This is a flawed but fun story that has a lot of moving parts. This deals with the Daleks, a plague ravaging humanity, a sentient city, a TARDIS that has lost all power, hostile natives, death traps, and more.
This story starts with the Doctor promising to take Sarah to a vacation planet for some sun and fun only to see them land on the planet Exxilon where the TARDIS gets drained of all power. They discover that the planet is home to a hostile, primitive race as well as a small group of stranded humans. The humans came to the planet because it is rich in a substance that can cure the plague that is close to wiping out billions of people. Things take a turn for the worse when the Daleks show up.
The nice thing about this serial is that it keeps throwing new ideas and twists at the viewers which causes the story to move at a fairly brisk pace. In fact, my only complaint is that because so many different things are introduced here that a lot of them are never fully expanded upon. I would have loved more time in the sentient city with the Doctor and his new ally Bellal avoiding death traps.
I did like how the Daleks were used here but honestly you could either replace them with another foe or just take them out entirely and the story wouldn’t really suffer for it. They have come to Exxilon to take away all the parrinium (the stuff needed to make a cure) so that the humans can’t have it. However, the power drain that stranded the Doctor and the humans makes it so that the Dalek weapons don’t work. They forge an uneasy alliance with the humans but they obviously plan on double crossing them once they get the parrinium.
At first I thought it was odd that the Dalek weapons didn’t work and yet the Daleks were still mobile. Why would their mechanical bodies work and not their weapons? The story explains this by saying that the Dalek suits are powered by psychokinesis or some such nonsense but I didn’t really buy it. To me it felt more like the writer realized at the last second that the Daleks being able to move was a giant plot hole and wrote in a sentence to explain it.
I will give the Daleks credit for ingenuity. They have no desire to be helpless and replace their non functioning weapons with ballistic guns that can work. The Daleks will always find a way to murder people.
The Exxilons aren’t that unique but I did like their back story. They were once an incredibly advanced species and they built a giant, extremely advanced city as their crowning achievement. Unfortunately they built it too well and the city decided that it didn’t like having people crawling around inside and making a mess so it expelled all the Exxilons. It also drew power from all the energy sources on the planet, sending the natives back to the stone age overnight. Eventually the Exxilons started worshipping the city as a deity. A breakaway group does exist that knows that the city isn’t a god and that if it can be destroyed the power drain will cease and hopefully the Exxilons can rebuild their civilization.
The city is pretty impressive. It looks good and other-worldly. It has created a series of intelligence/death traps to protect the core of the city where its “brain” resides. I liked this aspect and loved seeing the Doctor and his Exxilon pal Bellal work their way through the traps. I just wish the traps had been a bit harder to solve. One is literally just a maze printed on a wall that the Doctor has to solve. Another one sees the duo having to avoid red tiles on a floor so they don’t get electrocuted. Brain teasers they ain’t.
The city does have other defenses. It has long mechanical tentacles called roots that are able to access quite a bit of the planet and can easily destroy Daleks. It can also manifest hard to kill creatures that act as antibodies that it sends after the Doctor after he starts messing around with its brain.
The humans had potential but nothing is really done with them. Their commanding officer was wounded early on and ends up dying fairly quickly into the serial. Lt. Galloway assumes command despite the fact that the commander told him to put Lt. Hamilton in charge. Galloway strikes a deal with the Daleks and has no problem using the Exxilons as slave labor to mine the parrinium. It makes for an interesting set-up and I assumed that we would get some conflict between Galloway and the other humans, mainly Hamilton and Jill. Instead not much is done with this plot. Galloway starts to see that the Daleks are bad and aren’t sticking to the agreement but he doesn’t do anything until the end.
I thought that the serial did a good job of making a quarry and a studio set look like an alien planet. The first episode is the best at this, IMO. The Doctor and Sarah arrive on Exxilon at night and the area surrounding the TARDIS is covered in fog. The directing and lighting goes a long way to create a sinister alien planet vibe and I loved it. They easily could have made this a more horror centric story just based on that first episode alone.
Not a classic story but Death to the Daleks is entertaining and never boring. Now I only have two more serials to go in the 3rd Doctor era. It’s going to be rough.