Is The Day of the Daleks Special Edition DVD All That Special?

With the Third Doctor, Jo Grant, the Brigadier, Benton, Yates and the other UNIT chaps, troops galore, a little bit of CSO and a theatrical villain, Day of the Daleks screams 1970s Doctor Who.

It’s ambitious, enticing, imaginative and fun, with the three leads (I’m counting the Brig alongside the Doctor and Jo) pitched perfectly. Yes, UNIT is side-lined for much of the tale, but the Brigadier, Benton and Yates all have their moments, whether it’s providing a bit of humour or firing at the nearest threat.

Back in 2011, the DVD crew decided to give the four-part serial some much-needed attention. It resulted in a Special Edition release, complete with brand new effects, new Daleks, and new voices. But how does it really compare to the original…?

In the 20th Century, a peace conference is called in order to stop World War Three. But there’s a report of a ‘ghost’ at Auderly House, the site of the conference, and UNIT are brought in to investigate. The ghost is, in fact, an assassin from a bleak future, and the Doctor and Jo soon find themselves on 22nd Century Earth… ruled by the Daleks.

It’s been said that the Daleks are just shoe-horned into the story, and the DVD commentary suggests this is largely correct. It was producer, Barry Letts, and Script Editor, Terrance Dicks, who wanted something to “catch [the viewer’s] eye at the beginning of the season.”

And it feels right that the Daleks are the ‘big baddies,’ menacing it over the Controller (Aubrey Woods), who acts as a front man. The first reveal is fantastic – short and sweet, just enough to keep you enticed. If it weren’t for the title, it’s almost an unbelievable moment, leaving you to rub your eyes or think you’ve seen some sort of a ghost. After five years away from screen, we can only imagine how thrilling it was for the Daleks to finally be back.

Yes, they’re there to grab your attention – and a Radio Times cover – but it works!

Day of the Daleks DVD 3rd Third Doctor Jon Pertwee Radio Times

They’re not the only monsters on screen either. The Ogrons make their debut in this story and Dicks describes them as “curiously lovable.” Despite their dimness, and ssloooowww speech, they’re just brilliant. They’ve appeared now and again – most notably in Frontier in Space – but the Ogrons are certainly waiting in the wings for a repeat performance. (Are you listening, Messrs Moffat and Chibnall?)

The biggest let-down, indeed, is the lack of Daleks. The final fight is far from The Battle of Canary Wharf. No effort is made to cover up the fact that, yes, there are only three pepperpots. At least Planet of the Daleks has those models in ‘suspended animation’ or whatever. We all know now that even one Dalek can bring down the Earth – and defeat the Cybermen, apparently – but you just don’t believe it here.

Which is where the Special Edition comes in. It’s what Day of the Daleks should’ve been.

There’s extra footage of the terrorising of Auderly House, a very impressive transmit effect that honours the original really well, and a ray gun – – uhm, I mean, ultra-sonic disintegrator that treats victims like scraps of paper. The ‘burning-into-nothingness’ approach is much better than the original ‘where’s-he-got-to-now?’ effect. They’ve even added a natty establishing shot of 22nd Century Earth too, which looks pretty cool, albeit reminiscent of 1990s CGI.

But the best thing? NEW DALEK VOICES! THAT ACTUALLY SOUND LIKE DALEKS! Oh, Nick Briggs, you wonderful man. The original voices are – sorry to anyone involved – awful. I don’t care that the new voices don’t sound a product of the 1970s; they’re actually Daleks.

Thanks for this masterpiece must go to Steve Broster, who has his name all across the release. In The Cheating Memory, he says Day was the “best programme [he’d] ever seen” when he was six, but when he re-watched at the age of nineteen, it was “frankly rather average.” (Seems a bit harsh.) And so he set upon his quest which culminates in the Special Edition. In this short documentary, psychologist Dr. Sarita Robinson talks us through ‘infantile amnesia,’ ‘edited highlights’ and ‘blended memories,’ which is actually more interesting than it sounds. (And trust me; I’m not one for psychology.)

The Making of Day of the Daleks – Special Edition runs you through how this DVD came about through a mixture of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. This is the icing on the cake when it comes to special features.

Day of the Daleks 3rd Third Doctor Jon Pertwee

Let’s start with the commentary: essential listening, despite only being available on the standard version. Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks, Anna Barry (Anat), Jimmy Winston (Shura), and vision mixer, Mike Catherwood make for an entertaining look at the serial, all interesting in their separate ways. They clearly love the show, have very good memories, and appreciate each other’s efforts throughout. As ever, Dicks tells some wonderfully witty tales, before Letts tells us what actually happened.

Letts’ in-depth talk with Catherwood in episode three is particularly interesting, and this is continued in A View from the Gallery, which takes the pair back to – aaah – Television Centre. It’s quite technical, but caters well for a mass audience, and appeals to the nostalgia locked not-that-deep within us all.

The UNIT Family – Part Two, meanwhile, takes a look at “The Jo Grant Years,” from Terror of the Autons to The Green Death. Katy Manning is as lovely as ever, reminiscing about her audition process and a brilliant coincidence with Jon Pertwee, before the introduction of Captain Mike Yates – supposedly the ‘love interest’ for Jo – and Corporal Bell, who tells us that her “function was not to be a man.” There’s a bit of Pigbin Josh in there for you Axos fans, a look at that Auton/car stunt from Terror of the Autons, and talk of corpsing.

The Daemons is one of the best bits, though; Katy’s fondness of Jon is really touching; the double act of Richard Franklin and Nicholas Courtney is really funny, and John Levene tells of a mistake on-set that could’ve ended in tragedy. Levene is wonderfully funny, including lines like “I always fell well” and “I’m not very good at being naked.”

It’s tinged with sadness too, as Roger Delgado is remembered by the cast. All their reflections are touching, but Levine’s voice cracking really brings a tear to the eye.

On a much lighter note, Nationwide reports on the day a school received their prize of a Dalek after entering a Radio Times competition. It builds up quite nicely, but when a small, and very odd-looking Dalek is pushed out of a taxi, it’s quite an anticlimax. Apparently, it’s this small because a six-foot replica would be too scary, but it’s not like the kids there were given a choice. Yes, we can now get cut-outs that are scarier than that, but it’s a nice inclusion – aimed at completists and anyone who went to school in the Seventies. Recipients of the Dalek will also be interested in this, though they might be asking themselves, ‘did I really say I thought Daleks were real… on national telly?!’

Day of the Daleks

It could quite easily be an easter egg, as could the teaser (again, for completists) or the Blue Peter section, with Peter Purves briefly recalling his time on Doctor Who. (Should this really be included alongside Day of the Daleks?) Soon, Purves is – uhm – “menaced” in-studio by three Daleks. (Maybe it is right for this release after all.) He then says that maybe the Daleks would be back in Doctor Who one day. That tease.

It does feature a lovely clip from The Daleks’ Master Plan; we need to cherish footage of ‘lost’ stories, especially ones with the ever-brilliant Nicholas Courtney as Bret Vyon. Indeed, the Brigadier is wonderful in Day of the Daleks. Everybody remembers the Brigadier’s “Fire Rounds Rapid” moment in The Daemons – which Courtney calls an “immortal line” in The UNIT Family – but Nick shines even in the quieter moments. One of my favourite scenes is when he tells the Doctor to come back after the latter has stolen a jeep; a perfectly timed bit of exasperation that sums up their relationship.

In the story, Jo acts as the ‘Anti-Liz Shaw,’ but Katy Manning fleshes her out beautifully. She gets drawn in by the Controller’s lies, but it’s perhaps her enchanting air that changes his mood over the four episodes.

Jon Pertwee is excellent, as ever; a man of taste – funny, clever and every bit the action hero no other incarnation of the Time Lord really is. A poster for Day of the Daleks might say: “SEE Jon Pertwee fight DALEKS! OGRONS! AUTHORITY! And RIDE a TRICYCLE!”

Speaking of the Doctor, he causes quite a stir here, which is investigated in the Blasting the Past documentary, in a section lovingly-titled, “Dandy, connoisseur… Murderer!” – which also covers his sampling vintage wine.

There’s always a bit of controversy over our favourite Time Lord’s tipple of choice; the Fifth Doctor’s teetotal (he’s probably lost his ID and can’t prove his age), the First Doctor has some whenever it’s offered (though claims he never touches alcohol when Doc Holliday offers him some prior to some dental work), and the Eleventh Doctor spits wine out, initially presuming it’d “taste like the gums,” and the Twelfth Doctor doesn’t mind a snifter when talking to the Half-Face Man.

But the Third Doctor knocks it back like Boris Yeltsin. Letts reasons that “if the shape of your nose is going to change, maybe your tastes change as well,” while Dicks comments that it was “certainly good for Jon Pertwee.” Both are probably right.

The biggest controversy of Day of the Daleks is the Doctor gunning down an innocent (ish) Ogron. Terrance admits it seemed very unlike the Doctor to do this, and says it was a “mistake.” Then blames it on the director, like any good Script Editor.

Day of the Daleks 3rd Third Doctor Jon Pertwee Anat

Paul Bernard gets quite a bit of stick, actually. It’s quite a surprise as he was invited back to direct The Time Monster and Frontier in Space. There’s the impression that Bernard wouldn’t listen to anybody else, particularly Barry Letts or Terrance Dicks, the latter of whom freely admits he didn’t always get on with directors… including Barry! Terrance says Bernard was “very opinionated,” while Blasting the Past brands him as ‘The Monster Director.’ Deliberately ambiguous, don’t you think?

To his credit though, Day of the Daleks looks excellent. The gleaming Auderly House – actually Dropmore Park, Buckinghamshire – is a great location to set this ‘haunted house’ tale. It’s revisited in Now and Then, narrated by Toby Hadoke. Despite being twice badly damaged by fire, the house still looks fantastic, while other settings are less-than-spectacular, like Middlesex’s Bulls Bridge. And eventually, you’re forced to ask the question, ‘how different can wasteland look?’

Hadoke also presents The UNIT Dating Conundrum, a fun look at the “single most controversial question” in Who history. So just when are these stories set? Dicks says it’s deliberately vague.

The Web of Fear is “1975 definitively.” The Invasion is, Hadoke concludes, 1979 (with a nicely cheeky nod to Shada thrown in). In fact, everything’s fine until The Pyramids of Mars, when Sarah Jane upset fans nationwide. Hadoke makes a nice deduction about the Pertwee era… before his theory is mauled by Mawdryn Undead.

We conclude with the usual business: PDFs, Subtitles, Photo Galleries and a Coming Soon trailer that somehow makes Colony in Space look pretty darn cool.

Yes, Day of the Daleks screams 1970s Who at the top of its voice, but with time travel, paradoxes, action and Daleks, it, essentially, just screams Doctor Who. And this Special Edition is one of the best releases of the DVD range.

Is it really all that special? Without a doubt.