Doctor Who: ‘The Daleks’ REVISITED


credit: BBC

Only the second story in Doctor Who, ‘The Daleks’ (also known as ‘The Mutants’) left quite the impact on the show’s history. At seven episodes, it’s certainly long, but even over 50 years on, it’s still a thrilling story, and the time really flows by with how much it crams into its running length. Less in terms of plot and more for its focus on other things, like a sense of exploration and character development.

It’s especially important to note that at this point in the show’s history, the Doctor is a very different man compared to the adventurous hero we all know and love. In fact, despite being the title character, he’s not really one of the main heroes of the show.

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Those roles would go to schoolteachers Ian and Barbara, who stumbled into the TARDIS by accident in the first story, ‘An Unearthly Child’, and were practically kidnapped by the Doctor, purely to stop his granddaughter from leaving him. (I did say he was a very different man at this point.) It’s often been joked that the Doctor can’t control his ship in the New Series, but at this point, he really can’t: there’s no real way that he can take them back to their own time yet. They’re all still new at this, especially Ian and Barbara, as this is the first time that they’ve clearly landed on an alien world. Both are desperate to get back home, and both are trying their hardest to adapt to their new lives.

Related: Could Doctor Who Spinoff Class Lead to Return of Ian Chesterton?

I really do adore the original TARDIS team, as over time, they all grow so much. They don’t instantly get along, in fact, they’re very distrustful of each other. The Doctor still isn’t comfortable with the idea of travelling with two strangers on his ship, and Ian and Barbara don’t trust the Doctor because…well, frankly, because he keeps giving  them reasons not to! As if kidnapping them hadn’t been bad enough, in this story, he actually fakes a fault in the TARDIS and endangers all of their lives, just to visit a city. A city that supposedly looks dead, but is in fact still populated by…well, you can see where this is heading.

It’s interesting seeing the Doctor meet the Daleks for the first time. Just as the Doctor isn’t quite the hero he’s destined to become, the Daleks don’t seem quite as evil here as they do later. They take prisoners, and even have an option to stun someone with their weapons, or at least, stun their legs! However, that might not be too surprising: while they’re still incredibly xenophobic and all too happy to kill a couple of Thals (the other, more peaceful survivors of Skaro), they aren’t as ready to kill on sight at this point. Then again, considering one of the only times they don’t do that is not only when their enemy escapes, but goes on to become their greatest nemesis…yeah, I can see why they got harsher over the years.

Related: ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ REVISITED

As for the Thals, compared to the other race of Skaro, overall, they come across as rather bland. There’s some great ideas of conflict and when it is and isn’t needed that are explored with them, and it’s great to explore the idea of a race that caused so much damage to their own planet, they believe they’d rather die than ever fight again, but as individual characters, many of them seem to lack depth.

The two exceptions are Ganatus and Antodus, two brothers who couldn’t be more different: one brave and always cocky, the other easily filled with terror and despair. Despite their differences, there’s a great bond between the two, as Ganatus is clearly always looking out for his brother. Both give great performances, especially during an incredibly tense moment during the final episode of the story, and they really do stick out compared to the rest of the non-regulars.

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Next: PAGE TWO: The Sets of Skaro

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While Terry Nation would arguably write the Thals better in subsequent stories like ‘Planet of the Daleks’ and ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, (the latter of which we certainly do not see as much of a nice side to them, as I highlighted in my review of the story), overall, his story is a very strong if rather basic one for introducing the Daleks. Even in 1963, it wasn’t exactly original (there’s more than a few nods to HG Wells in there, particularly ‘The Time Machine’), but it’s still well written.

I’ve mentioned its length, but Terry Nation uses a great trick of narrative that not only divides the overall plot into two distinct halves, but gives us a fantastic “Oh SNAP!” cliffhanger (you’ll know it when you see it).

The two-halved structure allows for a number of different environments on Skaro, from the city of the Daleks themselves (a set design that holds up so well that it still has a strong influence on the design of the city seen in ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’/’The Witch’s Familiar’), to petrified forests, to journeys underground. It still amazes me that, despite being more than 50 years old, a limited budget, and such short times to film in, all of the sets hold up incredibly well.

Related: Recap: ‘The Witch’s Familiar’

It’s not surprising that ‘The Daleks’ left such an impact on British culture. While the previous story helped to introduce the series and some of its main concepts like time travel, Doctor Who‘s second serial really proved to the audience exactly what the show could be capable of. Nothing like the Daleks had ever been seen before, and the combination of excellent design, distinct voices and strong writing helped to make the evil pepper pots instantly memorable. Not just for a few weeks, as what might have been intended, but for decades.

While not the strongest story they’ve had, it’s certainly one of the most important, not only making the Daleks such a great success, but arguably the show as a whole, too. It’s not the only factor that has allowed Doctor Who to be talked about over five decades after its first episode was broadcast, but ‘The Daleks’ is certainly one of the biggest.

Next: Trailer, Clips, & Video Intro for 'Under the Lake'

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