Reviews

It's a Very Complicated Thing, Time: 'Doctor Who: Day of The Daleks'

Not only does this address the global political climate with plot lines that mirror actual events of the early '70s, it's also the first time a Doctor Who story really explored the idea of a time paradox.


Doctor Who

Distributor: BBC Warner
Cast: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney
Network: BBC
Release date: 2011-09-13
Trailer
Amazon

The four episode arc that opened the ninth season of Doctor Who, and the third season with Jon Pertwee as the Doctor, brought back the Daleks for the first time in years. And although the story itself was exciting, intriguing and well-scripted, the execution of Day Of The Daleks didn't do it justice—particularly when it was watched in the years since originally airing in 1972.

Now, however, producer Steve Broster brings us this special edition DVD release, which features newly shot sequences, improved effects and, most importantly, newly recorded Dalek voices stitched almost seamlessly into the original footage.

Doctor Who: Day of The Daleks finds the Doctor, who is still exiled to Earth without the TARDIS, and his companion Jo (Katy Manning) investigating UNIT reports of ghosts at Auderly House, which is to be the site of an impending, historic peace conference brokered by Sir Reginald Styles. On the eve of his trip to China where he hopes to convince Chinese delegates to participate in the conference, Styles is accosted by an attacker, who then mysteriously vanishes, which leads to the ghost stories. Of course, when the Doctor and Jo arrive to spend the night in the haunted house, they find the ghosts aren't ghosts at all but time travelers from 22nd century Earth.

Day of The Daleks is based on an earlier story written by Louis Marks, called The Ghost Hunters, about a group of future freedom fighters traveling back in time to the present day to change their history. When it was decided to bring the Daleks in for the season opener, they were written into the existing story. Not only does Day of The Daleks address the global political climate of its time with plot lines that mirror actual events of the early '70s, and question the lines between terrorism and guerrilla warfare with its presentation of the freedom fighter characters, it's also the first time a Doctor Who story really explored the idea of a time paradox and touched on the consequences inherent in creating them.

While playing lord of the country manor in Auderly House, the Doctor discovers a strange box that turns out to be a primitive time machine, so he's not too surprised to be karate-kicking adversaries that suddenly materialize while he's drinking Sir Reginald's "sardonic" wines and feasting on cheese. When three 22nd century guerrilla soldiers (including Anna Berry as "Anat") appear, they take The Doctor and Jo hostage, revealing that their mission is to kill Styles and stop the conference.. They also reveal that the other creatures that have been appearing and disappearing from the grounds around Auderly House are the Ogrons, ape-like beings from the future Earth sent back to try and stop them.

That it's initially unclear who are the good guys and who are the baddies, is what makes Day of the Daleks such a gripping story from the start. But then Jo triggers one of the time machines and is transported into the future, discovering that the Earth is enslaved by the Daleks, and that's what escalates the action as the Doctor must find a way to rescue her and also devise a plan that will prevent the chain of events that lead to the Dalek invasion, which are, naturally, a direct result of the rebels' attempt to travel back in time to prevent the events that led to the Dalek invasion.

To that end, the Doctor is captured and taken to the future where he and Jo discuss politics, philosophy, corruption, and the basic human instinct for survival, with the Controller (Aubrey Woods), a human that has been put in a position of power by the Daleks. Their dialogue is brilliant in the way that it intelligently presents both sides of the argument, the benefits and the costs, of freedom versus self-preservation.

In the final episode of Day of the Daleks, a battle occurs at Auderly House. This, in addition to truly terrible Dalek voices, is where the 1972 production fell seriously short of the story.

In the original version, it's painfully clear that there are only three Daleks and a couple of misdirected, lumbering Ogrons waging the assault. This is where the bulk of Broster's revisions for the special edition are focused, as he adds laser effects, explosions, cutaways to UNIT troops and... doubles the Daleks. Well, it might not be the overwhelming Dalek army of your imagination, but it'ss an improvement.

Overall, the special edition sequences are well-done, for the most part blending into the previous footage and providing welcome augmentation to things like time travel visual effects. The only complaints might be that some (possibly now-iconic) mistakes have been removed, or that certain sequences have been re-edited to look more polished (the "trike chase" has been edited inserting more footage, different angles, and slow-motion to make it look more like the Ogrons are actually chasing the Doctor, rather than avoiding catching him too soon). However you may feel about digital effects being added and flubs being excised, you can't deny the obvious wisdom in re-recording the Dalek voices, which are now provided by Doctor Who's current resident Dalek, Nick Briggs. Daleks, whether three in number or legion, should sound scary, and thanks to Briggs, now these Daleks do.

Doctor Who: Day of The Daleks is a two disc set filled with a wealth of extra material. The first disc contains the original, unrevised episode with audio commentary from actors Anna Berry and Jimmy Winston, producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks, and vision mixer Mike Catherwood. Disc one also has a making of featurette called "Blasting the Past" and a look at vision mixing titled "A View From the Gallery".

The second disc consists of Day of The Daleks Special Edition and several bonus features. Along with features about the special edition, including a 13 minute "Making of" and a five-minute "Now and Then" side-by-side comparison, disc two also has two UNIT-related bonuses ("The UNIT Family -Part Two" and "The UNIT Dating Conundrum"), a feature on "The Cheating Memory" (for those who watched the original broadcast and swear they remember more than three Daleks!), and the internet teaser trailer.

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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