I first watched Day of the Daleks when I was about 14, although I don’t remember that it actually was Day of the Daleks at the time, since I’d been told that Day of the Daleks was a story about time travel, political intrigue, manipulation, betrayal, sacrifice and explosive battles. The short action sequence from Day of the Daleks that I saw as a child depicted no more than three Daleks wobbling along over a grassy field being halfheartedly flanked by reject stock from Planet of the Apes. What a young fool I was.
It is a simple fact of life that the special effects in Classic Doctor Who have, for the most part, not aged well at all. Oddly enough, this isn’t a continuous process – it isn’t as simple as ‘the further back you go, the worse the effects are’ – that is an ignorant standpoint. If you watch The Daleks from 1963, you will see that the effects are good. If you watch Remembrance of the Daleks from 1988, you will see that the effects are good. If you watch Terror of the Autons from 1971, another episode that involves large gunfight-style action sequences made a whole year before Day, you will see that the effects are good. So why, I hear you ask, does Day of the Daleks and episodes like it have such bad effects?
One of the simplest answers is money. Doctor Who has been consistently made on a low budget typical of shows from the BBC. But there must be more to it than that – allocation of funding can explain why some episodes of Doctor Who look better than others, but this is a Dalek episode – the first Dalek episode in five years, no less. Surely the BBC could have funneled more money into this?
The short answer is no. Day of the Daleks has an Achilles heel, and that is that there were only three Dalek props available for the filming of this story, and no amount of BBC budget was going to create new, functional Dalek props in the time between the final decision to go ahead with the episode and the filming date it was scheduled for. As such, the BBC were forced to round up all their surviving Dalek props, dust them off, paint them up and do the best that they could with what they had.
This leaves us with a Dalek episode that has a fantastic plot, great acting, superlative pacing and yet the one thing that everyone notices now when watching Classic Doctor Who is the ‘wobbly sets’ and the terrible effects. So maybe it’s time to change that.
Day of the Daleks: Special Edition replaces all the technical effects with new, updated CGI lasers and sounds, Nicholas Briggs replaces the original Dalek voices with his instantly recognisable NuWho-style Dalek performance, and the team even went so far as to shoot entirely new scenes with the same cameras that would have been used to film back in the early 1970s, adding in new death scenes for soldiers and, thankfully, swelling the Dalek army from a miserable three to a much more respectable 10, at least.
Now, thanks to the Special Edition, Day of the Daleks takes on a whole new lease of life, with added CGI shots of the future Dalek city to point out to viewers when a time-shift has taken place, more engaging action sequences that better demonstrate the high stakes of this episode, and a fantastic and visually stunning new effect for the blaster weapons that are used regularly throughout the episode. Watching Day of the Daleks now makes it seem less like an episode made in 1972 and more like a modern episode written, produced and filmed in the style of a 1970s-serial, and that is definitely a good thing.
For Dalek fans, Pertwee fans and 70’s fans alike, the Day of the Daleks Special Edition is a welcome addition to the ever growing Doctor Who DVD collection, and represents a beacon of hope for the future of classic stories and how they can stay relevant in the 21st century.