Tag: Terry Nation

Chairmen of the Voord – Four Writers, One of Doctor Who’s Oldest Monsters

Chairmen of the Voord Doctor Who

We don our flippers and take a swim with the curious monsters of the early 1960s that, though intended to be the new Daleks never to return to the television, but whose enigmatic appearance proved fertile ground for writers and creators in other media…

11 April 1964 and the fifth serial of Doctor Who screened on the BBC. Fans that the show had scooped up since its arrival the previous November had no idea that the 21st episode of the series, The Sea of Death, would originate an element that would become a recurring component of the show: the quest-based story arc, famously employed for a whole season with The Key to Time in the late 1970s and the Fifth Doctor’s tussle with the Black Guardian a half decade after that. It would also form form a simple, exciting framework for stories as diverse as The Chase, The Daleks’ Master Plan (1965) and The Infinite Quest (2007). Ideal for the show when it was in a tight spot. A simple story was enhanced by diverse mini-adventures, but the weight of those smaller stories was also bolstered by a light if compelling backbone. While the the concept would remain with the show, pioneered by the writer of The Sea of Death, the monsters of the piece wouldn’t be so lucky.

The Voord, the Milk Tray Men of Doctor Who, would never reappear on screen to attempt a chocolate delivery again.

Flipping stand ins

When rewrites of Malcolm Hulke’s Dr Who and the Hidden Planet pushed it out of the production schedule, script editor David Whitaker turned to Terry Nation, the writer who’d propelled the show into popular consciousness with its second serial, The Daleks, and was already lined up for its eighth. Confronted with a narrow window to write it, Nation was drawn to the idea of a quest and he and Whitaker settled on a light arc that would take the TARDIS crew to a number of varied settings. From the interior of the first two episodes the travellers would encounter a vast city, a courtroom, a jungle and arctic terrain. Linked to the overarching acr and waiting for them on the sea world of Marinus were the villainous Voord. Few were happy with how these monsters turned out. Carole Ann Ford, who thought the script took Susan’s character back to school, director John Gorrie who had eyes on boosting his career which allowed him to overlook issues with the speedily produced script, the audience and critics who gave it a mixed result – none were too impressed. But few could have been more disappointed than the Voord themselves.

As was customary, Terry Nation added very little description for the creatures to his script, so designer Daphne Dare used vulcanised rubber from prop builders Jack and John Lovell to sculpt heads of the monsters that sat atop a customised rubber wetsuit. Three costumes came in at under £70 which must have pleased the production. And while impractical and rather silly, their enigmatic and strangely effective appearance would provide ample opportunities to expand on the creations. Although, the reception of The Keys of Marinus put pay to them appearing on screen again.

Merchandise

Dalekmania had caught many off guard, while ensuring Doctor Who’s survival. The Pepperpots that had famously contravened show creator Sydney Newman’s “no bug-eyed monsters” rule had surfaced from nowhere and joined Beatlemania in setting a tone for early 60s Britain and ensuring a quick return. Hopes were high for a successor, but of the long line of pretenders who never reached that, the Voord were the first to fail. They got the merchandising deals and exposure, made it into the comic strips and even made their way to Amicus, who snapped up the rights to The Keys of Marinus along with the early Dalek serials. Neither the Keys nor the Voord made it to the big screen or back to the small. Though it’s important to note that Peter Stenson would later contribute his experiences of portraying a Voord in 1964 for a leather fetish magazine.

The Voord found a new, if not huge life in the show’s expanded universe, beyond the pages of fetish magazines. Let’s take a shifty through four of the interpretations of the Voord from four big names: Terry Nation, Grant Morrison, Andrew Smith and Paul Cornell.

Terry Nation – The Keys of Marinus (1964), BBC

The One Where:  They’re the new Daleks

“Choice? What choice?”

Doctor Who Voord - The Keys of MarinusThe Sea of Death is an ominous episode title and setting. The locale of the island of glass that the episode pores over at the start could come right from of the final act of Rogue One, the prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy that would bring its black suited, black-hearted antagonist back to science fiction almost 50 years later.

Flipper first, the dark and menacing Voord appear on this silent island, emerging from their craft backed by the flute flourish of Norman Kay’s score. A tidal pool, acid water – it’s a beautiful, idyllic locale with a dangerous undercurrent – a Nation set-up familiar from his Dalek story lines. The Voord’s mysterious arrival adds to the unease. Even as they stumble across crafts and structures that should be quite evident, they carry mystery with them. Chiefly, it’s an inexplicable assault. Continue reading “Chairmen of the Voord – Four Writers, One of Doctor Who’s Oldest Monsters”

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Doctor Who: A Fresh Scarf – “Harry Sullivan is an imbecile” (Whovember #4)

Fourth Doctor Whovember Jokertoon

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The Whovember arc-athon moves onto one of its finest hours.  A new Doctor, an incredible set of stories and no fear of taking big decisions.  It was the first big arc, filtered through several stories that would change Who as we knew it.  It was Season 12.

#6: Season 12: Robot, The Ark in Space, The Sontaran Experiment, Genesis of the Daleks and Revenge of the Cybermen.

LEST WE FORGET IN THE HAZE OF THE GREAT CURATOR, THAT WHEN THE FOURTH DOCTOR EXPLODED ONTO SCREENS IN 1974, EACH PREVIOUS DOCTOR HAD PLAYED A MASSIVE PART IN ENSURING THE SHOW’S LEGACY. William Hartnell had not only founded the character, but also oversaw the show’s steady and assured shift from education and family adventure to constant hero in the country’s sitting rooms.

Following him, Patrick Troughton is rightly thought of as the most important casting decision in the franchise (possibly history), picking up the reigns reluctantly dropped by Hartnell and showing that this ridiculously risky regeneration business could work, while banishing any historical story that didn’t have a science-fiction angle. After his three years – an unfortunately short time – Jon Pertwee brought not only a new face but also format change to his colourful tenure, with no continuation of companion but the promise of an expanded cast and permanent Earth-bound setting.  He may have set up the 1970s, but…

Tom Baker though… Tom Baker did something different.

If the advent of his namesake a decade later was a text book example of getting regenerations wrong, Tom Baker’s arrival got everything right. Though cast by outgoing producer Barry Letts – his head already held high – the new Doctor couldn’t have hoped for a better incoming producer than Philip Hinchcliffe. And alongside Hinchcliffe sat the solid rock of Robert Holmes, newly installed script editor and fast-rising Who legend. While the onscreen Doctor may have been losing a UNIT family (one that in truth had been slowly ebbing away for a season) he had a stroke of luck in the companion stakes: inheriting feminist journalist Sarah Jane Smith. He also quickly met her and his perfect foil, public school (lovable) idiot Harry Sullivan. Never has Doctor Who come together so perfectly, and it’s just as well. The TARDIS crew’s first season saw them undertake a full season story arc for the first time in the show’s history. For 20 weeks they were quickly propelled across five adventures with very little TARDIS, food or sleep.

The Arc in… Season 12

The bold, format change that season 12 represented can’t be ignored. Once again Doctor Who was changing, and as always there were things to consider.  I was recently lucky enough ask current show runner Steven Moffat about those days when the Doctor had an office.  He quite rightly pointed out that the production team who found themselves saddled with UNIT exile in the early 1970s took many opportunities to break the format and take the Third Doctor back to space-time.

“ I mean “No, less space travel and less time travel and he works in an office. You know, Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks who inherited that format were immediately taking it apart and saying “He can repair his TARDIS sometimes… By the time you get into the second or third year of it he’s spending as much time in space as any other Doctor.”

While Moffat found the juxtaposition of the ‘professed’ hippy and soldiers interesting, he particularly praised the relationships that grew in the fixed format – particularly a great friendship with the Brigadier (that always seemed greater with other Doctors, other than the Third).  In fact, it’s Season 12 that has the luxury of being able to explore both.  Like the new, enthusiastic Doctor himself they couldn’t wait to break the mould – but they still managed to produce two classic UNIT serials amid the vision and new direction that he season laid down.  That classic season.

There, the secret’s blown. Season 12 is a classic.  The fresh producer found himself saddled with two six part stories and opted to split one of them into a two and four-parter.  A wise choice, and one that adds emphasis to each side of the season.

Ostensibly, the changes are simple. This brash Doctor establishes a speedy line in falling unconscious (much hair, thin skull – hardly dissimilar to earlier Doctors who’d happily disappeared for a whole episode, but a trope in the making) while Sarah-Jane fights the good fight as a believable female companion who can generally resist screaming and the worst excesses of her new Doctor…  And Harry who is, of course, frankly, an idiot.

There must have been something incredibly appealing about knocking out or gassing this garrulous Doctor, having the able bodied companion fall down any crevasse that’s going and letting the female companion bring the conscience.  It’s not only necessary to these stories, but it also works very well.

Coincidence riddles the season, but to no greater degree than any other classic Who run. While there’s Sarah initial spur of the moment decision to investigate Think Tank in Robot or the TARDIS crew’s timely arrival on the Ark, there is also the Time Lord’s intervention at the start of Genesis of the Daleks as well as the distancing of the TARDIS itself. Most importantly there’s the steady, growing arc of Harry Sullivan being just, well, an imbecile. It had become a firm cliché in the series before, but now it was a strength.  Season 12 It’s an incredible year in Doctor Who’s life. It may be full of contradictions but that’s always in style and never coherence.

And it starts with a regeneration…

Robot (Season 12, 1974-5)

Robot is a blast. A good old Terminator-vision, blast of freshness.

Baker arrives in a story that’s very Pertwee, but thanks to his performances makes it undeniably Baker.  It has stand out moments of comedy, often between the Doctor and Harry Sullivan. “No Doctor, I’m the Doctor” and the Brigadier. Such humour would soon develop when Harry was removed from his comfort zone. There’s also the odd aside – see the speed typewriting scene. Elsewhere Sarah’s flirting with a noticeably more laid back Brigadier.

Behind the scenes, Terrance Dicks and Holmes had inverted their roles with Holmes now the Script Editor. And what a remarkable stroke of luck that was.  In writing of Robot, Terrance Dicks ‘homaged’ Asimov’s Rules of Robotics, but as has been said – what else can you do when you’re writing a story about a robot.  Behind the scenes, Holmes was a rare occurrence – someone who could bring his considerable writing ability to enhance scripts as well as originate them.  These were incredible safe hands with which to open up the format again.

Immediately, Baker’s Doctor isn’t as attached to UNIT as Pertwee’s had been, even in his last season. He can’t wait to escape and as he says, “I hate goodbyes”. Watching it, I can’t help but think what any other Doctor would have done. Had it been the Sixth, he may well have buckled down a lot sooner. Still, the Fourth had his own slightly too silly costume selection. Overlong and reaching, fortunately once chooses, it’s the speed and comfort that’s the punch line. Years of familiarity have enhanced the joke.  And then the more telling phrase for this Doctor: “There’s no such word as can’t”. Hanging between that and “No point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes” the Fourth Doctor comes straight out of a Gallifreyan can. One that’s bigger on the inside obviously. They are words to live by, and live he does. Lounging around Bessie in a way Pertwee would have tutted at, losing his hat where Pertwee would pick up his cape – but still carrying off  the role of the scientist when he needs to.

Robot’s plot may be simple, but contains may familiar and surprising scenes that work in its safe familiarity.  The female villain is a great idea, the cadre of rather apathetic fascist super scientists Who-bizarre.

As well as its simplicity, long recaps at the beginning of episodes show that this is one of the slighter stories in the season.  But the references are all packed in.  Aside from the robotic shadow of Asimov (but one that increasingly and oddly dwells on emotional shock in the robot), there’s the classic Kaiju element of the giant Robot (Living metal sneaking into the script fairly late in episode three) and then giant handfuls of King Kong (a suppressed Oedipal complex as the Doctor puts it). The Robot is defeated not by bi-planes but by the Doctor jousting in Bessie. Just one question before he disappears in the TARDIS – when does he get the time to fill his pockets?

The Ark in Space (Season 12, 1975)

Thanks to Harry’s first major ‘accident’ the Fourth Doctor’s is propelled immediately into a classic: The Ark in Space. The Brigadier’s already embraced the inevitable at the end of Robot (“I’ll tell them you’ll be a little late”) although we’ll later learn he has the equivalent of a pager to summon the Doctor back. Ark’s not immediately promising, starting as it does with another POV alien.  But it soon pulls off its masterstroke: the TARDIS crew hold the first episode on their own – something not seen in Who for years.

Holmes’ marvellous script and clever production design helps immeasurably. Two serials in and the Fourth Doctor already has a list of classic quotes. Booby traps and science-fiction ingenuity are built in effortlessly as a fine foil. The Transmat is established as the most common mode of transport and Sarah Jane’s endangerment shows a care taken in crafting alien concepts.

The alien Wirrn, giant rubber insects that they are, are a familiar concept in Who, but here their motivation and MO is simple and effective. There is a poignancy added by those other humans that mentioned in the story, but not seen until the next serial.  The dialect and syntax element may not quite fit with TARDIS translation, but helps evoke a story of natural selection that affects the whole of humanity.  The Harry and the Doctor are regressives, and we’ll see the other side of that when the crew reach Earth.  Ark is clearly of interest to new series writers. That Starship UK is one of the other colony ships is one of the few interesting things in Series 5’s The Beast Below. Before Toclafane, gas creatures, potential Haemovores, the humans of the 30th century are essentially compartmentalised in an idea that dates back at least to Wells.

This serial was finished three or four years before Alien, but explores many similar themes. Here, rather than individual xenomorphic qualities, the concept of race memory is explored alongside body horror and the idea of using an alien race’s  knowledge against them. Special mention has to go to the direction, which elevates Holmes’ already impressive script. The juxtaposition of the Earth High Minister ancient transcript to Noah’s conflicted transformation is brilliant. Ark gets to the core of Who (“it may be irrational, but humans are quite my favourite species”) but there’s one main thing that it gets right. Cliff-hangers. Classic cliff-hangers are the thing you need in a strong Doctor Who serial. Although the last one is slightly cheated, the strength of the race-against-time-plan final part soon makes you forget. And it even finds time for a joke about unions.

Ark in Space is a great serial that grows on me like bubble-wrap with every viewing.  And If you don’t like bubble wrap, you won’t like potatoes.

Because, with the offer of a jelly baby to the saved Homo Sapiens the Doctor simply pops down to Earth to check the Transmat…

The Sontaran Experiment (Season 12, 1975)

This mid-season two-parter is and constantly and understandably overlooked. As it sits sandwiched between two classics, The Sontaran Experiment has a lot of things against it. But this is Season 12, and Season 12 has momentum. Here we see a typical fledgling group of humans (presumably they’re ultimate survivors of Starship South Africa!) and a Sontaran in its screen second appearance again running the show on its own. That’s the funny thing about Sontarans. Arrogant and brave enough to attack on their own, but very much designed as a group animal. Writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin were hardly running loose here, with the creatures’ creator Robert Holmes on script editing duties.

As a brief and sadistic piece where the Fourth Doctor makes the most of being knocked out, Harry’s clumsiness is established as a running joke. He’s the original Rory, just fortunately without the constant death.

Hollywood science-fiction is predated once again here.  The serial’s villain uses the probes of The Empire Strikes Back six years early, making the most of its location – and Dartmoor is a great asset when the serial is governed by budget concerns.  Dartmoor makes for a phenomenally alien location considering.  Add in the myths of Nerva, where we’ve just spent the previous four episodes, and the distant future context and it’s chilling. Sontaran is a bit of a directorial triumph on that score, entirely filmed on location after the set constraints of Ark.  Some of the physical effects, although sparse, just look, well, solid. Only Styre’s step back make-up is unfortunate – but that would become a running theme, and it’s certainly better than The Invasion of Time’s clones. Talking of costumes, you wouldn’t even guess that Tom Baker broke his collar-bone during filming, covered as he is in his sprawling coat.

Perhaps Sontaran’s main legacy is to that ravaged, damaged, forgotten Earth of the future.  It would again reappear as an idea in Ravalox, and the New Series.  The Sword fighting conclusion and the Doctor’s casual and rather arrogant, and sudden, dismissal of the Sontaran fleet conjures up the image of the post-2005 revival as well.  But in terms of sadism and running outdoors frolics, it’s a precursor and a warm-up for the other classic to follow.

Genesis of the Daleks and Revenge of the Cybermen (Season 12, 1975)

Two huge tales with two huge enemies, so I’ll consider them together.

Genesis was Terry Nation’s third Dalek tale in three years and he couldn’t have picked a better time to mix it up. Gerry Davis, co-creator of the Cybermen also decided to add something his classic creations. But what’s interesting when watching Genesis and Revenge back to back is how opposite their approaches were. Genesis, with its many 60s throwbacks and reinforced World War II analogy still shines as tale that would set the future for the Doctor and Daleks. Revenge on the other hand, for all its futuristic sensibilities, is a very backward-looking tale.

How strange it is to meet Davros two stories after the bumbling Professor Kettlewell of Robot. Davros is a marvellous creation of course, so good he would go on to bestride this new Dalek chronology until the series revival.  Although sadly Michael Wisher wouldn’t.

But the revelation of the Dalek’s creator is not the only master-stroke. The links between Daleks and National Socialism had been there since Nation introduced this new self-proclaimed master race in 1963.  But here he had a larger, more academic canvas to spell it out. What’s brilliant is the strong science-fiction conceits that lie under it. There’s the thousand year war with the de-technology that has come from prolonged conflict. There’s the Kaled perception of the universe with the belief that Skaro is alone in the seven galaxies as a life supporting galaxy. There’s the scale of a tale that’s essentially a first contact story and inevitably, the Doctor is almost the first Dalek victim.  The Kaleds discover that aliens exist just as their transformation is ensured, allowing Nation to tie in concepts of nature versus nature as well retaining some science-fiction shtick. There are the domes and the retro rocket straight from 1950s B-movies or Steam punk Victoriana.

Then there’s the debate between the Doctor and Davros, where the crippled scientist really steals the show. And then there’s that really fascinating debate: How big a role does the Doctor play in their development. Does he actually name them rather than predict that infamous moniker? He delays them a thousand years, but is his role woven into their history already? That ties into the Looperesque moral quandaries of the final cliff-hanger, but flows through all six episodes. Of course, it was also the first act of the Time War.

Time Lord first blood.

And all the while, intrigue packs out the plot twists, with both sides as mottled as the other – light and dark abounds on the devastated planet. Most of all however, alongside the Nation-esque giant mutant clams there’s the return of the big Nation cliff-hangers. Again, all you need for good Doctor Who… Even the silly tearing around for the Time Ring and the not so silly tearing around to destroy the tape, both timely padding, don’t get in the way of that.

Following all that, it’s not unexpected that things go a little awry on the trippy (Mind Robber-esque) return to Nerva.

I’m a big fan of the idea of cyber wars and the rich depth they add to Who’s scattered history. While I think of Daleks attacking, invading and exterminating, I think of Cybermen locked in massive, attritional wars with space empires. It’s a notion that only Neil Gaiman’s Nightmare in Silver has recently picked up recently, although sadly it wasn’t very well received (actually, it’s very good. It’s Neil Gaiman).

In Revenge, there isn’t a strong fleet or troupe of Cybers plotting the invasion of Earth. Instead, there’s a rag tag gang in a rickety underwhelming ship and a hokey plan. Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that it’s here that emotion begins to creep into the Cyber language. Much charm is added by the reuse of the Nerva sets and the chilling early scenes of scattered corpses and threat of plague.

But while Kellman’s early reveal and subsequent counter-betrayal (and rather shocking death) are novel in structure, the rag tag support characters are very perfunctory. On Voga, the structure is neat and the make-up ambitious, but incomprehensible. Wookey Hole may make a great location, but there’s an inherent ridiculousness to the Vogans.  And that’s not simply the make-up and Seals of Rassilon.

Surrounded by gold, the dust of which can incapacitate a Cyberman alone (unless they brush it aside of course), why would the Cybermen attempt to set foot on the planet and why would the Vogans be remotely scared?

I wouldn’t attempt a global-scale Reggie Perrin – I’d buy some glitter guns – with gold – and stick up some neon signs saying ‘Come get us’.

Still, the peak of the running Harry joke makes the planet fall worthwhile.  Almost simultaneously causing a rock fall and destroying the planet is comedy ‘gold’. It’s a shame the young Doctor would soon be considered surplus to requirements alongside the new athletic Doctor.

Plot wise, Revenge gives The Sontaran Experiment a run for its money and even manages to unravel at the end.  Still, despite the remote control rocket (complete with stock NASA footage!) and Flash Gordon-style space station orienteering, it’s not too shabby.  It makes for a satisfactory conclusion, even if it’s not a stunning one.  Ah, if only Terror of the Zygons had made it in as a season closer… You can almost see the glam appeal that led it to march proudly on the VHS market some seven or so years later.

Still, all things considered, it’s amazing that there was no follow-up to Genesis until the rather underwhelming Destiny of the Daleks. But it’s no surprise that Revenge saw off the Cybermen until the rather fabulous Earthshock in 1982.

The concept of the arc itself would have a dramatic effect.  In terms of scope, it I don’t think the prolonged serials of the 60s or Pertwee can count against this five part web.  Season 12 was the bold, new beginning that Doctor Who needed to move on to even greater success. That’s exactly what you need within a few years of an anniversary and hopefully that lesson’s now been learnt.  Season 12 is probably the greatest and most cohesive season in Doctor Who and guess what?

Things would only get better.

TIMEY-WIMEY:  Read on for the Fifth Doctor and his companion’s snake issues in Whovember #5!

Doctor Who: End of the Daleks – “Ghosts from the future” (Whovember #3)

Third Doctor Whovember Jokertoon

3D

Daleks, as they are prone to do, show up more often than not.  Before the great sea change of season 12, Jon Pertwee’s third Doctor faced the last of a timeline across three seasons.  On Skaro, that’s called the end of an era.

#3: Day of the Daleks, Planet of the Daleks and Death to the Daleks.

THEY’D BEEN AWAY A WHILE THOSE PEPPER POTS.  Last seen in 1967 when they’d opened and closed the fourth season, the Daleks return at the start of season 9 was a big event.  That first duel is an ambitious tale, one that proved a bit of a stretch in its production actually pushed the crazed mutants onto the back-burner in favour of that real old enemy: time itself.  Day of the Daleks at least attempted something new, but within a year it was outshone by the return of their creator.  No, not that chap.  It was Terry Nation who returned for the subsequent two seasons to provide a homely, intriguing throwback serial in each.  The Third Doctor may never have faced the Cybermen on screen, but he certainly got his fill of Daleks.  What’s more he finished them off.  As much as the latter two of the Pertwee Dalek stories pay tribute to the past, Day of the Daleks hints at a future that would be full of paradox and change…

Day of the Daleks (Season Nine, 1972)

What a great name, and apt – this is all about time.  And of course, as with modern Who – amid the era-typical UNIT posturing, uppity Knights of the Realm and Doctor’s wine theft – it can get a little confusing.  This is the serial where the Daleks have properly taken on the paradoxes of space-time, although they seem to wilfully ignore them.  Forget the time corridors and the like, this is the story that fits before the First Doctor story The Chase.  Set rather statically on Earth, it’s unlikely that it was their successful capture of Earth that prompted their temporal breakthrough.  But it is likely that their loss of that planet prompted their later pursuit of the First Doctor.  Having lost Earth twice was a step too far.  Later Who-lore introduced a Dalek Time Controller who can see beyond its current Timeline (similar to Time Lords, this must be more from technology than physiognomy) and would no doubt miserably impart that second defeat to fuel some hate.  It must be a patchy but clinical case of trial and error, Dalek temporal experimentation.  The fact that the Daleks don’t recognise the Third Doctor adds to this timeline, although could also fit in with the time-bothering Evil of the Daleks as well.

However, the real cameo in Louis Marks’ tale of time is the Blinovitch Limitation Effect.  A brilliant and inspired temporal block that… will forever remain vague and unexplained.  While earlier serials like The Space Museum had tackled the concept of time, this was the first one to properly take it on and all the inherent paradoxes therein.

The concept is sci-fi huge – terrorists travelling back in time to avert a conference that led to their timeline.  Unfortunately, as might be expected, the inherent paradoxical problems are also huge.  Of interest is the Earth of the future, with the silver blushed humans operating under a collaborating Controller who very possibly believes that he’s working for the survival of humanity.  It’s a fine twist on the classic Who trope ‘we can’t possibly fight the Daleks’.  Early on in the story, the concept of the ghosts of time are well explored (that is the real implication of the story after all) and there’s always room for a haunted house in Doctor Who.  The biggest bonus of the story though, has to be UNIT versus Daleks…  And of course, versus the Ogrons.  The Doctor infamously and mercilessly disintegrates one of them during the course of this tale – but then they are silly goits.  And that’s not to say that the Doctor is a darker, uncaring sort in this story – he shows massive concern for his cape at all junctures.  In fact, his first tussle with the Ogrons comes just because he’d left it in the study…

The oddest thing in a tightly coiled story that could never really overcome its central paradox?  The duplicate Jo and Doctor we see at the start.  How and why they appear is never revealed.  And odd side effect of episodic Who perhaps, but one that quite undermines a story based on cause and effect.  That meeting must have happened in temporal proximity as they are in the same clothes.  That we don’t see it is bizarre.  Ghosts of the future.

As the adventure unravels, the servant and Dalek factor shenanigans of the Second Doctor’s tenure is continued as the Daleks craftiness returns to time-space opera (away from the narrow confines of Troughton’s colonial/Victorian battles).  Or perhaps it’s simply the inevitable laziness that comes from Dalek hubris and one of their plans going right? Still, Marks sole stab at Dalek tales is a great success in terms of concept.  A proto-Terminator, it sits oddly in the Pertwee era.  Oh, there are crazier things in store, but the Dalek assault on a country house ticks boxes.

There’s an essential irony here, with the Dalekanium final, pivotal bomb an interesting if convenient creation.  That is not to say that the Daleks do much else.  It’s rather important that the Daleks main role is exploitation.  Their actions are mainly in defence of a timeline in which they have already won.  No doubt they hold that dear, which begs the question why they trust so much to humans until the last – at which point they send a rather insignificant extermination force back in time.  Still, having already exploited a hundred year war, they are minded to protect it against their own technology purloined by guerrilla humans, even if that timeline was created by their own technology.  They could have run a number of logical scenario projections, but for them and us it isn’t just timey-wimey…

Day of the Daleks has a powerful legacy, thanks to its ripping concept and timely VHS release.  The controller, his look and design would cast a long shadow over The Long Game and Bad Wolf of the revived series one.  But talking of exploitation…

Planet of the Daleks (Season Ten, 1973)

Planet of the Daleks may come at the end of an epic arc now known as Dalek War alongside previous adventure Frontier in Space, but it’s a simple sci-fi heavy take of Dalek exploitation once again.  You can always rely on Terry Nation to supply a rollickingly traditional tale.  Planet will always be a favourite of mine, this particular viewing coming on the 20th anniversary of the BBC repeat in 1993.  Of course, that anniversary means we are practically the same distance away from that repeat as it was from the original broadcast.

That’s not worth thinking about, and in any event, but tale isn’t about time.  It’s another chrono-easingly jam-packed space adventure full of solid sci-fi concepts and helpful aliens.  It’s rather loosely connected to Frontier, but several points add significant weight.  The return of the Thals for the first time since The Daleks is a joy.  Now an intergalactic combat force that regard the Doctor and Earth as equal legends, they are not simply a neat throwback but make for one of the better realised allies in Whodom.  It’s enough to take your mind away from questioning how Thals and Daleks timeshare Skaro, but presumably the Daleks are in one of their more galaxy focussed phases, leaving the planet to the Thals until they conquer it again.  These affable, reluctant but war-ready Thals are a nice development.  They’re different from human portrayals in the series, and there’s a nice continuity in their feeling of responsibility and how their millennia long war has spread to the stars.  The planet Spiridon is presumably near to Skaro in galactic terms.  It’s named as a planet in the ninth system by the Thals, adding nice speculation as to how this fits in with the seven galaxies we find out that Ancient Skaro residents (Kaleds anyway) were aware of (as we find out in two Dalek stories time).

So, here the Daleks are at their terra-exploitationary best.  The ice core is important, but the distinctive abilities of the planet’s inhabitants are a real bonus.  Dalek invisibility is a silly ploy, although it makes for a classic cliff-hanger at the end of the first part.  Terry Nation sure knows how to craft some cliff-hangers.  The real killer in Planet comes with the revelation that the planet Spiridon houses the largest Dalek attack force in history…  Cue some rather adorable miniature work that no man-child Dalek toy collector could ignore.  With the cryogenic suspension courtesy of the of the planet’s frozen core there’s a solid and brilliant centre to the plot.  Of course there has to be a refrigeration unit, and also a giant bloody ventilation shaft.  That cliff-hangers a favourite – all the better since part three was colour remastered…  Planet is a romp, and solid return by Terry Nation.  Yes, it depletes the Daleks a little, especially when Jo grant grapples one.  But being pushed into a (frozen) lake, having their vision by coats impaired and sluggishly waking from cryogenic suspension – that’s all part of the slightly silly appeal they’ve always had.  Same as it ever was – sometimes they are simply Dalek.  And a special word for the Daleks left at the whim of the Kamikaze tray spilling Spiridon:  Trapped for eternity, we hear panic and fear.  And that’s rather affecting.

Death to the Daleks (Season Eleven, 1974)

Death to the Daleks occupies a similarly warm place to Planet in my cold, mutated, green heart (of the future).  It’s just about the first Doctor Who VHS I owned, and probably one of my most watched – although not as much in recent years.  I remember having to repair the plastic sleeve cover, using a rather crude sticky back plastic solution when I first found it in a rather disreputable shop.  And that’s a pretty good analogy for what the Daleks have to do in a classic science fiction tale of an ‘EMP’ planet that necessitates that traditional Dalek guns are replaced by machine guns. Death gets a lot of stick, perceived as a further slide in Dalek dominance.  It’s a fair argument, although it’s unfortunate considering that some of the latter set pieces are well realised homages to the earlier monster led Dalek adventures, ideas that Terry Nation had those in spades.

Yes, I’m going to say it again, Nation brings some heavy sci-fi tropes to the planet Exillon.  There’s the stone age civilisation in awe of an ancient, technologically advanced, long abandoned city.  There’s the compelling concept of that city as sentient being– so good that the Doctor’s journey through its immune system would be picked up by the far better regarded Pyramids on Mars.  Nation pulls out that idea of an immune system, with its literal antibodies in the effective hermetically sealed control room at the end, replete with distracted Doctor and evaporating corpses (a neat play on the watching alien idea).  Most of all though, Death is Doctor Who’s version of Alien 3.  It’s a similar attempt to depower and even the odds a little between two opposing forces.  Unfortunately, that idea seldom works.

There’s a ruggedness about latter Pertwee that I can only put down to the Doctor’s flatter sense of velvet, the lack of Master and of course, the wonderful Sarah Jane Smith.  The opening scenes are brilliant, with the prolonged, physical escape from the depowered TARDIS and the long earth furrows of the alien world with its rising steam…

Once again, of course, the Doctor encounters a band of space explorers.  But here, the usual dissent in the ranks is a little more developed.  This time the resentful humans are forced to work with Daleks and we and they are well aware of their own flawed characters.  Despite that intrigue, they struggle to compete with the wonderfully realised Thals of Planet.  The most interesting arc is that of the unlikable Galloway (yes, bearded Scottish, alliance forming Galloway), especially the saddening and sickening way he takes control against the orders of the dying commander that only he heard.  Of course, there is redemption by the end…

“Living, bubbling lumps of hate” is how the Doctor describes the Dalek mutations here – charming.  It may be true, but sits a little uneasily with Daleks who are taken out one by one as if they are in an old Skaro slasher film, all while they confer about their own duplicity.  Maybe that’s Dalek morality for you.

You could put this down to their arrogance on a lesser world if it wasn’t for that darn catchy Dalek incidental music…  Still it’s not long before their exploitation grows from a chemical warfare to a  marriage of convenience with the humans and on to their comfortable enslavement of the stone age Exillons (later oil analogies add a nuance).  Unfortunately, those indigenous inhabitants are a little similar to the Spiridons with their big coats.  They may have a little more reason to have them on their inhospitable quarry planet, but it ruins their quite effective design.  Like large rock possums, it’s strange that everyone seems immune to the Exillons large eyes.  Not that most of them aren’t as homicidal as they are superstitious.

Still, it’s wise to consider Death as one of the middle tale in Dalek history, easy in a  long stretched campaign of empire building between their protracted origins and new time line.  If you do, Death offers a few odd moments of brilliance.  One is the Third Doctor’s commentary of the Dalek versus City root in the caverns.  Another is the quite striking, but epically long pagan sacrifice of Sarah 9made for 5.1) – that the Doctor rather recklessly, albeit rightly, physically attacks (not out of character for him in a Dalek tale).  The sight of the Daleks equipped with machine guns is striking and effective, in fact it’s one that stayed with me for years.  Machine guns suit them, even if their quick change is a bit of a stretch.

As defaulting to that the ‘EMP’ plot suggests, the Daleks were in need of some fresh blood by this point.  While Marks had created an interesting plot in Day of the Daleks, it didn’t need Daleks as much as it needed a time conceit.  Nation brought a very specific tone back to the two third Doctor Dalek tales that followed, and they are very much Dalek tales.  In both, world conquering Daleks use their general sneakiness to extend their universal war aims.  They’re exploitative in all three tales, and in all three bring does one of their unique characteristics come to the fore.  The Daleks may be logical, but they are by no means unemotional.  In turn, whether the Doctor teams up with Thals or humans to defeat them, the language and plans he hatches are the same.  By this point, they are locked in a fixed battle that would foreshadow the later ideology clash of the Time Lords and the Daleks.

Across three years and 14 episodes (not including Frontier), Pertwee’s dandy action Doctor provided a satisfactory end to the Daleks’ early 1970s stage.  However, the necessary change was imminent.  While the Doctor’s call for Time Lord help in Planet may show an skirmish in the later Time War, it would be with his next Dalek tale that Nation would sow their new future.  With first refusal on Dalek stories and a mythos that needed stemming, it’s not so surprising that Nation would mix things up, but that he would do it so soon and so effectively.  Not only would Season 12 reset the Dalek timeline, but arguably reduce the pepper pots to second string players until the 2005 revival.  After an interesting and reverential final trilogy, it would soon be time to meet their other father, a ghost from the past…

TIMEY-WIMEY:  Read on for the Fourth Doctor’s whole new scarf in Whovember #4!

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