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Doctor Who: The Daleks (TV Serial B)

Blurb: The TARDIS lands in an alien, petrified jungle, beyond which is a mysterious, deserted city. The Doctor insists on exploring, but before long the crew begins experiencing the early effects of radiation poisoning. Soon they discover that the metal city isn't as deserted as they first thought. The Doctor is about to have his first meeting with the Daleks!

Format: Television drama transmitted from December 21, 1963 - February 1, 1964. Released on DVD as part of The Beginning box set, published March 28, 2006.

Setting: A jungle, swamp, and city on the planet Skaro, time unknown. Several guidebooks have suggested a date of 2263. The only real requirement is that by 2540 that the Thals consider this to be a legend (see Planet of the Daleks). The 2263 date comes from the original script suggesting that this occurs in the 23rd century and the convention on the program at the time that the last two numbers of the year would be the same as the year that it was made. Really, though, any date from about 1800-2300 would work here.

Continuity: Ian begins referring to the pilot of the TARDIS as "the Doctor" in this story as if that is his name rather than ever pressing the matter once the Doctor questioned calling him Dr Foreman (see An Unearthly Child). We're told here that the Daleks were once called "Dals" and fought a war with the Thals that devastated their world. The Dals are described as scientists and philosophers but the Thals were once warriors. This is massively contradicted by Genesis of the Daleks and would appear to indicate that the Thals' oral history has confused many details of the original story. Similarly the Daleks seen here would appear to have never left Skaro as they are far more limited (can't leave the city as their machines draw power from the floor) and they are completely destroyed at the end of the story. The Doctor claims that he was a pioneer among his own people as if he were one of the first ones of his race to travel in time, but this is contradicted by later stories (see The Three Doctors or The Deadly Assassin). However, there may be a further explanation for why this may not be entirely inaccurate (see Remembrance of the Daleks and Lungbarrow). Susan suggests that if the TARDIS key is not inserted properly than the whole lock will melt. While this would seem to be a safety precaution this has never happened to anyone who has ever used the TARDIS key (the Doctor made it up as a warning so that Susan would never be tricked into giving the key to someone else?).

DVD: Once again as part of the beginning set we appear to have bare-bones extras. Only a few episodes received commentary and there was one extra on the making of The Daleks, the creatures rather than the story.

Discussion: One thing that just about everyone associates with Doctor is the Daleks. Well actually that isn't true. Most Americans who became familiar with the show from PBS stations that only showed Tom Baker's run probably wouldn't consider the Daleks that big of a deal. They were only in two stories. Yet for most of the British public and people who came in since the new series which uses the Daleks every year the Daleks are the Doctor Who villain and this is the story that introduces them.

The first thing that I noticed about this story was the structure. For a 7-parter it doesn't drag, which is a fairly rare occurrence. These early stories allowed room for the characters to actually explore a new environment and episode one only features the regulars as they explore the petrified jungle that they find immediately upon landing and the apparently abandoned city. Episodes 2-4 introduce us the dangers of the world as we have problems from within and without - dealing with radiation and learning of the two races on the planet the Thals and the Daleks. The intentions of these two groups becomes the focus of these episodes. Finally, we have episodes 5-7 where the Thals have to be convinced that pacifism isn't always the answer and the plans are made for the assault on the city. The varying developments help to keep things fresh and it helps that the script is written as if this is but one story in a larger world. Many comparisons have been made to Tolkien in that regard and it can't be denied that the ending attack plan - a small group comes from an unexpected road up to a mountain to take the enemy out of action while a larger force fights a more obvious frontal assault that is doomed to fail - seems very very much like Return of the King.

The plot also owes a lot of its legacy to the works of H.G. Wells. An obvious reference is The Time Machine where in the far future the protagonist finds a race of beautiful people living idly, while the grotesque Morlocks prey upon them. Yet, another source of inspiration is War of the Worlds where the aliens live inside their giant casings and would die if they are exposed to the outside air. The viewer likely won't notice these as he's watching unless you've read this review first, which is part of the strength of the story. It plays on a lot of these primal archetypes without becoming to similar and by mixing matching the elements to form a greater whole.

Beyond the plot, a lot of the success of the Daleks relies on those behind the scenes who contributed to the story. Foremost of these would be Ray Cusick who actually designed the Dalek shell. Terry Nation just wrote a description that the Daleks would have to glide around without actually being seen to move legs. It was important for Nation and the producers of Doctor Who that it didn't imitate the B-movies of the day with monsters that were obviously just men in a suit. The Daleks had to really seem to be alien in a way that hadn't been done before. Cusick designed the creatures that we know today. They instantly became a hit among children and its easy to see why. The creatures lack anything that would it a human feature. They are completely expressionless. Even Cybermen have a facial expression even if its only locked into one state. The Daleks' very form makes it difficult to have empathy for them as we have no point of commonality and its this simple aesthetic that makes them so creepy and appealing at the same time.

We have some great effects in this story. We have the "Dalek-cam" that shows up a few times and allows us to see through a Dalek's eye. But to me the real standout scene is when the Daleks fire at Ian and he ducks behind a wall that this really neat effect is made to show an outer layer of the wall peeling away as if from blaster fire. The swamp is also realized well and while the strange vortex that seems to such an entire body in even though just your toe is in the water doesn't work the creature that inflates up in the swamp looks suitably nasty. There's also our one glimpse of the Dalek outside of the casing. It doesn't seem like much now when we've seen Dalek mutants a million times but when it was your only glimpse of a Dalek's insides for 20 years this became an iconic moment in the TV series. There's also the really cool scene where the daleks show up with a cutting torch to go through a door, showing that their arm attachments are modular and can be changed. Unfortunately we don't see any other cool attachments for a long, long time to come.

I should point out that Tristam Cary's musical score is cutting edge. He was a musician who pioneered the use of sampling with synthesizers and thus making every day sounds into music by distorting them. Even now when listening to this one it holds up as a form of music even if the technology is better today and it provides an alien sound for Skaro.

The other real standout work here comes from Brian Hodgson of the BBC radiophonic workshop. He created the sound for the Dalek voices, which is probably the other reason why they're so successful. The Daleks sound like a parody of a human being. They sound harsh and register little emotion in their voices except for panic. That goes back to the lack of empathy that I mentioned before. The Daleks are harsh and mechanical in their sound, which makes them very provocative in both good and bad ways.

There are two other neat concepts at play here. The Daleks have a basic motivation. As Ian puts it they have a "dislike for the unlike". It's childish and stupid as Ian admits himself but at the same time its a real source of conflict that's plagued humanity since it's beginning. They want to kill the Thals because they're different and that scares them. The Daleks may not be relatable to us in the specific sense but their basic motivation is something that we can understand and be suitably revolted by, so we become more resolved as viewers when anyone takes a stand to fight them and their bigotry. Its the same reason why Nazis make the perfect villains in any story. Their goals are just so evil that you don't hold back any reserves of conscience for them when the heroes have to fight them. It's not for nothing that many people have drawn comparisons between the Daleks and Dalek imagery with the Nazis...

The other really neat idea is that they didn't just make the Daleks into robots, which would have been an easy thing to do. Instead they're little mutated creatures basically moving around in a small tank. Yet the fact that they have to live their lives within a bubble drives them almost mad with claustrophobia. They can't directly control their environment and have to do everything by proxy of the machine and at the same time the walls of the machine are ever around them, explaining their paranoid, panicked responses in many occasions.

As I watched this I also enjoyed the interplay between the characters. I really like the interaction between the Doctor, Ian, and Susan when they discover that the planet has dangerous levels of radiation but they haven't yet found Barbara. It's part of the further development of the Doctor and his desire to see them safely back to the ship whether or not they can find Barbara is part of that grumpy old man image he's lumbered with in the first few episodes. The debates between Temmosus and Alydon are great. You can see why Temmosus was such a beloved leader and you his philosophy towards life is compelling (don't struggle against the inevitable but question whether what you think is truly inevitable). It all hits home when Alydon becomes the leader that the weight of deciding how things are to be done falls on his now and he has to weigh how Temmosus' way didn't work with the fears that his history has sown within their race for generations. I also really like the stuff between Ian and Alydon at the beginning of episode 5. The examination of whether or not it's right to fight is a good one and the disagreements between the four regulars informs you a lot of their characters. Ian's resolution and how he convinces Alydon to stand up and fight is perfect as it relies on something so visceral that you can easily see how it could happen. Elyon's fatalism and his eventual death just isn't the kind of thing that you see in adventure fair today where he'd have a happy ending and be cured of his fears. It's very telling that the movie adaptation of this story with Peter Cushing removed his death from the script. Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the glee that the Doctor takes in the petty vandalism and sabotage that the Doctor does in the city in this story. It's part of why I love him so much. At times he just reminds you of Yoda - a grumpy old man but who also sometimes acts like a mischievous child. It's not wonder that kids loved him. He was a grandpa who was on "their" side.

There are problems with the story. The scene of Susan running through the jungle isn't as bad as many make it out but it is obvious in a couple of places that she's just running in place while someone moves the backdrop behind her and she's with sticks from off camera. The Dalek mutant is tiny enough that it can be wrapped up in a coat but Ian can fit inside the Dalek and the controls are easy enough that he can work them out and use them. How does that work? Also it seems odd that Daleks don't have any form of internal radio in their suits, so that Ian is able to fool the guards with his Dalek disguise. Ian gets out of a suit that is supposedly magnetized so that the head can't be opened nor can it move. It happens offscreen so how did that work? Why can the Daleks stop a rogue machine from moving but they can't halt the elevators? Why in the world does Ian wait for Temmosus to finish his speech before warning him of the trap. He might have been able to get away if the Daleks hadn't had the time to get into position. How do the Daleks do maintenance on their pipeline if they can't leave the city? There's a huge photo of more Daleks in the Dalek control room. You'd think its there to imply that more Daleks are in the room then the 4 that they made for the show, but the angle and sense of perspective are so wrong that it never conveys that idea. It's obvious that it's just a picture. Was this done intentionally and if so what is the implication? Are these some form of Dalek founding fathers or were they really so strapped for time that they used an image that obviously didn't work? Personally I'd have just gone with a blank wall and four Daleks. These questions are all raised by the story but not answered and its a shame because this story could have been perfect if they'd just had a little time to develop their ideas further.

Final Rating: 8/10

Recommendation: A great start to the Daleks and a great second story for the series. After the Doctor's nastiness gets them into trouble the regulars begin to gel here. We've got a great enemy and a neat world to fight them in. Everyone working on it is giving it their all and even inventing new techniques to make it great and thankfully the script plays on primal story archetypes while also varying things up enough to hold interest. It's a great story and is definitely worth a watch.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Michael Poteet
Feb. 26th, 2014 02:35 pm (UTC)
The Doctor as Yoda
What a great comparison! I like it!

While I do think this serial drags a bit around episodes 5 and 6, I also like it a lot, for all the reasons you mention. When I finally saw the Peter Cushing version, I noted, too, how the one Thal's "death" had been rewritten, and really regretted that change. His fear, as a counterpoint to the Daleks' fear, gave the story some real texture.
Feb. 28th, 2014 11:24 pm (UTC)
Re: The Doctor as Yoda
I'm actually surprised that more people haven't made that comparison. To me just watching the two stories it seems so obvious that they're going for the same thing. Both characters are impossibly old and impossibly wise, but they also have a childlike quality. The Princess Joanna says it best when she says that the Doctor seems older than the sky but that there is also something new in him. It's part of the reason why Hartnell is in my top 3 Doctors.

I also don't like that the Cushing film watered down that particular scene. I don't think that they should have had the "jumping the chasm" bit at all if it wasn't going to result in a death. It just made the whole thing meaningless. I definitely think that despite its length and monochrome nature that The Daleks is a far more hard hitting story because of its uncompromising nature. You really feel like the regulars have been through hell.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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