'Day of the Daleks' was a fairly early video release in the UK, and ended up being a victim to the principle that familiarity breeds contempt; I watched it numerous times, got bored with it, and didn't watch it again for several years. Consequently, on seeing it again I was very pleasantly surprised.
Whilst I wouldn't describe 'Day of the Daleks' as a classic, it is a good, solid little story, well paced and directed and nothing wrong with it that I can really criticize. Jon Pertwee, perhaps refreshed after a season break, is very good here, presenting a far mellower side of the Doctor than we saw in 'The D�mons', possibly because he is starting to resent his exile less and less as Earth continues to feel like home. The Doctor is far less irritable here, almost jovial in fact, but is as authoritative as ever when the need demands it. There are several scenes of note in this regard; his hugely enthusiastic enjoyment of Sir Reginald Styles' wine is delightful, as his is casual trouncing of the attacking Shura with one hand as he sips his drink with the other. It's amusing without being farcical and is an effective reminder of just how stylish the Third Doctor can be when Pertwee is enjoying himself. The Doctor's scenes with the Controller are also note worthy, as he displays carefully constrained contempt for and anger at this man who has betrayed his own kind to collaborate with the Daleks. He is also impressive when dealing with the guerillas, sympathizing with their plight even as he disproves of their methods.
The other regulars do rather well out of 'Day of the Daleks'. Except for when she unwittingly panics the Daleks by mentioning the Doctor to the Controller, Jo gets very little to do here, but what she does do includes using her escapology skills again and knocking out an Ogron and the script nicely demonstrates her closeness with the Doctor. After the buffoonery of 'The D�mons', the Brigadier undergoes a minor renaissance, once more in charge of an international peace conference and regaining some of his former authority and diplomacy in the process. Note the trust between him and the Doctor in Episode Four, as the Brigadier readily accepts the Doctor's word that the delegates must be evacuated. Benton is his usual reliable self, and even Yates is convincing here. He gets little to do, but he takes orders from the Brigadier without any of the smug backchat that was so annoying in 'The D�mons'. Perhaps he got told off afterwards?
And so on to the Daleks. This is the first time that we see the Daleks in colour in a television story, and they look rather good. The Gold Dalek is perhaps a little ostentatious, but still� It has been argued that the Daleks are not actually necessary in this story and that their inclusion is pointless. Whilst I agree that the story could have worked without them, I think it is unfair to dismiss their presence so easily. The point of the Daleks in this story is not what they actually do, but what they represent. In every previous Dalek story, the Daleks have been the main focus of the story; here they are not. Taking a back seat to the time travel plot, they don't provide the same antagonistic threat that they do in past appearances. The Daleks are not counting down to the genocide of the Thals, they are not racing to turn Earth into a spaceship, they are not chasing the Doctor through time and space, they are not poised to unleash a weapon of unparalleled destruction as they invade the entire galaxy, they are not manipulating their way into a position of power, and they are not engaged in a master plan to convert the humans into Daleks through the entire history of Earth. The reason for this is simple: they've won. The Daleks in this story are not the antagonists; they are a representation of the absolute worst that can happen. The characters from the twenty-second century remind inform us that the fate of the entire fate of the world rests on Styles and the peace conference. The Daleks are that fate. Once that is established, the focus of the story is preventing the catastrophe that, years in the future, allows them to invade. To this end, the Daleks represent World War Three. The Daleks could therefore have been left out of the story; a blasted, radioactive world akin to that in Survivors could quite easily have shown the consequences of the potential war just as effectively, but in a serial broadcast at teatime on a Saturday with an audience composed largely of children, the Daleks are far more appropriate. Scary, iconic, and memorable, they represent the horrors of a global war just as well here as they did in their debut story. And besides, I get a fannish thrill when they advance on Auderley House in Episode Four, guns blazing and immune to UNIT gunfire.
The other main selling point of 'Day of the Daleks' is the time paradox plot. Time paradoxes have become almost commonplace in Doctor Who, both in books and in Big Finish audio stories, but this is the first time the idea is explored in the series. The idea that time travel is far more complex than the Doctor makes it seem has been touched on before, with discussions about changing history in 'The Time Meddler', and gibberish about jumping time tracks in 'The Space Museum', for example. This is the first proper demonstration of the dangers of interfering with history, as the guerillas find that they have caused the very catastrophe that gave rise to their nightmarish future. The story takes a fairly gritty approach to this subject matter, presenting us with hard-bitten guerillas that are desperate enough to kill anyone who gets in their way, but whose desperation is entirely understandable. Consequently, the Doctor's dramatic revelation that they are trapped in a self-perpetuating loop has considerable impact and is a marvellous moment in the story.
'Day of the Daleks' benefits from excellent production values, well directed, with effective location footage and good sets. The Ogrons are well realized and bring a brute savagery to the grim future Earth that further enhances the horror of the setting. Totally loyal to the Daleks, they make an effective contrast to the Daleks' human collaborators, one of whom is a resistance fighter working undercover for example. The guest cast is generally very good, Anna Barry's Anat proving an all too rare example of a strong female guest star in the series during this era. Aubrey Woods is excellent as the Controller. His initial impassive air is slowly revealed to be entirely motivated by self-preservation, as he tries to justify his "quisling" status to the Doctor. In fact, he's clearly trying to convince himself. His eventual sacrifice is an example of the Doctor genuinely managing to persuade an enemy that his actions are wrong. It is the Doctor saving his life that gives him the courage to betray the Daleks and in doing so sacrifice himself to give the Doctor the chance to make things better (in a very literal sense). His final scene with the Doctor in the tunnel is marvellous, effectively demonstrating the triumph of free will over the oppression of the Daleks and demonstrating why they can never entirely subjugate humanity.
In summary then, 'Day of the Daleks' is a surprisingly low-key return for the Doctor's arch-enemies, an intelligent, thoughtful story that uses the Daleks sparingly but in a satisfying manner nevertheless.