The second Doctor Who story becomes the series’ archetype – not least because, like any good archetype, it’s a story told over and over again, in homages, in novelisation, on the big screen, and in so many of the author’s later scripts. It’s shallow at times, but I still think it’s terrific, and if it hadn’t looked and sounded so amazing – well, we’d none of us be here writing about Doctor Who four and a half decades later, would we? Still less writing dozens of bizarre one-liners that I might have written a decade ago if the magazine I would have sent them into was asking for them back then (yes, this blog is as strange as that sounds).
Like many others, I first got to know the story through David Whitaker’s fantastic book, so I was delighted to find this striking piece inspired by the novel from a very talented chap called Colin Brockhurst, who’s kindly allowed me to display it here. Take a look at his site, and especially his sublime mash-up (after my previous entry) of The Dead Planet and Planet of the Dead… And, given that four years ago today the Radio Times had Daleks on the front for what’s been voted the best magazine cover of all time (heh), Colin’s also created a very special Radio Times cover of his own.
My ‘The Review all Doctor Who Challenge’ posting in an online discussion, January 2004:
The Doctor gradually evolves into a moral hero, opposing the Daleks’ genocidal plans, and the whole thing looks extraordinary. Designer Ray Cusick does amazing things creating the petrified forest, the city, corridors for once that don’t look built for humans and, of course, the Daleks themselves.
The plot, on the other hand, starts off intriguing but runs out about three episodes early, and the climax is a mess. The dialogue and characterisation also seem very clunky after the previous story.
And I Said…Today’s the fourth anniversary of Dalek (even that seems old, now) – is this the story that Christopher Eccleston watched when he talked about how scared the Daleks were inside their shells?
Of all the reasons to pay eternal homage at the shrine of St Verity, the BBC’s youngest producer defying the one high-up who actually wanted her there in order to keep the Daleks ranks with casting Bill Hartnell as a decision that would make the programme last for ever.
Even more than the first story, how do you approach reviewing this one? By introducing the Daleks and rocket-boosting the ratings, it’s just about the most important Doctor Who story ever made. And we all know it so well, though not usually from actually watching it but by reading the book and watching the film instead…
Hooray! It’s the Doctor as a young man again. Makes a change from that old git we saw running around with Michelle Ryan the other week.
An Unearthly Child is great drama and expands your mind, but this story expands the canvas – it says, ‘The first time wasn’t a fluke, and wasn’t the limit. There’s much more weird shit to go.’
Though the characterisation is considerably shallower here, this still continues the first story as an ongoing narrative to a remarkable extent – thank goodness the regulars are still developing, as the conflict between them is much more interesting than the Thals. Then we get echoes of An Unearthly Child in a tribe, a forest, a dead animal, a monster’s-eye-view – and, perhaps most strikingly, mass killing being the thing that brings the Doctor out of his detachment to make a moral judgement.
Did David Whitaker carefully plan ahead for the second story in the first by breaking the Doctor’s hand-held Geiger counter?
Though the first story had perhaps the most brilliant first episode the show has ever created, The Dead Planet is the perfect template for a part one – miss the scary details on arrival, go exploring, see all kinds of strange things and hear all kinds of strange noises, build tension, throw a monster at the cliffhanger and, ideally, show us the TARDIS crew and nobody else (which isn’t the same as having fake arguments in the TARDIS while the story goes on without you)…
The newly formed TARDIS crew are still fighting each other, but throwing an almighty threat against them helps; the cavemen showed the Doctor that Ian and Barbara aren’t so primitive, while the Daleks show the teachers that the Doctor’s not so disagreeable.
Barbara’s not nearly such a strong character this story – except, curiously, when feeling vindictive towards the Doctor. She turns from nervous subservience to Ian to exploding, “Don’t you ever think he deserves something to happen to him?” She clearly feels like they’ve been with the Doctor ages.
Like the first story, this has at its heart one genius concept and design – though the genius here is tilted more towards the latter. But bless writer Terry Nation and designer Ray Cusick for showing what amazing things this show could do!
The most immediately impressive thing about this story is how completely it takes you to another world. The sweeps of electronic ‘music’ are eerily effective in getting you off-kilter and building tension, but the visual design – good as Barry Newbery was – is an incredible step up. The petrified jungle is superb, and the City, extraordinary. For really striking worlds, forty-five years later, there’s Planet of Evil, and… Very few others compete.
I know if you notice the scenery a show’s meant to be lost… But what fantastic scenery! Surely it’s all right to admire something that’s not ‘a nice office’ but a whole alien vista. In this show, the scenery can be a star, too.
This story’s Terry Nation at his best, with so, so many of his favourite elements already in place yet with some freshness to them here, action, adventure and above all a strong central concept… But already much more interested in a travelogue than in characters.
Here, Susan is absolutely confident that the Ship can go where they want it – they just need information. And Grandfather’s so forgetful, you see… I used to believe that, to start with at least, the Doctor was just missing data rather than unable to direct the Ship, but it becomes ever clearer that Susan’s regurgitating his excuses rather than making statements of fact.
This week, it’s Susan who’s being dismissed as an hysterical fantasising female. She’s right, of course, just as Barbara was in prehistory.
While the Doctor’s suddenly vulnerable pleading is endearing, Barbara’s manner on going in to see Susan on his behalf is distinctly schoolmarmish.
Ian bombarding the Doctor with awkward questions and the Doctor choosing just to answer “What are we going to eat?” out of the barrage with “That’s a very good idea – I’m hungry” is great. He’s very endearing, with Ian rolling his eyes, then getting his own back as the Doctor gets testy over his jokey complaint that the bacon’s a bit salty – but all that just gets you relaxed enough to miss the portent of Barbara’s headache…
Somehow the two eyes on stalks of the Magnodon – can you believe it, the series’ actual first monster – look a bit silly, while a single one for the Daleks isn’t. Is it because a pair looks more B-Movie? And did all the Dals and Thals, like other Skaroine life, have eyes on stalks before they mutated?
The City looks extraordinary from that first long-view from the cliff edge – thank goodness the first episode had to be re-shot, and they took the time to improve the model! The doomy chord as we see it, wreathed in mist, is hugely effective and rather creepy, followed as they make their way down by the different angles and distances until they’re into those curved, short doors of the set itself.
Of all the reasons to pay eternal homage at the shrine of St Verity, the BBC’s youngest producer defying the one high-up who actually wanted her there in order to keep the Daleks ranks with casting Bill Hartnell as a decision that would make the programme last for ever.The Doctor, noticeably, only lies because he doesn’t want to argue with Susan – that way, he can both appear to accede to her pleas, and get his own way. His obvious darting under the console to fix it and playing innocent while Ian glares, plainly not believing a word, is a scream. Particularly when the Doctor, affecting concern at his stranded Ship, can’t help but giggle.
The Doctor’s just like a stroppy kid coming up with any wheeze to get his own way – he must have given the children watching fabulously unsuitable ideas!
Barbara lost and increasingly desperate in the City is harrowing precisely because she’s both been so strong, and because it could be any one of us – the way that the walls themselves seem to be spying on her, from her own distorted reflections to her putting her hand across the camera as if it’s within the wall, makes it chillingly claustrophobic. Herded by doors, forced down in a lift as if the City’s coming alive, no wonder that something closing in is the final straw…
The lights are turned way down in the radiation meter room, with just that low lighting from below and their sweat on their faces. It’s a horribly real griminess as the atmosphere takes its toll on them.
Though the Doctor and Ian clash throughout this story, perhaps the most interesting point is on the form that that the City people’s intelligence will take – “Oh, as if that matters!” exclaims the Doctor testily, and the question remains open as to whether they’re talking about physical or moral forms, and perhaps each lead’s answer would be the same in each case: one emotionally involved, the other an academically interested observer, more open-minded but perhaps not seeing the potential for evil.
Though the Doctor does the right thing in confessing about the fluid link to protect Susan, it’s shocking that that same urge suggests abandoning Barbara. “It’s time you faced up to your responsibilities!” thunders Ian. So, Russell T Davies wasn’t quite the first person to introduce that concept to the series… You can see where he gets his love of vertical storytelling with lifts, too.
When the Doctor hears the word “Dalek” as they talk of their forefathers, Richard watches his expression – it could easily be one of alarm, not as something he’s never heard of closes in, but as something he’s heard of all too terribly does.
It strikes me that kids watching the black and white here won’t be imagining the Daleks in silver and blue, but brass and gold…
We see Barbara huddled on the floor of the cell in long shot; it’s to make her look as small and vulnerable as possible. But, if physically more helpless, it’s Barbara’s keen mind that first hypothesises that there’s something inside the Daleks.
Exhausted, ill, thrust into the Daleks’ interrogation light, the Doctor’s still extraordinary to watch, his eyes darting as he races through deductions about drugs and the history of Skaro. He’ll answer a question, then mutter another to himself as an aside; his body may be weak, but his mind’s working hard (and, Richard points out, every bit of that is Billy’s doing).
Cornered by the Daleks, it’s the scientific observer the Doctor who makes the proposal to send one of his party out, with the emotional guarantee that the others will be surety for their return. He’s already learning to put aside his detachment.
Blimey, Alydon does declaim. It’s because all the acting’s been relatively naturalistic so far in the series; is the series’ first ‘bland alien’ also the first example of incredibly posh ‘Doctor Who acting’?
That dirty load of cave people couldn’t last, could they? It’s only the second story, and suddenly it’s a nice received pronunciation BBC tribe in the jungle!
“I’m not quite so blind,” says Alydon of Dyoni’s attraction to him. “Though you do look like you’ve got dressed in the dark,” says Richard of his lack of attraction to Alydon.
How does Susan signing her name work? Even if the TARDIS enables you to read alien languages, it can’t work on the Thals when the message is simply sent along to them – it’d have to translate for everyone on every planet where there’s a TARDIS, and wouldn’t we all notice if we could suddenly read Chinese when the Doctor’s about?
The first near-appearance of the Daleks’ catchphrase comes in the third episode, and it’s doubly jarring in retrospect: not only is it “Extermination” rather than “Exterminate!” but it’s actually a question, “Extermination, then?” Ever since, you’d expect a Dalek talking about death to make it a demand or a decree, not a mere possibility that they turn down.
Kids used to flying Daleks must be very surprised by ones that have to stay stuck to the floor. And infra-red that can’t see through mud.
Though the ‘womenfolk’ are ‘protected’ from seeing the Dalek’s interior, though Ian climbs inside despite complaining that it’s cramped, though we get the first bad nasal impression of a Dalek… None of that really matters when you have such a cracking cliffhanger of bubbling noise, horrified reactions and a crawling claw.
Why on Skaro does Ian – the largest member of the party – get into the Dalek? Is it because he’s the man and has to do all the action, reflecting more of the sexism that’s much more noticeable here than in An Unearthly Child? And even if they’d more sensibly tucked Susan inside, isn’t it stupidly early to lose the illusion that there can’t be a man in there?
There’s not a lot of characterisation in the Thals – Alydon is stiff and very posh, Temmosus laid-back and even more posh – but at least there are a couple of flutterings of rivalry. Dyoni is spiky about Susan, which Alydon doesn’t notice or understand until he has it pointed out to him, while Ganatus is rather fey and cynical, lounging about laughing at Alydon. Which is exactly what the man needs!
Most of this looks brilliant, and far more successful than almost any other alien world and alien race in Doctor Who. The Thals, unfortunately, are pants: their ‘characters’; the episodes where we’re supposed to care about their adventures in the tunnels; and, perhaps most of all, their pants.
There’s a slight problem with the moral that “dislike for the unlike” is bad when the whole story relies on the viewer going ‘Uurghh! Ugly means evil!’ The anti-fascist message is undermined by the ‘good’ race being blond and ‘perfect’ while we know the others are evil because they’re mutated horrors with funny voices.Temmosus spouts home-made wisdom about fate and not struggling against the inevitable, but interestingly for the leader of the pacifists uses the metaphors of victory and defeat. I’d still rather watch him being beastly to Robin Hood, though.
Ganatus and Alydon are suspicious of the Daleks, suggesting that some of the Thals’ old warrior attitudes still remain; Temmosus hopes that “Perhaps we can exchange ideas with them, learn from them…” It’s a very Liberal free trade of ideas, as opposed to the Daleks’ (and some Thals’) xenophobic insularity. The Doctor, more scientifically bent than in almost any other story, seems like the Daleks if they had Temmosus’ attitude.
Ironically, Alydon is thinking like a Dalek when he fears and hates the unknown, after the Thals, too, have just found themselves no longer alone on the planet. “Or are they shocked and horrified? Perhaps insanely jealous?” He has no reason to think that, says Temmosus. And it’s true: this is the first Doctor Who story like that, so the formula is only being made as they speak.
The Daleks are callous and unpleasant, they wound Ian and keep our heroes prisoner, but it’s the TARDIS crew who kill a Dalek by cutting off its power and then blat another down a lift shaft – that’s two Daleks dead before they’ve actually killed anyone…
The lift floor indicator’s on a sort of binary-related notation of ones and zeroes, establishing a suitably strange and hi-tech ambience. Shame the Geiger counter was in English, really.
Two Daleks have died, but there’s no emotional connection to that when they announce that our heroes are to be exterminated: it’s seemingly because they’ve escaped out of Dalek control and are of no further use, rather than because they’ve killed.
When it’s Susan who won’t desert the Thals rather than Ian refusing to leave Barbara, Ian suddenly arbitrates and makes the decision. It’s as if Terry Nation thinks he’s the leader for this story – his first, but not his last, misunderstanding of the series!
They may both have been part of a terrible war that laid waste to their planet, but on the nicer side, both races are shit-hot at gardening.
Temmosus’ death is an extraordinary moment – his speech demands attention, the Daleks massing behind the doors with those gun-sticks twitching eagerly are horribly malevolent, and the eerie scrapes and low booms of the music heighten the tension brilliantly.
The Daleks are brilliant architects, have striking technology, can watch what everyone else is up to and can change their plans each time they’re foiled to come up with something better. Which makes it all the more extraordinary that their carefully-arranged ambush against the whole Thal people, who they have surrounded within an unfamiliar City, kills a whole two Thals. That makes the TARDIS crew far more successful mass murderers against the Daleks.
In response to Alydon wondering why the Daleks hate them so much, Ian brutally tells him “they just aren’t human” – begging a question – and it must be a dislike for the unlike, afraid because they’re different, this is presented as a moral that singles the Daleks out as evil, yet it’s exactly how Alydon had judged the Daleks before seeing them.
The racial morality of war and reform is tangled all over the place. Aggression is a choice, but evolution is an inevitable destiny. Judging people by their race is evil, except for the race that you can judge as a whole because every one of them’s evil. The former aggressors become nice, so you should be on their side – but the only way to deal with the current aggressors is to destroy them utterly! It’s as if Terry Nation couldn’t decide whether to forgive the Germans or damn them to eternity, so he did both.
Terry Nation would go on to tell us all that ‘We Are the Daleks!’ but here the connection is much more specific. While the Thals used to be warriors, the Daleks used to be Skaro’s teachers – yes, kids, years before The Dr Who Annual asked ‘Is Your Teacher An Alien?’ it’s they who’ve inevitably become genocidal monsters here. Ian and Barbara are the Daleks.
There’s a slight problem with the moral in that we’re told “dislike for the unlike” is bad, yet the whole story relies on the viewer going ‘Uurghh! Ugly has to mean evil!’ The strong current against fascism is just a little undermined by the ‘good’ race being blond and ‘perfect’ while we know the others are evil because they’re mutated horrors with funny voices.
When the TARDIS crew make for the Ship at the end of The Ambush, nowadays it feels like unfinished business and we can tell it won’t end there, but after the first story ended with ‘what a horrible situation – let’s run away’, viewers would expect that to be the finish. This is where the series suddenly becomes more than that.
Right from the start, the Daleks are the personification of war in Doctor Who: the Cold War nightmare of nuclear apocalypse underlies this story, but there’s no doubt that they’re fascists, too – their desperate xenophobia, their desire for extermination, Ian’s suggestion of experimentation and, most startlingly, their stiff-suckered salutes are all immediate Nazi allusions.
It’s all very watchable, but it does feel very like the first half’s one story – ‘The Dead Planet and the Metal City’ – that comes to a natural end, but is resurrected for an immediate sequel, ‘Attack Against the Daleks (In the Most Roundabout Way Possible)’, which runs out of all steam save the swamp mist.
It’s rare for one of the Doctor’s companions to show any sexual interest unless her contract’s expired and she’s about to be improbably married off, but here both Barbara and Susan suddenly get the hots for Thals. Babs has some understated, grown-up flirting with Ganatus – but, on first seeing Alydon, Susan’s eyes go wide as saucers and she gets to her knees in front of him. Strewth!
Why does Babs hit it off with Ganatus? Because she’s stuck on a hellish other world that she can get no handle on and, as she says of dating in the first story, “It would be so wonderfully – normal.” Mind you, in the caverns Ian appears to be managing any incipient jealousy by chatting Ganatus up too when they’re jumping the rocks, all “coming” and “quite firm”.
Though this story is both more sexist and has more of a hint of sex than most, the very set-up of the TARDIS crew still defies any comfy ’50s sexism or heterosexism – they might be called a family, but they’re not a traditional one, are they? A mixture of chosen and thrown together, a potential couple that flirts with others, and a single grandparent. So even a Doctor who on the face of it seems heterosexual never seems ‘just like everybody else’.
The Doctor prompts the Daleks to conquer, and they prompt him to resist. With him characterised by his scientific intelligence before his moral outrage, here their utter faith in their own technological ability over all other life makes them seem devised as evil versions of the Doctor.To this day, the Daleks set the standard for Doctor Who aliens – breaking up the human form rather than making them just like us, but green or a bit pointy. Here, though, they’re much more like people than ever afterwards – having discussions, getting worried, even growing food. These Daleks are people in tanks rather than tanks with gloop inside. The Daleks as we know them really start in their next story.
The Daleks are hugely resourceful here, constantly switching to another plan or piece of technology when one fails – you can’t help feeling the Thals are a bit rubbish by comparison. Their solutions to problems are first ‘go on a very long walk,’ then ‘die’. You can see how the original script was meant to bring them together, but I’m glad it didn’t. That would have been an even bigger mistake than killing the Daleks off – making them suddenly nice, going all Planet of the Ood!
The Daleks’ “Control” springs straight from Daleks unable to work to deciding they must be dying, and straight from their reaction to the drug to their being dependent on radiation. It turns out he’s right, but a couple of leaps, there! And shouldn’t they have spotted that they’re weakening as the radiation dies away?
Ganatus says they always do what the leader decides, but he never decides without their full approval. No wonder they never make a decision.
It’s a shame that the Doctor’s walking straight into the City with a technological distraction is, by its very nature, so swift – “Well, we mustn’t diddle about here!” His beaming that “We’ll show them a thing or two…” is so much more diverting to watch then endless clomping about in caves.
This is perhaps the most thoroughly imagined alien planet design in the show’s history, so it seems churlish to point out the few points when it looks a little iffy. But if I didn’t warn you that when they talk about the forest being “like stone” and not moving in the wind, you can see the petrified fronds waving gently, or that when Ian helps Barbara cling to the smashing rock face, not all of it remains in place, you’d only be disappointed that I’ve oversold it, wouldn’t you?
Having been absolute pacifists for generations, the Thals really take to fighting. They’re rubbish at it, admittedly, but suddenly they’ll throw a punch at the drop of an improbable plastic hat – even Antodus and Ganatus have a very small punch-up in the caves.
The Doctor’s vandalism at the Daleks’ junction box is hugely entertaining, not least for him, but after what we’ve heard about the Ship’s insanely complex locking process, isn’t he nutty as a fruitbat to use the TARDIS key to cause the short circuit?
Blowing the Daleks’ fusebox, the Doctor’s taken with his few simple tools and superior brain. Unfortunately, both are then taken by the Daleks.
The Doctor defines himself against extermination, the first stage towards later opposing oppression – he pleads with the Daleks to use their brains to find a way for both races to live, but is horrified to find that intelligence can also mean wilful slaughter: “That’s sheer murder.” “No. Extermination.” Though Billy doesn’t have anything like as much of a role as Ian does in these episodes, he still steals the show: no other moment has the force of his brilliant, passionate close-up against “This senseless, evil killing…”
The Daleks draw from the Doctor a moral outrage against killing, but our heroes remind the Daleks there’s more out there by simply showing up, inspiring, too, their desire to stretch across Skaro – the Doctor prompts them to conquer, and they prompt him to resist! With him characterised by his scientific intelligence, here their utter faith in their own technological ability over all other life makes them seem devised as evil versions of the Doctor.
“I have some experience with these corridors… They all look alike,” says Barbara. Crikey, that line came in early!
Lifts! Daleks! Travelogues! Cardboard characters! Sexism! Radiation! The TARDIS immobilised! The Second World War! Countdowns! Monsters! Everything! I’m not the world’s biggest admirer of Terry Nation’s writing, but he brings a huge amount to the series. There’s very little of it he exactly invents – HG Wells, Dan Dare, war stories – but most of it sticks, doesn’t it?
After so many episodes, the ‘climax’ is all over the place. With most of the Thals stuck way back down the corridor, they just rush in with, what, a stick and a bit of rope? Is that supposed to defeat the Daleks? Somewhat astoundingly, it does. Oh, my mistake – Babs has a rock to bung!
Oh dear. A Dalek is trapped just by grabbing it, and they’re rubbish at using their superior weapons; Ian pulls a magnet off the Doctor and throws it at a Dalek just for some action. Then the Dalek counting down handily stops at four, as – with the power not cut by what appears to be a Dalek bumping into a wall for another 32 seconds – continued narration would have called attention to an unfortunate timing malfunction.
A Thal abseils in from the roof, hilariously, and is shot. Then gets up and hits the Dalek that shot him. Equally hilariously, ‘dead’ Daleks lie on their backs, like beetles or dogs with their legs in the air, except the last one, which raises its eye-stalk.
“It’s finished – the final war. Five hundred years of destruction end in this,” declaims Alydon. “No doubt you will have other wars to fight,” says the Doctor cheerily, while poor Ganatus sighs, “Yes. If only there’d been – some other way.” Did you hear that, Johnny Byrne? I bet you did.
Ganatus gives Barbara a bolt of cloth to make a dress. That happens a lot in the early stories, and is perhaps more dated than anything else in the series.
The closing cliffhanger, with some sort of an explosion and the TARDIS crew falling away from the gleaming console, is brilliant – you immediately assume that the fluid link’s blown up.
Despite this being the first William Hartnell story I could re-watch on proper video, other versions keep competing in my head. But, then, with the magnificent book, and the not-so magnificent film, and all those images in your head, there was more of this to play with than any other story. In whatever version, I always remember the dead world, the Dalek City, and the Doctor’s lie…
“I’m trying to imagine what sort of people these are.”
“They’re intelligent, anyway, very intelligent.”
“Yes, but how do they use their intelligence – what form does it take?”
“Oh, as if that matters!”
The Doctor’s StoryHe’s slightly less centre-stage here, and perhaps for that reason William Hartnell’s performance is slightly less blazingly memorable; he’s given much less to do. Despite that, his desire to explore sparks off the whole story, he’s as wicked at the start as he ever is – and, imprisoned by the Daleks, his studied neutrality cracks wide open and his moment of moral horror at the previous story’s slaughter flourishes into full-scale outraged confrontation. It’s one of the Doctor’s finest moments, and the most gripping scene in this whole story.
For those of you who go on about “Billyfluffs,” when Mr Hartnell occasionally seems to stumble over his lines, there’s a famous early example here when the Doctor momentarily confuses the words “gloves” and “drugs” – but, as he’s meant to be delirious at that point, and as he also gets Ian’s surname wrong in this story for the first (and second) time yet that’s clearly scripted, I wonder just how much of it’s deliberate. Not all, by any means, but I suspect rather more than we tend to think.
Dalek WannabesThis is the one everyone wanted to be. Particularly throughout the ’60s, you can find any number of Doctor Who stories trying to tell the same story – not least those by Terry Nation – and even more that devise a monster that’s destined to be ‘the next Daleks’. Unlike evolution in a Terry Nation story, though, that destiny turns out to be very evitable indeed. Just watch them as they come up.
What They Said…Time Team, Doctor Who Magazine 279-280, June-July 1999:
“Peter is distracted by his eight-month-old son Harry, who is teething – his anxious bawling rings through the house. But then a strange thing happens. As the Doctor Who theme echoes back to the baby, he falls instantly and deeply asleep. Peter notes this development with interest.”Peter’s son Harry and his other children are, ten years later, now well-established as the junior version of the Time Team, previewing every new Doctor Who episode for the BBC website’s Fear Factor.
“‘Then again,’ Clayton adds, ‘Why are the Thals attacking the Daleks with planks? And why is it working?’”
“‘Can we rewind that bit?’ asks Peter. ‘I blinked and missed the moment that the Daleks were defeated.’”
“But if we need radiation, we can never rebuild the world outside.”A Review by Richard Radcliffe
“We do not have to adapt to the environment. We will change the environment to suit us.”
“Nothing can live outside if you do that. Nothing!”
“Except the Daleks.”
“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.”Not only is that Dalek ‘heartbeat’ still being used today, but that idea of the whole City being alive makes The Daleks all the better a follow-up to the story which introduced the TARDIS. The Doctor and the Daleks really are symbiotic, aren’t they?
Gareth Roberts in DWM’s 2004 Special The Complete First Doctor:
“The movie softens and sanitises all the more harrowing aspects of the story; the Doctor’s malicious sabotage of the TARDIS, the effects of the radiation sickness on the crew, even the pacifist stance of the Thals, making it a sort of Who-lite – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang played against a post-holocaust background. No, the original is still the best… Terry Nation’s lack of faith in the series that was to make him millions is legendary, but if this is hackwork, he’s a top drawer hack.”
“In fact, a happy accident makes this adventure echo the themes of the previous story. ‘Fire will kill us all in the end,’ warns Old Mother, and if she were to see Skaro she’d think she was proved right.”
Radio Times teasers for The DaleksThe Dead Planet
“The space-ship travels to ‘The Dead Planet’.”
“This week’s story is ‘The Survivors’.”
“This week’s adventure is ‘The Escape’.”
“This week’s story is ‘The Ambush’.”
“This week’s story is ‘The Survivors’.”
“This week’s adventure is ‘The Ordeal’.”
“‘The Rescue’ brings another adventure to an end.”
Look, they’ll get the hang of this next time, OK…
Available In All Good Shops?Well, gosh. The Daleks has been published as a Script Book, released on VHS twice (the cliffhangers were so exciting that it was the first story they brought out unedited on video) and, remarkably, even made into a movie, of which more later. And that became a comic adaptation, and a colouring book, probably. If you want to experience it at its best, though, there are two options to choose between.
I’d certainly recommend the DVD release, cleaned up to look the best it ever will, and that means pretty extraordinary. You’ll also get a partial commentary and rather a good documentary on the creation of the Daleks, but you’ll get more, too – it’s packaged along with two other stories as part of the splendid box set Doctor Who – The Beginning.
This is also, though, one of those stories where the novel is almost as remarkable as watching it – David Whitaker’s brilliant first-person novelisation, giving the series an alternate beginning and making Ian solidly the hero, was the very first Doctor Who novel, first published in 1964 by Frederick Muller and launching the Target range in 1973. It’s been published by many companies, in many editions, many languages, and even several titles – usually Doctor Who and the Daleks or Doctor Who – The Daleks, but originally and most thrilling as Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks. And why not?
These days, you can even get it on CD, evocatively read by William Russell – Ian Chesteron himself – with, appropriately, the first Target cover, some of Chris Achilleos’ most iconic work. Technically, it’s not a very accurate TARDIS. Or Dalek. Or even a great likeness of William Hartnell. So what? It’s still one of the most striking covers in the range, eye-catching, highly stylised, with thrilling flaming guns, and while it may not look exactly like the actor, it’s a great picture of the Doctor, making him mysterious, dangerous and unforgettable. The illustrations within the book are a different matter; in the Target and most other editions, they’re clearly based on publicity stills and are reasonably accurate if dull, making the Doctor sometimes look more like a nice old lady. If you can find the 1965 Armada edition, that has a unique set of internal illustrations where artist Peter Archer lets his imagination run riot, clearly having had reference photos of the Daleks but none of the actors – so Temmosus, reeling back in a blaze of light, dies a muscled hottie, and the climax with Mr Whitaker’s famous glass Dalek gets a vivid action shot brought startlingly to life by Colin’s work above.
Why Is This Brilliant?
- The impeccable first episode, from the opening threat, through the exploration, to that scream.
- The most extraordinary design, building a world through an unearthly soundscape and simply astonishing feats of visual imagination – the haunting jungle, the magnificent City and, of course, the Daleks themselves.
- The Doctor still being a wonderful git, but discovering his morals despite himself – memorably railing in brilliant, passionate close-up against “This senseless, evil killing…”
- And the runaway success of this story gave the series a boost with the public that, more than any other, ensured it kept going.