“Planet of the Daleks” tries very hard to revist the glory days of the early Dalek stories, or at least that’s the impression I get from watching it. While the plot may revisit old ground at times, in an anniversary season before the advent of home video, that’s not really a bad thing. How else would the contemporary audience (for whom the story was made after all) be able to revisit fond memories of the Dalek stories of their youth? For that reason and others, I can’t really hold the retro feel of the story against it. And it feels like something big is happening, which the small group of Thals and the Doctor, trapped on the hostile planet Spiridon, have to stop as best they can.
I suppose the main flaw in “Planet” is that despite being a follow-up to “Frontier in Space”, it doesn’t really resolve the events of that story. Indeed, it ends on a cliffhanger of sorts itself. The viewer can assume that General Williams and the Draconian Prince were successful in preventing a war, and that with the Dalek army frozen in ice at the end of “Planet”, that the planned takeover of the galaxy by the Daleks came to nothing, but it would have been nice to see this decisively stated on-screen. As it is, we don’t know for certain what happened between Earth and Draconia, and the Dalek Supreme promises to free the frozen army. We’re left with a couple of loosely-linked stories rather than two halves of an epic.
Episode one reprises the last minute or so of “Frontier in Space” with the Doctor and Jo leaving the planet of the Ogrons and sending an SOS to the Time Lords. The Time Lords respond by sending the TARDIS to Spiridon where the Daleks are located, something Jo is unaware of until the Doctor explains it to her in episode four. Jo’s narration of events using the TARDIS log is rather unique, and it’s touching later on to hear the Doctor sadly listening to her voice when he believes that she’s been killed by the Daleks. It’s amusing to see the Doctor take the time to change his clothes, even when he’s facing a major fault with the TARDIS oxygen supply. Suffocation might be a problem, but wearing dirty and crumpled clothes is apparently an even worse fate! I do like the deep purple pin-stripes though. Pity it’s the only time we ever see that particular outfit.
On the other hand, considering all the airless places he’s been before, I guess it’s lucky the TARDIS hadn’t lost its oxygen supply prior to this. Hmmm. Another fault that doesn’t register on the fault locator? The Doctor says there’s nothing wrong, and concludes that the breakdown must be external, but he has been wrong before…
Moving on, there are a lot of familiar things in this story for anyone who’s seen previous Dalek adventures. The hostile alien jungle and invisible aliens being two of the most obvious. However, the idea that the Daleks would try to harness that invisibility for their own use is a good one. The invisible Dalek at the end of episode one makes for a great cliffhanger, but the invisibility plotline isn’t really developed all that much. It’s referenced later on, but the menace of invisible Daleks would have made for an even more interesting story than we already have.
The jungle set is clearly artificial, but imaginative and dangerous-looking nonetheless. The spitting flowers and the eye plants are nice concepts, though the double use of the line: “A jungle where the plants are more like animal life than plant life” by both Jo and one of the Thals jumped out at me as somewhat artificial. The set depicting the plain of stones, and the ice pool locations meant to be nearby don’t mix well, but the videotaped studio footage and filmed location work in Doctor Who never do. It’s a visual convention I just get used to as a viewer.
It’s interesting to see the Thals again for only the second time in the series, and the Doctor’s mention of traveling to the Dalek city with Ian, Barbara and Susan is another nice look back during the anniversary season, as well as making sense in the context of establishing the Doctor’s identity with the Thals. Even the Doctor’s use of the term “young man” seems very much like a throwback to the Hartnell days, and not something Pertwee’s Doctor usually says.
For those who like to criticize Jon Pertwee’s acting, they’ll find little cause to do so here. The scene where the Doctor rushes out in front of the Dalek guns to save Jo when he believes her to be in the Thal ship, and his anguish at her apparent death are portrayed very convincingly, as is the Doctor’s anger and contempt for the Daleks. And is this only the second time we’ve seen the Dalek guns used to disable rather than kill? The only other incident coming to my mind is the paralyzation of Ian back in “The Daleks”. Daleks usually just kill outright. The Doctor is also quite enthusiastic while trying to work out how to escape from his cell and during the balloon escape up the ventilation shaft. He really does seem to enjoy tackling tough problems and solving them. He is of course delighted to see Jo after believing her to be dead, and can’t quite come to grips with the fact that she wasn’t in the Thal spaceship when it was destroyed. Overall, the Doctor is a delight to watch all throughout the story, as he enthusiastically and energetically meets the challenges thrown at him.
Jo’s character growth continues. Fresh from standing up to the Master in the previous story, she spends half of this story on her own and does quite well. She meets the Thals and then Wester the Spiridon, and forms alliances without any help from the Doctor. She also shows quite a bit of courage by sneaking into the Dalek city and then creeping around the Dalek control room in an effort to locate the Doctor and free him. Once she learns about the Thal bombs, she follows the Daleks sent to destroy them and manages to save two of the bombs, which ultimately helps to preserve them until the end of the story where the Doctor uses the explosives to freeze the Dalek army. Jo contributes a great deal to the success of the Thal mission on her own initiative, and it’s great to see how far she’s come as a character. It’s interesting to note that during the two-pronged attack on the Dalek city, she takes a seperate route from the Doctor and it’s her idea to do so, much to the Doctor’s surprise. This independent streak and her relationship with Latep seem to foreshadow her romance and departure in the upcoming “Green Death”. Before watching the stories in order, I’d never really noticed the way she grows apart from the Doctor gradually, and it’s a nice job by the production team.
The script by Terry Nation is full of action mixed with quiet moments where the Doctor almost philosophizes with the Thals, particularly the leader Taron, who is played by Bernard Horsefall, another of my favorite occasional guest actors. I quite like the Doctor’s request that the Thals not make their heroic mission sound like a great adventure when it was in reality a deadly and dangerous experience. The third Doctor is usually one for action, not speeches, and again this feels like a throwback to the Hartnell days, as if Nation was writing for the first Doctor. Which he probably was. I can see Hartnell in his prime carrying most of this story, with the exception perhaps of the balloon escape or pushing the Daleks in the ice pools.
After the disappointment of seeing only three Daleks back in “Day of the Daleks”, it’s good to see that there are quite a few more present here, and the story benefits from the numbers. A few of the props in the control room scenes seem to be empty, but they serve to bulk up the numbers nicely. The supreme Dalek was quite a surprise to me the first time I saw this story, and it looks a lot like the Daleks in the new series with the gold coloration, large eye-lamps and lit up eye stalk. On the other hand, the lights don’t synch up with it’s speech at all, which is very distracting. The Dalek voices are very good this time, far better than they were in “Day”. The Daleks rather quickly deal with whatever problem is thrown against them, such as the locked door or the need to ascend the ventilation shaft, making them look intelligent and resourceful.
Overall, “Planet of the Daleks” is a nice slice of nostalgia for the tenth anniversary year. The Daleks return to their roots one last time as a massive threat to the entire galaxy (discounting “Death to the Daleks” which concerns a small expeditionary force, but retains the Daleks’ intelligence and scheming) before Davros enters the picture, after which the Daleks are never quite the same again. “Planet” doesn’t hit the heights of the sixties Dalek tales, but it’s a comfortable middle of the road story, and far surpasses the three efforts in the eighties. For all its running through corridors and re-use of ideas, it’s quite enjoyable, and features a great performance from Jon Pertwee, as well as continued character growth for Jo Grant. Well worth watching.