Doctor Who #6: The Survivors

"A few questions will reduce the mystery."TECHNICAL SPECS: The episode is on disc 2 of The Beginning DVD boxed set as part 2 of The Daleks. First aired Dec.28 1963.

IN THIS ONE... The cast is captured by the Daleks and Susan is allowed to return to the TARDIS to get the Thal drug kit that could cure their radiation poisoning.

REVIEW: Right off the bat, the episode doesn't start with a full reprise of the last's cliffhanger. Much less effective without the scream. Getting past the sucker arm, the Daleks appear in fully realized form in the course of the episode. The look, the voices, the equipment tailored to their obvious handicaps, and the idea that they might not be robots, but creatures inside metallic shells. It's all there. We're only missing an "Exterminate!" or two. And these early Daleks actually put some later appearances to shame. The shells are brand new, for one thing, but their smooth balletic moves, coordinating floor movement with eyestalk expression is quite an achievement considering that 1) this is the first time they're used and 2) the way tv was filmed in those days, almost live-to-tape. There's even a "hero" eyestalk with a size-changing shutter. It makes the Daleks just a touch more expressive. I can totally believe they captured the imagination of kids throughout the UK during Christmas break.

The plot isn't quite as striking. There's some rummaging around in Doctor Who's first corridors, where the stark lighting makes the characters glisten with sweat, and we know they've been hit with radiation. They basically discover what we've known since the end of 100,000 B.C. Captured by the Daleks, Ian is hit with one of their beams, which only paralyzes his legs. A far cry from extermination, but it still works as a particularly cruel punishment. And then, there's some back and forth between the Doctor and the Daleks, giving the latter opportunities to infodump their history on the audience. At least we find out the Doctor wasn't so reckless as to really destroy the fluid link, but I guess just reckless enough to lie about it and get them all into a spot of trouble. The Thal anti-radiation meds are back in the TARDIS, and they're all trapped in a cell, dying. The Doctor proves his worth as a protagonist by convincing the Daleks he can be of use, and Susan is sent out to get the medication before it's too late.

Poor Susan! There's one moment where she inappropriately giggles that might recall her "unearthly" portrayal in the series opener, but otherwise, she's almost cringe-inducingly wet, turning the petrified forest where she lately picked crystal flowers into a tempest-torn nightmare. Susan is afraid of everything and unsure of herself in a way I find hard to believe for someone's who been traveling through time for a while. And with Barbara exhibiting the same (if not as melodramatic) behavior, there's little for the women to do except whimper and scream. Susan is used for this mission as a last resort, which gives her no credit at all from any of the characters. Terry Nation is no feminist. Thunder and lightning, plus a strange figure hinted to be a horrible mutant, would have believably put Susan on edge without the need for such hysterics even before she goes out of the city. Over-egging the terror pudding, as they say.

Other bits I don't care for include the impractical notion that the TARDIS lock will melt if someone other than a Time Lord puts the key in the lock. Over-complicated mumbo-jumbo that will soon enough turn out to be false. One might imagine that the Doctor grew less paranoid over time and disabled this feature. Then there's the running sequence, which gives 100,000 B.C. a run for its money in terms of silliness. The actress runs in place with spinning background behind her, not one of director Christopher Barry's best effects moments (of which there have already been many). The last disappointment is the cliffhanger, which is the weakest the show has yet to produce. Susan's just gone through the scary jungle unharmed, and... she must do it again! Oooh. So it's a good thing the Daleks are such a success. Turn them into guys with silver make-up (or something) and you've got a much weaker B-movie.

THEORIES: If you're tracking data about whether or not the Doctor already knew about the Daleks, there's nothing here to indicate he didn't. He plays dumb with them, and doesn't lie to his companions. Of the Dalek timeline, we glean that the atomic war happened 500 years ago, which you might think isn't long enough for the Thals to "evolve" a different appearance, but the radiation makes anything possible. The Daleks haven't seen the Thals in generations, but imagine them to be mutants. Aside from the hypocrisy of the statement, might this be some kind of reference to the Mutos from Genesis of the Daleks? Skaro has a history of war and mutation, after all.

One incongruity we should address is how hard the Doctor is hit by the radiation, while later Doctors are often shown to be more impervious to radiation than the norm. The obvious answer is that they hadn't decided on that yet, and needed the Doctor in jeopardy and unable to reach the TARDIS. The in-story answer might be that the first Doctor's age (by which I mean his current body's age) is too advanced for this Time Lord ability to work properly. If each Time Lord incarnation can live for centuries (and the first Doctor may already be some 450 years old, going by the times other Doctors say their age and working backwards), and we know this Doctor is to die of fatigue and old age in only 3 (give or take the number of years taken off his life in The Daleks' Master Plan), we'd be safe to assume he's at the tail end of this body's shelf life. Age is actually a good justification for a number of inconsistencies having to do with Time Lord physiology.

REWATCHABILITY: High - First full appearance of the Daleks, and it's enough to forgive any of the episode's weaknesses.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Daleks were a damn clever enemy to come up with. Let's say you're the "Doctor Who" production team and you need to come up with an enemy that is genuinely threatening and scary, yet can be outrun by an old man, outwitted by a young girl, and overpowered by a couple of wispy schoolteachers. How on earth do you pull that off?

Siskoid said...

You might be being facetious, I can't tell, but yeah, it works! Bring on the sliding and shambling monsters!

Anonymous said...

No faceticism (sp?) at all. It genuinely is a storytelling problem: how to come up with a scary thing that the universe's least ass-kickingest adventurers could still beat. Klingons are out. Imperial Stormtroopers are out. The American curling team from "Men with Brooms" are out. But slow, stupid, spiteful guns that are entirely reliant upon their city's infrastructure ... ? That could work, and that's pretty clever.

Siskoid said...

Facetiousness?

The Daleks grow progressively more dangerous from this point on, losing their reliance on bumper car flooring, then getting time travel, etc. until New Who makes a single Dalek able to theoretically destroy the Earth alone.

But it doesn't matter how powerful they become. Doctor Who is generally about finding the non-violent solution, usually resolving things with words or tech. It's why I love the Doctor Who RPG. It gives those solutions dibs.

snell said...

"One incongruity we should address is how hard the Doctor is hit by the radiation..."

Normal radiation, sure. But obviously this is Gallifreyanite radiation, from a chunk of Gallifrey irradiated during the Time War and accidentally tumbling back to Skaro's past.

LiamKav said...

Although Susan is annoyingly wet in this episode, if you imagine that she knows full well what a Dalek is then her reactions make a lot more sense. Her first reaction when she sees them is to grab the Doctor and scream. For a "regular" alien appearence that would seem wimpy, but for seeing Universe Nazis?

Also, her odd giggle comes right after Barbara wonders if the Daleks have things inside them. Again, her reaction makes a lot of sense if you suppose that she knows all about Dalek biology.

You can even explain the Doctor playing dumb. He's simply trying to work out where they are in the Dalek timeline. He picks up immedietly on the "500 years ago" line, which tells him when he is.

(Although coming up with explanations is the dream job of the fan, I do feel that none of these are really stretching things. Obviously it's not what the production crew have in mind, but it fits quite easily.)

Siskoid said...

That's good work, Liam. Continuity is all about hindsight, after all.

 

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