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Thursday, July 22, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Doctor Who
"Planet of the Daleks"
Somewhere on this planet, there are ten thousand, Daleks

The problem with making a statement like that (as a cliffhanger no less) is that eventually, you've got to make good on the promise and give the audience 10,000 Daleks on-screen. Or at least a room full of enough Daleks to feel like 10,000 could be lurking out there somewhere.

In the modern age of CG, it's not that hard to pull off. In the day and age "Planet of the Daleks" was made, it means a promise of seeing lots of tiny models of the Doctor's greatest foe. It's not necessarily disappointing, but the scenes when we see the cave full of Daleks in hibernation mode just aren't quite as awe-inspiring as the script would like us to believe they are or could be.

Of course, that disappointment would be a lot easier to get over if the script surrounding them were good. Unfortunately, that's not the case with "Planet of the Daleks."

Pursuing the Daleks across time and space, the TARDIS arrives on the planet Spiridon. The Doctor is injured from his wounds at the end of "Frontier in Space" and so Jo heads out into the jungle to try and find help. She is infected by some strange planets that spit out a venom that causes a potentially fatal fungus to grow on whoever and whatever it contacts. Jo stumbles across a group of Thals who have come to Spiridon to stop a gathering army of Daleks. Though how exactly three Thals is expected to take on 10,000 Daleks is never made quite clear.

The Doctor eventually comes around, escapes the TARDIS (the fungus apparently drains all the oxygen from the ship, though it's not really explained) and meets up with the Thals. We then spend a lot of time chasing around Spiridon, hiding from the Daleks and the enslaved (and invisible) Spiridon workers and trying to find a way to put a monkey wrench into the pepperpots' latest scheme to conquer the universe.

Terry Nation returns to write for his most famous creations for the first time since the William Hartnell era and fills his script with every Dalek story cliche he can find. There's not one but two deadly viruses (the one from the plants and then one the Daleks hatch to try and kill all life on the planet), the Daleks coveting a new technology and the threat of the Daleks conquering all life in the universe. Oh yeah, and there's lots of being caught, locked up, escaping and running down corridors (though some are cleverly disguised as a jungle).

And, of course, Nation comes up with two or three more weaknesses for his creations in the course of the story. This time we learn they have an SOS alarm that sounds when their casing is opened and that they don't like extreme cold. I watched all the Dalek stories in order a few years ago and it's interesting to keep track of all the ways Nation comes up with to weaken his famous creations from story to story. It's almost as bad as the weaknesses dreamed up for the Cybermen...

And that's all before the Supreme Dalek shows up in episode six to take charge of things.

Pertwee was famous for not caring much for the Daleks and given his three encounters with them, it's easy to see why. While "Day of the Daleks" is a solid enough story and fondly remembered, his next two encounters with the Doctor's most ruthless enemies aren't much to write home about. It's hard to decide which story is the lesser--"Planet of" or "Death to." Honestly, "Planet" may come out a bit ahead because it doesn't have the blasted musical score that grates in the same way "Death to the Daleks" does.

One of the biggest criticisms lodged as classic Who and its six part stories is that they're often too long and overpadded. That's the case with "Planet." It might have been better served as a four-part story.

"Planet of the Daleks" is infamous in Doctor Who circles for being syndicated for years with episode three missing. In fact, the first time I saw it, the story jumped from the end of part two to the fourth episode. This is because the original color version of part three was lost and only a black and white copy remained. Rather than show the black and white version, the story just skipped episode three entirely. And here's the sad part--outside of wondering how the Doctor got out of his cell, the jump isn't really all that noticeable.

Bootlegs of episode three were swapped for years and the BBC eventually released the black and white version on the VHS release. Many of us assumed it would be the same way when the story hit DVD. However, thanks to new technology, the color has been restored to episode three. No, the episode hasn't been colorized, but instead information from the black and white film version was used to decode the color and restore it. The episode looks fantastic and if you didn't know it wasn't originally in color, you'd never be able to tell. A whole extra about how the color was restored is on the DVD and it gives me hope that we may see all of the Pertwee era in color again someday soon. (Hopefully the sales of this DVD will justify the expense of using the technique on "Mind of Evil" and "Ambassadors of Death.")

The story is also part of a 12-part storyline from the tenth anniversary season. The show does make quick mention of the events of "Frontier in Space" but you don't necessarily have to have seen "Frontier" to figure out what's going on here. It's an interesting but in the end not as successful as it could be experiment.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/22/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
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