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Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (part five)

Bit of a low day around the old pad. It was nice to escape into Davros’s escape-proof bunker for a half-hour. You’d think that this wasn’t a particularly thrilling segment for kids, but our son was pretty riveted, wondering what would happen next. At the end, when the Doctor’s being throttled by one of the organic Dalek mutants, he was reminded of the brief animated appearance of the Dalek creatures in “The Power of the Daleks.” Glad to see his memory banks are working at capacity.

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Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (part four)

Some things our son pays good attention, surprisingly good attention, to… and some things he doesn’t. Tonight, as the first squad of Daleks enters the Thals’ city to avenge the mass murder of the Kaled people, our son wondered whether they would recognize the Doctor. We had to remind him that these are the very first Daleks. They haven’t met any of the Doctors yet. “Oh, yeah…” he said.

But on the other hand, regular readers know that I playfully feign despair over our son’s inability to recognize even the most distinctive actors. Tonight, though, he recognized a voice! When Davros started ranting right before sending this death squad into action, our son said “He sounds like that gold Dalek… the one… their leader.” And later, when Davros has our heroes captured, demanding the Doctor tell him all about the Daleks’ future defeats and failures, he repeated “That is exactly like that gold Dalek!”

He’s referring to the Dalek Supreme, from “Planet of the Daleks,” and he’s right. Michael Wisher, the actor who plays Davros here, did the voice of the Dalek Supreme. Good for him! He was so happy to hear that he was correct that he clapped hands and high-fived his mom. Now let’s see what happens the next time Burgess Meredith turns up somewhere.

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Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (part three)

Last time, I talked about how much I enjoyed “Genesis of the Daleks” when I first saw it. I was twice our son’s age, though. This is a pretty complex story for a six year-old, and part three is quite talky and political. There’s a brief flurry of gunfire at the beginning, and then Harry and the Doctor bump into that giant clam we talked about last time, and it tries to eat Harry’s leg. This was certainly our son’s favorite part of the story so far!

The Daleks’ creator, Davros, is played by Michael Wisher and it’s a terrific performance. We saw him last night alternately clinical and ranting, but this time out he has to be subtle and calculating. He’s accompanied by the wonderful Peter Miles as Nyder, who is willing to act as the devil’s advocate and ask Davros whether he’s absolutely sure about his actions. Nyder isn’t a simple toadie; when we met him in part one, it was obvious that he’d be an extremely dangerous opponent even if he weren’t loyal to Davros.

But as for the political edge, the villain here is working to his own agenda and it’s not communicated in a simple enough way for our kid to understand his machinations. This is a case where us grownups definitely have to step in and underline the ramifications. Davros is so obsessed with the goal of developing the Daleks that he’s willing to switch sides and help the Thals murder everybody in his city before the city councilors can interfere with his experiments. This is the sort of thing that when you’re watching with a six year-old, you learn pretty instantly you’re going to have to explain in more detail.

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Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks (parts one and two)

My first experience with Doctor Who came when I was in the fifth grade. One of our local channels, 36, had a Sunday morning monster movie – Godzilla, Gamera, Gorgo – and one week they played what I later learned was the second of the Peter Cushing Dalek films. I gave it twenty minutes and switched off when it became apparent there wouldn’t be any giant monsters in it.

A year later, I checked out a book from the Griffin Middle School library. It was probably Daniel Cohen’s Science Fiction’s Greatest Monsters. I speed-read part of it, badly, and didn’t pay attention, but concluded that apparently Doctor Who was the British equivalent of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, somehow, and that Daleks were regularly-appearing monsters in the stories, kind of like if the Zanti Misfits popped up in lots of Limits episodes or something.

About a year after that, WGTV showed “The Five Doctors” on its American premiere, about five weeks in advance of starting the Tom Baker years in January 1984. I kept either missing it or being told to go to bed – the show started at 10 pm Saturday nights – but I really wanted to see this “British Outer Limits.” On the fourth week of its run, around the same time that viewers in the UK were enjoying the latest serial, “Frontios,” I got permission to stay up, and long, long before a Dalek showed up, twenty-odd minutes into this two-and-a-half-hour TV movie, I was completely hooked for life. Of course, when the Dalek showed up, I said something like “Hey, it’s one of those robots from that monster movie that didn’t have any monsters in it.”

I loved everything about “Genesis of the Daleks.” I loved the videotaped studio footage and I loved the bleak atmosphere. I loved the unbelievable body count and I loved how amazingly ruthless and nasty Davros and the Daleks were. I loved the heroes: the Doctor was interesting, but Harry and Sarah were the best sidekicks I’d ever seen. I did not mind the low-tech laser effects; everything else was amazing. I loved the killer clams, which show up in the next part. British fans who write books inevitably bring up the clams, with a disappointed sigh. British fans were evidently never twelve years old. I loved the acting and the incredibly weird ending. So these three travel in space… how? It was just me and the TV from 10 until 12:30 the next morning, figuring this out as I went. No Wikipedia, no forums, no books, and nobody, for many, many months, who knew one minute more about this incredible show than I did.

I couldn’t convince anybody, for ages, to try it. (That’s the story of my life, actually.) I’m not kidding: many of my pals refused to try it because it was on the same channel as Sesame Street, and consequently it must also be for babies. Seventh graders, we must remember, are horribly desperate to be grown up and cannot bear to be reminded of anything they enjoyed when they were children, which is why I sadly anticipate this blog concluding around the time our son turns twelve, if not before. See also this earlier entry of an occasion when Middle School Me went apoplectic about an early Batman episode.

My best mate at age 12 was a neighborhood kid called Blake, who did trust my judgement and wanted to see the show. Unfortunately, they went to church Sunday mornings and his mother wouldn’t let him stay up to watch it. Sometime in April 1984, she finally relented, and let Blake stay up while she watched to “approve” of the show. The title of that week’s story was “The Robots of Death.” She saw that name, turned off the TV, and ordered him to bed.

(I shouldn’t mock; she very kindly came to pay respects when my dad died, but that woman drove poor Blake batty. Remind me to tell you the story of the Root Beer Incident one day.)

Anyway: “Genesis of the Daleks.” It’s written by Terry Nation and directed by David Maloney, it has Michael Wisher and Peter Miles in critical guest star roles, and I’m utterly incapable of being objective about it.

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Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks (part six)

The Thals turn out to be pretty good guerrilla fighters against the Daleks once the Doctor shows up. Two Daleks get killed by the liquid ice explosion in their tunnel, two more are killed by the bomb, one falls all the way down the ventilator shaft, two get led into the ice pool on the surface, and two more are locked forever in the sealed germ lab with lethal bacteria. That seems to leave seven in this episode, so maybe sixteen on the planet in total. The Thals said that there were about a dozen Daleks here. They were off by four. Their hit and run tactics are better than their field intelligence, I guess.

In the best scene in this episode, the newly-arrived Dalek Supreme, represented by a refurbished prop from the two Dalek movies produced by Amicus in the 1960s, gets sick of one of the seven remaining Daleks’ failure and exterminates him. Our son, who really, really enjoyed all the last-minute escapes and explosions this time, had eyes like dinner plates. “Daleks killing other Daleks?!” he shouted, amazed. He was petrified by the bit where the Doctor has to drop down onto the floor of the Daleks’ refrigeration chamber and retrieve a bomb while groggy Daleks start emerging from hibernation and hid behind the sofa.

One other little moment of note: the show has told us that Jo has gone into space four times now: “Colony in Space,” “The Curse of Peladon,” “The Mutants,” and the arc of these last three stories. (Since she begins “Frontier” wearing the same outfit she wore in “Carnival,” and has Drashigs fresh on her mind, I suggest they didn’t go back to Earth between the two.) This is the second of her four trips away from our planet where she’s broken the heart of a space boyfriend. Fortunately, she looks pretty well done with space travel by the end of this one.

(Although, twelve years after this serial was made, a later TV adventure called “Timelash” would establish that this Doctor took Jo and an unnamed third traveling companion to the planet Karfel, the setting for that story. Ten years after “Timelash,” the author Paul Leonard wrote a pair of novels for Virgin Books that explained that little continuity blip, and showed that sometime after “Planet of the Daleks” but before the next adventure, the Doctor, Jo, and Captain Yates had some adventures together. I’ll only accept that as canon if Jo broke some other spaceman’s heart along the way.)

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Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks (part five)

I don’t know why it amuses me so much in this story when the whole of seventies and eighties Doctor Who is plagued by harsh lighting, reflective surfaces, giant cracks in the studio sets where two big pieces of wood fit together, and “make everything look fake” videotape, but I swear all the stagehands who worked on “Planet of the Daleks” shared the greasiest pizza ever baked in Britain before they set up the Daleks and the props in this story. There are handprints and fingerprints on every visible surface in the Dalek base.

And, as befits a show that looks for some kind of in-story explanation for why the second Doctor looks so much older and grayer in a story made in 1985 than his final adventure back in ’69, somebody once suggested that there are handprints all over the transparent cube that houses the killer bacteria because the humanoid Spiridons left their greasy mitts all over it. My point is that if somebody had wiped the dumb thing down with a cloth before they started taping, nobody would be distracted by the unreality of the visual in the first place, and besides, there are fingerprints all over one Dalek’s eyepiece in one of the closeups, and I don’t think you’re going to convince me that the Daleks are all that likely to let the Spiridons get that up close and personal with them.

In other news, Prentis Hancock’s annoying character gets killed this time, and our son is pretty much at the point where only the lack of explosions are keeping this off his list of favorite stories. He is having an absolute blast with this one. It’s the perfect Who adventure for six year-olds, but he really likes explosions.

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Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks (part four)

There are many reasons why I try to avoid being negative about an actor when I don’t like the performance. For one, I try to be a positive person these days. For another, I once said something dismissive on Usenet two decades ago about the actor Elijah Wood after he played a creep in an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, and I think I closed that email account after three years of hate mail from offended Elijah Wood fans. But mainly it’s because I’m not quite as intemperate and opinionated a blowhard as I once was, and try to recognize the difference between an actor I may perceive as grating and their performance as a grating character. That’s why the less said about Michael Hawkins’ performance as the general in the previous story, the better.

But this time out, we’ve got Prentis Hancock, whom I have never liked in anything. Mind you, I’ve only actually seen him in four or five things, counting a dozen or so Space: 1999 episodes as “one thing,” but you know what I mean. It’s easy to leave a story like “Planet of the Daleks” wanting to punch him in the mouth, but that might be because no actor could rescue this moron of a character, acting impetuous and idiotic and getting all the heroes in trouble. Is it fair to blame Hancock for the one-dimensional dimwit that Terry Nation wrote? It’s not like he had the opportunity for subtlety, is there?

On the other hand, I like Bernard Horsfall a lot, but his character isn’t done any favors by the gender politics of Terry Nation’s script, either. This time, he successfully lays the guilt on his girlfriend for coming to Spiridon on the second mission, asking her how she could expect him to risk her life on this mission, and didn’t she realize that she’s now put them all in danger because he may be too worried about her to act? “No,” said my wife, seething, “she thought you could act like a professional. Jerk.” How does Horsfall come away from a similarly stupid character with my admiration for his performance while Hancock makes me want to throw things at the screen?

For what it’s worth, Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning remain magical in a production that sees Jo briefly dazed by a falling rock so big that it should have split her skull like a grapefruit, and the sinister eyes of jungle animals represented by colored light bulbs. And the Daleks – they’re the reason we’re here! – have our son absolutely enraptured. This time, two get blown “to kablooey” and another falls down a deep ventilator shaft to be smashed to pieces many hundreds of feet below. I kind of prefer these less indestructible Daleks to the modern kind, even if they do look like they’re made from wood with reflective paint.

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Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks (part three)

The first time I watched (most of) “Planet of the Daleks,” on PBS around 1987, I wasn’t impressed. I wasn’t impressed when I watched it again after getting a complete copy in 1994 either. But about nine years after that, I watched it with my older son, then about six, and got a new appreciation for it. This is definitely a story to watch with a kid, as we experienced again tonight. The thrill that a child has for Daleks, and the total conviction they have in their cruelty and their power, almost totally overshadows any production problems or scripting silliness.

You can be a curmudgeon on your own; watching this story with a kid is huge fun. Ours was excited, worried, frantic, and, when the ice-volcano erupts and two Daleks are splashed with gallons and gallons of “ice hot lava,” absolutely pleased. We briefly debated whether that shouldn’t be called “ice cold lava” before paying attention to the next bit of running down corridors. Upstairs, now, his nightly playtime before bed has been interrupted several times while Mommy has been threatened with extermination.

Note that I say “almost totally.” Kids can love Daleks all they want, but nothing can save the next Dalek serial that they made, the following year. That thing’s a complete turkey.

Anyway, the reason I’m less familiar with this story than almost all the others from the era that I’ve seen many times is that Lionheart, the company that syndicated Doctor Who in the 1980s, deliberately provided stations with a badly edited version. As I’ve mentioned previously, the BBC wiped many of Jon Pertwee’s color tapes, retaining only black and white film prints for export to countries who hadn’t switched to color yet instead. Lionheart’s package of the 24 Jon Pertwee stories, edited into TV movies, included five black and white movies and nineteen color ones.

However, both “Planet of the Daleks” and “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” from the following season, were idiotically offered as color TV movies with their missing color segments simply cut out. Since part three of this story was missing in color, the narrative of the movie version just jumps from the character telling Bernard Horsfall “Somewhere on this planet there are ten thousand Daleks!” to a scene a few minutes into part four, once everyone has escaped from the Dalek base. Twenty-five minutes just chopped out. I know I’ve said that these six-parters are all about one episode too long, but that’s insane. They should have syndicated it as a complete black and white movie. It was good enough for “The Daemons.”

(Even weirder, I’ve read that Lionheart also offered this in its mostly-original episodic format, only with the credits remade, so the American “part three” was the original “part four,” and so on. Since WGTV only bought the Pertwee adventures as TV movie compilations, we never saw it like that in Atlanta, but I wonder whether this version included the escape from the refrigeration room that was cut out of the TV movie.)

Anyway, the version of “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” that they offered was, while still obnoxious, not quite as incoherent since the missing color part was the opening episode, and so it looked like the movie began with the adventure already in progress. I hope we’ll be watching this story in about one month’s time, and I’ll talk more about that when we get there, but it was also one that I skipped copying off air.

There’s a terrific short documentary on the DVD about how they rebuilt this episode and restored the color. It took two separate projects: traditional colorizing done by a firm in Los Angeles, and a really neat project in London that extracted color information – chroma-dots – from a black and white telerecording. It’s absolutely wonderful to finally see this episode just about exactly as it was first taped.

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