Doctor Doctor Who Guide

‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ is a good example of shoddy execution ruining a lot of decent ideas. Its reputation among fans seems to be fairly good – it consistently appears in the Top 50 at the Doctor Who Dynamic Rankings site – but I have to wonder how many of its enthusiasts have actually seen it recently.

You don’t have to get very far into the story for an example – the prologue, with the Roboman’s breakdown/suicide, is obviously intended to set the tone, but what it really does is show us too much of this bleak future London before the TARDIS crew even arrive, thus ruining the shock later. In fact, the direction pretty much flattens every surprise – the IT IS FORBIDDEN TO DUMP BODIES sign and the Dalek emerging from the river are wonderful, sinister ideas; and they might have been really frightening, if only the production team had accented their horror in some way (with music, editing, anything). But instead these things are simply shown - nothing more, nothing less. 

In fact, on paper ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ stands up fairly well. Reading the synopsis confirms that - Terry Nation’s story is filled with action, violence and horror. The idea of the Daleks ‘roughing up’ the Earth with meteors and plague before invading is convincing and compelling. But the flaccid direction results in tedium, and the acting doesn’t help much: the surviving rebels, while certainly downtrodden and cranky, hardly give the impression that they survived a holocaust on the scale of the one described. 

Of course, even if the artistic approach had been different, the story would have still fallen apart in the final episode, its resolution being patently ridiculous – the Daleks are defeated because the Robomen turn on them? Huh? What’s so special about them? They don’t have superhuman strength; they aren’t impervious to Dalek weapons. In other words, if the Daleks can be destroyed by a few unarmed men tipping them over, how did they ever invade in the first place?

Moving on to specific aesthetic elements, Susan is as annoying as ever, if not more so. Not only does she immediately twist her ankle, but once she’s latched on to her new boyfriend, she spends the rest of the story simply tagging along and doing what he tells her. Susan is heavy-handedly shown to be falling in love with David Campbell throughout the entire story; I’ll admit it’s a relief to know she’s on her way out the door, but this distracting subplot is frankly tedious. And listening to Carole Ann Ford nasally shrieking “David!!!” isn’t much better than listening to her nasally shrieking “Grandfather!!!” One of the most rankling continuity issues for some fans (myself among them) is that we are asked to accept this insipid, whining, helpless creature as a Time Lord, and, unfortunately, this farewell episode hardly helps rid us of any negative impressions.

Well, on to the Daleks. They are disappointingly bland presences here; more or less generic sci-fi aliens. Their voices don’t seem to have much distortion in them, which always robs them of some of their awfulness, I think. Although I actually like the gloating, guttural delivery of the line “WE ARE THE MASTERS OF EARTH” – it’s as close as a Dalek ever gets to an obscene phone caller (in the old series anyway). And there is one great Dalek moment: it happens when Susan and David are hiding in the underground and hear (but don’t see) the merciless execution of a rebel. That horrible voice: “STOP – STOP – STOP – STOP – STOP” . . . Dalek repetition is often mocked by fans (and non-fans, for that matter), but I often feel that it captures their alien quality, their ‘character,’ as well as anything else about them. Daleks are hideously functional creatures – the travel machines translate their thoughts into the simplest language necessary, and that’s why they will repeat the same command five times in identical words. Their lack of imagination is one of the most truly frightening things about them, in my view. 

As for the Doctor himself, well, let’s just say this is not one of William Hartnell’s better stories. His one-upping of the magnetized Dalek technology in his cell is good, but otherwise the character doesn’t come off too well here, instead seeming to display all the tics and stereotypes of which Hartnell’s detractors normally accuse him. He stutters, flubs, and seems generally half-hearted in his response to the Dalek threat; not only that, he inexplicably drops out of the story for an episode! Susan’s leaving scene almost redeems him, but overall the actor’s not having a good day here.

Of course not everything is bad about this story . . . but as the things that I like are generally reviled by fans, I’m almost afraid to list them. I actually find the shambling Robomen pretty disturbing – certainly scarier than the Daleks for most of the story. As for Ian and Barbara, they come off reasonably well – the conversations between Barbara and the war-hardened Jenny are particularly interesting (it’s almost too bad she didn’t come on as a companion after all). And then there’s the Slyther. I fail to see why this monster inspires such derision in fanboy circles. I find the thing rather convincing, actually (at least, in its second version) – maybe it was that I was watching a murky VHS copy, or maybe the contrast on my TV was screwed up. But from where I was sitting, the monster was just a dark shape with a vaguely reptilian hide – it was never shown clearly, or in its entirety, which helped it a lot, and the overdubbed alligator growl gave it a good impression of size and closeness. 

Ultimately, this one is recommended for Hartnell or Dalek completists only.

Filters: Television First Doctor Series 3