Death to the Daleks ★★★

The Doctor and Sarah face the Daleks in an atmospheric but patchy adventure on the barbaric world of Exxilon

119

Season 11 – Story 72

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“Well, well, well! Daleks without the power to kill! How does it feel?” – the Doctor

Storyline
Arriving on the inhospitable world of Exxilon, the Tardis suffers a complete power loss. The Doctor and Sarah befriend the survivors of a Marine Space Corps expedition who are collecting parrinium, the chemical cure for a deadly plague sweeping the galaxy. They forge an uneasy alliance with the Daleks, who are also seeking parrinium, and must fend off aggressive Exxilon natives and neutralise their hi-tech City, which is causing the power drain…

First transmissions
Part 1 – Saturday 23 February 1974
Part 2 – Saturday 2 March 1974
Part 3 – Saturday 9 March 1974
Part 4 – Saturday 16 March 1974

Production
Location filming: November 1973 at ARC sand pit, Gallows Hill, Dorset
Studio recording: December 1973 in TC3

Cast
Doctor Who – Jon Pertwee
Sarah Jane Smith – Elisabeth Sladen
Lt Dan Galloway – Duncan Lamont
Commander Stewart – Neil Seiler
Captain Richard Railton – John Abineri
Lt Peter Hamilton – Julian Fox
Jill Tarrant – Joy Harrison
High priest – Mostyn Evans
Bellal – Arnold Yarrow
Gotal – Roy Heymann
Spaceman – Terry Walsh
Dalek operators – John Scott Martin, Murphy Grumbar, Cy Town
Dalek voices – Michael Wisher
Zombies – Terry Walsh, Steven Ismay

Crew
Writer – Terry Nation
Incidental music – Carey Blyton, played by the London Saxophone Quartet
Designer – Colin Green
Script editor – Terrance Dicks
Producer – Barry Letts
Director – Michael Briant

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
Death to the Daleks! Great title. Normally, story titles suggest the threat posed by the Doctor’s archenemy, but for once it promises a threat facing them. The abiding image from the serial must be when one Dalek finds itself defenceless against the Exxilon natives and bursts into flames. Death to a Dalek indeed!

After two slightly wobbly outings, the Daleks are back on form. They still look a tad wooden on 625-line videotape, but they’ve had a silvery respray that approximates their 1960s livery. Here, in the face of adversity, the Daleks are at their duplicitous best, making and breaking alliances. With ray guns powerless, they build projectile weapons and – bizarrely – have a miniature police box ready for target practice. This would turn out to be their last gasp of autonomy for decades, as their creator Davros arrived on the scene in 1975.

In his memoir I Am the Doctor, Jon Pertwee conceded, “Although I have this aversion to the Daleks as monsters, the three stories in which I met them are among the best.” Unfortunately, his disdain for the creatures is transparent on screen. Whereas William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, through the conviction of their performances, sold the menace of the Daleks, Pertwee just looks baffled and bored. The feeling extends to the guest cast, who stand about, virtually unfazed, waiting to be exterminated in the first cliffhanger.

Death to the Daleks

[Jon Pertwee and Daleks. Photographed by Don Smith at BBC TV Centre TC4, 4 December 1973. Copyright Radio Times Archive]

Despite its limp ending, part one is arguably the most effective episode of season 11. It opens with the brutal spearing of Terry Walsh, who dies in close-up. (Usually, Walsh is obliged to conceal his face as Pertwee’s stunt double.) This is also the only time we’ll see the third Doctor and Sarah inside the Tardis. And the mythology is stretched a little. As the alien world exerts a power drain, a stumped Doctor reveals, “The Tardis is a living thing… Its energy sources never stop.”

Director Michael Briant achieves some atmospheric shots for the planet surface, with day-for-night (or perhaps dusk) filming in a quarry, intercut almost seamlessly with dry-ice-filled, low-lit sets at TV Centre. Dick Mills’ eerie reverberating sound effects facilitate the transitions. It’s only after daybreak, under harsh studio lights, that the illusion falls apart, worsened by CSO backdrops such as the Daleks’ dustbin-lid spaceship.

It’s easy to spot Terry Nation ticking off his tried-and-tested dramatic boxes, but this doesn’t diminish the appeal of the story. As a child I was enthralled by the series of challenges facing the Doctor as he penetrates deeper into the heart of the City; I loved the mechanical serpentine “roots” and was creeped out by the Morlock-like Exxilons and the zombie-like “antibodies”. Even now, Bellal, the amiable Exxilon, is oddly endearing, despite appearing to be caked in bird droppings.

Sarah’s encounter with a belligerent native inside the Tardis is remarkably tense, some of it cleverly shot from the Exxilon’s point of view. Elisabeth Sladen transcends her material, which Terry Nation has written for a generic companion, but there’s scant rapport between the two leads. When the Doctor tries to console Sarah before abandoning her, there isn’t a whiff of the chemistry Pertwee enjoyed with Katy Manning.

The third Doctor verges on insufferably patronising and is landed with dreadful lines. “Good shot, sir. A hit. Yes, a palpable hit!” he cries after a root zaps a Dalek. Later, after a prisoner absconds, another Dalek decides to self-destruct – a very silly moment that could only amuse the simplest mind.

Composer Carey Blyton offers another challenge to our sensibilities. Much of his score is annoyingly obtrusive (one piece is even based on Three Blind Mice), although his sonorous theme for the Exxilon City conveys surprising majesty.

The final image of the City – a massive polystyrene model melting – for me, symbolises Death to the Daleks as whole. What promised to be a mouth-watering treat ends up looking like someone’s left a cake out in the rain.

– – –

Radio Times archive

death daleks billings 1 & 2
death daleks billings 3 & 4

As well as a lead letter from Muhammad Ali, the RT mailbag for 23 February 1974 brought a wealth of comments from Doctor Who fans – including a 15-year-old Peter Capaldi! – and elicited a few spoilers from Barry Letts.

letters-23-Feb-1-Mar-74
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[Available on BBC DVD]