The most significant thing about this episode is that it introduces the Daleks: the first and most enduring monsters the Doctor ever encounters (I like that in the new series they also waited until episode 6 for the Dalek episode). That’s remarkable: they got it right first time. A lot of effort goes in to making them seem like more than robots. They’re constantly moving, rolling back and forth or side to side, twitching their protuberances, which suggests a kind of barely controlled nervous energy. Even in this first appearance we get lots of point of view shots, reinforcing the message that there is something intelligent watching from inside the case. The actors inside them, and the director have obviously given some thought to how to make these metal creatures seem alive, so that Barbara’s speculation that there is something inside them makes sense (Susan’s hysterical giggle at this point is deeply unsettling).
To be fair, so does the script: the previous episode has a metal animal held together by an inner magnetic field, so Terry Nation has already established that life on the dead planet is very different from life on Earth. And in The Survivors, the Daleks don’t talk or act like robots – they’re not monotonous, logical creatures; they’re conniving, ruthless people, ready to sacrifice the time travellers to get their suckers on the Thals’ radiation pills.
Christopher Barry again directs this like a horror film. The Daleks might be short, but they seem to loom over the human characters – over the collapsed Ian, or over the Doctor, forced onto his knees with a light shined in his face during his interrogation. Barry responds to the script’s suggestion that the Thals must be ‘disgustingly mutated’, and the time travellers’ revulsion at sending Susan back to the TARDIS on her own. This helps make the climactic race through the petrified jungle, with Morbius-style lightning bolts, and something, barely glimpsed, shifting among the trees, particularly creepy.
The Forest of Fear saw the time travellers imprisoned, and then escaping through a forest. The Survivors equals it, with the added grimness of the crew slowly dying from radiation poisoning. The Doctor is particularly badly affected, and given it’s established the TARDIS won’t work without him, this raises the stakes further. Brilliantly, rather than ending with Susan being scared in the forest, she makes it back to the Ship and recovers the drugs, only to remember that there can be no respite; her friends and family are dying, and she has to plunge back into the nightmare outside the TARDIS doors.
Next episode: The Escape