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

By Sophie Iles

With five episodes to talk about, you’ll probably suspect this to be rather daunting to write. The last two episodes after all had a lot going on, and with five more episodes to review, how can you possible summarise it without it being a novel length? Well, I think I’m just about going to manage it, and that’s because, for me, this is where the Daleks serial comes under fire compared to its predecessor The Unearthly Child. Today I will be looking at The Escape, The Ambush, The Expedition, The Ordeal, and The Rescue.

We last saw Susan preparing herself to leave the TARDIS with these anti radiation drugs to save her family and friends under her arm, again to leave the safety of the TARDIS and return to the rather terrifying dead jungle where apparently horrid mutations called the Thals live in.

But when Susan steps back out there, preparing for the worst, she does meet a Thal, but not the kind of monster she’s expecting. Who she meets instead is al tall blonde adonis is probably the best way to describe Alydon. For a ‘mutated’ human he’s almost sickeningly kind, and Susan’s darling face lights up and comes to trust him and so do the audience in turn. It is after all much easier for us to trust this guy than the Daleks with their scary exteriors. It turns out that the Thals didn’t even know the Daleks still existed, and that they have been using the drugs to survive out in the jungle, something that they were kind enough to offer to our TARDIS crew.

Susan meets Alydon, one of the Thals.

She’s escorted by her new friend through the jungle to make it back to the city safely, and Alydon even gives her more drugs to make sure that there’s enough for the Daleks and her companions just in case they steal their stash. He explains that they hope to make a treaty with the Daleks because their race despite farming some of the land are running out of food and need help. Already we are sympathetic towards them and when Susan returns to her party she tells them all about Alydon.

The Daleks however, the cunning lot, have been listening in and we see for the first time their true intent when it comes to the Thals. Quite simply they want them dead. They want to trick them. It’s here we see the Dalek’s truest colours and it’s a colour we recognise every time we see them again. They hate everything that isn’t them, and their old enemy must be destroyed.

Susan is asked by the Daleks to write a message of peace for the Thals, to indicate that they will help them grow new food, and the Thal leader called Temmosus, is sure that this will lead to good fortune, but Alydon is suspicious, even with Susan’s signature at the bottom. They decide to meet the Daleks as planned, unaware of the fate that will before them.  

Susan writes a message for the Thals from the Daleks.

Meanwhile our main characters are no longer in a state of illness what’s left for them is curiosity and thirst to escape. Barbara, Ian and the Doctor come to the conclusion the Daleks were listening to their conversation about the Thals and how they wanted Susan’s help in the first place. It leads to a really fun scene where they pretend to have an argument and rip out the camera feed on the wall of their cell. For those just tuning in it could very well look like the Doctor being his arrogant self but fortunately even the Doctor sees that this is a bad sign. It means now they can talk together and work through an escape plan together without the Daleks noticing. So begins my favourite part of the serial.

The companions show their worth their weight in gold. In comes Barbara, cool as you please, taking mud off Susan’s shoes so they can create mud to blind the Dalek’s eyestalk. It’s even Ian that has the idea of how to stop The Daleks using Alydon’s cloak to cut off the Daleks connection to the floor. I fear that both these ideas would probably not be credited to a companion today and a far more Doctor-ish solution to a problem. Something that just shows really just how this television show has changed over the years. It’s the teamwork of this episode, that is really lovely to watch, even if for the time being is just because they need each other to survive.

Their plan to escape is a success of course! They capture a Dalek and with some very clever film making wrap the monster inside the metal casing in Alydon’s cloak so we never fully see what the Dalek looks like, before Ian steps inside to pretend. I still love that Ian Chesterton is still not only the first person to pretend to be a Dalek — something that becomes a recurring theme in New Who it seems — but as far as I’m currently aware, the only individual to be shot by a Dalek and live. He even has to do the horrid monotone voice, and despite themselves everyone laughs at his impersonation.

This leads us nicely into the next episode. The Thals on their way to meet the Daleks to sign this peace treaty whilst our TARDIS team try to escape. They’re able to convince the Daleks just long enough to get Barbara, Susan and the Doctor into a lift back up to the surface and away from their cells, but poor Ian is still in the Dalek casing, hoping to catch the lift after them.

For a few horrid and tense seconds, we don’t know what his fate will be, and they don’t want to leave him alone, but because the action man he was hired for is sticking round for a few adventures yet, he gets into the lift just in time and is met with a running hug by Barbara. What a sweet pair they make!

Now, to get out of the city, but Ian wants to warn the Thals they are walking into a trap, and just in the nick of time the science teacher is able to warn them of the Daleks betrayal, but not before Temmosus is killed in the process.

Now we have these two groups together, The Doctor with his companions and The Thals in their camp, making decisions on how to proceed. They know now to what lengths the Daleks will kill the Thals, but they are no longer a warrior race and stick with pacifism. Also, The Doctor explains that the fluid ink, the piece of machinery the Doctor originally claimed was needed to be filled with mercury and his fake reasoning to get into the city was now in the Dalek’s possession and without it they can’t leave in the TARDIS.

Either way, they have to go back into the city, but they still have to convince The Thals to help them.

IAN: I will not allow you to use the Thals to fight for us.
DOCTOR: Are you challenging me?
IAN: Yes, I am.
BARBARA: Do I have any say in this?
IAN: Of course you do.
BARBARA: Well I think the Doctor’s right and I want to get out of here.
IAN: I am sorry, I’m not having anyone’s death on my conscience.
BARBARA: Except mine and Susan’s and the Doctor’s?

These scenes are fascinating to watch because it’s Ian and Susan who stand opposed to Barbara and the Doctor in the argument. Ian doesn’t want to ask pacifists to fight if they don’t want to, whilst Barbara and the Doctor point out that without their help they are probably going to be killed. It’s the first time we see Ian and Barbara on opposing sides, considering how they’ve already been supporting each other previously, and for the first time sees Barbara in a vein of self interest we’ve never seen before. Ian’s morally good action hero hat hasn’t wavered but also knows that without their help, the deaths of his friends and himself is also on the line. It is a very difficult choice to make.

The Doctor and his companions bickering in the Thal Camp.

Finally, because the bickering is getting them nowhere, Ian decides that the only way the Thals will help them is if they see there’s something in it for them.  Ian uses the Thal’s emotions against them. He claims that maybe they could trade one of the Thals, Dyoni for the fluid ink they need instead of any fighting needed. As Dyoni is Alydon’s intended partner, this makes him angry, and he hits Ian in the face and Ian shows them that fighting to protect their loved ones is something they must do because the Daleks will find a way of destroying them. It’s a powerful trick, but it works. Soon, they groups are working together to get into the Dalek City.

Now for me, this is where the serial starts to fall down a tad. There’s been a lot going on, a lot of intensity and darkness and worry for our characters, but when this plan starts to unfold for me it takes a long time. Also, because of the necessary inclusion of the Thals to the story, I feel like the separation of Susan and the Doctor and thus Ian and Barbara going on the expedition to find another way into the city means it loses the charm of their interactions.

Though that might be my bias, but even Ian and Barbara seem split even whilst they explore, as Barbara seems to spend time with another Thal, Ganatus, than with Ian, almost as though they’re trying to make a point but haven’t expressed what the point was? Perhaps they didn’t want to see Barbara who at this point is a strong independent woman be reliable on her friend, and want her to be helped by dashing alien instead? Either way, the change in dynamic seems strange, and despite a number of Thals being killed in the episodes that follow on the journey, I suspect it’s that feeling of watching a red shirt in Star Trek, if someone’s going to get the chop it’s not going to be our leads so each death doesn’t hit that hard because of it. It doesn’t help that their side of the journey doesn’t fully conclude until our last episode aswell so everything is still dragging out until then, which seems strange after the time jumps previously with Susan in the jungle and her journey to the TARDIS.

Whilst The Expedition is happening, The Daleks who took some of the anti radiation medicine are falling ill, proving their theory that they actually thrived off the radiation now instead of becoming sick by it. That they could radiate the planet again with another bomb and wipe out the Thals entirely. Meanwhile, The Doctor and Susan get themselves kidnapped by the Daleks whilst they’re out breaking their short circuits and causing trouble to be the decoy for the other party, with the hope of being the Daleks main focus they won’t notice Ian, Barbara and the Thals coming in the back door.

We finally come to the final chapter of our story, Ian and Barbara’s team run into Alydon’s team of Thals in the city, and they all decide to save the Doctor and Susan together in the control room. A fight ensues, and the Daleks overcome with surprise are defeated, but not without causing more Thal deaths. The TARDIS team are reunited and unharmed and have the fluid ink and they can finally leave Skaro.

As a serial, it’s not bad. I really loved watching the first three episodes again, but by the time I was watching the final three it all really seemed to drag for me. The Daleks are worth it however, a really awesome introduction to these horrid creatures, and such a massive part of their mythology as time continues the Daleks are seen twice more in William Hartnell’s era, and though I have yet to watch them they play a massive part in the rest of the Doctor’s classic era stories. I am more than just a little excited to see how these mutations continues to entertain and terrifying children throughout the classic era.

Next week tune in as we discuss The Edge of Destruction! What exactly is Susan doing with those scissors? What is going on with the TARDIS and why does it feel like we’re watching a very surreal one act play?

Also, my doodle for this week is again very quick I’m afraid, this is due to the fact I’m not actually with my drawing materials at the moment, but here’s a snapshot of Susan outside the TARDIS!