THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Ghosts of N-Space
Planet of the Daleks
BBC
Death to the Daleks

Episodes 4 The living city
Story No# 72
Production Code XXX
Season 11
Dates Feb. 23, 1974 -
Mar. 16, 1974

With Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen.
Written by Terry Nation. Script-edited by Terrance Dicks.
Directed by Michael Briant. Produced by Barry Letts.

Synopsis: A great plague is wiping out human and Daleks alike, who search for a cure on a planet guarded by a great city.


Reviews

Could've Been Better, Could've Been Worse by Carl Malmstrom 2/3/97

I don't actually dislike this story, but I can't say that it's one of my favorites. It is certainly not the most effective use I've ever seen the Daleks put to. In this outing, the Doctor and Sarah Jane find the TARDIS drained of power and forced onto a planet filled with a race called the Exxilons. Every time I see them, I can't help thinking of them as oversized Jawas: you know, the little sand people from Star Wars. To make a long story short, there are also humans, man-eating "roots" and machine-gunning Daleks thrown into the mix as well as a quest for a mineral that will help save a plague that's killing millions. To top it all off, there is a large city that the bad Exxilons worship, the good Exxilons fear, and the Daleks want to destroy, and, of course, is ultimately responsible for everyone's power failure.

Maybe it's the inconsistencies that bother me most. I find it hard to believe that the Daleks, even with their "psychokinetic" abilties, can still run their motorized otusides, their machine guns (do they have tentacles that allow then to pull the trigger?), and their analytical computers to thwart the mazes. I'm very dissapointed in the "traps" inside the city that The Doctor and his Exxilon friend have to go through. Come on, hopscotch? Mazes? Which-Religious-Icon-Doesn't-Belong? You can't tell me that any third grader couldn't pass that! I also find those mechanical roots a little baffling. They seem to be only there to annoy the Daleks. They obviously don't venture far from their homes, or they would have chased down the Doctor, Sarah, and the 'good' Exxilons in the cave and burned them to death. And also, the Daleks don't seem to be the kind of race that would blackmail other races dying of a plague. Wouldn't the Daleks just let them die and then take over the decimated palnets for themselves?

However, in spite of all this, the story still has it's good points. The humans are believable, and the scene with the the Daleks using a miniature TARDIS for firing practice is cute. The ending is nice, with a noble act of self-sacrifice by the crusty old tactical officer.

In all, the story is not the worst that has ever been made, but I certainly can't say it's the best, either. If anything, I'd have to say I'm mildly disappointed with it.


The Saxaphone Of Doom by Joseph Nunweek 3/3/98

This episode isn't the pits when you look at the whole series, but it is one of the worse Dalek stories. You all know the plot, so I'll go straight into the review: For a start, it was a neat idea to have no synthesised music on the show in accordance with the 'no power' story, but the London Saxaphone Quartet and the Daleks were mismatched. The main Dalek theme (known as 'The Saxaphone Of Doom' by some fans) made the Daleks less sinister and more...ridiculous. The Dalek theme in Genesis Of The Daleks remains my favourite.

The Exxilions looked alright: after Linx the Sontaran, they were the best aliens in season eleven. I was still driven insane by their constant chanting, though. Bellal was good, and could've shown potential as a companion. The challenges the Doctor and Bellal take on were slightly more difficult than Carl thought and it was a good idea. Besides, the main test involved their sanity.

The Daleks themselves were good, but ended up looking rather comical, as they run screaming into groups of bloodthirsty Exxilons defenceless, get blown up by robotic roots (which also were nice touches), and have nervous breakdowns when prisoners escape. The crew were all fairly good-- Calloway and Hamilton especially. The Doctor and Sarah are fine, although they have been better.

The visuals in the story are either bad or good-- bad sets, but good exploding Daleks, Dalek viewpoints, and the fantastic destruction of the city. My advice is: do not watch this for constantly great acting and good plot-- do watch it for Daleks, roots and Exxilons doing battle, and a good laugh. Besides, you've probably watched Genesis about a million times already.


A Review by Keith Bennett 6/5/98

Of note as being the last Dalek story not to feature Davros, Death To The Daleks is also, sadly, one of the lesser adventures with the ruthless pepperpots.

On the positive side is the convincing settings for the planet of Exxilon (particularly during the eerie opening scenes), the sacrificial scenes of Sarah (Elizabeth Sladen continuing to perform strongly) with the effective chanting, and, most of all, the extremely impressive Probe. But, these factors are offset by some rather serious flaws, namely the supporting cast and the leading villains.

The group of Earthlings the Doctor and Sarah meet are both tiresome and badly acted, particularly Joy Harrison's Jill Tarrant, who spends half the time looking like a brunette Barbie doll on medication. Julian Fox's Peter Hamilton is little better, and Galloway, while receiving a reasonable performances from Duncan Lamont, is just another one of those "bad goodies" that comes in every collection of heroes the Doctor seems to meet. The Daleks not being able to use their guns is a great novelty to start with, but it doesn't even last a full episode, and what comes after is a lot of "Move! Move" and "Exterminate! Exterminate!" and all the other phrases from the Dalek Dictionary that they love to scream out twenty times over, while they constantly whiz past the camera thanks to some poor direction from Michael Briant.

The story is a fine one, but the production is not. Death To The Daleks is not without merit, but is let down by too many flaws. 5/10


The Root: 1, Daleks: 0 by Guy Thompson 13/12/98

Like Day of the Daleks, this story stands up well because of interesting, developed plot ideas and not just an over-reliance on the Daleks themselves (as happened with, say, The Chase). And while the Exxilons themselves are the sort of bog-standard sci-fi primitive culture that would become a staple of Blake's Seven a few years later, their ancestral history and the building of the mysterious city are far more intriguing.

Until their nature is revealed, the Exxilons seem an extremely sinister alien race throughout the first episode, but they become rather less involved when the Daleks make their appearance. With the Daleks and the token human survivors from a crashed spaceship both robbed of all power, they are forced to join forces to mine the substance Perinium, which both want, but for very different reasons.

The humans on the planet however, do all seem a little too pedestrian and soft to be members of the Marine Space Core, as they claim, they do serve the story well, especially Galloway who makes a noble act of self-sacrifice at the end.

There are, in fact, plenty of things wrong with Death to the Daleks as a whole: Belal is hugely irritating, chiefly because of that annoying habit of speaking in a very loud whisper that so many peaceful alien cultures seem to favour. The root of the city can clearly be seen being moved around on wires in various scenes, but I supposed credit must be given to the production for (for once) not going completely overboard with the use of CSO. The incidental music for much of this story is also in particularly poor judgement, apparently the composer thought that a jovial clarinet and saxophone would be a suitable accompaniment for the most evil ruthless race of machine-beings in the galaxy. And why (and without power, how?) does one of the Daleks commit suicide for allowing its prisoners to escape? And the serial's title does somewhat give away the ending of this adventure...

These gripes aside, the story is hugely enjoyable and certainly would have gripped me back in 1974 when spread out over four weeks. Jon Pertwee and Liz Sladen showed again what a good partnership they made (despite being separated for virtually the whole story), and the final effects shots of the city "dying" are quite effective. Characterisation and dialogue may not be this tale's strengths, but if your after a good adventure and an insight into an alien culture, then take a look at this.


Death to who? by James Neirotti 20/8/00

Death to the Daleks, yet another Dalek story by Terry Nation, makes me wonder why the story has been named Death to the Daleks. It is no big surprise that the conclusion of this story will result in the Daleks being 'blown up' and losing the battle. Putting that aside, this story would have to be one of my favorites. The opening scene with an expedition member being speared through the chest and falling into muddy water brings the story to a climatic beginning as the next scene shows the TARDIS being forced to land due to a power loss stranding the Doctor and Sarah in total darkness. Furthermore, the story will remain forever as one my favorites due to the remarkable construction of the Citadel. It is a unique and glorious achievment for this era of Doctor Who as is the costume design for the Exxilon people. It still makes me wonder just exactly how they made their skin glow and still allow the actor to roam around freely without being electrocuted (just kidding). Even the pathetic creature design of the alien root that attacks the Daleks in the cave is saved by that screetch it makes when attacking. The sound is extremley effective even though we could see its strings clearly when it was attacking the Exxilon workers in the water, and even though we all know the root was made from the same piece of plastic cable we use to drain swimming pools. A major let down for this story, I belive, was the ridiculous music score used for the Daleks. I mean who would find a trombone or a trumpet with silly little whiny noises a perfect music introduction for the most feared creatures in the entire universe? Jon Pertwee is as stylish as ever, always a perfect gentlemen never losing his cool. Finally, another of this story's good points was that it was only 4 episodes. Thank God it wasn't 6 or 7 which had become a trend in the Pertwee era. And who didn't find the part with the Daleks shooting the little model TARDIS cute? An 8.5 out of 10 for this story.


Somewhere in the middle by Brent Crosby 23/1/01

Like The Chase, Death to the Daleks is a story that has a special place in my heart because it was one of the first Who's I'd seen as a child. But also like The Chase, Death, when viewed closely, is at best a mixture of good and bad.

Terry Nation does a clever (and commendable) job of tying together the Doctor with the Daleks on Exxilon. I say clever because the idea of the Dalek spacecraft being drawn to Exxilon at the same time as the Doctor and his trusty companion seems too convenient, but because the story flows so nicely, one never notices.

Easily one of the biggest strengths is the chemistry between the Doctor and Sarah. The two of them team so well here that it feels as though they'd been traveling in the TARDIS together for years. Even with just a few stories under her belt, Elizabeth Sladen brought a strong-willed believability to Sarah, which I felt had been lacking in many of the later companions. Kudos also to Arnold Yarrow for his excellent portrayal of Bellal, bringing real life to a character that has the limitations of a costume.

Unfortunately on the downside are the human characters and the Daleks themselves. The humans come across as a lifeless lot just going through the motions, particulary Jill Tarrant and Leutenant Peter Hamilton, who are both rather wooden, and even in some instances, unbearable. The Daleks' presence is rather more comical than them being the great menace of the galaxy, and I think Davros must have forgotten to install the memory chip that prevents them from saying "Exterminate!" more than twice in a row.

The exterior model work of the City and underground cave scenes are exceptional (especially the sacrificial ceremony set to the eerie music score), but unfortunately for every high, there must be a low- the Root comes across as a pointless energy-firing slinky, and my intelligence has never been more insulted by some of the elementary puzzles withing the City, particularly the wall maze and floor patterns.

Death to the Daleks isn't bad, but certainly one that could have been improved upon by toning down more of the child-oriented adventure and heightening the adult one.


Death by Saxophone by Andrew Wixon 6/12/01

Brace yourselves, but I'm going to say something nice about Death to the Daleks: it's really not too bad at all. Certainly it compares very favourably to the other Pertwee Dalek stories. It's interesting to compare it with Planet of the Daleks, because while the two stories have a lot in common (TARDIS crew must join forces with stranded astronauts on hostile alien world against belligerent natives and Daleks), it's clearly superior in many ways.

Some location shooting always helps open a story out a bit, of course, and the direction's all right too - the opening episode especially so (particularly the sequence where the Exxilon stalks Sarah in the console room). But the main improvement is in the script department. The Earth team actually have discernible personalities and interact at a level greater than that of ciphers. The Doctor makes no speeches. And, especially, the fact that it's essentially a race between them and the Daleks helps too. The Daleks are unusually devious and inventive in this story (for one of their colour outings) and it's interesting to see how they operate without their weaponry to back up their threats (sadly, an element rather under-explored here).

All bonuses, all very much to the positive - which make this a very average, entertaining story, when balanced against the silly self-destructing Dalek guard, the bizarre TARDIS shooting-gallery, the rather iffy-looking root monsters, the dopey explanation of Dalek mobility (they're psychokinetic, are they? Hmmmm), the all-too-familiar Nation script elements, and that horrendous saxophone score, surely one of the worst in the history of the programme (the Exxilon chant is rather catchy but can't excuse the sax).

So, not a fantastic tale, but not as bad as you've probably heard, either. I'm tempted to refer to it as 'The Doc and Sarah's Exxilon Adventure' but that would be too low even for me...


A Tired Runaround by Tim Roll-Pickering 3/5/02

Death to the Daleks has an interesting premise but it is handled extremely poorly and results in a tired runaround story which conforms to many of the stereotypes about the series, ranging from cheap studio sets to dodgy CSO to a poor mixture of studio and film material. The result is a story that can give a critic of the series much to hold against Doctor Who as a whole, especially given that this is not a story that can be so easily written off as a catastrophe in the way that tales such as The Chase and The Claws of Axos can.

The idea of holding back the Daleks' presence in a story until the end of the first episode may have worked in the 1960s but by now it just results in an opening instalment that is tediously slow and dominated by dreary scenes on the surface of Exxilon that do little to enhance the story. Maybe it's the costumes, but none of the Exxilons make any impact whatsoever, whilst the human characters are no more successful. The result is a story that is relying upon the presence of Daleks and special effects to keep it going, but in both cases these elements are let down.

The special effects are weakened by the lack of Dalek extermination rays and the replacement bullets make no visual impact whatsoever. The tentacles of the city are flimsily designed and not at all memorable, whilst their movement is so telegraphed and weak that it's a wonder that they can destroy anything. The city itself is a poorly designed cheap model, whilst the sets of it aren't up to much either and the floor pattern is so small and weak that it's a wonder it could be any threat at all.

The Daleks are deprived of their power in this story and so are forced to rely upon their wits far more than usual. Unfortunately Terry Nation was never the best author for his own creations, and the result is that the Daleks do little more than knock up some alternate weapons and then go and threaten all other life forms as per usual. The opportunities missed here are numerous.

Editing wise this story again suffers, with slow cuts prolonging scenes and the cliffhanger to Part Three falling in the wrong place and so working out as being utterly useless. There is so very little in Death to the Daleks to offer the viewer that the result is a tired run around that is mercifully only four parts long. 2/10


Mish-mash... by Joe Ford 27/2/03

Wow how much flack does this story come in for? For such an entertaining little runaround people seem to loathe it a lot. Alright I can see a few problems... for a start some of the sets depicting an outside quarry are obviously false (but then there are similar problems in The Brain of Morbius, Kinda and Snakedance and they are all considered classics) and then there is the silly incidental music (which I happen to love!! Come on hum it with me! There is much worse incidental music in The Silurians, The Sea Devils and Revenge of the Cybermen and they are admired by some!) and of course the fact that Jon Pertwee at this stage is sleepwalking through his part (hmm you mean the way Davison did in all but two, Colin did in Mindwarp and Tom Baker did through much of season seventeen!).

But what about the great stuff. Sarah Jane hits us like a slap in the face, to have such a brash and bolshie girl around after the dippy heroics of Jo (bless her!) is a very refreshing change. She might be a little pathetic in episode one where she screams and wails but then if I was attacked in a darkened console room by an alien on my first visit to an alien planet I would do the same thing!!! As she explores the Exxilon city, escapes her sacrifice, befriends Bellal and helps sabotage the Dalek plans we get to see hints of the excellent character she would emerge into.

Then there are the Daleks... defenceless and forced to use their wits for a change. For one it is quite refreshing to not have them scream Exterminate every five minutes... they come across as being much more devious than they have in ages. Their change of tactics to use bullets is brilliant and the chilling scene where they gun down two Exxilons just to test their new weaponary is great. They look dead sexy too in their new refurbished casings. And lets not forget the brilliant POV of the Dalek being attacked (how cool does he look in flames!) and their utter ruthlessness in attempting to drop their bomb even after they've gone. Brilliant voices too. And great lines... "Keep away! Keep away!", "Test weapons satisfactory!", "I will follow you! I will follow you!"... hysterical... who said Daleks made boring conversationalists... they are certainly the best they were in the entire Pertwee era here!

There is some creepy location work in episode one especially the intruiging/graphic opening shot of the guy running over the misty dunes only to be shot with an arrow. Lots of creepy shots of Sarah stumbling around in the fog-enshrouded dunes. Later action set pieces such as the Exxilons attacking are quite exciting... those arrows really look like they're being fired! Very effective in making us feel the threat of the situation!

I cannot think why the model of the Exxilon city is so reviled... the building looks gorgeous and with its glow-ey beacon it comes across as ancient and beautiful as it should. The Exxilons themselves have excellent masks and the scarifice scenes are just graphic enough to convince.

The Discontinuity Guide calls the story "insipid" but the direction is quite impressive. Lots of zooms, long shots, fade outs, POV's... it's all quite inventive the show never looks dull visually. I love the close up shot of the model TARDIS gunned down by the Daleks and the direction of the sanity test is appropriately psychedlic.

Even the story is more than acceptable. It is simple (power drain... what is causing it?) and short (which is a godsend considering the boring epics that were to follow!) and has a begining, middle and end. The conclusion is logical and satisfying and there are a lot of fun set pieces (the tests, the antibodies, the daft exploding Dalek, the root attacks!).

So stop yer moaning and yer season eleven bashing... compare this to anything Davison produced between Time-Flight and The Awakening (oh right two thirds of his tenure!) and it comes out smelling of roses.

If only we could get rid of that buck toothed Jill Tarrant who serves no purpose than to remind us this tacky SF with wooden acting!


Spot the odd Dalek out by Will Berridge 24/9/03

Our pepperpot friends look all very shiny and filled with mechanical, static, pscyhokinetic or whatever sort of energy it is, don't they? Well, three of them do. In the first few scenes of the second episode, three of them are rolling up and down like excited gerbils, but the other seems entirely inert. Did the operator bang his head on the lid? Was there an operator? If not, why was it so important to include a fourth Dalek as a prop, anyway? Couldn't they just have left it out? Maybe it was affected by the energy drain whilst others weren't. Is that why the one destroyed by the root in episode three seems to have ropes attached to it?

Most of the time, the Daleks behave like the arrogant, ruthless, single-minded psychopaths they are - but they're always got to be one that can't cope with ruling the universe and has a nervous breakdown, isn't there? "I have failed!!! Self destruct!" Oh dear. Can't Daleks get psychiatric help?

It's quite a triumph for Dalek ruthlessness and ingenuity that they managed to knock up some kinetic weapons to beat everyone into submission with, but there's still one dopey Dalek in episode three who still hasn't go his changed for a laser gun. In spite of all these teething mishaps, it's really one of the Daleks' better outings. Giving them someone other than humans to subjugate was a theoretically a good idea, since we now know Tellurians can be splatted easily, and an energy draining city gives them something entirely different to test their mettle against. It also gives the Doctor more than one foe to combat, though crude plot devices actually result in him evading them without much difficulty, as they tend to run into each other.

The Exxilons, therefore, come across as much more threatening before the Daleks appear and start pushing them around. They are superbly directed in the first episode, passing into and out of the shadows, their hands creeping across rock surfaces, etc. There's one terrifically nerve wracking scene where Sarah has to painstakingly wind the TARDIS doors shut manually, and after all the while we have been hoping she can do it in time to protect her from the Exxilons outside, we find one inside! She then has to wind the doors open again, which by this time seems to be taking forever, our fingernails being eroded all the time. Combined with petrified statues and the Exxilons' deep, sonorous, eerie chanting, it makes for the sort of DW that used to send 7 year old scurrying round the back of the sofa, and made me glance round nervously a few times, at 18.

Unfortunately it couldn't all last, and after the brilliant first episode, blandness becomes a defining characteristic of the story. The city interiors, for one thing, are just, well, empty rooms most the time. The low budget also accounts for the Dalek spacecraft being appallingly unconvincingly CSO-ed onto the planet surface. The standard humans in the cast also haven't had much effort put into them. Have you ever been watching the original Star Trek (the only one I can bear, and not blame for DW being cancelled), and wondered what would have happened if Kirk got zapped instead of some random extra who never says or does anything particularly interesting? Well, that's what happens to the MSC Captain (the one played by John Abineri, whatever his name is) in episode 2 of this story. And the really bland, uninteresting one (yup, I've forgotten his name too - the one that isn't Scottish) gets quite a prominent role in the plot. Sadly. And then there's this woman who seems to have her mouth fixed wide open all the time. At least the gruff Scottish engineer, Galloway, (there, he must be good, I can remember his name), is a bit more of a character, a character whose actions spark off all sort of pertinent moral debates in the viewer's mind. Can you cause others to die to save a greater number? Is Galloway a glory hunter or does he just want to get his job done? And, more topically, as a Guardian writer pointed out (and DWM picked up on) using this episode as an illustration, is suicide bombing that ignoble after all? (Well, it depends...)

As for the two regulars, they give it their best, but Sarah ends up being treated in a very "traditional" companion way (ie. She's being sacrificed all the time), and the Doctor's impact is diminished by events seeming to happen around him.

This story has a lot of promise, but suffers in much the same way as the oft-derided Silver Nemesis. Whereas that had a mere four parties involved in the plot, Death to the Daleks only has one more episode, but as many as 6 different parties with thoroughly different agendas. The Exxilons, the breakaway Exxilons, the city with a mind of its own, the Daleks, the humans, the Doctor and Sarah. This all leads to terribly convoluted plotting, including cliffhangers which see the goodies threatened by (a) a powerless gun, (b) a intricate game of hopscotch. Could have been better. 6/10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 15/10/03

Death To The Daleks has the potential to be something great, but unfortunately it isn`t. The plot itself is interesting enough and the premise of a living city and the Daleks relying on bullets instead of lasers is a novel take as it forces them to use their wits and scheme (as in their outings against Troughton`s Doctor). Similarly the Exxilons and Arnold Yarrow`s Bellal come across particularly well, as does the location work in the caves. Where the story fails is in its characterisation of the humans, who simply come across as uninteresting. Other downpoints include a Dalek self destructing because Jill has escaped (why?) and the cliffhanger to part 3 which makes no sense at all. Something of a mixed bag then.


Don't watch this with the lights off... by Steve Cassidy 21/1/04

I will admit it. I have returned to Doctor Who after, oh, about twenty years.

During that time I have kept an eye on it, I watched the fates of Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy being played out on screen and once switched on Bonnie Langford being menaced by two old ladies in a tower block who seemed ready to eat her. But it all struck me as very silly. The mixture of McCoy, Langford and the Kandyman was too much for me and I deserted the series. It reminded me of the Union Army after Gettysburg - all the right equipment but with none of the imagination to use it. I stuck with my precious James Bond, which now seems to be on the slippery JNT slide. But I digress..

Back to the review. I look at this adventure different from everyone else. I am a relapsed Whovian, a man who is struggling back into the light. A work colleague and I were talking about early eighties television and he leant me his copy of The Creature from The Pit. The same afternoon I noticed a copy of The Power of Kroll in a bargain basement. I have heard they are the worse so I started at the bottom and will work up. And what about The Death to the Daleks? I have nothing to compare it with not seen any of the other Dalek stories, espcially the famous Genesis. So I will look at this with fresh eyes.

And I have to say I enjoyed it. In fact that old Dr Who tingling came back for episode one. Quite frankly, I may be, thirty (cough spit) but I was fighting the impulse to hide behind the sofa...

All it needs with me is atmosphere. And episode one had it in abundance. With minimal lighting, good acting and an eeries score I was as scared as Sarah Jane in her beach costume. The TARDIS losing power and being drained of all energy was spookily eerie. And for those of us of a certain generation - yes, it did remind me of the seventies power cuts.

Then it was out into the mysterious planet Exxilon and yet another chalk pit in Sussex. But with good direction and music it is transformed into a very mysterious place.The Exxilons themselves had something of the zombies in '28 days later' the way they would pursue the humans and they were frightening in their torn cloaks and savage howls. And scene stealer number one had to be when Sarah is manually closing the TARDIS doors and there is one of them in there with her. Yikes!

And the astronauts, well the budget was so small they had to go for the small fry actors - with the girl as convincing as 'a womble' in the role. But I liked John Abineri and truly didn't want him killed. And when the Exxilons were shooting at them with arrows it was refreshing to see real archers at work rather then special effects.

Enter the Daleks. I have no other adventures to compare them with and in many ways this was a good thing. I could look at them fresh from a view of 20 years. And yes, they were menacing - with their energy weapons taken away they were on an equal footing with the astronauts and Doctor. But you knew, as the Doctor warned, that they were up to no good. And even if the astronauts didn't you expected them to kill or enslave all others sooner or later. And they didn't disppoint. Daleks don't have to go around with laser special effects to be frightening. The mere premise of their evil is enough for me.

Then we moved onto the Exxilon city. A great fan of 'lost city' stories and loved the 'City of the Exxilons'. The sacrifice scenes were suitably creepy and I loved the scene where they were caught between the vacuum cleaner, er, I mean the root and the pursuing Daleks. And the Exxilons did look ancient, they had a sort of gnarled rotting look to them. I found them, with the exception of Balaal, to be very creepy.

For the last part, there were enough clever switches and plot devices to keep me enthralled. And granted special effects are not great by today's standards - the collapse of the 'City of Exxilons' looked like someone was hiding under a blamange with a blowtorch. But all that doesn't count in the scale of things.

And the Doctor and Sarah? I'm more used to Liz Sladen then Jon Pertwee. I've started back on the Tom Baker videos including Pyramids and Morbius (my favourite so far) and she is in both of those. Pertwee is quieter and less extravagant then Baker, but this means you seem to trust him more. And waves of affection for his intense but caring way overcame me by the end. If all his stories are up to this standard then I will procure more.

All in all, I enjoyed it, but I looked at it more as a newcomer or a relapsed Whovian than a guru - and have nothing to compare it with. But any programme which came reduce me to a quivering wreck within 10 minutes gets my vote as a good one..


A Review by Brian May 12/11/04

Peoples of the universe: I, of sound mind and body, make the following declaration: Death to the Daleks is an enjoyable story!

For a long time it's been a famously derided tale. I remember in the late 1980s in Data Extract, the newsletter of the Doctor Who Fan Club of Australia, a reviewer (I can't remember their name) mercilessly tore it apart. Their final sentence was "And now for the good bits..." In contrast, the comments on this page, for the most part, stress the story as a combination of the good and the bad. A tale strong in some areas but weak in others. The proverbial mixed bag.

This is not an unreasonable argument, but I actually find the positive factors far outweigh the negative. If you count bad CSO, cake-tin Dalek ships and shocking uniforms as negatives, well of course then! Rarely has a Dalek ship looked convincing; ditto for CSO. And as for space uniforms in the 1970s, it was a case of fashion disasters all around (Planet of Evil anyone?) There's also some wooden acting on display, but that's not confined solely to this adventure.

But for the moment I'm going to focus on the good features. Practically all of part one - it's a great expository episode. It sets up a gloomy, atmospheric scenario as the TARDIS slowly dies, leaving the Doctor and Sarah stranded on a cold, desolate, fog shrouded world, at the mercy of the elements and the hooded natives lurking everywhere. Then you have the Doctor's abduction and Sarah finding his bloodstained lantern. As the camera follows Sarah, her terror is obvious, furthered as she takes refuge in the TARDIS only to be attacked by a figure hiding inside. As she struggles to crank open the doors, its arm moving, spider-like, across the floor to grab her is obvious horror movie stuff, but by golly it works! Her discovery of the City is awe-inspiring, save for the dodgy CSO.

The camerawork, the sound effects and the music all help to create this feel of desolation. The use of sound is spectacular: the TARDIS instruments fading, almost petering out; the voices of the Doctor and Sarah echoing in the darkened console room; all the noises on the planet's surface (presumably wind or atmospheric conditions); the loud bursts made by the City's beacon. The location footage of the alien planet is your stock standard quarry, but at night it's spectacular - it's a real pity when it turns to day. I happen to like most of the music. Carey Blyton's distinctive style is appropriate for part one - the lonely, forlorn tunes that reflect the surface of Exxilon; the maraca-like shakes that portend something moving in the shadows; the reverential, hymn like theme that we first hear when the City appears (used later by the Exxilons in their sacrificial ritual). But Blyton's score fails in one major area - the Daleks themselves. The little saxophone ditties that accompany them, especially when they first appear, are inappropriate. They're too jaunty, upbeat and, to be honest, very silly. There's no sense of menace whatsoever.

It's true to say that the wonderful atmosphere of part one doesn't carry through the rest of the story. There are moments, but overall the feel is not as edgy. But that's not to say it falls apart. For Death to the Daleks is a densely plotted and intriguing adventure. There's a multitude of sci-fi clichés: the concept of a living city, an ancient alien civilisation that visited Earth and taught primitive man a few things, now reduced to barbarism by its own scientific curiosity; but they all have some new life breathed into them. Then there's the usual race against time to prevent a catastrophe, with the presence of the Daleks to hinder the Doctor.

I mentioned the abundant plotting. But consider that this is written by Terry Nation, the master of simple plots, and it's quite a surprise. Nation's stories have always been straightforward; even enjoyable adventures like The Daleks, Dalek Invasion of Earth and epics like Master Plan are fairly simple. His attempts at multi-plotted stories, such as The Keys of Marinus and The Chase are only "one plot at a time" in their diversity. His writing has never been too intricate, and compared to his last effort, the blandly written Planet of the Daleks, this is complex indeed! There's a lot for the Doctor to do - but isn't this what we want from an adventure?

And as much as I love The Discontinuity Guide, I can't agree with its statement: "There really doesn't seem any need to have the Daleks in it at all." Well, in my humble opinion, they're used to great effect. Although not in the original script, and inserted to cash in on Dalek success, this was exactly the case with season 9's Day - and that's a magnificent adventure. They enhance the plot substantially - we know they have a hidden agenda with their plan to acquire Parrinium. They're also presented in a light we've never seen them before - helpless. A Dalek warns the Doctor to "Keep away!" They're forced into a truce with the humans, to the point where they have to confer with their old enemy and get locked in the same cell with him! Before they utilise shotguns they're helpless against the Exxilons, and even afterwards they're no match for the City's "roots".

However there are some dud factors. There's some atrocious acting on display. Of the humans, why in heaven's name is the marvellous John Abineri killed off so early? He's the only decent one! Jill and Peter are dull and lifeless. Dan Galloway, on paper at least, is the most interesting character in the story. A glory seeker who collaborates with the Daleks; at the end conscience gets the better of him and he sacrifices himself to defeat them. But Duncan Lamont seems to think that a fixed, intense glare and a gravelly Scottish voice are all he needs to communicate such a character. A few hitches on the production side: there's a bad choice of shots for the end of episode one - it's obvious the Dalek guns aren't working before the titles roll. The model TARDIS target used by the Daleks is a bit silly, as is the Dalek committing suicide in part four (its "I have failed" drone is incredibly monotonous).

However, to contradict The Discontinuity Guide once again, I wouldn't call it "tired and insipid." The rest of the production is pretty good - save for the aforementioned CSO and model ships. The City "roots" are quite effective - except the string holding up the one at the diggings, which is glaringly obvious. But the scene is an exciting one, and I especially like the way it slithers back into the water - almost smugly. The journey the Doctor and Bellal take through the city is very interesting - although at times the Time Lord tends to rely too much on his sonic screwdriver, thus losing a certain suspense.

I love the design of the City - both inside and out. As I referred to above, its first appearance is quite striking. Its control room is a standard Who set, but the echoing clicks and whirrs unnervingly reinforce that it's alive. The realisation of the Exxilons is rather good, while the chant they recite in their rituals is creepily alien. The rest of the acting is varied (Abineri and Arnold Yarrow are the best), there's no spectacular dialogue, but a few nice touches compensate for this. The look on Sarah's face when the Doctor tells her "If I don't come back, you must go with them"; and the defeated look on the Doctor's face after being captured by the Daleks near the very end. And the dying City is excellent - its slow melting and those unearthly screams are a great touch!

And it's only four episodes long. For a Jon Pertwee story, that's an added bonus. 8/10


Flying in the Face of Popular Opinion by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 11/12/06

This is my first review for this site and I suspect that my choice of story may not win me many admirers. Oh well, at least it's slightly more orginal than choosing to do a review of Pyramids of Mars as my first one.

I'll begin by saying in no uncertain terms that I love Death to the Daleks. There, I've said it. Already I can hear the lynch mob marching enthusiastically in my direction. I will of course admit that I'm totally biased in my opinion but then when do we Who fans ever review anything objectively? This is the first story that I owned on video, a christmas present when I was about 3 years old. I'm now 21 and the tape is fast wearing out. As a child of that age I was obviously not going to be able able to come up with a critical analysis of it. But it's a child thing. Plonk a child in front of something like this and they'll be glued to the screen. But as childhood passes we start to view things with a more critical eye. I however, still see Death to the Daleks through the eyes pf that 3 year old. Yes, this is a story that many fans sneer at and they're probably right in their assessment.

But so what? I don't care. For a start, this story has Jon Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen giving wonderful performances. Some say that by this point in his Doctorship Jon Pertwee is simply going through the motions. Balderdash and piffle. He's on fire! Nice velvet jacket too. Elisabeth Sladen never gave a single bad performance. She could rise above the blandness of any script and here she plays wonderfully off Pertwee. Sarah's always been well equipped in the brain department and this story is no exception, coming up with the plan of deceiving the Daleks with bags of sand. The potato sack dress is quite nice as well.

Bit of a potato sack theme going on in this story what with the Exxilons as well. Ok, so they're just primitives but by God they're creepy. Episode one in particular, when they are gliding around the place in the dark. And for once a quarry actually proves to be a very effective backdrop for a barren alien planet. Exxilon. That's a great name for a planet isn't it? Doctor Who has always been lambasted for using quarries but it's not as if we have access to deserts and arctic tundra here in Britain. And Star Trek is just as bad. Every time they need an outdoor location thay just pop along to the Arizona desert or wherever the hell it is. And the Trekkies think that that is in some way more imaginative? Poor misguided fools. Lost degraded creatures (thank you Seron). I rally you to the cause my brothers in arms, partake of the quarry and be fulfilled.

Another aspect of this story that people often have a major problem with is the music. I think all three of Carey Blyton's scores are very effective but this is the clincher. Saxophones and clarinets. I love the main musical theme for this story, the one we hear every time we see the city. It's the same one that the Exxilons are chanting to in their cave. Listen carefully. The melodies and intervals used in the music for this story are supposed to be representative of the music of the Incas and Aztecs. The themes of ancient civilisations and impossible architecture. Which is exactly what this story revolves around. Anyone who is familiar with the first Tomb Raider game( exquisite, exquisite, truly sublime) will notice that the main musical theme sounds very much like the main theme here. And Tomb Raider also revolves around similar concepts. Speaking of architecture, the City is a truly beautiful piece of modelwork and its melting destruction is very well done.

Onto the Daleks and their flying cake tin. I like the new colour scheme and the TARDIS shooting gallery is terribly cute. OK, so the whole idea of their weapons malfunctioning yet their motive power staying intact is something of a copout but they wouldn't be much use to the story of they were rendered immobile. I love the machine; another nice little touch. And so what if the humans aren't particularly interesting? They serve their purpose, they further the story and it's not as if they're excrutiating to watch or anything.

So there you have it. Reconsider some of your grievances against this story. Go back and watch it with the more critical areas of your brain toned down. Give it another chance. You might get a glimpse of what I can see in it.


Gothic Horror by Daniel Saunders 8/5/09

Although Doctor Who became a Gothic programme under Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, it had experimented with the genre several times in the past, most notably in The Daemons and The Curse of Peladon, but also in the haunted house episode of The Chase. To my surprise, when last viewing Death to the Daleks, I realised that this too is an early Gothic story.

Gothic fiction, at least in its original form, contrasted the perceived barbarities of medieval and superstitious villains with the progressive, rational, neo-classical values of the Enlightenment. The stories often featured an ancient, cursed building. The villains were often Catholic monks, the stories being written at a time when "Catholic" had the same prejudiced connotations for many Britons as "Islamic" has today.

Strip away the science fiction trappings (especially the von Daniken "ancient astronauts" bit) and Death to the Daleks fits this model surprisingly well. The Exxilon city takes the place of the Gothic mansion. While the technologically advanced, logical, computerised city might seem to represent neo-classical rationalism, the fact that it has expelled its inhabitants shows it to be "cursed", perhaps as a result of the hubris of the inhabitants in "playing God" (echoes of Frankenstein there). As a result of being cast out of their city, most of the Exxilons have degenerated into savagery and live a quasi-monastic lifestyle, complete with robes, chanting, incense, persecuting rationalist unbelievers and performing human sacrifices.

The Doctor and the rationalist Exxilons, particularly Bellal (and the Daleks!), represent logical, rationality and science, and are able to break the curse, destroying the city in the process and letting the Exxilons rebuild their civilization (the dying city echoes the climax of The Fall of the House of Usher, although that event is portrayed as a tragic conclusion, not a new dawn). Many of the more superficial motifs of Gothic fiction are present too, notably lots of torch-lit tunnels. The first episode is particularly atmospheric (until the badly edited cliffhanger). It should come as no surprise that this story saw Robert Holmes' first significant script editing for the programme.

Despite all of this, much of this story does not work. The biggest flaw is actually the inclusion of the Daleks. As I noted above, both the Doctor and the Daleks are positioned as agents of progress and rationality in this story. Interestingly, for a few scenes in part two it looks like the Doctor is going to be forced into an uneasy alliance with his enemies, but soon the Daleks are trying to kill the Doctor, despite the fact that in thematic terms they are on the same side.

In addition, much of this tale feels inconsequential. It is difficult to believe that this story is really about the fate of the entire Exxilon civilization, let alone that whole planets are threatened by plague. By this stage, the audience is used to Dalek stories being big events, and such a trifling tale as this seems like an anti-climax. Interestingly, this implies that the story would be much better if the Daleks were not in it and the focus was on the Exxilons and their city.

The other big problem is the trip through the Exxilon city in the last two episodes. The logic puzzles and games of hopscotch make for very dull television. I cannot understand why so many writers seemed to use these ideas to pad out their work. The puzzles also seem quite inadequate as intelligence tests. For example, it is not clear why so many Exxilons failed to complete the test that involved tracing a route through a maze, a puzzle frequently found in puzzle books for young children! The third cliffhanger, which is only effective if the audience knows that the "deadly patterned floor" is an adventure serial cliche, is absolutely underwhelming. That said, I liked the psychedelic assault on the Doctor's sanity, and the noise of the "root" attacking was impressive even if the special effects were not.