After the talky previous episode, this is much more action-packed. The first half picks up on the themes of pacifism and morality from The Ambush, with a surprisingly intense debate between the TARDIS crew on the right thing to do. The Doctor, as in The Survivors, is uninterested in the ethics of challenging the Thals’ values – ‘This is no time for morals,’ he exclaims. More surprisingly, Barbara backs the Doctor, fearing that if the Thals won’t fight with them, then the Daleks will destroy the time travellers and the Thals alike. This is a new development given that so far Barbara and Ian have pretty much been in agreement. Ian expresses the view that it’s wrong to ask the Thals to die for the sake of the TARDIS fluid link: ‘I’m not having anyone’s death on my conscience.’
Sadly, there’s no easy answer to this dilemma, and so it all gets resolved in a very Star Trek way by having Ian provoke Ganatus into punching him. It’s a glib solution – some things are worth fighting for – but I’m glad they bothered to have the debate, because it touches on the horror of the neutron war, and the reason for the Thals’ pacifism: ‘This was once a great world, full of ideas and art and invention. In one day, it was destroyed.’ None of this is revolutionary, but it’s nice to see the series acknowledge the different points of view without making the Thals seem weak or pathetic.
Elsewhere, the Daleks have rashly decided to test the Thal anti-radiation drug on swathes of their own people, leading to a Dalek having some kind of bad trip as it reacts against the drug. It seems the Daleks have become dependent on radiation, and so to raise the stakes further they decide to explode another neutron bomb. Like so many future monsters and villains, they’re not willing to change themselves to the environment, but will rather change the environment to suit themselves.
The last part of the episode is set on the shores of the lake of mutations, a very effective set with pools of water and little mossy hills. With Brian Hodgson’s pulsing, shrieking sound design and a couple of new monsters – a kind of giant water spider that looms towards Ian, and an electronic whirlpool creature – I imagine this went down better than the moral debates with the children watching. With something for everyone, this episode is really effective.
Next episode: The Ordeal