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A truly amazing SPECIAL EDITION release
on December 26, 2011
'Day of the Daleks' was never considered to be one of the best Dalek stories. A shoestring budget, underwhelming sets and sonically incorrect Dalek voices made it an interesting, yet altogether distracting entry in traditional Dalek lore. 2011's DVD release of the serial brings it all back for purists while adding a 2nd disc that includes a Special Edition of the story, which we'll touch on later.
The story focuses on the third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) during his affiliation with UNIT on Earth. A peace conference is being headed by Sir Reginald Styles, a British diplomat who has been trying to prevent the nations of the world from decaying to the brink of World War III. In the midst of last-minute negotiations, Styles is attacked by a lone intruder brandishing a futuristic pistol in his study at the Auderly House. Before he is able to kill Styles, the assassin simply vanishes. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is immediately notified, and in turn sends the Doctor and Jo to the retreat to investigate. Styles leaves for Peking for an 11th hour meeting in a desperate attempt to bring China to the conference table and prevent a meltdown of negotiations. The Doctor and Jo stay at the retreat in his place, and are soon accosted by three more armed assassins with a vendetta against Styles. Before they can explain further, Jo grant is transported to the 22nd century by one of the assassins' crude time displacement devices. The Doctor manages to follow the assassins into the 22nd century, and learns the horrible truth. The Daleks have conquered Earth following 100 years of human war that has killed 7/8ths of the population and left the planet defenseless. The remaining humans have been enslaved by the Daleks as the planet is strip-mined for resources. The human resistance blames history's speculative account of Reginald Styles assassinating the key delegates at the peace conference, which led to the wars. But is it really as simple as that?
The story focuses on simple elements that come together to make a very interesting scenario. The entire serial is built around a cause-and-effect time paradox which has allowed the Daleks to sneak in and take advantage. As a Dalek story, it's rather passive and straightforward in tone. The Daleks aren't out to destroy time, or the universe, or effect some horrendous plan. They have established themselves as rulers of Earth, and that's about it. The characters play vital roles in the storyline to keep it interesting. Aubrey Woods is a scene-stealer as the Controller, a traitorous human serving the Daleks as their lieutenant who may, or may not be conflicted about the nature of his role.
The problem with 'Day' isn't the story, but the budget. Paul Bernard sat in the director's chair and didn't seem to have a clue what he was doing, at least from the perspective of a Dalek story which requires a certain degree of finesse and knowledge of the creature. Dalek voices are atrocious, oddly timed and completely non-threatening. There's a sense that Bernard never really knew what to do with the privilege of working on a Dalek story. It becomes less about them, and more about the time paradox that allowed them to take over the planet. Special effects are completely underwhelming. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the final scene where a grand total of three Daleks and a handful of Ogrons assault the Auderly House which is being guarded by UNIT. A few squib explosions and sound effects are all that bridges the gap between imagination and reality.
Which is where the Special Edition comes in.
Disc 2 is dedicated almost exclusively to this newly enhanced version of the serial, and for good reason. It's bloody spectacular. Most previous 'Who' DVD entries have focused on the addition of a few new CGI effects here and there to spice up the otherwise drab delivery. Not here. The crew in charge have painstakingly gotten rid of all the bad bits that made 'Day' so hard to watch, and replaced them with glorious new material. The new CGI sequences are good enough on their own. Ray guns now fire bolts and actually explode their organic targets into little giblets, making the battles a bit more violent than what you'd remember. Dalek guns now fire traditional blue laser blasts (though without traditional gun sound), machine gun effects sprinkle onto Dalek casings, blast bolts leave light auras on faces and environments, and time travel sequences have been spruced up digitally. The best part about these new additions is how seamless they are with the original material. The idea was to make it seem plausible that these effects could have been done in the 1970s. I'd say they've succeeded. But that's not all! Dalek voices have been completely redone with none other than Nicholas Briggs (Dalek voice actor for the new Doctor Who series) at the helm, giving his signature of perfection on every piece of Dalek dialogue. This was no small feat, as only the final audio mix exists with no separate recording tracks, forcing sound engineers to painstakingly remove the old Dalek voices and insert the new, something made especially difficult when several voices overlapped each other. The final result? Flawless. Literally flawless. And finally, the crew went way above and beyond the call of duty by actually tracking down the same cameras used to film the 1972 serial in order to shoot entirely new material for integration into the existing film. Each shot was color treated and reverse-graded to match the lesser quality of 1970s television quality. Watching it through from beginning to end, I couldn't once tell what was new, and what was old. The contrast is readily apparent on the aforementioned final scene where the Daleks and Ograns attack UNIT. There are more of them, the battle is more intense, more violent and more spectacular, and there's a sense of weight that just wasn't there before. All in all, one of the best Special Edition treatments I've seen yet on a 'Who' serial.
Naturally, purists will cry foul, but they'd be silly to. This is not a matter of George Lucas trying to fix what isn't broken. This is a clear case of something already broken and needing fixing, and getting layered with love throughout the entire process. Watching the Special Edition of 'Day' was like watching a whole new Doctor Who story that I'd never seen before. The pacing felt more snappy, immersive and the deliveries were much stronger. A large part of this can be attributed to the re-done Dalek voices, which in themselves are an excellent reason to give this DVD a try. It's a magnificent treatment, and every kudo should be heaped upon the team responsible for bringing this gem to the Doctor Who DVD line. Yes, it's that good.