Saturday, 6 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Daleks. Or The Mutants. Whatever.

The Dead Planet

"I shall see what I want to see!"

We open with a panoramic shot of the first alien landscape ever to be seen on Doctor Who. Clearly it's not only Waris Hussein who can do a passable forest in little Lime Grove! I like the conversation between Ian and Babs, giving a strong sense of continuity. In a lot of ways this feels like one big adventure so far, with Ian and Barbara still the stars of the programme.

Very nice character moment- Susan shows Ian the flower, he takes an interest, but as soon as Barbara screams he rushes off to her leaving the flower all crushed in Susan's hand! But what are Ian and Barbara wearing? Ugh!

"The animal is setisolidified certainly". Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you our first Billy fluff!

More nice characterisation- Barbara's not enjoying the experience of being on another world at all, she just wants to get home. This could have made the character unlikeable, but Jacqueline Hill is too good an actress for that.

Oh, a food machine. How very 60s!

I love the way William Russell plays Ian as having a shrewd idea of the Doctor's fluid link subterfuge from the start- and William Hartnell's naughty little schoolboy act is also most amusing.

The city looks quite breathtakingly excellent, both inside and outside. Shame about the obvious matte painting as our heroes first approach it, mind.

And there we have it- the first time ever that a female companion screams us into the cliffhanger!

The Survivors

"It's possible that they may have been anti-radiation gloves!"

Nice episode title. I reckon the esteemed Mr Nation should keep it in mind in case he wants to reuse it for something later on...

Blimey, that cliffhanger reprise was a bit perfunctory!

I love the way that all of this supposedly advanced technology we see inside the city just screams "early 60s!" I love the Geiger counter with "danger" written on it in felt tip.

The realisation that they're all suffering from radiation sickness and the Doctor's confession lead to a fantastic scene. I'm loving the conflicts between the TARDIS crew. It works really well dramatically, adds a nice sense of edginess and is all good characterisation. In fact, characterisation has been generally excellent so far in spite of Terry Nation's dialogue being noticeably more... functional than Anthony Coburn's.

Blimey, don't the Daleks look great? They really send a shiver up your spine. Their control room looks fantastic as well. Fittingly, we get dialogue of the appropriate gravitas to suit the occasion: "My legs! My legs! I can't move my legs!"

Ah, Dalek conversation. Don't know about you, but I could sit and listen to them all day. Whilst watching the Doctor Who title sequence which they rather charmingly have playing in their control room. Oh look- they're not going to let our heroes have the anti-radiation gloves! Do you think they might be baddies then?

Oh no! Susan has to go back and get the gloves? But... she'll scream and be really annoying and stuff...

Gosh, what a cliffhanger! Susan looks out of the TARDIS doors and the weather's a bit inclement! 

The Escape

"If they call us mutations, what must they be like?"

So why was Alydon's sudden appearance not the cliffhanger then? Susan's starting to get particularly annoying now. Still, her stalker seems a nice chap, giving her an extra set of gloves. But with Alydon's line "So the Dalek people have survived" you start to wonder- have the Thals and the Daleks just been kicking their heels for several hundreds of years waiting for the TARDIS to arrive so the plot can start?

Oh, the Daleks are right scheming sods- I love them! Plus, the way their eyes dilate is really cool- I don't recall seeing that in more recent stories? But I shall see!

Mmm. I thoroughly approve of the way Thal women dress. Interesting how Dyoni's jealous of Susan for moving in on her boyfriend, leading to a fair bit of sexual innuendo for a family show, you would have thought.

So, Susan's writing to the Daleks in English? And the Daleks can read English?

Oh dear, Virginia Wetherell (Dyoni) is not the greatest actress, is she?

I'm lapping up the escape plan stuff. This story is great stuff, very much an exciting adventure with the you-know-whats. Not so much going on in terms of subtext as its predecessor, but arguably more suited to the show's format. Interesting that as soon as Ian sees what the Dalek looks like he immediately sends the ladies out of the room!

Is it me, or does Ian getting inside the Dalek rather like the operators in fact do destroy the mystery a little? But this is top stuff. Silly at times, with some fissures starting to appear in the plot, but it's entertaining me well enough so I'm not too bothered by such things thus far. It's looking on course for a 4/5, but we shall see...

The Ambush

"Make no attempt to capture them! They are to be exterminated! You understand? Exterminated!"

So Ian seems to find it quite easy to operated controls designed for that clawed blobby thing we just saw. And how does he know to tell the Dalek who questions him that there's a "Dalek Council"? This whole escape is thrilling though. That Dalek blowtorch is possibly the coolest thing ever.

Amusingly, the TARDIS all glance outside the windows, describing to us all those no doubt highly expensive scenes we're not made privy to. But once they see the Thals walking into the Daleks' trap things get really interesting. Temossus Chamberlain is channelling Yoda: "they're based on fear, and fear breeds hatred!" Great bit of conflict between the TARDIS crew as they debate whether to help the Thals or not. The Doctor's still very amoral.

My, how polite! Ian refrains from interrupting Neville Temossus' "peace in our time" speech to warn him of the mortal peril he's in, as that would obviously be rude.

I think we may be getting Terry Nation's own opinions when Ian says "Pacifism only works when everybody feels the same!" I hate to invoke Godwin's Law, but there may be some sort of subtext here...

Oh dear, dodgy science! Mutation completing / not completing its "full circle" eh?

Right, that'll be the end of this story then, definitely... oh no!

The Expedition

"My dear child, this is no time for morals. They must fight for us."

Ian has moral qualms about getting the Thals to help them get back into the city, but Barbara doesn't! Still, the difference between Barbara and the Doctor is that she's genuinely frightened as opposed to just callous. Come to think of it, the fluid link's a bit of a dodgy MacGuffin when you think about it. Whyever has the Doctor not got a spare, or at least the means to construct one?

Oh look, the Doctor got Ian's name wrong- Chesserman, indeed! Still, I'm sure it was just a one-off...

I'm loving this argument. Ian's trying to persuade himself that in getting the Thals to help them the Thals would be helping themselves, but Barbara cuts him right down: "All you're doing is playing with words!"

Ooh, a Dalek having a bad trip! I can think of so many out-of-context uses for this clip! Come to think of it, if the Daleks need radiation to survive then how come they've managed to avoid knowing this rather basic fact until now? Some rather obvious cardboard cutout Daleks in this scene...

I'[m not convinced the Daleks have really made the case for exploding another neutron bomb, but we get a great line: "We do not have to adapt to the environment. We will change the environment to suit us". We get another one soon after from Antodus once he's made his decision: "There is no indignity in being afraid to die but there is a terrible shame in being afraid to live."

I love the Daleks' retro ticker tape computer!

So, they're going to pad the story out for a couple of episodes until the story ends go on an expedition into the mountains. Seems perilous... look at that deadly tyre in the swamp.

Oh, look. Ian and Ganatus and some bloke we've never seen before are standing by the water... is that a red shirt the new bloke's wearing? Still, he says he's going to fill up the waterbags. I'm sure it'll be perfectly safe. Yes, go on, mate- dangle your leg by the water, why don't you...

The Ordeal

"Well, we mustn't diddle about here."

Hmmm, Barbara and Ganatus seem to be getting on a bit well. They also have an unintentional humorous moment where Barbara tells Ganatus to stop and listen to the water that we've been hearing loud and clear for the previous twenty seconds. When Ganatus asks "Do you always do what Ian says?" he seems to be asking whether they're a couple. And it seems they aren't, at least not yet...

Oh look, Ganatus goes through the hole, and there's a conveniently placed polystyrene rock for Barbara to put the rope.

The Doctor's plan with the mirrors is a good one, but his and Susan's subplot seems a bit of an afterthought. Once again we're reminded who the stars of the programme really are at this point.

You can tell as soon as Antodus suggests to Ganatus that they should let the others all die that he's crossed a moral line meaning he's not going to be allowed to survive. These scenes in the tunnel and with the chasm remind me somewhat of the scenes in Lord of the Rings with Frodo and Sam traversing Mordor- long and generally annoying padding. Still, these parts of the episode don't drag anywhere nearly as much as they did last time I watched, and I'm pleasantly surprised by how generally watchable this episode is, although the story's still beginning to get a little tired. I suppose there's a moral in there about not watching seven parters in one go as I did last time...

The Daleks are mentioning these rangerscope things a lot- I'm not sure if they ever appear again?

Ian's very much the action hero in this story, with fewer depths to his character than when written by Anthony Coburn. The ironic detachment and the twinkle in his eye have been largely absent here.

I've just noticed (yes, I'm a bit slow!) how very punk is the Thals' dress sense.

Very chilling line from the Daleks: "The only interest we have in the Thals is their total extermination!" Followed by a Nazi salute- the appeasement subtext comes full circle. This is very effective, but it feels a bit misplaced to reference the Holocaust in a context like this.

The cavern set actually manages to convince whilst also looking obviously very cheap- you can get away with so much in black and white!

The Rescue

"We may be farmers, but have we forgotten how to fight?"

Gosh, these episode titles are exciting, aren't they?

Actually, this being the last episode, with the individual episode titles I wonder if people at the time had any expectation of when a new story would begin? There was the Radio Times for the following week, I suppose, but did they know back at The Dead Planet that there would be seven parts?

Ooh! Antodus, who's spent the last episode or so behaving as a coward, gets a brave death. I wonder if we'll ever see that again in Doctor Who?

So, the Daleks want to destroy all life outside except for themselves? What are they going to eat then?

Wow, the Doctor offers them the TARDIS! Admittedly, his motives in doing so are mainly self-interested but he's sounding a lot more moralistic here than at any previous point. And the thought of Daleks with time travel sends a shiver up the spine. Still, I'm sure it'll never happen...

Great line from Barbara: "I have some experience in these corridors- they all look alike!"

Ooh, a countdown! Fortunately though, the Daleks are kind enough to tell our heroes that their control room's on Level 10. Gosh, this countdown slows down a bit when we can't see and hear the numbers!

It's now apparent that if Ian hadn't persuaded the Thals to fight they would have died from the Daleks irradiating the atmosphere. Does that morally justify it though?

The parting between Barbara and Ganatus (unknown to Ian) shows there was something between them, although I'm not sure we've seen enough happen earlier for this scene to be earned. Oh, and Susan calls Barbara by her first name at last!

Well, that'll be the final end of the Daleks then...

So, the story as a whole? Good fun. Not too deep in either subtext or characterisation, but there's nothing wrong with that. Terry Nation's dialogue seldom soars, but it seldom makes you groan either, and if character development's not exactly his strong point he can grip you with scenes like the escape from the Dalek cell. Received wisdom is quite right to say that the story tails off a bit towards the end (the first four episodes would have got 4/5 if it had ended there) but the final two episodes are nowhere near as boring to watch as I remembered. A solid 3/5 overall, so the rankings are...

1. An Unearthly Child 5/5
2. The Daleks 3/5

Oh, and here's the first instalment of (cue drumroll)...

The Terry Nation Cliché Count

Mysterious figure follows female companion but later turns out to be a goodie: 1
Anti-radiation drugs: 1
Countdown: 1
Daleks at the cliffhanger to part one: 1
Our heroes unable to return to the TARDIS: 1
Trek through hostile environment: 1
Cowardly character dies a heroic death: 1

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