Thursday, 21 June 2012

Doctor Who Review: Planet of the Daleks

We left off in Frontier in Space with the two empires of Earth and Draconia which were almost at war but then they discovered that the Daleks were behind a plot to make them fight, so they united against them. The Doctor has been shot and sends a message to the Time Lords before collapsing. What is going to happen next?

Well. Earlier than usual, we’ve reached a big problem. Normally I give a little summary of good things before I reach the problems, but this would be the elephant in the room if I did that. While this story is technically a follow-up to the last, it would appear that the writers didn’t plan it very well. This means that a lot of aspects have been left out, almost forgotten. The Earth and Draconian Empires never appear to fight the Daleks, and in fact are never mentioned. The Daleks don’t talk about their plan to start a war, or mention the Master at all. It seemed from the previous story and from the fact Jo and the Doctor are surprised to be on a planet with Daleks that the message the Doctor sent was for help, rather than to pilot the Tardis for him, but they pilot the Tardis and send him to deal with the Daleks and it’s never remarked on. And while the Doctor’s injuries put him out of action for about half of episode one, after that he’s fine. Him and Jo even change their clothes as if the story didn’t feel unconnected enough with the last. None of these things technically make this story unentertaining, but they do ruin the build-up of the last. The stage was set for a big humans/Draconians/Time Lords team up against the Daleks and the Master and this story just doesn’t deliver anything like that, and it’s mainly because it doesn’t even try.

Instead we have some weird plot about a group of Thals, a species of humans from the Daleks’ own home planet, that really stretches continuity, but we won’t go into that. They are on a jungle planet of invisible aliens to stop the Daleks creating an army of invisible Dalek soldiers. The main problem with this episode is that the plot is very simple, destroy the army of Daleks. But there are a whole lot of weird side tracks it takes to pad out the running length that aren’t bad, but don’t go anywhere. The invisibility thing? Doesn’t go anywhere. The Daleks making a virus? Same. Killer plants? Same. The Thals relationships? Same. Jo and some Thal guy’s thing? Same. And so on. There are lots of ideas here and they all start well and then just kind of peter out before they get interesting. Also, the jungle sets look pretty cheap, even by 70s who standards, although the Dalek base is pretty.

So, after all that you’d think there was nothing worth seeing here, but that’s really not true. The script was written by Dalek creator Terry Nation, and while it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, that does bring two good features. One, he knows how to write for the Daleks. They might be making rather vague plans, but they are always clever and intimidating when he writes for them. Until Destiny of the Daleks but we don’t talk about Destiny of the Daleks if we can avoid it. And the other thing Nation was good at was dialogue. This story has some of the best speeches for the Third Doctor. And talking of the Third Doctor, it also features one of the best performances by Jon Pertwee. He’s very determined, and at points very angry and upset and at others understanding and supportive. It’s just a great performance. Katy Manning’s also good as Jo, but she’s not given so much to do, as this story seems to be more interested in telling the Thals’ story than hers. That works though, because they’re all well played and interesting. The story also keeps a good pace up and never gets boring despite its length.

So in summary, it’s not great, it’s got a lot of problems, but it’s not the worst story ever and is a lot of fun to watch. It doesn’t make sense, a lot of details go nowhere, but the performances, dialogue and pacing give it enough energy to overcome some the less glaring errors. Not perfect, but still worth a watch.


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