This is a follow on from the quick review of the first ever Doctor Who episode An Unearthly Child and I will be looking at the six episodes collectively known as The Daleks. I am skipping the the three episodes after An Unearthly Child mainly because they are tedious and I can not be bothered watching them again. There is only so much of The Doctor vs. Cavemen with amazingly good teeth and social cohesion that one can take, though I suppose you can take it as a metaphor for the show itself – it was clearly still find its feet and was sort of in a caveman development stage. Anyhow, let us look at the first episode of The Daleks …
The Dead Planet
The TARDIS crew have managed to finally get back to the ship and flee the terrors of people who have never discovered personal hygiene; which is presumably one reason the very first words are from the Doctor “Now I suggest … we all go and clean ourselves up”. Little does the Doctor know that, as they are preening themselves elsewhere in the ship, the radiation detector on the console suddenly springs to life to inform an empty control room that going outside would be a really bad idea.
Being oblivious to the danger, the crew wander outside to the remains of a forest that look as if (as noted by Barbara) a forest fire had been through the area – everything is white and ash. Ian notes that even though there’s a breeze blowing, none of the trees are moving – and a quick test indicates that the vegetation has been effectively petrified by whatever has occurred. The Doctor is intrigued by all this, which goes on to cause trouble later, and he and Susan wander off to explore. Barbara then asks the daftest question of the episode; “Ian, where are we?”. Ian has no more information to hand than Barbara does. They both know they just travelled in an uncontrolled time and space machine and so could be literally anywhere. ANYWHERE. How could she possibly hope that Ian would have an answer? This is where the two school teachers start to click onto the fact that while the Doctor is pretty clever, he does not seem to have the ability to actually take them back home to 1963 England. “Don’t you think he [The Doctor] deserves to have something happen to him?” Barbara further asks, referencing the possibility of the Doctor breaking a leg. The script really goes to some pains to highlight that the relationship between the Doctor and the Humans is tense to say the least and that forms the real story arc for the William Hartnell Doctor – the journey of how he stopped being a jerk.
Meanwhile, Susan discovers a beautiful petrified flower that she states she’d really like to take back to the ship because it’s pretty, at which point Ian carelessly crushes it as he rushes off to investigate something that Barbara has found. This short scene may seem almost like a waste of time but it is actually a great lead up to what the Doctor does soon. Keep it in mind. What Barbara has found is a lizard-like creature that has become as petrified and dead as the forest around it.
Barbara starts to feel bad about being on an alien world so Ian, feeling manly in his thin tie and cardigan ensemble, asks her to believe in him. He even places on foot up on a rock to really try getting that masculine theme working. Barbara asks Susan why the Doctor does not know where they are and Susan explains that while you can feed information into the TARDIS computers and they can get the ship to travel anywhere, the right information being entered is the key. Susan does her best to try to defend and talk up the Doctor’s piloting abilities but it is pretty transparent. The Doctor wanders back onto the set, declares that the planet is ‘totally dead’ and seems intent on setting off in the TARDIS again. Ian shots that he has discovered something and we get a shot of a city in the background. I’m guessing the two minute walk the Doctor did earlier was not a comprehensive scientific study of the planet. Still, this discovery has the Doctor’s curiosity well and truly engaged and he is adamant that he will explore and study the veritable dead metropolis.
With darkness falling, the travellers return to the TARDIS only for Susan to get distracted by another flower and she loses sight of the others. As she stumbles about a human looking hand appears from the edge of the shot and touches her shoulder, causing Susan to scream. The others, already back at the ship, run back and escort her inside – none of them believing the story about the mysterious hand. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Ian are arguing again about just about anything they can think of but the Time Lord is having none of it – he uses the age old trick of food as a distraction, allowing the audience to see the TARDIS food machine which can apparently make any dish you want. As long as what you want is a tinfoil wrapped bar with flavour additives. J62L6 = Bacon and Eggs.
Just as the crew is about ready to get some sleep, a tapping is heard coming from outside the TARDIS which Susan takes as evidence for her story, Barbara asserts that they should leave while the Doctor remains intent on investigating the city. Ian, Barbara and Susan are all in agreement that they should leave which leaves the Doctor with only one course of action … leave and continue peaceful exploration of the Universe.
No, I am obviously kidding. The Doctor, meddling with the console, instead purposefully sabotages the TARDIS so that it can not take off, forcing everyone to explore the city in the hope that they might find the fluid link component necessary for the TARDIS to travel once more. Think about it, he potentially permanently disables the TARDIS so he might sate his curiosity. The Doctor goes into full petulant child mode, placing his own desires as a higher concern than the immediate safety of his travelling companions. Remember that flower that Ian carelessly crushed before? A great piece of foreshadowing there with his destruction of the flower to sate his curiosity directly mirroring the Doctor’s in this scene – the only real difference being the matter of scale. The Doctor states that the fluid link has been emptied and that they need mercury to refill it, there is no stock of mercury onboard so off they all have to go to the city at first light.
It is worthy to note that during all this, not one person bothered to glance at the radiation gauge on the console. Presumably, the needle is still pointing at the “WTH?!” end of things.
The crew set out from the TARDIS to find that someone has placed a small metal box just outside of the ship. Ian, scientific genius, tells everyone to stand back while he pokes it with a stick. I know Doctor Who was made on a budget that street beggars would feel pity for but look at this scene; stick-armed Ian is further away from the box than everyone else, if that thing does blow up then everyone is DEAD. After not dying, the box is opened to reveal it contains a set of glass vials which Susan takes inside the ship (the Doctor wishes to test them later) and comes back out with food supplies for the walk to the city. The walk is apparently uneventful but by the time they arrives, the Doctor is feeling exhausted and the others are not looking too chipper either. They make the classic mistake of idiot explorers everywhere of splitting up to try to find a laboratory which everyone knows never ends well.
There are some interesting camera choices as they wander through the oddly designed corridors, especially some shots where the shot is on an angle – indicating loss of control, danger and something not being right to the audience. There are also giveaways such as what appears to be security cameras moving to watch the passing travellers, yet while a lot of shows would focus on the cameras most of the shots here leave them in the background to serve more as a surprise for the folks watching at home. Another great shot is as Barbara is feeling along a wall, her hand is pressed up against the camera lens largely blocking the shot which gives off this fantastic sense that Barbara is being watched but does not even know it.
Barbara, victim of the laws of narrative, finds herself disorientated in the seemingly identical and endless corridors of the city. She is not feeling all that well, she is becoming increasingly panicked and doors are starting to close on her. Instead of her brave exploration, she is now timidly finding her way through the city when we get our first ever glimpse of a Dalek.
The final angle being from the Dalek’s POV is a great decision as it leaves the identity of this creature a complete mystery and still allows the fear Barbara is feeling to the focus of the scene.
Next episode: The Survivors
- Times the TARDIS crew is knocked out: 0
- Times the TARDS crew is captured or taken prisoner: 0
- Times the TARDIS crew screams: Susan (1), Barbara (1).
- Times sonic screwdriver used: 0 (ages until it is first introduced)
- Overall rating: Must see.