Doctor Who: Looking Back At THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Matthew Kresal joins the resistance.
To what would likely be a surprise to 21st-century viewers, Classic Doctor Who also occasionally engaged in the big end of season tales that Modern Who does. Just not necessarily at the end of a season. If you want proof of that, look no further than the second story of its second season, The Dalek Invasion of Earth. An adventure that has all the hallmarks not only of those modern finales but of the best tales of the Hartnell era. Not to mention, Doctor Who's first alien invasion story.

That's something down mainly to the sheer scope of the piece. For perhaps the first time in the show's run, there's a genuine sense of an epic feel to proceedings. The Doctor and companions take viewers on a journey across a Dalek occupied Britain of the 22nd century (even if it looks suspiciously like the 1960s at times). We get to learn of the Dalek onslaught via not only dialogue but by seeing it first hand in a series of extensive film sequences shot on location. The best of these are in episodes three and four, with Barbara, along with members of the resistance, trying to escape London as Daleks patrol around various landmarks. Those sequences, and the first episode cliffhanger, have become iconic and deservedly so in the eyes of this 21st-century viewer.
While the series had attempted to produce big scale stories before (particularly with the likes of Marco Polo or The Keys of Marinus), The Dalek Invasion of Earth is the one where it feels like they finally figured out how to do it right. There's the aforementioned location filming, but also how director Richard Martin and designer Spencer Chapman push and often strive against the limits of the multi-camera studio. Even the use of stock footage in places serves the story well when it shifts to the Bedfordshire mine. True, those effect sequences of the Dalek saucer aren't up to much, making it all too easy to understand why the DVD release has the option to look at some nicely produced replacement shots, but that's a small flaw in an otherwise well-made serial.

That The Dalek Invasion of Earth works as well as it does is how grounded it is. Yes, this is a science fiction story with Daleks, Robomen, and a weird alien known as a Slyther roaming around as a kind of guard dog. But, for all of that, the trappings and tropes at play owe less to 1950s sci-fi than to the Second World War. For make no mistake, this is Terry Nation channeling those fears from a quarter-century earlier of a Nazi invasion of Britain.
And it's not even done subtley. The way the Daleks insist "WE ARE THE MASTERS OF EARTH," their propaganda broadcasts, the slave labor at the mines, to the use of "the final solution" to describe their ultimate objective in the concluding installment all bare this out. Elsewhere, there are plenty more tropes of Second World War fiction on display from the resistance members the TARDIS crew encounter, their leader Dortmun's Churchillian speeches, to the black marketer Ashton. Even the women in the woods who betray Barbara and Jenny to the Daleks for better treatment, justifying their actions by telling themselves they would have been caught anyway, echoes stories from across Nazi-occupied Europe during the war.

Terry Nation wasn't the first writer to explore the idea of Hitler's Britain, of course. Noel Coward's Peace in Our Time was among the earliest works, written and performed in the aftermath of the war. Also being made around the same time was the pioneering independent film It Happened Here, and likewise features sequences of young men in Nazi uniforms marching around many of the same landmarks we see in episode three. Other works would follow, among the most notable being Len Deighton's thriller SS-GB but The Dalek Invasion of Earth is notable not only for being among the earliest works but also for how it put a particular genre based spin on events.
Lastly, there's a significant first here, one that brings us back around to Modern Who: a companion exit. The last ten minutes or so of the final episode deal with Susan's departure, the Doctor leaving her behind to help rebuild this post-invasion world. It's a beautifully handled sequence, well played by both Hartnell and Carole Ann Ford, the grandfather saying goodbye to his granddaughter. Its effectiveness is helped by the way that the relationship between Susan and a young man named David Campbell is built into the story throughout, setting the stage wonderfully for what would follow. There would be companion exits throughout Classic Who but rarely handled as well as this one was, as evidenced by the likes of Dodo's exit in The War Machines and Leela's departure after Invasion of Time. Indeed, this sequence would set the stage for the departures we've seen throughout Modern Who from Rose in Doomsday to the many (and finally overwrought) departures of Clara in the Moffat era. All of them, the best and the worst across nearly sixty years, have their basis in what viewers first saw on Boxing Day 1964.

If you only ever watch one Hartnell story, you could do a lot worse than watch The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It is, hands down, one of the best stories of this era. It's also a notable gamechanger for the series, bringing back a monster for the first time, telling its first alien invasion story, and featuring the first companion exit. It deserves it's status based on any one of those reasons but, to the credit of all involved, it's also a cracking story to boot.

And that makes it a rare beast, indeed.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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