It should be one of the greatest moments in the history of Doctor Who: an all-out battle between the Daleks and U.N.I.T., the paramilitary organization that the Doctor spent most of a decade teaming up with.
Sadly, the climax of "Day of the Daleks" has always been a bit of a letdown, with only three rickety Daleks and a handful of soldiers going at it on the lawn. Until now. The DVD of "Day of the Daleks," in stores yesterday, features a "special edition" of the story that's millions of times better than anything George Lucas ever managed.
The special edition of "Day of the Daleks" is, in general, a bit of a revelation. As with a lot of the DVD-only special versions, the special effects have been brushed up with CG — but it goes quite a bit further this time, with the drab future now including horrible Daleky skyscrapers with the word "OBEY" plastered on them. The utterly terrible Dalek voices from the original have been replaced with Nicholas Briggs, who does the voices on the new series — and sound designer Mark Ayres actually hunted down a vintage ring modulator to create the proper old-school Dalek tones.
And then there's the battle. Instead of just three Daleks against a handful of soldiers, it's an impressive sequence now — because the producers of the DVD actually went back to the location where the battle scene was filmed in 1971 with a bunch of new Daleks and people in costumes, and filmed extra footage to slot into that sequence. All of a sudden, the Dalek-U.N.I.T. battle is a worthy moment, up there with the Dalek/Cyberman fight in "Doomsday." (Fear not, purists — the original version is also available on a separate disc. This isn't a situation like "The Five Doctors" where the original release only had the special edition.)
And it's great that this particular story is getting such a lavish treatment, because it really is pretty great. "Day of the Daleks" is one of the few classic Doctor Who stories to include time travel as a major plot point — and one of even fewer to handle it reasonably well. The "timey wimey" storyline must have been a huge inspiration for Steven Moffat's recent work — there's even a scene where the Doctor and his companion Jo meet their future selves — and Paul Cornell is on the DVD featurettes talking about the story.
In "Day of the Daleks," there's a British politician named Stiles who is crucial to preventing World War III from breaking out. (As usual, the Americans are sort of AWOL.) And there are fanatics from the future, who are coming back in time to kill Stiles, because their version of the 22nd Century is a hellish place, dominated by the Daleks after years of destructive war between humans. The humans believe that killing Stiles will prevent the horrors of the future war and the Daleks' domination — but after the Doctor travels forward in time to their dystopian future, he starts to see things are a bit more complicated.
The story holds up reasonably well, with the improved effects and some spruced up stuff generally — I'm not convinced the central time paradox actually makes sense, but that's a quibble that I have with a lot of stories of this nature. It's fun and fast-paced, and Jon Pertwee is in top form as a wine-swilling, moralizing, kung-fu-fighting, time-traversing Doctor. The Doctor and Jo have fully built their rapport at this point, and there are a lot of nice scenes between them.
"Day of the Daleks" includes loads of featurettes, including a lengthy look back at the making of the story in which people discuss the crazy futuristic tricycle chase scene. Some of my misconceptions about "Day of the Daleks" are dispelled, including the idea that Dalek creator Terry Nation actually did not know they were making a new Dalek story until after it aired. In fact, Nation was aware of the story, and even suggested a few changes to the Dalek dialogue to make it more Dalek-ish. (Although it's true that this story started out featuring generic aliens, and was changed in rewrites to feature the Daleks, as a season-opening ratings booster.)
And there's a half-hour look at the history of the "U.N.I.T. family" during the Pertwee era, charting the introduction and departure of Jo Grant, and the way in which the cast grew to around half a dozen people before tapering off again in the mid-1970s. There are also a couple of pretty hilarious segments from the early 1970s from British children's television, in which Daleks show up to promote their reappearance on this show.
And then there's a featurette dealing with the science of memory, to explain why people remember the original "Day of the Daleks" as being so much better than it actually was. Here's a snippet:
All in all, here's a chance to rediscover a lost classic — and see it looking more epic than it ever has before.