It is hard to believe that for about two decades of my life, I had managed to be remain completely in the dark about a television phenomenon as expansive as Doctor Who. Sure, the classic series of Who ended the year I was born, but being off the air didn’t stop me from experiencing Star Trek‘s original series. But, even before I dove into Star Trek, I was familiar with the lingo that accompanied it: I knew of Kirk and Spock, of “Klingons” and Khan — but, I had never even heard of the Doctor and his TARDIS, let alone of “Daleks” and “Cybermen”. How was this possible? I don’t think there is a valid reason (read: excuse) for my misguided youth, but I’m sure glad that it is no longer the case.
In eleven days, the Doctor will have been gallivanting across galaxies in the TARDIS for fifty years. While fifty years on television is a feat in and of itself, after the 50th Anniversary Special (“The Day of the Doctor”) and the Christmas special air this year, Doctor Who will have aired 800 episodes on televisions across the globe. With achievements such as that, there is no doubt that there is something extraordinary going on with this Doctor fellow. Over the course of the next eleven days leading up (and including) the 50th Anniversary of Who, I will be providing reviews for some of the more memorable stories from Doctor Who‘s last fifty years. Some episodes will be community favorites found around the internet, some will be personal favorites and some will be important landmark episodes that set up the rest of Who. With a limit like “one review per Doctor”, I will undoubtedly miss a lot of excellent episodes, but that’s where you as Tonight’s Watch readers come in: share your favorite Doctor Who moments here, on our Twitter or Facebook page and help us make this important time in Doctor Who an event instead of an episode.
Now that I’m done with that long-winded introduction, let’s talk about the First Doctor’s (William Hartnell) landmark serial, “The Daleks”.
Now, William Hartnell logged just under thirty serials (usually between four and seven episodes each) as the First Doctor — why would I choose a decent series of episodes like “The Daleks” over choices such as the first batch of Who episodes in “An Unearthly Child”, the most popular First Doctor serial— “The Aztecs”—or even the arguably superior Dalek-themed serial, “Invasion of the Daleks”? Simply put, “The Daleks”, as the second batch of episodes in the Who catalogue, is close enough to the beginning of the series for someone new to the franchise to pick up and not miss too much and important enough of a serial to warrant a watch from someone who has only seen the current run of Who.
“The Daleks” is a seven-episode serial that deals with the Doctor & Co. running into a strange bunch of non-humanoid aliens that travel around in trash-can shaped transportation devices — you know, the Daleks. The Doctor and his first batch of companions — his granddaughter, Susan (Carole Anne Ford), and her two human teachers, Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) — find themselves stranded in a petrified jungle on a seemingly dead planet after the TARDIS malfunctions — something that would eventually become a staple of the series. After a bit of exploration and some squabbling between the Doctor and Ian about the Doctor putting everyone in danger, the Doctor lies (who would have guessed) about needing mercury to fix the TARDIS so that he can satiate his curiosity about an advanced city they spot in the distance.
Of course, the Doctor’s curiosity ends up causing a lot of trouble for the Doctor & Co. Barbara gets kidnapped by the Daleks after she goes exploring on her own (good idea) and Ian stands up to the Doctor as he tries to leave Barbara behind (only for an hour or so!) to save himself and Susan. It doesn’t take long for the remaining members of Team Doctor to get caught by the alien trash cans and find out why they are being so hostile towards the Doctor’s crew: the Daleks think that they are members of their longtime rival race, the Thals. Some time ago, there was a war in which the Daleks used a neutron bomb to destroy all of the natural life on planet Skaro (save the “Dals” [retcon alert] in their new Dalek suits of armor, but the Thals seem to be living in the petrified jungle, safe from the effects of radiation sickness. The Daleks decide to use their new “Thal” captives to lure out the rest of them and finish the job by eliminating the rest of the “mutant” Thal race. So, they send the kid out.
Susan travels back to the TARDIS to retrieve a box (which she assumes to have anti-radiation drugs) that they stumbled upon in the jungle and comes across a man from the Thal race. It turns out that they aren’t actually mutants — they are normal humanoid beings that practice pacifism and are only seeking food and peace from the Daleks in the city. Susan heads back with the anti-radiation medicine and brings news of the potential treaty to the Daleks. Yes, of course. That’ll go over well.
Luckily, the Doctor and Co. aren’t content to trust the Dalek-Thal treaty that is soon to take place and they stage an escape from their holding cell in the Dalek’s underground commune that involves one of the most embarrassingly easy defeats of a major villain I have ever witnessed. The Doctor and Co. come to the conclusion that the Daleks run off of static electricity and decide to disable them by forcing the Dalek to stand on a coat instead of the metal floor of their stronghold. The sad part? It works. The Doctor & Co. get free and make their way out to meet up with the Thals and warn them of the upcoming Dalek betrayal, but they are too late. The deal is made and a few Thals are killed with more injured from the ambush. Ian and Barbara then have a conversation about how the Daleks and Thals both have strange versions of humanity (though in wildly different ways), not even bothering to consider the fact that “humanity” doesn’t apply to alien races. Good job, guys.
This episode brings up one of the interesting aspects of the Hartnell’s Doctor (and Doctor Who‘s design in general): he is nothing like the man he is today and each actor brings new life and personality to the character. Hartnell, while easily the oldest in appearance as far as actors go (until we get our twelfth Doctor), plays the youngest version of the Doctor we have ever experienced — Hartnell’s Doctor is youthful and self-important in his adventures, he has more concern about the journey and less about the possible consequences for his fellow travelers. I’m fairly certain he doesn’t even like them at this point so much as he tolerates their presence as long as they don’t interfere with his own goals. Not only that, but Hartnell’s Doctor also manages to convince the Thals to give up their pacifistic-to-a-fault ways and “kill” the remaining Daleks. Then, when the Doctor hears the plea of the Daleks to save their lives, he denies their request for help and basically sentences all of the Daleks on Skaro to death.
What a guy.
With seven episodes to deal with in “The Daleks” serial, I barely touched on the surface of the episode — there are so many more scenes (both good and bad) that are worth talking about, but it would end up being much too long of a review. If you haven’t seen the serial, I recommend finding a copy of it and giving it a watch. Sure, the 1960’s Who is pretty dated in comparison to new Who, but the old black and white era still has plenty of charm. Just not from Hartnell — that guy is a straight up thug. Don’t mess with him.
Check back tomorrow for my review covering Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor! If you have a serial you’d like to see me cover from Doctors Two through Seven, leave a comment or send me a tweet (@TonightsWatch) and maybe I’ll pick your serial to review.