Episode 002 The Daleks
Season 1, 21 December 1963
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Companions: Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright
Villains: The Daleks
Setting: The Planet Skaro
Common Who Plot Devices: Alien Invasions, Capture and Coercion, Technology Run Amok, Explosions, The Curious Doctor, An Awful Lot of Running
You wanted advice you said? I never give it. Never. But I might just say this to you. Always search for truth. My truth is in the stars and yours is here. —The Doctor
Synopsis: In this second episode of Doctor Who, we meet that most popular of Doctor Who nemeses: The Daleks.
Arriving on the Planet Skaro, the Doctor and his companions explore an abandoned city. The metal inhabitants, however, soon reveal themselves and take the crew of the TARDIS captive. Can the Doctor escape and prevent the Daleks from destroying their peaceful neighbors, the Thals?
Review: Over the past fifty years of Doctor Who, the perennially favorite villain has been the Daleks. Appearing in over twenty five episodes to date, these creatures captured the imagination of viewers starting with this episode. An Unearthly Child may have been the first episode of Doctor Who, but it was The Daleks that propelled the show to popularity and ensured its early commercial success. Picking up the action where Unearthly Child left off, the TARIDS materializes on the Planet Skaro. The Doctor and companions miss a radiation warning on the TARDIS console and explore a strangely lifeless and fossilized jungle. After noticing an abandoned city in the distance, the Doctor wants to go and investigate, but he reluctantly agrees to return to the ship when Ian points out that nightfall is approaching.
The next morning, the Doctor sabotages the TARDIS console to prevent them from leaving. He devises a ruse, telling Ian that he needs mercury for the TARDIS fluid link and that the most likely place to find mercury would be the abandoned city. The plot device of the curious Doctor getting himself into trouble has become a common staple of the show over the past five decades, and the result is as you could expect: the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan get captured.
In this episode we also meet the Thals. The Thals and Daleks have been enemies for centuries, but the Thals have evolved into a passive and peaceful people while the Daleks have grown cold and warlike. Together the Thals and the Doctor work to prevent the Daleks from detonating a bomb that would irradiate the planet and eradicate the Thals. (The Thals will make occasional recurring appearances in future Doctor Who episodes.)
Overall the story does a good job of introducing the Daleks to the Doctor Who universe. Future episodes will occasionally reconstruct or even contradict the history of the Daleks laid out here, but we find out the Daleks have been mutated by centuries of radiation exposure and now require their metal shells for survival. Oddly the Daleks also require a metal floor and static electricity for power in this early story – a limitation that is eventually overcome in future seasons.
The character development of the Doctor and Ian also slowly continue to evolve in relation to each other. Tension remains in almost every encounter the two have with each other. The Doctor shows himself to be self-absorbed and non-empahetic in much of the story. At first, he misleads his companions into thinking the TARDIS is malfunctioning. Later when he realizes they are suffering from radiation sickness, he is ready to abandon Barbara to return to the safety of the TARDIS.
Ian, meanwhile, is showing himself to be the man of action and the conscience that keeps the Doctor in check. Ian has his hands full fighting Daleks with his bare hands, swinging across chasms, and keeping the Doctor honest. Perhaps no companions other than Romana and River Song have shown themselves to be so capable of independent action than Ian Chesterton. Ian may not have his name in the show title or be a Time Lord, but he shows himself to be the equal of the Doctor in many ways. Ian’s example of decisiveness combined with compassion is a model that will come to personify future incarnations of the Doctor.
I wish I could say Barbara and Susan also had such strong characterizations. Unfortunately the Terry Nation (the writer) gave Barbara very little to do other than get captured and scream in one of the more memorable cliffhangers of classic Doctor Who. Female companions of the first two decades are too often relegated to screaming and waiting for a rescue attempt. Susan fares a bit better – she makes a heroic solo journey through the jungle to bring anti-radiation drugs to her friends, but she spends a lot of the episode screaming, crying, or laughing at inappropriate times. I would guess that the writer was trying to show her youth, but it just comes off as out of step with a being of Susan’s intelligence.
None of this, however, takes away from the story as a whole. It’s hard to argue with a story that kicked of a near mania in Britain over the Daleks. In an early example of merchandising mania, Daleks appeared on toys and trinkets throughout the land. My youngest was born almost forty years after this episode premiered, and her first notice of Doctor Who was that distinctive Dalek voice announcing “Ex-term-in-ate!” She even has a talking Dalek plush toy. Hats off to Terry Nation and the BBC staff for such a lasting piece of Who lore and a classic piece of television.
Why You Should Watch: Watch this episode to see how the enmity between the Doctor and the Daleks began.
Why You May Want to Skip: The pacing of the episodes are a bit slow by modern standards. Perhaps this should have been a four-parter instead of six.
Verdict: Must Watch
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