Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Doctor Who: The Daleks (Part 4&5)

In this thrilling instalment, we will be turning to our attention to not one but TWO episodes of the initial Dalek adventure from Doctor Who. So far we have seen fascinating Thal fashion, Susan’s love of drugs, Ian getting legless and the Doctor being a selfish jerk. What awaits us in The Ambush and The Expedition?!

The Ambush

The Doctor sabotages this door mechanism. That the Daleks have no ability to have built in the first place, with their plunger arms and inability to bend down.

When we last saw the TARDIS crew, they were doing the old false-guard-with-prisoners tactic, with Ian stuck inside a Dalek casing. This meets with success, at least initially, and they get some way through the Dalek city before they are found out. The Daleks sound the alarm but, thanks to the power of drama, the travellers can’t open the Dalek casing Ian is in. The Daleks magnetise the floor meaning they can’t even push Ian around any more but, with a level of security the Enterprise would bask in much later, they seem unable to lock down the elevators. Ian is left behind, trapped in the Dalek machine, while the other three flee. The Daleks burst in and blow up the ‘renegade’ Dalek only the find it empty – at which point they think to lock the lifts. This is the level of security that even Worf would facepalm over and Worf was absolutely terrible at his job.

Despite the Daleks’ comical efforts, the TARDIS crew manages to get to the edge of the city where they witness Thals entering (thinking they are making peace with the Daleks, instead of being made into pieces). They drop a sculpture down the lift shaft to stop an approaching Dalek, which is striking in that there was art left in the Dalek city at all. Let us assume that the Dalek city was actually built by their forebears the Kaleds (humanoid Nazi allegories) and that the Daleks have simply taken it over. The Thal/Kaled war went on for centuries and laid waste to the planet (see The Dead Planet) and resources were essentially non-existent. The Kaleds had no use for art and the Daleks certainly would not make any of their own … so where did this sculpture come from?

I don’t know art but I know what is conveniently sized to drop down the lift shaft! Push!

The Thals continue their way into the city, with Alydon being cautious and generally against the idea, while the Thal leader (you know he’s in charge because he has a really stupid hat) optimistically presses on. All this time the travellers are trying to get out of the city with the Doctor stating they must get back to the TARDIS and that “the Thals are no concern of ours. We can not jeopardise our lives to get involved in an affair that is none of our business!”. Compare this attitude with later versions of the Doctor, who would do everything is his power to save any life he could. It has been touched on before but this is a great example of where the Doctor started and how much he grew as a character, which really is the underlying story arc of Hartnell’s tenure on the show. Ian stays in the city to try to alert the Thals while the other three make a bid to get back to the ship.

“Ian, you really think a cardigan is a good choice for a hostile alien world? I would have gone with a turtleneck…”

The Thal leader finds a chamber full of food and calls out that he just wishes to live in peace with the Daleks. Ian calls out a warning but the stupid hat is not enough to save the Thal leader who dies with his face in the food. Ian and Alydon meet up and escape, each checking out the other’s terrible fashion choices. The TARDIS crew meet up with the Thals at the TARDIS and we learn for the first time that the planet is named Skaro and is the twelfth planet in that solar system. Alydon is made the new Thal leader, though how he’ll do so without the stupid hat is puzzling. The gathered people ponder why the Daleks are doing what they’re doing, why they kill without apparent rhyme or reason and it is Ian who postulates “Oh, there’s a reason. It’s stupid and ridiculous but it’s the only one that fits. A dislike for the unlike.” which sums up the Daleks the aspects of society that they represent nicely. Ian convinces Alydon that fighting the Daleks is necessary though the Thals are against it due to their profound pacifist nature. Meanwhile the Doctor has been going through original records and has found images of what the Thals and Daleks originally looked like, though this records state that Daleks were originally called Dhals, not Kaleds as would later be used by the series.

The Doctor insists that it time to get out of dodge and return to the ship, presumably because his curiosity has now been sated. However, Ian finds that the Daleks have taken the fluid link from him – and the TARDIS remains immobile until they can retrieve it. It looks like the travellers will have to mount …

The Expedition

Realising that the Daleks have the fluid link, the TARDIS crew realise that they need to go back into the Dalek city to retrieve it lest they all be forced to wear Thal clothing. Alydon still refuses to get into a fight with the Daleks, opting instead for returning to their plateau and probably starving to death. This option, much like the Daleks themselves, seems to comment on British WW2 policy under Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who desperately sought peace with Germany instead of standing up to them, with the Thal’s plateau is an allegory for the island of England. “What argument can you use to make someone sacrifice themselves for you?” Ian ponders, which really touches on a lot of war based themes.

“If you won’t fight for your history records, what will you fight for?” “That’s my porn collection. Don’t you dare touch it.”

The Doctor, after double checking he has no spare fluid links and getting Ian Chesterton’s name wrong yet again, declares that they must fight the Daleks. That “the mind will always triumph” over physical might, which sets up another long running theme of Doctor Who. However, he goes on to say “My dear child, this is no time for morals – they must fight for us.” which in itself is a horribly morally questionable statement. Barbara bitchslaps Ian down with a handful of logic and the TARDIS crew eventually decides to try to bring the Thals around to fight the Daleks but there is some excellent dialogue here all based around the pointlessness of war.


Ian provokes Alydon, essentially trolling him, until the new Thal leader gets angry and lashes out. Ian really plays on the idea that pacifism is a great ideal but it only really works if everyone subscribes to it, using it as a springboard to illustrate that there are things worth fighting for when push comes to shove. His psychological manipulation of the Thals is obvious but still powerful and they eventually agree that some things need to be opposed – namely Ian’s jaw as Alydon punches him out. Which just proves Ian’s argument correct.

Back at Dalek HQ, the Daleks decide that more radiation is good for their kind and that Skaro could do with quite a bit more of it. The Daleks new plan of action is to explode another neutron bomb, which would not exactly be great for the health of either the Thals or the TARDIS crew. To be blunt, this scene is not well done; the dialogue is clunky and the lack of budget really hurts the suspension of disbelief. The BBC could only afford to build four Daleks and their attempt to make it look like a crowded room but using cardboard Daleks results in absurd visuals. However, the Dalek plan does add some much needed menace into the narrative and their statement “we do not need to adapt to the environment, we will change the environment to suit us” is a powerful message even in contemporary society.

“The radiation vaccine does not work! It has turned many of us into cardboard standees!”

Meanwhile, back in the dead jungle, Alydon and his main squeeze discuss the situation. Barbara and a Thal talk about the dangers of a nearby lake, which is full of deadly mutated creatures that make excellent guards for the lake. The lake sits at the back of the Dalek city and “only a fool would attack the city from that direction.” Eventually (and I do mean eventually, this episode has a lot of padding in it) Alydon comes up with a fantastic phrase “My conclusion is this; there is no indignity is being afraid to die, but there is a terrible shame in being afraid to live” that motivates his people to roll up their non-existent sleeves and get to work. The Doctor comes up with a plan to split everyone into two groups; one to distract the Daleks at the city walls and the other to find a way into the city from the rear – traversing the swamps around the monster-filled lake.

“My god, it’s giant painting of mountains with pipes going into them!”

Team Swamp (four+ Thals, Ian and Barbara) make their way to the swamp which mostly consists of the Thals talking about how insanely dangerous the area is. It should be noted that Barbara is wearing open foot sandles. In a swamp. And I thought Ian’s cardigan was idiotic. Speaking of Ian, when the Team Swamp decides to make camp he thinks it a wise move to wash his face with swamp water. Water we have just listened to explanations of that it is full of mutated monsters and is almost certainly radioactive. I have to assume the drugs the TARDIS crew took earlier is what stops his flesh melting off his skull. In the morning, Team Swamp finds a series of pipes leading from the swamp/lake into the Dalek City; this is the path they need to take to break into the enemy stronghold.

Next: The Ordeal and The Rescue

  • Times the TARDIS crew is knocked out: 0
  • Times the TARDS crew is captured or taken prisoner: 0
  • Times the TARDIS crew screams: Susan (pretending) 1
  • Times sonic screwdriver used: 0 (ages until it is first introduced)
  • Overall rating: Must see.

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