Yes, Daleks again. It feels like they’ve only just been in it – obviously there’d have been a nearly a year between this and the last one for the audience at the time, but for me, that was the shortest gap I’ve had between two Dalek stories. I can’t say I was straining at the leash to see them again, but I was intrigued by the unusual title, and the fact that it was Terry Nation on writing duties once more.
And when The Doctor was exploring a petrified landscape, where nothing has grown for years, I thought, yep, that’s definitely Terry Nation. But to be fair, this story did try something new with the Daleks for the first time in years, with them being powerless and thus unable to kill. The uneasy truce with The Doctor and the humans gave us an interesting dynamic, and their improvised machine gun add-ons were pretty cool, as was the Dalek who committed suicide because he’d fucked everything up.
Unfortunately, you can kind of tell that the Daleks were tacked on to boost interest – as reliably excellent as they are, there’s no real need for them to be here, as this story has plenty of other things going on. I wouldn’t have minded if all the stuff with the Exxilons and the Parrinium and the magic city had sustained a four-parter by themselves. That said, the Daleks did improve all of the other elements – breaking up the attempted sacrifice wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun if it had been anyone else barging in.
The Exxilons themselves were pretty decent, if unspectacular, but I did like the chirpy little one who joined our heroes. The humans, on the other hand, were ill-defined and largely forgettable. Most of them were interchangeable other than the sneaky turncoaty one, whose actions were never truly bad enough to be that interesting – he made the traditional heroic sacrifice to redeem himself, but a written apology would probably have sufficed. And it was a shame that Rimmer’s Dad didn’t survive for very long, because he’s Rimmer’s Dad.
Tonally, the serial as a whole was all over the shop. Part One was dark, atmospheric and nerve-wracking. Sarah Jane goes through a genuinely traumatic experience, and Elisabeth Sladen plays it brilliantly. The foreboding grimness continues through the sacrifice scenes and tunnel escape, but at the same time you’ve got comedy oom-pah music whenever the Daleks are on screen, and it all culminates in The Doctor doing a load of silly logic puzzles.
Yes, it all goes a bit Tomby at the end, with the intelligence tests to gain access to the heart of the city. It’s entertaining enough, especially the Daleks not being able to solve the floor puzzle and electing to shoot the shit out of it instead, but it turns out that this was a complete waste of time. Another set of Daleks were simultaneously blowing up the beacon, which restored the power immediately. The Doctor would have been better served helping the humans to get their ship ready, and ultimately he destroyed a beautiful ancient city for no good reason whatsoever. Nice job.
Overall though, an entertaining if slightly inconsequential four episodes. This time, I am really looking forward to the Daleks coming back, because next time they’re bringing their dad along…