Doctor Who episode 7: The Escape (4/1/1964)
Having spent the previous episode introducing the conniving, duplicitous Daleks, Terry Nation now introduces the other inhabitants of this planet: the Thals. Susan goes a bit overboard when she encounters Alydon outside the TARDIS. ‘You’re perfect!’ she squees, as the storm subsides and this blonde Adonis is bathed in radioactive sunlight. The first half of the episode largely focuses on the Thals. They turn out to be a race of farmers, eking out a subsistence living from the poisoned soil. As there’s been a prolonged drought, they’ve been forced to abandon their farms and are planning to approach the Daleks for assistance.
It’s a believable issue for a post-nuclear society, but it is weirdly similar to the critical issue facing the Tribe of Gum (and, given the focus on the food machine in The Dead Planet, suggests someone in the production team was obsessed with the stuff). It’s also amusing to hear the Daleks have synthetic sunlight and ‘unlimited quantities of fresh vegetables’ (they’re obviously on a healthy eating kick). In general, the Daleks are at their most charmingly un-Dalek-like in this episode, chatting away to each other about their own cleverness, pondering whether to allow ‘this catastrophe destroy the Thals’. Apparently, they also smell like dodgem cars. They get their first comedy moment, when one of them struggles with Su-San’s name, then tells her off for laughing (‘Stop that noise!’). Against this, though, we have a Dalek mentioning ‘Extermination’ for the first time ever, and an ongoing, admirable attempt to make them seem alive. I adore the way one of the Daleks narrows its iris as it considers lulling the time travellers into a false sense of security.
The final part of the episode focuses on the eponymous escape. It’s a scene that’s incredibly familiar to anyone who’s read David Whitaker’s seminal novelisation. It’s done very well, particularly the moment when Ian and the Doctor are appalled by the thing that’s inside the Dalek and the Doctor, like some kind of bizarre midwife, plucks it from its metal womb and swaddles it in a rubber cloak. However, the episode’s cliffhanger is not very dramatic – the Dalek creature’s withered hand reaching out from under the cloak. It’s also largely obvious that this wasn’t directed by Christopher Barry as the horror movie overtones of the first two episodes have been replaced by something much more functional, although still effective.
Next episode: The Ambush