Thursday 22 August 2013

Why Planet Of The Daleks is actually amazing (so long as you're nine)

The defence of the story I'm about to offer had to be read in the full
knowledge that THIS is a moment of drama and tension in the story.
I never claimed to have taste.
Since I've been in kind of a negative mood recently it's time to cheer up. In that spirit let's talk about a Doctor Who story most fans hate but that I absolutely love: Planet Of The Daleks.

Now there are very good reasons people don't tend to like Planet Of The Daleks and I honestly can't argue with any of them. It is one of Terry Nation's great acts of self-plagiarism, being a very close retread of The Daleks and he clearly hasn't asked anyone in the production office what's changed in the seven years since he last wrote for the series. It is considerably less complex, both philosophically and structurally, than the other stories in Season 10. Worst of all both Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning are visibly bored throughout: Pertwee by the lack of work he has to do and Manning by being saddled with the worst romantic sub-plot of her entire run (and that's against some very stiff competition).

I don't deny any of this, it's all perfectly fair. The simple fact is, though, that when I was nine years old this was the first Doctor Who story I ever saw. Planet Of The Daleks is comfort viewing for me, it gives me a nostalgia buzz less to do with the actual story and more to do with remembering sitting on the floor in my grandmother's living room watching it. It does have some genuine merits, however:

The plot might be simple but Nation knows how to pack action into his scripts. The story rattles along with the minimum of padding (there is some, this is a six-parter). Jo gets to play the hero for the first episode, going out and exploring whilst the Doctor is trapped in the TARDIS. Jo is one of the all-time great companions and this is a fantastic introduction to her. It has invisible friendly aliens who wear purple fur coats which is just fun.

Then there's the moral lessons about courage being about overcoming fear instead of ignoring it and about remembering the cost of war. They might be a bit too on-the-nose compared to the Pertwee era's usual standards but they're not bad lessons for a nine year old to learn.

Of course, this all misses the fantastic image at the heart of the story: an army of thousands of Daleks in the centre of a giant ice volcano. That is a fantastic image and when you're nine it doesn't matter that they're toy Daleks who don't look quite like Daleks are meant to look because it's THOUSANDS OF DALEK AND THEY COULD WAKE UP ANY MINUTE!

That’s not bad for your first “behind the sofa” moment.

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