BBC Video // 1974 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // August 9th, 2012
"Daleks without the power to kill. How does it feel?" -- The Doctor
Sometimes, Doctor Who can be prescient. Take, for example, "Death to the Daleks." It starts with a power problem in the TARDIS, and the pop-ups note that it faced a ratings dip in 1974 because of, you guessed it, power problems in England during its original run. The pop-ups even note that while the Doctor prefers an oil lamp, actual Britons tended toward candles.
Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks puts the four-part serial on DVD in which a lot of Daleks bite the dust along the way.
The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen, The Sarah Jane Adventures) are heading for the beach, but there's a detour -- and a power outage in the TARDIS. They naturally go out and explore, meeting a Marine expedition that's suffering the same fate and Exxilons who want to sacrifice them to a living city. Soon, there's a ship landing. Everyone hopes it's reinforcements from Earth, but it turns out to be Daleks, who want to exterminate the Doctor, naturally. However, their power isn't up, either, so the Daleks must work with the Doctor and the Marine crew to harvest a mineral that could save both humans and Daleks. Sounds like a good idea, but do you expect Daleks to play nice?
Death to the Daleks probably isn't an essential for Doctor Who fans, but it's just fun watching Daleks do battle with something deadly that looks like a Mystery Science Theater 3000 'bot. It's most fun toward the end, as the Doctor and a friendly Exxilon enter the living city by solving a series of puzzles, followed by Daleks who'd rather fight than think. In short, it's a goofy story that couldn't have sent too many young viewers hiding behind the couch; a pop-up notes a viewer who pitied the hapless Daleks in this story. If you've ever wanted to see Daleks just go boom, this is the story for you.
The Doctor and Sarah Jane keep their stiff upper lips throughout. The Doctor is constantly reassuring her, or trying to, while she manages a brave-in-the-face-of-doom smile. Elizabeth Sladen seems to have an endless supply of fearful-but-plucky facial expressions. Still, Sarah Jane always wants to go into the fray, even exploring a bright, strange -- and deadly -- alien city, and the Doctor has to create "important" missions to keep her out of harm's way. A new companion, Sarah Jane is baffled by Daleks ("These robot things -- are they locals?") and by the Doctor's explanation of their psychokinetic power. It's interesting to note that the Doctor is foolhardy as a fighter when protecting Sarah Jane.
Death to the Daleks has a few too many unconvincing process shots. In one of the extras, there's some footage with a giant hand in one of them, but you'll kind of realize the Dalek ship is a miniature long before that. Otherwise in the production design, there are some nifty ancient symbols that light up (note: these would make a great wall decoration for any Whovian's pad, provided someone actually decides to mass-produce them).
Daleks are the main theme in the extras. The commentary notes that the serial had a Dalek army of four, but only three of them were movable. A making-of, "Beneath the City of the Exxilons," features Dalek voice (and audio Doctor Who maestro) Nick Briggs. "Doctor Who Stories -- Dalek Men" interviews the men who fit inside those Daleks. And some mute on-set footage shows them again in Dr. Who and the Daleks (that is spelled properly, since it refers to the Peter Cushing theatrical film), courtesy of ancient ITV outtakes. The package also includes pop-up text, a photo gallery, an isolated score, and some studio recording footage. My favorite pop-up text explains what pinball is, just in case there are any modern Doctor Who viewers who've never heard the word "Tilt."
I kind of think the writers went a little goofy sometimes on Jon Pertwee's serials, since the straightfaced actor and the earthbound UNIT setting that he worked in for most of his run could have made Doctor Who look like a formula ITC actioner, and they must have wanted to make sure you knew it was Doctor Who. I was more ready to laugh than to hide, but it's still fun.
Not guilty, if you want to see Daleks go "Tilt."
Review content copyright © 2012 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Trivia Track
* Photo Gallery
* Isolated Score
* Official Site