Doctor Who Project: The Mutants/The Daleks

Oh, Grandfather! Couldn’t we stay a bit longer? The Thals are such nice people!
And the Daleks are not, which is more important, my child!

From the loinskin clad cave dwellers of “100,000 BC”, the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara move on to, well, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, padded vest- and leather pants-wearing Thals of “The Mutants” (Story Production Code B). A slight improvement, at least on a hygienic level.

But no one ever spares a thought for the peaceful Thals and their worship of history and penchant for wearing foam rubber, because the Daleks make their debut:

Obey! Obey!

This story, also known as “The Daleks” for somewhat obvious reasons, transformed Dr. Who from that show that came on before Juke Box Jury to phenomenon. As Howe and Walker put it in Doctor Who: The Television Companion:

Virtually overnight, this gentle, partly educational family series for Saturday teatimes was transformed into the show that, for many people, just had to be watched at all costs.

Stretching over seven episodes, “The Mutants” featured the Daleks quite prominently from episode two onwards, and the mystery of just what hid within the machine monsters is stoked by the appearance of a claw peeking from under a cloak where the Doctor and Ian unceremoniously dumped the contents of a disabled Dalek at the end of episode three. Such hints at greater mystery undoubtedly kept viewers riveted.

But the Daleks aren’t the only stars of this show, and “The Mutants” sets up several lasting Whovian themes.

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Iain M. Banks’ Culture Novel Primer

Skipping through science fiction blog io9 the other day, I ran across a guide to the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks:

Not only do we have a rundown of every single Culture novel, but we’ve also got some important excerpts from an obscure essay Banks wrote in 1994 about the ideas behind the Culture universe. Get ready to enter a world where ships are sentient, humans live for half a millennium, and living on a planet is probably the most backward thing you can do.

I must confess that I had never heard of the Culture series of novels, nor of Iain M. Banks. But I’m easily smitten by world-building writers who create detailed civilizations and set interconnected novel in said universes, David Brin’s Uplift universe being possibly my favorite such creation.

I’ve begun reading the first novel in the Culture series, Consider Phlebas, whose title is drawn from the “Death by Water” section of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”:

Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

Banks quotes this portion of the poem in the epigraph to the novel, setting us up for a tale of self-sacrifice in the cause of something greater. Just referencing Eliot doesn’t guarantee a literate novel, but what I’ve read so far suggests I’m in for a well-written journey.

Doctor Who Project: 100,000 BC/An Unearthly Child

It’s still a police box! Why hasn’t it changed? Dear, dear, how very disturbing!

Having voraciously devoured the first three seasons of the new Doctor Who series, and with the fourth season still to come this spring on the BBC, I’ve decided to set my own time machine back to the beginning of all things Whovian and start watching the series from the start in November, 1963. Well, I’m not literally going back to 1963, but you never know when you hang out with the Doctor.

We begin with William Hartnell and the first story of Doctor Who, “100,000 BC.”

Shadow approaching the TARDIS at end of Episode 1, An Unearthly Child

I’ve seen the majority of Doctor Who stories, having lucked into the beginning of the cycle on Maryland Public Television in the mid-1990’s, so for most stories, I’ll be re-watching them, looking at them with a knowledge of what is to come in the series. My boon companion for this perhaps overly-grand project will be David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker’s Doctor Who: The Television Companion, an exhaustive story guide with critical commentary from the authors and from various Doctor Who fanzines.

“100,000 BC” (Story Production Code A, also known as “An Unearthly Child” owing to the first episode of the story) kicks off the central conceit of the series, The Doctor and his companion(s) arriving at an unknown destination.

This time, the First Doctor (though the notion of his regenerative powers were still a few seasons in the future), his granddaughter (!) Susan, and her teachers, Ian and Barbara, hurtle through time and possibly space to a prehistoric setting. A petulant Doctor wishes to teach Ian and Barbara a lesson in humility, because they had the audacity to suggest he couldn’t travel in time. The Doctor has no clue where or when they are, since the TARDIS is busted, and he needs to take a Geiger counter along to calibrate his time sensor as they hop out of the TARDIS into a studio set covered in sand. And then…

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