The Dalek Invasion of Earth
Dr. Who & The Daleks
Doctor Who in an exciting adventure with the Daleks
aka. "The Mutants" and "The Dead Planet"
|Dates||Dec. 21, 1963 -
Feb. 1, 1964
William Hartnell, William Russell,
Jacqueline Hill, Carole Ann Ford.
Written by Terry Nation. Script-edited by David Whitaker.
Directed by Christopher Barry and Richard Martin.
Associate Producer: Mervyn Pinfield. Produced by Verity Lambert.
|Synopsis: The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan encounter the malevolent survivors of a nuclear holocaust, who are destined to become the Doctor's greatest enemy...|
A Review by Jeff Sims 26/4/97
This is the original Dalek story, the one which made Doctor Who a hit. A hideous race of murderous mutants dwell in an ancient, sterile city on a dead planet blasted by atomic war. They are only able to live inside mobile mechanical cases. Their enemies of long ago, the Thals, are now a beautiful, peaceful people, struggling to survive, whom the Daleks have marked for extermination. The Doctor and company get involved, eventually joining forces with the Thals to destroy the Daleks and save what is left of the planet.
This show has good and bad points. On the plus side, the stage is well set: the city is convincingly realized, and some of the scenes in the petrified forest, the swamp, and the tunnel are ably handled. The plot is a good one, and the Daleks are fantastic. On the minus side, the story is extremely slow-paced in parts, talky even by Who standards. The companions must carry the plot more than usual, because the Doctor-- who is still in his cranky period-- is comatose early on. While he pitches in later with some good ideas, Ian is really the star of the show.
A Review by Leo Vance 14/1/98
The Daleks is a story that undoubtedly kick-started Doctor Who's success from a 6-7 million viewer program to one with over 9 million. It has a lot going for it: the Daleks are excellent baddies; William Hartnell puts in another tour de force as the Doctor; the Thals are pretty well written; the sets and direction are all good.
Against this, however, is the fact that except for the first and seventh episodes, it is unutterably slow and boring. Here and there it gets better (the escape from the city in a Dalek; the scenes where they force the Thals to fight) but generally, it is a terribly slow tale (as mentioned in Jeff Sims' review).
Terry Nation leaves the Doctor out of the script far too much, and though William Russell tries hard, he cannot fill the gap and is less effective than in An Unearthly Child. Jacqueline Hill is given a truly rotten part to play, and actually makes it okay with a great effort. Carole Ann Ford is average in her portrayal of Susan.
The lovey-dovey subplot involving Barbara is just badly written as is most of this seven part script. Generally, a poor story held up from disaster by some good performances. 5/10
A Review by Joseph Nunweek 29/3/98
Fans have seemed to take a turn towards slamming many of the stories that have been long regarded as classics-- and one of the stories that has suffered most from this is The Daleks. Yes, the story which made Doctor Who a hit is now considered slow, talky and poorly written. Why?
For a start, almost anyone who watches the the two videos that the story was released on in one two-and-a-half hour slog will get bored. And that's because The Daleks was not made to be taken all at once. It was designed as an epic adventure screened in seven half-hour blocks. If you watched your tape over seven days, you wouldn't notice the excess padding.
Talky? Maybe, but it certainly didn't get as bad as a talky episode of Star Trek. The Thals are actually very good, the first well developed aliens on the show, especially Kristas and Antodus. As usual, the original TARDIS crew proves itself to be the best: there is genuine conflict and character interaction between them and they are all fantastic. The Daleks are great in their first appearance. They are not yet the psychotic galactic conquerers, but seem much more rational and scheming then they became in later stories.
In conclusion, The Daleks is intriguing, well-acted, and fun. Don't take my word for, it but do get it out from a rental store (most places don't sell it anymore) and see why Doctor Who became such a hit.
A Legend is Born by Michael Hickerson 2/4/98
Imagine for a moment what Doctor Who would be without this story.
Pretty much a distant memory of a pretty good historical drama series that lasted for a few weeks in the early 60's and then went the way of the dodo.
Because, let's face it, without The Daleks (or The Mutants or The Dead Planet or whatever you want to all it!), we wouldn't have such controversies over what to call the Hartnell serials, much less have had the show survive 26 glorious seasons. So, Doctor Who owes a lot to this seven part story.
But in considering the relative merit of the story beyond its historical significance, just how does the Daleks measure up today?
The answer is that it does pretty darn good.
The Daleks is one of the few longer Hartnell stories that I can watch without feeling as though the production stuff is needless stretching the plot-threads to make it longer. Part of this is because it's really two interesting stories with arching theme. Parts one through four are concerned with introducing the Daleks and the escape from the city, while parts five through seven show us how the TARDIS crew and the Thals must fight their way back in and overthrow the Daleks. Joined together by one of the more memorable Hartnell cliffhangers ("It's down there somewhere--in the city.") it works well.
The story as a whole is filled with rather memorable cliffhangers-- the most famous, of course, being Barbara's first encounter with the Daleks. If you cast yourself back to 1963 and forget that you know what's on the other end of that plunger, you can see why this cliffhanger is part of the collective psyche that surrounds Doctor Who.
But beyond just being a good story, the Daleks gives us some great performances. It's easy to see why Verity Lambert and company chose William Hartnell to be the Doctor in this story. The Doctor has yet to mellow out into his kinder, more grandfatherly figure of later stories, and still has a bit of his anti-hero edge, which Hartnell plays up to great heights. He makes the first Doctor a force to reckoned with and shows just how far he'll got to get his own way.
There's also still a lot of tension among the TARDIS crew -- mistrust and suspicion is abundent. Some of the scenes among the TARDIS crew go along way toward showing why the first set of travelling companions are among the strongest and best the show has seen. The greater length of the story gives us some moments for character development here as we see the beginnings of the friendships forming within the TARDIS.
So, for those of us who say the Hartnell years are dull and tedious, I say look again The Daleks. You will see not only a pivotal moement in the show's history but a great story.
One of the Greatest by Daniel Callahan 10/9/98
When Terry Nation was given the brief on the new children's series called Doctor Who, his first reaction was: "There's no way this show can succeed!" And he was right: it didn't.
While Sydney Newman is given kudos and credit for originating the idea of Doctor Who, his original conception of a semi-educational program filled with real science fact and two (bloody) school-teachers (for crying out loud) remains just as doomed a concept today as it ever was. His greatest story contribution turned into Planet of Giants, remembered only for being three episodes (because the rest is so forgettable). At least Newman didn't decide to populate the TARDIS with an English and Physical Education teacher, solving grammar and bad posture problems as they traveled the galaxy....
It was Verity Lambert and David Whitaker who initially helped save the program from the dregs of bad television by insisting on a realism and professionalism that puts many programs even today to shame. (Compare those early sets to those in this week's Babylon 5... given the time and money spent on each, there's no question which is superior). But for all their effort, it took Terry Nation to really break the mould with The Daleks.
And in its episodic form, divided into the two halves of the story on the video release, this story can be seen in its best light. When a new idea grabbed him, Terry Nation wrote at his peak. Witness the human resistance fighters in The Dalek Invasion of Earth or, better yet, Davros in Genesis. In contrast, his two stories from the Pertwee era were written for the money. In these later stories, his metal creations lack that evil quality that sparks their debut. The Daleks presents villains unburdened by Nazi ideology or cliched threats. Their evil isn't a diabolical fit of nastiness but something more concrete: pure hatred combined with a will to destroy. And Nation carries that simple idea to its logical conclusion, creating half the reason for these popular monsters (with Cyril Cusick, the Dalek's designer, providing the other half).
The cast performs splendidly with what, to them, were actors sitting inside wooden monsters. Hartnell, finally given something to oppose besides his own companions, reacts with believable fear and determination. Ian (Russell) and Barbara (Hill) display their acting prowess (with Russell doing his best to out-act Hartnell), and even Susan (Ford) is less annoying than usual. The Thals range from not-bad to excellent. If only modern American television could procure this kind of acting.
Because the production team and cast merely attempt to present a solid, effective story, the potentially heavy drama doesn't sink under the weight of its own seriousness, as in many cases from JNT's last seasons. Without attempting to add a heavy dose of myth, and perhaps because of this, The Daleks succeeds in providing a blueprint for every other Doctor Who monster for then next twenty-odd seasons.
Of course, The Daleks isn't perfect. But I don't buy into the trend to trash any story with the slightest imperfection. Citizen Kane, often hailed as the greatest motion picture ever made, drags towards the end. And Casablanca is mildly racist and melodramatic. Point being: despite some padded moments and awkward fight scenes, The Daleks (along with Power, Evil, and Genesis) deserves its reputation as one of the greatest stories in the Who canon.
After The Daleks, Newman's original concept for Doctor Who, in truth, died. And kudos to him for letting it go.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 5/10/98
Here we have a tale of two halves, the turning point for Doctor Who. Terry Nation`s polished scripts veil a thin veneer about what The Daleks is about: war. (Or as Ian puts it: "a dislike for the unlike".)
On the face of it, the scripts are unremarkable in themselves, basically a tale of good versus evil. Whilst Doctor Who was aimed at children, it doesn`t mean all of the audience were; it actually gets very moralistic and The Daleks is no exception (sometimes even being patronising). The continuing conflict between the four travellers here is what makes the first episodes interesting, the Doctor`s deceit played for all it is worth by William Hartnell.
Upon saying this however, when he realises they have to work together to escape from the Dalek city, we are allowed a glimpse of his softer side. A good deal of interaction is played out between the TARDIS crew, resulting in a more coherent, viewer-friendly show, and of course the innards of a Dalek (although why Ian and The Doctor don`t want Barbara and Susan to see is beyond me, given that The Doctor happily allowed Rachel a look in Remembrance of the Daleks; she was from 1963 too).
Only when the first cliffhanger is revealed, however, do we get a fleeting glimpse of the stars of the show themselves. The Daleks prove you don`t need a man in a costume to create effective monsters, something that is reinforced by their staccatto voices. The first four episodes are the best, full of suspense and drama. It is therefore unfortunate that the final three episodes are somewhat cliched, even resorting to B-movie style plots. The final victory over the Daleks is less than satisfying too, given what the time travellers had to go through previously. Not the best Dalek tale.
A Review by Derek Jackson 27/11/98
The Daleks one of the best Doctor Who stories ever made. My favorite enemies are the Daleks, and they put on one of their best performances in the show's history. This is backed up by the excellent voices of Peter Hawkings and David Graham. Without them, the Daleks wouldn't be as popular as they are today.
The Daleks also has several neat visual effects for the Daleks themselves. One example is the scene in which the Daleks question the Doctor under the bright light. The white spot on their eyesticks dilates in and out as they speak. The flash bulbs on their domes are in perfect synchronization with the dialogue.
As for the Doctor and his companions, they all make a great performance. William Hartnell does his job well as playing a man suffering from radiation sickness. William Russell did a good job as Ian when he challenges the Doctor. The story does have a few poor points though. The story slows down with the Thals and when Ian tries to convince them to fight. On the good side, the visual effects, the Dalek city background noise and the Daleks themselves turned Doctor Who into an overnight success.
In conclusion, I can see why if someone watched this show in 1963 that they would tune in for 30 years. Well done.
Well, It's Got Daleks, But Not Much Else... by Peter Niemeyer 24/12/00
The Daleks themselves are about the only thing this story has going for it. It's a relatively straightforward story, and even when viewed one episode per day, it does suffer from padding in the last three parts. (Is it really necessary to show everyone in the attack party jumping over a chasm one by one?) Had this episode featured the Chumblies, Quarks, or Mechanoids, I doubt it would have faired so well.
But, the Daleks themselves were probably enough back in 1964. I knew about and watched the Daleks long before I saw their premiere episode. So, my familiarity with them has dulled the impact they would have had on a first-time viewer. How ironic that so straightforward a story would arguably elevate Doctor Who from a curious footnote to an entire chapter in BBC history.
One interesting point I have noticed is how the Daleks of 1963 are so similar to the Daleks of 2000. Most villains which last over a long period of time change in some significant ways (Cybermen, the Master, Klingons, Darth Vader) Not true for the Daleks. Their behavior in Remembrance of the Daleks (and in the recent Big Finish audio productions) is basically the same as what we got here. My hat's off to Terry Nation, Ray Cusack, Peter Hawkings and David Graham for inventing something that could so solidly stand the test of time.
One Thing I'd Do Differently: More time spent on the companions. The story had 7 episodes of room, some of which was wasted on the mind-numbing expedition. I wish we could have seen more of Barbara's pseudo-relationship with Antodus, or seen more details about Ian and Susan's reactions to the Daleks and the Thals.
One Thing I Wouldn't Touch: The Doctor's antiheroism. The Doctor manipulates his companions so that he can investigate the Dalek city, something that became unheard of in later years. I think the tension that his attitude created was very interesting and made this series stand apart from many others. I suppose it couldn't have been maintained for long - at least without alienating the viewer - but I did enjoy Hartnell's irrascability while it lasted.
Was it worth retelling another four times? by Tim Roll-Pickering 30/8/01
The first Dalek story holds the record amongst Doctor Who adventures for the number of times it has been retold in one format or another. First there was David Whitaker's novelisation Doctor Who in an exciting adventure with the Daleks (later reissued as Doctor Who and the Daleks), then came the big screen adventure Dr Who and the Daleks, then there was the Dell Comics adaptation of the film and finally in 1973 saw a virtual remake in the form of Planet of the Daleks. The wider impact of the story is hard to underestimate, but the fact that the television series was often called Dr/Doctor Who and the Daleks by the media between 1964 and 1966 (and this title was used for the 30th Anniversary repeats of the aforementioned Planet of the Daleks) goes some way to indicate how much effect it had on the perception of the series.
It's easy to deride the story today for its weaknesses - the usual comment is that it can be distinctly broken in two sections with the first four episodes full of strong science-fiction whilst the last three are padded with B-movie clichés. Whilst there are some parts of the story which could have been cut down, such as much of the journey through the swamp and mountains, even these episodes contain much tension and suspense. The first episode (The Dead Planet) is the most suspenseful of all, and demonstrates how strong the original regulars were by carrying an episode all by themselves, though the Doctor's sabotaging of the TARDIS is a little too blatant for my liking. The famous cliffhanger is one of the best precisely because it doesn't show us everything at once and we are left asking 'What was that?' The other cliffhangers are a mixed bunch, ranging from the literal (episode 6: The Ordeal) to the bland break in the story (episode 3: The Escape, episode 5: The Expedition) to the worrying (episode 2: The Survivors, episode 4: The Ambush, episode 7: The Rescue).
The Survivors answers the initial cliffhanger spectacularly. The Daleks are interestingly designed and a far cry from many of the creatures that had appeared in science-fiction up until now. Even Robbie in Forbidden Planet looks like a man in a suit (albeit a well designed, expensive suit) but the Daleks are so very different. They are also handled well and the viewer is encouraged to wonder, along with the Doctor and companions, whether or not the Daleks are benign rather than marking them clear as villains from the outset. As the story develops through subsequent episodes we see all four regulars used to good effect, with each showing intelligence, cunning and resourcefulness. This helps to make up for the weakness of the Thals, few of whom show much promise despite the clear differences between Alydon, Ganatus and Antodus.
One of the most chilling scenes of all comes towards the end of The Ordeal as the Doctor attempts to reason with the Daleks to show mercy to the Thals. They respond by insisting it is not killing but extermination, as though the Thals are little more than vermin, and then line up with their sucker arms raised. It is highly reminiscent of images from the Third Reich and works well at summing up the message behind the story. The Rescue sees a battle that shows the limitations of the show's budget but doesn't disappoint too much.
Whether the first Daleks story alone built Doctor Who the popular following that sustained it for so long is a debatable historical topic that could be argued for years. But the popular impact of the Daleks themselves is difficult to deny and for that this story has gained its reputation. It is a good story in itself, replete with good design (particularly the Dalek city which does actually look and feel like it was built by Daleks rather than humans) and direction helping to make up for weaknesses in the acting and writing. That it should have been retold on so many occasions is understandable but there are other stories that deserve to be retold in some form other than a straightforward faithful novelisation of the camera scripts. 8/10
Alien TV by Andrew Wixon 7/9/01
Watching this serial again right after An Unearthly Child I got an odd sense of deja vu - hardly surprising, given the number of different versions of the story that have percolated into the fan consciousness. The TV version is arguably less well-known than David Whitaker's superlative novelisation and the rather less than superlative movie version with Cushing and company - when I think of this story, inevitably things like lorry crashes on Barnes Common and Roberta Tovey seep into my brain. No, the deja vu I felt was from the story immediately preceding this one.
The TARDIS lands in a barren, near-lifeless wasteland. The regular cast encounters a tribe on the verge of extinction. Ferocious animal life lurks in the only fertile region nearby (whether it be a swamp or forest). The similarities go further than that - there's a night-time chat between Alydon and Dyoni here startlingly reminiscent of one between Za and Hur only a few episodes ago. Carole Ann Ford runs on the spot while jungle vegetation is pulled past her head again in episode two. The only thing that really distinguishes this story from its' predecessor is the presence of the Daleks.
But this is Doctor Who made before the name meant anything and these are the Daleks written and created before the advent of their legend. Not the megalomaniac Nazis they have famously come to symbolise (indeed the only ideological element as such in the story comes from the alarmingly Aryan look of the Thals themselves), but an intelligent and paranoid race primarily concerned with their own survival and literally unable to coexist alongside the Thals (unsurprisingly the Daleks' need for an irradiated atmosphere in order to survive was quietly forgotten about by both the production team and fandom).
The Daleks are the programme's first monsters and it's fascinating to begin to see the rest of the show's formula slide into focus alongside them. Episode four even contains the very first 'run up and down the corridors' sequence. The Doctor has already mellowed from his debut, though he's still selfish and devious. (The whole morality of the TARDIS crews' persuasion of the Thals to fight with them is deeply suspect given that as far as they know the Thals are in no direct danger from the Daleks.) Ian is still very much the male lead with the Doctor a brilliant but erratic presence in the TARDIS crew rather than the dominant figure of later years.
It's surprising, when watching the story now, to see just how much of the drama is propelled by conflicts within the group of four regulars - not the aimless bickering of the early 80s, but serious, character-driven debate. Each of the four has their own believable agenda - the Doctor is insatiably curious, Barbara just wants to get home, Ian shares this goal but is also aware of the travellers' moral responsibilities. All the regulars shine here with the exception of Susan who turns into a screaming hyperactive moppet about half way through.
The script similarly undergoes a bit of a metamorphosis. The first half is gripping and thoughtful once you get used to the standard, rather stately, B&W pace. But the second half contains rather too much diddling about in the Lake of Mutations and the Caves of Cardboard - most of episode six is surplus to requirements. Things pick up in the concluding episode, although the exact cause of the Daleks' defeat is never really explained.
The production values are uniformly solid with a few standout contributions. The City is a masterpiece of design, both inside and out - the model version is superb. Tristram Cary's incidental score is an arresting concoction of rippling chords, hums, and bongs and only emphasises the alien-ness of the setting. Then there are the Daleks themselves - there'd been nothing remotely like them before and their effect on the unsuspecting audience is not surprising. And watching this story now you are aware that there is nothing remotely like this on TV today. Divorced from both their past and future, the Daleks remain, a totally alien presence on the screen. The ultimate destroyers, here helping to forge a legend.
A Review by Alan Thomas 31/10/01
The Daleks' popularity is kept mainly due to the first appearance of the Daleks. The story itself starts off quite promisingly. With the TARDIS landing on a seemingly dead planet, the crew begin to suffer from radiation poisoning.
A great deal of characterisation is evident in the first two episodes. The Doctor's lie about the fluid link being damaged shows the pig-headed and highly arrogant character of the first Doctor, who would mellow as the series progressed. Ian and Barbara are devestated by the realisation that they may never get home, and Susan must rush back to the TARDIS to find the anti-radiation gloves... sorry, I mean 'drugs'.
The Daleks themselves are highly impressive in their simplicity. They are creatures made entirely of hate. Unlike the Cybermen, the Daleks do have emotions, although largely negative. The Thals, by contrast, are rather bland. Terry Nation tries to make them look interesting, but they just turn out to be faceless.
With hindsight, we are indeed fortunate that this story did not end as originally intended.
All in all, a highly effective (and important) adventure.
A Review by Rob Matthews 16/5/02
You know, there are a lot of contenders for the title but really this is the Doctor Who story. Accept no imitations (and by that I mean, don't watch the inferior Peter Cushing movie).
The Dead Planet Mutants Daleks or whatever it's called remains a shining example of the show's ability to do a lot with very little. It has a larger-scale feel and arguably more ambition than the show would display in later years, and it's convincing throughout.
Slow? Padded? Not as much so as we tend to think. Just watch it one or two episodes at a time and remember there weren't any video recorders around back then. Keeping the TARDIS crew from the city until the end of episode one helps heighten tension - the same trick was used decades later in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. Meanwhile the foreboding bass hum accompanying long shots of the dormant city conditions us to see it as an eerie hybrid of the House of Usher and The Jetsons. All it needs is a shifty Thal coachdriver to mutter "Oo arr! I don't see naw city!"
Remember Caves of Androzani? That classic story where the Doctor and his companion arrive on a barren planet and immediately develop a fatal illness? Well it happens here too, in the opening episodes. And thanks to the acting of the three protagonists (hindered only by that of the whinging brat), its convincing and harrowing. These people are dying and it's awful.
Remember the line 'They hate each other's chromosomes' from Remembrance? Not quite as succinct as 'a dislike for the unlike' - a neat phrase which must encapsulate the attitude of every really memorable Doctor Who villain. Far more than the previous story this establishes the moral tone of a show born less than two decades after the end of WWII.
Here's a production, too, where the set designer has actually read the script and looked at the beings who live in this city - the corridors are Dalek-shaped, the ceilings too low for people to go anywhere without stooping. Compare this to the Peter Cushing movie - okay, nice revolving control panel but the corridors look like part of some gaudy department store.
Despite the smallness of the interior sets and their wonky-perspective backdrops, a sense of scale is conveyed in two ways; physically, by the sound effects - the windy sound of the forests and plains, and the claustrophobic yet sprawling singing echo of the Dalek city. I've commented before on the improvement in atmospheric sound effects in the show's final seasons, but actually they were just resurrecting and polishing up a skill that was well-established here and was later - well, not forgotten about, but less widely used.
Also there's a surprisingly good special effects shot, the effective composite in episode one, where the Doctor & co first view the city. That one shot is really all you need and, again, it's far better than the single wall which represented the city in the movie.
The other kind of scale evoked is that of Skaroine (I love that word!) history, the unfolding backstory in the script itself - the gradual revelation of the two main races left on this 'dead planet', the apparently rather rapid evolution of the two races from the 'Thals and the Dals', the neutron war and the Dalek dependency on radiation. The lake of mutants may seem blatant monster-padding but it does help map out the irradiated landscape of Skaro beyond a forest encampment and a tin city.
And all that pottering around in unconvincing caves in the latter episodes is in fact brilliant. At the time it wasn't yet a Doctor Who cliche, and it neatly demonstrates that it's not all that easy to mount a full-scale attack on the Daleks. The battle in episode seven isn't especially convincing, and that just makes it all the more important for us to have seen that it was no cakewalk for the Thals to actually get there to take part in it. It's like turning two drawbacks into a positive. The struggle isn't in the actual scuffle with the Daleks, instead it's in reaching them.
There's real moral ambiguity in this story, the type the Virgin books did so well so many years later, and the benefit of a slowed-down story is that we have enough time for contemplation during rather than afterwards. The main aim of the Doctor and his companions in getting the Thals to fight back against the Daleks is to retrieve that fluid link. Ian in particular tries to get around the moral problem by, as Barbara puts it, 'playing with words', by making sure that the Thals are in fact defending themselves. But the fact is that half an hour before he was as ready as the Doctor to piss off in the TARDIS and leave the Thals to it. There's not even any apparent immediate threat - neither the Thals nor the Doctor and his companions know about the Dalek's plan to explode another neutron bomb. It's just a happy coincidence which makes our heroes seem justified at the last minute.
It's been said that this is really Ian's story, and in a way that's true. The Doctor's companions were never more proactive, more equal partners in the Doctor's intergalactic shenanigans than they were in the first season. They were just normal people thrown about the universe into dangerous situations. When I first saw this story it was my introduction to Ian and Barbara and I didn't much like them; here they were with all of time and space to explore and all Barbara could do was hug herself and moan about not being able to go back to Shoreditch and be a schoolteacher (personally I'd rather face fascist cyborgs than schoolkids). But the important difference between the pedagogic duo and a whiner like Peri is the element of choice - they didn't leave home voluntarily, they were kidnapped. Plus the Doctor can't properly pilot the TARDIS here so there's a genuine fear of never seeing their home again. Barbara's 'a very unwilling adventurer', and why shouldn't she be?
To slag off the Peter Cushing movie once more for good measure, I'd point out that the large part of this tension is completely dissipated there because the Doctor's a loveable grandad, Ian is a completely useless prat who TV Ian could run rings around, and Barbara is a mobile bouffant. And they're only one journey away from their cosy bungalow in Crouchend.
The only place where the movie has an edge over the TV version is in its portrayal of Susan. Which isn't exactly a triumph but at least there there's a good reason for her acting like a silly little girl - she is one. Plus Roberta-Tovey-Susan volunteers to go back to the forest alone rather than gutlessly blubbering to Ian about how she's frightened while a bloke she's meant to love lies dying two feet away. I just can't stand Susan. I think I might even like Adric better than I like her. At least he had the cajones to stow away in the TARDIS. She's just absolutely hopeless.
Despite the centrality of the companions, this is an essential Doctor story too - you might even say it's the one where he first becomes the Doctor as we know him. He goes from callous scientific interest at the beginning (Ian- 'How do they use their intelligence? What form does it take?'...Doctor- 'Oh, as if that matters!') to desperately bargaining with the Daleks for the Thals' lives - even going so far as to offer them a duplicate of his TARDIS, which would be an incredibly reckless thing to do. "This senseless, evil killing!' is a superbly delivered line. A hero is born.
There are drawbacks to the adventure. Susan, as I say, is one. Then there's the bimbo Thal gal, a typical sixties helpless female hiding under her fringe. But the Thals aren't as bland as they might have been; the cowardly one isn't just a craven little git, his fear is understandable and his actions and fate show that our heroes' actions do have grave consequences as well as happy ones. The guy who fancies Barbara ('I think he's called Ganatus?') helpfully demonstrates that the Thals have a bit of spunk to them too.
The Daleks having a sculpture lying around (in the lift shaft scene) is very out of character, unless it's really a functional alien artefact. The TARDIS being unable to produce mercury doesn't ring true now but maybe it did then. Those are just minor nitpicks though. Doctor Who didn't sustain this level of ambition and character development throughout the larger part of its run on TV. I watched this in a week when I'm on tenterhooks waiting for Attack of the Clones and it still works superbly.
Divided opinions... by Joe Ford 24/9/03
Way-hey! We've got a basic core audience of about 5-6 million, that's great, at least we haven't alienated the public entirely! What we need now is to capitalise on that success, to add a new dangerous, futuristic element to really draw the viewers on. Get your thinking caps on lads...
The producers of our fine show certainly did think out this first season well. With this second story they had already shown just how diverse the show would be. Whilst the first episode is quite similar to the first episode of An Unearthly Child (set mostly in the TARDIS, getting to grips with the characters) the rest of the story is so different from the first it is astonishing to think it is made by the same people.
I love the first episode, it is a typical example of television of the time. It is in no hurry to get to the main story, content to flesh out the characters. This is a period in the show where the regulars are just as important as the monsters and a lot of time and energy goes into making them as real as possible. It is haunting to watch as Ian and Barbara walk out into the petrified jungle and realise they are on another world, their desire to return home is as strong as ever. There is a real sense of the dysfinctional family unit, they are held together by the fact that there is nobody else, they are on their own and have to co-operate to survive.
All the scenes in the TARDIS work only to strengthen the bond between them. Barbara helping Susan to recover from her shock, Ian trying to discover where they are, the intimate scene around the food machine when the two teachers are introduced to a marvel of the future. Things are still atagonistic betwen the four of them but you can see the beginings of friendship emerging. Hartnell has softened his Doctor a little, he is still verbally abusive and selfish but is a little warmer in this dangerous enviroment.
It's all scene setting of course and the FX shot of the city imposed onto the regulars at the end of the forest is wonderful, both technically and in unnerving the viewer. In this petrified world what on earth is this gleaming, seemingly perfect city doing here? You know as soon as the Doctor tricks them all into a visit things are going to get very bad indeed. A shot of the city punctuated by some eerie music as they make their way towards is extremely menacing. It captures the feeling of the unknown, of what terrors are lurking beneath better than any other Doctor Who story.
Designed to the hilt to suggest humans do not reside inside, the city is a superb and frightening location. I love the curved doorways and electronic eyes, little gestures that aliens live here and they are watching. Tense scenes of Barbara trapped inside wouldn't work half as well without the build up. I think the black and white style helps but it also looks hugely expensive. A simple shot of a lift going down looks very convincing. And suddenly we're at that perfect cliff-hanger, Babs pinned to the wall in terror as a strange alien arm moves closer. Blank out as she screams hysterically... wonderful and perfect at securing a larger audience next week.
Ian and the Doctor are still not getting on. They are both feeling ill and the cramped setting is appealing to their paranoia. On discovering a geiger counter they hit what is perhaps their most vicious debate. "Abuse me all you like Chesterton!" he exclaims just before suggesting he will leave and abandon Barbara. Not quite Dr giggles yet then...
Strange metallic beings, sharp sticks and bumps, eyes stalks swivelling to watch. Pulsing lights... it is easy to see why the Daleks captured the public so quickly. They look fabulous, the lighting is so good they positively glow and such a groovy, inhuman design. They do not register as anything anybody would have seen before they just demand your attention. Not only that but Terry Nation injects them with a real sense of menace, shooting down Ian for trying to run, locking them into a cell. I just love the way their eye lense grows and shrinks, very creepy.
The plot thickens as we find out a little about our surroundings. Nuclear war, two factions fighting to the death, horrible mutations... it's all fascinating stuff and shockingly adult for a time when Doctor Who's futurisitc stories were childish nonsense, the real meat left to the historicals.
It suddenly becomes a case of survival against a whole new enemy, the scenes of the Doctor and co succumbing to radition poisoning come off really well, the actors have the skill to make us believe the pain they are in. When the Dalek enters and demands someone heads to the TARDIS for the drug it is so tense because you know it has to be Susan (useless as she is). Her journey back to the TARDIS is suitably scary with lots of bangs and flashes and alien noises pervading the dead forest. And what about that shot of the lightning glowing throug h the TARDIS roundels! Eerie as shit...
I like then that the story takes another turn, with the introduction of the beautiful Thals we realise just how evil the Daleks truly are and how much danger our troop are in. It's suddenly action adventure all the way as they have to escape from the city and warn the Thals that the Daleks are planning to trap them. The regulars are starting to gel nicely, scenes such as the removal of the eye stick and the trap they set for the Dalek work at treat and show how effective they can be when working together.
And that nasty alien claw makes brilliant cliff-hanger number three!
Chase scenes in Doctor Who are two a penny in later years but this is the first ever attempt. The story has been given a good dose of atmosphere and the frantic corridor wandering and chase up the lift shaft takes on a desperate tone. Ian trapped inside the Dalek as they cut through the door is nail biting stuff! Once they are free we get a perfect demonstration of how cold the Daleks are, they slide menacingly into the shadows as the Thals appraoch the city, heading into their trap. The music in these scenes is excellent. I have to wonder why Ian waits so damn long to warn them since he could easily have saved Temmosous's life but it doesn't detract from a further extremely frightening moment. And dont you just love it when the Dalek turns on Ian and blisters away the wall with its firepower?
Apparantly safe, we are treated to some pleasant scenes in the Thal camp, finding out some more about the heroes and allowing the regulars to take a breather after such hair raising adventures. Subverting our expectations in such an amazing way we genuinely believe the story is over. Such was my excitement during the escape the city scenes I forgot all about the fluid link. Another sterling cliff-hanger, superbly executed.
Atmospheric, exciting, breath-taking stuff, these four episodes more than many other encapsulate everything that Doctor Who can achieve. So much better than the three episodes to come I have decided they deserve a review all of their own.
It's very good for a long time... by David Massingham 6/10/03
Well, An Unearthly Child has just aired, where do we go from here? The obvious answer is "the complete opposite direction", and a good thing too -- if Terry Nation hadn't bunged this little ditty together, where would we all be now? Not reading some wacko Australian's opinions on Doctor Who, that's for sure. In all likelihood, we wouldn't even know what Doctor Who is.
Verity Lambert and co decided that if they are making a show about a time machine that can take its occupants anywhere in the universe, it would be a good idea to not get too bogged down on Earth. The first result of this is The Daleks, a seven part epic which is simultaneously excellent and flawed. But thanks to the efforts of all involved, it just about comes out on top, and ensured the longevity of Doctor Who into the bargain.
One of the things that this story gets right, like its predecessor An Unearthly Child, is the character dynamics of the four leads. The Doctor is particularly well developed, with Nation portraying him as a selfish man who does his best to ensure that his way is the only way. This is displayed beautifully by his deception with the fluid link -- not only does this give an excuse for the story to progress, but we see a bit of the way in which this character's mind works. This scenario aside, however, we do begin to see much of the qualities that we will grow to love about the Doctor. Specifically, his chastising of the Daleks in the later episodes. "Senseless, evil killing", a terrific moment where we see that this character does have morals, that he is someone who could champion the underdog... which of course he goes on to do.
Parts one through four, for the most part, are executed very well. The slow build up to the exploration of the city, the travellers beginning to succumb to the radiation, the introduction of the Thals, and the questionable motivations of the eponymous Daleks; it's all very well done. The major negatives for these episodes is that some of the acting is sub-par -- most notably the horrible Thal woman who's name escapes me, and, more heinously, Susan. She's terrible! I'm discovering the first Doctor's era for the first time, and whilst I'm enjoying Ian, Barbara, and the Doctor immensely, Susan is driving me bonkers. How long til The Dalek Invasion of Earth?
Nonetheless, for the most part the first four episodes are a treat, with the Daleks coming off particularly well. Twenty five more minutes and we would have had a nice, tight serial. But there are three more episodes.
That's a pity.
I've heard the word "padding" in reference to The Daleks, and at the end of part four, I was wondering why. Now that I've seen parts five through seven, I'd imagine that padding was used to describe the waste of time that was the exploration of the swamp and that godforsaken tunnel. Honestly, part six can be described as "walk through caves. Then tunnel. Then jump chasm. Five times". To be fair, the scenes involving the Doctor and Susan being held prisoner by the Daleks are quite chilling and dramatic, plus we do get the aforementioned moral outrage from the Doctor. But it IS padded -- most of part five and six is disposable, a poor attempt to get us to fall for the romance between Barbara and Ganatus(?), whilst presumably attempting to build tension. Quite frankly, it doesn't work.
Part seven is better. Although the eventual overthrown (literally) of the Daleks is a bit naff, the build up is well achieved, especially the sequence where the Dalek's voice counts down to the launch, whilst Ian and Barbara and the Thals sneak into the control room. This said, this final part doesn't quite reach the heights of the first four episodes.
All up, The Daleks succeeds, largely on the strength of its foundations, i.e. the set-up. Unfortunately, a lot of the second half is worthless, but what is good is very good. One more beef, though -- I was waiting for the Daleks to scream "exterminate" all the way up til the end, but it never happened. Sure, we got "exterminated" or somesuch, but it's not quite the same...
Oh well. Maybe next time.
7 out of 10.
Unwilling Adventurers by Jason A. Miller 25/12/03
The Daleks, the second-ever Doctor Who story, is a brilliant example of world building. The TARDIS's first flight away from the Earth is accomplished without flying saucers and without children on board: ground-breaking, for the science fiction of its day. 40 years later, Doctor Who is still traveling through time and space, because The Daleks got there first.
In retrospect, The Daleks is helped by its seven-episode length. Half an hour goes by before we even see a Dalek and an hour before we see a Thal, and those are the first two alien races the show ever gave us. But there's something even better in their place: sets. Even though it's confined to studio, Skaro is a thoroughly alien world. The establishing shots are overexposed, making everything look "white and ashy". There's also a creepy alien corpse and a pristine flower (that, naturally, the Doctor ignores). When we finally get to the Dalek city, the doorways are weird and angular. Tristram Cary's unnerving score further sets the mood.
While Skaro looks more impressive than you'd expect from the story's 1963 vintage, here's a TARDIS crew completely at odds with each other. William Hartnell's Doctor is as selfish as he ever got, sabotaging his own ship just so he can lure the others down to the city. After Ian and Barbara (who calls herself an "unwilling adventurer") demand food, he takes them to his food machine... and doesn't offer them a thing. When he learns that Skaro's air is poisonous, he's ready to run back to the TARDIS and take off... leaving the missing Barbara behind. He's a childish old man, and, thanks to a daring script, is on death's door 20 minutes later.
Although the story takes seven episodes to tell, each individual episode is built entirely around one key concept. Though all of the third episode is devoted to "The Escape", for example (events which in the show's later years could be compressed to eight minutes), it's very carefully done. There's innocence, for example, when no-one realizes that the Daleks are monitoring their cell. The Daleks' interrogation of the Doctor is creepy, as the ailing Doctor is forced to kneel in a pool of harsh white light, with the Daleks willing to let him die since they can't spare anti-radiation drugs.
Once the TARDIS crew escapes, the Thals (withheld from view until the third episode) take over the story. We're told the natural history of Skaro -- a war waged with neutron bombs which ended thousands of years in civilization in a single day. The Dals, the philosopher-kings, became twisted creatures living in metal shells, dependent on static electricity. The warmongering Thals became tall, elegant farmers, whose onscreen presence is even more imposing thanks to shrewd direction -- when Susan meets the story's first Thal, Alydon, he appears to be ten feet tall, until we see he's just standing on a ledge.
The story's moral centerpiece is the debate about pacifism versus non-violence. How far will the Thals go to keep their core values while fighting off the Daleks? The Daleks, merely paranoid in the first episodes (killing the Thals' pacifist leader, wrongly believing him to be a spy), quickly become ruthless when they realize that they'll have to flood Skaro with more radiation in order to survive... even though all the Thals will die. Most of episodes four and five are concerned with Ian's attempts to teach the Thals that "some things are worth preserving". On the flip side of that argument is the Doctor (and a vengeful Barbara), who merely want to turn the Thals into disposable shock troops, so the Doctor can retrieve his lost equipment from the city and leave the Thals to chance. It's a long argument, and a risky one, and, in the end, neither side is right, as the Thals' death toll mounts quickly. However, Ian's plan (stealth and intelligence, not violence) wins the day.
It's been said that the final Doctor Who TV story, 1989's Survival, featured a "harsh" repudiation of Ian's morality. I don't think this a good idea, or even an accurate one. More important by 1989 was the realization that Susan didn't have to be a screaming teen afraid of walking alone outdoors. On the whole, Ian's morality remains intact under today's scrutiny; the Thals would have all died, without it. Even so, we're not meant to applaud Ian's simulated kidnapping of a Thal woman. At any rate, Hartnell's Doctor was not a pacifist, and without the human element of Ian and Barbara, would never have become the hero the series later needed him to be. When the Dalek plan is halted, a dying Dalek approaches the Doctor for mercy: "Stop our power from wasting." His response? "Even if I wanted to, I don't know how."
The story ends with an extended dialogue, as the Thals mourn their dead and the Doctor, a hero at last, offers benedictions (with a grim warning of "other wars to fight"). There aren't too many light moments in the story (apart from the exchange where Ian finally nails the Doctor for getting his last name wrong), but it's all very pleasant at the end, and we even learn a little more about the Doctor's past.
You could believe, from watching The Daleks, that Doctor Who was built to a careful master plan. Each character (even Susan) was allowed room to grow and regress, early on. By the show's third season, the creation process was more haphazard, with things made up as they went along -- witness the Daleks' descent into comedy villains. However, The Daleks, in spite of being only the second show, is quite possibly as good as Doctor Who gets.
A Review by Brian May 27/1/04
Nobody in Who circles would argue the pivotal role this story played in the evolution of the programme. The first genuine science-fiction adventure: the first time viewers were taken to a planet other than Earth and, of course, the first encounter with an alien race. It was the Daleks that catapulted the programme into the public consciousness and ensured its success. The galactic pepperpots became an institution, immediately recognisable and, eventually, a word in the English dictionary.
In hindsight, it all seems rather ironic. How many Doctor Who fans (the sad-act devotees such as us, not "casual" fans) hate the Daleks? They always seem to be rubbished. Maybe it's a case of familiarity breeding contempt, or the fact that many other inventive monsters followed, or maybe the way they were written or portrayed later in the series. Or maybe it's because (for a while, at least) they couldn't climb stairs, after all?
But without the Daleks, Doctor Who may not have lasted so long. And it's their debut story we have to thank. But is the story worthwhile in itself? In the humble opinion of this reviewer, yes. It is a superb story and, strangely enough, the Daleks have little to do with it. They are effective, no doubt about that, but largely incidental in the long run.
The seven episode length is actually quite reasonable (it could have been one shorter, but I'll come to that). The pace of the story, especially the first four episodes, is slow, but necessarily so. Had this been any other period than the first season, the slow build-up we see would never have been acceptable - something that might be lost on fans whose first viewing of this story may have been on video in the 1990s. The TARDIS crew is still inchoate; Ian and Barbara want to return home, the relationship between the schoolteachers and the Doctor is edgy at best. Many things had yet to fall into place and be introduced.
Take the food machine. It's the first time we see it, revealing more about the TARDIS; it produces its own food and drink - for long term travel and living, it's self-contained (so the viewer knows that our adventurers need not worry about subsistence). This machine is rarely referred to in the series' future - it's either ignored or simply taken as a given - but the scene in episode one is essential and the amount of screen time is justifiable.
Parts one to four develop well. The not so rapid pace allows the TARDIS crew to gel a bit more, and allows the Daleks to be introduced in a convincing way. This first part of the story has some genuinely suspenseful moments - overcoming the Dalek in the cell; the escape up the lift shaft while Ian remains trapped in the Dalek shell. A genuine sense of drama is also present. Watch Ian's face after he is paralysed - in the split second after the Dalek informs him of his condition - and before he is told he will recover. The sense of horror that he might never walk again is written all over him, for just that brief moment. The cliffhanger to episode one is another such moment - very famous in Doctor Who circles and rightly so. Viewers had to wait a week for the resolution - to discover what Barbara is facing. But, in an ingenious and (for the viewer) agonising move, the action after the recap shifts straight to the Doctor, Ian and Susan - a whole four minutes of screen time passes before we finally see the Daleks in full. The end of episode two is just as dramatic - Susan hesitates in the safety of the TARDIS, knowing that she must leave it and return to the Dalek city. It's quite haranguing, and actually one of Carole Anne Ford's better moments. (While, of course, William Hartnell, William Russell and Jacqueline Hill shine throughout.)
The only moment that is sloppily realised is the Daleks' ambush on the Thals in episode four. I'm not sure if it's bad editing or not, but there's lots of mistiming and the whole thing is a bit of a mess. But that's a minor complaint - the first four episodes make up an excellent piece of suspense and drama. Slow and ponderous by later Doctor Who standards, but essentially so, as I mentioned already.
It's the second half of the story where the narrative tends to drag a bit. Nevertheless this section still has a lot to offer the viewer. The last three episodes comprise a mini-quest, with the TARDIS crew and Thals venturing to infiltrate the Dalek city, which cleverly parallels the start of the Daleks' own quest - to rid Skaro of the Thal presence. Ian's attempts to motivate the Thals make for some powerful television, with a nice slice of moral ambiguity (his disagreement with Barbara and the Doctor over recruiting the Thals).
The plodding nature of the expedition arises partway through part five. It becomes a series of obstacle courses, some of which work better than others. The climax to this episode with the lake isn't really that gripping (although it works in David Whitaker's novelisation). However the end of part six echoes the tension of the first four episodes, with an excruciatingly nail-biting scene as Ian and Antodus hang on for dear life. And, once again on the negative side, the Doctor's confrontation with the Daleks, and the final battle, are rather insipid. With this degree of hit and miss, the final section of the story is less satisfying than it should be. If it had been scaled down a bit, it would have been more successful - as a six parter it would have been more succinct and better paced.
The minor quibbles with the story are less consequential when the production values are taken into account. The design of the jungle and city are very impressive for the day. The unusual angles of the city walls are eye catching, as is the claustrophobic atmosphere they successfully create. The direction is excellent, although the Thals' costumes leave much to be desired.
On the subject of the Thals, they make a solid impression. All the acting and characterisations are well done (unusually for Doctor Who, there are no cringe-worthy performances). Alan Wheatley as Temmosus is especially noteworthy. They are all believable individuals, from the naïve but passionate Dyoni to the dependable and open-minded Alydon. Even the romantic sub-plot between Ganatus and Barbara is nicely done, free of saccharine. A strong sense of honour exists among these people too: the cowardice of Antodus is concealed by Ganatus and, in a moment of tragic irony, Antodus's self-sacrifice is the bravest thing he could have done.
The Daleks is also a remarkably mature story, especially in its approach to message oriented television (as opposed to pure storytelling), a staple of children's television. Among the tale's concerns are bravery, honour, pacifism, xenophobia and, to a lesser extent, nuclear war. But never does it moralise or patronise - a major failing of the various Star Trek series. Doctor Who never hits its viewers over the head in order to praise human (or Thal) virtue.
The introduction of the Daleks is the most well known aspect of this story. What is more important, however, is its strong establishment of a brave and intelligent programme. 8.5/10
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 28/4/04
If this is the story that really made Doctor Who (and dozens of reliable sources say this is so) then The Daleks must go down as a classic. It introduced, in only the second story, the baddies that would be just as famous as the good Doctor himself. To strike gold so soon has resulted in a legend that has so far lasted nearly 40 years. Regardless what I think of The Daleks then, I have to take my hat off to it - because at the time it caught the imagination of a nation, and started the snowball that is now an avalanche.
Fact is, The Daleks is now 40 years old, and was a product of its 1960s production. It is very difficult then to review it as it was received then. We have had a whole lot more since. And so it is with an early 21st Century perspective that my views are governed, tempered by my liking of a legend.
The first episode shows just why Doctor Who took off and became a success. The TARDIS crew arrive at the titular Dead Planet, the plants are brittle and radiation is all around. There's the early suspicion of the Doctor by Ian and Barbara, justified as he manipulates a way of exploring the city, against Ian's wishes. This battle between the Doctor and Ian is a key feature of the early stories, and the conflict adds drama.
When the crew go off to the city, to find the missing mercury component for the TARDIS, we are treated to a place that looks and feels totally alien. The impressive matte backdrops with its futuristic towers and buildings. The city itself, white endless corridors which force Barbara to stoop - this is clearly not a place made for humans. When the Dalek eyestick appears at the end of the episode it is truly shocking. The atmosphere built up is electric, and original viewers must have been highly intrigued to know what it was that Barbara was so afraid of. The Daleks has a brilliant first episode.
As the story continues along so the inhabitants of Skaro are expanded and shown to us. The Daleks and the Thals have evolved differently, it's a contrast that really helps move the story along. Terry Nation produces a fantastic adventure story. Complete with weird alien planet, the good guys and the bad, ugly monsters. It's hardly that original, but we're talking about 40 years ago here. Helped by great characters such as the Doctor and Ian you can really see how it gripped a nation back in 1963. The Daleks are given a history almost straightaway, and whilst it is one that was changed quite a bit over the next 40 years, it is still fascinating in the beginning. Their voices, which are still roughly the same in the latest Big Finish Productions, are brilliant. They remain one of the defining characteristics of the Daleks, and why they work well on audio. Here we have the look too, and it has rightly been hailed as one of the best fantasy creations of the 20th Century. Whether it be Terry Nation or Raymond Cusick who created them, they are a great design (I tend to favour the combined effort opinion) and a marvelous creation.
The other group - The Thals - are the type you see a lot in 50s and 60s sci-fi. It's as if Hitler's idea of the supreme being permeated into the consciousness of sci-fi writers. And thus we have this race of human beings, all blonde, muscles rippling blokes and pretty petite women. As the younger men lounge about talking about women, the wise old leader is left to make the key decisions. The decision to go to the Dalek city, based solely on Susan's note, wasn't the greatest feat of wisdom mind you! Thus Skaro has two diametrically opposed races, the good and the bad, the pretty and the ugly. It's standard sci-fi material.
As the story goes into its two-pronged attack on the Dalek city, so it becomes something of a quest story. Ian's expedition with the Thals is given the "harsh planet" treatment. There's lots of misty swamps, creatures that are just around every corner, narrow ledges with vast chasms below. It's standard fare, but always entertaining.
It is the execution of the ideas that work the best though. The design of the Daleks has already been mentioned. The lead characters, especially the Doctor and Ian, are wonderful too. The sets, ranging from Dalek corridors to plastic jungles, are impressive too. There is also a very strange and unsettling sound effect running through the story. It's as if the Dalek city is alive, the hum of the electricity coursing through its veins. Such is the power of great sound effects though that you are pulled into the mystery of it all.
The Daleks took Doctor Who into the mainstream. It established the legend. 8/10
A Review by John Greenhead 14/11/05
It seems to be the opinion of many fans nowadays that The Daleks is a story of two halves, a gripping and exciting first four episodes being followed by a dull and padded final three. There is the obvious riposte that this epic adventure was never intended to be digested in one sitting, but even after watching it all at once I am firmly of the belief that it does not falter from beginning to end. In short this story is a true classic, and one that still stands up amazingly well after more than forty years.
The Daleks themselves, of course, have a lot to do with this. They were the primary factor in making Doctor Who a success, and in their debut appearance they are convincingly devious, ruthless and evil, with none of the self-parody that would mar later Dalek stories. The Dalek voices are excellent, and the way they manipulate their sucker arms to carry things around is both amusing and also important in showing us how they are able to live and operate, giving them some much-needed depth. Raymond Cusick's Dalek city set is magnificent, giving a real sense of a sophisticated alien culture, while also belying the miniscule budget the show's makers had to work with. Indeed, all the different landscapes of Skaro are well-realised, from the petrified forest to the dank caves and the murky swamp, and it is very easy to forget that it was all recorded in a cramped and primitive studio at Lime Grove.
A lot of credit for the story's success must also go, of course, to Terry Nation. Aside from creating the Daleks, Nation provides an extremely intelligent script of a kind a modern-day children's show probably would not touch with a bargepole. The story was filmed only a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis had brought the world to the brink of Armageddon, and the shadow of the Cold War hangs heavily over the script thanks to the depiction of Skaro as a nuclear wasteland destroyed by Dalek-Thal conflict. The pacifism of the Thals, provoked by their horror at the destruction caused by nuclear war, would no doubt have echoed the thoughts of many viewers at the time, and Nation uses this pacifism to set up an interesting debate between the Thals and the TARDIS crew over whether anything is worth fighting for, a reflection no doubt of the arguments between CND and those who supported a nuclear deterrent in the late 50s and early 60s. The Thals themselves inevitably look rather dull and colourless next to the larger-than-life Daleks, but their drippy looks and manner are in keeping with their peaceable outlook, and Nation makes a real effort to give some depth to characters like Alydon, Ganatus and the doomed Antodus. By also providing an historical backstory for both the Daleks and the Thals, Nation gives his alien world a further layer of believability and makes it all the more convincing for the viewer.
The direction of the story is generally very good, with Christopher Barry in particular providing some atmospheric shots of the Daleks and their city in his four episodes. As far I'm concerned, the "quest" portion of the story in episodes 5-7 is just as gripping as the first half, and the death of Antodus is quite a harrowing and well-executed moment. It cannot be denied, however, that the most memorable parts of the story are early on, most notably Barbara's legendary first encounter with the Dalek in the famous part 1 cliffhanger, the travellers' growing weakness as they succumb to radiation sickness, and the later cliffhanger where the Dalek's hand emerges from under the Thal cloak. One of the story's strengths is to keep the Dalek creatures out of sight, and to leave the viewer guessing about how horribly mutated they are; the Doctor's and Ian's horrified reaction when they first set eyes on one of the creatures is convincing, and allows the viewer to imagine an appearance more terrible than could probably have been presented on screen.
The other great plus point of The Daleks is the way it continues to develop the relationships between the four regulars. William Hartnell once again shines as the Doctor, who early on maintains the selfish, antiheroic stance he displayed in An Unearthly Child by sabotaging his own ship in order to force his companions to view the Dalek city. Later, however, a more kindly and moral Doctor begins to emerge for the first time when he reacts with disgust to the Daleks' plans to destroy all other life on Skaro, and by the end of the story his relations with Ian and Barbara have become more relaxed, although not yet permanently. Ian and Barbara continue to impress as companions, although Barbara does not get a huge amount to do in this story. It is really Ian who comes to the fore here, taking the lead role in both the TARDIS crew's escape from the Dalek city and the subsequent attack on the city. William Russell plays Ian with confidence and elan, and his clashes with the Doctor early in the story are very well played both by Russell and Hartnell. Once again it is Susan who is the weak link, but she does at least get something useful to do when she is sent back to the TARDIS to get the anti-radiation drugs, even if she can only do so with a lot of whimpering, moaning and falling over. Thankfully, however, Carole Ann Ford doesn't overdo the hysterics too much.
There is not really much I would criticise about the story, other than the Thals' awful costumes and the rather lacklustre final battle with the Daleks, although given the budgetary constraints this latter problem is forgivable. In the main, however, The Daleks is a thoughtful, exciting and daring adventure, and it is no surprise to me that it made Doctor Who into a hit.
A Review by Finn Clark 23/1/07
It's Doctor Who from before Doctor Who was invented, basically. It's full of adventure cliches, but it does them with such conviction that you'd believe you'd never seen them before. It's almost terrifying. Everything is played absolutely for real, with none of the plot shortcuts we're familiar with. When our heroes are locked in a cell, it's not a lazy plot device. Instead they're shocked and horrified to find themselves imprisoned by aliens on a poisonous world and they sweat blood trying to work out whether they can escape.
They're not even heroes. Hartnell's Doctor is a malevolent bastard, watered down in An Unearthly Child from the pilot's far more compelling version but still a slippery son of a bitch you wouldn't want to mess with. Susan's a frightened girl. Even Ian and Barbara aren't yet heroes, although in another way they certainly are. They're certainly the audience's identification characters, with Ian in particular ruling the show every moment he's on screen. He's the moral centre of authority (unlike Edge of Destruction where Barbara got that role) and almost heartbreakingly noble and brave. However back in December 1963, we'd only known these people for four episodes. They haven't earned any kind of script immunity. They're just four people in a terrible situation and it feels as if Terry Nation could start killing them at any moment.
As an example of the show's lack of formula, see episode one. They land and immediately try to leave! They're not looking for adventure, but instead have actual motivations. Ian and Barbara want to get home, while the Doctor is a selfish old goat who'll happily jeopardise everyone's safety for the sake of his own curiosity. Everything's new for them. They're not happy to waltz off into the unknown, but instead regard it with fear and hostility and just want to get somewhere less scary.
Naturally, their suspicions are proved right, with Daleks and radiation. The latter in particular works wonderfully. Despite seeing that "danger" dial on the TARDIS console at the beginning, you completely forget about it until Barbara's saying "I've suddenly got this terrible headache" and you realise you're watching four people unknowingly going out into the city and giving themselves radiation poisoning.
The character interaction in particular is more vivid in these prototypical Hartnell stories than we'd ever see again. They have real debates and disagreements instead of TARDIS bitch scenes. The Doctor's ready to abandon the humans! When at last he admits that he lied about the fluid link, the Doctor wants to leave without Barbara and then when Ian takes a stand means to go without him too. Incidentally, I was surprised that the fluid link wasn't sabotaged and that they never needed more mercury, although admittedly only an idiot would sabotage his own ship. It makes more sense, although I can see how another writer might have preferred the more extreme version. I just can't remember where it came from. The novelisation? The Cushing movie? Ah well.
The pace is unbelievably slow, but if you're like me you'll almost have finished the seven episodes before you've realised the fact. Our heroes are doing everything for the first time, so we see them thinking through things that these days would barely warrant a throwaway reference in the next scene (e.g. escaping from a cell, the Daleks cutting through a door). When Terry Nation turned in exactly the same story as Planet of the Daleks in 1973, the resultant production was an episode shorter yet felt infinitely slower. The original never makes assumptions or resorts to dramatic shortcuts. Thus, we actually see our heroes using their brains. They don't wait for a script nudge to start wondering what's inside those Dalek casings, for instance.
The Daleks and Thals are fantastic, which I'd expected from the Daleks, but blindsided me from the Thals. They're not generic rebels. Instead they have personalities, attitude and a sense that these are real people in a real situation. They're even capable of innuendo! The movie Thals' pacifism makes them look a bit stupid, but the TV Thals' pacifism is an interesting facet of their alien culture.
However the Daleks are the stars. It's easy to understand how Dalekmania took off. They look so alien! They're almost like metal insects, never still. It's never been so obvious that there's something inside the casing. They can even act! I swear at one point I saw one thinking. There's also a great sound effect for the mutant when the Doctor and Ian lift the lid off their immobilised one in the cell.
What's more, we're still exploring their morality instead of taking it for granted that they're evil incarnate. Thus, for instance, Temmosus isn't so doomed as to look stupid as he argues for peace and negotiation, despite gems like, "I'll speak to them peacefully. They'll see that I'm unarmed. There's no better argument against war than that." When the two sides finally meet, the script gives Temmosus all the time he needs to make an articulate plea for peace, to which the Daleks listen in full before gunning him down. They hear it and reject it. Oh, and there's another Temmosus quote I liked: "You must throw off these suspicions. They are based on fear, and fear breeds hatred and war." It's Yoda!
Even the production values are impressive. These visuals are far more distinctive than the Cushing movie's, for instance. Skaro is claustrophobically alien, the TARDIS looks cool and the trek through the swamp has some freaky special effects and one seriously weird monster.
Incidentally, I like the fact that the hand on Susan's shoulder in episode one is so quick and unclear that I stopped and rewound the DVD because I wasn't sure what I'd seen, or if it was even a hand. It's also noticeable that the Daleks talk more naturistically in episode two than ever again, even in later episodes of this story. You can see the production team's learning curve. It doesn't take the Daleks long to start barking out their dialogue in that familiar staccato squawk.
The production's only downside comes in episode one, which happened to be a reshoot because the original version was untransmittable. The performances at the beginning are shocking, even from my idols William Russell and Jacqueline Hill. Everything until they return to the TARDIS is horrible, with Ian giving a couple of downright dire line readings and Barbara perpetrating a lame reaction to that petrified monster. Meanwhile Hartnell's fluffing like there's no tomorrow... but soon they get over that hiccup and for the rest of the seven episodes return to greatness.
It's fascinating to compare these episodes with the Cushing version, which feels far more like the "Doctor Who as family entertainment" we're familiar with. It has crap companions and I've seen more frightening Disney cartoons, yet it still has charm. That's practically a mission statement! Nevertheless, the TV version is superior in every imaginable way, not to mention having a TARDIS crew that's altered beyond recognition. You could hardly imagine a greater contrast between Brave Ian (William Russell) and Cowardly Ian (Roy Castle), while William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill similarly leave their big-screen counterparts in the dust. I still like Roberta Tovey, though.
This story is full of cool ideas. The petrified metal animal is a fascinating throwaway. There's also stuff like Hartnell's goggle-glasses and the food machine, which somehow I'd always assumed was only in the novelisations.
I think this is Terry Nation's greatest story. His scripts desperately needed to be taken seriously and too often weren't, but even Genesis of the Daleks isn't this compelling. It's deadly survival from start to finish. In fairness, Genesis has two of Doctor Who's best scenes ever, but The Daleks in its own way is just as thoughtful. Even the concept of the cliffhanger is something that hadn't yet formed properly in those early days. Episodes tend to end on tense moments that aren't directly dangerous so much as a venture into unknown territory; although amusingly part six's cliffhanger involves a literal hanging off a cliff. It's also unusually mature, with an understated romance for Barbara that involves actual grown-ups as opposed to the sub-teenage nonsense we tended to get whenever classic Who tried to get girlie.
The Daleks is one of those rare stories that exists in lots of completely different versions. It was remade for the big screen with Cushing and for TV under a different title with Pertwee. There's David Whitaker's novelisation. There's even a comic strip version, albeit with Cushing's Doctor instead of Hartnell's. However, no matter how well you think you know the plot, nothing can compare to seeing the original TARDIS crew fresh and sizzling after their debuts in An Unearthly Child. It loses a little momentum in its later episodes, but it's hard to imagine anything living up to the initial electricity of our heroes exploring their first alien world. Had this story flopped it could have killed Doctor Who, but instead The Daleks created a nationwide mania. It gripped people's imaginations then and it's lost none of its power today.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 9/6/07
It's an odd duck, in some aspects. We're still in the stages where Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright are being presented as the "heroes" of Doctor Who. The Doctor and Susan are used more like catalysts for plot and character, than being proper characters themselves. The story seems unsure whether the 30's serial plot developments or the overall character development of the regulars is more important.
But, first and foremost, The Daleks (and yes, the title for this serial is THE DALEKS) is all about creating a world through sound and visuals. The Dalek city and everything contained within forms a cohesive whole for the wandering killer dustbin/video cameras. The jungles and caves look properly alien, which is even more impressive considering the size of the studio they had to create it in. The soundtrack is loaded with sounds and noises that add to the pictures. In short, you can get lost in this world and revel in what happens next.
As mentioned before, Ian Chesterton is still the hero. He's the one who moves the Thals to action, organizes the TARDIS crew and makes all the other important decisions. Barbara Wright is the audience representative. We struggle with her, worry when she tires out and cheer her when she succeeds in this strange alien world. The Doctor comes across as a cranky old man, stubborn and only interested in what interests him. But, by the end, we see him take those first shaky steps towards being "The Doctor" we have known for all these long years. Susan, after being the prime focus of An Unearthly Child, gets shunted to the sideline, after her big fear-conquering moment of getting the drugs from the TARDIS to being back to the Dalek city.
The Daleks aren't the world conquering, chanting pepperpots of infamy yet, either. They're a bunch of scared xenophobes who hate the Thals because they're different. These Daleks have bits of personality to them and come across better than in their other sequels as characters, not just monsters.
The Thals are a bit faceless. Except for Ganatus, who is so properly "British" and therefore just wonderful. He and Barbara have a thing for a bit, and he is most disappointed when Ms Wright leaves.
The Daleks might be an episode too long, but watched over two days makes this less of a problem. There is a big difference in direction when Richard Martin takes over for Christopher Barry -- see the climax for some of the biggest mistakes -- but performances are strong, overall.
Everyone knows that The Daleks is seminal. Its place in history is well-assured. However, methinks that people might lose track of how damn good The Daleks is as a story and a world you can get lost in. That is the real success of The Daleks.