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Sunday, 4 May 2003 - Reviewed by James Gent

When the Time Lords exiled the Doctor on Earth, and we were introduced to his third generation, the series made a fresh start. The regular UNIT team had been phased in Patrick Troughton’s last two seasons, but other than that Jon Pertwee’s first two seasons had focused on new foes, concentrating more on stealth invasions and the malevolent machinations of the Master.

It was only a matter of time before one of the series’ famous faces from the past made an appearance, and in 1972, the Daleks made their first appearance in colour on TV. Oddly, compared to later colour Dalek stories – where the first episode is a kind of foreplay building up to their orgasmic ‘surprise’ appearance (somewhat undercut by the title of the story, but never mind) – the Daleks are sidelined in “Day Of The Daleks”. Perhaps this was a ploy of the production team, not wanting to cash in too heavily on the past. It seems fashionable to knock the Letts era, but you have to admire their determination to avoid rehashing old villains and more or less start anew. Whatever the reasons, it works quite well. The Daleks as mostly unseen, shadowy conspirators and manipulators gives them a stature that was often lacking in later stories. It is, however, unfortunate that the production could not disguise the fact that they only had three usable Dalek props! The Dalek voices – always a big part of the impression they make – are terrible here, hardly surprising as they are not performed by their usual vocal artists.

At the centre of this story is not another unfeasible Dalek scheme, but a fascinating time travel paradox. The series very rarely addressed the issues of time travel, but “Day Of The Daleks” tackles it head-on with its central enigma of changing history. The discovery that the guerrilla who is trying to prevent the third world war is in fact the instigator of it, is a brilliant revelation, years ahead of a similar paradox in “Twelve Monkeys”. Shades of the brilliant “Inferno”, with its alternate Earth timeline, which is always a winning basis for comparison. The guerrillas are not particularly interesting in themselves, although Anat is another one of those feisty women that Doctor Who throws up every now and then. Guerrillas are a very 1970s element of the story – the Badher Meinhof terrorists were in the news at the time, although I’m not sure if that was before or after “Day Of The Daleks” was written.

Aubrey Woods is excellent as the Controller. The Third Doctor’s era is often criticised for its ‘woolly’ politics, but it is certainly no less idealistic than the dubious moralising of some of the New Adventures – and in the Controller, the series acknowledges that corrupt regimes are not merely comprised of ‘pure evil’ bogeymen like the Daleks but equally quislings such as the Controller. The two sides to the Controller’s Earth that Jo and the Doctor see is a good representation of the Seventh Doctor’s philosophical rumination, “You live in Paradise, you start to wonder who empties the bins”. Jo sees the fine food and wine, and is charmed by the Controller’s smooth talk of productivity and efficiency, and is so dazzled by the surface that she does not question the inner workings, whereas the Doctor – by no means a materialist, although the Doctor and Jo’s ghostbusting slumber party does show that the Doctor appreciates the finer things in life – sees the corruption and oppression. In the real world, there are many people like the Controller, cogs in the machine – reminiscent of the characters in Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” – and it’s good to see the series acknowledging that ‘evil’ can be complex and ambiguous.

“Day Of The Daleks” is a noteworthy story for many reasons, although the Daleks are one of the least significant of them! It has a certain believability lacking in later Pertwee stories, possibly because of the use of a BBC newsreader as himself in one scene, the world powers setting, and UNIT here at their most competent and serious.

FILTER: - Television - Series 9 - Third Doctor