purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
[personal profile] purplecat
I thought that I had seen Death to the Daleks but it didn't feel particularly familiar when we sat down to watch it. Well apart from the obvious familiarity of a Dalek story filmed in a sandpit in Kent, with an additional section in which someone tries to sacrifice Sarah.

In some ways it's an oddly disjoint story. The Daleks don't appear until the end of the first episode and are sidelined for much of the last. To be honest I think Terry Nation was more interested in the concept of the (somewhat ill-defined) anti-electricity planet, the empty city and the people who worship it, and the extent to which a bunch of humans thrown into this environment would cope. He has some fun with the idea of Daleks also adapting to this environment. Deliberately de-powering the Daleks and then showing them overcome this obstacle and still be extremely dangerous is a clever way to side-step the tendency for each Dalek story to need to up the stakes. It has been observed that Nation had a predilection towards survival stories in which man (mostly manly man) must overcome the environment and this definitely fits into that trend. However survival stories are actually a pretty good starting point for a Doctor Who story and beyond a certain humourlessness Nation's stories tend to be pretty watchable.

Since this is a Terry Nation story, there is a character called Tarrant. I was a little take aback when Tarrant turned out to be a woman, however.

The City of the Exxilons is a nice idea in concept, and is a good driver for the plot that takes place outside its walls, but it's internal puzzle-solving aspect is very poorly realised. Obviously portraying the idea that the city is a sequence of fiendish traps which no one in hundreds of years has successfully navigated, while at the same time making each trap or puzzle something that can be made readily understandable to the audience in under a minute is a big ask. But the ultimate effect is a feeling that the city's puzzles are frankly a bit rubbish. The money had probably run out by this point as well - the set design inside the city is noticeably inferior to that elsewhere. Even the Exxilon costumes (which teeter on the brink of failure) ultimately look good enough.

I want to like this story more than I do. It has some nice ideas, an at least moderately interesting cast of supporting characters, keeps events moving and is trying to do something novel with the Daleks. Somehow it all feels a bit by-the-numbers though. Possibly it is because of the familiarity of the sand pit, Sarah getting sacrificed, the running down tunnels and so on - all its interesting parts are very much slotted into the standard template of a Doctor Who story. Its a perfectly solid piece of second rank Doctor Who, but it had the potential to be something more yet never quite managed to gel and become more than the sum of its parts.
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