Doctor Who: ‘Planet of the Daleks’ At The BFI

❉ Rob Fairclough reports back from BFI Southbank, Saturday June 15, 2019

These events publicising the release of Blu-ray box sets of ‘classic’ Doctor Who seasons are coming a regular treat at the BFI. This month Katy Manning, who played Jo Grant opposite the Third Doctor Jon Pertwee between 1971 and 1973, is promoting the July release of Series 10. She’s on the stage of NFT 1 on her knees in front of BFI host Justin Johnson. Katy is 73; he’s looking worried. We’ll come back to this moment…

Like The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964) and The Dalek Master Plan (1965-66), Planet of the Daleks reflects script writer Terry Nation’s ongoing obsession with the Second World War – which he grew up in – and his love of films based on it. Taron (Bernard Horsfall, dignified), the thoughtful subordinate suddenly in charge of a covert unit due to the death of his commander; Vaber (Prentis Hancock, argumentative), the reckless hot head who could wreck the mission, together with Codal (Tim Preece, reticent), the intellectual suddenly facing combat for the first time, all have their equivalents in everything from The Cockleshell Heroes (1955) to Where Eagles Dare (1969).

In 1973 the infamous Vietnam War was staggering into its final stages, so, if you so desire, you can also see the Daleks as the US military – preparing to destroy miles of jungle with a chemical weapon – and the opposing Thals as the Viet Cong: not as technologically advanced, but nonetheless furtive and tenacious.

Perhaps that’s why Planet of the Daleks’ episodes clip along at a brisk pace, minus the longeurs that hobble some other Third Doctor six parters. This modern feel is no doubt thanks to director David Maloney, returning to Doctor Who for the first time since Patrick Troughton’s epic swan song The War Games (1969). The only slight lapse in Maloney’s assured vision is in the scene where Latep (Alan Tucker – whatever happened to him?) asks Jo – through the Doctor! – to settle down with him on the Thal home world Skaro. Latep’s facial reaction is so magnificently pissed off that you half suspect his departing wave, from the ramp of a hijacked Dalek spacecraft, was meant to be a ‘V’ sign at Jo and the Doctor.

The Dalek High Council’s saucer is one of the (few) visual effects to have been given a 2019 makeover. In keeping with what’s been established on the three previous box sets, the criteria for the new FX is that they’re what the production team could have achieved at the time, if only they’d had a few more man hours and a little more budget. Impressively, the new effects slot in seamlessly, with the money shots this time around being the CGI recreations of 10,000 Daleks jerking out of suspended animation, only to be put straight back into it by a flood of molten ice.

As the credits rolled on episode six, I pondered over why Planet of the Daleks has such a bad rep. It’s non stop, defiantly old fashioned entertainment: the Daleks are effective – and, crucially, lit menacingly – the small supporting cast don’t put a foot wrong, Katy Manning gets the chance to show what a good actress she is by carrying nearly all of episode one, and Jon Pertwee has never looked more Super Fly. Really, what’s not to like?

As you’ve gathered from the opening japes, Katy Manning is a right handful. She’s electric: bubbly, full of life, hinting at the excesses of the party the night before, but also very kind and considerate. Katy cheerfully admits that herself, Richard Franklin (UNIT’s Captain Mike Yates) and John Levene (UNIT’s Sergeant Benton) are “the last men standing” from the Pertwee era’s regular cast, and in one of the Behind the Sofa features previewed today, she sits between her ageing colleagues on the eponymous settee holding their hands. Katy touchingly revealed that when she and Richard have “a gig”, she’ll organise his route and book train tickets for him. You can’t fake that kind of camaraderie and I felt quite moved by seeing her express it.

As always, some new information – well, new to me, anyway – surfaced during Katy’s interview. She mentioned to Jon Pertwee that putting his hair in curlers, would help counteract the effect of rain damping down his mane of silver locks during location filming. Once he was on board with that idea, Jon’s hair became more energetically bouffant as his seasons progressed. The Frontier in Space/Planet of the Daleks centrepiece to Series 10 was originally to have been much more integrated – like The Dalek Master Plan of yorewith producer Barry Letts discussing filming in Spain. Most significantly from Katy’s perspective, she was always clear that Jo would mature from a gauche UNIT trainee to a mature young woman, leaving to marry a younger, human equivalent of the Doctor.

Katy Manning with We Are Cult's Robert Fairclough.
Katy Manning with We Are Cult’s Robert Fairclough.

After Katy’s interview, she abandoned the cocoon of the green room to sign autographs, chat with fans and pose for as many pictures as people wanted. Her BFI chaperone looked worn out by her guest’s enthusiasm, but the woman herself was happy to stay and chat to anyone and everyone (including your “Oh-my-God-I’m-10-years-old-again!” correspondent).

Roll on Doctor Who Season 23: The Trial of a Time Lord. Thinking about it, those are words I never thought I’d voluntarily type.

Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 10 [Blu-ray] debuts on Monday 8th July from BBC Studios.RRP: £56.16.

Robert Fairclough is a film and TV journalist and blogger and a regular contributor to We Are Cult, ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ and ‘SFX’. He is the author of books on the iconic TV series ‘The Prisoner’, and co-author (with Mike Kenwood) of definitive guides to the classic TV dramas ‘The Sweeney’ and ‘Callan’. His biography of the actor Ian Carmichael was one of ‘The Independent’s Top 10 Film Books of the Year for 2011.

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