Continuing on with my quest to see every Doctor Who episode, I watched the second story, “The Daleks.” This one features, of course, William Hartnell as the Doctor and his companions are still Susan, Ian, and Barbara.
This is, of course, the first introduction of the iconic Doctor Who villains, the Daleks. The Daleks almost didn’t come to be. Sidney Newman, the head of drama for the BBC didn’t want stories featuring “bug-eyed monsters” or robots. However, they were in desperate need for a story and no other script was anywhere near completion, so “The Daleks” went into production. It proved to be a very successful episode, actually providing a large ratings boost to the fledgling program.
The show was in such a need for a serial that was ready to film that they added an additional episode to the serial, bringing the total number of episodes to 7, and I felt that this showed. It is a good story, but it felt about one episode too long to me. The basic premise of the story is that the Doctor and his companions have just left their encounter with prehistoric man. Since they left in a hurry, the Doctor once again has no idea of where or when the TARDIS has landed. We, the viewers know that there is a dangerous level of radiation on this planet, but the Doctor and his companions are unaware. There is very little action in the first two episodes. The first episode is spent exploring petrified forest in which they have landed. While all four are somewhat interested in the forest, only the Doctor wants to explore the city they discover int he distance. It appears to be abandoned, and the Doctor wants to visit it in the hopes of discovering what has happened on this planet. Ian and Barbara refuse to let the Doctor explore the city, so his forced to manipulate them into allowing him to go; he pretends that he needs to find mercury for the fluid link, and must go into the city to get some. The four enter the city and split up to search for the mercury. Barbara is captured by a strange creature, of which only a metal arm is visible before the first episode ends.
A full Dalek is not seen until the second episode. The Doctor discovers that they have been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation and must leave. He is even willing to leave Barbara behind, but Ian takes the fluid link away, so the Doctor cannot leave. Soon all four travelers are captives, and they are all suffering from radiation sickness. The Doctor learns that there has been a neutronic war on the planet between the Daleks and the Thals. The radiation has caused mutations to both races. The Daleks have become so mutated that they have to live inside their metal shells and are unable to leave the city. They persuade the Daleks to let Susan, who is the healthiest of the group, return to the TARDIS. The travelers had not realized it at the time, but the Thals had left them anti radiation drugs so that they would not die from the radiation.
The fundamental conflict is between the Thals and the Daleks. The Daleks still want to destroy the Thals. The Doctor and his companions get involved in this struggle because the Daleks take the fluid link from Ian when they capture him. The travelers must help the Thals defeat the Daleks to get the fluid link back.
Unlike later incarnations, this Doctor is not interested in helping people. He is not interested in protecting the Thals from Dalek aggression. He is only interested as long as their success is necessary for his safety. When Barbara is captured, he is even willing to leave her behind, to save himself and Susan.
Unlike later episodes, the Doctor is not in charge. Even though the show is called Doctor Who, the Doctor is not really the main character. The need for a hero is fulfilled by Ian, and the group as a whole works as more of an ensemble to solve the problems they face. The group takes on more of a family dynamic of a mother and father, traveling with a daughter and a cranky grandfather. The Doctor actually seems rather frail, and the others often have to look after him. For instance, the group works together to overpower one of their Dalek captors, Ian and the Doctor work together to remove the creature from the shell, and then it is Ian who climbs inside and pretends to be the Dalek.
Overall, this episode was a strong one. I felt the fifth episode, which basically shows Ian and Barbara leading some Thals to the city through dangerous areas, didn’t really add anything to the story. As I stated previously, I think the story would have been stronger is it had only been six episodes, instead of seven. However, its pacing did allow for more time to get to know the characters and their personalities, which is, obviously, important when a show is beginning.