What’s worse? The alligators down here or the Daleks up there?
At last, they return! The Daleks appear once more after their resounding first season success in “The Mutants,” invading Earth in Terry Nation’s “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” (Story Production Code K). This time, the Daleks want nothing more than to, um, empty out the core of the planet and replace it with an engine of some sort.
But whatever! It’s the Daleks! And they’re in London!
This story, which Howe and Walker claim “surely ranks as one of the series’ all-time greats” in their Doctor Who: The Television Companion, starts in familiar enough style, which is to say that our travellers leave the TARDIS, become separated from it because of Susan—this time she brings an entire bridge down upon it—and then become separated from each other. Even Ian comments upon the party’s tendency to split up: upon realizing Barbara and Susan are missing from the landing site, he exclaims, “Why, why do they do it?”
Still, the separation works to good effect in this six-part story, as Susan and Barbara are spirited away by the human resistance to the Daleks and Ian and the Doctor are captured by the Robomen, the human semi-cyborgs enslaved as footsoldiers by the Daleks, who are few in number on Earth. The development of the resistance figures adds depth to the story, as thus far in the series, our sympathies have been almost entirely on our travellers finding their way back to the TARDIS. Very few secondary characters have been roundly developed in the series so far, and as will become obvious, the development of one resistance figure in particular takes on real significance.
The capture of the Doctor and Ian gives good reason to explore the Dalek saucers and to see lots of Daleks rolling around. There’s probably a good ten minutes of scenes showing nothing but Daleks moving back and forth in this story. The audience wants what the audience wants.
That said, Terry Nation wisely holds off on revealing the Daleks until the very end of the first episode, where one rises ominously from the murky Thames . . .
Ian and the Doctor are stunned to encounter the Daleks again, but the Doctor takes pains to point out to Ian that this sort of encounter is par for the course for time travellers:
Ian: Doctor, I don’t understand this at all. We saw the Daleks destroyed on Skaro. We were there!
Doctor: My dear boy, what happened in Skaro was a million years ahead of us in the future. What we’re seeing now is about the middle history of the Daleks.
These Daleks, part of an invasion force, have adapted to Earth’s annoying lack of electrified metal flooring by attaching power antennas to their backs, so the ol’ “coat on the ground” trick won’t work with them. They invaded Earth by first bombarding the planet with plague-laden meteorites, devastating the population centers. Just why they want to hollow out the earth’s crust with a bomb, stick a motor in there, and steer it around the galaxy remains, perhaps wisely, unexplored. But to get the job done, they need human hands, since a sucker arm just won’t do, so they attempt to coax the remaining pockets of human resistance out of hiding, proclaiming via radio,
<dalek>The Daleks Offer You Life!</dalek>.
The Doctor plays an exceedingly small role in the story’s events. He is captured, almost Robomanized, and rescued by the resistance. While he does direct Susan and David, a young resistance fighter with eyes for Susan, to attack a power-generating tower at a crucial moment, he doesn’t actually do anything to stop the Dalek plan. Credit goes to Ian and, to a serious extent, Barbara.
Ian does block the penetrating bomb, capable of punching through miles of solid rock, with two logs jammed in a shaft, to provide the knock-out blow and exterminate all the Daleks on Earth, but Barbara:
- Comes up with a plan to disguise the resistance fighters as Robomen to infiltrate the saucer landing area
- Figures out how to start a hundred year old trash truck to escape soon-to-be-firebombed London
- Crushes Daleks with said truck
- Develops a plan to infiltrate the Dalek control center after she is captured and taken to the mines
- Confuses the Dalek leader by reciting various battles from history as though they were contemporary attack plans by the resistance
- Pats her hand in front of her face to mimic the Dalek voice pattern to give the Robomen orders to attack the Daleks, in one of the series’ finest moments
For her troubles, Susan gets captured by the Daleks again, so that she requires rescue. But as in The Aztecs, Barbara shines in this episode.
In terms of series continuity, once more, the Companions are not referred to as such. They are “friends,” suggesting a warming between our travellers, perhaps. The Doctor’s walking stick magically reappears after he loses it while being rescued from the Dalek saucer, and he uses it, as he did in The Reign of Terror, to thwack, quite soundly, a bad guy. But when Tyler, one of the resistance fighters, goes to finish off the downed Roboman, the Doctor intervenes:
Doctor: No, Tyler! No! I never take life, only when my own is immediately threatened.
The Doctor’s reluctance to use deadly violence, if not violence itself, slowly begins to develop, and this moment helps solidify the notion of the Doctor’s muscular pacifism as canonical.
With all the Daleks on Earth caught in the blast of the stuck penetrating bomb, the resistance helps the Doctor dig out the TARDIS. Time to go, with one exception. David and Susan have fallen in love, and while Susan yearns for stability, an identity rooted in a specific time and place, she simply cannot leave the Doctor, her grandfather. She is all the family he has. The Doctor sees this, and makes the decision for her.
Doctor: 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. Goodbye, my dear. Goodbye, Susan.
William Hartnell’s First Doctor has been noted for a stumbling delivery of lines, but the speech he gives when he double locks Susan out of the TARDIS, to allow her to stay with David, shows Hartnell, and the First Doctor, at his finest. Proud, sad, and strong, the First Doctor has a gravitas that none of the subsequent Doctors really ever match. As when he lost Cameca at the end of The Aztecs, this Doctor, the oldest of the regenerations physically, knows loss in a way the future regenerations only hint at.
Carole Ann Ford plays Susan’s leave-taking quite well, fidgeting with the TARDIS key on the chain around her neck as David proposes to her. After the initial episode’s bumbling, she grows stronger, taking no guff and helping defeat the Daleks. She is the first of many Companions to leave the Doctor’s orbit, and she sets the bar for future Companion exits quite high. It is a noble and touching exit for a character who was not always treated with the highest of respect by the writers. Susan provided needed ballast for the First Doctor, and moving forward with the series, one wonders how her loss will alter him.
Our three remaining time travellers don’t remain a trio for long, though, as a new Companion is in need of, ah, rescue in the very next story, “The Rescue.”
(Previous Episode: Planet of Giants)
(Next Episode: The Rescue)
Post 10 of the Doctor Who Re-Watching Project