Sunday, March 7, 2010

Serial 2: The Daleks

Doctor: 1st Doctor (William Hartnell)

Companions: Susan, Barbara, and Ian

Written by Terry Nation

Directed by Christopher Barry and Richard Martin

Background and Significance: In 1963, Doctor Who hit The BBC as an educational children's show. It's come a long way since then, obviously, and I could go on about it more, but really that's what Wikipedia is for.

The reason I mention that here is because in their second serial, The Daleks, Doctor Who took a huge turn that no one had expected or anticipated. Some dude named Terry Nation came in and wrote this serial. Starting here, the show became this "thrilling" adventure show with aliens and action and adventure and started its evolution into the show it is today.

And really, that makes this serial important for two reasons:

1) It sets up Doctor Who as a vehicle to tell exciting sci-fi adventure stories.
2) It introduces one of The Doctor's great archenemies: The Daleks

But enough introduction. Here we start. Endless fun. It's kinda rough, but endlessly fun. The serial (collection of episodes making a story; this storytelling method holds until Doctor Who's cancellation in 1989) itself is seven episodes long (all the episodes (save a few) I'll be talking about are twenty five minutes long) and boy howdy did it not need to be. But it's still fun.There's charm and innocence coming off this in waves. It's fantastic in the way the original Star Trek is fantastic.

One more disclaimer: There is zero budget for this show. Like. There's so not. Doctor Who has always had a reputation for being a show that's made on the cheap. Even the modern stories are done on the relative cheap, but their budget is much more respectable than the budget for this. What we're watching here is an educational kids show that aired on Saturday nights. There'd be no budget anyways (look at modern American public access children's programming), but put it in the 1960's and that just makes this laughable in the most charming way.

But enough of this silliness. What happens?


The Doctor, his granddaughter Susan (who is extremely annoying and needs to shut up. Seriously, she was only on the show to be the young element the kids would identify with) are traveling (as all Time Lords and their grandchildren do) on this cosmicky intergalactic and trans-temporal road trip with their recently-joined companions, Ian (a science teacher and the main action guy for the show), and Barbara (a history teacher). They land on a strange, dead jungle world with petrified beasts. [Also important to note: before heading outside, The Doctor tells Susan to do one thing (just one thing!) and that is to check the TARDIS's radiation scanner. She says it's fine and then it starts to dip into "DANGER" status. Oh my God, Susan. You're annoying and can't do anything right. You had *one* job to do and you failed. Way to go.]

And here comes boring fast exasperated exposition: They head outside, they look around, it takes too long, it's obviously a set, they keep staring at flora and fauna and wonder if there's people. They see a city. The Doctor wants to visit. Ian refuses and wants to go back to the TARDIS. Susan needs to shut up. They head back to the TARDIS. They eat weird Time Lord food-

Hang on. Let's put some context here. The Doctor has just whisked away Barbara and Ian to protect his and Susan's identities as alien time travelers. So put yourself in their shoes. You find yourself on an ash-covered dead place with petrified armadillos and then get really hungry and this crazy old codger who flies the time ship you're on hands you condensed food and you eat it? That's just silly. I mean, I know you have to eat. But come on. If a crazy old man who had a batty time ship came and offered me food, I would not take it and neither should you. That could be anything from cult poison to a roofie to the dementia pills he has to take for the day. Don't do it, man. Just don't.

Anyways. The Doctor (as he would) wants to go explore the metropolis they found, but Ian blatantly refuses (killjoy) so The Doctor gets all sneaky and "breaks" a crucial TARDIS component and then says "Oh no. Now we'll have to go to the city to go find more mercury [that I didn't actually lose. I'm just lying to you because I'm an old codger Time Lord who won't take no for an answer from any cheeky British science teacher like you]." Really. It's a lot to deliver and Hartnell nails it.

So they go to the city. It's more sets. It's hilariously charming. There's doors that slide and matte paintings that don't convince me that the city goes on forever (but that's part of the endless fun, isn't it?). You can practically see their shadows cast upon the painting behind them. And so Barbara gets separated for some reason or another and then this happens.

Now. I had seen this picture before. It's a famous shot from the episode. And I was looking forward to it. It's the first Dalek encounter *ever* and it's... chilling. I can show you this picture, but until you see it actually happening and The Dalek moving towards her... it's chilling. It was late at night when I watched this and I got chills. And I think this might be the first "behind the couch" moment (look it up) of Doctor Who, and rightly so. Can you imagine being a kid and watching this shot and just saying "oh blurg." I know I'd get all freaked out. Hell, I'm twenty one and I got a little skeeved.

And that's where the first episode ends, and really, a lot happens (relatively). It's strange to think that this episode fills the same amount of time as a typical half-hour show on modern television today because it really feels like not that much was accomplished. Lots of standing around. Lots of talky talk. Lots of gesturing. Not much forward movement. But fine. It's decompressed.

But back to the story.... Ian and Susan and the Doctor are running around the city looking for Barbara. They stand and talk for a while, and then come out of a door and see the sight above, and it's... kinda scary. Granted, The Daleks are kinda goofy looking, and these things are rather cheap (look at that plunger! I thought it was going to fall off it was so limply moving at times) but they're cool. Really. It's shocking to see them, and I think that's the point. I read somewhere that Terry Nation created The Daleks with the express desire to create a scary alien that didn't look like some guy in a suit. And succeed he did. It really helps make The Daleks unique and insanely memorable. What else out there in the science fiction world looks like that? They're automatons and they're unlike any other scary alien that I've ever seen. You're in a dark alley and a Dalek shows up at the other side. You get scared.

Anyways. The Daleks capture The Doctor, Susan, and Ian. Ian makes a *great* attempt to run away which involves him trying to run, a Dalek blasts him, and Ian falling and getting leg paralyzed and the screen going all negative to simulate Ian getting "hit." And... Well. You just kinda have to see this. What it is exactly is from about 4:30-5:45.

How un-frakking-believably fantastic is that? I think it's golden. First time you see The Daleks and Ian runs away and The Dalek shoots him with.... what? Exactly? I guess it's a ray blast? But it... kinda "spurts out", doesn't it? Awesome. And then the screen goes all negative and Ian does a fantastic fall. I love the way they fall in this show. It's so delightful.

Moving on: The Daleks capture Ian, Barbara, Susan, and The Doctor and hold them in a holding cell. They suffer from radiation. The Daleks question The Doctor (which is really nifty because it's the first real encounter between the two of them) and then they have to let Susan go run back to the TARDIS (it would be Ian but he got all paralyzed) to grab some anti-radiation meds. She runs back to the TARDIS, grabs some meds, and then meets this guy.

He comes with his own Turtle Flavored Overcoat

He's a Thal, and he explains that he is a part of what was once a warrior race on the planet Skaro, but there was a war and radiation, but they survived with anti-radiation meds and plants, but that's not sustainable any more and they're hungry so they want to sue for peace with the intellectuals of Skaro (the Daleks). He asks Susan if she can help with that. She agrees and runs back to the city. (All this takes about six minutes.)

When she arrives, she is able to give the meds to her grandfather and the tag-alongs (that's a good word for them...) and then tells the Daleks that the Thals are hungry and want peace and food. The Daleks "agree" and use Susan to draft a letter (which involves a Dalek picking up the piece of paper with its plunger (which was so fantastic you don't even know)) saying they will leave a plate of food in the middle of the city. Of course, the Daleks see this as an opportunity to exterminate the Thals once and for all, so of course they will betray them.

Meanwhile, our crew manages to best a Dalek and execute an escape, which involves The Doctor and Ian removing a Dalek from its metal chassis and then having Ian climb in to impersonate a Dalek. And yes. That does mean that Ian's voice changes to become all Daleky.

So the four of them manage to escape. They head up a very cheaply made elevator, there are some delicious special effects as the Daleks chase them, and they find themselves outside, just as the Daleks are about to jump out and ambush the Thals. As Thal King approaches the plate of food, Ian walks out with determination (really, that's the only way to describe it) and goes all Admiral Ackbar on them ("It's a trap!"), there's a lot of slow paced stuff here. I dunno, it's funny watching Ian walk briskly out to the plate of food, stand there and shout things, and then it takes some time to take action (THE 60's WAS A DIFFERENT TIME! NOTHING WAS QUITE SO URGENT!).

The Thal King dies in the skirmish. Ian, Barbara, Susan, and The Doctor run back to the forest. Ian discovers that he left the vital TARDIS component piece (the one that needed mercury, the one the Doctor lied about, the whole reason they went to the city in the first place) back in the city! Plot device!

And then the Thals stand around for a while (a long while. I can't stress this enough. It's like half an episode at least) talking about what to do next and Ian finally convinces them to take out the Daleks. They start a plan involving splitting up and one team going around the city and entering through the back door and the other team heading in normally (for flanking purposes, but really this is totally unnecessary based on what comes later). So Barbara and Ian go flanking with some Thals, The Doctor and Susan will attack the normal way.

Then what follows for about two episodes is Barbara and Ian walking through a swamp and then a cave. I am not joking. It's the main focus of these two episodes and it's completely pointless. I was so mad. Up until this point, I was like "Okay. It's slow, but I can deal." But this was so completely unnecessary. I'd go into it, but that's really not so much important or lampoonable (except for one part, below... and I think there was a part with a living whirlpool, but it was really quite lame and an episode cliffhanger and not really worth mentioning here).

Here's what happens in these two episodes that doesn't have to do with Barbara and Ian:

For The Doctor and Susan: They run into the town and start breaking things to distract the Daleks and end up getting captured.

For the Daleks: The Daleks try out some of the Thal anti-radiation medication and the ones who take it freak out, leading the Daleks to realize that they *need* radiation to survive.

It also leads to this fantastic shot here.

And..... here.

Why are these shots so great? It's not for the Dalek freaking out (although that is amusing). What you have to understand is that this show [again] has no budget. If you go in and look, they really couldn't afford much of anything really. Everything was on the cheap. Especially the Daleks. There was probably a budget meeting that said "You can afford four Daleks" because that's all that shows up in one place at the same time.

So how do you explain those two pictures?

I didn't know, honestly. I just saw the Daleks and I was like "Oh damn. Look at that budget breaking. Good on them for pulling that off!"

And then I looked at the second picture (in which the Daleks don't look quite right... weird angles and stuff...) and tried to figure out why it was irking me. Look at the second picture again.

They're cutouts. Dalek cardboard cutouts. You can even see the stands. Awesome. I love this show.

Anyways. Back to the boringness of Barbara and Ian. They walk through a swamp and then a cave and the cave will lead them to the Dalek city. They come to a point in the cave where there's a gap and they have to jump it. Someone has rope (he was probably the Eagle Scout Thal; he found it really good on his resume and college applications, but beyond that it was just bragging rights) and they decide to use the rope as a safety line. And they do this by having the anchor (in this case, Ian) knot the rope around his waist.

Talk. about. un. safe.

Seriously. Ian needs some backstory history where he laughed at his dad when his dad sought to teach him the principles of climbing/rope safety, because if someone pulled out some rope and tied it around his waist in a situation like this, I'd call him a nutter. Talk about crazy unsafe. Tie it to a rock or an out cropping or have everyone just hold it or something, but tying it to your waist is recipe for disaster.

And so disaster happens. The last Thal to cross falls. And Ian falls with him. And they die. And there is much sadness.

Nah, just kidding. But the last Thal to cross does fall and Ian is pulled after him (see? Take it from Doctor Who, kids! Tying ropes around your waist is just *asking* for someone to test your smarts!) and just barely manages to hang on while The Thal cuts himself loose and falls to his death.

So that's what this show teaches you, kids. If you have to go jump something unsafe, tie a rope around your waist and see what happens. It'll make it that much safer.

But that's enough on that.

Finally, the plan is in motion and it's time for the big climactic battle. I could explain it to you in depth, but really, that just misses the point entirely. How do we fight against the Daleks before they become all gun blasty and menacey and the crazy crazy threat we see them as eventually/now?

We throw stones at them and we jump on them and we go for Dalek rides. Don't believe me? See for yourself. It's big. It's epic. You'll love it.

And so The Daleks are defeated once and for all (no they're not, but they explain it away later as they always do and I'll watch that serial eventually and I'll explain it then but for now and for all intents and purposes, the Daleks are defeated forever). The Thals will rebuild their society, and Ian, Barbara, Susan, and The Doctor go on their merry way.

But not before some insanely lengthy goodbyes. It's like they have to show every single person saying goodbye to every other one. It's insane.

Oh. And Barbara has to give a very special goodbye.


I would like to point out right now that I have *no* idea why Barbara and this dude go here right now. Hell, I don't even know who this dude is. All I know is he's fairly attractive Thal (in that tall blonde and handsome 60's thing) and Barbara is this milfy-looking(ish) school teacher. Seriously. This comes out of absolutely nowhere, and it just makes me think that this show is frakking incredible.

Reflection: Honestly, there's a lot where this serial succeeds, and a lot where it fails. The use of the Daleks in their original appearance is quite well done. Even the Thals are excellent in their own strange way. There's some adventure. Some fun (lots of it in places). And we get to see the Daleks defeated. It's a good thing.

If I had to slam it for one thing, it's that it's just too darn long. You'll constantly hear about episodes getting padded out and decompressed, and this is a major failing of this story. It didn't need to be seven episodes long. It coulda been done in four. Spending two episodes of Barbara and Ian trekking through the wilderness is something boring and lame and I'd rather they didn't, but what can you do? I actually had a ton of fun with this. I just wish it moved faster in places.

But How About The Doctor?: William Hartnell, being the 1st Doctor helped to cast the mold that would eventually be the character we all know and love. He's comedic (as all Doctors tend to be), but he's very clearly a grandfather figure. A bit aloof and loopy (not so unlike, say, Columbo) but that's part of the point. The Doctor is always smarter than everyone in the room, but he doesn't like to show it. The First Doctor, though? He's kind of a dick at times. He acts dangerously to get his way and shows very little regard for the people around him. His caring and compassion are buried beneath his need to teach and his need for exploration. His mannerisms remind me of Yoda (but Yoda was cooler and possibly puppetier) and he's kind of silly. Compared to later Doctors, he pales in comparison, but that's to be expected. Not my favorite Doctor (not by a long shot), but his interpretation of the character is consistent and it fits. I'm a bigger fan of a more proactive Doctor, but Hartnell is still a fun ride.

Next time!: Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor) and Cybermen! "The Invasion!" Coming soon!

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