Serial Review: Planet of the Daleks (Season 10)
Among the three Jon Pertwee era Dalek stories, it seems like his first, “Day of the Daleks,” is the only one that gets any consistent praise from the fan base. I usually think most of the serials considered to be classics in Doctor Who are correctly labeled such, but this happens to be a case where I disagree with everybody else. I actually thought “Day of the Daleks” was quite the snooze fest, and I ended up really enjoying “Planet of the Daleks,” despite some flaws.
Like just about all Dalek stories up to this point, “Planet of the Daleks” was written by Terry Nation. He’s essentially managed to really hit it out of the park only once, in the Fourth Doctor serial “Genesis of the Daleks,” but he occasionally comes up with a couple others that are at least very solid, and I would count this among them.
I was a bit surprised watching “Frontier in Space,” another great Malcolm Hulke story, that the plot doesn’t really wrap up in the end, but continues directly on to this adventure. It was uncommon of what I have seen so far of Classic Who to have these sort of cliffhangers, but it turns out to be quite an entertaining set of arcs.
Despite the standard pacing issues of classic stories that are any longer than four parts, “Planet of the Daleks” makes up for these issues with a handful of really cool scenes (pushing the Daleks into the cold spring, slowly floating up that weird hole with the air balloon), and an absolutely outstanding performance from Bernard Horsfall, who played Taron. He had previously been very solid in “The Mind Robber” opposite Patrick Troughton as the Doctor in the role of Gulliver, and one of the Time Lords in “The War Games,” but I really feel like his portrayal carried this serial. I like the Thals in general, but I feel like performances of this quality from supporting cast are really what makes stories like this believable.
The set design is another feather in this story’s cap. I don’t think it is quite as outstanding looking as the jungle set that would later be used for “Planet of Evil,” but it is certainly very strong. There weren’t any moments in this serial in which I was laughing to myself about how ridiculous anything looked. I could see someone thinking the big purple fuzzy blankets that the Spiridons wear are a bit ridiculous, but I actually think it looked kinda cool against the jungle backdrop, despite its simplicity.
I don’t think this is an all time classic serial, but very solid. I’m generally pretty nonplussed by Dalek stories (“Remembrance” and “Genesis” are the classics, “Destiny” and “The Daleks” are also solid), but I think “Planet of the Daleks” is firmly in the category of very solid.