Death to the DaleksBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

Death to the Daleks' has a fairly poor reputation, but I've never quite understood why. It may not be a classic, and indeed has several flaws, but it's still an entertaining, fast paced little story that generally works rather well on several fronts. 

Firstly, I said when I reviewed 'Colony in Space' that I'm a sucker for ancient races, super weapons and mysterious powerful alien races. Whilst the City isn't a super-weapon as such, the principle remains the same, and like the Uxariens, the fruits of their once mighty technology have slowly destroyed the Exxilons. I'm also a sucker for B-movie plots involving quests through labyrinths riddled with traps, so all in all 'Death to the Daleks' has a certain appeal for me thanks to the Exxilons and their City alone. The City works very well; it looks effective, and lives up to the threat that Bellal insists it poses; not only is it capable of draining power from the TARDIS in addition to the other ships on Exxilon, it also proves able to defend itself and has regenerative capabilities. The roots are surprisingly effective, despite the occasional glimpse of a wire holding them up, and the screeching noise they make as they attack is suitably chilling. The seeming ease (relatively speaking) with which the Doctor and Bellal reach the heart (or rather, the brain) of the City seems suspicious until they actually get there, when the Doctor realizes that the traps are designed to let intelligent visitors through so that it can add their knowledge to its own; having proved a threat to it, the City responds with the Antibodies, which are fairly creepy, especially as they are seemingly indestructible. The Exxilons themselves are a fairly basic primitive tribal society, which are rife throughout science fiction in general and Doctor Who in particular, but they look quite good and Bellal makes for a pleasing pseudo-companion (he doesn't actually do much besides allow the Doctor to explain the plot to the viewers, but he's quite likeable). The notion of the two Exxilon factions isn't really exploited, but then again there isn't really time to show them at odds; in plot terms, Bellal's breakaway group exists to explain the origins of the City and they do little else. The religious divide between the groups is plausible enough, although personally I suspect that Bellal's group is persecuted because they insist on walking around stark bollock naked. 

Considering how utterly ghastly their last outing was the Daleks are used well here. In many respects, they benefit from the plot, which sees them landing on Exxilon after the humans have been dithering and getting nowhere for some time, and quickly taking charge of the situation. After briefly panicking when they discover that their guns don't work, they make a bargain with the Exxilons to secure the parrineum, and to buy them time whilst they devise alternative weaponry, which is a least a nod in the direction of their old cunning and intelligence. It also speaks volumes about the Daleks that they quickly come up with a substitute weapon; this is understandable considering their helplessness when unarmed (note the Dalek that glides at the attacking Exxilons in Episode Two screeching "Exterminate!" almost instinctively and thus gets destroyed), but it also showcases their technical brilliance. Incidentally, their ability to move about on Exxilon is interesting; the script explains it away by stating that they move by psychokinesis, which is a rather startling new development, and one which suggests that Terry Nation suddenly noticed a plot-hole whilst he was writing and decided to hurriedly gloss over it. However, an upshot of this is that it also makes the Daleks look good, since however they do it, the fact remains that they retain motive power when even the TARDIS has been incapacitated. The irony of the Dalek involvement in 'Death to the Daleks' is that it is crucial to the success of the Earth mission; it is the Daleks who organize the mining (admittedly through their usual unpleasant tactics), and it is the Daleks who provide the explosives to destroy the beacon and end the power-drain. In addition, whilst we only see the two Daleks in the City tackling two of the five tests faced by the Doctor and Bellal, they don't seem to have much trouble with any them. In short, 'Death to the Daleks' makes the Daleks look pretty good. Having said that, the self-destructing Dalek in Episode Four is just annoying; it may be standard Dalek policy not to allow failure, but on an important mission to a dangerous planet on which three Daleks have already been destroyed it would surely make more sense for it to try and recapture its prisoner! 

The human characters are less effective, with only the unpleasant Galloway (Duncan Lamont, who played doomed astronaut Victor Caroon in The Quatermass Experiment) standing out. John Abineri is wasted as Railton, and Julian Fox is rather dreadful as Hamilton. Joy Harrison has to suffer with being the token female, which is one of my main criticisms of 'Death to the Daleks'; Jill Tarrant is a member of a military expedition, and yet she spends a great deal of time panicking, or on the verge of tears, or asking a journalist with no military training what to do. It's utterly ridiculous; she's like the embodiment of passive sexism. 

The Doctor and Sarah are there usual reliable selves. Sarah gets sidelined for much of the story, but Liz Sladen does what she can with her limited scenes; her clobbering of the Exxilon in the TARDIS is a great scene, in part because it's rather claustrophobic, Sarah frantically trying to open the door of what should be a safe haven whilst her attacker starts to recover on the floor behind her. Pertwee isn't at his best or worst here, he simply puts in an average performance, although I do like his "a hit Sir, a palpable hit!" routine when the root attacks the Dalek. 

Production wise, the story is mixed. The model work of the city looks good, as does its final destruction. There are moments of impressive direction, including shots of the expedition's photographs of the City superimposed over Sarah approaching the edifice, and the surreal final test in the City. Showing us the attacking Exxilons from the point of view of a Dalek in Episode Two also works well, conveying the unarmed Dalek's panic at being unable to defend itself. Serves it right. However, as in 'Planet of the Daleks', the contrast between location footage and studio footage is rather jarring, especially as the extensive rocky sets look decidedly plastic. This is doubly unfortunate, since the location work is very atmospheric. I also wish that they hadn't used the static Dalek to bulk up numbers; I'm not sure why, but I actually find it far more distracting than photographic cardboard cut-outs used in the black and white Dalek stories. There is unfortunately some crap editing; it is obvious before the end credits role in Episode One that the Dalek guns don't work, and the cliff-hanger to Episode Three is beyond belief, consisting as it does of a shot of a tiled floor. There's also a pointless frame of Galloway screaming after he detonates the bomb at the end, which isn't remotely convincing. My strongest criticism of the story however, is the stupid incidental music, which robs several scenes of any dramatic tension that they might have had. A very silly musical sting for example, accompanies the first sight of the Daleks as they glide from their ship.

Despite these criticisms however, 'Death to the Daleks' is well paced and entertaining, and makes effective use of its eponymous villains.