The latest release from BBC Home Entertainment brings together a diverse collection of recent episodes to satisfy the true Doctor Who fans. The thing about compilation releases is that you are going to have to generally be familiar with the characters and history to enjoy the references and continuity issues. It's hard to review as a single story because Doctor Who stories exist in order and are not necessarily meant to be viewed singularly. Here's what you get with the purchase of Doctor Who: The Daleks.
"Dalek" featuring the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) The reboot of the series was only six episodes in when the Daleks returned to the fold. It was a welcome addition to the mythology. The episode starts with Rose (Billie Piper) as the only companion and adds Adam (Bruno Langley). The beauty of this episode is that they don't rely on lots of backstory but the second half of the episode is all one long chase. It's high point for me is that they think they can escape the Dalek by going upstairs and all of a sudden it hovers up the stairs. There goes a long-held Doctor Who myth. I feel like this episode stands well alone. It's a strong episode for Eccleston and it's even stronger for Piper. Simple and straight to the point is a great way to tell a story with the second-best villain in the arsenal (sorry, number one is Cybermen).
"The Stolen Earth" / "Journey's End" featuring the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) The twelfth and thirteenth episodes of the modern series' fourth season are next up. The multi-part finale to the season is also the swan song for Russell T. Davies and it sums up multiple stories that had been building for four seasons. This is the far end of the spectrum from "Dalek". There are five companions - Rose, Donna Noble, Martha Jones, Sarah Jane Smith, and Jack Harkness. The episode starts in what already seems like an out-of-control storyline. The Earth has been transported to another location in the Universe and all Hell is breaking loose. If you haven't been watching the series closely, you find yourself trying to catch up for the first episode. Davros, the leader of the Daleks, has stolen 27 planets to make some kind of bomb to blow up the Universe. "The Stolen Earth" ends with what looks like a regeneration for the Doctor but for all the action of the first episode, there's a letdown in the second.
By the time we have a conveniently saved the Tenth Doctor to start "Journey's End," the extended episode to finish the season feels like a long way to go to unravel all the plot points brought up in the first episode. The convergence of the stories lead to a bit of a confusing transition of Donna to a Doctor temporarily. This episode is much less about being chased by scary Daleks and more about larger mythology stories. By the time everything is solved, all of the companions will be on their way and the series is wiped clean for the next creators. It's a brilliant couple of episodes, but I don't think it makes much sense if you haven't invested in the previous four seasons.
"Asylum of the Daleks" featuring the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith). The first episode of the reboot's seventh season brings the Daleks back into the fold. They've been absent for awhile and writer Steven Moffat tries to bring them back as a scarier version than we've seen recently. The current companions are Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). The asylum is a planet for insane Daleks. It's a brilliant concept. The episode succeeds at making the Daleks scary again. Maybe that's not even the right word. The Daleks seem evil again in a way that they didn't when they were so easily defeated. If you are a fan or not of the Eleventh Doctor, this is Matt Smith at his quippy best. ("You are going to fire me at a planet? That's your plan?") He's even charming. The plot holds up well without having to know where we are in continuity. It does set up very important plots for the rest of the season and changes in companions that feel unsatisfactory when only seen through this single episode.
"Into the Dalek" featuring the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi). The second episode of the modern series' eighth season sets many things in motion that will play out over all of the season. At this point, the audience is still getting to know Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and the character's relationship with Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman). The episode plays almost like a comedy. There's two distinct plots happening at once - Clara and the Doctor trying to fix a Dalek who has "turned good" and Clara meeting Danny Pink. There are some great moments in the episode but there aren't the usual action pieces we are used to with the Daleks. It's full of clever writing and I enjoyed it even more knowing how this would play out over the season. I'm sure it's also interesting like the "Asylum" episode, but these episodes pay off later in the season.
There are two special features on the second disc - "Genesis of the Daleks" and "Dalek Origins".
"Genesis..." is one of my most favorite Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) stories. This six-episode serial is from 1975, and the companions are Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter). The story attempts to reboot the Daleks by telling their story with a different beginning and establishing a new mythology. This version of the Daleks influences all of the current depictions and it would be helpful to watch this first. The introduction of Davros is important and creepy. Watching this again, it's clearer here than in almost every other story that the Daleks are based upon the Nazis. The parallels are more obvious than ever. The story still plays very well, and I was more entertained here than any other episode in the set.
"Dalek Origins" is short documentary on the Daleks that's presented as part documentary and part informational film. There wasn't much new information here but I enjoyed seeing clips of most of the earlier versions of the Daleks.
So the interest in this release comes down to what kind of fan you find yourself. I prefer an original album to a greatest-hits package. I like to see the stories in the context that they were originally released. The Daleks are an important part of the Doctor Who mythology. They are arguably in the top two of his villains. But current writers are telling stories over the arc of a thirteen-episode season and viewing a single episode loses what makes the series so appealing. With that said, I'd purchase the set just for the Tom Baker story. It's over two hours of a single continuous story that informs the episodes that air in the current series.
Doctor Who: The Daleks (2015) will be released July 14.