Much of this episode is elaborate vamping to keep the Doctor and the Daleks apart ahead of a (presumably explosive) showdown, even though both know the other is present (‘Doctor? Did you say Doctor?!’). Fortunately, this takes the form of a slight return of the brutal Inferno torture sequence, followed by a politely relentless attack on the Controller, resulting in the most memorable episode of the serial so far. There’s also a lot of reiteration that the Doctor and Daleks are the most implacable of foes: ‘I know [the Daleks] only too well. They’ve been my bitterest enemy for many years,’ says the Doctor. ‘The Doctor is an enemy of the Daleks! He must be found at once and exterminated!’ scream the Daleks. ‘He is the sworn enemy of the Daleks. He’s the one man they’re afraid of,’ proclaims the guerrilla leader.
It’s an understandable approach. For anyone old enough or with family members familiar enough with the show’s history to remember the Daleks (i.e. practically everyone watching), this story is a big moment. The production team knew it as well, and go out of their way to make it significant, including a rare reference to previous Doctors (‘The appearance of the Doctor has changed before’) culminating in the mind probe sequence featuring shots of Troughton and Hartnell. It’s such an impactful moment (or at least it was for Ian Levine) that they kept repeating the trick through the Peter Davison years. I really like it: it’s exactly the right way to being in continuity and nostalgia, with a genuine purpose in the story and completely accessible to “casual viewers” (in a way that the deleted reference to the Dalek civil war in The Evil of the Daleks wouldn’t have been).
Outside of the lead up to the confrontation between the old enemies, the rest of the episode is largely filler, although with some good efforts to sketch in the misery and bleakness of the future Earth. The women working the control room don’t look the Controller in the face but scowl at him behind his back, and unreasonable orders, as in all organisations, roll downhill, with the Daleks issuing demands to the Controller who passes them on to his hapless (and treacherous) subordinate ZV10. Along with the Doctor’s outrage at seeing the elderly and children forced to work in the Dalek labour camps, there’s more than a whiff of fascism without needing to come out and say it. Last time the Doctor was transported to a fascist Earth he failed to save it. Let’s see how he fares this time.
Next episode: Day of the Daleks – Episode Four