studio artifice they look like they've been plucked from a different serial.

What Planet of the Daleks does have, however, is variety, and this is what enables the story to scrape home. Terry Nation rummages in his Dalek grab bag and picks out all the best elements from previous tales: deadly disease and ferocious forests and shafts and bombs and armies.

The Doctor's reunion with the Thals is a neat touch, too, with inaugural companions Susan, Ian and Barbara all name-checked as a treat for long-term fans. The Doctor galvanises the once peace-loving blonds in the same way that he did on Skaro way back in 1963. And his understated and truthful "tutorial on bravery" for the timid Codal, played by Tim Preece (estate agent Tom in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin), is easily the best scene.

Aside from Codal, and consummate pro Bernard Horsfall's Taron, the other Thals aren't terribly well drawn. But Pertwee and Manning give typically engaging turns, and the continued signposting of Jo's fleeing of the space-time coop is carefully integrated. She seems genuinely sad at turning down Latep's impromptu proposal, and her desire to see Earth again no longer seems like a weary whim.

Otherwise there are writing/continuity problems that really ought to have been addressed: Jo is so distraught at the comatose Doctor, who for all she knows may be dead, that she… decides to change her outfit. And the Doctor returns the favour later when, having apparently witnessed Jo's death in an explosion, has a friendly chat with Codal. Russell T Davies would never have allowed such forgetfulness: there'd be haunted looks and eyes full of tears. Still, the script does give us the joyous line "You've been infected by the fungoids", so it's not all bad news!

But look, you cry, you're ignoring the story's raison d'être, the tinpot terrors themselves… Sadly, the Daleks uphold the law of diminishing returns through the Pertwee years. Here, unremarkable in black and gunmetal grey, they bump and scrape and teeter around, and even the gorgeously liveried golden Supreme has trouble co-ordinating his lights and speech.

Theirs is an astonishingly big base on Spiridon, with control panels that aren't remotely sucker-friendly. Even as a child it used to bother me how Daleks built and operated things. In the comic strips, featuring bespoke equipment and transportation, base construction looked feasible, but here our villains just look utterly incapable. "The Daleks are never defeated," vows the Supreme at the end. On this showing, one rather wishes they had been.

- - -

What Katy did next…
“When I was doing Doctor Who, they were experimenting with CSO – colour separation overlay. Very early days. Can you imagine what it’s like as an actress to do the sort of miming you do in a bad impro at drama school? To imagine what’s happening around you. Being myopic I couldn’t use the monitors ever, so everything for me, every action had to be learnt to precision. Jon used to get things written down but they’d be lost in the dry ice.” 
(Talking to RT, April 2012)

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[Available in the BBC DVD boxed set Doctor Who: Dalek War]

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