Doctor Who: The Daleks (1963/64)
As I was watching this seven-episode story, I found myself pondering how exactly to summarise the story without giving any spoilers; no easy task given that each episode ends on a cliff-hanger moment. However, I’ll give it a shot!
This is, of course, the world’s introduction to the Doctor’s oldest foe, the Daleks. Seeing them here for their debut, it is easy to view them with the weight of fifty years of history, of what they would come to mean to the Doctor, and to the galaxy — and to the viewers. And while they will have plenty of future opportunities to show the full extent of their utter hatred for all non-Dalek life, some of that hatred is on display here.
The Doctor and his companions — having fled rather hurriedly from their first adventure — have materialised on what seems to be a totally dead world. All plant life has been petrified, the ground scorched by what would seem to have been the detonation of a neutron bomb. Because of a slight scanner malfunction when they first prepare to leave the TARDIS to investigate, the travellers are unaware that they have exposed themselves to lethal levels of radiation — and that the person Susan thought she saw in the forest has left them medicine to heal their exposure.
At the edge of the forest, they see a distant city, highly technological, all gleaming metal buildings. Barbara wants to leave — once she discovers they are no longer on Earth, she worries that they are in danger. The Doctor, however, wants to stay and investigate the city. Outnumbered, the wily old man deliberately sabotages the TARDIS so it cannot dematerialise, and then insists they head to the city to look for supplies of mercury to refill the Fluid Link, the device he has unplugged — and which they take with them.
The city seems deserted, but after ten minutes of exploring, when the rest of them have returned to the rendezvous point, there is no sign of Barbara. By this time, all of them are beginning to feel a little unwell, but they venture once more into the city. They find a lab, which they explore in the hopes of finding some mercury. What they find is a geiger counter, its readings well into the danger zone, and they realise they are suffering from radiation sickness. The Doctor insists they return to the TARDIS — and seems quite prepared to abandon Barbara to her fate — but Ian gets hold of the critical Fluid Link and insists that they search for his missing friend.
Before long, they run into the same creatures Barbara encountered; the inhabitants of the city. The Daleks. Menacing mechanical beings — cylindrical body gliding around the metallic floors, swivel dome on top with its single eye stalk, energy weapon and, uh, rubber toilet plunger protruding from the front. I’m sure we all know what a Dalek looks like. Mistaken for Thals, they are taken prisoner, and begin to suffer increasingly from the radiation. When the Doctor tells the Daleks that somebody left what may have been anti-radiation medicine out by their ship, the Daleks think it may be their key to leaving their prison of a city — they live deep beneath the surface, where they are shielded from the worst of the radiation.
Susan — the only one of their number still capable of making the journey — is sent back through the petrified forest to retrieve the medicine. There, she meets a Thal; far from being the hideous mutation the Daleks warned her of, he is a rather Aryan-looking human(oid) species. He gives her extra medicine — he, at least, mistrusts the Daleks enough to suspect they might want to keep the supply for themselves — and she returns.
The planet is Skaro, and the Thal and the Daleks (originally the Dal) fought a bitter war, 500 years ago — and until now, neither side knew that the other had survived. The Daleks offer a truce, a meeting to share their respective supplies and knowledge — but can they be trusted?
Meanwhile, healed by the Thal medicine, our travellers escape their captivity and return to the TARDIS. As they prepare to leave — determined not to involve themselves in the further affairs of the two races — they make an awful discovery: the Fluid Link was taken from Ian by the Daleks. They will have to return to the city to get it back — and the back door is protected by swamps full of hideous mutants (according to the Thals, this time) and an endless network of blind caverns. And while they struggle their way through seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the Daleks have discovered that they have actually evolved to require the radiation, and have come up with a plan to further irradiate the surface of the planet, enabling them to leave their city — and, coincidentally, killing off the Thals once and for all…