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10x4. Planet of the Daleks
Writer: Terry Nation
Director: David Maloney
Script Editor: Terrance Dicks
Producer: Barry Letts

Synopsis: The Time Lords send the TARDIS to Spiridon, where the Doctor and Jo encounter a small landing party of Thals sent to investigate Dalek activity on the planet. The Daleks, still in the midst of planning their galactic war, are researching the native Spiridons' ability to make themselves invisible and developing a deadly bacterial weapon.

Review: I'll begin with what seems to be a necessity for any reviewer of "Planet of the Daleks" and acknowledge that, yes, in its broad outlines, this is something of a remake of "The Daleks." Once again we have a story in which the Doctor is captured by the Daleks and has to escape, the protagonists spend a lot of time hiding out in a dense jungle, and eventually the Doctor and the Thals return to the Dalek fortress to sneak inside and prevent an imminent attack. Of course, to echo another point mentioned by other reviewers, the serial pre-dates the era of home video and reruns, so it had a large audience that had probably never seen "The Daleks" and had little chance of seeing it any time soon. In that sense, revisiting the Daleks' first appearance was not necessarily a bad thing, and obviously it's not as if there's a plagiarism issue with respect to Terry Nation.

So, is it a *good* remake? Well, it kept me entertained -- at first. The first episode does a nice job of showing Jo trying to figure out what to do without the help of the Doctor, who is unconscious in the TARDIS after being shot at the end of "Frontier in Space" and whom she fears may be dying. The device of the tape recorder is an obvious but probably necessary contrivance to let her voice her thoughts when no one else is around, and Katy Manning appropriately portrays her as determined but uneasy about leaving to seek help on her own. After the Doctor emerges from the TARDIS and teams up with the Thals, the story starts settling into a more conventional action/adventure approach, but it works nevertheless. The fact that the forest scenes were shot in a studio actually may have helped -- since director David Maloney has no choice but to frame the actors rather tightly, there is a slightly claustrophobic feel to the proceedings. The events inside the Dalek fortress are similarly suspenseful, even in scenes that you would expect to be kind of dry. At least a minute or two is spent with a Dalek escorting the Doctor to a cell and ordering him to either "walk" or "halt" approximately 236 times, but there's a certain uneasiness as we wonder what exactly they're going to do with the Doctor and when. (Of course, maybe that's just because I'm watching this from the perspective of the Alias/24 era and half-expected the Doctor to be tortured.) The Thals' entrance through a narrow passageway is similarly effective, again perhaps for aesthetic reasons: the tight shots and the background rumble of the volcano really make it seem as if they're about to be buried in the flow of molten ice. The action in "Planet of the Daleks," not surprisingly, is of a higher caliber than that of its 1963 predecessor, and some of it has a certain madcap appeal. The Doctor's decision to rig up a balloon and float away through a ventilation shaft when he and the Thals are trapped in a room by the Daleks is one of those moments when you think to yourself, "That's so insane that it might actually work." I'm not sure whether it's astoundingly dumb or weirdly appropriate that the Daleks, after breaking through the door, initially can't figure out where they've gone.

For the first three episodes, "Planet of the Daleks" is exactly the kind of television that makes me feel a bit useless as a reviewer. It's clearly not very original or sophisticated, and at times it's so simplistic as to defy any kind of real analysis, and yet it possesses a kind of unquantifiable energy that keeps you interested even at the same time you're thinking that it's all just a lot of running around. And had it continued to hold my attention in this way, I'd have begun the review with those two sentences, minus the qualifier at the beginning. But I guess I eventually grew impatient for something resembling an actual story, and instead all I got was . . . well, a lot of running around. There's a "ticking clock" element with the bacterial weapon the Daleks are developing, but otherwise the script is rarely more than a collection of action scenes, and after a while it can't sustain itself on energy alone. The Thals prove to be something of a letdown in their encore appearance, though this was perhaps inevitable: it makes sense that they are no longer dogmatic pacifists, but the main reason they worked in "The Daleks" was that they were the extreme opposite to the Daleks' boundless aggression. In "Planet of the Daleks," they're just Aliens Of The Week Who Help The Doctor, and they're not all that interesting or distinct in that role. The conflict between Taron and Vaber is the standard cautious leader/impulsive subordinate dynamic we've seen done better in other Doctor Who serials, and the notion that Latep has fallen in love with Jo in this short time is not very credible. Codal has an okay scene when he's locked in a cell with the Doctor, who helps him realize that courage isn't just about not being afraid, but about doing what's necessary even when you *are* afraid -- it's literally spelled out by the Doctor, but I wouldn't say it's an immediately obvious point, so the lack of subtlety doesn't hurt too much. Still, neither he nor any of the other Thals are likely to come to mind when I think about the best guest characters of the Pertwee era.

This is not to say that there aren't scattered moments here and there that rise above the level of simple action mechanics. The Daleks' "experimentation" on their prisoners in an attempt to replicate the Spiridons' invisibility is the clearest Nazi echo since "The Daleks" without exactly replicating their tactics from that serial. Their ruthlessness is further underlined when the Dalek Supreme arrives at the end and kills the acting Dalek leader for failing to keep the situation on Spiridon under control: the Daleks never exactly seemed sociable, of course, but I don't think we've seen them kill one of their own before this. On the other hand, one of them almost seems to show fear when locked in a room with escaping bacteria, announcing, "We can never leave! Never! Never! Never!" (Of course, it's hard to tell if this is emotion or just the Dalek tendency to yell things repeatedly.) I also like the concept of the "Plain of Stones," where the boulders absorb the sun's heat and then discharge it at night, drawing the planet's wildlife as they seek to escape the extreme cold. Though I was disappointed to see the wildlife portrayed only as a threat, manifest in the form of obviously fake glowing eyes in the dark, it adds to the sense of Spiridon as a truly alien place. Finally, there is the matter of the Doctor actually thinking Jo is dead at one point. He shows some subdued emotion in one scene, but past that he doesn't display much overt regret or sadness. Personally, I think this actually makes sense under the circumstances: the Doctor may be eccentric, but I also see him as having a very disciplined mind, and it makes sense that he'd keep his emotions under wraps to focus on stopping the Daleks.

Still, the better parts aren't enough to keep the story's momentum going after the appeal of the action wears off, and there's just too much lazy plotting. One earlier scene that decidedly doesn't work, for example, is the Doctor's discovery upon awakening that the TARDIS is running out of oxygen because it's been overgrown by fungus, and that the three "emergency" tanks don't seem to be working. First of all, the idea that something in the external environment could deprive the TARDIS of oxygen seems flagrantly absurd. The First Doctor would routinely check oxygen levels outside before opening the doors, indicating that they had sufficient oxygen inside regardless. Besides, is there oxygen inside the "timestream" or wherever the TARDIS goes in between materializations? Somehow I doubt it. Second of all, even if you put that aside, the Doctor ought to be smart enough to bring more than three tanks, and to make sure they were functional -- storage space, after all, would not be an issue on the TARDIS. (This is all nitpicky, I know, but if the script is going to waste time with such a pointless temporary crisis, it's worth asking whether or not the logic holds up.) Similarly, a "defuse the bombs" scene later is unnecessarily prolonged by having a piece of debris fall on Jo's head and knock her out for a few minutes, after which she awakens and finishes defusing the bombs. When you're literally having things fall out of the sky to pad out the script, it's probably a good sign that the central narrative needs to be stronger. By the end, the script is even re-hashing itself: the Doctor is driven to the deepest levels of the fortress by pursuing Daleks in Episode 3 . . . and then again in Episode 6.

I wouldn't say I was ever exactly bored watching "Planet of the Daleks," but I certainly felt less enthused as it went on, and I can't say that this experiment of doing two related 6-part serials was especially successful. For that matter, the only real connection is that the Dalek experiments in "Planet" are apparently part of the same strategy as the war plan in "Frontier in Space." -- none of the other characters from "Frontier" return, and I'm pretty sure the Master is not even mentioned. The creative team were reportedly inspired by the 12-part Hartnell epic, "The Daleks' Masterplan." and a six-part space opera featuring the Master tying into a six-part Dalek serial seems like a good idea on paper. In execution, however, this one turned out only mediocre.

Other notes (or, in this case, further nitpicks):

- New Rule (with apologies to Bill Maher): A Dalek appearing at the end of Episode 1 does not constitute an effective surprise when (a) the previous story ended with the Doctor pursuing the Daleks, and (b) the serial is called "Planet of the Daleks."

- Speaking of which, the title is a misnomer, though I suppose the Daleks would argue that Spiridon belonged to them. It's a minor point, but the title led me to expect a trip to Skaro.

- Why does Taron say he's trained in "space medicine"? He may be on an alien planet, but he is most definitely not in "space."

- "Molten ice"? Wouldn't that just be water?

Rating: ** (out of four)

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