This is a Planet of the Daleks review, but maybe not the one you were expecting. I was contacted a few weeks ago by the esteemed Tony Fyler as he was unable to attend the BFI’s screening of the updated Planet of the Daleks with a Q&A session with Katy Manning and he kindly asked if I could take his place.
Well, I wasn’t going to say no.
Planet of the Daleks has always been special to me, having first seen it when I was 16 during the BBC’s 30th Anniversary celebrations in 1993, black and white episode three and all. So, to see it on the big screen and lovingly restored in both sound and vision has been something special, especially when surrounded by fellow fans.
I won’t bore you here with the standard review of the story itself. I think it’s probably safe to say most people already either love or loathe it, but most will agree that Jon Pertwee’s Doctor has become his likeable best by his fourth season. He’s charming throughout and provides a reassuring presence. Katy Manning carries the first episode almost single-handed and proves once again why Jo Grant remains such a fan favourite to this day. Bernard Horsfall heads a support cast which adds depth of character to the Thals and the Daleks are leant the vocal talents of Michael Wisher and Roy Skelton who serves double duty as the Spiridon Wester.
If you are yet to see it, I really don’t want to offer in depth spoilers of the full plot. Suffice to say it’s classic Terry Nation and features many elements and themes that would recur throughout his work. That said, this story has always been fresh and interesting to me with those ‘Nationisms’ used to tell the final part of a larger story that starts with the preceding Frontier in Space. With the use of CGI to enhance and assist some of the elements that the technology and production capabilities of 1973 couldn’t stretch to, or the budget for that matter, it was just as exciting to me today in 2019 as my first viewing in 1993.
One of the perils of enhancing and cleaning the older Doctor Who stories of course is enhancing and cleaning the flaws. The double-sided sticky tape holding the Thal map to a Dalek sucker raised more than a few chuckles, and the Dalek props themselves were just a little blotchy and rickety. But it also enhanced some truly beautiful lighting and moments of directorial flair.
That for me has always been part of the charm of Doctor Who. It is a programme made on a shoe-string budget in little to no time and with an unlimited imagination. Adding delicate enhancements to this, like making eyes in the night look just a little more natural and less ‘coloured lightbulb-esque’ is certainly no bad thing.
There are some nice and subtle touches throughout the story. It certainly looks as though the original CSO has been tidied, the fringing being less noticeable than on previous watches. We get some hints of what is to come from the updated effects early in episode One, and there are occasional effects added throughout the episodes, but episode Three sees our first proper look at what the real purpose of this updated version is. The Doctor, during the escape of the Dalek base stumbles upon their hidden and dormant army. Now, I know the Louis Marx Dalek toys have their fans and I’m one of them, so I shall tread gently, but the scenes of the frozen Daleks have always been a little, well, obvious shall we say? So, to see these scenes made to look more in keeping with the TV Daleks was thrilling and doesn’t take you out of the story in the same way that the original model and toy work did.
The bulk of the CGI features in episode Six of course – you always save the best to last. A real sense of scale is added to the story with these added effects. If you do prefer to watch the story as it was originally transmitted then that option is there too, but there is plenty to marvel at as the story draws to its conclusion, the added touches just finishing it all off in style.
Talking of finishing it all off in style.
We were also lucky to be given a sneak peek at the special features on the set and yet again they have gone above and beyond in ensuring we fans are getting our money’s worth for a season that celebrates the Tenth anniversary of Doctor Who and deserves the special treatment.
Following that we then got a riotous Q&A session with the ever-engaging Katy Manning, who thrilled us with stories of Jon, Nick, Roger and her great love for Jo Grant, which endures to this day. Jeff Goddard