Death to The Daleks
By Terry Nation
Review By Will Barber
The Doctor: It's rather a pity, in a way...now the universe is down to 699 wonders.
An energy drain makes uneasy allies of the Third Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith, a Marine Space Corps expedition and a squadron of Daleks. They are trapped on the planet Exxilon with its hostile natives. The key to escape lies at the heart of a powerful and mysterious lost city but only after a series of deadly traps.
Death to the Daleks is a serial about death and dying. It starts off when the TARDIS loses power and crashes. Indeed, it seems like the TARDIS is dead. Whether it is the Exillions, the Daleks, or the city itself, the plot echoes the theme of the end of life and the beginning of another, possibly reflecting the fact that this was one of the last times that we would enjoy The Third Doctor.
Death To The Daleks has been criticised for its silliness. There is comedy throughout, particularly in the city scene in Part Three and Four. The musical score is whimsical and upbeat, an oxymoron when you consider that the music is playing over two evil tank like despots wondering through a living city that is trying to kill anyone who goes inside it.
The Daleks are presented as being ridiculous and almost comic in a way that had not been seen since the 1964 story, The Chase. (A group of Daleks chase The First Doctor around time and space before being destroyed by another group of weird shaped robots.) However, through all the weirdness Death is a solid tale. It has an atmospheric beginning that builds up the tension and the end is satisfying. It fulfils all the basic needs of any Doctor Who plot, action, adventure, danger etcetera. However, the problem is the silliness. It is hard to invest completely in the story when you have the odd looking Exillions (which are a taller, less hairy version of Star Wars’s Ewoks) running around the city with death trap chess boards and Daleks who have their own “wa wa waaah” music. If we took the script and made it now without the odd sense of humour, it would be better. However, the way it stands Death to The Daleks is reasonable viewing but not one which we can really invest in or take too seriously.
Jon Pertwee does a sterling job as The Third Doctor. Even though at the time, Pertwee was suffering with severe back problems he managed to work through it and does what he can with the material given. His Doctor makes a connection with the Crew of the crashed spaceship but the friendship of The Doctor and Bellal, (a friendly Exillion) is the best presented connection. It is not the most realistic chemistry you could hope for but the two actors offer us an attempt at a genuine friendship.
The scenes in the computer heart of the City are brilliant. Bellal attempts to stop the guard creatures which the living city is sending after them whilst The Doctor tries to destroy the city’s mind. The outcome is comic even though that is not what Terry Nation would have hoped for.
Fundamentally, Death To The Daleks is a nice story even with its comedy cock ups; under different circumstances it could have been memorable.