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Doctor Who: Day of the Daleks (part four)

In 2011, “Day of the Daleks” was released on DVD with a really interesting bonus feature: a complete special edition of the story with new special effects, several additional Daleks, some new footage for the climactic battle scene, and proper Dalek voices provided by Nick Briggs instead of those guys that did the original work forty years previously and sounded wrong. Unfortunately, the well-meaning team behind this otherwise entertaining upgrade also decided to cut the hilarious bit in episode one where an Ogron actor forgets to talk like an Ogron and just mumbles “No complications” in his regular voice. For shame! I love that part!

We switched over to watch the special edition for part four. It might be fairly accused of having one or ten too many bells and whistles, but it does improve what was originally a pretty tame battle scene. The director, Paul Bernard, did his best, but he just didn’t have the resources to make this important sequence shine. Worse, the human part of the conflict is ridiculous. Sir Reginald absolutely refuses to evacuate. Nobody thinks to say “There is a bomb in this building and terrorists are attacking.” You’d think that would get people back in their cars. But with lasers all over the screen and smoke in the air and bullets ricocheting off Dalek armor and lines of bullets vipping along the ground and UNIT soldiers getting either exterminated or vaporized, there’s so darn much to look at.

Our son loved it. This is the second story in a row to end with a big explosion. “Now you know the meaning of the word Dalek-explosion!” he shouted. This was after a little hiding behind the sofa and worry. He’s at the perfect age where the Daleks are both exciting and scary. He did clarify that they are meaner than both the Ice Warriors and the Master. Funny that he should think of those villains…

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

Back to January 1972 and the ninth season of Doctor Who opened with the return of the Daleks to the series for the first time since the summer of ’67. They’d been retired while their creator, Terry Nation, unsuccessfully tried to sell the American networks on a series in which a Space Security Agent foils a new evil plot by the villains every week. I sometimes wonder about that show, and kind of think that it would have been a fondly-remembered series, but not a very successful one. Still, when they do invent transportation between parallel universes, that’s on my list to check out. I wonder who would have been in the cast…

Anyway, so the Daleks conquered Earth some time in our future, and in the 22nd Century, some fanatics have got their hands on some time travel equipment and have traveled back to “the 20th Century time zone” (just call it September 13, 1973, it makes sense) to kill a prominent politician for an as-yet-undisclosed reason. The Daleks mainly stay in a room in their future city where they yell at a controller character played by Aubrey Woods. But at the end of part two, the Doctor chases after the guerrillas and just about runs smack into a Dalek in a dark tunnel, which frightened the bejezus out of our son. Any pleasure that might come from seeing the Daleks back – he wanted to talk and talk and talk between episodes about how many there were in 1966’s “The Power of the Daleks” – came crashing into the scary reality that creepy dark tunnels are not where you want to find a Dalek.

The Daleks were apparently a late-in-the-day addition to this story by Louis Marks, who had last written for the show in 1964. He had the story about fanatics from the future trying to change history, and the ape-like Ogrons who do all the gunfighting, but the Daleks came on board to boost the marketing push. It’s the first Who serial directed by Paul Bernard. He did three of the ten serials in seasons nine and ten.

Part one of this story features a scene that I absolutely adore. The Doctor and Jo are staying in this big country house waiting for another visit from the time travelers, and the Doctor has helped himself to the cheeses and wines. Jo takes some to feed a hungry Sergeant Benton, only to have Captain Yates order him to get back to work so he can take a snack for himself. “RHIP. Rank has its privileges,” he tells her.

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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (part five)

“The Dæmons” is rightly criticized for its ending, but not for the right part of the ending. The problem isn’t the incredibly rushed and ridiculous part where Jo’s offer of self-sacrifice confuses Azal so much that he immediately starts shouting “Does not relate” – if he were a computer in a sixties drama like The Prisoner or Star Trek, he’d say “compute” – and then self-destructs, most of what he says lost in a whirl of keyboards and special sounds and actor Stephen Thorne bellowing.

No, the problem is all the film stuff they did before the studio session. It’s not just Jo retrieving her clothes from the pub when she was forced to change in the church, it’s the whole way everybody in the village just smiles and grins about all these soldiers turning up, their church exploding, and their new vicar being led away at gunpoint, and then decide it’s time for a nice fertility dance around the maypole. I guess it makes a decent enough image for the season finale, but there’s a pretty big church down the road from us, with their playground across the street, and if their building got blown up by a twenty foot tall 100,000 year-old dæmon from space, I bet that the parishioners wouldn’t be in a big rush to start a game of softball.

On the other hand, Nicholas Courtney is just incredibly entertaining in this episode. He steals the show right out from under Roger Delgado – no easy task – with his frustrated, rational, sensible responses to each new problem. And the fight with Bok is really impressive, too. Our son loved the explosions, both hitting Bok with a rocket from a bazooka and the great big one that destroys the church.

I don’t know whether it’s an old wives’ tale or Terrance Dicks pulling our leg, but there’s a great old story that the BBC received several complaints about blowing up that church for the sake of a silly entertainment show. You watch that today and know that it’s a miniature – a darn good one, mind, but still a miniature – and can’t believe that anybody, no matter how lousy the reception was on their antenna in 1971 to make them think the visual was better than it was, could possibly think they’d actually blow up a real church. But then you remember the stories about old ladies beating up Barry Morse with their handbags demanding he leave that nice Dr. Kimble alone, and all the telegrams the US Coast Guard received asking them to rescue Gilligan and the castaways, and you accept that yes, the BBC probably did get some angry phone calls.

We’ll start watching season nine of Doctor Who in September. Stay tuned!

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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (parts three and four)

There is probably a thing or ten to dislike about each of the four Doctor Who serials that Barry Letts and Robert Sloman co-wrote, but while none of them are my favorites, I really enjoy the way that each captures a little essence of the early seventies in a perfect way. Even “The Time Monster,” which I probably enjoy more than anybody else, not that I’m going to call it art or anything.

“The Dæmons” is a lot like the Bigfoot episodes of the Bionic shows in that regard. From the bit in part one where Jo says that this really is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, they’re off in a story that couldn’t have been made in any other era. Of course there’s a Satanic coven sacrificing chickens underneath the village church. This was made in 1971, so I’d expect nothing less.

In About Time, Tat Wood assembled what I think is the best ever timeline of the UNIT stories, and he figures season eight as taking place from October 1971 to May 1 1973. This has to be May 1, because the Doctor gets caught up in the village’s sinister May Day celebrations. Wood also noted that this means that “The Dæmons” takes place on the same day as the events in the remarkable 1973 film The Wicker Man. What a delightful happy accident! “The Dæmons” uses some of the same iconography as horror films of the period, including, of course, The Devil Rides Out, Witchfinder General, Virgin Witch, and The Blood on Satan’s Claw, and The Wicker Man then served as the last word on the sinister subject, incorporating all that came before, including this Who adventure.

Because I have a mild interest in period horror films like these, and some of the other stuff that Hammer, Tigon, and their competitors released in the late sixties and early seventies – 1971’s Lady Frankenstein is another, but that may have more to do with Rosalba Neri than much else – my son has been aware of me talking about old horror movies but not getting to see them. He asked what a horror movie was earlier this year, and I think my explanation satisfied his curiosity completely. But one day down the line, he’ll probably look into scary movies. He may be quite some time in finding the interest in sampling creaky old stuff like the old Hammers or The Devil’s Wedding Night – Neri again – but if he ever does, the fear that “The Dæmons” sparked in him might just pop up in a little corner of his memory somewhere. Some of these scenes have him absolutely petrified, and he says, firmly, that this is the scariest Doctor Who story ever.

Not a bad little introduction to horror movies then, is it?

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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (part two)

I think that Bok the gargoyle is one of the great Doctor Who monsters of his day. He makes a tremendously horrifying first appearance at the end of part two of this story. Our kid was behind the sofa like a rocket and he’s grousing that this is not a good story, because it’s far too scary.

But with fear comes imagination. He’s let us know that since gargoyles are made from stone, then the Doctor will have to use a rock hammer against the menace. “And those weigh 20,000 pounds!”

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Doctor Who: The Dæmons (part one)

“The Dæmons” was the final story of Doctor Who‘s eighth season, and the first of four serials to be co-written by producer Barry Letts and his colleague Robert Sloman, who usually got the screen credit due to BBC regulations. This one’s got a pseudonym, Guy Leopold, attached. It was directed by Christopher Barry and the cast and crew had such a great time making it that it became the center of a million loving anecdotes and, in time, received wisdom among the fans of the early seventies turned this into one of the all-time Who classics.

I remember that in the early nineties, when a colorized “Dæmons” was finally shown again in the UK, there was a big backlash against it. It’s a story that really doesn’t quite live up to the hype, but it’s still a very, very fun story with lots of great moments. The problem was that for years and years, newer and younger fans in Britain had to put up with blowhards talking about the good old days, and how “The Dæmons” was an unparalleled UNIT classic, unlike all this eighties rubbish. The myth was just enormous. In the US, where the black-and-white TV movie compilation, with its massive editing error midway through it, was shown in most markets, we could see this story wasn’t the greatest thing ever, just a fun romp with lots of location filming and the Master leading a Satanic coven in a remote English village while posing as the new vicar.

A lot of this, it must be said, went over our son’s head, but he really impressed us with one observation. That’s the actress Damaris Hayman above as Miss Hawthorne, the local white witch, who warns of doom and disaster should an archaeological dig in the Devil’s Hump barrow continue. Our son spotted the ankh that she wears around her neck and noted that it’s the same symbol that Jessica wears in Logan’s Run. I can’t swear that I would have noticed that if he hadn’t pointed it out to us!

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Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos (part four)

I’m not sorry to see this one end. There’s only one Pertwee serial I enjoy less than this turkey, and that’s months away, thank goodness. I do enjoy the original story, and there are several amusing moments and lines of dialogue in this installment, it just looks and sounds so awful. However, in director Michael Ferguson’s defense, whoever designed that set for the light accelerator room didn’t give any thought to how they were meant to stage an attack by monsters. Ferguson didn’t stand a chance making it look good; the constant cuts to shots of Katy Manning with her eyes wide and hands on her head as the battle commences suggest what the director himself was probably doing.

But it certainly succeeded in doing its job to frighten kids. Our son tells us that the Axon monsters are the scariest in all of Doctor Who, even eclipsing the Ice Warriors, the previous holders of that award. To be fair, one of the costumes – I think there are four – really does look terrific, even from the jaded eyes of adulthood. The other costumes are just blobby red bags with some noodles and string glued to them, but the one principal Axon really is a triumph, and the best thing, other than Roger Delgado, about the whole production. I guess I was twelve or thirteen when I first saw a photo of this beast, and I was impressed then and I remain impressed now.

One of the blobby red bag Axon costumes was painted green and pressed into service as a different monster five years later, but the Axons themselves never returned to the series, although there were several rumors that Peter Capaldi wanted the Twelfth Doctor to have a rematch with them. Fernanda Marlowe’s character, Corporal Bell, never returned, either. I hadn’t really realized that she was only in part one of this story. That was a missed opportunity; particularly with Benton and Yates due for some needed character development in the next two UNIT stories, it might have been nice to see a woman in a recurring role during this very, very male-dominated period of the program. In fact, the show was so overwhelmingly male-focused in 1971 that we missed out on what might have been a very memorable female villain in the very next story…

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Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos (part three)

Since the Doctor spends this entire episode captured and imprisoned by Axos, it’s left to Roger Delgado to steal the show. The Master calmly has his run of both the Nuton Power Complex and the Doctor’s beat-up TARDIS, and Delgado is incredibly fun and watchable. He’d be even more fun had more microphones been handy to pick up all his bad-natured grumbling about the sorry state of the TARDIS console’s disrepair, because a lot of this episode is really quiet, but he gets all the best lines.

I mentioned with part one that this whole story seems incredibly sloppy and amateurish and the sound and vision issues are bad in all the studio sessions. I don’t know that it’s exclusively the actors failing to project, but it’s really hard to hear Pertwee in places in part one, which is really strange since the actor is usually bellowing. There are several shots where it seems the cameras weren’t in the right place to catch the action, like when the UNIT men spot the Master leaving the TARDIS this time, along with quite a few insanely quick reaction shots. It all feels like they just edited this story together from a dress rehearsal, not the final performance. The director definitely should have stopped recording this episode long enough to tell Delgado to speak up.

But while I was loving the Master’s dialogue in spite of the poor sound, our son was hating the Axon tentacled monsters. The director did a pretty good job filming the tentacled monster storming around the complex electrocuting soldiers, which had our boy hiding behind the sofa, but a far less good job actually staging where the Brigadier is in relation to the action. This was Michael Ferguson’s last Doctor Who serial and by far the least of them, but he would direct several much, much better TV episodes after this, including eight episodes of The Sandbaggers.

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