‘Doctor Who’: ‘Day of the Daleks’ Special Edition DVD review

It would be easy to decry the idea of creating an updated version of 1972’s ‘Day of the Daleks’ with modern CGI as a doomed attempt to polish a turd – too easy, in fact.

Although blighted by a number of faults (horrible special effects, moments of woefully cheesy acting and Daleks that sound like recorded railway station announcements), the story itself – with its complex themes of political fanaticism, temporal paradoxes and wars leading to a dismal, dystopian future for humanity – is a good one; and the new visuals and sound are a welcome improvement.

Jon Pertwee stars as the Doctor here, taking as much delight in scoffing cheese and quaffing wine as he does in riding a chunky-tyred trike and karate-chopping Ogrons (alien policemen who resemble a cross between Bill Bailey and Bruce Forsyth painted British racing green) while searching for ghosts from the future at the house of Sir Reginald Styles, a British MP trying to save the world from war.

‘Try and use your intelligence, man, even if you are a politician!’ the Doctor barks at Styles after discovering that it’s all a complex plot involving time-travelling terrorists who are actually the good guys; a shiny-faced David Cameron-esque ‘Controller’ in the future who orates like he’s on the stage at the Old Vic; and, behind it all, the Time Lord’s oldest, bitterest and most lucrative enemies: the Daleks.

The new effects – particularly those involving the attacks on the peace conference at Styles’ country house – end up enhancing the episodes no end. A comparison between the rubbishy assault by just three Daleks and a few lumbering, bored-looking Ogrons in the original with the exciting, laser-blast-filled battle that replaces it in the special edition shows the fantastic work done in creating this new version.

However, no amount of CGI can disguise the dodgy temporality of the paradox story, Katy Manning’s frequent flashing of Jo Grant’s red knickers or the Doctor’s constant pomposity and use of the word ‘man’ at the end of every other sentence. But perhaps that’s just as well; to completely change ‘Day of the Daleks’ would be to rob it of all its charm.

Extras: In addition to both the original and the special edition versions of the story – the commentary featuring Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks amongst others appears on the former – there’s a vast swathe of bonus material to wade through across this two-disc set, the majority of it a pleasantly nostalgic trudge through the 1970s.

The very best is the second instalment of ‘The UNIT Family’ – five years after the first appeared on the ‘Inferno’ DVD – a documentary covering the years Katy Manning spent on Doctor Who that goes from informative and amusing to indisputably moving when the interviewees discuss the emotional high-water marks of the era: the death in a road accident of Roger Delgado, who played the Master, and Manning’s eventual departure from the show. Actor John Levene speaks with touching sincerity about the former (‘It was like losing a brother… this feeling of doom came because of all the people to die, it had to be Roger – and for so useless a reason’) while Katy herself sums up her affection for her colleagues when discussing the latter: ‘I shall miss them and love them always.’

‘Blasting the Past’ is a look at the making of the original serial in which Terrance Dicks shines, pondering the similarities between ‘Day of the Daleks’ and Terminator (‘One doesn’t know whether James Cameron had seen Who on PBS’) and whether Time Lords should be seen drinking alcohol (‘I would have been all in favour of the Doctor downing a large brandy and soda or something from time to time’). Without his entertaining contributions, it would only be slightly more interesting than ‘The Making of the Special Edition’, which is definitely for diehard devotees only.

‘The Cheating Memory’ turns an interesting interview with psychologist and fan Dr. Sarita Robinson into a rather pointless plug for the special edition, while ‘A View from the Gallery’ is an elegy for both BBC Television Centre and the late Doctor Who producer Barry Letts, visibly frail but still highly animated and eloquent as he discusses the minutia of television production and direction with former vision mixer Mike Catherwood. It’s a bit dry and technical, but the men’s love for their craft imbues it with a charisma and warmth lacking elsewhere – most notably in the unfunny ‘The UNIT Dating Conundrum’ featurette, which is never more boringly po-faced than when it’s trying to be tongue-in-cheek: ‘There’s a BBC Three in ‘The Daemons’, presumably showing Two Pints of Lager and a Packet Of Crisps on a loop in-between instalments of The Passing Parade.’ Groan.

The Blue Peter excerpt features Peter Purves lying cheerfully about the Daleks to the viewers and discussing his time on the show – ‘It was a heck of a long time ago: six years’ – before showing an incredibly turgid clip from ‘The Dalek Master Plan’, while the Nationwide segment is brief enough to have passed before you realise how dull it is. Then there are the usual trailers, PDFs and even – bizarrely – a teaser for the special edition DVD itself. In other words, more than enough extras for fans to gorge themselves on for hours – sufficient, even, to satisfy the appetite of an epicure like Jon Pertwee himself.

Released on DVD on Monday 12th September 2011 by 2entertain.

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Watch the trailer for Series 6 Part 2…