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DVD Review: Doctor Who – Dalek War

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A famous British man once penned the phrase "what's in a name," and while it may be entirely true that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, the readers of television recaps would be among the first to tell you that titling something poorly can create a stinker of an article. People do not like to have tales ruined for them before they even begin, and though perhaps it is odd to quibble about things being revealed in a recap (by very definition a recap should reveal what took place), in other cases the point is a good one. For instance, would The Empire Strikes Back have worked as well if it were titled Star Wars: Where Vader Reveals He's Luke's Dad?

As a part of the latest wave of Doctor Who DVD releases, it has been decided to put stories 67 ("Frontier in Space") and 68 ("Planet of the Daleks") together in a single boxed set entitled Doctor Who: Dalek War. Though the two stories are very loosely related, and certainly are sequential, to put them in a single, four-disc boxed set called Dalek War will ruin a reveal that takes place within the last 10 minutes of the two hour and 23-minute runtime of "Frontier in Space." From roughly the halfway point of the six-episode serial it is the Doctor's Time Lord enemy, the Master (Roger Delgado in his last appearance on the series), whom our hero is facing. There are a couple of oblique references to the fact that the Master is working for someone, and those unfamiliar with the complete story will not be able to guess who exactly that might be except for the fact that the title of the boxed set makes it clear. It is a good reveal rendered entirely inert by the title of the set.

It is entirely possible – perhaps likely – that the vast majority of those people who will be purchasing the set are not only Doctor Who fans but already familiar with both tales and therefore will not have anything ruined for them. However, it does seem as though ruining the reveal for those interested in the Doctor but unfamiliar with the tale is somewhat needless. It makes the idea of the Daleks hang over the entirety of "Frontier in Space," causing the audience to wait for their appearance and not pay attention to what is quite a good Doctor Who tale.

The episodes star Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor and Katy Manning as Jo Frost, the Doctor's current companion. It all starts off innocently enough with the Doctor and Jo appearing they know not where and quickly finding themselves in the midst of a growing feud between the Humans and the Draconians in the 26th century. Only the Doctor and Jo know that the two groups are not fighting each other but rather are being convinced that they are via mind control and a third species known as the Ogrons… a group controlled by the Master. The tale finds the Doctor and Jo constantly thwarted in their efforts to make the Draconians and Humans believe that there is a third group and plays quite clearly into Cold War fears.

The tale actually leads directly into "Planet of the Daleks," which features the return of the man credited with creating the Daleks, Terry Nation, to the series. A very similar tale to the first Dalek story, "The Daleks" (also written by Nation), "Planet of the Daleks" finds a small group of Thal – the other species that exist on Skaro alongside the Daleks – on the planet Spiridon in order to prevent the Daleks from getting the power of invisibility. The invisibility aspect of the story quickly disappears however as the Thal, the Doctor, and Jo must infiltrate the Daleks' underground city, sort out the Dalek plan, escape, and then put an end to the Daleks' scheme – just as William Hartnell's Doctor did with his companions and the Thal in the first Dalek tale.

It might, for the most part, be a rehash of that original tale, but it still works. The Doctor here is, of course, different, the series had come a long way since the original season and "The Daleks," and it is told on a larger scale here. Additionally, there is some amount of believability in the idea that a group would try to succeed a second time where they once had failed. Rather than viewing "Planet of the Daleks" as a rip-off, this reviewer prefers to see it as a loving homage.

Amongst the extras included in this DVD set is a two part sci-fi piece (one for each of the Who stories) called "The Perfect Scenario," which is an odd but fun fictional creation itself. In the two 30-minute segments a storyteller in the future is learning about how to tell tales via Doctor Who and how these Who stories reflect back on the times in which they were told (they discuss the Cold War, examine women's liberation, and have a very '70s feel). They also discuss here Nation's borrowing of Nation for "The Planet of the Daleks." "The Perfect Scenario" is distinctly odd, creating false future history and weaving in actual cast and crew interviews. The four disc set also includes behind-the-scenes featurettes for each of the stories, a biography of Roger Delgado, two looks at Doctor Who comics (one about the Third Doctor and one on the Daleks), photo galleries, printable materials including TV listings if one puts the DVD into a computer, a few clips from Blue Peter in which they help find missing Daleks, and most interestingly, a short piece on how the third episode of "Planet of the Daleks" was colorized.

In 1973, Doctor Who was shot in color, but copies of episodes weren't always kept. Eventually, the BBC decided that they did want complete copies of old Doctor Who stories, but couldn't find one for the third part of "Planet of the Daleks." They did, however, have a black and white one. This incredibly interesting supplemental piece on the set goes into how two different techniques were used to colorize the third episode. Rather than the colorization being old school, wholly apparent, and completely disappointing, with this episode, if one didn't know that it had been colorized they wouldn't be able to identify it as in any way different from the rest. And, even if one does know they still may not be able to tell. It is truly an incredible process and a testament to the work that was done to get these stories from the Pertwee years ready for DVD. Though not always perfect, all the episodes look and sound extremely good.

It may have been a mistake for these two stories from Doctor Who to be titled Dalek War, but it certainly will not be a mistake for fans of the show, those interested in old science fiction, or just good television to purchase them.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
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