I don’t know if it was the rarity of seeing Jon Pertwee’s Doctor on an alien planet, or if it was watching the Daleks at their manipulative and evil best, but there’s something special about this story that makes it one of the most underrated in the show’s history.
Right from the beginning of the first part of four, this story creates such a creepy atmosphere, making it impossible to take your eyes from. Usually with classic stories, they tend to have a long build up before coming to a quick conclusion in the final part or two. However, part one of this series eleven story is one of the best first parts of any serial. The TARDIS breaking down having being drained of its power may be quite cliched, but it set up a thrillingly fast paced episode which saw the Doctor separated from Sarah Jane. With the majority of the duo’s stories being set on Earth, it was refreshing to see them wander on alien ground. With Sarah Jane being left alone right from the beginning of the story, it was the toughest test she’d faced as a companion and this was the first episode where she really proved herself to be one of the most hardened and smartest people the Doctor has had the pleasure of travelling with. Throughout the first part and then beyond in the story, Sarah-Jane was smart, resourceful and extremely brave for somebody who was new to the concept of alien planets. The third Doctor also showed his softer side as when they were reunited, he displayed compassion and a sort of respect for how resilient she had been.
Jon Pertwee famously didn’t enjoy working with the Daleks. In fairness, he didn’t come face to face with the Doctor’s most famous foe too often throughout the four parts, but when he did, Pertwee’s performance was exceptional. This story was one of Pertwee’s best as he delivered perhaps his most ranging performance as he went from kind to angry and then to inquisitive all within seconds of each other. The third and fourth episodes of the serial where the Doctor and Bellal were trying to destroy the city while being followed by a pair of Daleks is a simply stunning chunk of action. It’s the third Doctor at his brilliant best, working out the complex puzzles under pressure and watching him perform these intelligence tests that the city asked of him was just a pleasure. The two Daleks who are in hot pursuit of the Doctor and his new friend, Bellal, add to the intensity and it really does make for thrilling viewing.
This story allows us to see the Daleks in a slightly different light from how we’d seen them before. Similarly to the Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks two-parter (only in this story is was done more effectively) we see the Daleks take a commanding role as they give orders to humans and Exillons. Rather than just exterminating all who come across them, the Daleks are in need of help and seeing them take control of the situation only heightened how powerful their race could be.
The plot was also strong with a human colony searching for Parrinium, a mineral only found on Exillion that could cure a space plague. However the Exillons had built a city so powerful, that it could never die and caused the colony’s ship to lose all of its power, as well as the TARDIS. The Daleks were also on the hunt for Parrinium and their ship too was drained of all its power, hence why they needed the help of everyone else to mine for the mineral while they worked on a way to restore their method of transport. In the end, after a lot of superb action, the Doctor managed to work out a way to disable the city that the Exillions had thought to be invincible. Despite the Daleks believing this was of little consequence as they’d restored their ship and collected enough Parrinium, Galloway from the colony, sacrificed himself on-board the Dalek ship, blowing himself and all of the Daleks up shortly after they’d taken off. This makes for a hugely satisfying end to an absolute classic Doctor Who story.
I have no qualms in saying this is one of the strongest Dalek stories of all time, in fact it’s probably the best in Pertwee’s era. It cements Sarah-Jane as a mentally and physically tough companion, it gives the third Doctor a chance to stretch his wings outside of UNIT’s HQ and the Daleks excel and only seem to be more of a threat. This story is a must watch for any Doctor Who fan.