Classic Doctor Who Retro Review – The Daleks

1000px-Doctor_Who_logo_1The Daleks (aka “The Mutants” or “The Dead Planet”)

 

This is the first ever Dalek story, and quite possibly the reason why Doctor Who lasted as long as it did. The Daleks were an instant hit and put the series on the map.

dr_who_and_the_daleks_xlgThis story was adapted into a movie called “Doctor Who and the Daleks” starring Peter (Grand Moff Tarkin) Cushing as “Doctor Who” who in that version was simply a human scientist who created a TARDIS in his backyard (this was because in the TV series it had yet to be revealed that the Doctor was a Time Lord, he was a very mysterious character back then. The producers of the film must’ve felt that the audience couldn’t handle a protagonist with no backstory, so they gave him one). The movie is quite good, in a cheesy, campy sort of way. It is in full color, or “colour” as the British would say, unlike the black and white of the series. The Daleks are larger and much more colorful as well.

I can’t help but compare the TV version to the film version. They both have their good points (the pace of the movie is much better, and both the Doctor and Susan are more likeable than their TV counterparts) and bad points (the TV serial is more grim and serious, the Dalek City looks much better, so do the Thals, and Ian isn’t the Jerry Lewis-esque buffoon that he is in the movie, however the serial DRAGS on and on in the last 2-3 episodes).Dead_planetThe Daleks themselves are quite different from what we are used to. They don’t roll around shouting “exterminate” every few minutes, are dependent on radiation to survive, and have no internal power source, they draw their static electricity power from the metal floor of their city, like bumper cars (or as the British charmingly call them, “dodge ‘ems”), which basically means they are stuck inside their city. Most disturbingly of all, they seem to want to leave their metal shells behind and slither around au naturale. Yes friends, these are nudist Daleks! They also appear to have all been killed off at the end of the story when our heroes basically hit the “off” switch in the city. Needless to say, for all these reasons, this story doesn’t mesh very well with later Dalek stories.

In their next appearance, the Doctor tries to explain this by saying that the previous story happens far in the future of the Daleks and all his encounters with the galaxy- conquering versions of these villains happen earlier, but this makes little sense and virtually nobody in fandom takes this explanation seriously. Some fans have tried to retcon this tale out of existence entirely, citing the 4th Doctor’s activities in “ Genesis of the Daleks” as possibly changing the Dalek timeline so much that none of this stuff happens anymore. Personally, I think it is quite easy to explain this story without pretending it went away due to timey-wimeyness or ignoring the obvious differences between these Daleks and the more familiar versions.

genesis4My explanation for this is as follows: The newly minted Daleks seen in “Genesis of the Daleks” were sealed inside an underground bunker in that story, and an incubation room for baby Daleks was blown up. The Doctor claims that this has somehow set the Daleks back by “a thousand years”. So this is the basis on which most people say that history was changed and the original Dalek story never happened.

The original Dalek story happens “500 years” after a neutron war devastated the planet. So I suppose the theory goes that due to the Doctor’s intervention in their creation the Daleks were still trapped underground at the time when this story is set, or were just much generally worse off. However, I don’t buy any of that. I fail to see how burying the Daleks in a bunker which is a basically a Dalek factory, with all the data on how to make more Daleks would set them back for even 10 years, let alone a thousand! I’m sure they could’ve whipped up more Daleks pronto through the magic of cloning, then blasted their way out of that bunker in hardly any time at all.

I think this is another example of the Doctor simply not knowing what he’s talking about, like wishful thinking. But everyone wants to treat it like gospel truth when the Doctor really seems to have no sound basis for this estimate.

the-daleks-63I imagine that after the Daleks are on the surface of the planet again, that they set about building a city for themselves to live in (interestingly, this is exactly what they declare they intend to do in the end of the novelization of “Genesis of the Daleks”) which is the city seen in this first Dalek story. It’s obviously a city meant for Daleks as all the doors are the perfect size and shape for them to side through. They even say that it was built by their Dalek forefathers”, not Kaleds as some have speculated. I imagine that eventually the Daleks become aware of a civilization of Thal survivors and war begins anew. This is the neutron war that ended 500 years before this first Dalek tale.

This is the reason why in this first Dalek story the Doctor and company almost die of radiation poisoning after spending a short amount of time on the surface of Skaro, while in “Genesis of the Daleks”, our heroes can run around outside for quite a while without any ill effects. It was two different wars. The one seen at the end of Genesis doesn’t make the planet highly radioactive, the nuclear weapons had all been used up in the beginning of that war centuries earlier and everyone is left to fight with crappy primitive weapons.

10609257_10203855356840096_559756551_nThe second, later one that occurs off screen between Genesis and “The Daleks” does make the planet super radioactive. It kills off most of the Thals and the Daleks. Some Daleks manage to get to the shelters beneath their city and survive. Then they split into two camps to ensure the survival of their race, one group heads off into outer space to set up an empire, these are the Daleks seen in practically every Dalek story. Another group of Daleks stays behind on Skaro to wait for radiation levels to die off and then reclaim the planet. Since the planet is now so radioactive that they Daleks can’t survive on the surface for any great length of time, they basically have to stay in the shelters beneath the city all the time, so they ditch their batteries and tie themselves into the city’s power supply. Perhaps it makes for a roomier casing? These are the Daleks encountered in that first story.

They stay on Skaro in these radiative conditions for so long that even deep underground and inside their casings, they mutate further and become dependent on high levels of radiation to survive. Perhaps this mutation also makes them contemplate un-Daleky ideas such as abandoning wearing a casing altogether. Maybe these Daleks are much bigger than the ones we are used to (Ian seems to be able to fit inside a casing) and even without that power supply taking up room inside, these chubby Daleks still find it too cramped inside for comfort?

05This branch of the Dalek race is wiped out at the end of this story, but it hardly matters, if the main group of Daleks had bothered to return home while these guys were still around, they surely would’ve exterminated the lot of them for being racially impure mutants! I think this neatly explains any continuity discrepancies without resorting to saying that the story didn’t happen at all. It even explains why the Thals never refer to the Kaleds – the most recent war that is in their minds was fought against Daleks, not Kaleds. Kaleds are a distant memory, they can’t even remember what they were really called and refer to them incorrectly as “Dals” in their histories.

In many ways this is possibly the best Dalek story. When you consider that it came out at the height of the Cold War, the visions of a ruined world must’ve seemed very relevant at that time. The sound effects and background music are especially effective at creating a spooky atmosphere. I think it is a little morally dubious that our heroes end up coercing the peaceful Thals to abandon their hippy ways just so they can help them get a doohickey called a “fluid link” that they need to make the TARDIS work again, which they left behind in the Dalek city. But hey, turns out the Daleks were working on poisoning the planet with enough fall out to kill them all when the Thals happened to creep into their control room and turn everything off, so no bigee.

The Thals themselves are boring as heck, and so boring that you kinda wish the Daleks would just kill them all. I do like this story a lot, except for near the end, the last 2 or 3 episodes have a lot of tedious parts where Barbara, Ian and some forgettable Thals are trekking through a bunch of tunnels. There is lots of “ohhh I wonder what is down this tunnel? It couldn’t be certain death could it?” and “I’m gonna jump across this chasm and throw a rope back to you, try not to plummet to your death”. It should be exciting, but it isn’t, as you watch Thals you care nothing for die horribly in these tunnels, or perhaps, not horribly enough! Ok, I’ve said waaaay too much about this one story – moving on!

 

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