1974 and the clock is ticking for Jon Pertwee. The shadow of time is looming over him as the countdown to his imminent departure from the role creeps ever closer.
He has no love for the Daleks as adversaries, Pertwee cites the Draconians and Ogrons as proper Doctor Who monsters because you can respond to the actor beneath due to the partial alien mask so the pepper pots’ return in his final season probably didn’t excite him. Now this story is of interest because it is the third Doctor’s final battle with his oldest enemies and Sarah Jane Smith’s first encounter played as ever by the wonderful Elizabeth Sladen.
Terry Nation was often accused of simply recycling the same story whenever he brought the Daleks back to the show. But this is nonsense. Death to the Daleks is quite a clever and ambitious story.
The Tardis is drained of power and crashes on Exxilon where a city is drawing energy from anything that comes close to its atmosphere. Once a thriving world, Exxilon has been reduced to a wasteland and its populace are now worshipping it as a god which includes trying to sacrifice Sarah to the city. The Exxilons themselves are wonderful creations, their face masks with large orb eyes are very much to Pertwee’s liking; brilliantly echoing what has happened to their planet. They are wizened, Gollum-like creatures that live underground where once they were a noble thriving race, destroyed in body and spirit by the very city they created.
Indeed, the opening scenes where the Doctor and Sarah are separated on the foggy surface are genuinely disturbing. But it isn’t long before they find an Earth expedition, marooned just like the Tardis crew.
There is a lethal plague spreading through the human Empire and the cure is on Exxilon but they have no way of getting off the planet. Things are further complicated when the Daleks arrive (guess who created the plague?) but as their weapons have been drained they form an uneasy alliance. Often the Daleks are at their best when they are being sneaky and calculating. Here they pretend to be allies while in fact they are attaching machine guns to replace their energy weapons. One little injoke is their using tiny Tardis models as target practice. Somehow this jars. Can you really see the daleks running these off in the factory? Imagine the conversation: “I bet if we made these into cuff links, we’d make a fortune and not forgetting the mugs, key rings and beach towels!” And the race is on. The Doctor and Sarah together with a friendly Exxilon called Bellal must enter the city to shut it down so they can all escape. Facing a series of tests would be done a couple of years later in Pyramids of Mars but this time the Daleks are literally at their heels.
This is a nice story. Well thought out aliens and their culture, themes of power and the ultimate reach of science which in turn can turn on us, Daleks being bad boys, giant metal serpents that in fact are part of the living conscience of the city whose solitary beacon blinks in the gloom like a twisted lighthouse, Pertwee is in top form as is Elizabeth Sladen but I’ll refrain from commenting on the human party. Cliché, some with an awful lack of acting talent, this story could have done without them almost but not quite due to a very important plot point.
The extras on this disc follow the usual pattern but we get an extra special glance into the past with footage from on the set of the Peter Cushing Dalek movies. But overall I would recommend this one.