DOCTOR WHO - Looking back at The Daleks

Christopher Morley looks back on a pivotal moment in Doctor Who history that happened 51 years ago today, the introduction of the Daleks...

1963's The Daleks, the second story of Season One of Doctor Who, arguably represents a watershed moment for the series- & not just because of Terry Nation's titular metal despots! Though of course the first glimpse of one is indeed quite a selling point.......

It also tells us a lot with regard to the still-developing character of the First Doctor. For starters, the wily curmudgeon gets his wish- a chance to explore Skaro- by sabotaging 'Sexy' & then claiming he needs mercury to fix the resulting faulty fluid link. Ian & Barbara have been keen to get back to the TARDIS ever since setting foot in the petrified forest which acts as a prelude to the city of the Daleks, while Susan is convinced they're not alone. Perhaps predictably everyone else dismisses her claim, the Doctor failing somewhat in his duty of care as her grandfather! Mind you he's a bit tetchy with everyone, so there's every chance that this is perfectly normal? Babs is soon feeling a bit unwell, too- most likely a symptom of the radiation in the planet's atmosphere, which nobody knows about yet. Might explain why everything looks a bit dead.

If only they'd paid a little more attention to those levels at the end of An Unearthly Child - you might remember they give normal readings when Susan is first asked to give them the once-over before dropping into dangerous territory after everyone leaves the console room to prepare for their next adventure here. Careless in the extreme, but then the Doctor was a younger man so a little naivety is to be expected. Nearly walloping a caveman with a rock is one thing, but remember kids, always, always check your levels! Somebody really is out there, too, & they've left a neat little package.....mercifully, they're able to collect it without the need to either sign for it or return to Skaro's post office at a later date to pick it up.

Its a medical kit, containing vials of specially prepared drugs to combat radiation sickness. Definitely ' drugs' as opposed to the ' gloves' the Doctor mistakes them for. Quite what good he thought a nice pair of woolly mittens would do once the condition took hold goes unexplained- perhaps an indication of a hitherto unexplored love of knitting? After all that lovely sedan chair in the corner of his console room must have been used for something, you'd think. Perhaps he mastered the intricacies of ' knit one, purl one' while Susan was in her room listening to John Smith & The Common Men.

All thoughts of the aforementioned gloves must wait, though! He won't be picking up his needles until he's concluded his exploration, & that means the travelling party must make its way into the mysterious city. The architecture's a bit drab- everything's metallic, & all the doorways are arched. In truth it feels more than a little claustrophobic! That eerie ambience is ably helped along by Tristram Cary's musical score, which you can find most of on the compilation Devil's Planets-The Music Of Tristram Cary ( listen to a featured piece here) as it focuses exclusively on his work for The Daleks & its follow-up The Dalek Invasion Of Earth.

Barbara very nearly becomes the first victim of a Dalek, the Doctor seriously considering abandoning her & hotfooting it back to the 'old girl'...the seeds of distrust are thus sown, not helped by the young codger's confession that he might have had something to do with the dodgy fluid link. Chesterton, though, has an ace up his sleeve- 'kidnapping' the faulty component to ensure the Doctor's help in the search for the lovely Miss Wright. They don't get too far, though! The Daleks are soon on their tail & prove they really aren't all that nice by shooting Ian in the leg, paralysing him. His friends are ordered to ' help him' & the three wind up unceremoniously shoved into a cell with Barbara. Interrogation awaits the Doctor!

At least he learns a little more about his captors in the process, though. They're the survivors of a nuclear war with the Thals, confined to their casings & unable to leave their city. They do at least make a concession- they will allow one of their prisoners to return to the TARDIS to pick up the anti-radiation drugs, under the pretence that they will be used to cure them. If only it were that simple. They'd much rather take them for themselves! Susan is selected for the task of journeying back into the jungle, the Doctor & Barbara still rather ill & Ian unable to move all that well.

Ms Foreman soon meets one of the other side as she traipses back, a Thal named Alydon. Not the one from Public Image Limited - that's John Lydon! They're altogether more humanoid in appearance than the Daleks, who they had believed to be dead...the discovery that they're very much alive & kicking raises hopes of a treaty. It was the Thals who left the package outside, too- very considerate. Returning & rationing out the drugs between them, mindful of the ' pass the dutchie 'pon the left hand side rule in such matters, she has no idea the evil wheeliebins are listening in when she tells her friends the Thals are looking to make peace. Which gives them an idea. They indicate their acceptance to the idea of the treaty, in return for the Thals' help in cultivating the land to grow food. Farming is the last thing on their minds- they want to exterminate!

Food is left for their ' allies' in the entrance hall to the Dalek city, & all hell breaks loose! We even see the first & possibly only scuffle between the Doctor & his companions, a simple argument nearly coming to fisticuffs. In the ensuing dust-up Susan breaks the camera which has been monitoring them, offering the chance to talk without threat of eavesdroppers! A plan is hatched following the deduction that the Daleks are being powered by static electricity.........all they need to do is get inside that casing. And so begins the race to convince the Thals to abandon their pacifist stance & fight back against those who would make mincemeat of them. Civil war!

And the next battleground in the conflict between the Doctor & his most alien foes yet? Earth itself, after the events of The Edge Of Destruction start the process of solidifying the Doctor, Susan, Ian & Barbara into a unit- the two teachers from Coal Hill becoming friends with the man they'd once been so suspicious of, with he in turn coming to revise his initially rather low opinion of his first human companions. As the man himself later said in The Sensorites:
"It all began as a mild curiosity in a junkyard, and now it's turned out to be quite a great spirit of adventure, don't you think?"
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