There’s a world of difference between David Maloney’s last Doctor Who story and this. Planet of the Daleks, while pretty stylish, was very much an homage to the classic 1960s Dalek space epics. This, though a much greater piece, feels like the ugly underbelly to every previous Dalek serial, reverting them to their earliest iteration of desperate survivors rather than galactic conquerors. This curiously links the Kaleds to the human survivalists on the Ark, or the beaten-down GalSec colonists (the next stories will also feature the last refugees of war or planetary devastation, skulking about the galaxy).
The opening scenes are very reminiscent of Maloney’s work on The War Games. The bleak battlefield, low wind howling, corpses scattered about makes Skaro look even deader than it did in The Dead Planet. There are no beautiful petrified forests here, only lifeless rocks and landmines. Everything about it tells the audience that this is sombre, scary stuff. The exposition is got out of the way early, including an emphasis on the importance of the Time Ring that sounds like it inspired ‘this watch is me’ in Human Nature.
The film sequences are great, even more atmospheric than the excellent location work in Death to the Daleks. Later in the episode there’s a horrible moment of Sarah Jane being stalked by the Mutos, with a handheld camera pursuing her, and shots of shuffling figures above her as she flees through the wastelands. But even when it switches to studio VT Maloney puts in the extra effort. The sets are pretty standard, but the lighting is great – Peter Miles as Nyder is brilliantly introduced striding through a corridor, face illuminated then in darkness.
All of this is prologue to the introduction of Davros, the Kaleds’ chief scientist, whose word is law. Half man, half Dalek, lurking in the shattered remains of a building testing his latest weapon. He’s a brilliant invention, emphasising better than all the descriptions in various media to this point that the Daleks were once very much like us. Like the Cybermen, they have abandoned their humanity, even their humanoid form, to survive. But unlike the Cybermen, they have no interest in making others like them. There’s grim irony in General Ravon’s creed ‘We must keep the Kaled race pure. Imperfects are rejected’ when we see what Davros has in store for the Kaleds. ‘Now we can begin’ indeed.
Next episode: Genesis of the Daleks – Part Two