Sunday, 12 February 2012

Death to the Daleks

Death to the Daleks was one of my first Doctor Who stories on video well over 20 years ago, alongside Day of the Daleks and The Daleks. But this one is often comes in for more criticism than most Dalek stories because of the many clich├ęs being reused; dying civilisations, ancient cities, a 'quest' with tests and traps to overcome. Some dislike the music, it seems to mostly fit the dark brutal setting for the story. The Dalek music seems a little too jolly though.

I remember it being quite frightening with a brutal level of violence. The story's best moments are all in the dark, at night or in caverns. The Exxilons are probably more frightening than the Daleks, being rather aggressive and thuggish and have a tendency to hit people with clubs or shoot them with arrows. At the beginning of the story the TARDIS loses all power and is stranded in the dark with a thick green mist everywhere. The Doctor wanders off (I never understood this because he promised not to leave Sarah alone, what a git) and Sarah is attacked in the TARDIS by some brute. Various sources have since asked if the Exxilon is still wandering around in the TARDIS, but my impression is that Sarah does a very good job of beating him to death with the starting handle from a car. What we are spared from is the scene of the Doctor dragging the three day old carcass out of the TARDIS before take off.

The Exxilons have a good background and are yet another alien species, like the Daemons or Fendahl, to have influenced ancient Earth cultures. Unfortunately it went rather wrong, they built a living city, which then expelled them and has ever since has drained up all electrical power. The Exxilons descended into barbarism and worship the city as a god. Although there are rebels to this who seems smaller and paler in colour and live underground. The time for this fall is described as thousands of years, but one body in the city disintegrates to dust upon the air in the room being disturbed suggesting it's many many thousands.

The humans in the story are rather one dimensional. Commander Stewart is already wounded and succumbs half way though while hopes for a interesting character in Captain Railton end with a well placed arrow in episode 2. The only well placed arrow of the story, the Exxilons can't shoot for toffee. Peter Hamilton doesn't have much about him but possibly is the vague interest of the only woman on the team, Jill Tarant, who spends most of the story whimpering. That leaves ruthless bastard Dan Galloway who takes command when all the other officers are dead. Cut from the 'ends justify the means' cloth he does deals with the Daleks, agrees to ethnically cleanse the Exxilon society of their underground dwelling rebels. He also agrees to let the Daleks have the Doctor and Sarah, but they never actually get their hands on them. Of course he soon realises he's out of his depth with the daleks and does actually win back a bit of respect by stealing a dalek bomb and sacrificing himself to blow them and their ship up. It's a bit hard to have sympathy because he's been such an arse throughout. But he's the most interesting one of the lot.

Death to the Daleks is an apt title given how many Daleks die, some inexplicably so. The best bit with the Daleks is in displaying a little cunning and being able to quickly overcome the problem of not being able to use their weapons. The energy drain disables their energy weapons, but oddly not their other mechanical functions. In The Daleks they ran of static electricity and merely being separated from the floor cut their power, here they run on "psychokinetic power" which sounds like bullshit. Daleks move by power of their mind now? But back to the point, the Daleks quickly devise ballistic weapons firing darts or bullets and are quick to use them to subdue the Exxilons. The Daleks also allow people to go under the impression there are only four of them when in fact there are more in the spaceship. Reminiscent of Power of the Daleks there. Well we can say four Daleks, it's more like three because whenever four appear in a scene one of them never moves. Clearly they only had three operators and the fourth simply lingers static in the background.

The bad bits are the number that die for stupid reasons. One Dalek explodes after being attacked by a crowd of Exxilons who hit it with sticks. One fights a hopeless fight with the 'root' from the city in the caves and instead of retreating sticks around to be blown to pieces. The worst of all has to be where a Dalek finds that a couple of prisoners are not where it left them, and instead of going to search for them or reporting it, starts spinning in circles shouting that it has failed and has to self destruct. That's just embarrassing. But hell, they did it again in Remembrance of the Daleks.

The story ends with a chase through the city overcoming various intelligence tasks (for what purpose?) and includes an attack upon their sanity that has some of the brightest flashing sequences ever seen in Doctor Who. Certainly a bit harsh on the eyes. The Doctor whips a few PCBs out of a computer and switches a few components and the city goes wild with lights flashing and doors opening and closing at random. Once outside the heroes watch the Dalek ship explode before turning around to see the Exxilon City dissolving and crumbling. Obviously a polystyrene models sprayed with some solvent, it actually looks quite good.

Overall not a great Dalek story. It's a shame the history of the Exxilons has not been expanded, and a story focusing more on them and the humans might have been quite strong without the Daleks being involved. As it stands, the Daleks are at their weakest at times and make a poor showing with them dying for silly reasons.

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