Friday, 21 January 2011

2: The Daleks - But Not As We Know Them.

The first appearance of The Daleks.
Written by: Terry Nation
Companions: The Doctor, Susan, Ian Chesterton, and Barbara Wright.
Monsters/Villains: The Daleks, Thals.
Brief Synopsis: The TARDIS lands on Skaro, and the Doctor meets the Daleks for the first time.
Rating: 6/10

Hello everyone and welcome back for this next installment: The Daleks. It is already increasingly hard to pay these milestone stories the honour they deserve. There are so many firsts. The two big landmarks in this adventure are one: the first alien planet we see in the series, and two: the first appearance of the Daleks! However, these Daleks don't seem to behave exactly as we might expect them to today.

The Dalek City
Again it is an interesting choice to have the first alien planet we visit to not be one of wonder or beauty like so many to follow, but one where our intrepid travellers do not wish to linger. That is, except for the Doctor, who actually sabotages the TARDIS, immobilising it, forcing the party to venture into the mysterious, alien city the group has spied on the horizon. Some have used this as an example of the First Doctors dark side, but this is totally misplaced. William Hartnell plays this scene for comedy.  Several of the Doctor's subsequent companions will plead "can we just go back to the TARDIS" only to be off balanced by the Doctor lightly saying, "Let's just have a little look. I'm sure it's perfectly safe, and we won't come to any harm, or have to run around a lot, or save a native people from their oppressors, or change history, or run into anyone who wants to kill us. Plus that city looks really cool. Please!"

The group dynamic is an extremely interesting one. The four are forced together. The Doctor's fear of being discovered on earth causes him to demand on containing Ian and Barbara inside the TARDIS and moving to another time to insure his and Susan's safety. Susan clearly has strong feelings for her Grandfather but has actually said she'd sooner leave the TARDIS than leave Earth. Ian and Barbara who are effectively prisoners just want to get home, but realise they need to keep the Doctor sweet, and more importantly alive in order to do so. The group set out to explore the city and when Barbara doesn't return, the Doctor shows his willing to leave Ian and Barbara behind on the planet. The group are growing closer together in this adventure, but there is still a lot of animosity, which makes for captivating viewing.

Plunged to death!
The first cliffhanger is another doozie; Barbara trapped in the city is stalked down by our very first glimpse of a Dalek: it's sucker arm. And in episode two the Daleks are revealed in full. The people working on this couldn't have imagined how iconic these odd pepper pots would become.

But these were not the Daleks of today or at least not how a modern audience would recognise them. They are reasonable, which is more than can be said for Za and The Tribe of Gum from the previous adventure. It isn't even clear at first that the Daleks are the baddies, they are cautious of the TARDIS crew, but who wouldn't be, after not seeing any other species for 500 years.

It becomes apparent to the Doctor that there are extremely high levels of radiation on Skaro and that some drugs they found left for them outside the TARDIS are what the crew need to survive. The Daleks let Susan go to get the drugs and we see them deciding that they will let the TARDIS crew die and keep the drugs for themselves. These Daleks do use the word 'exterminate' but they cannot be seen indignantly shouting it for some time yet to come. They cannot leave their city as they rely on static electricity from the floors to move. They experiment on themselves with the anti-radiation drugs, something that would surely not happen with the current incarnations of Dalek.  After their experiments they discover the drugs not only don't help but they actually kill them. The Daleks discover they actually need the radiation to survive. The same radiation that is killing the Thals and their crops. So the Daleks plan to detonate another nuclear device. At one point Ian describes the Daleks feelings toward the Thals as a "dislike for the unlike." This may be so, but the Daleks don't necessarily want to kill the Thals but because they require radiation to survive. It could just as easily be described as survival of the fittest.

or a Thal. Who would you support?

A Dalek

When we watch this story now, we understand the threat of radiation from a nuclear bomb, but it doesn't seem any more scary than any other form of possible annihilation. But for a member of the audience of The Daleks during it's original transmission in 1963-4 much less was known about this menace, it was significantly more current, and fear of nuclear war was rife.

Other worthy firsts in this adventure include the exciting first glimpse at the Dalek creature; it's claw. The contents of a Dalek is a question that will haunt us for years to come. Also the first scenes of a romantic nature between Barbara and the Thal, Ganatus. There are only two or three scene between them, but what we do see is heartwarming, especially their farewell. You can tell the writers of DW are testing the waters with these short yet emotionally important scenes.

First glimpse at the Dalek creature.
The passage of time in these early episodes is interesting. Some scenes that today would be explained through exposition only, are played out in their entirety. While others that could have been fascinating are left out merely to be explained in passing. This is perhaps due to budgetary limitations. We really get a sense that the TARDIS crew are here on Skaro for some time, especially during their crusade to the Dalek city. Also the 60's audience wouldn't have known how many episodes their would be in each story, so for them each week could have been leading to the end of this adventure and the beginning of a new one.

This is a bit off on a tangent but stick with me. The largest change that came to Doctor Who when it returned to our screens in 2005 was the length of each story. Where in the classic era a story might span 6 x 25 minute episodes, the new series allows never more than a two-parter. It is clear why this decision was made, as the modern undiscerning audience could not be expected to follow a story from week to week and so are given an entirely stand alone installment each time, albeit linked together with a rough theme or story thread. In some cases in the classic era a story was commissioned to be a certain number of episodes long and unfortunately some episodes do end up feeling like padding. However, the non-regular characters were allowed so much more in the way of development. We weren't introduced to a planet and some people in danger or need only to say goodbye to them 45 minutes later, without ever really knowing who they were, and the Doctor wasn't required to solve the whole thing in the last 5 minutes, usually by using some totally un-reincorporated technobabble or device we haven't seen or heard of and for some reason the Doctor hadn't thought of before. Sorry, rant over. 

There are many wonderful things in the new series, and with Stephen Moffat at the helm the programme is the strongest it has ever been. With the budget and the genius of the series current show-runner, I would love to see what could be done to re-establish the old structure of the show even for a short period.

Anyway back to The Daleks. To be totally honest I did have to struggle through some this, especially towards the middle. It was great to see the Daleks in a different light and without the limitations they have come under by today. I like the line the Doctor says when honourably refusing to stay and help the Thals 'I was once [a pioneer] among my people.' Again we see William Hartnell's Doctor given lines that will set up the Doctors character as not just any "Time Lord." But we're not anywhere near that yet. And finally some silly musings:

Silly Musings

This is a short section I'm planning to include from time to time. Just a few funny observations from each story.

1) The first and practically only explanation of where the TARDIS crew get their sustenance while aboard: The TARDIS food machine, where you look in a little book to find out what flavours (similar to primary colours) make up your desired fare and then turn some dials on a machine, to be finally offered a little cubed sweet. Yum! Also the only drinks you can have are water or milk. So for all you new fans wondering where Amy gets her grub from, you'll have to watch the second ever story because they're not telling you again.

2) My favourite of William Hartnell's line fluffs ever. "They were anti-radiation gloves... drugs"

3) I found it hilarious that toward the end of episode two: The Survivors, there's a scene where all the Daleks are inexplicably all crowded together rubbing suckers!

The Daleks inexplicably all rub sucker arms together...
And we've made it through the second story only 213 (currently) still to go... Thanks for reading and join me next time for The Edge of Destruction.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Where in the classic era a story might span 6 x 25 minute episodes, the new series allows never more than a two-parter."

The new series has had three-parters for several of the finales. That would be the equivalent of a six-parter in length.