Doctor Who Reviews 1/ The Daleks

Plot

The TARDIS takes the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan to a seemingly dead planet. They discover both a petrified jungle (as well as the remains of petrified animals) and an apparently abandoned city. The Doctor wishes to explore the city, but the other three wish to leave. Later that night as they hear a tapping on the TARDIS door (with Susan having apparently spotted something moving in the distance earlier.) Susan, Ian and Barbara demand to leave right away, but the Doctor still desperate to explore pretends that something has gone wrong with the TARDIS. He claims the fluid link’s top has come undone and that the mercury has poured out. The Doctor claims that the only chance they have of finding any Mercury to replace it is in the city.

The foursome soon venture into the city, but become seperated. Barbara is taken by mysterious and hostile metallic creatures.

The Doctor, Susan and Ian meanwhile discover a giga counter that reveals the air of this planet is polluted with radiation. With all of them having been poisoned by the polluted air, the Doctor soon reveals his bluff to a furious Ian and Susan. The Doctor is all set to leave Barbara, but Ian forces him to stay by stealing the fluid link.

The Doctor, Ian and Susan are soon captured by the same mysterious metallic creatures who took Barbara. The Doctor is later questioned by the creatures. The creatures reveal that they are called the Daleks. The Daleks were originally humanoids and they shared their world with another race of humanoids called the Thals. Both species hated one another and waged a nuclear war with each other which eventually destroyed the surface of their planet, turning it from a beautiful paradise into a barren, irradiated wasteland. Both species where horribly mutated as a result of the war and the Daleks placed their mutated form inside robotic shells to protect themselves from the air.

The Thals meanwhile managed to create a drug which allows them to survive the polluted air. The Doctor soon realises that the box that was left outside the TARDIS earlier is a sample of the Thals anti radiation drugs and he makes a deal with the Daleks that one of them will go outside the city and retrieve it and they will split it with the Daleks. The Daleks who want the drug so that they can leave their machines agree. Of course they really have no intention of allowing their prisoners to have any of it.

The Daleks are unable to leave their own city as their machines that keep them alive are powered by the metal floors of the city.

Susan is sent outside as being the youngest she is the least affected (Ian was also shot by a Dalek whilst trying to escape earlier) Outside in the jungle Susan retrieves the box, but is soon cornered by a Thal. She discovers that the Thals mutation cycle has come full circle and that they have evolved back into their original forms, humanoids. The Thals have become pacifists as well and want to make peace with the Daleks, however they still don’t entirely trust them and so they give Susan a second supply of anti radiation drugs. The thals had left the first supply earlier specifically for the Doctor and his friends.

When Susan reaches the city the Daleks discover the second supply but allow her to keep it because they want to use her to help set a trap for the Thals after having discovered that she made contact with them.

The Daleks get Susan to write a note to the Thals saying that the Daleks want to make peace with them and that they are to collect food from them tomorrow. However the Daleks obviously intend to exterminate them as soon as they enter the city.

The Doctor and his friends meanwhile are able to escape by killing the Dalek guarding them by pulling it over a cloak, seperating it from the metal floors. The Doctor is once again happy to leave the Thals to their fate, but Ian remains behind and warns the Thals, though not before the Daleks manage to kill the leader of thals in cold blood.

The rest of the Thals escape to the jungle and still believe that they can make peace with the Daleks, but Ian warns them that the Daleks will not rest until they have destroyed them as they hate the Thals simply for being different to them.

After failing to convince the Thals to stand up for themselves the Doctor and his companions are prepared to leave, but ironically the Doctor discovers that the Daleks took the fluid link from Ian whilst they were in the city.

The Thals soon agree to help the Doctor and his friends retrieve their fluid link, meanwhile the Daleks discover that the anti radiation drugs are like a poison to them. The Daleks have in fact evolved to become dependant on radiation and the reason they can’t survive outside of their metal casings is because there isn’t enough radiation in the air to sustain them.

Thus they decide to explode another neutron bomb that will pollute the air not only to the extent that they will be able to survive on their own, but the Thals will not be able to survive even with their anti radiation drugs.

The Thals meanwhile split off into two groups. One side lead by Ian and Barbara attack the back of the city making their way past the lake of mutations and through a treacherous cave system where several of them are killed along the way, whilst the other team led by The Doctor and Susan attack from the front. Though the Daleks are able to capture the Doctor and Susan, eventually all of the Thals launch an all out attack on the city The Daleks have the upper hand at first, but the Thals are eventually able to get the better of them by knocking out their power source. With their power source knocked out the Daleks die and their bomb does not go off. Having retrieved their fluid link the Doctor and friends soon set off for new adventures leaving the Thals to rebuild their world.

Quotes

Dalek / We do not have to change to suit the environment, we will change the environment to suit us.

The Doctor / Why, why must you destroy, can’t you use your brains.

Dalek / The only interest we have in the Thals is their total extermination.

Dalek / (to the Doctor) Listen to me, stop our power from wasting, or it will be, the end of the Daleks!

The Doctor / (in reply to the Dalek) Even if I wanted to I don’t know how.

The Doctor/ You wanted advice you said. I never give it. Never. But I might just say this to you. Always search for truth. My truth is in the stars and yours is here.

Thal Leader/ There is no indignity in being afraid to die, but there is a terrible shame in being afraid to live.

Review

The first Dalek story remains to this day over 50 years later one of the greatest Doctor Who stories ever made.

There is just so much in the story.

On the surface its a fun, rip roaring, boys own adventure, filled with evil robots, a journey through a perilous cave system, lake monsters and even a bit of romance thrown in there between Barbara and one of the Thals.

However underneath its a very deep story that tackles issues such as race hatred, xenophobia, the threat of nuclear power, and standing up for yourself.

The Daleks were very clearly based on the Nazi’s. They are consumed with race hatred for the thals (who in quite a nice touch are all portrayed as Aryans, the Nazi’s idea of the perfect human being). At one point in the story the Daleks even perform the Nazi salute the parallels between them are so strong.

I often felt that The Doctor and friends served as quite a good parallel for Winston Churchill’s role in the Second World War. In both cases we have a fascist xenophobic society that is a threat, but both Britain and the Thals refuse to do anything about it due to the memories of a previous conflict. In Britain’s case it was the first world war, whilst in the Thals case it was a global conflict with the Daleks. Both conflicts were pointless and have caused both sides to never even consider the possibility of war again. However now ironically a war is the only choice they have. The enemy they are facing is beyond reason as it has a “dislike for the unlike” and thus they cannot possibly appease them, thus they have to fight them. That’s the morale of the story, when you are facing an enemy who hates you not for anything you have done, but just simply because of who you are you have to stand up to them.

The Doctor and his friends therefore are the Winston Churchill who convince the Thals to abandon their policy of appeasement against the Daleks and fight them.

At the same time however  the story does not glorify war. It shows many of the Thals die horrible, pointless deaths and it even manages to make us show some sympathy for the Daleks too in the final moment where the Thals stare round bitterly at the dead Daleks and comment “if only there had been another way”.

The story makes a very good point about how some was can be justified but others are not. A war like the one against the Daleks in this story or the second world war,  a war against an enemy who wishes to destroy others simply for who they are is a justified war.

Whilst the Daleks are primarily a metaphor for the Nazi’s I feel they could also be seen as a metaphor for other examples of man’s inhumanity to man at the same time.

I have compared the beliefs of the Daleks in this story to those of General Chivington’s many times in the past and I still say there are valid comparisons. Its the way the Daleks don’t even look on the Thals as their enemies in this story. Its not like the Sontarans who wish to destroy the Rutans, but at least still view them as their enemies. The Daleks much like how Chivington looked on the Native American’s he slaughtered during the Sand Creek Massacre look on the Thals as nothing more than pests.

The first Dalek story also plays on contemporary cold war fears at the same time. The barren, dead irradiated world of the Daleks not only represents what our world could have become had the cold war lead to a third world war, but the Daleks themselves also serve as a great metaphor for the people who would unleash devastating weapons that could destroy the environment itself such as agent Orange just to defeat their enemies.

The Daleks planning to poison the air of skaro just to eradicate the Thals is comparable to the British’s use of agent orange to destroy the crops, bushes and trees of communist insurgents in Malaya during the Malayan Emergency and later the American’s attempts to bomb Vietnam “back to the stone age” during the Vietnam war.

The Daleks even in this story are every inch the ultimate monster. They represent all of the very worst aspects of humanity rolled into one. Its not hard to see why they caught on so much in this story. To children they are the perfect monster They are evil, intimidating and utterly ruthless, whilst adults can recognize what they are meant to represent.

Its not just the Daleks however that make this story so great. It also features a very important development in the character of the Doctor here too. At the start of the story the Doctor could not be a more unsympathetic character. He tricks his friends into exploring the city, and he is also shown to be prepared to leave the Thals and even Barbara to die just to save his own life.

However by the end of the story the Doctor is shown to take a more moral stance against the Daleks. We even see him at one point be willing to give up the TARDIS to the Daleks to spare the Thals.

I often thought it was this battle against the Daleks that helped change the Doctor. Up until now the Doctor had never bothered to interfere in the affairs of other life forms. However when it comes to the Daleks he can see that they are pure evil. The battle between the Daleks and the Thals at first might seem no different to the fight between two cavemen to the Doctor. Just more primitives squabbling, but by the end of the story when he realizes that the Daleks are willing to utterly exterminate the Thals, wipe out an entire culture in the blink of an eye he finally realizes that there are some things worth fighting against, that there are times he needs to get involved.

The 12th Doctor even comments on this in “Into the Dalek”

“I was just running. I called myself the Doctor, but it was just a name. And then I went to Skaro. And then I met you lot and I understood who I was. The Doctor was not the Daleks.”

Susan is also given a lot more to do in this story as well. I think Terry Nation was always very good at writing women. He always tended to give more prominent roles to the Doctors female companions than a lot of other writers did and here he is one of the few who actually gave Susan something more to do than just scream. The scene where Susan has to venture out into the jungle by herself is a wonderful moment for the character as it shows how brave she truly is. Even though she is scared she still does it for the sake of her friends and family.

Of course all of this is not to say that the first Dalek story is flawless. Its definitely an episode too long. It was actually originally intended to be just 6 episodes, but it was extended to 7. Its pace and structure is perfect up until episode 4, but then it does tend to drag a bit until the last episode.

Still overall this still stands up as one of my favourite ever stories. Whilst it may be slow in some places, everything else about it worked. The sets and production values are beautiful, the direction is also claustrophobic and atmospheric too.. Not many people have time for Richard Martin, but I think this story is very well directed and is certainly his best work on the series.

The acting is also all around great with David Graham and Peter Hawkins in particular giving the Daleks very effective voices. They don’t just make them sound like robots, but add a real hysterical quality to them, giving the impression right from the start that there is something trapped in there almost like a disembodied spirit wanting to get out.

Overall this is one of the best Doctor Who stories from the 60’s and a true classic all around.

Final Rating

5 stars

Trivia

  • Originally Ridley Scott of “Alien” was to have designed the Daleks. He also directed certain scenes of this story too.
  • Originally this story was to have revealed that the original war between the Daleks and the Thals had been started by a third alien race who would have shown up at the end and taken responsibility for the conflict, and brought peace between the two races. Though this idea was abandoned it would later be revisited in the Doctor Who Unbound “Masters of War” set in an alternate universe where the third Doctor is played by David Warner. This story sees the Doctor discover that a race known as the Quatch started the war between the Kaleds and the Thals. However unlike the unnamed aliens in Nations original draft the Quatch are anything but friendly, and try to conquer both the Daleks and the Thals with Davros’s help.

  • It is not clear when this story is set. It is stated by the first Doctor in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” that this story took place a million years into the future. However this is contradicted in “Planet of the Daleks”, when we discover the Thals refer to the events of this story as a legend, with “Planet of the Daleks” being set only a few hundred years in the future.

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