Ive always felt about The Mutants (editors note: alternate name for The Daleks) that the done thing is to praise it; it is, after all, the first Dalek story, and the story that cemented Doctor Whos popularity with the public. Despite this, I've always looked upon it as being quite dull. As with 100,000 BC however, I've come to reassess it having watched it again. The TARDIS crew continues to develop, the Doctor still exhibiting the selfishness he displayed in the previous story Â he is quick to suggest leaving Barbara to her fate when he discovers that they have radiation sickness, more concerned with saving himself and Susan. When Ian insists that they find her, he then elects to abandon both teachers. Later, he is in no doubt that they should use the Thals to aid them, despite the fact that, as Ian says, they have no right to endanger the Thals just to get the fluid link back. In this case, Barbara agrees with the Doctor, whereas Ian strongly disagrees Â a reminder that, whilst they tend to get referred to in tandem, they are each well-rounded characters in their own right. Ian comes across as the most reasonable member of the TARDIS crew here, only finally acting to enlist the Thals once he realises that the Daleks will kill them if they donÂt defend themselves and later holding the morale of the expedition together, diplomatically blaming himself when Antodus fails to catch the rope during the chasm crossing, and striving to reassure him. Despite this, the crew continues to operate well as a team in dangerous situations; all four of them contribute to the plan to escape the Dalek cell, and once committed to working to attack the Dalek city, the four members all play vital roles. The DoctorÂs character continues to develop; he launches eagerly into the attack on the Dalek city, expressing sheer glee when he destroys the power line in episode six and getting so caught up in the mental challenge of what he is doing that he becomes oblivious to the danger they are in and ends up being recaptured. This, I feel, is a key example of his increasing delight in becoming involved. The Daleks also have a profound effect on him I feel; as noted, he still exhibits enormous selfishness during the first half of this story, but witness his rage at the senseless killing planned by the Daleks; not only is he starting to relish involvement but he also I think starts to feel that there is evil that needs to be fought. Susan comes of less well than in her debut, prone to more fits of hysteria and panic, although in her defense she completes her mission to fetch the anti-radiation drugs from the TARDIS despite gibbering in fear until she meets Alydon. Its probably convincing behaviour all things considered, but this doesn't make it any less irritating, and although by the second half she has calmed down in general, she swaps her panic for a role as the Doctors shadow, there purely for him to explain things to for our benefit.
The atmosphere aboard the TARDIS at the start of the story is interesting; Ian and Barbara clearly think that the Doctor owes them a degree of responsibility to get them home, whereas the Doctor objects strongly to this, blaming their curiosity for their presence. Despite this, when not under stress, he seems almost to appreciate their company, asking Barbara to reassure the frightened Susan and eagerly showing off the TARDIS food machine. This story also gives us a greater sense of the sheer size of the TARDIS, allowing us beyond the then-massive control room and further into the ship; it isnt just bigger on the inside, its much bigger on the inside.
The Daleks are impressive in their debut, and not merely because of their distinctive appearance and method of movement. They come across as excellent scientists and strategists, having harnessed static electricity learnt how to grow food in artificial environments, created an entirely artificial city, and developed a long-lasting power source in the cityÂs nuclear reactors. They are quick to allow the Doctor and his companions to live when they realize that they can be used to trap the Thals, and quickly realize what is happening when the laser scope is blocked by the reflections, switching without hesitation to the vibrascope, demonstrating the degree to which they take multiple eventualities into account in their technology and thinking. Most of all of course, they come across as callous and ruthless, defining their prisoners solely by their usefulness, eager to destroy the Thals in order to remove any obstacles to their planned rebuilding of Skaro, and prepared to irradiate Skaro again without any sign of a conscience about wiping out everything else living on the planet just so that they can survive. They are not the backward, city-bound non-space faring, non-time traveling primitive Daleks I remembered, but rather master planners, keen to extend their technological and territorial boundaries and become that threat seen in their later appearances. This is not some prelude to the start of the DaleksÂ status as the Doctors archenemies this is the beginning. It is interesting also how they are used as a metaphor for the nuclear threat, the cold, scientifically dependent, war-mongering, radiation based Dalek society versus the peace loving farmers, the Thals. This is nowhere more evident than in the final episode, as the countdown progresses towards nuclear annihilation of the Thals and a Dalek-less future for Skaro. It is also unusual for a writer to include such a message alongside such an obvious argument for the need to fight, represented by the death of the pacifistic and trusting Temmosus.
The Thals are rather duller than their nemeses and still come across as rather wet, but nowhere near as much as I remembered. They are well scripted as individuals, with the pouting Dyoni, the stalwart Alydon, the dashing Ganatus, and the terrified Antodus who is painted as a coward so that he can redeem himself through a brave death. The whole expedition across the swamp and through the caves is raised above B-movie status by the character interaction, be it between Ganatus and Antodus, or the sexually charged friendship between Ganatus and Barbara. Finally, I must mention Skaro in a series that would come to use quarries as alien locations, the studio-bound settings on Skaro are an impressive achievement, let down only by the obvious painted backdrops used to make the corridors in the Dalek city look longer (the perspective is wrong). The Petrified Forest and the caves look very convincing, and even the swamp works well, despite stock footage of a caterpillar used to portray a mutant. Overall, the Daleks is an impressive debut, although it is a shame about Susans pratfall at the end. The development of the relationships between the TARDIS crew progresses well, ready to be given lasting definition in the next story.
Filters: Series 1 First Doctor Television
Strictly speaking, the term B-Movie refers to a film without a very large budget or very big stars. The decade most associated with the B-Movie is of course the 1950s--the atomic era. Ive read many reviews of this serial on-line and they all seem to compare The Daleks to one of these films. Lets take a moment or two to examine The Daleks in relation to other B-Movies. Ive found that The Daleks is murky mix of 1950s style SF and a new, more thoughtful 1960s moral melodrama.
The Daleks, of course, is at its crux a parable of the Atomic age. The metaphors are very clear. Daleks are Post-WW III Communists and the Thals post WW III Westerners. Not quite as hamfisted as the Nazi costumes in Genesis of the Daleks but its close. Aliens are commonly portrayed not as individuals but as a massive organism bent on conquest. Ever since H.G. Wells War of the Worlds this has been a classic paradigm. During the Cold War this portrayal brought new meaning. Aliens, of course, become analogous to the communist threat. An analogy that was so blatant, many less talented writers could easily use it. These films were a way to tell cheap stories to capitalize on western fears of a communist take over. Nations monsters do, however, differ somewhat from the typical commie/bug eyed monster. The Daleks were not ruthless intergalactic tyrants in this first serial. They are just driven by their hate for the Thals. These Daleks do want a Dalek empire throughout the Universe, they just want every Thal dead. Communism is an internationalist doctrine, yet these Daleks seem happy to rule their ruined little planet. The analogy would actually become more apt with The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The Daleks are close to being textbook 1950s monsters, but the Thals and the TARDIS crew are textbook 1960s heroes.
True to 1950s stylistic convention, the westerners are cast as the heroes. The similarity ends there. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, Susan, and the Thals are far from the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit heroes of such films as The Deadly Mantis and Tarantula. The Doctor and the Thals are both dressed in an odd and archaic manner. Even in this second Doctor Who story it is established that the Doctor is a perennial individual. The Doctor does, however, play into SF convention when he removes the fluid link. His scientific curiosity puts his life and his companions at risk (i.e. Fiend Without a Face and The Fly). The Thals have given up on the post-war decades religion of industry and trade--they have reverted to a totally agrarian lifestyle. Susan, the Unearthly Child, is also a unique character. Young people are usually portrayed as wide-eyed observers (Invaders from Mars) or victims of their own foolishness and predatory elders (I was a Teenage Werewolf). In The Daleks, Susan is an active participant in the action--not just an appendage. Barbara and Ian are the most formulaic of the TARDIS crew. Ian was very stalwart and Babs was a screamer, yet even they differ from most B-Movie heroes/heroines. They are not romantically involved with each other--Barbara falls for an alien something a good B-movie female should never do unless under some sort of alien mind control. Ian, for the most part, plays the square. But hes extremely irritable and hostile, qualities not usually found in a good BEM fighting leading man. While The Daleks may differ from the 1950s B-movie with its heroes, some of the serials morals are much more similar.
The serial condemns the Daleks for being aggressive but it also condemns the Thals for being complacent--a very bare bones version of Cold War era morals. The condemnation of both the Daleks and the Thals is the thematic centerpiece of the serial therefore the serial has the mentality of a B-movie. But what about the theme of the armageddon? The first episode of this serial is entitled The Dead Planet. In fact that other theme, the theme of destruction-through-violence, casts some doubt as to how The Daleks stands on the Thals. Is battle that necessary? Is it right for the Thals have to fight the Daleks and restart the cycle that nearly destroyed eons? This brings up another key difference to the Daleks in relation to B-movies--a ethical haziness. In Them!, War of the Worlds, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, and The Thing there is no question on whether the aliens needed to be wiped out. Consequences for mankinds actions were never shown. The aliens were evil and needed to be killed. The Doctor triumphantly watch as the last Daleks eyestalk shoots upward as it dies. Yet, killing has only brought Skaro misery. This conflict is interesting for sure, but not intentional. Terry Nation started to write a serial showcasing the foolishness of prolonged conflict and then began writing a serial that denounced pacifism. Its rare to find coexisting at the same time in popular culture, however, it was probably just Terry Nations lazy plotting and not a social comment.
The Daleks is first and foremost family adventure entertainment. It is quite like a B-movie. It has many of the same generic trademarks of the genre but I have found out that once you start to look at those similarities you find many differences as well. Now that have blabbed on about how The Daleks relates to movies of a similar ilk--I will turn my attention to reviewing it as a Doctor Who story.
We first meet our heroes covered in Cro Magnon dung after just having their first adventure with a bunch of Cavemen. One thing that struck me, was how puffy Bills wig is. His hair is nearly as big as Babs. The TARDIS crew is the strongest point of The Daleks. These early stories show that three companions can be successful. The Doctor may be the title character but he is no more important than any of the other TARDIS team. This is what went wrong with Season 19. The Doctor was the star and the rest were just satellites, banging around in unstable orbits. The Daleks has some really great bits of Doctor/companion action (shut up) like when The Doctor reveals having trouble relating to Susan. Ian and the Doctors confrontation. All great stuff--still impressive nearly forty years later.
The Daleks and the Thals have the distinction of being Doctor Whos first aliens--not counting the Doctor and Susan. The Daleks look excellent in their first outing. They are constantly twitching and scheming. These Daleks are new and shiny, they havent been used and re-used yet. The Thals seem sort of wooden and are much less interesting than the Daleks. Which is odd because theyre supposed to be the free spirited individuals. Plus, they wear possibly the worst pants in Whos history.
The direction is top notch. This serial begins as one of the best directed stories of Doctor Who. The cheap sets are filmed so that the make atmosphere. Susans run the jungle is especially well filmed. This suspenseful direction goes bye-bye after the first four episodes. Starting with The Expedition the serial becomes a play-by-play on walking traveling through Skaro. Painfully padded and plodding, episodes five & six make you not even care about the ending. What really sucks about this is that the first four episodes were so good! Terry Nation sets up a dangerous precedent with The Daleks.
Filters: Series 1 First Doctor Television
This is the classic 7-part adventure that would solidify Doctor Who's popularity for years to come. For it is in this adventure where the Doctor has his very first encounter with his deadliest adversaries... the Daleks. Of course, you who are reading this probably already know that.
Being this is the second adventure for the TARDIS crew, a great many things come about as a result.
Before I talk about the actors involved or the story itself, I'd like to talk about set designs and the costumes. The sets of the jungle itself are extraordinary, as are the sets for the Dalek City and the caverns. I was definitely impressed, considering much of this was studio enclosed, and it was way before the use of CSO or blue/green screen technology that would become quite infamous in the later years.
The design concept for the Daleks' robotic casing at first glance would appear to be quite laughable and ludicrous, considering that they simply look like giant trash dispensers or pepperpots with plungers. However, the the robotic casing itself is truly unique and distinctly alien. Once the initial silliness fades, you realize how effectively terrifying those pepperpots are, especially when you think about what lies within.
The clothing worn by the Thals is also quite effective in symbolizing their peaceful nature as an agricultural society. Although I must admit the outfits worn by the males did make them look like the 'Kevin Sorbo Appreciation Society'.
The story, exceptionally well-crafted by Terry Nation, is definitely thrilling, thought-provoking, intensely dramatic as well as exciting. Considering how this sotry was crafted in the early 60's, the idea of the effects of a nuclear war (even on an alien world) was something quite topical during this time.
The TARDIS crew continue to shine as the varying viewpoints and character dynamics continue to clash, but their willingness to cooperate in times of peril asserts itself rather well. Especially in combining their intellects to exploit the Daleks initial weakness of gaining static electricity through the metallic flooring in order to orchestrate their escape.
The Doctor continues to demonstrate his ambiguous nature as he still does not fully like the fact that Ian and Barbara are still stowaways about his vessel. It's fascinating to observe the Doctor's early behavior of someone that would manipulate and deceive others to get his way, as he does by purposefully removing the fluid link from the TARDIS consoles' inner circuitry, lying to the others about it losing its mercury, just so he could venture from the jungle to investigate the mysterious city. It's so interesting to see the Doctor being so callous at times, only caring for his own survival as well as Susan's. This is far from the adventurer willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of others that he would eventually become. This is especially true when he is willing to abandon both Ian and Barbara, and even the Thals and Daleks to their own devices. It showcases that the Doctor is first and foremost a scientist and an observer, with no interest in helping others. It is only when the fluid link is unknowingly taken by the Daleks that the Doctor wishes to use the Thals to get it back. This is not to say the Doctor is unlikeable in this story. One of my favorite scenes is the delight the Doctor takes in showcasing his food processing machine (which may actually have been the forerunner to the food replicator used in Star Trek). He shows a great deal of curiosity and fascination in learning about the history of Skaro and its people from Dyoni. In fact, he still showcases his vast intelligence and even a great deal of boyish excitement at collaborating with the Thals to outwit the Daleks. The Doctor also shows some remorse and admits to his lies when he realizes the apparent danger of radiation sickness. He also displays grim satisfaction at seeing the Daleks dying due to the loss of ambient radiation.
Although Susan showcases moments of descent into the model of the shrieking young companion (which is understandable for a girl as young as she is facing unknown dangers), she still manages to provide input in assisting her grandfather and her friends. In addition, the fact that she was willing to go out of the Dalek City to the TARDIS to retrieve the anti-radiation gloves (oops, I mean drugs) alone shows a great deal of courage.
Ian shows himself to be intelligent and a man of action as well. For it is actually he, not the Doctor, that wants to help the Thals to help themselves. It's Ian that condemns the Doctor's selfish actions that brought them to near death by radiation sickness and capture by the Daleks. It is Ian that understands the Thals stand on pacificism, but that there must come a time when you must fight to protect yourself and those around you from a danger you know will eventually eradicate you. It is this that Ian conveys to the Thals in order to gain their aid in confronting the Daleks and in retrieving the fluid link.
Barbara balances out uncertainty and fear of the unknown with some level of intelligence, courage and compassion. The scene where she talks to Susan to comfort her after her frightening encounter, demonstrates an almost maternal quality that Barbara would display to one other companion, Vicki.
The Daleks are portrayed with intelligence, arrogance, ruthless single-minded authority, cunning and are very xenophobic (at least only to the Thals). It is interesting to not that in this, their first appearance, the Daleks are only concerned with the continuation of their own species, not with conquering the universe or enslaving all existence. Their main concern was in erradicating the Thals and then adapting the planet to be efficient to the Daleks only. This is especially true when they use the Thals plight to lure them into a trap which results in the death of their leader Temmosus. Still, it was this first appearance that would continue to evoke horror and terror to fans throughout the years whenever we see them or hear them utter one single word: "EXTERMINATE!"
The Thals are quite interesting, as we see them as pacifists, people who are tired of war and only wish to live in peace. This peace exists only through the Thals avoidance of the Dalek City, and an ingrained refusal to revert back to what they once were, militaristic warriors. The Thals of importance to the story are very well scripted and fleshed out characters.
Temmosus is a philosophical, idealistic man of peace, the benevolent rule of the Thals. Foolishly hoping to forge an alliance with the Daleks to establish a mutual exchange of ideas. Although foolish, it is understandable considering he and his people had no knowledge of what the Daleks had become after 500 years of separation. But Temmosus maintains a certain objectivity when he says that "certain things are often inevitable and we shouldn't fight against it". It showcases that on a certain level, Temmosus felt that his life was in danger when he decided to meet with the Daleks. It's a shame that he had to die, when all he wanted was to ensure the survival of his people through understanding and cooperation. Although his death is tragic, storywise it is necessary to demonstrate to the Thals something they needed to learn: it is futile being rational and reasonable to those who cannot be reasoned with.
Alydon becomes the de facto leader upon Temmosus' death, and he too is an excellent character. Very kind, compassionate, trust-worthy and pragmatic. His adamant refusal to risk another war with the Daleks is understandable. Although the responsibility for the survival of his people has been thrust onto his shoulders, it is a duty he immediately takes to heart. It is only when Dyoni's safety is threatened by Ian's attempt to trade her to the Daleks for the fluid link that Alydon realizes what must be done. In true leadership capacity, he calls for a vote from his people on whether they are willing to risk their lives to ensure the survival of their race.
Dyoni I like very much (even when she pouts). A beautiful and intelligent young woman that is proud of heritage and treasures the history of her culture and also hopes for a better future, but feels uncertain due to threat of famine. She shows a great deal of compassion towards her fellow Thals. She even takes a great delight in showing the Doctor information modules containing the history of Skaro and its people. She also seems to take great offense to outsiders who clearly do not know their ways or understand the necessity for their philosophy of pacifism. All in all she does an exceptional job as Alydon's lover, confidante, and friend.
Ganatus is a pretty good character: brave, caring, loyal, open, and sensitive. His scenes with Barbara and the others provide many of the best character driven moments (forming a genuine and somewhat romantic bond with Barbara through the course of their time together). He showcases great strategic initiative by laying out the plan of attacking the city from the back through the dangerous swampland and through the mountains.
It is an interesting note to see the opposing ends of both races. The Daleks are ruthless and vicious warmongers, while the Thals are too complacent in their pacifistic beliefs.
All in all, this is one hell of an enjoyable story from all fronts. It is an excellent allegory of the consequences of nuclear war, as well as a parable for the pros and cons of pacifism. It is an excellent story that would solidify the show's popularity forever.
Filters: Series 1 First Doctor Television
"No bug-eyed monsters!". That was the original injunction laid down by Sydney Newman at the BBC when he and Verity Lambert came up with the idea for a time-travel programme for children called Doctor Who. But when production for the originally-intended second story fell through, the fledgling production staff found themselves in a bind, but with a script (originally intended to be fourth) by young Mr. Nation in hand. When the monsters of the series' first futuristic piece were designed, sure enough, they had a single, buggy eye, on a stalk, no less!
In truth, they looked ridiculous. Most commonly compared to pepper pots, completely lacking in manipulative appendages, the Dalek is an impractical mechanism, and an improbable success.
And yet, successful they were, owing largely to Nation's initial script. It's not their appearance that frightens, that generates tension...it's their psychology, their ruthless, selfish, merciless attitude toward the universe and everything in it. You can talk to a Dalek, but you can't reason with one, because, from the very first, it's clear that the Dalek mind doesn't work anything like the human mind, and they like it that way.
These earliest days of Doctor Who were very different from the hey day of Tom Baker and his successors. At this time, the Doctor was till a very unsympathetic character -- selfish, irascable, arrogant, occasionally charming and erratically brilliant. He's far more likely to cause trouble in his own self-interest than to fix things.
Instead, the heros of the piece wind up being the two human companions, Barbara and Ian -- particularly Ian, whose tendency to take a strong moral stance would rub off on the Doctor over the next couple of years, until, by the time of Ian's departure from the series, the Doctor, for all his increasing frailty, is much closer in temperament to the do-gooder of the next 25 years.
Almost all of this can be credited to Mr. Nation, who succeeded where Anthony Coburn (author of the first serial, "100,000 BC") had failed in bringing these characters to life. At a time when American adult television was still producing simplistic sitcoms with cardboard characters, Nation produced a script for children that properly introduced the four, very complex regulars, including a strong, intelligent female role model in Barbara.
The story itself is well paced for the style of story-telling they were going for back then -- somewhere between the purely episodic story-telling of modern American TV and the pure serial of a Flash Gordon. Tho' seven episodes long, it rarely drags.
Considering the budget they were on, the sets are incredibly elaborate. The petrified jungle where the TARDIS first lands is not nearly as cheesy as you might expect (the full-colour jungle in the 1976 episode "The Face of Evil" was far cheesier); the Dalek city is believably alien. Like the Daleks themselves, it's hard to understand how the city really functions at all, but that's not entirely a bad thing. The Daleks are supposed to be a little beyond our ken, after all.
But really, where the story shines is in the way it plays the main characters. The Doctor is marvelously ambiguous throughout, conniving and cheating in order to get to see the Dalek city (he doesn't know what it is, at the time), selfish and even slightly cowardly in the face of danger, and yet ultimately willing to do what seems to be the right thing.
Ian fulfills the role that in later years the Doctor himself would play -- agent provocateur. Ian understands where the extreme pacifism of the Thals comes from, but he refuses to accept it as a valid solution to the current problem. His reinforcement of those Thals who want to take action to save themselves tips the scales. The Daleks would spend centuries blaming the Doctor for all their problems, but in this first meeting, it's Ian they really have to worry about.
One of the most remarkable characters in Doctor Who's long run is Barbara Wright. The series would have occasional lapses (like Jo Grant), but this story establishes the more general rule that female companions, even if they scream a lot, will have brains in their head and be willing and able to take independent action. In this case, Barbara also has a heart of her own. In the earliest conception, Ian and Barbara were already a couple, but by the time the series came to air, their romance had been removed in favor of a professional friendship. This left Nation free to have Barbara get attached to one of the Thal men, providing a sympathetic hook and helping to make the Thals themselves more than just J Random Humanoid Alien With a Problem. Whether because Nation is a romantic, or because it's a children's program, there's never anything very overt about the bond that forms, but it's clear at the end that Barbara is actually a little reluctant to leave.
Susan probably fares the worst, and yet even she doesn't do too badly. While more prone to panic, she's also much younger, and very sheltered until recently. She still manages, however, to be useful and resourceful. She stands in adequately for all the younger audience who might well react the same way under those circumstances. The human adults provide excellent role models, while Susan provides someone for the kids to identify with.
Watching this story again today, there's little question as to why it was this serial that established Doctor Who as a success. While one couldn't predict a 27-year television run on the strength of this story, one can certainly see why people started tuning in more regularly. If you've never seen any of the William Hartnell stories, this is a good place to start.
Filters: Series 1 First Doctor Television
The only way to have a really good hero, is to have an even better villain. George Lucas knew it, and Verity Lambert knew it. When Terry Nation gave birth to his maniacal little salt and pepper shakers he literally, and figuratively, created a monster. Dalek-mania swept Britain, children ran through the street screaming "Exterminate", and even the most muggle among Britons knew what a Dalek was. But was it really any good?
Frankly kind of. The seamless mixture of live action and model shots alone should get this one special honors in the Doctor Who hall of fame. The story itself wasn't original by any means. Wells' "The Time Machine" had mined this material the previous century. Even so, it was fresh for a TV audience. "The Daleks" was Sci-Fi with an edge. With one cliffhanger, Doctor Who would forever be known as a "scary" show kids had to watch from behind the sofa. Whereas most subsequent Dalek episodes were "War of the Worlds" re-imagined, this one was like that Aliens movie we never got to see. You know the one where Ripley gets stuck on the Alien Homeworld and has to go into the heart of their hive to retrieve Jonesy whose inadvertently eaten the one thing she needs in order to get home. Throw in a pinch of indigenous freedom fighters trying to survive in a petrified forest, and you've got the scope of this yarn.
Unfortunately, this was also the birth of two not-so-cool Doctor Who traditions. Caves and corridors. For the bulk of the "The Survivors" and "The Escape", the time travelers are in and out of more corridors than even the Nimon could stand. Then there are the impossibly arduous cave sequences that span the most appropriately named episode of the series: "The Ordeal". What we end up with is a few snoozer episodes right in the middle of a would-be classic. And what's up with Barbara and Antodus? I mean we're barely off Totter's Lane and she's chattin' up the first blond specimen that grunts her way. This story isn't as good as people think, but it isn't as bad as it feels. "Groundbreaking" and "painfully padded" can both be used accurately, which is perfect for a story about the diametrically opposed forces on post-war Skaro.
Filters: Series 1 First Doctor Television
The Daleks is a very important story in the history of the programme. Not only does it introduce the Daleks it saves the series as well. The boost the Daleks gave to the ratings ensured Doctor Who would last longer than thirteen episodes, giving Verity Lambert and David Whitaker further opportunities to show their bosses and the audience what they could do with the programme.
It is a good introductory story for the Daleks. They are on their own planet (something that will not occur again until The Evil of the Daleks) and the story reveals some of their history, particularly their relationship with the Thals. Their aggressive philosophy is revealed in many different ways, e.g. when they announce they will change the environment rather than themselves in order to survive, and the line Every problem has a solution has a narrow minded determination about it that even upsets the Doctor. Their callousness and cunning are also very clearly shown, e.g. initially planning to withhold the drugs from the crew and then changing their minds for their own ends, failing to be fooled by the crew breaking the camera and adapting their murderous strategy (from dropping a neutron bomb to releasing radiation from their nuclear reactor) when they realise Daleks need radiation to survive.
They also have a couple of attributes never seen in the series again. The way they speak is not so loud or monotone as they will later become. Their rather fast flat way of speaking is chilling for they are dismissing the Thals and the crews lives so casually, e.g. the line Then they must die is more disturbing than if it was uttered in a loud fanatical way. Their contracting lenses are also very effective the sense of a living being inside is clearly felt, especially when one Dalek starts to die when the Thals drugs are administered. This is also a unique story for it is the very first time the Doctor encounters them there is a classic moment when the Doctor is first interrogated by them in their control room on his knees. Hartnell conveys puzzlement, fear, anger and panic in this scene very good acting, the danger increased by the Doctors failing health due to radiation sickness and the fact that he really doesnt know what hes dealing with yet (and he believes the Daleks when they tell him the Thals are mutations).
There are some other classic moments in this story as well. The Daleks ambush is a clear sign of racism in action and is more dramatic because it occurs after Temmosus humane and hopeful speech. Christopher Barry also directs it well it slowly builds up, Ian very worried, and the shot of the Daleks deliberately hiding works very well. The final shot of Temmosus dead combined with the incidental music shows the tragedy that has just occurred. Ian is very good here he tries to save the Thals and understands the Daleks completely they have a dislike for the unlike and will never be successfully reasoned with. Another great moment is when the crew act as an effective team for the first time in the series in their cell all help to disable the Dalek and the audience sees for the first time a glimpse of the creature inside the casing. The Doctor and Ians faces express more than words when the top of the Dalek is lifted.
The Thals themselves are not quite as successful. Alydon and Ganatus are passable, but Dyoni and Antodus are rather embarrassing. They work best as Terry Nations expression of the limits of pacifism when faced with fascism (the Daleks) they must fight or perish. Barbara and the Doctors decision here to simply use them to retrieve the fluid link is rather worrying but again Ian shines and shows it is a matter of conscience and morality as well as practicalities. The subsequent journey through the swamp and the mountains has a touch of Jules Verne about it and makes the last three episodes quite entertaining (The Ordeal having the first literal cliffhanger in the series!). However Barbara lets the side down a bit when she tries to help Ganatus she loses her grip on the rope and she is rather stupid attempting to go round the rock face backwards. Her romance with Ganatus simply doesn't work and the line Shes just a child! to Ian about Susan may be caring but just sounds patronising.
Pace wise the story is rather slow in places, especially with Susans long trip to the TARDIS and back, but it picks up in the second half. The climax is disappointing (Kristas pushing a Dalek into a console) but is preceded by some good scenes, especially the Doctors lines Thats sheer murder! and This senseless, evil killing! His remarks at the end that he never gives advice are rather odd though surely he gives more advice than anyone and follows this line by giving advice!
The Doctors character is still a little cold. He happily fools the others about needing mercury though Hartnell does this so well that I am rather on his side. The Hmms! that he later utters so much are also not that evident here, proof surely that Hartnell used these mutters intentionally. His character is still acerbic and this comes to the foreground in the next story
Filters: Series 1 First Doctor Television
I am anything but an expert on the Hartnell years, and I'll admit I approached this story with some hesitation, having recently been (very) disappointed by the dishwater-dull 'Dalek Invasion of Earth.' But I was actually pleasantly surprised (and sometimes delighted) by 'The Daleks' it's a stylish and moody piece of television, full of memorable moments and challenging ideas. As a product of its time, it's undeniably pokey, of course, and will seem a bit padded to the uninitiated (the 'bacon and eggs' scene, e.g., is one I could have done without). Probably its biggest problem, of course, is the abrupt conclusion, where, as in the next Dalek story, the fearsome cyborg monstrosities are ultimately defeated by three or four unarmed men rushing up to them and pushing them over. It's a serious disappointment, but it can't undo the many successes of the story, and overall 'The Daleks' is consistently entertaining, a fitting debut for the Doctor's legendary enemies.
One of the best things the story does from the very outset is to convey Ian and Barbara's continuing shock at what has happened to them, and their doubts about whether the Doctor can actually get them home at all. William Russell and Jacqueline Hill play their anger and fear quite convincingly in the opening scenes, and truly, the series might not depict the disorienting shock of space and time travel so well again until the Ninth Doctor picks up Rose, more than forty years later. (And, as with Rose, the characters of Ian and Barbara are used as a lens through which we see not only the reality of time travel, but the strange and alien Doctor as well.)
Once the story gets going, there are many moments that stand out as genuine classics, of course. Such examples as the mutant's claw creeping out from under the blanket and the first cliffhanger with Barbara are rightly singled out by fans, but for me the most seminal moment is the exchange after the Daleks reveal their plan to wipe out the Thals. When the Doctor incredulously fumes "That's sheer murder!" and the Dalek responds: "NO EXTERMINATION," it's a chilling moment that spins out over the course of this series we see how clearly different the Daleks' worldview is from the Doctor's (and ours), but we also see his mind working, and understand how his first encounter with his oldest enemies helped form the righteous indignation that would guide the character through the rest of this series. As for William Hartnell's performance itself, he stumbles once or twice in Episode One, but in general he's in terrific form. The First Doctor here is a fascinating character study he's admittedly old and tired (Susan even apologizes to Ian and Barbara for his forgetfulness), but he also shows a surprising energy, driven, it seems, by his intellectual curiosity. He's hardly a superhero, or even much of a hero at all: indeed, he's selfish and scheming when tricking the TARDIS crew into accompanying him to the mysterious city, and harsh and cold when suggesting he'll leave Ian and Barbara on Skaro, or insisting that they use the Thals as cannon fodder for the Daleks so they can escape. But, as I said, he's increasingly moral and humane too, and of course he's quite funny in such scenes as his argument with Ian in Episode One.
As for Ian, the treatment of his character is rather dated - he comes off as a bit bossy, and more than a bit sexist, when he refuses to believe either woman alone could (or should?) be trusted with the drug-retrieving mission in Episode Two, or when he sends Barbara and Susan out of the room so that the men-folk can deal with the Dalek mutant. (Gee whiz, Dad . . . .) But Barbara comes off rather better, showing imagination and independence here, and acting as a great stand-in for the viewer when wandering alone in the frightening city in Episode One. Another writer once pointed out that a 'mature' female companion like Barbara wouldn't really be seen again in this series; it's true, and it's too bad. If only you could say the same thing for Susan, whose shrieking and sobbing here provide a sad precedent for many girl companions to come . . . .
As for the non-regular characters, Mark Campbell has notably criticized the treatment of the Thals, summing up 'The Daleks' as "a questionable morality tale whereby 'ugly = bad' and 'pretty = good,'" and it is a legitimate point. In particular, the way in which Susan and the rest of the TARDIS crew instinctively trust the Thals simply because they're well-formed physically is annoying. But in all fairness, there's more to the story's philosophy than that after all, the beauty of the Thals is less linked with their 'goodness' than with their pacifism, which it should be remembered is *criticized* by the script (however respectfully). The individual Thals are rather blandly characterized, and the overtly philosophical dialogue is occasionally heavy-handed (Terry Nation seems more interested in giving them symbolic things to *do* than believable things to *say*). Still, one has to admire the seriousness with which the theme is approached especially in the context of a fledgling children's TV show!
And then there is the presentation of the Daleks themselves, of course. The physical travel machines work well the image of a Dalek is one so familiar to us that it's worth reminding ourselves how strange and alien Raymond Cusick's design actually is. In a series known for passing off stuntmen in rubber masks as aliens, it's wonderful to see such a convincingly alien concept - there's absolutely nothing recognizably human about a Dalek. It's astonishing that Sydney Newman responded so poorly to such an original idea, in fact. The dilating eye is particularly disturbing (one wonders, actually, why Russell T. Davies didn't return to it with the Eccleston series), the machines glide rather quickly and smoothly, and even small touches like the Daleks passing a sheet of paper from one sucker arm to another is surprisingly impressive.
As for their characterization, at this point, Terry Nation had not yet developed the arsenal of Dalek dialogue 'chestnuts' that he and other writers would use (and overuse) through the years ("I OBEY," "STAY WHERE YOU ARE DO NOT MOVE," etc.); nevertheless, the Daleks make a tremendous impact in their voice and speech here. They are harsh and intimidating, certainly, in such scenes as the one where they force Susan to write her note, but rather than simply screeching slogans as they do in later stories like the overrated 'Remembrance,' these Daleks actually *think* as well, and demonstrate much personality. They are paranoid, interrupting and challenging even each other, and jittery, as when the guard Dalek orders the prisoners to move away from the sides of the door. They also show much evidence of their cunning and scientific approach, spying on their prisoners and analyzing their conversations (they are not for an instant fooled by the silly 'fight' the TARDIS crew use to disconnect their camera). Significantly, their intellects are shown to be as impenetrable as their armor even the Doctor can't outtalk them (when he tries to stall them by telling them about the TARDIS, they are interested, but have no doubt they'll be able to comprehend its technology themselves after his death). And they are resourceful problem-solvers too, quickly burning through the blocked door, and conducting immediate experiments to determine the effects of the Thal drugs (and, just as quickly, learning how to counter them). But perhaps the most surprising thing about their characterization here is how *sad* these Daleks are for one of the most notable things the story does is expose the Big Lie of Dalek superiority. After all, the first thing the Daleks do with the Thals' anti-radiation drugs is try to *cure* themselves, to rid themselves of their 'Dalek-ness.' It is only when the drugs fail, and they are left with no other choice, that they rationalize their compromised form, and convince themselves that their weakness is in fact the key to ultimate strength.
Just about every other aesthetic element of the story satisfies. The Dalek city is beautifully designed, and looks all the scarier and more distorted for being in black and white. The whirlpool in Episode Five is very impressive for the time, and the script does a good job of sprinkling its thematic content throughout a 'Lord of the Rings'-esque quest adventure. Finally, the seemingly intentional double entendre "Now there's a double meaning for you" is a shockingly risqué line. I gasped when I heard it . . . and I'm not easily shocked.
Filters: Series 1 First Doctor Television
I often start my review of a story by reminiscing about the first time I saw it, and "The Daleks" will be no exception. It was 1985, and I had no idea that my local PBS station had begun showing the black and white episodes until I was flipping channels on a Tuesday afternoon after school and I caught what looked like Daleks in black and white! That was episode 2, the first Hartnell episode I'd ever seen, and indeed the first black and white episode I'd seen. I bought a VHS tape on the way home from school the next day and started taping episodes. It was the late 90s before I found the story on video and bought it so that I could finally see episode 1 (for the first time) and see episode 2 again. With the Beginning DVD box set I've finally been able to see a really good copy of the story, since even the VHS release is pretty poor in spots. Needless to say, I have a real fondness for this story, which for years I thought was entitled "The Dead Planet". After seeing it for the first time in a number of years, all cleaned up and VidFIRE'd, how does it hold up?
It looks better than I've ever seen it, of course! Very clean, very clear contrast between whites and blacks. The sound is good. I've always thought of this as one of the better Dalek stories, and I've liked it since I first saw it, but it really surprised me just how much I enjoyed watching it again, and how quickly some of the episodes passed. I was watching episode three for example, and when it ended I was surprised it was over so quickly, though of course I have seen it before and knew what was coming. I'm rapidly changing my formerly held opinion that the black and white stories were all fairly slow and not as interesting as they could be. Sometimes that's true, but more often than not all it takes is a good watchable copy to drastically ratchet my opinion of a story up a few notches. "The Seeds of Death" is an example of a story where I just thought it was as dull as could be based on the old VHS release, but the DVD changed my opinion drastically.
"The Daleks" is a compelling adventure story. I considered watching just one episode a night to enjoy the experience longer, but ended up saying "OK, just one more episode" and watching two or three at a time. This is a story where I can really get caught up in the ordeals of the TARDIS crew, where despite the sci-fi trappings, much of what they go through is pretty down-to-earth. They trek through the forest, or are locked in a cell. Then there is the dark claustrophobia of the caves behind the Dalek city, or the hike through the swamp. Okay, so most people don't have to deal with Daleks or swamp mutations, but on the whole, much of what the characters experience isn't terribly outlandish. Suspension of disbelief is easy. And the direction is very good as well. There are a number of genuinely tense moments throughout the story. Even though I knew exactly what would happen, I found myself getting caught up in the drama a number of times.
My only real quibble with the story is the ending, or rather a few facets of the ending. First of all, the fact that the Thals can get into the city rather easily during the final episode makes Ian and company's expedition seem pointless in the end, though it is mainly Ian's group that reaches the control room I suppose. Alydon sends them on their way, they trek through swamp and cave and lose two comrades, only to run into Alydon once they reach the city. Hmmm.
The other issue is the fact that pushing one Dalek into some sort of power junction shuts all the Daleks down. Would a circuit that critical be left so vulnerable? I wouldn't think so. Still, the Daleks are beaten, and the Thals take no joy in the victory, and it's made to seem rather sad for all concerned, so it's good in that respect.
The Daleks make more sense in this story than perhaps any other. This is the one time we really see them in context, in their own environment, and it suits them perfectly. Mutations of an atomic war, who need radiation to survive and who are confined to their travel machines, they're both sad and frightening in their single-mindedness. "Every problem has a solution" might be an admirable attitude for some, but for the Daleks it's a statement of how focused they are on their goal of destroying the Thals so that the Daleks can survive. It's a template for their future behavior. They speak more quickly than I remember, and generally seem to be written as characters rather than as little tanks that go around yelling "Exterminate!" They are people, much as the Thals are. And they're intelligent, working their way through a number of problems quickly when it comes to the anti-radiation drugs. On a side note, it's really cool the way they hold things with their sucker hands, and push buttons, and pick up ticker tape and salute. In the scene where Temmosus makes his speech, all the Dalek guns are twitching, and though they're just itching to shoot. The Daleks are given some nice body language as it were, and this adds to their character.
The model shots of the Dalek city and the surrounding mountains are very impressive. Sure we could do better now with CGI, but that doesn't alter the fact that the model looks great. Between the forest, and the swamp, and the city with mountains behind it, there is a real sense of environment and scale. The story doesn't feel like it's taking place on a few sets in a studio.
And of course, as in "An Unearthly Child", the actors really sell the story. Or at least the four regulars do. Some of the Thal actors are less than convincing, and say some rather odd things, as if they're trying to be deeply philosophical but can't quite manage it. Contrast that with the excellent debate at the beginning of part 5 between the Doctor and Barbara and Ian, with some pretty strong ideas about life and death and being willing to fight to survive being thrown about by the three. Ian really shines in this story, being very much the resourceful and brave man of action. He stands up to the Doctor, takes the lead in the expedition and quickly forms friendships with several of the Thals. Barbara doesn't have as much to do, but she also proves herself to be a strong character, trekking through the mutant-filled swamp and the caves and attacking a Dalek in the control center. Her relationship with Ganatas is wonderfully understated but nevertheless quite apparent, and when they part at the end it's sweet and rather sad.
Susan is another character I'm revising my opinion on. She's prone to bouts of hysteria and screaming, but though she does suffer from some of that here, she's also brave enough to go through the dark forest at night and retrieve the anti-radiation drugs. And Susan is the one who gets the crew out of the little jam at the guard station after they've just escaped from the cell. She's really rather likeable and useful here.
Last but not least, there's the Doctor. Still selfish and still looking out for himself and Susan above all others, he's only beginning to develop his sense of morality that we've come to associate with the Doctor. I'm always tickled by his trick with the fluid link, and his barely concealed glee that his little trick has worked and that they'll have to go down into the city. It's entirely fitting that this backfires badly on him. He's a little too eager to have the Thals sacrifice themselves to retrieve the fluid link as well. But we start to see some signs of the Doctor that will develop over time with his pleas to the Daleks to "Stop this senseless, evil killing!" and his willingness to trade the TARDIS for a stop to the irradiation plans. Hartnell is as good as ever, despite a slip or two. He really was a superb actor in many ways, and it's a pity that his iffy memory and the rapid production schedule gave him such fits with his lines. On one of the DVD interviews it's nice to see Verity Lambert defending him, saying that he delivered the goods more often than not.
There's so much good stuff in this story that I've barely scratched the surface. It's outstanding, and I can certainly see why the audiences grew during this serial. There are some flaws, but nothing that detracts from the overall experience. Once I start watching, I don't want to stop. Go buy the DVD! 9 out of 10.
Filters: Series 1 First Doctor Television