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2x2. The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Writer: Terry Nation
Director: Richard Martin
Script Editor: David Whitaker
Producers: Verity Lambert & Mervyn Pinfield

Synopsis: The TARDIS materializes in London in the year 2164, finding the city mostly deserted and under control of the Daleks. The Doctor and his companions join forces with a resistance group and find that the Daleks plan to remove the planet's core and use it as a spaceship to travel through the galaxy. The Daleks' plan is defeated, but Susan, who has fallen in love with the rebel David Campbell, stays behind to help Earth rebuild.

Review: "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" gets a lot of attention for being the second Dalek story, and it certainly does establish them as viable recurring villains, but I find it most interesting as the first successful "epic" Doctor Who serial. The script and the performances effectively convey the sense of a conflict with a broad scope and high stakes, and the production team prove up to the task with some good location work.

The series had arguably attempted similarly large-scale stories in the first season with "The Daleks" and "The Keys of Marinus," but they didn't quite pull it off. The former was conceptually strong but relied too much on mediocre and simplistic action scenes, and the latter revolved around a somewhat oblique threat to an alien society that was portrayed in a rather disjointed manner. In "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," we know exactly what's happening and what the risks are: the Daleks have taken over Earth, and if the resistance fails, the remaining humans will face either death, subservience, or enslavement as Dalek-controlled "Robomen." To add to the stakes, the serial eventually reveals that the Daleks' plan will ultimately kill even the human collaborators and the Robomen.

The serial isn't quite as sophisticated as "The Daleks," but it makes up for it with superior execution. There are fortunately only a couple of big "action" scenes, and the incoherence of the initial abortive attack on the Daleks actually kind of works. Dortmun's bombs, which were supposed to be a powerful new weapon, instead prove completely useless, and the plan quickly collapses into a mad dash to free some prisoners and escape that ultimately fails and leaves most of the rebels dead. The Daleks' presence and behavior was certainly disturbing in their debut, but in this serial they're genuinely menacing. One of the most effective scenes is also one of the simplest, in which one of the rebels splits off from the others for a solo mission and is quickly ambushed and killed by Daleks. They really do seem to be everywhere, and their cold willingness to murder to achieve their goals is emphasized even more than in their previous appearance. Overall, this is a convincing portrait of the Daleks as "masters of the Earth," and never once did it feel the least bit phony, despite the fact that the serial never ventures outside Britain.

The most interesting subtext of "The Daleks" was that of the Daleks' racism and the way they and the Thals had been affected by the trauma of nuclear war. In "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," the weightiest material is to be found in the way the humans react to the oppressive invasion force that has taken over the planet. The rebels are dedicated to their cause, but we can see that the resistance is taking its toll on them. One of them, for example, starts crying at the latest radio broadcast warning them to surrender or be killed, and the survivors of the failed bombing attack are clearly demoralized afterwards: Dortmun later launches what is essentially a one-man suicide mission against the Daleks, and Jenny, who has been cynical from the beginning, seems to hold no real hope of victory even though she teams up with Barbara for most of the latter half of the serial. Others, meanwhile, are not resisting at all, such as the smuggler who takes advantage of the chaos and lawlessness for his own purposes and the two seemingly kind old women who betray Barbara and Jenny to the Daleks in return for food. The extremes of fascist dehumanization are rendered literal in the depiction of the Robomen, who no longer have any identity or purpose other than to serve the Daleks: one of them is even killed by his rebel brother, to whom he has no emotional reaction whatsoever.

"The Dalek Invasion of Earth" is also significant for marking the first departure of a companion from the series. While I can't say I was sorry to see Susan go, her romance with David Campbell is written and acted reasonably well, and Terry Nation does a nice job of building up to her parting with the Doctor at the end. There's a scene in the middle where the Doctor gives her one of his "Do as you're told" lectures, and at first I thought he was just being an overbearing jerk, but in retrospect I think he was testing her to see how ready she was to forge her own path and lead a more independent life. It makes sense that, as she tells David, she never really had an identity of her own while traveling in the TARDIS and that she might find that by staying behind to help rebuild Earth. Their last scene is appropriately bittersweet, especially Hartnell's delivery of the farewell speech that has since become immortalized by its inclusion at the beginning of "The Five Doctors," and it's a nice change of pace for a Doctor who hasn't always shown much outward compassion or attachment. His decision to lock her out of the TARDIS, in fact, doesn't come off as callous at all: rather, it seems a recognition that Susan does want to stay on Earth, however reluctant she might be to say so, and that for the two of them to part ways is what's best for her now. (It's also kind of patronizing, of course, but that's in line with the First Doctor's character as well.)

"The Dalek Invasion of Earth" is not without its flaws, most notably the fact that the ending is a little disappointing. The revelation of the Daleks' plan to turn Earth into a giant spaceship is pure boilerplate material -- I can believe that they might do that if it served their purposes and could be accomplished efficiently enough, but we're given no explanation as to why they embarked on this plan in the first place -- and it seems that the entire thing is short-circuited by little more than Ian sabotaging a bomb and causing the Daleks' flying saucer to be destroyed with them inside. Still, it's a very successful serial as a whole, and it earns its place as one of the series' early standouts.

Other notes:

- I'm pretty sure the Doctor's claim that the events of "The Daleks" happened millions of years in the future won't square with later continuity. Unfortunately, the next three Dalek serials are missing, so I guess I'll have to rely on plot summaries to see if this is explained further any time soon.

- I got a kick out of Barbara's attempt to distract the Daleks by claiming that an uprising is imminent and mixing in facts from various famous revolutions, especially when she names "Indians" (meaning Native Americans) and a Dalek objects that they are already "masters of India." As a semi-New Englander, I was hoping that they'd also claim to be masters of Boston when she mentioned the Boston Tea Party, but no such luck.

- The weakest aspect of the serial might actually be the "Slyther," a ridiculous-looking monster that attacks Ian and several others at one point, but fortunately it's not around long enough to elicit too much snickering.

- Why were the rebels using those "Vetoed" signs to tell each other where they'd gone? I mean, sure, I realize it's code, but it seems like it would still stand out and possibly get the Daleks' attention.

Rating: ***1/2 (out of four)

"One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine."
    -The Doctor