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1x2. The Daleks
Writer:
Terry Nation
Directors: Christopher Barry & Richard Martin
Script Editor: David Whitaker
Producers: Verity Lambert & Mervyn Pinfield

Synopsis: After sabotaging the TARDIS fluid link to persuade his otherwise unwilling companions to explore the planet Skaro, the Doctor and the others become captives of the Daleks, who have hidden underground for centuries after a war with the Thals resulted in the spread of radiation over the planet's surface. The TARDIS crew eventually escape and form an alliance with the Thals, who have survived on the surface and perfected a drug to counter the radiation's effects, but have developed a pacifist philosophy and are reluctant to fight. Meanwhile, the Daleks, having discovered that they have mutated so that they depend upon radiation for survival, prepare to saturate the planet with nuclear waste.

Review: It hardly needs to be said that "The Daleks" was a seminal episode for Doctor Who. After the debut of "100,000 B.C." and its "historical" approach, "The Daleks" established the sci-fi/adventure formula for which it eventually came to be known. It also hardly needs to be said that it introduced the series' longest-lasting and best-known villains; indeed, the Daleks are probably more widely recognizable than even some of the Doctor's individual regenerations. So, all that aside, how does it hold up on its own?

In general, it's a success. Writer Terry Nation has composed a story with a fairly simple but reasonable plot, some exploration of the main characters and their differences, and some insightful observations about racism and the threat of nuclear war. On the other hand, there are certain sequences which tend to drag, particularly some of the action/chase scenes where the show's limited budget is painfully evident and which serve only to take up time. Perhaps this would be less irritating to someone viewing the episodes one at a time instead of in "movie" format, but, if I'm not mistaken, almost all of Episode 6, for example, consists of Ian, Barbara, and some of the Thals maneuvering through caves. I'd be surprised if the viewers of 1963 didn't get at least a little restless at watching an entire episode in which hardly anything of consequence happens. I was also curious as to why Nation bothered to have the Daleks come up with a plan to detonate a neutron bomb, only to change their minds when they discover it would take too long to build one and decide on releasing nuclear waste instead. Since none of the protagonists are even aware that such a plan existed at one point and thus cannot affect it or react to it, this adds nothing at all to the story, unless perhaps Nation thought the point about nuclear war wouldn't come across with only the references to radiation poisoning.

I don't really find the Daleks "scary," and I honestly don't think I ever did, even when I was watching Doctor Who as a child. Still, there is definitely something disturbing about the calmly ruthless way in which they manipulate the good intentions of the TARDIS crew and the Thals. They show no hint of conscience or regret in deciding that they will deceive Susan and confiscate the anti-radiation drugs when she returns, or in using the language of peace and reconciliation to lure the Thals into a trap, and yet curiously they display no discernible emotions of malice or hatred either. Instead, they simply seem locked into a mentality of paranoia and violence, their every action a cold calculation to ensure their own survival and the destruction of their enemies, never stopping to consider that the Thals may not be their enemies any more. They are literally addicted to the mechanisms of death, in the form of the radiation which is lethal to other species but has become their lifeblood.

The Thals are much more sympathetic, but in a way they have become equally blind in their pacifism. Even when they are facing starvation and have just had their leader killed by the Daleks, they're unwilling to fight until Ian spurs them into action. Instead of following a typical post-apocalyptic formula and focusing on the immediate aftermath of the war and the resulting devastation, "The Daleks" picks up several centuries later and explores the question of how societies might develop after partially surviving such a disaster. The Daleks are so radically altered by the war, both physically and mentally, that aggression has simply become part of their nature, while the Thals, having seen the consequences of violence and conflict taken to their most horrific extremes, have developed such an ingrained aversion to confrontation that they won't even defend themselves against unprovoked mass murder. Neither approach is promising for the future of Skaro, and Nation's script seems to suggest that the psychological effects of nuclear war could still destroy a society hundreds of years after the fact, even if enough people survived to have a chance at rebuilding civilization.

The racial subtext is comparatively obvious, brought out mainly by Ian's comment about the Daleks' "dislike of the unlike" and by their reference to the killing of the Thals as "extermination." Of course, the episode was made when Nazi Germany was still a relatively recent memory, and the somewhat "Aryan" appearance of the Thals seems to be an attempt to further subvert Nazi and/or fascist ideology. They're called "perfect" on more than one occasion, but unlike Hitler's idea of a "master race," they are tolerant and peaceful, displaying no malice or even paternalism towards other races. One might object, however, that in its handling of the Thals, the episode still seems to conceive of human "perfection" in specifically white, Anglo-Saxon terms. Admittedly, I'm somewhat uncomfortable about this, but I'm inclined to give the production team the benefit of the doubt, given the episode's apparent good intentions regarding racial issues.

As in "100,000 B.C.," a debate arises among the TARDIS crew over how their involvement with the local situation, though it's a little more ambiguous here. The Doctor and Barbara are willing to ask the Thals to fight and perhaps die so that they can invade the city and recover the fluid link, while Ian insists, and Susan seems to agree, that they cannot ask the Thals to risk their lives unless they themselves would also benefit from an attack on the Daleks. Ian's view is of course the correct one, but he himself appeared willing to depart Skaro without helping the Thals any further until they discovered that they'd forgotten the fluid link, and I don't think we're meant to just dismiss out of hand Barbara's retort that Ian is "playing with words." The outcome of the attack on the Daleks is positive, and it is probably justifiable under the circumstances: although none of them were aware of the Daleks' plan to flood the surface with radiation until they reached the city, the Daleks' assassination of the Thals' leader and their refusal to share technology despite the Thals' imminent starvation made them a clear and present danger. But the fact remains that Ian probably wouldn't have been recruiting the Thals to fight if he and his friends had been able to recover the fluid link without them, and this adds a little complexity to the characterizations. The one misgiving I have about all this is Barbara taking the Doctor's side, which is at variance with her behavior in "100,000 B.C." and seems like an awkward attempt on Nation's part to make sure that it wasn't just a "Doctor vs. the companions" debate.

"The Daleks" certainly could have been condensed, but the good far outweighs the bad, and it demonstrates that Doctor Who  could do an outer space adventure with considerable imagination and intelligence.

Other notes:

- Despite his anti-heroic tendencies in these early episodes, the Doctor does have one nice moment of genuine moral disgust, when he reacts with horror to the Daleks' plan to spread nuclear waste and kill the Thals, denouncing it as murder and prompting the above-mentioned comment about "extermination."

- Speaking of which, despite several uses of the term, the shrill cry of "Ex-ter-mi-nate! Ex-ter-mi-nate!" clearly hadn't yet become the Daleks' signature line in the minds of the production team. On at least one occasion, they use the word "kill" where one would normally expect "exterminate."

- The Daleks' lack of human emotion and empathy is also rather humorously underlined when they ask Susan why she's signed her name at the end of the message to the Thals, and, in response to her laughter, one of them immediately orders her to "Stop that noise!"

- There's also a nice moment of silly fun when Ian, having hidden himself inside the casing of a disabled Dalek, is told to try sounding more monotone and he asks in his best Dalek voice, "Do - you - mean - like - this?"

Rating: *** (out of four)

"There is no indignity in being afraid to die, but there is a terrible shame in being afraid to live."
    -Alydon

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