Here it is at last. The classic Doctor Who DVD I’ve been most eagerly waiting for. And it’s not just me – a poll of readers of Doctor Who Magazine voted it as the best story ever. First shown in March and April 1975, the six-part story dramatically re-invents the Doctor’s definitive foe, and looks at their origins. Fans of the new series might realise that this story marks the beginning of the Time War that led to the destruction of the Time Lords and (most of) the Daleks. It’s a significant part of the show’s mythology, even. So, what’s it all about?
Returning by trans-mat from his previous adventure, the Doctor finds himself not, as he expected, back on a space station, but in a war zone. The Time Lords have diverted the matter transmission beam. They have a job for him: foreseeing a time when the Daleks will become the dominant form of life in the Universe, they have decided to stop them at their very beginning. The Doctor is to either prevent their creation, or at least change their development so they become less deadly. After some discussion, he reluctantly agrees. He is soon joined by his companions Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan.
After all the usual running around, getting separated and so on, we learn that the time travellers have arrived near the end of the war referred to in the first Daleks story. Two races, the Thals and the Kaleds, have been locked in war for centuries. Resources are low, and both sides are desperate for victory. The Thals are planning to launch a missile which will destroy the Kaled city, while the Kaleds, or at least their “greatest scientist”, Davros, are planning something much worse.
The Doctor and Harry are captured by the Kaleds, who are played as Nazis. The Daleks always had a Fascist tendency, but in this story it’s made quite explicit – lots of heel-clicking, black uniforms, almost-Nazi salutes, and more megalomania than a raving megalomaniacs convention. Davros, played by Michael Wisher, is a sinister and very dangerous creature. Kept alive long beyond his time in an enclosed chair that looks like the lower half of a Dalek, more machine than man, his behaviour makes it clear where the Daleks get their sunny disposition. Davros has worked out that as a result of the long war, his people will mutate into hideous new forms, and he has created a “travel machine” to allow these Kaled mutants to get around. The Doctor recognises the “Mark 3 Travel Machine” as a primitive Dalek.
Meanwhile, Sarah has been captured by the Thals, and is being forced to work loading the deadly payload into the Thal rocket.
And after that, it starts to get complicated. Davros and his henchman Nyder betray their people by giving the Thals a formula that will allow their missile to penetrate the otherwise invulnerable Kaled dome, before betraying the Thals by sending the Daleks to exterminate them all.
The Doctor is faced with a moral dilemma: does he have the right to commit genocide? Can he destroy all the Kaled mutant creatures, and wipe out the Dalek race before it’s really begun?
Finally, after lots of death and destruction, the Daleks turn on their creator and declare that they are the superior form of life in the Universe, just in time to be sealed in their bunker by a massive bomb set by Thal survivors.
Over thirty years on, the story still stands up – the production values and effects are nowhere near those of the new series, but skilled direction and excellent lighting make the most of the resources available. Tom Baker’s performance is one of his best – still relatively new to the role, clearly having a great time and matched against a villain worthy of his attention.
- There is a commentary by Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Peter Miles (Nyder) and David Maloney (Director). I haven’t listened to this yet, so I can’t comment, but Tom Baker is always good fun, so it should be a better than average commentary.
- There are the usual production subtitles. Lots of background information on cast and crew, parts of early versions of the script, and more. Some of them go buy almost too fast to read, so be ready with the pause button.
- Genesis of a Classic: A new documentary on the making of the story with contributions from all the usual suspects. Good stuff.
- The Dalek Tapes: Another new documentary, running through the history of the Daleks throughout the classic series. It includes some rarely-seen clips from stories that only exist in fragments, various bits from BBC children’s programme Blue Peter featuring Daleks and much more.
- And more! Clips of on-screen continuity announcements, a photo gallery, an extended Blue Peter item about models made by a viewer, and PDFs of the original billings in the BBC listings magazine Radio Times and the 1976 Doctor Who Annual
As with most of the Doctor Who DVDs, this is a very well put together package, with lots to keep the fans happy. And talking of happy fans, the new series, starring David Tennant as the Doctor starts tomorrow at 7:15pm on BBC1, followed by Doctor Who Confidential on BBC3.
 The Sontaran Experiment
 Who we will be seeing again this year
 Major silliness: the two sides are based in domed cities which are remarkably close to each other.
 Not a word I often use, but it seems appropriate in this case
 There tends to be a lot of that when the Daleks are around