There have been a few episodes of this show that I’d heard of long before I saw it. The one where the village disappears. The one where everyone on the Tube train is dead. And of course this one, the one with the dead spaceman. When a show goes for these bizarre hooks, they get reputations. This one was written by Tony Williamson and deserves all the great things people say about it. It’s a good story where the clues keep coming, and even once we get part of a line on why a safecracker known to London’s gangland has suffocated in a spacesuit on a Soho street, we’re lost in what the target could possibly be. Our son and I really enjoyed this. Guest stars include Wanda Ventham, Tony Selby, and Duncan Lamont. Our son saw Lamont again just last week when he rewatched “Death to the Daleks” for some inexplicable reason, but, in keeping with tradition, the kid didn’t recognize him despite his incredibly distinctive voice.
Well, that was about as bad as I remembered. Like all of the many Doctor Who stories that fumble, this one has a couple of neat concepts in it. This one should feature the remarkably interesting idea of a living city, but because this is just Who by the numbers, the city is just a location for a deeply boring and slow chase with Daleks somewhere behind them. The “Pop Goes the Weasel” / “Three Blind Mice” music emphasizes just how slow and stodgy this is.
It’s never interesting, and never even fails in an entertaining way. I’m reminded of how “The Claws of Axos” looked and felt so shoddy and rushed. This doesn’t have any of that story’s weird editing decisions or poor acting, but it also doesn’t have that story’s sense of doing something weird, new, and unique. “The Claws of Axos” tried to be different. This just tries to be the same Dalek adventure that they did the previous season.
Mercifully, the Dalek adventure in the next season would try to be something entirely different!
I’ve always been one of those insufferable list-makers. Five favorite Miles Davis records, all the Bond films best to worst, make one last Beatles LP with tracks from their first couple of solo albums, and, inevitably, the five worst Doctor Who stories. Since the show came back in 2005, three of the five previous residents on that list have been replaced by new turkeys. Two of ’em even dislodged “The Twin Dilemma” as the all-time stinker. If you had told twenty year-old me after they cancelled the show “Don’t worry, it will be back one day and you’ll love it and it’ll become so popular that it will air in the US the same day it’s shown in Britain,” I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had added “And there will be two stories even worse than ‘The Twin Dilemma’,” then I’d have known for sure you were lying.
But two episodes into this rewatch, “Death to the Daleks” remains on the list. It’s dire. It was written by Terry Nation on autopilot, directed without any flair or care at all by Michael E. Briant, and the only interesting acting performance is by John Abineri, who gets killed early in part two. Duncan Lamont, who had a small but memorable role in the film version of Quatermass and the Pit, is the lead guest star, and he looks like he has better things he could be doing.
At least it starts okay. Before the sun comes up on the quarry planet of Exxilon, it’s lit well and looks creepy. But then the sun rises and we meet the boring humans and then the Daleks show up and it gets downright dull, which is Doctor Who‘s worst sin. And it sounds like the end of the world. The music is by Carey Blyton, the same oddball who ruined “Doctor Who and the Silurians” in 1970 with his kazoos. This time, he’s got the London Saxophone Quartet in tow, and their apparent goal was to deliberately undermine the drama in every single scene with inappropriately whimsical tunes. What could have been a crash-bang wallop cliffhanger to part one is accompanied by something about as threatening as “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
The only interesting thing that happens is the Daleks’ ray guns stop working and so they install some machine guns instead. That’s not the interesting part. What’s cute is that they practice their projectile weapon on a teeny model TARDIS. Why do they have that? Do they load a crate of toy police boxes on every Dalek ship for them to use as stress squeezies? Do the Daleks collect Doctor Who action figures, the same way humans collect trading cards of serial killers and famous criminals? Nothing happens in these two episodes as remotely interesting as wondering why they have that toy!
Our son enjoyed it, happily, with the caveat that the primitive, cave-dwelling Exxilons are much, much creepier than he’d prefer. They are really kind of frightening to him. The Daleks are as exciting as ever, and he’s surprisingly glad that they’ve had to unplug their death rays for machine guns, because the bullets are less scary!