The Survivors is Part 2 of the seven(?!) part story that gives us the first appearance of the classic Doctor Who villains known as the Daleks. As we saw in our last thrilling instalment the TARDIS landed on an apparently lifeless world full of petrified life, no one looks at the radiation gauge on the console, they find an advanced city, choose to leave, the Doctor sabotages the TARDIS so they’re forced to search the city for replacement parts and then Barbara is about to get a plunger to the face.
So let’s move on!
The episode starts off from exactly where The Dead Planet left off, with a slightly panicking Barbara wandering through the endless identical corridors until she sees a Dalek for the first time. This opening scene repeats that same enigmatic camera angle where the only part of the Dalek you see is the plunger – evoking the grand horror tradition of leaving the monster unseen. After all, humans have a great tendency to fear the unknown.
Ian, Susan and the Doctor (all now feeling decidedly unwell due to the radiation the TARDIS tried to warn them about) manage to enter the city in search of Barbara and come across a laboratory full of various pieces of equipment. Including equipment that the Daleks, with their dexterous plunger arms, have no way of using. In another example of the production crew not quite thinking things through, they find a large Geiger counter that is clearly reading the levels as dangerous. This is Dalek equipment. The Daleks have no worries regarding radiation. Why would they have it marked danger? Ian asks “How much radiation? How badly?” when he is standing literally right next to a Geiger counter with an easily readable display. Regardless, this informs the Doctor about much of what is going on and he quickly works out why they are feeling unwell.
The danger of radiation poisoning (a threat that would go on to end the lives of more than one incarnation) forces the Doctor to confess that he sabotaged the fluid link which understandably upsets both Susan and Ian. This flows into a great scene where the Doctor demands they return to the TARDIS, Ian obtains the fluid link and refuses to hand it over until they find Barbara. At this point it appears that the Doctor is quite willing to leave both Ian and Barbara behind if it means that he and Susan can get treatment for the radiation they have been soaking up. With Susan supporting Ian, the Doctor is forced to agree to search the city for Barbara but as soon as they leave the laboratory they are surrounded by more Daleks.
The Daleks are heard speaking for the first time and the choice to give them grating, emotionless inhuman voices is a solid choice. These are beings who are not like what we think of as familiar at all, all they care about is their agenda and goals, they have no room for any positive emotion. They will be obeyed. Any other vocal choice simply would not have worked, it would have invited in chances for the Daleks to convey some sort of emotion including hope and pity. Ian tries to make a break for it but the Daleks are having none of that and shoot him with the Negative Filter Ray which results in him losing the use of his legs for a while. The three of them are placed in a holding cell where Barbara is already being held.
The history teacher postulates that they are now miles underground and that there is a chance that their captors are not just machines, that someone may be inside the metal shells. This could have been a mistake script wise but Ian’s response “we haven’t any idea what’s inside them” turns that hope of humanity/familiarity around to instead reinforce the sense of the unknown and loss of control; this loss manifested by Ian’s inability to walk. The radiation threat itself plays into this, being a completely invisible and effectively incorporeal killer – an unknowable villain that will kill them all unless they can get treatment.
The scene shifts to the Dalek control room where two Daleks start some light exposition, mentioning that the radiation levels are dropping and that other life exists on this planet – life called the Thals who somehow have managed to survive the radiation. The Daleks are confused by how their four prisoners, who they assume to be Thals, are somehow falling sick when they know the Thals can survive so they start the favourite activity of villains everywhere: Interrogation of the elderly. The Doctor denies that they are Thals but the questioning allows him to work out that the metal box mysteriously left outside the TARDIS last episode contain some of the anti-radiation drugs that the Daleks keep yammering on about. The Doctor manages to make a deal, that one of the TARDIS crew will be allowed to go back to the ship while the others are kept prisoner, he also manages to get a Dalek to explain what the backstory is – namely that 500 years ago there were two races on the planet (Daleks and Thals) and they had a ‘neutronic war’. The Daleks retreated to their city though they know that Thals survived but must be “disgustingly mutated”.
The crew decide (due to the Doctor being too weak, Ian unable to walk and Barbara because she’s a dill) that Susan has to be the one to return to the TARDIS. Susan does explain that it takes special knowledge how to use the key in the TARDIS lock; “No, you’d jam the lock. It’s a defence mechanism. There are twenty one holes inside the lock, there’s one right place and twenty wrong ones. If you make a mistake then the whole inside of the lock will melt.” Now, if Susan is correct, that is a terrible idea. Imagine if the TARDIS lands in a suburban High School yard – it wouldn’t be thirty seconds before some snot-nosed git tries to shove gum into the lock and suddenly the door will never open again. Considering what future episodes show, this ‘defence mechanism’ was either a misunderstanding on Susan’s behalf or removed.
Another cut to the Dalek control room and they unveil their real intentions, that even if Susan returns with the drugs for her crew-mates that they won’t be allowed to get the treatment. Instead, the Daleks want the drugs so they can be used to produce more. Susan ventures into the wilderness, where a storm has conveniently started just for the added atmosphere, where we watch her run around (usually with just close-ups of her face) running around. She is being followed, whoever, by a figure hidden in a cloak covered in hexagons. Setting up a grand tradition, Susan trips and falls as she runs a few times but eventually manages to get back inside the TARDIS and retrieves the drug stash. She prepares to leave the ship in order to save her friends and that sets up this surprisingly good shot:
It seems mundane enough but some really nice choices have been made when you consider it for a moment. The contrast between the safety of the technology based TARDIS vs the dangers of the unknown wilderness. Susan’s small figure framed against the open doorway. Even the sue of lighting is interesting in how the shadows are cast and the difference between the interior and exterior. I’m honestly impressed that they had the space to set up the console room set next to jungle set to begin with. This shot really helps to establish the choice that Susan has to make and the courage she has to somehow conjure; she could remain in the TARDIS effectively forever and be safe but she knows that the return journey will be as every bit as dangerous as the trek she just finished. This shot forms a quite serviceable conclusion to the episode, especially when the final shot is that of lightning crashing that really deepens the shadows in the jungle.
Next episode: The Escape.
- Times the TARDIS crew is knocked out: 0
- Times the TARDS crew is captured or taken prisoner: Barbara (1), Ian+Susan+the Doctor (1)
- Times the TARDIS crew screams: Susan 1
- Times sonic screwdriver used: 0 (ages until it is first introduced)
- Overall rating: Must see.