Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – The Daleks (Part 1 of 2)

By Sophie Iles

This week in this series we get to our first really meaty serial of Doctor Who, which to this day leaves a lasting mark on our favourite Time Lord as this serial introduces us to Terry Nation’s Daleks for the very first time. As this is a seven episode epic, I’m going to only talk about the first two episodes, which I think considering the fact the rest of serial drags out a lot and the story dynamic changes from the beginning of episode three it’s a good place to stop. This means in this article I will be talking about The Dead Planet and The Survivors and even with just these two episodes there is a lot to talk about…

The Dead Planet is as creepy as it’s supposed to be, an introduction to what in the future will be classed as the planet Skaro, the home planet of the Daleks. The episode is also as simple as it sounds, introducing what will be quite a formulaic approach to Doctor Who in the future, landing on a planet, exploring it and getting into trouble. Something that happens here for the first time.

Not without a little meddling from the Doctor however, but I’ll get to that soon enough…

When they first arrive Ian, Barbara, Susan and the Doctor are fascinated and terrified admittedly by the place and its stone cold death like manner. They are unaware that the radiation on the planet is incredibly high and causing them to slowly become sick, and discover that there is a city past the jungle they had landed in. With some meddling from the Doctor, they decide to go take a look in the city, but not before Susan believes she was touched by someone in the forest, and that a strange box of vials was left outside their TARDIS…something unfortunately they put on the ship before continuing their adventures.  

It is in this city we meet the Daleks, a race that Whovians need no introduction to these days. They have been in the show many times in the last fifty years but now is the first time the Doctor meets them on screen; the metal casing and the balls formed on the outside, the toilet plunger tool for a weapon and of course the blaster gun and its creepy eyestalk — and that’s without the voice barking in a vibrating tone ordering about our heroes. I’ll be honest, the point of view shot cliffhanger when a Dalek is heading towards Barbara is one of my favourite cliffhangers in the entirety of Doctor Who.

Barbara Wright meets a Dalek for the first time.

Before I skip on to the story chunks of the next episode I really do love the first episode because there are some beautiful character moments in The Dead Planet with each character, so let’s have a good look at those.

Firstly, The Doctor’s curiosity is something that we are familiar with in the show. This is the first time we really see it in action. At first, the Dead Planet interests him but not enough to stay for a long period — until they see the city off into the distance. This changes everything. This even leads the Doctor to even temporarily break the TARDIS on purpose, and lie to all his passengers so they are all forced to go explore the city just for his gain. If only he had checked the radiation counter again, there wouldn’t be the certain danger that followed…perhaps he’d might not be so foolish…

Meanwhile Ian and Barbara’s moment come two fold in this episode over two conversations, firstly, Ian’s bold acceptance that this is how it’s going to be whilst travelling with the Doctor is apparent. Compared to the first time he steps out of the TARDIS, dazed and bewildered and completely skeptical, here he is taking the new adventure in his stride. Barbara is less enthusiastic this time. She had obviously hoped for Earth, she clearly hopes for something she is able to recognise. After all their first adventure was cavemen and no matter how foreign they seem, it is something she had probably read about as a history teacher. Dying planets and metal creatures are something far out of her understanding and it puts her at a disadvantage.

IAN: Try not to be too upset
BABARA: I counted so much on just going back to things I recognise and trust. But here there’s nothing to rely on. Nothing.
IAN: Well, there’s me. Barbara, all I ask you to do is believe, really believe, we’ll go back. We will, you know.
BARBARA: I wish I was more like you. I’m afraid I’m a very unwilling adventurer.
IAN: I’m not exactly reveling in it myself.

It’s the conversation about trust that I love so much in this episode. They can’t trust in anything but each other in that moment. They can’t even trust the Doctor yet (which he’s obviously made apparent the cheeky alien that he is) and Susan is still learning so they can go in blind to these exploits but at least they’re not alone and I think in some mad way — this is something I love about having more than one companion in the TARDIS, and something that I think sometimes lacks in the New Who series, that feeling of togetherness. The Doctor is an alien, and no matter how many pop culture references he makes or how much he will eventually love Earth, the companion is always the one who has to be on the back foot and so the idea that it’s okay to be scared and at least we have each other feels like a very powerful message to me, for all age groups and all different types of relationships. That, or I’m really just a big softie myself.

Lastly we have Susan and her adoration of the nature that she finds on the planet which is another favourite moment of mine; not to mention her sadness when Ian breaks said flower, accidentally when Barbara screams in fright at a dead metal creature. We are so focused on Ian and Barbara’s fear about not getting home and here is Susan finding beauty even on this sad and lonely planet. Basically what I’m saying here is Susan Foreman must be protected at all costs and her role only gets better as the episodes go on.

The Dead Planet leads neatly into the next episode The Survivors, where we watch as the TARDIS team are captured by the Daleks and are all suffering from radiation sickness, the Doctor more than the others. It finally comes out that he was lying to get the team in the city in the first place and Ian and Barbara don’t even have the energy left to be upset. The Doctor is basically dying for all of the episode and the feeling of intensity just grows and grows as it’s unsure how any of them will survive.

It becomes clear that the Daleks believe they are something to do with The Thals, a ‘mutated’ race that live out in the jungle. But The Doctor explains to their captors they are just travellers and so The Daleks confirm that the box that was left near their TARDIS is the drugs they need to survive. They decide they will let one of them go to get the item in question so they can cure their ailment and protect themselves against the radiation. Ian wants to go of course, but thanks to his being a heroic fool at the beginning of the episode, the Daleks shot at him and temporarily paralyzed his legs. Despite Ian’s displeasure at doing so, and Barbara’s insistence that she’s just a child, Ian tells Susan it is up to her to save the day. This young time lady who before this point has probably not had to do anything like this before, scared to death and visibly shaking, as her teachers and her grandfather are dying in a Dalek cell has no choice but to take up the mantel. She goes back out into the terrible jungle to try and get back to the TARDIS and get the vials they need.

The Doctor being interrogated by the Daleks for the first time.

As Ian recovers with his legs, he like Barbara and the Doctor continue to suffer with the radiation sickness and its dark nature actually made me cry at the screen for Susan to succeed like I was watching a football game. Susan runs through the forest for a few screen minutes before to everyone’s relief she gets to the TARDIS, gets the drugs and almost decides to wait there. We hear Ian’s sick voice as a memory to tell her to come straight back and then she opens the doors again and leads us straight into another cliffhanger moment, back out into the jungle.   

You can’t help but be hooked by this point, even though I have seen this episodes that follow, the questions still fall on the tip of my tongue: What will happen next? Will she meet the ‘mutated’ Thals? How will they escape the Daleks? Will the drugs actually help or will it make things worse? Will Susan get back in time? You can’t help but wonder what the families thought as they watched this for the first time around their television sets in the 1960s and it’s that sort of intrigue and passion that I believe keeps these stories alive fifty years later.

Next week, we learn about how Daleks hold objects, we meet the Thals, we watch our favourite TARDIS crew trick a Dalek and watch as we get a tiny glimmer of what the original Dalek mutation looked like and see just how they get away from Planet Skaro together out of the firing pan and into another proverbial fire that is The Edge of Destruction.

There’s no doodle this week, but instead have a picture of me pretending to be Ian in The Survivors holding my legs back in April at the Doctor Who Experience: