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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Doctor Who: The Daleks

Serial Title: The Daleks
Series: 1
Episodes: 7
The Dead Planet
The Survivors
The Escape
The Ambush
The Expedition
The Ordeal (clearly, this episode is about watching through the whole serial! :-) )
The Rescue
Doctor: William Hartnell
Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

The TARDIS, fresh from escaping the Tribe of Gum (The cavemen from An Unearthly Child), lands on the planet Skaro, in a petrified forest. The planet is highly radioactive, however the Doctor and companions manage to miss the multiple redundant warnings issued by the high technology of the dimensionally-transcendent TARDIS: A single speedometer-style gauge with a sticky needle that doesn't begin registering until several minutes after they've landed. A futuristic city is visible in the distance.

Numerous spooky occurrences on the apparently dead planet suggest someone is there- a hand which Susan believes touched her (Note from Sarah: When doesn't Susan think that there is a hand touching her? Or all the girls on the show for that matter?), a knocking outside the TARDIS- enough to scare the companions into demanding the Doctor leave. Stubbornly and irresponsibly, he sabotages the TARDIS, claiming that all of the liquid mercury needed for the Fluid Link was drained in his sabotage and that the TARDIS cannot leave (Note from Sarah: You see in the new ones...he's so charming that pretty much all he'd have to do is smile and all the companions would get that giddy look on their faces and follow him over a cliff, even if he was wearing wings and they weren't.) without finding a new supply. (Fortunately, this is revealed to be a ruse; the Doctor is not THAT irresponsible!) Now forced to explore, and searching for mercury, the group heads for the city. Upon leaving the ship, they find a box containing vials of an unknown liquid, which they place in the ship for safekeeping; the gift-bearer, like the mysterious bumps in the night, is nowhere to be found.

As the group explores, designated-screamer Barbara is separated from the group and cornered by a Dalek- a human-height creature with a appearance like a salt-shaker on wheels; a large domed tower with a protruding eye-stalk, plunger-hand, and gun-barrel. The strange being is actually a sort of vehicle, a conveyance for the true Dalek creature within.

The rest of the group locates a Geiger counter and realizes their radiation-exposure; the Doctor admits the falseness of his sabotage and prepares to leave; to prevent abandoning Barbara, Ian seizes the crucial (but still mercury-filled and functional) component (Note from Sarah: So now that things feel dangerous to the Doctor HE wants to leave? And it just happens that he wants to leave without Barbara?!). Tension mounts again, but this is cut short as the Daleks capture the remaining trio. The Doctor is interrogated, and the Daleks, not wanting to lose their prisoners, dispatch Susan back to the TARDIS for the vials- which the group has deduced to be an anti-radiation-poisoning serum- and bring it back for the group. However, after she has left, the Daleks reveal they intend to confiscate the drugs and leave the group to die upon her return.

At the TARDIS, Susan encounters an ironically-Aryan race (see my review below for the Dalek/Nazi parallels) of friendly humans (Note from Sarah: can you tell they are Aryan in black and white, I ask you?:) (the ones who left the drugs) named the Thals. The Dals and Thals (how Doctor Suessian!) engaged in nuclear warfare. As a result of the following radiation, the Dals mutated into the Dalek race, and now need radiation to survive- confining them to the city, where the radiation in strongest. The Thals, now avowed pacifists, are starving, forced to live off the land which is meager and radiation-starved. They warn of Dalek duplicity and give Susan a second set of serum to conceal. Susan agrees to act as a broker on their behalf in hopes of negotiating with the Daleks for food and peace to the now useless war.

Susan manages to distribute the serum and the Thals offer; the Daleks seemingly accept, requesting Thal aid in cultivating the land as their food stockpiles are running low- but in reality, it is a plot to lure in, trap, and exterminate the Thals.

The Doctor and companions fake a fight amongst themselves and break the camera in their jail cell in the process, then come up with a method of immobilizing the Daleks. (Hilariously, these unstoppable forces of pure evil take their power via static electricity from the metal floor; rolling over a jacket that cuts off their metal-on-metal contact renders them powerless. Clearly, much tweaking would be needed to make the Daleks fearsome warriors in future serials.) A Dalek jailer is overpowered and Ian hides in the Dalek shell, impersonating a Dalek prisoner escort long enough to affect an escape.

The four escape and manage to get a warning to the approaching Thals, enabling some- but not all- to escape the deadly Dalek ambush. Back at their camp, Ian attempts to convince the pacifist Thals to fight against the Daleks as it is revealed that the Fluid Link was confiscated by the Daleks; without recovering it, the TARDIS can't leave.

The Thals and group make a plan; Ian and Barbara, with a group of Thals, will try to cross a treacherous swampland and mutant-filled lake to sneak in the back of the city. Meanwhile, The Doctor, Susan, and the remaining Thals, will make an assault on the front door as a diversion.

The Daleks, meanwhile, are attempting to cure themselves of radiation sickness with the captured serum but discover that they have become dependent on radiation, thriving on it- thus, they hatch a plan to launch another nautronic bomb and further flood the planet with radiation, making more of the surface habitable to them (and killing the Thals).

As the Doctor and Susan, successfully taking out Dalek surveillance monitors, become too bold in their sabotage and are captured, the sneaking group encounters a treacherous tunnel and a perilous ledge/jump- this, and the lake mutants, severely decrease their numbers. A thal frontal assault to rescue the Doctor and the back-door party converge in the Dalek control room, disabling the Dalek's bomb and their power source in the city, killing the now-powerless Daleks almost as efficiently as making them run over a jacket(Note from Sarah: Almost). The Doctor and his companions then bid a fond farewell to the victorious, rebuilding Thals and depart.

Well, I must say, I found this one rather dull (Note From Sarah: apparently I did too...seing as pretty much the only thing I THINK I remember is the lake mutants...maybe). The Daleks are, of course, the Doctor's most famous nemesis. A mutated, radiation scarred race living within strange, lumpy, metal shells- tantamount to personal tanks. Unstoppable, dedicated to a very Nazi-esque ideal of racial purity, full of hatred and loathing for all genetically inferior species, and possessing a will to 'Exterminate!' - their famous catchphrase.

Like Star trek's Borg, they are relentless, unstoppable, horrifically powerful juggernauts and truly frightening foes when handled well... and a group of rather incompetent boobs, rubes, and nitwits who are hollow parodies of their formed menace when overused or written poorly (as has sadly happened several times in the New series.) (Note from Sarah:....Andrew just said 'boobs.')

Still, for this outing... well, it was just too LONG. The Daleks may have been horribly menacing, but by episode 4, I just didn't care about them any more. I wanted this serial to be OVER. This happened in one or two slog-through episodes, but this remains, for me, the worst; running counter to many fans' high opinion of it.

At the time, I wrote the following:
After having made it thus far, I believe I've completed initial observations of the functions of the current TARDIS crew:
Susan is there to be useless.
Barbra exists to raise the alarm, whether it needs raising or not.
Ian is there to get things done.
The Doctor exists to say "No, you stupid man, it really could be this thing, which you dismissed, after all!"

The Dalek city looks nice, but... those hallway matte painting were a bit unfortunate- poorly angled (unless the hallways recede as ramps) and Barbara unfortunately casts a shadow on it the first time she passes it. (Having seen many more episodes since, the shadow-on-the=painted background issue is extremely common in these early serials.) (Note from Sarah: Not to mention the odd bump with the camera issues.)

Boy, these 1st Doc-era women get freaked out at pretty simple things... like walls. A lot of gasping and pressing back against the walls in terror in this episode. Susan's running... not so convincing. I'm on the verge of saying that she's not the world's greatest actress. :-)

Good thing that sucker/plunger isn't a weapon yet or the Doctor and Ian would be dead in the third episode! Actually, between the wrestling-the-Daleks-to-death and the giggle-inducing Dalek-screaming-in-terror-as-it-hallucinates... they're not quite so formidable this first time out. :-) I stopped taking notes at this point in the third episode, at which time I said ' A pretty good serial, though things seemed to get a bit dull from here onwards (who couldn't see the last chasm-jumper not making it and sacrificing himself?) but overall, pretty enjoyable. Assuredly more interesting than the last serial.' Ironic, since in my ret-conned memory, I would actually reverse the two positions.

Great moments:
The Doctor asking Barbara to talk to Susan was, to me, the first crack of 'humanity' we've seen through the veneer.

And the Ian-commandeered Dalek, though unrealistic by current standard of how we know Dalek interiors to be, was tons of fun.

From the time: Four out of five blessings of Orb. (Five for the first 3 episodes, Three for the last... leaving aside that concepts like 'numerals' and 'averaging' are probably a bit beyond the Tribe of Gum. ;-) ) From my current memories of it: 1.5 out of 5. It seems my memory is retroactively a lot harsher; fortunately, the episodes progress on a steady upward curve of quality and enjoyment, so things that seemed stellar at the time now seem weak in comparison, knowing how much better things got!

1 comment:

  1. Maybe not the reaction you want, but I appreciate these reviews because I can just live vicariously through them and not have to watch these things. My sensibilities don't like old films. The pacing is generally terrible in them.

    --Chris W