Apparently, with this story I officially arrive at the midway point of pre-2005 Doctor Who. I am deep in the thick of the alien jungle, green light bathing my face, up to my pac-a-mac elbows in deadly plant spume, weird Dick Mill bird noises screeching round my bewildered head. But doesn't it feel a good deal further from Survival than An Unearthly Child? More to the point, doesn't 1964's The Dead Planet feel very near?
After the mordant political allegory of the previous story – well, alright, after the Master and his sardonic, thoroughly 1970s attitude to everyone he meets –
this story is utterly wide-eyed. Political machinations and humanity's latent fear of the Other are displaced as threats by invisible aliens, eye-plants and – 'Daleks!' Even in the 1960s, the show was never as Flash Gordon as this, with its improvised air rafts and ice volcanoes. What with the gaudy colour scheme, this feels more like the Chad Valley Give-A-Show Projector era.
I already miss the Master. Without him around, pretty much everybody in the story is just too nice. Too selfless. Too sweet. The Master is above such things, and one can imagine him rolling his eyes at any number of homilies from Uncle Pertwee in this story, not to mention the stone-age sexual politics governing the Thals romantic relationships. The Master isn't just evil – he's amoral, completely uncommitted to a principle, an objective or another person. He has the detachment of a TV viewer: he smokes and drinks and laughs, rather cynically, at anyone taking themselves too seriously.
But this is a story completely without that cynicism, and we are encouraged to set ours aside for the duration of the story too. The production team are aiming for high grade escapism, and do you know what? I think they do a fantastic job. The story moves at a fair pace, six episodes feeling like four, and the many outrageous set-pieces, the weird planet of Spiridon and its subterranean city, are painted on the screen in wonderfully gaudy hues. It's a massive improvement on Solos, and even Omega's anti-world.
Another improvement concerns the Daleks. Back in the Day, they looked and sounded about as threatening as a clothes airer with a cat stuck in it – a far cry from the devious, quasi-demonic villains of the 1960s. In this story, David Maloney pulls them back from that ignominy. They still don't behave like the sharpest egg-whisks in the kitchen, with so many plans to attack the Universe they can't pick one to go with first, and end up a) locking themselves in a room with their own deadly contagion, b) situating their army fatally close to a deadly volcano, and c) leaving their spaceship unguarded so their enemies can just stroll in and fly away in it.
But they sound proper. Crunchy. And hysterical. They rant like coked-up executives having mental breakdowns. Their Supreme, who looks utterly edible, goes so far as to exterminate one of his inferiors after too much bad news in the board room: sort of like the denouement of The Apprentice, but with ring modulators and luminous eyestalks. Brilliant.
There's even a scene where the Doctor has to clamber into a nest of groggy Daleks, their sucker arms twitching at his velvet coat-tails. It's one example of a story doing style over substance, but doing it pretty deliciously.
As well as being midway through the series, I have my own particular fondness for this story. Shown on Friday nights for the thirtieth anniversary, Planet of the Daleks was the last Who I watched not as a fan. I saw it with the detachment of any other television viewer, even with some amusement. (When I bought The Dead Planet script-book in 1994, it was 'for a laugh'. Ha.) I thought of it as entirely representative of the Pertwee era, and in fact, of Doctor Who in general.
Funnily enough, sitting here and writing this now, I can't tell whether I was right or wrong.
But I do think it's a pity we don't have a shot of the Thals entering the Dalek spaceship at the story's end, a fair-haired man already at the controls. A man who turns to greet them, lifts a black-gloved hand, sweeps off the blonde wig, to reveal...