This is the kind of middle episode that the show sometimes struggles with, particularly in the longer serials: not a huge amount happens, but it’s still too far from the last episode to start pushing things towards a climax. Instead, Nation focuses on more world building, expanding the story beyond central London to show the mines of Bedfordshire mentioned during the previous couple of weeks, and showing us the characters’ various journeys towards what’s clearly shaping up to be the epicentre of the Daleks’ invasion plans.
What Nation gives us is one of the grimmest episodes ever: the details of a world gone to pot. Even the title is depressing: the future’s as bad as the then-recent past. London has been more thoroughly destroyed than it was during the Blitz. The sewers are infested by alligators. Young and old, men and women have been put to work in the mines. There’s a documentary realism to the film sequences at the Dalek mine workings – a huge number of extras pull massive cartloads of earth while Robomen stand by with whips.
Nation doesn’t shy away from the dark side of the Second World War either. Not everyone is a resistance fighter: there are plenty who will ‘kill for a few scraps of food’, or people like Ashton who’ll exploit misery for their own gain. Impressively, the Daleks aren’t even in the episode much – they get five lines in one scene and appear in a couple of film sequences, but for the rest of it they’re just an offscreen menace.
Instead, Nation makes the episode about the consequences of their conquest: Tyler and Jenny, ‘pretending not to care’ because they’ve lost too many friends. Offhand mentions of ‘the old plague cemetery’ where the first victims of the invasion were dumped. Most poignantly, the moment when Jenny pauses as she glimpses Dortmun’s huddled corpse still lying where the Daleks left it.
This is pretty much as dark as Doctor Who ever gets. And oddly, losing Hartnell from the episode actually works in its favour. By largely excluding him and the Daleks from the episode, it gives Nation a chance to set up the pieces for the next part of the adventure, and reminds the audience exactly what it is they’re fighting over. You can’t have Batman and the Joker in every scene. The End of Tomorrow doesn’t advance the overall story much, but The Dalek Invasion of Earth would be a much lesser story without it.
Next episode: The Waking Ally