Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Seven – The Rescue

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The literal cliff-hanger from last time saw Antodus fail to jump the ravine – which means he’s plunged down a bottomless cavern and Ian (tied on the other end of the rope) is slowly losing his grip on him.  There’s something rather casual about this sequence – why Ian doesn’t call for help from the others?  And even when Ganatus does pop up, neither of them are very quick to twig that a little more assistance would be a good thing.  With Kristas and Barbara also holding onto the rope they should have been able to pull Antodus up.

As it is, Antodus settles the matter by cutting the rope and plunging to his death.  This is a moment that can be taken several ways – was it a noble act of self sacrifice (saving Ian’s life) or did Antodus (who was convinced they’d all die) commit suicide because he didn’t have the nerve to carry on?

Although Ian tells Ganatus that his brother died to give them a chance, it’s not really a credible statement.  Alydon and the rest of the Thals just seem to stroll into the Dalek City, which makes the efforts of Ian, Barbara, Ganatus and Kristas seem somewhat futile (why make all that effort to gain access via the caves when they could have just walked in through the front door?!)

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Susan are prisoners of the Daleks.  Hartnell has a great line – “this senseless, evil killing” – which helps to give the Doctor a sense of morality that hasn’t always been present in the episodes to date.
The climax of the story is a little bit of a damp squib – the Daleks’ control room is invaded by the Thals and after the briefest of battles the Daleks all die.  Their power has (somehow) drained away, exactly how is never really explained.  After seven episodes it would have been nicer to have a more considered conclusion.

In Nation’s original draft, it was revealed that a third party had engineered the war five hundred years ago between the Daleks and the Thals for their own benefit.  This mysterious alien presence then returns to Skaro and the Daleks and Thals team up to destroy it.  Although the televised ending is a little abrupt, I certainly prefer that to the original draft which poses more questions than it answers (why did the aliens decide to return to Skaro after so long?)

Hartnell’s Doctor has another small, defining moment. “I might just say this to you. Always search for truth. My truth is in the stars and yours is here.”  It’s character scenes like this where Hartnell really excels.

So if the conclusion is a little disappointing (as is well known, Terry Nation wrote the seven scripts very quickly – for him it was just another job.  “Take the money and fly like a thief”) then there’s still enough memorable moments from the earlier episodes to always make this a rewarding rewatch.

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Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Six – The Ordeal

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An aptly named episode this.  The Ordeal is the point where the wheels start to come off as the story begins to splutter to a conclusion which will continue in the following episode.  The main problem with episode six is that the bulk is taken up with the efforts of Ian, Barbara and the Thals to break into the Dalek City – and this is very, very dull.

It can’t help but feel very padded out – had there not been seven episodes to fill then no doubt it wouldn’t have taken so long to find a way in.  Alas we have to follow them for almost the whole episode as they explore the very small cave sets very slowly.

There’s the odd moment of interest though.   There seems to be something of a romantic spark between Barbara and Ganatus which Ian is oblivious to.  Although Ganatus’ comment that they won’t use one of the customs of her planet – ladies first – is baffling (just how long have they had to discuss the Earth?)  When David Whitaker novelised the story he elected to make Barbara very antongistic and distant to Ian as they attempted to breach the city – it was a surprise to me that this wasn’t a part of the television original.  I mourn for the glass Dalek as well …..

Antodus continues to be the weak link in the group –

ANTODUS: Ganatus. I want to go back.
GANATUS: What for?
ANTODUS: I can’t go on any more.
GANATUS: You must.
ANTODUS: No. We’re going deeper, deeper all the time. We’ll be trapped in the mountain, I know we will. Please, Ganatus, let me go back.
GANATUS: You can’t.
ANTODUS: But you don’t really need me, not really. I could, well, I could go back and signal to the others that we’ve managed to get as far as we have.
GANATUS: Antodus, we go on together.
ANTODUS: Why? Why are you making me do all these things? Even if we do get through, we’ll never defeat the Daleks. Ganatus, we’re all going to be killed.
GANATUS: We can’t turn back now.
ANTODUS: The others can’t, but we could. Listen, they’re going to die anyway. We could just go back and tell the others that the Daleks killed them.

Alas, the next line is fluffed by Philip Bond (Ganatus) when he says that Antodus has to go back, rather than go on. But there’s nothing to do but press on, hope the audience hasn’t noticed and luckily an unconvincing rock-fall causes a distraction.

There’s not much Hartnell in this one, but he does have a lovely scene where he disables a control panel outside the city.  He spends so much time crowing about this (“a superior brain”) rather than taking Susan’s advice that they should leave, that the pair end up getting caught by a group of Daleks!

The first time, but by no means the last, that the plot has to come to a virtual halt to fill the episode count. Often there’s enough decent character interaction to make it more bearable, but The Ordeal (with its sub 1940’s adventure serial atmosphere) doesn’t have a great deal going for it.

Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Five – The Expedition

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The Expedition opens with Ian ranged against the Doctor and Barbara.  The fluid link needs to be retrieved from the Dalek City, but Ian is reluctant to ask the Thals to help them (“What victory are you going to show these people when most of them have been killed? A fluid link? Is this what you’re going to hold up to them and say, ‘Thank you very much. This is what you fought and died for’?”).

The Doctor has no qualms in asking for the Thals’ help – he needs the fluid link back and they’re a ready made fighting-force, so it’s of no concern to him whether they all die in the attempt.  Barbara is equally keen to retrieve the fluid link and escape from Skaro – she’s convinced that the Daleks will find a way to travel out of the city and kill them all (“Oh, they’ll find a way. They’re clever enough. They’ll find us and kill us, you know that as well as I do.”)

There’s no evidence to support this though (is she simply playing on Ian’s fears for their safety?) and he remains resolute.  It’s a key part of the story and it’s a little surprising to find this debate in a Terry Nation story – his yarns tended to be drawn in more clearly defined shades of black white.  In the end Ian does persuade the Thals to help – by making them see that they will also be guaranteeing their own survival.  At one point Barbara complains that Ian is only playing with words and there’s more than a kernel of truth in this.

In the Dalek City there’s some interesting things going on, thanks to Christopher Barry’s direction.  A group of Daleks have elected to take the Thals anti-radiation drugs (inducing death).  We see one of the Daleks die from their POV, in a slightly trippy, drug-induced way.  The moans emanating from the Dalek do sound slightly comic, but it’s another reminder that in this story they’re not portrayed just as mindless killing machines.  These signs of vulnerability, together with their more conversational mode of speech, would later be dropped as the Daleks lose any spark of individuality (except maybe for David Whitaker’s two Troughton stories).

It does feel a little contrived that the Daleks only now realise the anti-radiation drugs don’t  work since they’ve become conditioned to radiation and need more of it to survive.  Therefore they intend to release another bomb which will also have the pleasing side effect of wiping out of Thals.  The war ended five hundred years ago, why have the Daleks only just twigged that radiation is essential to their survival?

The Doctor elects to mount a two-pronged attack – one group to distract the Daleks on the city wall whilst the others attempt to break into the city from the rear – braving the jungle and the lake of mutations.  This is the first of Terry Nation’s Doctor Who jungles and despite it’s small size is effectively realised.  Partly this is due to Brian Hodgson’s sound design which creates a real sense of unease (Ian beating off a clip of stock footage is less impressive).

The monster that rises out of the swamp is another decent moment, although it does slightly look like a rubber ring with two glowing eyes.  As previously mentioned, on the lower resolution televisions of the time this no doubt would have looked more convincing.  Although I’m quite convinced now – maybe I’m easily pleased?

Ian and Barbara are accompanied by five Thals – although their party is quickly reduced by one when the hapless Elyon is sucked into the lake at the end of the episode (via another decent inlay shot).  Antodus complains to his brother Ganatus that they’re all doomed, doomed (a theme which will continue into the next episode).

Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Four – The Ambush

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The range of camera effects at the disposal of the Doctor Who production team in 1963/64 was incredibly limited, but The Ambush has some very effective shots (which were also quite easy to achieve).  Inlay effects are used to show the Dalek lift moving up and down and also a section of wall scorched by a Dalek gun.  Simple stuff, compared to what can be achieved today, but it works very well.

The Doctor’s capacity for self-preservation is still very much to the fore –

DOCTOR: Lets get back to the ship.
SUSAN: No, no, I must warn the Thals.
DOCTOR: Susan.
SUSAN: We can’t let them walk into a trap.
DOCTOR: The Thals are no concern of ours. We cannot jeopardise our lives getting involved in an affair which is none of our business.
BARBARA: Of course it’s our business. The Thals gave us the anti-radiation drug. Without that, we’d be dead!

The ambush scene is a little odd. Before the Thals arrive there’s a creepy scene showing the Daleks slowly backing into the alcoves. If they had stayed there and killed the Thals from the shadows this would have made sense. But instead, as Temmosus makes his impassioned speech about working together, the Daleks move out into the open. Since the Thals would have expected to meet the Daleks, why would they hide themselves?  It makes the moment a dramatic one, but that’s about all.

Also, why does Ian just stand there waiting as the Daleks move into position? He seems certain that the Daleks mean the Thals harm, so it’s baffling that he doesn’t speak until after the Daleks have opened fire.

This is very much Ian’s episode and it goes without saying that William Russell is very solid. And as the Doctor spends his time researching the history of Skaro (seemingly caring little for the modern-day plight of the Thals) it falls to Ian to try and make them understand that they may have to fight to secure their future.

ALYDON: If only I knew why the Daleks hated us. If I knew that, I, I could alter our approach to them, perhaps.
IAN: Your leader, Temmosus.
ALYDON: Yes?
IAN: Well, he appealed very sensibly to them. Any reasonable human beings would have responded to him. The Daleks didn’t. They obviously think and act and feel in an entirely different way. They just aren’t human.
GANATUS: Yes, but why destroy without any apparent thought or reason? That’s what I don’t understand.
IAN: Oh, there’s a reason. Explanation might be better. It’s stupid and ridiculous, but it’s the only one that fits.
ALYDON: What?
IAN: A dislike for the unlike.
ALYDON: I don’t follow you.
IAN: They’re afraid of you because you’re different from them. So whatever you do, it doesn’t matter.
DYONI: What would you have us do? Fight against them?
IAN: I didn’t say that. But you must teach them to respect you. Show them some strength.
DYONI: But you really believe we ought to fight.
IAN: Yes, I think it may have to come to that.
DYONI: You understand as little about us as the Daleks do!

Barbara later comments that “I don’t understand them. They’re not cowards, they don’t seem to be afraid. Can pacifism become a human instinct?” But the Doctor’s not concerned about the fate of the Daleks and the Thals and is keen to leave.  Ian, Barbara and Susan may feel more invested in the Thals’ fate, but they also agree with the Doctor that it’s time to move on.

Indeed, at the end of this fourth episode it does feel that the story has come to a conclusion. We didn’t witness the fate of the Tribe of Gum, so would there have been an expectation of the audience back in 1964 that this story would have been any different?

The Doctor’s missing fluid-link is the only reason that he decides to stay – ensuring that he’s forced to help the Thals (although as we’ll see, he’s ruthless in using them to help himself).

Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Three – The Escape

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The Escape opens with Susan meeting Alydon (John Lee).  Born in Tasmania, Australia, Lee didn’t have a trace of an Australian accent and instead spoke in the RP tones that were so prevalent during this era of British television.  Every line he intones is spoken with deadly seriousness (and note how, in his initial scene with Susan, he stays remarkably still).  It’s the sort of performance that can so easily seem wooden and unnatural, but Lee manages, just about, to give Alydon a spark of life.

Much more naturalistic is Philip Bond as Ganatus.  Bond (father of Samantha) has more to play with in the script, since Ganatus has a mocking sense of humour as well as a questioning nature.  If their leader Temmosus (Alan Wheatley) is inclined to think the best then Ganatus is a more reflective character.

Temmosus might well have had cannon fodder written on his forehead.  He’s no fool, but it seems clear that the Daleks have no intention of helping the Thals – and that he’s ill-suited to lead them in the struggle that will follow.

TEMMOSUS: I believe the Daleks hold the key to our future. Whatever that future may be, we must accept it gracefully and without regret.
ALYDON: I wish I could be as objective as you. We’ve lived for so long a time.
TEMMOSUS: Perhaps we have lived too long. I’ve never struggled against the inevitable. It’s a vain occupation. But I should always advise you to examine very closely what you think to be inevitable. It’s surprising how often apparent defeat can be turned to victory.

Ganatus’ brother Antodus in mentioned, but we don’t see him in this episode (although he’ll play a key part later on in the story). The suggestion that he’s a flawed character is established when Dyoni (Virginia Wetherell) wonders if he’s still afraid of the dark. A small point, but it helps to sow a seed of doubt about his ability to deal with stressful situations.

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Terry Nation never really excelled when writing for female characters (except, maybe, for Servalan in Blakes 7 – and that was probably only because she was originally written as a man) and Dyoni is no exception.  Wetherell spends most of her time in this episode pouting and reacting jealously to any mention of Susan.  Dyoni’s comment that Alydon should have given the drugs to a man, not Susan, are slightly wince-inducing.  As we’ll see, Dyoni’s only value to the plot seems to be her relationship to Alydon (she’s the lever that Ian later uses to persuade the Thals to fight the Daleks).  Apart from this, she’s very much a cipher.

And what of our four heroes?  They remain prisoners, but they work together to devise a plan to escape.  These scenes are particularly interesting because all four characters contribute to the debate.  In years to come it’ll mainly be the Doctor who has the solution – with everybody else relegated to sitting on the sidelines.  But the Doctor doesn’t have all the answers here, and it’s only after they pool their resources that a workable plan is produced.

DOCTOR: Let’s concentrate on the Daleks. Have you noticed, for example, that when they move about there’s a sort of acrid smell?
SUSAN: Yes, yes, I’ve noticed that.
BARBARA: I know. A fairground.
IAN: That’s it. Dodgems.
DOCTOR: It’s electricity. I think they’re powered that way.
IAN: Yes. But just a minute. They have no pick-up or anything. And only the base of the machine touches the floor. How do they complete the circuit?
SUSAN: Batteries?
DOCTOR: No, no. I believe the Daleks have discovered a way to exploit static electricity. Very ingenious, if I’m right.
BARBARA: What, drawing power from the floor?
DOCTOR: Precisely. If I’m right, of course.

This is a good episode for Carole Ann Ford. She’s typically wide-eyed and appealing in her initial meeting with Alydon and later has an excellent scene with the Daleks when they dictate a letter promising to help the Thals. It’s plain that they don’t intend to keep their promise though, reinforced by the push one of them gives to Susan with their sucker arm once the letter is written. It’s just a throwaway moment (possibly worked out in rehearsal) but it helps to give the Daleks more of a human touch.

The scene where the Doctor and the others disable a Dalek and remove the creature (in fact, nothing more than a joke-shop gorilla hand) is a memorable one and it leads into a strong-cliffhanger as Ian (inside the Dalek) leads the others out into the corridors as they attempt to make their escape.

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Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Two – The Survivors

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Once the Doctor eventually realises that the planet is contaminated with a very high level of radioactive fallout it’s chilling to see how keen he is to abandon Barbara to her fate –

IAN: We’re not leaving until we’ve found Barbara.
DOCTOR: Very well. You may stay and search for her if you wish, but Susan and I are going back to the ship. Now, come along, child.
IAN: All right, carry on, fine. How far do you think you’ll get without this? (he shows him the fluid link)
DOCTOR: Give that to me.
IAN: Not until we’ve found Barbara.
DOCTOR: Give it to me, I say.
IAN: No! It’s time you faced up to your responsibilities. You got us here. Now I’m going to make sure that you get us back.

The point’s a moot one anyway as they shortly all end up prisoners of the Daleks. The iconic nature of this episode is pretty much self evident – the first meeting between the Doctor and the Daleks – although it’s understandable that the mythos would only be added in later years. Nobody really expected in 1963 that the Daleks would ever be anything more than a one-shot monster (especially since the series was struggling for survival) so they’re presented here not as a universal menace, but simply as a group of frightened, scarred survivors.

The Daleks are all that remains of a civilisation who fought a deadly war with the Thals.  So Galactic conquest isn’t their aim – that would be difficult anyway, since they can’t move out of their city – they just want to survive. But their survival doesn’t include the Thals and this is how the story will develop.

As in An Unearthly Child, the four time-travellers are prisoners.  Thanks to radiation sickness they’re in a pretty wretched way and Ian (after a tussle with the Daleks) is unable to walk.  A mysterious package of drugs left outside the TARDIS by an unknown hand might be their salvation and suspiciously the Daleks are keen for one of them to bring them back to the city.

But who will get it?  Ian is keen to go – there’s an unspoken sense that he should, since he’s a man (why send a woman or a child out, when he’s there?) – but since he can hardly walk it seems impossible.  Both the Doctor and Barbara have been badly hit by radiation, so that leaves Susan.  She doesn’t want to face the terrors of the forest (we’ve seen how she was affected by a brief encounter with a stranger in the previous episode) but it’s clear that their survival depends on her.

Christopher Barry certainly makes the most of his limited resources and the scenes of Susan’s return to the TARDIS are memorable – thanks to close-ups of her frightened face and the flashes of lightening in the forest.  And the occasional flash of light only serves to make the forest more, not less, intimidating.

So far the story has had an interesting structure – in episode one we concentrated on the four regulars, episode two has introduced the Daleks (with mention of the disgustingly mutated Thals) and episode three will see the arrival of the Thals proper.  With seven episodes to play with, it makes sense to hold back certain elements for a while – but once we get to The Escape there’s the sense that the story can really begin.

Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode One – The Dead Planet

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The Daleks was the second William Hartnell story I watched, a mere eight years after the Five Faces screening of An Unearthly Child.  The year was 1989 and BBC Video had released a double-pack of The Daleks on VHS.  With every existing episode now accessible at the touch of a button it’s difficult to describe just how exciting it was to own this story – something I could watch again and again (and those early Doctor Who VHS’s did get many, many plays!)

As part of the generation who became fans in the period before the programme was widely available, I’d grown up with a distinct picture of many stories via the Target novels and articles in DWM.  The Daleks had also featured in Jeremy Bentham’s lavish 1986 book Doctor Who – The Early Years.  I’d pore over the numerous photographs and Ray Cusick’s designs for hours, wondering whether I’d ever get the chance to see these episodes.

David Whitaker’s novelisation is a must read and equally recommended is the talking book read by William Russell.  Although it compresses the seven episodes down to about a hundred pages (the first few chapters are basically an alternative version of An Unearthly Child – lots of fog, Barnes Common, lorries, everlasting matches, etc) nothing vital from the teleplay is omitted and for me the book was instrumental in painting a vivid picture of the story.

But before that, my first exposure to this tale was via the Peter Cushing movie Doctor Who and the Daleks.  BBC Genome confirms my memory that it received an airing on my birthday (the 10th of June 1978) and although the film strips away much of the subtlety of the orignal, the vivid comic-strip nature of the film was very much what this seven-year old wanted.

Therefore, watching The Daleks for the first time I was approaching it with a good deal of baggage – the same way I initially viewed every story from the first three Doctors.  I knew how the stories should look (the images were crystal clear from the Target books) and there was sometimes disappointment when things didn’t match up.  No doubt I’ll touch on this again, probably when we get to Day of the Daleks, but over the years I’ve come to love the series for what it was and not what I’d expected it to be.

One thing that’s always slightly irked me about The Dead Planet is the way the Doctor never even considers that the planet might be radioactive.  There are not-so subtle hints (“The heat must have been indescribable. Look at this soil here. Look at it. It’s all turned to sand and ashes.”)  I do love the way that the TARDIS radiation meter only flashes that it’s dangerous once everybody leaves the console room (and presumably stops flashing as soon as they re-enter!).  Is this an early example of the TARDIS’ sentience and had it therefore decided to kill them all?!

Ian and Barbara are still very unwilling adventurers –

BARBARA: Ian, where are we?
IAN: I don’t know.
BARBARA: Well why doesn’t he take us back?
IAN: I’m not sure that he can.
BARBARA: What, ever?
IAN: I hate it as much as you. I’m just as afraid. But what can we do?

This is a far cry from 21st Century Who, especially the RTD incarnation, where the TARDIS at times seemed to be similar to Starfleet – only the brightest and best are allowed.  Contrast this to the original series – the likes of Ian, Barbara and Tegan were abducted against their will, Vicki, Victoria and Nyssa were orphans taken in by the Doctor since they had nowhere else to go, Leela and Adric were stowaways, etc.

At this point in the series there’s a compelling sense of dramatic tension as Ian and Barbara are positioned against the Doctor.  The Doctor is now firmly established as an explorer with an unboundless sense of scientific curiosity.  He wants to explore, but Ian is unhappy (if anything happens to the Doctor, who will operate the ship?)   This is of no concern to the Doctor, he has little interest in Ian and Barbara’s opinions and is determined to get his own way.  This plot-line could only really happen right at the start of the series, very soon we’ll see that everybody will be keen to explore any new location and no thought is ever given to how dangerous it might be.

Terry Nation.  The series owes him a great debt (without this serial the programme might very well have come to an end after just thirteen episodes) although there’s no doubt that he collected this debt – these seven scripts, written in a great rush, were instrumental in making him a very rich man.  Often mocked by fandom (sometimes affectionately, sometimes not so) for his reliance on rehashing his own scripts, The Daleks is where it all began.  If you want to see it again then there’s always Planet of the Daleks in 1973 (was this a homage by Nation, paying tribute to the series’ 10th anniversary, or simply another lazy plundering of past glories?  With Nation, it’s not always easy to tell).

The cliches start here though, especially when the four decide to split up to explore the strange city.  The division is distinctly odd though – Barbara goes one way and the other three head off in the opposite direction.  This doesn’t seem plausible at all – there’s no way that Ian would allow Barbara to go off by herself (but it had to happen, so we could have that cliffhanger).

Mention must be made of Raymond Cusick’s design work and Tristram Cary’s music.  Cusick, along with Barry Newbery, would define the early years of Doctor Who and it’s staggering to see what they achieved with so little money.  In this episode we have the petrified forest, impressive model-shots of the city and our first brief glimpse at the city itself.  Yes, the painted backdrops do look a little obvious (although they would have been less so on the lower resolution televisions in 1963) but it’s the small details that impress – such as the cameras that focus in on the increasingly distraught Barbara.

Cary’s series of cues were impressive enough to be used in three more stories (although it’s also possible to argue that this was a cost-saving measure).  But I’d like to think they were used again because they were so good – they certainly help to create a sense of unease and tension which climaxes as Barbara is menaced by a threatening sink plunger.