Tuesday, 6 January 2009

January 2009, Week 2: The Daleks


  1. I have never seen this seven-part story. There I've said it. Call myself a Whovian? Hardly.
    I mean, I've only passed on the introduction of the most important villains, in fact, one of the most iconic images in television history.
    Well. What a fool Ive been.
    This story is, much like Unearthly Child in that it establishes so many important elements of the show and what will come throughout the decades that follow.

    Once again, I find myself surprised at just how manipulative, and quite often downright callous the Doctor is.
    He seems more than willing to sacrifice the safety of his companions and his Granddaughter just so he can go for a bit of a nose around a dead city. So much, does he want this, that he actually lies about needing mercury for a vital component of the TARDIS.
    Yep. The Doctor lies.

    But... there's worse to come.
    Later on, he loses said component, and actually advocates teaching a peaceful race to wage a war against the Daleks just so he can get it back.
    I mean, damn the concept of peace. Damn the survival of the Thals. Damn it all for his component.
    Just astonishing.
    It's up to our moral center, in the shape of IAN, to try and make some sort of sense of it all, without anyone getting needlessly killed on their behalf!

    I digress.

    Oooooh. lovely, nasty, one-track-minded Daleks.
    Genocide-loving, uncompromising, Nazi-minded Daleks.
    No wonder they became an instant hit.
    Apart from the wonderful design and concept of the machine encasing a nasty tentacled ball of evil. They just have one thing on their mind right from the get-go.
    Complete and utter rule over everything. The extermination of every other being that is not a Dalek.

    For me, this is the perfect portrayal. Later on we were to see them become watered down, aimless, pepperpots, often playing second fiddle to Davros.
    But here, they rule. evil incarnate. no reasoning with them. If you're not a Dalek, GAME OVER.

    As to the whole story. Well... I personally think seven parts is a one episode too many.
    The interminable jumping from edge to ledge in the cave goes on and on and on and on in episodes 5 and 6. And it's not very well anyway, as you get no real sense of height. That aside, it's great.
    The laying of the trap for the Thal Leader, where all the Daleks roll back into corners, ready to exterminate him is such a brilliant image. As is, the Dalek city design. just genius.

    Overall, I really really enjoyed it. I watched it in one sitting, interrupted half-way by a Virgin Atlantic meal. And actually ate my meal quickly, so I could get back to it. (I also ate it quickly, because it tasted awful)


    What's good:

    Daleks being evil, nasty, lovely Daleks.
    The Dalek city design.
    The Thals. A good bunch of actors, I thought, and their I really felt their plight.
    Ian, the hero. He's really grown on me.

    What's bad:

    Episode 5 and some of 6. A lot of padding for me here.
    The idea that Ian can get in Dalek casing and his voice change. Didn't buy that one.
    The Dalek in distress in Episode 3 "ahhhh. ahhhh. ahhhhhhhhhhh" right.
    The Doctor! I need a few redeeming features! He's just a bastard at the moment.
    Cardboard Daleks in the control room.

    What's geek:

    That Dalek control room noise. Makes my hairs stand on end.

    Have I the right?

    To ask....

    Are the DALEKS the best monster in British television history?
    And why do they endure still?

    What makes them so special?
    I still suspend all disbelief as I watch them. To me they ARE Daleks. Not men in metal casings with casters.

  2. Oh. I forgot to mention that I enjoyed Barbara getting saucy with a Thal. I hope there is more of that to come. She's a dreadful flirt that one...

  3. AAAAA the Daleks! The most successful and iconic alien villains in series history and probably TV history. And the great thing is that they're wonderful right from this first appearance.
    But lets take it from the top. The story picks up where we left off with the travelers arrival on a seemingly dead planet. The Doctor himself is still utterly self-centred and this time willfully puts all his companions at risk simply to satisfy his own curiosity. Can this really be our hero!
    All this leads the four down into a metallic city and we hear for the first time that wonderful sound that still fills me with childhood dread, that incredible pulsing heartbeat of fear. The group is separated which leads to the glorious episode 1 cliff hanger of Barbara backing away from... WHAT!!! Fantastic! as someone might say.
    Gradually the four become involved in the fate of the two races, the metal encased Daleks and the pacifist farmers, the Thals. The acting is of a high standard overall, with William Russell and Jacqueline Hill once again in fine form. And William Hartnell is excellent as the wonderfully dotty Doctor, managing to move from stubborn selfishness through arrogance to condemnation of the Daleks "senseless evil killing" while still convincing you it's the same character.
    The Thals too do some sterling work, with Philip Bond particularly good as Ganatus. The blossoming romance between him and Barbara is particularly well written and acted by them both I thought, with her departure at the end quite touching. And the whole debate on the Thals pacifism is quite complex for what is seen as a kids adventure show.
    However, the whole story is stolen by those super villain pepper pots. My theory as to why they work so well is that they are the race that doesn't just look like a man in a suit. And I always love stories that play up their organic origins, that allow them to be creatures with emotions, even if those emotions are just revulsion for the non Dalek. And that is what is so great about them here. All they want is to get out and about on their planet and they don't care what happens to any other species, because after all, they are all inferior and will be exterminated anyway. Much better than some later stories that make them mindless robotic automatons. Hell, I even love the cries of the dying Dalek in part 3.
    The weaknesses for me are, firstly, it's too long. The expedition in episodes 5 and 6 is drawn out and the group seem to take forever to jump that chasm. Though the length of the journey does allow the Ganatus/Barbara relationship to grow naturally so perhaps I'm being harsh.
    Secondly, Susan. The mysterious unearthly child we met 4 episodes back has disappeared and been replaced with someone silly. It's a shame as Barbara is really quite strong and forceful for an early 1960s female character so it makes the contrast with Susan in this story quite stark.
    There are a couple of moments that show the limitations of the time eg that rock smashing the Dalek lift which I just don't buy. And why does Ian not warn the Thals earlier? Is Temmosus speech really that good you'd sacrifice people to hear the finish?
    Overall, though, it's a really super story and from me it gets a 7 out of 10. Though I suspect 1 episode less would have garnered 1 point more. Hope you guys all enjoy it. And as the Doctor says " we mustn't diddle about here"

  4. re: Susan. I couldn't agree more. She is there to wail and be hysterical, and mostly for Ian to keep telling her to get a grip. What a shame.
    Barbara on the other hand, has clearly dispensed with Ian's affections and is now moving onto any Alien Tom Dick or Harry who takes her roving eye.

  5. It'll get her into trouble that will

  6. "Is this the end of the Daleks?"

    Well, that was a treat, and no mistake.

    There's just so much to enjoy. The taut script from Terry Nation, the design from Ray Cusick, the direction, the acting... it's just a scary joy from beginning to end.

    I'll call out a couple of things that I particularly enjoy here. Many of them are of interest because over the years, the Daleks lose them.

    Hero Dalek: one of the Daleks has an iris on his lens that opens and closes. It might seem like a small thing, but it really helps to sell the reality of these creatures.

    Dalek Architecture: The city corridors and doors are Dalek height, so the actors have to crouch to move through them. Again, attention to detail helps to sell the reality of the future. This city has been designed for Daleks, not people, and you can see that whenever you're in there.

    Philosophy: The debate between the pacifist Thals about when one should fight is still a stormer.

    I actually disagree with the comments from Dan and John that it's too long, though. I like the scary exploration through the caverns, the fear and thoughts of leaving, then the realisation that you're trapped... Good scary stuff.

    The Doctor: Oh yes, the Doctor. Bit of a bastard, isn't he? More than happy to lie and cheat to get his own way, and to abandon the Thals to their fate of extermination, but then passionately against senseless, evil killing... What an antihero. What a star. Ian and Barbara are the heroes of this show, but Doctor Who is the star.

    Camerawork: The camera swoops about as the Daleks glide around. So complex. It's more of a wonder that they get it right so often than it is that there's an occasional bump.

    Barbara Wright: Gets a snog at the end. But, more to the point: Barbara Wright in Thal Fetish Trousers.


    This Adventure Would Never Have Happened If: The Doctor hadn't wanted to play tourist.

  7. Top review sir.
    I was also taken greatly by the Dalek city design (we'll forget those human-size prisoner beds). The idea of those arches etc is wonderful, making it looks really alien and claustrophobic.
    Since this time, the Dalek ships or cities have also been big high ceiling studio affairs, and this, for me is their best environment i have watched.

    and yes, Piers. When Wright walks into frame in THOSE Thal hot pants. Dear lord...

  8. After the recap, the episode opens with a shot of what could be an aerial view of a devastated landscape, but is in fact the trunk of a tree in the strange alien forest we saw on the scanner last time. The camera pans round, showing us this still, grey forest, as unsettling electronic music plays. Sound and vision combine to create an alien environment - and that's what this episode is going to be all about, the exploration of alien environments.

    The forest itself is surreal, a dreamlike version of a post-nuclear landscape. No, a neutron bomb wouldn't actually do that, but the stone trees, the metal lizard and the unnatural music feel like a world that has been terribly transformed by technology.

    Then we get our first glimpse of the city, a beautifully designed model of futurism, effectively shot thanks to some judiciously-deployed mist. It's a gleaming contrast to the dead forest, and it's no wonder Dr. Who wants to toddle up for a closer look. Meanwhile, however, Ian and Barbara are coming to terms not only with the fact that they are on an alien world, but that their dreams of getting straight back home after that awful business with the cavemen are starting to look wildly optimistic. It's a moment that's given a lot of weight by the script and the performances, with Hill in particular conveying a very credible sense of fear and uncertainty.

    Tristram Cary's music comes to the foreground when Susan is left briefly alone, and senses another person near her. We don't hear any naturalistic sound effects, like a branch breaking or a footstep, just this overwhelming electronic soundscape. Is Susan psychic, and do these sounds indicate a presence impinging itself on her sensitive mind?

    The third environment we explore, after Ian has prevailed upon the Doctor to leave the city alone, is the interior of the Ship itself. So far, we have only seen the area immediately around the central controls: now, the Ship opens out into a variety of spaces containing all manner of technology. The user interfaces are all very retro - now, at least - and neither the fault locator nor the food machine seem any more integrated into the gleaming white world of the Ship than the old clock that stands near the console. It's as if the Ship, in its current form, is a bit of a botch job, with bits of kit appropriated from who knows where in order to fix it up. This is particularly evident with the food machine, in which the Doctor takes an evident, selfish delight. Why does he need to refer to handwritten notes in what looks to be one of Susan's school exercise books in order to program the machine? Did he build it himself, or did he just get it without a manual and had to reverse-engineer the interface?

    Of course, the Doctor spins an utterly transparent lie about the fluid link. Ian sees through instantly, but has no option but to go along with it. (At this point, it seems that the Doctor's tale about having no spare mercury on the Ship could also be a fib, but it later turns out to be real enough. If you've ever discovered that you forgot to put the jump-leads in the boot, you'll know the feeling.)

    When we see the city close up, it's a magnificent piece of design. The shining metal structures with hardly a right angle in sight are ultramodern and otherworldly, the studio space is used effectively to evoke a vast metropolis, and Tristram Cary's music is a symphony of alien textures. The only real failing is the laboratory with the Geiger counter helpfully labelled in English. Later, Susan will write a message to the Thals in a language they evidently understand. Do all the people of Skaro speak English? Is Skaro a nightmarish future Earth?

    Speaking of nightmares, Barbara finds herself in the middle of one, as she is herded through anonymous corridors like a laboratory mouse being forced down certain passages in a maze. An apt induction into a world of scientific horror, and one that climaxes with her confronting some barely-seen mechanical terror...

    Having explored the environments, subsequent episodes allow the travellers, and us, to get to know their inhabitants. The Daleks are absolutely at one with their surroundings. They have created an artificial world, and artificial bodies with which to experience it. Indeed, they have gone so far in mediating all their interactions through metallic constructs that they exhibit a shrieking terror of being touched. They will discover in time that this constricted existence, which they had embarked upon as a temporary, desperate survival measure, is now they only way they can live. Their hope of returning to their previous way of life once the radiation had dissipated turns out to be an impossible dream. So, with the same ruthless drive that led them to adopt their metal shells, they decide to alter the entire environment of their planet to suit their own technological needs, even at the cost of genocide. A complex and powerful metaphor for our own culture, which increasingly encounters the world through electronic media, which requires complex technology to survive, and which is having a more and more profound effect on the global environment.

    But the Daleks are more than scientists: they are the 20th-century marriage of science and warfare. As they prepare to ambush Temnosus, they glide into position like tanks moving into defilade. They clinically exterminate those unlike themselves - and even raise their arms in Nazi salutes, in case we didn't make the connection. While there is culture here, it is in the form of architecture and public scuplture, with no room for the private or idiosyncratic. It is a society without freedom or individuality, where all enquiry is directed toward survival and military pre-eminence. Allied to the central concerns about radiation and nuclear weapons, Terry Nation seems to have the Manhattan Project in his sights every bit as much as the Third Reich.

    If the Daleks are a potent metaphor, the Thals are... less so. They are as incongruous in the dead jungle as the four travellers, clad in uniforms that suggest they have just popped in from a nearby fetish party that turned out to be a bit of a drag. The fact that the women are all subs can only reinforce this expression. Tal politics are considerably less sophisticated and dynamic than those of the cave people our travellers have so recently escaped from. Their embracing of the environment, and consequent mutation into specimens of physical beauty, sort of works as a contrast with the Daleks, but their rather feeble pacifism isn't well integrated with this metaphorical structure. It's also implausible - have they really never had a conflict over scarce resources in this post-apocalyptic world? Is Ian's threat to abduct Dyoni really the first time two men have squabbled over a woman? And where did Alydon learn to throw such an impressive right hook? These, and other questions, will never be answered. The Thals may have pseudo-Greek names, but these wet specimens would be disowned by Homer, Aeschylus or Thucydides.

    The Thals' struggle with their pacifist ideals is basically quite dull. Much more interesting is Ian's struggle with his conscience. He would certainly have done National Service, and might well have been commissioned as an officer. Had he seen active duty, perhaps in Malaya? His concerns about convincing men to march to their deaths seem too urgent and personal for them to be purely an abstract issue for him.

    Meanwhile Barbara seems to want to make love as well as war. When she's not emotionally blackmailing Ian into forcing the Thals to fight, she's getting cosy with a clearly besotted Ganatus, who clearly likes his women a bit feistier than the average Thalette. He even gets her into some shiny Thal pants - not that I'm complaining. Ian also becomes best buddies with Ganatus - is he oblivious to what's going on with Barbara, or is he hoping for a threesome? Sadly, we never get the chance to find out.

    Susan is less fortunate in romance: she may take a shine to Alydon, but her crush is distinctly one-sided. Indeed, she spend much of this story being patronised or ignored, not least by her adult companions after she first encounters a Thal in the forest. Even her heroic dash back to the Ship to get the much-needed drugs is only permitted once all other contenders have been disqualified through illness or injury.

    Dr Who, by contrast, is all too proactive, manipulating his passengers to come with him on a trip to the city, then proposing to bugger off and leave Barbara to her fate as soon as the radiation hazard becomes apparent. Even when he makes a more constructive contribution, such as sabotaging the Daleks' machinery, he seems to do so more out of a sense of naughty fun than the rightness of the Thal's cause. Yet he does, eventually, discover a moral centre when he is under interrogation by the Daleks. Will this be a lasting piece of character development?

    Speaking of that interrogation scene, Doesn't it seem very much like a TV show being recorded, with Dr. Who as the hapless actor and the Daleks as domineering directors shouting at him to stay in the light? The Daleks do seem to like their cameras, whether the CCTV that follows Barbara around and later lets them spy on their prisoners, or the telescopic stills camera with which they attempt to observe the Thals. They may be the ultimate scientists, but they are also the ultimate voyeurs.

    It's a bit of a shame for them that they never thought to station a camera or two in the back tunnels of their city. Not that it would have proved strategically decisive in any case. The expedition through the terrible swamp and the deadly tunnels is all very thrilling and well-produced, for all its roots in Moria and Cirith Ungol, but does it actually achieve anything for the attackers? The very first thing they do once they reach the city is meet up with Alydon: if they had just come with him through the front door, would Elyon and Atodus still be alive?

    Still, there's no time for mourning, as the Thals have a planet to regenerate, Gantus has to have his heart gently broken by a departing Barbara, and Dr. Who has a test-tube rack full of soil samples to get excited about. Perhaps he's going to try to figure out how this planet can maintain so much free oxygen in its atmosphere without any plant life. Still, however it works, the Thals now have plenty of Dalek technology to use in making their planet abundant once more, with Skaro following the same course of mutation back to a more perfect version of its original form that the Thals themselves have followed. Whether or not they'll succeed is left open - but at least that's the end of the Daleks.

    Of course, neither evolution nor nuclear weapons work the way they do in this story. It might seem churlish to nitpick the science, but there's a deeper point. The previous story took some more-or-less reasonable ideas about prehistoric humans, and fashioned them into a society that made sense in its own terms, based on credible technology. This second serial takes a very different approach. It pulls confused and half-understood scientific notions out of the zeitgeist, and uses them as the basis of an adventure story that resonates strongly with urgent contemporary concerns, while giving little or no concern to realism. If "An Unearthly Child" was science fiction, "The Daleks" is science mythology. Eleven episodes in, quite what sort of programme "Doctor Who" will turn out to be is still up for grabs.

  9. It took fifteen-ish years for the Doctor Who production team to work out that six episodes was a bit far to stretch a story so I guess we should go easy on the very first seven parter. The longer stories were usually due to financial constraints rather than for the benefit of the plot and this often shows all too clearly.

    However I don't think that's the case here, the extra episodes are filled with a lovely tense potholing sequence (now oddly reminiscent of Neil Marshall's 'Descent'!) Which I enjoyed although it does draw focus from the Daleks and is transparent filler.

    The Daleks are at their paranoid, devious best here. One of the joys of the relaunch has been to see them restored to their original character and the similarities are clear here. These Daleks have more in common with our 21st century versions than any classic series versions will post Evil of the Daleks.

    As already mentioned Tristram Cary's music is incredible.

    This is (probably) our first look at an alien planet, and what a job the production team have done. The design of the sets (and our mutant chums) is once again mind blowing. Something that always demonstrates to me the effort that went into designing these sets is the beautiful colours that were put into that scenery, even though the designers would have known they would never be seen on television.

    The crew are now settling into their team roles; The Doctor enjoying the ride, heedless of the danger; Ian, the man of action who will always do the right thing; Barbara the intellectual who will support whatever needs to be done to protect the team and get them home; and Susan... Um... Well who appears to still be at the very edge of sanity, gibbering in fear at shadows one moment and LAUGHING TOO LOUDLY at things that aren't funny the next. They're coming to take her away you know (If I was the Doctor I'd be looking for some out of the way time and place to get shot of her once and for all...).