Doctor Who: The Daleks in Colour Review

    As a Doctor Who: 60th Anniversary treat, Doctor Who: The Daleks in Colour has been released and condensed to a feature-length. The Daleks first aired between 1963 and 1964, capturing children’s imagination everywhere in the decades since they’ve become the Doctor’s most iconic enemy. The Daleks don’t look to be appearing in the upcoming specials, so to compensate, we’ve had Liberation of the Daleks, as well as Destination Skaro for Children in Need, and now this.

    I’m a big fan of the older serials, and The Daleks is undoubtedly a classic. So how faithful is the colourisation? What’s been cut out of the story to halve its length? I’m very interested to see what they’ve done to “modernise” the story. Early photos have me cautiously optimistic, so I was really looking forward to seeing the final product. So let’s get into it in this full review of The Daleks in Colour!

    WARNING – This is a full review and will thus contain spoilers, both for the original serial and tonight’s cut-down version. If that’s something that will bother you, you should probably turn away now.

    The Doctor (William Hartnell) with Barbara (Jacqueline Hill), Ian (William Russell), and Susan (Carole Ann Ford) in The Daleks in Colour (via BBC Studios)

    In Glorious Colour

    Doctor Who: The Daleks in Colour is, as the name would lead you to believe, in colour. I cannot overstate how jarring it is to see the First Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions in colour. Black and white film is something that defines the 1960s episodes of Doctor Who for me. It’s a big change, although it’s one that’s done really, really well. Every frame of this is coloured nearly perfectly, and I praise the team who worked on that.

    I don’t think it’s accurately coloured to what it was then, and that’s a stylistic choice. It looks a little oversaturated, but it’s clearly going for the Technicolour style of the Dalek movies of the 1960s. It’s easily the strongest part of the presentation, with everything from the forest to the city and the inside of the TARDIS looking like an absolute dream. There are rumours floating around of further colourisations. If that’s true, I’m sure they will look similarly great.

    The montage at the end of the presentation, which featured clips from everything from “The Daleks Master Plan”, “The Web Planet”, and even The Celestial Toymaker, would seem to suggest that there’s more on the way. We saw the brief flashes of Doctor Who monsters there that looked nothing short of divine. However, it’s important to note that there’s nothing “wrong” with something existing in black & white. Making it in colour doesn’t necessarily make it better, something that I don’t think the teams of people ordering these fully understand.

    The Doctor (William Hartnell), Susan (Carole Ann Ford), and Ian (William Russell) in The Daleks in Colour (via BBC Studios)

    Music and Sound

    I find myself able to look past slight changes to the original colours. The presentation on a visual level just pops. However, the colour isn’t the only fresh thing in tonight’s presentation. For instance, the music has been almost entirely re-done by Mark Ayres. I found his score well done and exciting, but found the way it was edited into the presentation bizarre. It makes the scenes feel far more intense and exciting, invigorating you with energy not unlike a great Murray Gold score.

    That’s not what the older Doctor Who episodes are though. You can tell when the original music is taking centre stage, it’s far more subtle. At times, this new one is a little overwhelming. As well done as the music is, it just does not fit classic Doctor Who. I wasn’t sure where to look or how to feel about what was onscreen in front of me. I think, in an attempt to create excitement, it ended up being totally jarring.

    There was something that bothered me until I read the credits. A lot of the new Dalek lines, which acted as a sort of bridge between condensed moments, were recorded by David Graham. He’s one of the original Dalek voice actors, and I’m glad they didn’t ruin the episode’s flow by recasting him. That was an absolute treat. Where the plot may have been moving too quickly, at least we briefly had the original Dalek voice back.

    Susan (Carole Ann Ford) and Alydon (John Lee) in Doctor Who: The Daleks in Colour (via BBC Studios)


    For me, the charm of the old Doctor Who stories comes in the imperfections. The wobbly sets and line flubs make it the special and charming program that it is. Getting rid of them and editing around them is unfortunate. Instead, we’re cutting quickly between action scenes like a Frankenstein’s Monster of the original. Calls of the Cloister Bell and Nicholas Briggs screaming “exterminate!” also create a baffling modernisation. It reeks of desperation and feels very out of place with where the show was in 1963.

    The whole presentation doesn’t quite fit in the tone or spirit of classic Doctor Who‘s serialised and slow nature. If anything, this feels more akin to the newer episodes. The Daleks in Colour almost feels embarrassed by everything that makes old Doctor Who unique and special. The original Daleks serial captured the imaginations of millions and made the show a massive success. I’m not sure what a child would make of this, although I wonder how they’d approach the rest of the classic library after this. This presentation is jarringly different to the rest of the show.

    The original serial is 7 parts long, running for almost 3 hours. Tonight’s presentation wraps up in less than half of that. Of course, there’s the logistically impossible challenge of colouring all of that to take into account as well. We also had David Graham‘s voice to help navigate around a lot of the problems that would’ve caused for continuity. That doesn’t mean the special’s free of errors though, take for instance Susan (Carole Ann Ford) still being aware of the trap for the Thals. However, that feels like a fairly small nitpick in comparison to the much bigger issues.

    The Dalek control room in The Daleks in Colour (via BBC Studios)


    The Daleks is a serial that’s nearly 60 years old. Watching it back today, that shows. The Daleks in Colour is a great attempt to modernise it, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. However, this story presentation ignores and cuts around a lot of what I find most appealing about classic Doctor Who. From overbearing music, strange editing choices, and such a condensed plot, it’s quite the viewing experience. It’s an experience I’m not sure I can recommend to fans who haven’t seen the classics, and I can’t recommend this as a classic fan either.

    Looking at this as a special treat for the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who, it’s fine. However, that montage and swirling rumours of a War Games colourisation don’t fill me with hope. This condensed treatment isn’t one that black and white film needs because there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. The show’s still iconic after all these decades, and these episodes paved the way for that. Younger fans, myself included, still discover and love the old episodes. Sapping them of charm through dragging them through an editing suite is not the way to go to drag in a new audience.

    If you want to watch some old-school Daleks in a condensed recreation of the original Daleks serial in a Technicolour dream style, then I have a recommendation. There’s a film I alluded to earlier called “Dr Who and the Daleks”. It’s charming and quirky in its own ways and still far from perfect. However different and divergent it may be from the original at times, it’s far more in-keeping with the classics than this.

    Doctor Who will return on November 25th 2023, with “The Star Beast“, the first in three special episodes as the show’s 60th Anniversary headliner event. David Tennant returns as the 14th Doctor alongside Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. Ncuti Gatwa’s first episode as the Fifteenth Doctor will air over the festive period, while his series 14 will debut in 2024 with Millie Gibson. Disney+ will be the exclusive home for new Doctor Who seasons outside the UK and Ireland.

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