The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, May 1, 2017

"If They Call us Mutations, What Must They Be Like?" (The Dead Planet, The Survivors, and The Escape)

Barbara Wright, in sensible shoes,
runs past radioactive refuse,
frightened, perhaps, but still polite,
Barbara keeps all her ethics in sight.

Barbara Wright, in a Mary Quant dress,
won't turn blind eye to the Doctor's mess.
She'll help her friends to unhouse a mutant,
But might tonight of tea be refusant.

Unlike the very nice crisp, clean version of The Daleks I'm watching on BritBox, the above clip is a bit fuzzy, and missing a piece; never mind, it gives you some of the basics. Here is the upshot:

1. The Doctor remains deceitful and selfish--he lies to Ian, Barbara, and Susan to create an excuse to visit the unknown, seemingly dead city, while Ian and Barbara want to flee the strange planet they have landed on. Rather than persuade, the Doctor falsely clams the "fluid link" is broken, and that it needs fresh mercury for the ship (as the TARDIS is mostly referred to here) to fly, and the Doctor leads his crew cross the jungle to the strange city....oh, well, at least he doesn't try to bash anyone's head in (yet).

2. He does, however, lead them into a radiation poisoned atmosphere, and each of our heroes begins to sicken. This ain't Teddy Ruxpin, kids!

3. Inside the city, strange, metallic creatures seize the TARDIS crew, and imprison them. As they sicken these strange metal creatures--called DALEKS, if you can imagine--send Susan out to retrieve some drugs from the other survivors of the Neutron War a half millennium before, what the Daleks conjecture to be a dreadfully mutated version of their old foes, the Thals. (Mostly, this holds up in continuity, but not entirely--no Kaleds who become "Daleks," just the Daleks and the Thals.).

4. Susan meets one of these Thals, and is awestruck at how "perfect" he is.

5. Susan returns (with the Thal's magic anti-radiation drugs (one set for the Daleks, the other to be smuggles to the Doctor, Ian and Barbara). The Daleks find both sets, but let the travelers have theirs anyway. Susan pens peaceful message to the Thals, and is returned to the others. Aware they have been bugged, and something is amiss, they deprive their warder-Dalek of power by cutting off its access to the floor from which it derived the static electricity that keeps it in motion, and they remove the mutant within the casing. Amusingly, the penny drops for the Doctor when Ian thinks of dodgems.

That Moffat--what a swot!

Like Clara in The Witch's Familiar, Ian hides within the Dalek, and Susan leads her "captor" out, while the dispossessed mutant writhes on the floor...


Good, right?

Rubbish, I've told you everything that happens but nothing of importance about the three episodes that make up the first half of the story arc normally called "The Daleks." Nothing.

The first episode continued the character-based drama of the preceding four episodes, An Unearthly Child and 100,000 BC. The Doctor can be said to thaw a little--a distraught Susan is more than he can handle, and he rather awkwardly, almost sweetly, asks Barbara to help by talking to her. When his deception is found out, he's like a naughty boy trying to brazen it out. Hartnell is quicksilver here--stern authority one moment, the next, Tom Sawyer, caught out. He's really quite good.

Ian's anger at the Doctor is more evident in these episodes than in the prior story. He blames the Doctor for leaving earth in 1963 hastily, as well as in 100,000 BC, preventing them from being able to choose a return point with any accuracy. Susan is vacillating between two registers--clever alien girl, and terrified child. Carole Anne Ford is trying, but the writers are tilting more toward Damsel in Distress (she screams like Bonnie Langford will, a generation later) than "character."

Barbara--she's beginning to be magic. She's afraid, and tired, but doesn't give up. Her courage and common sense run out at times, but mostly she finds her center. Jacqueline Hill is, thus far, the best actor on the program--she creates, sometimes with very little help from the script, a three dimensional character reacting is a credible way to incredible events. She is the emotional and moral core of Doctor Who, so far a sort of English Everywoman, who refuses to let standards down despite her terror. No wonder she inspired a little sub-Betjeman-style verse from me.

The Daleks themselves--in the second episode, "The Survivors," we don't know about them--clearly not friendly, but not necessarily evil--they could be paranoid survivors of a nuclear holocaust--and that's just how they're written. Their character as that against which the Doctor defines himself is not yet present--they are not yet the great nemesis they will become. They're less powerful, but, by episode 3, the base metal is showing through.

(The less said about the Thals the better).

But the world building of early Doctor Who is astonishing. The first episode is almost leisurely n pace, especially as the travelers discover the fragile beauty of a world murdered by its denizens. Carole Ann Ford is superb in these scenes, her wonder at the beauty of a perfectly preserved, brittle flower, more than any other moment, makes this ash-heap of a planet, destroyed by nuclear war, real--and tragically lovely.

Again, Doctor Who is being strikingly gutsy and dark here. The Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded in October 1962; these episodes aired a little over a year later.

Confronting children with the specter of Armageddon?

Why not, Verity Lambert seems to have reasoned--the politicians just have.

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