Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks DVD Review: A Very Suspenseful Story

”Exterminate! Exterminate!” Don’t you just love it when the Daleks show up on a Doctor Who series? The newly released Death to the Daleks (Story #72) is a four-part serial which originally aired February 23 – March 16, 1974. The Doctor during this time was Jon Pertwee, an older man who portrayed the third incarnation of the character. The Doctor’s companion this time around is young Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), who has the most annoying presence of any of the Doctor’s “girls” I have encountered thus far.

Mostly it is her piercing scream that got to me, and in Death to the Daleks, there are a couple of huge surprises early on which give her ample opportunity to express herself. We begin with the Doctor and Sarah aboard the TARDIS, when something goes very wrong. They lose power and are forced to land on the dark and forbidding planet Exxilon.

Writer Terry Nation has crafted a very suspenseful story with Death to the Daleks, for the evil mechanical beings are not the only hazards the Doctor and Sarah face. The natives of Exxilon are dangerous as well. They are primitive and use javelins and bow and arrows for weapons. Crude, but effective. There is also another crew of Earth-men on the planet, who are there to mine a rare mineral. Some of the miners have different agendas than the others though.

Add to this volatile mix the arrival of the Daleks, and you have the recipe for a fantastic Doctor Who serial. The Daleks were caught in the same power-storm phenomenon that the TARDIS was and initially pose no threat as their power to “exterminate” is (temporarily) shut down.

The eminently logical Doctor proposes a truce, as the planet’s natives are proving to be a mutual threat. Of course, the Daleks can never be fully trusted, but have little choice but to go along with the plan, at least for a while. Terry Nation has crafted an intriguing script here, as after a few close calls, our heroes discover some “rebels” among the primitives. These are the people of the planet who know that there must be a better way. These “enlightened” ones join forces with the Doctor, as they are considered to be threats to the planet’s society as well.

One of these rebels leads the Doctor to the heart of the City, which holds the key to the power-draining phenomenon. Their path inside is an interesting one. It consists of a series of mental challenges, each one more difficult than the last, and failure results in instant death. The skeletons of those who previously attempted to penetrate the compound attest to this fact. By now, the Daleks have regained their power, and are hot on the heels of the Doctor, navigating the same challenges in their quest to kill him.

This series is very suspenseful, and we get plenty of opportunities to cheer as some of the Daleks meet their fiery ends. The best instance comes with the discovery of a mechanical Loch Ness-type creature. It emerges from a lake and dispatches a Dalek in a most satisfying manner.

I have read some online complaints about these new BBC Home Entertainment DVDs. The main point of contention with these fans is that they want more previously unreleased serials to be issued. With the popularity of the Doctor Who franchise what it is, I am sure their concerns will eventually be addressed. But nobody can deny the fantastic job the producers have done with the bonus materials included with these newly remastered Doctor Who DVDs.

Two of these are particularly impressive. The first is “Beneath the City of the Exxilons,” which is an excellent 26-minute “Making Of” piece. The second is almost as strong. “Studio Recording” is another documentary, and focuses on the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making a Doctor Who series. This piece runs 23 minutes. There are also two segments concerning our friends the Daleks; “Doctor Who Stories – Dalek Men,” (13 min) and “On the Set of Doctor Who and the Daleks,” (7 min). Audio commentary, a photo gallery, and some PDF materials are also included.

Death to the Daleks is a great four-part Doctor Who serial, and Jon Pertwee makes for a very convincing Doctor. It is a fine example of why the program has been revered by so many for so long. And the bounty of extras just makes it all the more enjoyable.

Greg Barbrick

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