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
unwilling companions to explore the planet Skaro, the Doctor and the
become captives of the Daleks, who have hidden underground for
after a war with the Thals resulted in the spread of radiation over the
surface. The TARDIS crew eventually escape and form an alliance with
Thals, who have survived on the surface and perfected a drug to counter
radiation's effects, but have developed a pacifist philosophy and are
to fight. Meanwhile, the Daleks, having discovered that they have
so that they depend upon radiation for survival, prepare to saturate
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
the sci-fi/adventure formula for which it eventually came to be known.
also hardly needs to be said that it introduced the series'
and best-known villains; indeed, the Daleks are probably more widely
than even some of the Doctor's individual regenerations. So, all that
how does it hold up on its own?
In general, it's a success. Writer Terry Nation has composed a story
a fairly simple but reasonable plot, some exploration of the main
and their differences, and some insightful observations
about racism and the threat of nuclear war. On the other hand, there
certain sequences which tend to drag, particularly some of the
scenes where the show's limited budget is painfully evident and which
only to take up time. Perhaps this would be less irritating to someone
the episodes one at a time instead of in "movie" format, but, if I'm
mistaken, almost all of Episode 6, for example, consists of Ian,
and some of the Thals maneuvering through caves. I'd be surprised if
viewers of 1963 didn't get at least a little restless at watching an
episode in which hardly anything of consequence happens. I was also
as to why Nation bothered to have the Daleks come up with a plan to
a neutron bomb, only to change their minds when they discover it would
too long to build one and decide on releasing nuclear waste instead.
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
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
way in which they manipulate the good intentions of the TARDIS crew and
Thals. They show no hint of conscience or regret in deciding that they
deceive Susan and confiscate the anti-radiation drugs when she returns,
in using the language of peace and reconciliation to lure the Thals
a trap, and yet curiously they display no discernible emotions of
or hatred either. Instead, they simply seem locked into a mentality of
and violence, their every action a cold calculation to ensure their own
and the destruction of their enemies, never stopping to consider that
Thals may not be their enemies any more. They are literally addicted to
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
blind in their pacifism. Even when they are facing starvation and have
had their leader killed by the Daleks, they're unwilling to fight until
spurs them into action. Instead of following a typical post-apocalyptic
and focusing on the immediate aftermath of the war and the resulting
"The Daleks" picks up several centuries later and explores the question
how societies might develop after partially surviving such a disaster.
Daleks are so radically altered by the war, both physically and
that aggression has simply become part of their nature, while the
having seen the consequences of violence and conflict taken to their
horrific extremes, have developed such an ingrained aversion to
that they won't even defend themselves against unprovoked mass murder.
approach is promising for the future of Skaro,
and Nation's script seems to suggest that the psychological effects of
war could still destroy a society hundreds of years after the fact,
if enough people survived to have a chance at rebuilding civilization.
The racial subtext is comparatively obvious, brought out mainly by
comment about the Daleks' "dislike of the unlike" and by their
to the killing of the Thals as "extermination." Of course, the episode
made when Nazi Germany was still a relatively recent memory, and the
"Aryan" appearance of the Thals seems to be an attempt to further
Nazi and/or fascist ideology. They're called "perfect" on more than one
but unlike Hitler's idea of a "master race," they are tolerant and
displaying no malice or even paternalism towards other races. One might
however, that in its handling of the Thals, the episode still seems to
of human "perfection" in specifically white, Anglo-Saxon terms.
I'm somewhat uncomfortable about this, but I'm inclined to give the
team the benefit of the doubt, given the episode's apparent good
regarding racial issues.
As in "100,000 B.C.," a debate arises among the TARDIS crew over how
involvement with the local situation, though it's a little more
here. The Doctor and Barbara are willing to ask the Thals to fight and
die so that they can invade the city and recover the fluid link, while
insists, and Susan seems to agree, that they cannot ask the Thals to
their lives unless they themselves would also benefit from an attack on
Daleks. Ian's view is of course the correct one, but he himself
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
that Ian is "playing with words." The outcome of the attack on the
is positive, and it is probably justifiable under the circumstances:
although none of them were aware of the Daleks' plan to flood the
with radiation until they reached the city, the Daleks' assassination
the Thals' leader and their refusal to share technology despite the
imminent starvation made them a clear and present danger. But the fact
that Ian probably wouldn't have been recruiting the Thals to fight if
and his friends had been able to recover the fluid link without them,
this adds a little complexity to the characterizations. The one
I have about all this is Barbara taking the Doctor's side, which is at
with her behavior in "100,000 B.C." and seems like an awkward attempt
Nation's part to make sure that it wasn't just a "Doctor vs. the
"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
- Despite his anti-heroic tendencies in these early episodes, the
does have one nice moment of genuine moral disgust, when he reacts with
to the Daleks' plan to spread nuclear waste and kill the Thals,
it as murder and prompting the above-mentioned comment about
- Speaking of which, despite several uses of the term, the shrill cry
"Ex-ter-mi-nate! Ex-ter-mi-nate!" clearly hadn't yet become the Daleks'
line in the minds of the production team. On at least one occasion,
use the word "kill" where one would normally expect "exterminate."
- The Daleks' lack of human emotion and empathy is also rather
underlined when they ask Susan why she's signed her name at the end of
message to the Thals, and, in response to her laughter, one of them
orders her to "Stop that noise!"
- There's also a nice moment of silly fun when Ian, having hidden
inside the casing of a disabled Dalek, is told to try sounding more
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."
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