The Dead Planet, The Survivors, The Escape, The Ambush, The Expedition, The Ordeal, The Rescue
Written by Terry Nation
Directed by Christopher Barry (1,2,4,5) & Richard Martin (3,6,7)
So yesterday I read this rather horrible news story about some police officers in London brutalizing a transgender woman for the heinous crime of feeling a bit sick, which is apparently illegal now in England, at least it is if you’re not a “normal human being.” I hesitate before comparing the Metropolitan police force to the Daleks, lest they point their stick like weaponry in my direction, but these officers at least would appear to have something in common with Terry Nation’s ‘normal’ loving automofashists*, at least if the witness in question can be believed.
6.4 million viewers is a good number for this type of show, particularly since is was operating on a budget of £2000 an episode, plus regular staff salaries. Throughout this story, however, ratings climbed steadily, settling in at around 10 million and staying there. The reaction by the viewing public is most often described as Dalekmania**. A fair bit of discussion has gone on about what made them such an extraordinary success, mostly by people attempting to replicate it, but I think they all miss the point. What makes this a great story, for me at least, is the Doctor.
In creating the Daleks, Terry Nation basically took the two big fears of the time: eugenics and nuclear war, shoved them together, and dressed them up like a condiment container***. Genius. but ultimately, as Nation himself would discover a few years later after he attempted to give them a life outside of Who, their appeal is pretty strictly limited to acting as an antagonist for the Doctor to butt up against.
In the end, I don’t really care what makes this a great story. I’m happy to just watch it and accept that it just is. Hartnell is at his most irascible, and though no longer the villain, definitely not the hero yet either. His role here is mostly as idiot savant, using his genius to get everyone out of danger he put them in in the first place. The hero role goes to Ian, who in his reluctance to persuade the Thals to help them, shows many of the traits that would later be attributed to the Doctor. He gets to hit some folk too, which is something that he’s oddly proficient at, given his profession.
If I’m going to look for negatives I would have to mention the Thals. Having a race of bad guys that looked very alien and a race of good guys that look very human seems to go against much of the ethos of the show, a view that show co-creator and then BBC head of drama Sydney Newman apparently took. Its a situation that would be repeated often later in the show, but for every story that its a problem in, there’s another story in which the opposite is true, so on balance it works out.
Its never really explained how the Daleks returned to invade earth in 2167, but that’s as it should be. Things are much scarier when their not explained.
*I was going to use Nazibots, but by Godwin’s Law I would have lost the argument I’m not having. Incidentally, typing this I’m delighted to discover that both ‘automofashist’ and ‘Nazibot’ are words recognized by my spellchecker.
**another word my spell checker not only recognized, but insisted I use, rather than dalek mania.
***I love the slightly lame look of the Daleks. Coupled with the fantastic vocal performances by Peter Hawkins and David Graham they’re terrifying, but the costume by itself is, well, not. One of my favorite moments in Who is when you first see any of a Dalek, and you could be forgiven for thinking that Barbara is being menaced by some sort of intergalactic plumber.