Doctor Who episode 47: The Daleks (28/11/1964)

The purpose of this episode is to reformat the Daleks from the vulnerable, confined, static-dependent outer space robot people, as seen in their first outing, to world-conquering Space Nazis: as big a shift as the Doctor’s development from shifty antagonist to series hero. It’s not done in a particularly sophisticated way, but there is some effort devoted to answering the questions kids might have about how the Daleks can move outside their city (Ian notices the discs on their backs), and how they can still be alive (Skaro was ‘a million years ahead of us in the future’). Later, the Doctor references the Daleks’ use of static electricity. A lot of it might be handwaving, but it does gloss over the inconsistencies. Plus, it’s not like these Daleks are a complete departure from the ones we saw on Skaro: they still subject their prisoners to weird experiments (last time it was radiation drugs, here it’s some convoluted intelligence test), and they’re still genocidal. Only their weedy-sounding voices are less impressive than in their first appearance.

What’s noticeable is that Nation doesn’t gloss over the horror of Dalek invasion. There’s no attempt to glamorise war: people are killed omnscreen during the resistance attack, and Tyler’s weariness is obvious: ‘This isn’t the twentieth century, when thousands of men with bayonets charged machine guns.’ In a well-structured sequence, Richard Martin cuts between Craddock explaining the history of the conquest to the Doctor and Ian, while David does the same to Susan and Barbara. There was a plague that wiped out ‘whole continents of people – Asia, Africa, South America’ (presumably explaining why there are almost no black people in the classic series). Then the Daleks attacked, burned whole cities to the ground, and enslaved the population. Craddock bitterly reflects that they, ‘Knew how they’d humiliated and degraded us’ – a line that plays over the image of a nameless woman being pulled out of a line of slaves by a Dalek, then beaten to the ground by a Roboman.

Both here, and in a later scene of the huddled resistance fighters listening to a Dalek propaganda broadcast, Martin is pulling on images of the Second World War and of Nazi brutality, continuing the successful depiction of a shattered, conquered planet set up in World’s End. This kind of grim post-apocalyptic future went on to become a hallmark of Nation’s series The Survivors and Blake’s 7. You can see why: he does a very good job of it.

Having built the Daleks up into an interstellar menace, Nation needs the show’s hero to be up to the challenge. It’s not much of a stretch: the Doctor took over from Ian as the series’ hero in Nation’s last set of episodes. But while the other characters, even the other regulars, fear and despair about the Daleks (there’s constant talk of ‘no hope’, ‘no escape’, ‘suicide’), the Doctor goes eyeball to eyeball with them. ‘We are the masters of the Earth,’ declares one Dalek. ‘Not for long,’ says the Doctor. Later, when he’s stuck in a cell with Craddock (who’s presented as a typical cynical Cockney from any number of British war films), he’s even more bullish, dismissing Craddock’s defeatism and declaring last time they met he happened to outwit the Daleks. ‘Sometimes you astound me,’ Ian says. ‘Only sometimes?’ replies the Doctor, beaming. Like Churchill, he’s indomitable, treating the enemy with almost schoolboy mockery and contempt, and basically giving the impression he’s the only one who can save the Earth. Hartnell essentially has to single-handedly counterbalance the darkness of this adventure’s premise. And, at his most brilliant, he nails it.

Other things I noticed:

  • Jenny was originally the potential replacement for Susan. A feisty, no-nonsense blonde who throws in her lot with revolutionaries and freedom fighters sounds a lot like Vicki.
  • Is this the first instance of the phrase ‘resistance is useless’ in Doctor Who?

 

Next episode: Day of Reckoning

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