Doctor Who Project: Death to the Daleks

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Tell me, have you ever tried Venusian hopscotch?

This time, the Dalek story title wheel lands on an alliteration, but at a stretch, it’s possible that Terry Nation’s “Death to the Daleks” (Story Production Code XXX) actually could apply to the story itself, since the dozen or so Daleks in the story do perish at the end. Alas, as with most things Dalek in the early 1970s, the title, and the story, aim for the grandiose and provide the pedestrian.

Surprise, Daleks!

In keeping with one of Nation’s favored themes, a terrible plague threatens the outer colonies of almost all species. Only one planet, Exxilon, inhabited by a Stone Age civilization, possesses the cure in quantities sufficient to save the millions who suffer from the disease. Both the humans of the Marine Space Corps and the Daleks (of, um, the Daleks) want this miracle substance, parrinium, and would gladly fight each for it, if only their spaceships and energy weapons worked once they neared Exxilon.

For even the TARDIS succumbs to the energy-draining powers of the “forbidden city” of the Exxilons’ ancestors, who were old when the universe was young. Their city, imbued with a form of bio-technological sentience, was meant to be their crowning achievement, but in standard science fiction fashion, it realized they were an impediment to its efficient functioning and killed off most of them. The remnants worship the city, reduced to chanting and incense-heavy sacrificial ceremonies in its name.

The main course awaits her fate

Terry Nation must hold some grudge against the TARDIS, as for the second story of his in a row, the TARDIS runs out of a vital component (here energy, previously oxygen) and remains useless to the Doctor. Even in “The Daleks” back in 1963, he sees fit to render the blue box hors de combat, with the Doctor pocketing the fluid link to force everyone to investigate Skaro to find a replacement. The notion of the inviolable TARDIS never quite took with Nation, it seems, and he uses whatever plot device he can to get the Doctor out of its safe confines. At least the Doctor has an oil lamp handy with which to guide his way out of the blacked-out TARDIS, as one does…

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Doctor Who Project: Planet of the Daleks

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We can never leave here. Never! Never!

Perhaps nothing sums up Terry Nation’s return to Doctor Who in “Planet of the Daleks” (Story Production Code SSS) better than the fact that said planet has a core of, um, molten ice, a geological anomaly that inevitably plays a prominent role in the story’s outcome. It’s a typically outrĂ© Nation conceit. Presumably this odd planetary structure would make hollowing the core out simpler than if it were molten lava, but unlike that plan of the Daleks, this one involves learning the secret of invisibility from the inhabitants of the planet, Spiridon, a jungle world whose savage lifeforms presumably drove the natives to evolve this ability as a protective measure. They also wear purple fur coats when it gets cold, slightly defeating the invisibility adaptation.

Purple is all the rage this season on Spiridon.

But rather than simply establishing a small research outpost to exploit the Spiridonian’s prestidigitous power, the Daleks also store tens of thousands of their brethren in suspended animation there—effectively, their entire military force—in order to retrofit them with the invisibility power for the forthcoming “invasion of all the solar planets” alluded to in the prior story, “Frontier in Space.” A fortuitous single point of potential failure, then, and one which a band of brave Thals (q.v. “The Daleks“) discover and trigger to thwart their eternal enemies.

The power of molten ice!

Though the Dalek War took place generations earlier, the Thals sent a mission from Skaro to hunt down the Daleks. Their two primitive spacecraft crash-land on Spiridon, killing several Thals instantly, but after much derring-do and many scenes of self-sacrifice, the dwindling band of tow-headed non-mutants manage to crack open the walls of the vast Dalek hibernation chamber, letting in torrents of molten, er, ice, freezing the regiments of pepperpots in place for centuries.

Oh, right, and the Doctor and Jo show up, but probably only because Terry Nation’s contract required him to write the Time Lord into the story.
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Doctor Who Project: Frontier in Space

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Only you could manage to have a traffic accident in space.

Just when you think it’s safe to go back into the water, Roger Delgado returns, the Master’s smile as cutting as a dorsal fin ripping through waves. Series regular Malcolm Hulke’s “Frontier in Space” (Story Production Code QQQ) starts out with verve and pace, dropping the Doctor and Jo immediately into a tangled web of interstellar intrigue. Two great empires of the 26th Century, that of Earth and that of Draconia, find themselves unwittingly lured into war by a mysterious third party employing highly advanced ultrasonic technology that disguises their mercenary Ogrons as the other side. Months of raids by the incognito Ogrons on Earth and Draconian shipping has left tensions between the two powers strained to the breaking point.

Friend or Foe?

By the middle of the third of six episodes, the viewer has been lulled into suspecting one of the characters already introduced—perhaps the warlike Earth General Williams or the honor-bound Draconian Prince—of organizing this subterfuge in order to further some hidden agenda. Two and a half episodes seems like just enough time to wrap up a political potboiler. But then, pretending to be the representative from an outlying Earth colony, swoops in the Master, and the entire story turns on a dime.

Behold, the Master

The strategy of withholding Delgado from the story for so long works brilliantly here, and one is forced to look back at hints the Doctor dropped about the fear-based disguise technology being far too advanced for the Ogrons, essentially just brute muscle, to have developed themselves. One even, perhaps, briefly moots the possibility of the Daleks being in play because of the Ogrons’ prior association with them (in “Day of the Daleks.”) And then, behold, the Master appears, putting rest to all those suppositions. It’s an electrifying moment, a real triumph of pacing and patience and plotting.

And yet, there’s immediately a sense of trepidation. For as pleasant as Roger Delgado’s appearances are, the Master’s plans don’t tend to result in gripping psychological or political drama, nor do they frankly ever make much sense. He’s more often than not a delightfully screen-stealing blowhard who falls prey to his own skulduggery. Will that be the case here?

Well, yes. But only until the real villains show up…
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Doctor Who Project: Day of the Daleks

Doctor Who Project: Day of the Daleks
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Changing history is a very fanatical idea, you know.

For a show ostensibly about time travel, Doctor Who features very few stories actually about time travel. Louis Marks’ Season Nine opener, “Day of the Daleks” (Series Production Code KKK), tries to explore the paradoxical intricacies of altering history but, oddly, is kept from doing so by the lead villains, who make a rather flat return after nearly five years’ absence from the screen. For this story, about a ragtag band of guerrilla fighters in 22nd Century Earth travelling back in time to stop World War III from breaking out in the 20th Century, would have worked better without the Daleks at all.

Behold the gold Dalek

UNIT summons the Doctor and Jo to investigate the strange appearance (and disappearance) of an armed intruder in the home of Sir Reginald Styles, a British diplomat attempting to broker a peace between China, the UK, and the rest of a world on the brink of all-out war. When the would-be assassin is later found injured in a nearby tunnel, the Doctor surmises that he’s from Earth’s future, armed as he is with a disintegrator gun, made with Welsh-mined metals, and a crude form of time machine. This conjecture is confirmed when the assailant’s accomplices show up and capture the Doctor and Jo, who have lain in wait for them in Style’s study (after helping themselves to the diplomat’s well-stocked larder and wine cellar).

Be very afraid. We're from the future!

Through a series of misadventures—and Jo’s on-again, off-again skill with “escapology”—both the Doctor and Jo separately wind up in the 22nd Century, Jo in the custody of the Dalek-led human government and the Doctor with the guerrillas who are, it turns out, fighting against the Dalek regime. And what horrible fate awaits Jo at the hands of her captors? She’s offered grapes and wine and the promise of a feast. The Daleks have really lost their touch…

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Materializing Soon: LEGO Doctor Who Set Scheduled

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Not that there was much doubt it would eventually happen, but LEGO has finally scheduled the release for what, one hopes, is the first of many Doctor Who building sets. Landing right after Thanksgiving, on December 1st, the inaugural Doctor Who LEGO set features the TARDIS (with detachable police box and console play area), buildable Daleks, and minifigs for the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, plus current companion Clara and a Weeping Angel for good measure.

Image via https://ideas.lego.com/blogs/1-blog/post/44

I had put my money on a November 23rd release, to coincide with the series’ anniversary, but December 1st isn’t too far off. I certainly hope that LEGO has sufficiently estimated demand for this product, as the early rumblings seem to suggest the Venn diagram of LEGO enthusiasts and Whovians overlaps to a fair (OK, absurd) extent, and the LEGO Ideas line tends to be limited run. Even at the US$60 price point, Doctor Who fans will not find it a difficult purchasing decision, though the choice of Doctors and companion leaves, perhaps, something to be desired. I realize my dream set of the First Doctor, Vicki, and Steven facing off the the Dhravins from “Galaxy Four” would make for a hard sell, but still, no Doctor from the original run? Not even a K-9?

Given that this set will sell as well as Yeti take to the Underground, ideally LEGO will produce variant consoles and the proper Doctors to go with them, either as separate sets or as expansions to this set. They’ve already done something similar with their planned LEGO Dimensions Doctor Who set, albeit in a mostly digital fashion, so I imagine that the licensing would not be impossibly prohibitive.

The popularity of the current iteration of the series makes the inclusion of the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors essentially mandatory, but a Whovian can dream of LEGO Sensorites…

(Image via LEGO Ideas Blog)

Doctor Who Project: The Evil of the Daleks

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Dizzy, dizzy, dizzy Daleks!

Now that’s how you end a season. Doctor Who‘s Fourth Season comes to a close with David Whitaker’s “The Evil of the Daleks,” (Story Production Code LL) a seven-episode story that finds the Doctor on familiar ground: Skaro, home planet of the Daleks. But he gets there through a Dalek time travel device in a London antique shop in 1966 that deposits him in a cabinet of electrified mirrors in a Victorian laboratory, which somewhat explains why it takes seven episodes to tell the tale. Much like the prior story, “The Faceless Ones,” Whitaker’s story feels an episode too long yet still delivers an engaging, if slightly overwrought, plot. Indeed, it’s best not to dwell too much on the absurd fussiness of the Daleks’ machinations here; the real story takes place between the Doctor, Jamie, and, yes, the Daleks as they come to terms with just who the Doctor is, and what it is he truly believes.

A furrowed brow

For “The Evil of the Daleks” very much serves as a re-statement of the show’s theme and purpose, a summing up of four seasons of Doctor Who, tidily wrapped with a neat Dalek bow. The Doctor and Jamie have two extended conversations—fights, really—about the lengths the Doctor will go to for his aims and what he cares about, dialogue that serves less the immediate narrative purpose than the ends of the show as an ongoing cultural entity. In short, Whitaker puts the needs of continuity ahead of the needs of story, or rather, he recognizes that the Doctor’s story is ongoing and not a mere series of semi-linked sequential adventures. His story embraces what has come before like no other story to date has, and though it’s riddled with what we might term continuity errors, he’s grasped the larger continuity, that of the Doctor’s beliefs, his purpose.

So the story picks up immediately from the end of “The Faceless Ones,” with the TARDIS being hauled away from Gatwick on a lorry. The Doctor and Jamie are lured to an antique shop through a series of elaborately laid (and patently obvious) clues about the location of the blue box, all designed with a knowledge of the Doctor’s curious nature. Much of the first two episodes focuses on the trap being laid for the Doctor; the narrative tension comes not from wondering what traps the Doctor will face but instead from how he will unravel them. And just when they’ve found the odd technology (and a dead body) in the back of a shop filled with brand new yet authentic Victorian artifacts, they’re gassed unconscious and wake up in a Victorian drawing room with massive headaches and a helpful servant named Mollie. And there are still five episodes to go.

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