Image Credit: Stephen Broome
Image Description: Jon Pertwee with a Dalek at Aldbourne, 1996
In a jaunt away from new TLV content, John Salway takes a look at the stories featured on the Road to the Dark Times Blu-Ray, and their place in TLV canon. First up, Planet of the Daleks…
When I first covered the Road to the Dark Times Blu-Ray release, which contains an assortment of Doctor Who TV stories that relate to the Time Lord Victorious range, I stated: “I won’t get into providing a review of each story, or we’ll be here for weeks.” Well, with a little bit of time to fill before the concluding instalments of the saga, this seemed an ideal opportunity to take on the challenge after all.
So, Planet of the Daleks! This first story in the set starts with the Third Doctor in a very bad way following the conclusion of his previous adventure, leaving companion Jo Grant no choice but to venture out onto an unknown alien world. This is a great set-up, providing suspense, a strong reason for our heroine to venture into danger, and an unusual opportunity (for a time) for the companion to take the lead. So it’s quite disappointing that by the end of Part One, the Doctor is up and on his feet again, and it’s Jo who is back in the role of victim – this time to a nasty fungus.
The story proper is a fairly simple action-adventure, with the Doctor and Jo working with a group of Thal soldiers to prevent the Daleks from developing an unstoppable invisible army. While there are some quieter, more thoughtful, moments scattered throughout the adventure, it’s clear the focus here is on excitement and thrilling set-pieces, which for the most part are well executed. A highlight for me was an improvised balloon escape up a heat-venting shaft. Admittedly, it was realised in a fairly goofy fashion, but is such an audacious, ambitious thing to try given the budget that you can’t help but give it the benefit of the doubt.
With such a kinetic focus, it’s good news that the adventure is very well paced, with new elements scattered in liberally to hold the attention. From new Thal arrivals, to ice volcanoes, to a deadly bacteria, there are lots of smaller elements introduced to keep the main plot from dragging. Where this approach fails, however, is with the introduction of the Dalek Supreme in the final episode. It’s much too late for him to have any major impact on the plot, so what’s the point of bringing him in? He comes across as a little foolish, arriving in his spaceship, failing to stop the goodies, and then left stranded when his (surprisingly undefended) transport is stolen.
When the story does stop to take a breather, there’s a pleasing lack of gung-ho ideology. Calm and considered stratagems are shown to be more effective than rash action. Once the Daleks are defeated, the Doctor makes it clear that combat should not be glamourized or treated lightly, in a really well judged moment of characterisation. Less effective are the story’s’ small dips into the world of romance. Thal leader Taron makes a big stink when his love Rebec arrives to bolster his troops, angry that his focus on defeating the Daleks may be distracted by concern for her welfare. While Rebec proves to be a useful addition to the squad, and the Doctor points out that without emotional responses they would all be like the Daleks, Taron never apologises or expresses regret for his previous behaviour, so the moral is only half served.
There’s also a teeny-tiny subplot where another Thal soldier, Latep, seems quite taken by Jo, and at the conclusion asks her to go back home to Skaro with him. But you’re never really under any doubt that she might accept his offer, as there’s been very little screen-time of the pair, and Latep hasn’t really shown much of a personality, so what’s the point? While Jo is, as always, very compassionate when turning him down, poor Latep still comes off more than a little desperate.
I had a very enjoyable afternoon watching Planet of the Daleks, and can recommend the story as a relatively unchallenging adventure that nevertheless holds the attention. It manages the tricky job of balancing an exciting, guerilla-war scenario with the underlying pacifist nature of Doctor Who, and is a story I will return to more frequently in the future.
So, finally, the million dollar question – how does this all tie into Time Lord Victorious? Well, um, it has Daleks in it, and a large quantity of them are held in a suspended animation vault, which is a bit like Ep 2 of the Daleks! animated series if you squint a bit. That’s about it.