Doctor Who #5: The Dead Planet

"Don't you ever think he deserves something to happen to him?"TECHNICAL SPECS: The episode is on disc 2 of The Beginning DVD boxed set as part 1 of a story we now call The Daleks. First aired Dec.21 1963.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS materializes on an alien planet, the gang splits up to explore a deserted alien city, and Barbara gets attacked by a terrifying sink plunger.

REVIEW: Our first Terry Nation script, and already, there's a noticeable drop in quality. This is all about putting science fiction concepts forward rather than artful dialogue, and quotable lines are precious few. Worse still, Nation's science seems to come more from Flash Gordon than Albert Einstein. But if the dialog isn't particularly exciting, the world created by the production team, is. There are wonderful special effects, from the strange embossed effect that turns the petrified forest into a truly alien world, to the shot of the model city and the cast in the same frame - the episode remains interesting even to the modern eye. The jungle looks good, but the city is even more intriguing, with its strangely shaped, diaphanous doors and eyestalk CCTV. So when we finally see the sucker advancing on Barbara, we're ready for something completely alien, and we most certainly get it. It's all in Jacqueline Hill's performance, of course. Plumbing implements aren't meant to be so terrifying. I consider Terry Nation an overrated writer exactly because his scripts only work thanks to the design, direction and acting. He's an ideas man, sure, but not a particularly good craftsman (but we're a ways yet before he becomes a parody of himself, so I'll let that go for now).

The episode is all exploration. There's a walk through the forest before we return to the TARDIS, where we are introduced to that silly food machine. Still, it's a fair point this early in the series. What do the characters eat? Is the TARDIS equipped with all the amenities? We've seen them wash up, and apparently return their clothes to a presentable appearance. And now we see the space age food they'll get to eat. No doubt, this recalls the then-exciting world of astronauts, but it does feel like the episode just stops for tea (or brandy, in the case of Barbara). Still, the TARDIS looks big here, with some time spent in the computer banks room where the Doctor hilariously answers Ian's "I don't know how you make sense of any of this" with "You're quite right." Less endearing is the Doctor's apparently reckless sabotage of his own ship just so he gets to explore the city. First of all, it's very poorly staged. He does it right in front of the others. For another, it makes the audience ask how he knows they'll find mercury inside the city. Then again, he just took the fluid link out and put it in his pocket. So long as he doesn't lose it...

The dynamic between the characters continues to evolve. Though Ian conceded leadership to the Doctor in the previous episode, the Doctor's done nothing but undermine than nascent trust since. He's refused to bring them back to their time, or answer any question directly, and now he's so obsessed with visiting the alien city, he's stranded them there. The notion is that Ian and Barbara are going along with the adventure because they can't afford to let the Doctor get captured or killed. They need him to pilot the ship. It's a tense, symbiotic relationship. But other forces are at work too, as the Doctor asks Barbara to bridge the generation gap between him and his granddaughter. She's required to act as mother figure to Susan, and so a familial bond also grows between the characters. Susan is still being written and played as a hypersensitive, seeing things other cannot, sensing the Thals in the bushes (she's proven right by the mystery drug kit), and generally freaking out. Neither of he female characters are well served by this episode, actually. Lots of screaming, while the boys show bravery (foolhardy and not). A staple of Terry Nation's space opera mentality?

THEORIES: I know the Dalek timeline is on everyone's minds, but it's too early to discuss it. I will talk about a couple things that fall under the header of "The Doctor lies" however. First is the concept of the "Billy fluff", what fans affectionately call William Hartnell's tendency to screw up lines. Everyone does in this era of the series because there were rarely any retakes or editing. It's just how tv worked back then. It's too early for the production team to find a way to justify them in-story, but here we have the Doctor calling Chesterton "Chesterfield", and I can't believe that would be a mistake. Or if it is, Hartnell repeats the gag a few times over the course of the series. It's a slur thrown at his rival, just another way to put him in his place. But it also does provide motivation for the Doctor's distractedness - fluffs and all - to be at least in part an act to disarm opponents. We know the 2nd Doctor will certainly use that trick.

The other, bigger lie has to do with the Daleks. Eventually, the series will act as if everyone knows what a Dalek is. They're the scourge of the universe, have waged war for centuries in multiple galaxies, and became the Time Lords' greatest foe. How then would a time traveler like the Doctor NEVER have heard of them. One theory is that his meetings with them causes them to become time-active, which in turn allows them to change their destiny. In the original timeline, they never amounted to much. The irony would be that it's the Doctor who created his own worst enemy by interfering with their affairs on this occasion. Another theory is that the Doctor is lying by "discovering" the Daleks as if for the first time, but that he knows who they are and indeed, might even have gone to Skaro on purpose. Think about it: According to Remembrance, he's just hidden the Hand of Omega on Earth (which he later uses against the Daleks). And now, he's obsessed with going into the Skarosian city. Why? Is he trying to nip them in the bud? (If so, he fails.) Or turning the Thals into warriors? (Ian actually does the deed.) Future episodes may tell. A third theory is that the Time Lords have removed key information from his brain, perhaps as some kind of failsafe against the theft of a TARDIS. The Doctor's forgotten how to properly pilot his ship, and now it seems he doesn't know who these historically important aliens are? Compare to Hartnell's last season by which time he just knows who the Toymaker and the Cybermen are, when he becomes the all-knowing Doctor we're used to today (for good or ill). Will things come back to him the more he travels?

VERSIONS: There are two important and very different versions of this story which we'll get to later. The Peter Cushing film, Doctor Who and the Daleks, will get its own article at its proper chronological slot, and Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, the Target novelization, I will talk about when we get to the final chapter.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Face it, you're just waiting around until Barbara is in position for that last iconic shot. A bit dull, especially on repeat viewings, but it gets better.

14 comments:

JDJarvis said...

I blame the Dalek rise to intergalactic-time spanning villainy on the accidental and planned interventions of the Doctor.

Sometimes even the best laid plans of time-lords go astray.

LiamKav said...

There's the theory that Genesis causes a split in the Dalek timeline, with the pre-Genesis Daleks being an all-powerful race, and then post-Genesis ones being hampered by squabbling and internal fighting (all caused by Davros not dying). The Daleks from this story don't quite fit into either theory though.

I'm quite curious as to what point in the series it's expected that everyone and their dog knows what the Daleks are.

Treating the TARDIS as a big ship is a fluctuating habit of the production staff. This early on, we show that it's a big place with ammenieties, different rooms, etc. By the time we get to the Third Doctor, it has shrunk to just the Console Room (which itself has shrunk). It then grows again during the Davison era, especially when they finally build a proper ew set for the Console Room. In the new series it shrinks again, so that for the Ninth and Tenth Doctors the whole ship once again appears to be just one room, and finally series 6 has grown it again, with different rooms and talk about Amy and Rory having a bedroom.

(Oh, and are you going to use the same screengrab for everytime that final shot is homaged in othe episodes?)

Siskoid said...

Jarvis: The potential for irony is definitely there.

Liam: I don't know if I'll use that same shot. Hadn't thought about it. Will depend on actual episode content, I suppose.

snell said...

Of course, it's always possible that once they got ahold of time travel, the Daleks made trips into their own past to "uplift" themselves, thus changing their own history (doubtless several times). Sure, it violates the Laws Of Time, but like the Daleks would ever listen to nonsense like that...

Siskoid said...

It is also a personal theory, but I'm waiting for them to get DARDISes to get into it.

LiamKav said...

I didn't mean the exact same shot. I meant when it is references, like with Romana at the end of Destiny.

Surely the Daleks changing their own history would make a huge paradox, as then they wouldn't have any reason to go back in time and change their own history? Having the Doctor do it is fine, though.

Siskoid said...

Yes, that's what I understood.

There are ways to beat the paradox. Isolate Skaro and keep the city in the dark while you take over the universe. But really, these guys don't care about the integrity of the timeline. Look at Resurrection where they try to take over Earth well before they the 2160s.

snell said...

Plus, I think "paradox" is a somewhat mis-used concept, meaning essentially, "we don't have the science to explain this right now." See Zeno's Paradoxes, for example. Once our knowledge of time travel science amd math expands to Time Lord level, I expect what we now call paradox will be called "kindergarten brain teaser."

Siskoid said...

Something for the Time Tots, definitely.

Randal said...

Liam: We got a glimpse of other rooms in the first Tenth Doctor episode...at least the wardrobe room.

Siskoid said...

And of course there's The Invasion of Time, which shows the pool, the art gallery and the grotty basements. Tom Baker also brought us the concept of secondary control rooms.

The TV movie had that big church thing.

We do see new bits now and then.

LiamKav said...

Plus, I think "paradox" is a somewhat mis-used concept, meaning essentially, "we don't have the science to explain this right now." See Zeno's Paradoxes, for example. Once our knowledge of time travel science amd math expands to Time Lord level, I expect what we now call paradox will be called "kindergarten brain teaser."

That's a very tricky route to take. It gives the writer's the excuse to explain away anything that doesn't make sense with "oh, only Time Lords can understand this." It's like the worst abuses of Voyager using technobabble as a solution.

(Bearing in mind that I really disagree with how the Doctor used time travel in last year's Christmas episode. I think it violates most of the laws of the show, even if the episode was lovely. I'm also giving dirty glances towards "The Big Bang", too.)

I'd forgotten the trip through the warehouse district during "The Invasion of Time". The total disconnect between the control room and everything else in that episode just ruined that for me, especially the switch from video to film.

Siskoid said...

Definitely too ambitious for its own good, that one.

As for the paradox and the rules of the universe, well, those are theories for the end of the project. But I've got'em!

LiamKav said...

This episode was actually a reshoot, after the initial version proved unusable. That is an Interesting Fact!

Also, according to the episode notes for "The Expedition", the Doctor getting Ian's name wrong in this episode was an ad-lib of Hartnell's designed to show the Doctor's absentmindedness. The production staffed liked the idea, so formally picked up on it in the later episode and then ran with it for the rest of Ian's time on the series. You can argue whether it was accidental on the Doctor's part or a deliberate way of putting Ian down.

(There is an episode of Friend's that talks about how it's a great way to undermind a person's partner:

"Hello, Barbara. You look lovely. Where's Liam?"
"You mean Ian?"
"Whatever. Is that a new perfume?")

 

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