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Death to the Daleks

The TARDIS is drained of its power and makes an emergency landing – but it’s not the only visitor to the planet Exxilon to be affected by its influence...

It was their inventive genius that made them one of the greatest powers in the universe.”

Death to the Daleks has to be the definitive Doctor Who story. It’s possibly not the best (although I gave it 10/10 in the last big DWM poll) but it is the most Doctor Who-y-Doctor Who story. A violent death, Daleks, a quarry, and a heroic sacrifice to save the day. It follows the formula so exactly (which is harder than not following it), it’s almost Doctor Who with the nuts and bolts showing.

And I loved it, back when I read the novelisation with its extraordinary Roy Knipe cover of a Dalek sporting a fireball Mohican. And when it was released on video I wasn’t disappointed. I was delighted just to see photos from The Doctor Who Monster Book come to life, but more than that, I was surprised how spooky the first episode was, and how effective the lemur-eyed Exxilons were. And how emotional it was; Galloway has proper character development, while the Doctor’s farewell to Sarah before entering the Exxilon City is genuinely touching.

I’m not sure why it’s not more highly regarded. Maybe some of the ‘rocky’ sets fail to convince. Maybe the Dalek spaceship is a little too much like a saucepan lid. And maybe the brain-teasers in the Exxilon City are obvious padding and too ‘children’s-television-y’. But I’d say that even Carey Blyton’s divisive incidental music does the job, particularly in creating a suitably epic atmosphere for the Exxilon City.

So give it a chance. Watch the DVD. Because Death to the Daleks is probably much better than you think.

Part One


An astronaut staggers across the surface of a misty planet. An arrow thuds into his stomach and he tumbles into a muddy lake.

◾ Although the draft and rehearsal scripts for this story appear to have been lost, it seems that the original intention was for the story to open differently; the visual effects list for the studio recording says that page 1 of the script requires ‘Fire and smoke’ and page 3 requires a ‘Hinged alter’ (sic); the obvious inference is that these effects were needed for a studio scene set in the Exxilon cavern of the spaceman being sacrificed to the monster of the tunnels, setting up Sarah’s fate later in the episode.

◾ As this scene is written in a different style to the other location scenes (or ‘telecine’ sequences as they are referred to in the script), being written entirely in capitals, and has been numbered ‘1A’ so that later location scenes won’t need to be renumbered, it seems likely to have been written by the story’s second script editor, Robert Holmes.

In the TARDIS, Doctor Who (Jon Pertwee) is looking forward to visiting Florana with Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen).

◾ Following-up a promise made at the end of the preceding story, Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974).

◾ The camera script merely says the Doctor is singing; he is singing the music hall standard I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside written by John Glover-Kind in 1907. By a staggering coincidence, on the very same day this episode was broadcast the rock group Queen released Seven Seas of Rhye as a single which fades out with an excerpt of the same song.

◾ In the camera script, the Doctor’s line “And the beauty of it all is” continues with “it’s not been spoiled yet –”

The TARDIS’ power fails and it lands on the dark, misty world.

◾ The problem of unexpected power failures would have been familiar to UK viewers; during the early 1970s, rising inflation meant that unions were forced to use industrial action in order to protect the value of their wages. In December 1970, a work-to-rule by power plant workers led to unexpected power outages; more industrial action and power cuts followed at the beginning of 1972 as the National Union of Mineworkers went on strike, and then again in 1973 when the same union and the electriCity workers began an overtime ban (although they didn’t go on strike, the action coincided with a rise in oil prices which prompted Prime Minister Edward Heath to ration coal stocks by introducing a three-day week). Assistant Floor Manager Richard Leyland recalls power cuts during rehearsals for Death to the Daleks but these would not have been unexpected; in 1972 and 1973 the cuts were announced in advance and scheduled on a rota basis.

The TARDIS – drained of power and stranded on the planet Exxilon.

◾ The dispute with the miners would also be reflected in the subsequent story, The Monster of Peladon (1974), and at the same time Nation was writing Death to the Daleks he was also finishing the pilot episode of his own series about “the business of survival” after the lights go out, Survivors (1975-77).

“ Well, well, well. Daleks without the power to kill. How does it feel?”

◾ The location shot of the TARDIS landing appears to be an addition by the script editor, as it’s given telecine number 1B on page number 6A, and the subsequent TARDIS scene is numbered 2A to avoid renumbering the remainder of the script.

Sarah tries the TARDIS scanner which shows only swirling fog.

◾Despite the TARDIS’ violent lurching, the lilo propped against the wall remains unaffected.

The Doctor tries the emergency storage cells but they also fail, leaving the control room in darkness.

◾ The Doctor’s line “Not a click nor a tick” is quoted in Listen (2014) where the Doctor is referring to the silence at the end of time.

The Doctor lights an oil lamp and opens the exterior doors using a crank handle.

◾ All of the dialogue in this scene after the Doctor locates the crank handle was unscripted and worked out by the actors during rehearsal. The Doctor and Sarah emerge into the cold, dark fog – and discover a petrified figure.

◾The camera script says that ‘all around are tall rocks shaped like menacing creatures’ and the figure that startles Sarah is ‘a tall grotesque rock looking like a monster with arms upraised ready to pounce’.

◾ Terry Nation had previously used the idea of petrified organic material in the first Dalek story, though in this instance we never learn whether it actually is a petrified figure or not – if it is, the story gives no explanation for it!

Sarah goes back inside the TARDIS for some warmer clothes. The Doctor explores the surroundings, unaware he is being stalked by two cloaked figures.

◾In the camera script, Sarah is ‘dressed for the beach’ in a ‘flimsy rig’ and the scene in the TARDIS ends with her selecting some warmer clothes from a locker (cutting away before she gets changed).

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: Steven Moffat answers questions on Heaven Sent; Alex Kingston and Paul McGann interviews; a feature on Doctor Who Weetabix cards of the 1970s; Fact of Fiction – Death the Daleks; Time Team – The Eleventh Hour; reviews of The Husbands of River Song, The Wheel in Space and The Face of Evil; Christmas Quiz answers; Comic Strip – The Dragon Lord Part 2.