Doctor Who is one of the most iconic sci-fi series from British television, and has taken its place among other sci-fi giants such as Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica.
And with the 50th anniversary fast approaching, what better celebration of Doctor Who can be had than to watch every single episode? Aidan and Sharona have taken on this mission. In place of your regular scheduled Doctor Who, every Sunday we’ll cover a Doctor Who Classic episode.
We’re well aware we’re out of our minds, but here goes…
Before this: Season 1, Episode 1: An Unearthly Child.
Season 1, Episode 2: The Daleks
Background: ‘The Daleks’ is also known as ‘The Mutants’. It is the first appearance of the Doctor’s most infamous enemies, the Daleks.
Ahh, the Daleks. They inspired terror in young children around Britain when they first appeared in this episode, but in keeping with the slowness of the classic series, don’t appear until the very end of the first part of this seven-part serial (and even then, didn’t show themselves fully). In ‘The Daleks’, they can’t fly and are far from indestructible, but their sheer alien-ness and their mechanical voices are delightfully strange, and their single-minded hatred of the Thals, the only other race on the planet Skaro, is the same Dalek hatred we know and, uh, love.
Watching now, it’s hard to imagine exactly how audiences felt in the 60s. Of course, the graphics are almost laughable now, but that’s part of what makes the show so watchable. Spotting the Daleks that are obviously part of the painted set, or which shots are simply of a small scale model, is part of the fun.
The great strength of the classic episodes is the writing, and the way the story is allowed to gradually develop. Of course, it feels (and is) much slower than anything we watch nowadays, but even though it drags a little around the middle, it’s a great watch. Having our (mostly) reluctant adventurers battling radiation sickness, helping a race of pacifists fight their oppressors and of course, escaping the Daleks, is quite impressive for a couple of humans, a grumpy, frail Time Lord and his teenage granddaughter.
We get more of the Doctor’s impetuousness and selfishness here, most obviously when he (unknowingly) endangers them all in order to satisfy his desire to explore. Ian, while he doesn’t set out to have adventures, seems to slide into the time travel way quite easily. Not to judge the new series too harshly, but rather than charging into situations, threatening various parties and using a sonic screwdriver, the First Doctor and his companions rely on intellect and deductions to get out of sticky situations. Maybe it helps that William Hartnell’s Doctor is much older than the new Doctors (but the same age as the upcoming Twelfth Doctor), but so far, the plots rely on solving puzzles.
The acting is solid, even if they do occasionally misspeak. I assume that they were either on an incredibly tight schedule, or just didn’t have the budget to worry about reshooting scenes, but some slip-ups stay. My favourite is one from the Doctor himself: “It is possible that they may have been anti-radiation gloves…drugs”. Heh.
Altogether, the episode is solid. For me, the Thals would ideally be not “perfect” and humanoid, but rather, as alien as the Daleks. The message that aliens don’t have to look like humans in order to be empathised with would have been a brilliant message to send in such an interesting episode.
The Daleks. Just as iconic as the blue police box of the TARDIS, the Daleks were the first real enemy the Doctor and his companions had to face. However, the galactic terrors they became had fairly small origins. Trapped in a city, and only able to travel over metal, they aren’t quite as terrifying here as they became in the later series, but their single-minded hatred of other species and their harsh metallic voices are still chilling. Like the Doctor and TARDIS, the Daleks would change over time, but the foundations were all set up in this story.
The story itself has several parables to human history and (at the time) current affairs – the world destroyed by nuclear war; obsessive hatred of another group due to minor differences (the Daleks were apparently the scientists, the Thals the warriors), reminiscent of the Nazis (there was even a scene where the Daleks all gather round and point their toilet plungers up in the air like a Nazi salute); and that sometimes one has to fight to preserve peace from an enemy that simply cannot be reasoned with. It is enjoyable and, although some of the issues are slightly present in today’s popular media (the threat of nuclear annihilation, whilst still present, is no longer as much in the public eye as it was), it still deals with human issues, including bravery, cowardice, hatred and mercy. Having a drug that counters the effects of radiation is pretty nifty too.
The graphics are not the greatest in the world – most of the Dalek army is in fact painted on the wall. But the alien world, the dead city, and even the swamp were all great settings for a story, even while polluted with radiation. The acting in response had to make up for the lack in graphics, which was superbly done. The characters come further to life, with Ian and Barbara getting righteously angry at the Doctor when he deliberately sabotages the TARDIS just to satisfy his selfish curiosity, and Susan acts bravely to run through the Petrified Forest.
All in all, a fantastic story, with excellent dialogue and good character development. It is easy to see why the Daleks helped kick-start Doctor Who as a television show.
Before this: Season 1, Episode 1: An Unearthly Child.
Next up: The Edge of Destruction