Welcome to the second of my individual Doctor Who reviews! This time, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan meet the Doctor's most dangerous foes, the Daleks, for the very first time! It's a really interesting and exciting story, really showing the series coming into it's own and I hope you like reading my thoughts on it!
A small note about when these reviews will be going up: I have no set time frame for this project, mainly going by when I get a chance to watch and review the stories. However, for the foreseeable future, these reviews will come out on a Monday, so make sure to check then!
1.2 The Daleks
7 episodes. Broadcast 21st December 1963 - 1st February 1964. Written by Terry Nation. Directed by Christopher Barry and Richard Martin.
Synopsis: The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan arrive in a strange, petrified forest. Venturing into a metal city, they discover a terrifying adversary, the Daleks. But what do these monsters want, and why do they speak of horribly mutated creatures?
Put simply, the metal pepper pots made Doctor Who famous.
There's a few things guaranteed to get on a Doctor Who fan's nerves. One is referring to the Doctor as Dr Who (yes, while he may have been credited as that for pretty much the entire classic series, it is not his name as no-one in the show calls him that), the other is that Daleks aren't scary because you can escape them by climbing up stairs. In the show's later years, when it went from a national pride to a laughing stock, this was the one joke that always came up. And it's nonsense. But in some ways, it makes sense, because with very few exceptions (the fourth Doctor's Genesis of the Daleks and Seven's Remembrance of the Daleks comes to mind), I don't think the Daleks are as scary as they are in their very first appearance.
It's at the end of the effective first episode that sets up a number of mysteries and includes several memorable visuals, such as the petrified forest, the still-impressive model shot of the city, the strange metal surfaces. The characters find themselves separated and Barbara gets lost. Doors close behind her, and there's the sense that she's being closed in, trapped. And then she turns. What looks like a plunger lunges towards her. And she screams. It should be the silliest thing you've ever seen, but it's not. It's terrifying. It's a mix of Jacqueline Hill as Barbara's brilliant panic-stricken acting, the unique soundscape and the escalation of mystery that makes the scene work. It's perhaps the series' finest cliff hanger and is another example of the show at its most iconic in its early moments.
In this story, the Daleks work perfectly. From their shouting rage communicating their absolute, as the Doctor puts, "dislike for the unlike", their inhuman, sleek design and their sheer monstrous, power, they are a true force to be reckoned with. While later stories will work towards expanding them (in numbers, types and back story), their natural mysteriousness paired with their pure hatred, make them a terrifying foe.
Character wise, everyone in this story gets something to do. The Doctor creates chaos as he lies about the TARDIS having a broken fluid link because he wants to explore the city, but in doing so, puts them all at the mercy of the Daleks. At this stage of the series, the Doctor is as much of an antagonist as the Daleks, leaving Ian to be our action hero, which he does wonderfully. This is seen especially in the moment he confronts the Thals, the Daleks' opposite species. They're beautiful pacifists, which the TARDIS crew want to change. So, Ian makes one of the head Thals stand up to him by trying to kidnap one of the Thal women. It's an odd scene, one that is potentially a bit iffy depending on where you stand politically, but the story makes it work, arguing that pacifism can only stand so long before one has to make a stand.
Susan helps the gang by recovering some radiation medicine from the TARDIS, running into the Thals and screaming a lot. Already her mysterious, alien nature from An Unearthly Child is gone and she's a screaming, panicky teenager. This will become more and more of a problem as her tenure on the TARDIS goes on. Not true for Barbara who gets to have a lovely little relationship with an attractive Thal and help to storm the Dalek city at the climax.
While this is a wonderfully paced, exciting story, there are moments where it drags. Episode six feels like padding until the climax, while the Thals are just not very interesting, a problem that will continue whenever they turn up in later years. It makes you want a story that was just the TARDIS crew fighting the Daleks, but alas.
However, what makes this serial work as well as it does, actually isn't the story at all, it's in the way it's made. It always looks polished and professional (even if you do have to look past the life-sized photos of Daleks in the background) and is gifted with one of the most memorable soundscapes of the series. The alien buzzing of the Dalek ship, the silence of the petrified forest, a whirlpool that seems to scream out in terror, it's a story meant to be heard as much as it is seen.
Almost immediately after their first appearance, the Daleks were a hit, imitated in playgrounds all over Britain. Forever afterwards, the words Doctor Who and Dalek would be inextricably linked, the popularity of one tied to that of the other. We fans wouldn't have it any other way, especially when this entertaining, terrifying slice of science fiction exists with not a stairway in sight.
Next time: The crew are trapped in the TARDIS and everyone goes a bit mad in one of the strangest Doctor Who stories ever!David Gumball-Watson
Love and thanks,
Love and thanks,