Day of the Daleks
by Alan Stevens with Fiona Moore
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 315
"Day of the Daleks" is the Dalek story which seems to get the least attention from fans, being neither a recognised classic along the lines of "Genesis of the Daleks", nor an out-and-out stinker like "Planet of the Daleks", and being impossible to reconcile with normal Dalek continuity. However, it does contain some interesting moral dilemmas, and there is evidence that it may, at one point, have been a much better story.
The production on the serial is good if a little dated in places, particularly with regard to the 1970s appearance of the Gold Dalek. The Daleks have a new colour scheme, as well as having a different sort of iris and extermination noise to the 1960s Daleks, although the change in colour scheme can be explained by their being part of a sort of Dalek High Council, or it being specific to the Daleks on Earth in particular. The fact that the Ogrons look vaguely simian is clearly drawn from the "Planet of the Apes" craze of the day, and causes some confusion due to the fact that people keep referring to the rebels as time-travelling guerrillas, in an inadvertent pun. Pertwee gives a particularly good performance, especially in the scene in which the terrorists confront him for the first time, which he plays as if visibly frightened but doing a good job at hiding it. In keeping with the issues of the day, the terrorists were all given Israeli names, with "Anat" being an Egyptian goddess who dressed as a man and "Boaz" being an Old Testament name denoting "strength" (by coincidence, it is also that of a famous anthropologist and folklorist of the late 19th/early 20th centuries). The grey-clad women in the Dalek headquarters bear an oblique resemblance to the Robomen of “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”: although not as slow-witted as the Robomen were, they move about in a robotic way, speaking in metallic tones and obeying without question.
Unfortunately, there are some scientific problems, as when the Controller remarks that the people of his time live off the basic food elements in pill and capsule form: as humans need bulk to live, as well as vitamins, they would be starving on such a diet. There is also a problem in that the rebels seem to have an unrealistic degree of organisation and industry, being able to construct their own bombs out of Dalekanium (here, an explosive rather than the metal the Daleks casings are made of) and their own time-travel devices, as well as to be wearing natty camouflage duds which do not resemble the clothing worn by others of their era in the slightest (suggesting that either they are making risky and life-threatening trips to the past simply to go shopping, or that they have a thriving garment manufacturing operation somewhere), in contrast to the rebels of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", who wear ragged and worn ordinary clothes. The guns which they carry (apparently stolen from the Daleks) are of a slightly different design to those carried by the Ogrons, for reasons which are never explained. The famous Blinovitch Limitation Effect, which here argues that a person cannot return to a time which they have already visited, is little more than a literary device put in to cover a plot hole, and, worse than that, is contradicted by the story itself (in the scene in which the Doctor and Jo meet themselves), as well as by the setup at the end of the earlier story "The Faceless Ones" (where, according to the time-frame given, there are two Doctors, Bens and Pollys in London on the same day) and by every subsequent multi-Doctor adventure. The fact that the second scene in which the Doctor and Jo meet themselves was cut also makes complete nonsense of the exercise. Finally, Jo, despite being apparently in her early 20s, is written as if she were about 13, and Katy Manning effectively plays her as such (Anat at one point even calls her a "stupid child").
Within the story itself, the Controller (brilliantly portrayed by Aubrey Woods) is probably the most complex figure. Although the Doctor compares him to Quisling (the leader of the Norwegian National Socialist Party, who promptly declared himself ruler of Norway when the Nazis invaded, and whose name has consequently become a byword for treachery), he bears a stronger resemblance to such WWII ghetto leaders as Mordecai Chaim Rumkowski, who, controversially, collaborated with the Nazis in order to save as many of his people as possible, or with colonial leaders who cooperated with the British invaders. One might note that the Nehru collars worn by the officials from the Dalek-ruled Earth, although they are a common sight in 20th-century futuristic films and television, also recall the colonial officials of India adopting a variation of native dress (as in Blake's 7: Horizon). The elites also favour lightly silvered makeup, and grey-and-black outfits, which, as well as being a way of conveying, in 1970s idiom, a plain, dystopian future, also looks like a sort of imitation of the Daleks, suggesting that the Earth elites are copying their masters.
The Controller that we see in the story is plainly not stupid: he cleverly thinks outside the box in the sequence in which he considers that there might be something significant about the fact that the rebels have returned to Area 117, which is near a particular labour camp, and decides to check the camp's production figures in case they suggest that the manager there is a rebel sympathiser. He also puts forward the same case that has been put forward for collaborating ghetto leaders and rulers of colonized peoples: that if he did not take on the mantle of leadership, someone else, possibly with less desire to do good by his people, would take it (which is exactly what happens at the end, when an apparently self-serving guard becomes the new Controller by betraying his predecessor). Although one cannot by any stretch of the imagination call him a good man, prevaricating to Jo and opposing the resistance, he is a complex figure, who is not only willing to save the Doctor's life in turn after the Doctor has saved his, but does this in total awareness that if the Daleks learn what he has done, he will be killed (to say nothing of the fact that, if the Doctor's attempt to change history succeeds, he will cease to exist) and facing the Daleks bravely when his end comes. The Controller argues that he has done more good through collaborating than the rebels have through resisting, saying "We have helped make things better for the others, we have gained concessions. I have saved lives!" The Controller's case, however, is belied when we then see the rebels mounting a successful attack to rescue the Doctor and Jo, sacrificing lives in the process, but ultimately defeating the Daleks.
Louis Marks thus seems to come down in favour of active resistance rather than changing the system from within. The Controller may be trying to change the system, but he is also corrupted by it. In addition, we see this in the case of the manager of Area 117: although he may be helping the rebels, and although the low productivity levels of the labour camp suggest that he is lenient with his charges, we also see that he is nonetheless responsible for having people starved, beaten and worked beyond endurance. The message is therefore that the system corrupts, even if one tries to work against it. Parallels are also drawn between the Controller and Styles, with the former's supply of exotic foods and fine wine recalling the latter's "well-stocked larder": although admittedly it is at a higher cost in the Controller's case, Styles is elsewhere portrayed as stubborn and mendacious, putting everyone else in jeopardy by refusing to leave Auderley House even when the man ostensibly in charge of his security arrangements tells him that the house is under attack from a hostile force. The Doctor's remark about politicians ensuring their personal comforts "whatever their political ideas" is an amusing blanket condemnation which further serves to highlight the parallels between Styles and the Controller. "Day of the Daleks" is thus a very anti-politician story, although it must be said that the rebels also come in for a certain amount of criticism.
The rebels themselves are portrayed in ways which reference certain famous terrorists of the late 1960s and early 1970s. There are particular resemblances to the Baader-Meinhof gang (young men and women who committed terrorist acts in Germany in protest against the fact that many Nazi collaborators still held positions of power in that country), and to Leila Khaled, the so-called "beautiful terrorist," a Palestinian woman who became something of an icon for the feminist movement of the early 1970s following her successful hijacking of a TWA plane. The morality of the rebels is their most interesting facet. They are fanatics, willing to die for their cause: as they know that if their efforts to change the future succeed, they will cease to exist, they are effectively carrying out a suicide mission. Jo, appalled by their behaviour, calls them "criminals"; the Doctor, however, says that she shouldn't judge them until she knows their motivation. It must be said that, although the rebels' actions are inexcusable (intended and actual murder, plus roughing up the Doctor and Jo), they aren't simply acting for personal gain or pleasure, but because they think that in doing so they will save other lives. Also, they listen to the Doctor and are reluctant to kill him when they first meet face to face, whereas the Controller has to have his life saved before he will listen.
As in "Genesis of the Daleks", then, the theme embodied by the rebels in "Day of the Daleks" is the problem put forward in Dostoyevski's The Brothers Karamazov: that it is impossible to build Utopia on the death of an innocent being. Although Anat tries to persuade the Doctor to kill Styles, on the grounds that he will save millions of lives in doing so, the Doctor refuses because it would be committing murder (note that the rebels also hesitate before killing the man they believe to be Styles in cold blood). This is brought home by the fact that although the rebels believe that by going back in time and killing Styles they will prevent the Third World War, they will in fact be causing it. The rebels, like the Time Lords later, may argue that a single act of murder will avoid the problems of the future: but in fact, making this compromise would open the perpetrator up to the same evil they had hoped to elude. Effectively, the rebels are becoming the very creatures they are sworn to oppose: like the Daleks, they kill people in cold blood, travel through time, change history and make dubious moral decisions. While they may come across as slightly superior to the Controller, it is still the Doctor who comes up with the solution, by refusing both to collaborate and to kill an innocent in the name of bringing about a better future.
This brings us to the case of the Daleks, and to the major difficulty with the serial. Although a number of attempts have been made over the years to explain the time-travel plot of "Day of the Daleks" and reconcile it with previous Dalek continuity, none have been totally successful. In addition, the Daleks come across as unusually thick: the fact that, as the Controller notes, they don't understand human psychology, is in stark contrast to the conniving, clever aliens of "The Daleks' Master Plan", "The Power of the Daleks" and "The Evil of the Daleks", and, unlike in earlier serials where they manipulate their human antagonists shamelessly, here they don't seem to grasp what the rebels are doing until the very end of the story.
The answers to both problems lie with the fact that the Daleks were not originally supposed to be in the serial. Louis Marks, who was an English professor rather than a scientist, had seized on the narrative possibilities of the Grandfather Paradox, and consequently wrote a story in which aliens invade the Earth, finding it devastated after a third world war, and the resistance against the invaders, believing Styles to be responsible, go back to kill him and unwittingly start the very war which leaves the Earth vulnerable to the aliens. Although some people (e.g. M. J. Young, on www.mjyoung.net) may argue that the Grandfather Paradox does not stand up to scientific analysis, as a literary cliché it is well-known and opens up a number of dramatic possibilities.
Once the Daleks were introduced at the request of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, however, we get the twin problems that a) "Evil" was intended to be the last Dalek story, and b) that the Daleks have already invaded the Earth once before, under entirely different circumstances. Consequently, a couple of perfunctory lines were written in to explain these, which caused even more difficulties. The idea that the story takes place after "Evil" (put forward in a scene which was only cut for time reasons) causes problems due to the fact that, although "Evil" is supposed to take place far in the future, the Daleks fail to recognise the Third Doctor (which, as the production team were interested in doing more Dalek stories later, seems a bit short-sighted); also, the Daleks proudly announce to the Doctor that they have discovered time travel as if they haven't pursued him through time in "The Chase" and "Master Plan", then laid a trap for him involving time travel in "Evil". If the story is set before "Evil", on the other hand, it raises the question of how they are able to recognise the Second Doctor (as the Daleks in "Power" were an isolated group, which was destroyed at the end of the story). Another difficulty comes with the Daleks' announcement "We have invaded Earth again; we have changed the pattern of history." In the first place, this raises the problem that it is in fact the guerrillas, rather than the Daleks, who have changed history, and that the Daleks do not seem to be aware of this at all (in fact, they don't even appear to be aware until the end of the story that it was the destruction of the peace conference that started the war in the first place): indeed, they try and stop the guerrillas from going back in time, rather than letting them go ahead and devastate the Earth for them to invade (and Terrance Dicks' suggestion, in his novelisation, that the Daleks themselves were somehow originally responsible for WWIII sets up a series of massive time paradoxes too complex and confusing to be dealt with in detail here). Furthermore, there is the larger issue of why the Daleks need time travel to invade at all: why not just re-invade after the events of "Dalek Invasion of Earth", while the planet is still vulnerable? Whereas an adventure with a new race of aliens could have been neatly slotted into Doctor Who future history, there seems to be no way of reconciling "Day of the Daleks" satisfactorily with the earlier Dalek continuity.
"Day of the Daleks" thus has some good aspects with regard to the moral problems presented in the story, and the controversial figure of the Controller. The problem is that it would have been a much better story had the Daleks been left out of it.
With thanks to Daniel O'Mahony
Effects courtesy of Fiona Moore