The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, May 4, 2017

"My Truth is in the Stars": The Ambush\The Expedition\The Ordeal\The Rescue

Dalek: What we need for life means death for the Thals.
The Doctor: You could live in the city, and the others could. But why do you have to destroy? Can't you use your brains for right?
Dalek: Only one race can survive!
The Doctor: What are you planning?
Dalek: We wish to escape captivity; go out and rebuild the planet Skaro. Our oxygen distributors will be subjected to waste radiation by the ejector capsule.
The Doctor: Nothing can live outside if you do that, nothing!
Dalek: Except the Daleks!
The Doctor: When do you intend to put this into operation?
Dalek: Now.
The Doctor: [fuming] This senseless, evil killing...!

A funny thing happens on the back nine of this story--everybody grows.

The Daleks go from being cold, unpleasant beings who will do anything to secure their safety, to almost the stuff of legend. Indeed, this story began Dalekmania, and one can see why. The Daleks in these episodes become almost the menace we know from modern Who. The change is gradual--at first, as I mentioned last time, "e don't know about them--clearly not friendly, but not necessarily evil--they could be paranoid survivors of a nuclear holocaust"; well, that changes over these four episodes. They begin by luring the Thals into a trap, subsequently declare that "The only interest we have in the Thals is their total extermination," and then they deny that irradiating the planet would be, as the Doctor calls it, "sheer murder," countering "No! Extermination!"

The Doctor pleads for sanity, "But you must listen to reason! Please, you must!" But the lead Dalek replies, "Without radiation, the Dalek race is ended. We need it as you and the Thals need air."

Right there, the balance still hangs for a moment; the Dalek cannot conceive of a solution for both, and so may be choosing what it deems to be the lesser of two evils--but no; the other Daleks join it, and in a semi-circle, we hear their metallic vibrato voices ring out together: "Tomorrow, we will be the masters of planet Skaro!"

The Daleks have, in episode 6, arrived at last.

Susan has recaptured her quickness--when Ian (in the Dalek casing) is about to be rumbled by a real Dalek, Susan screams, and does her little damsel-in-distress act, but this time she winks roguishly at her grandfather, and gets the two "Daleks" cooperating so that the real one forgets its suspicions of Ian. For the rest of the episodes, she's clever, vibrant, alive. Carole Ann Ford is great here--she rises to Susan's enhanced role.

Ian is Ian--compassionate, well-intentioned--but he also shows a manipulative side, goading the Thals to reject their absolute pacifism, and to defend themselves. Interestingly, he has qualms throughout the exercise, but he is quite formidable.

Barbara continues bravely, and finds herself drawn to one of the Thals (who is just as drawn to her). Jacqueline Hill does a remarkable job of portraying both Barbara's fighting her fear, and forcing herself to be brave, and her developing interest in Ganatus.

And the Doctor? This is the first time we have seen him morally outraged. Up until now, he's been self-seeking, running from the Tribe of Gum, from the Daleks, prepared to abandon Za (hell, prepared to up and kill Za, for that matter). He's been willing to abandon the Thals, Ian and Barbara, Susan, even--anything to save himself. (It's a little disturbing how Flashman-like the Doctor is in these first few outings.)

But that ends here. The thoughtless brutality of the advances Daleks has stirred something in the Doctor. He's not running away this time. He stands and fights. Not entirely successfully; after disarming the Daleks' surveillance cameras, he's so busy preening that he disregards Susan's warnings, and they are captured. But he has learned how to fight for something other than himself.

He's not quite the Doctor yet, though--when the Daleks are dying, and beg for help, he coldly replies "Even if I wanted to, I don't know how." It falls to Alydon, the Thal leader, to say what the Doctor will say so often in the future: there should have been another way.


It's odd to watch a 54-year old serial on its own terms. This seven-parter only drags a little, in the penultimate episode, with Ian's party rollicking about in the caves for what feels like an entire season. (It's 15 minutes, in fact). Even that is leavened by Jacqueline Hill's acting. When Barbara has to jump across a pit, and then swing herself to safety, Hill portrays scared-but-fighting-it better than I've ever seen it done. She makes the whole sequence credible.

The fifth episode is even better, with the TARDIS crew making the old can-we-spring-Ian-before-the-lift-carrying-the baddies-gets-here routine gripping. In the last episode, there's a certain amount of chaos, and what exactly causes the doom of the Daleks (Oi, Chibnall--I've copyrighted that one!) is a little unclear. But the crew's farewell to their Thal friends, especially Hartnell's wistful rejection of their request that they stay and join in building a new Skaro, is moving. "I was a pioneer once, among my own people," he says, happy for the first time we have seen him.

He's not quite yet the Doctor, as I said.

But he's almost there.

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