Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Doctor Who #7: The Escape

"I believe the Daleks hold the key to our future."TECHNICAL SPECS: The episode is on disc 2 of The Beginning DVD boxed set as part 3 of The Daleks. First aired Jan.4 1964.

IN THIS ONE... Susan meet the Thals, and the gang makes its escape attempt with Ian behind the wheel of a Dalek.

REVIEW: The Thals, advertised as disgusting mutants in the previous episode, turn out to be tall, blond and beautiful, if a little effete. Susan trusts them immediately because they're pretty. Conventional wisdom would have use believe that you can't judge a book by its cover, but this is a morally/thematically much more simple story, where beautiful is good, and ugly is evil. In fact, the Daleks are genocidal from the word go. And where a Trekish moral fable would have the two peoples come together in symbiosis to solve their problems (and it is in the power of the Thals to cure the Daleks of their radiation sickness, and for the Daleks to feed the Thals), we'll find that they really CAN'T work together. Evil is shown to be a real force in the Whoniverse, where things are not necessarily a shade of gray. The Thals are the "light" in this equation, a warrior people that has bred out its violent tendencies.

The episode takes some time to present the Thal soap opera. In addition to the "hero" Thal, Alydon (who laughably gives Susan a gigantic tin of meds to hide on her person), there's the trusting king Temmosus, the cynical Ganatus (who seems most human of all), his unseen cowardly brother Antodus, and poor Dyoni, the only female representative and definitely a Terry Nation creation. I hate to give even more attention to Nation's sexism, but Dyoni states she has no opinion, criticizes the TARDIS crew for sending a girl to do a man's job, and then falls into petty jealousy because Alydon spoke to Susan. Terribly dated attitude, especially in a show with two female protagonists and a woman in the producer's chair.

The Daleks are much more interesting, but then, they would be, wouldn't they? They don't know what names are, and respond aggressively to Susan's laughter ("Stop that noise!"). The first mention of extermination isn't lost on modern viewers either. The tricks the production team has them perform vary from fun (sticking the letter to the sucker arm) to accidentally comical ("grabbing" Ian by the throat). The TARDISeers work out how to disable one by cutting it off from the floor's static electricity in a sequence that is more "scientific method" than we might expect today (they don't get the jump on the first Dalek that comes to feed them, for example, but observe its behavior to plan for the next), which is in keeping with both the slower pace of television, and the series' educational mandate. You're allowed to question the huge wad of Dalek-blinding mud Barbara creates from Susan's dirty shoes however. What's ultimately exciting is that we get a glimpse of a Dalek under a blanket where Ian deposits it to steal its shell. It's more lizard-like than the octopoid we've gotten used to, but it's a fun, iconic bit nonetheless (is it a strong cliffhanger though? To be fair, the show is too young to have a true cliffhanger tradition). As we leave the cast, their escape attempt is just under way, with Ian inside the travel machine, using the Dalek's voice modulator. It's at least imaginative and we might hope they don't get immediately recaptured again.

THEORIES: With hindsight, we know Daleks won't be confined to static cling engines forever. That, along with their very different appearance (by which I mean the interior mutant) is an indicator that the race's timeline only really works when you accept they've been factioned. We'll see a lot of that later, with both Imperial and Renegade Daleks vying for power as ideas of purity evolve and spark civil war. So whenever this story takes place relative to other events in Dalek history, we may explain biological/technical inconsistencies away by invoking this idea. The City Daleks are one faction of the race, perhaps one abandoned on the planet while another escaped into space. Segregating these "static-dependent" Daleks from others may prove useful when trying to establish the Dalek timeline.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Though the Thals' gender politics might make you wince, the tribe gets at least some development. Meanwhile, the SF action-adventure elements in the Dalek city remain a good bit of fun.


snell said...

"The City Daleks are one faction of the race..."

So the other faction is the Country Daleks??

Siskoid said...

The ones with the red stripes on their necks.

Randal said...

They kept the idea of Daleks not having names into the new series, but wouldn't it be awesome if the Doctor used the power of laughter to stop the Daleks? Actually, I bet there was a panto at one point where exactly that happened.

LiamKav said...

"They kept the idea of Daleks not having names into the new series",

Didn't the Cult of Skaro all have names? Or was that presented as being unique? I can't remember...

Siskoid said...

Unique. But there have been precedents here and there. Alpha, Beta etc. and of course, in the Dalek comic strips.