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DVD Review: Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks

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Death to the Daleks, the third serial in the eleventh season of Doctor Who, finally comes to DVD! In this four part story, the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) crash on the planet Exxilon, which just happens to be a battle site. Here, humans and Daleks fight over a rare mineral that cures a deadly space plague.

But the humans and Daleks are not the only beings on Exxilon. There is also a savage native race, which practices sacrifice in their worship of a living city. This isn’t good news for Sarah, who is soon captured by them. Seeing a heroine about to be killed in service to gods is nothing new, but Sarah Jane Smith is a brave, bold, woman, and playing the damsel in distress doesn’t suit her for very long.

Faced with this common enemy, as neither the humans nor Daleks are allies with the natives, the two enemies are able to band together. This is a strange turn of events, given the animosity and contrary goals between the two, and, predictably, it doesn’t last long, especially once the Dalek’s true mission is revealed. But for awhile, the two species find some common ground, a first for the Daleks and anyone else on Doctor Who!

Besides the obvious dangers, there are plenty of secrets on Exxilon, such as why does such a backwards race live so near to a very advanced city? What made them the way that they are? Who built the city, one of the 700 Wonders of the Universe? What is its purpose? Also, why do devices, such as the TARDIS and the Dalek’s weapons, lose power here? All of these are answered, in time, and provide a driving narrative thread for the serial, running below the more immediate threats.

Death to the Daleks is not unique in featuring a super smart computer who is in control. This is a common science fiction theme that has been done over and over. But Doctor Who handles this in an interesting way, making the computer mind tale subservient to other power struggles for much of the serial. In this way, there are multiple stories being balanced and it doesn’t feel like a cheap copy of other works.

The theme of working with one’s enemy is also one that pops up a lot in various fiction and dramatic television. But for the Daleks, a seemingly emotionless cyborg race, to be willing to work with people, whom they consider vastly inferior, is a surprise. The Daleks are intelligent, so the story does make sense. But the Doctor is right not to trust them as the Daleks have no reason to make a permanent peace, nor help mankind very much.

For a series that has run as long as Doctor Who does, there are bound to be weaker entries that seem more derivative. Death to the Daleks is one such serial. However, even the worst Doctor Who, and this is not the worst, are better than a lot of what’s out there. Death to the Daleks, in spite of its weaknesses, is an entertaining couple of hours, worth checking out for Who fans. Plus, there are some neat design elements when viewing the creatures and structures that actually belong on Exxilon.

As per usual, Doctor Who Death to the Daleks comes with a number of special features. Photo galleries and PDF materials join some of the first Dalek footage from 1965 and a trailer on the DVD set.

Toby Hadoke once again moderates a panel for the audio commentary, which includes Julian Fox, who plays a Marine Lieutenant in the human group of this serial, director Michel E. Briant, Dalek operator Cy Town, assistant floor manager Richard Leyland, special sounds maestro Dick Mills, and assistant floor manager Richard Leyland. Many of these same people participate in the making of featurette, “Behind the City of the Exxilons.”

Check out Doctor Who: Death to Daleks, on sale now.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com