Doctor Who’s traumatizing moments: Suicide and insanity in The Dalek Invasion of Earth

The Dalek Invasion of Earth is perhaps one of the bleaker stories from Doctor Who history – and that bleak tone is established from its horrific opening scene.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget just how dark and grim the Classic Series of Doctor Who could be at times. While some people generally think of low budget sets and laughable effects, there were many stories that had a shockingly dark tone to them. Especially during the Sixties.

This was particularly true of Terry Nation’s stories. A major reason his Dalek stories are so fondly remembered to this day is that he never shied away from issues that were both terrifying and all too real, especially at the time. For example, the very first Dalek story focused on not just the aftermath of nuclear war, but the even more uncomfortable idea that sometimes, war is not just inevitable, but even a necessity.

However, his second Dalek serial, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, hit even closer to home. Quiet scenes of London completely abandoned. Signs forbidding people to “dump bodies into the river”. Humanity decimated and the survivors kept as slaves. Considering that this story was made barely two decades after the Second World War, it was clear that Nation wanted to tap into some very real fears.

More than that: he made sure that the tone of Invasion was established from the very beginning with an extremely disturbing scene…

The bleak tone of The Dalek Invasion of Earth is established perfectly with its opening scene.
(Photo by Ronald Dumont/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The ruin of a man

The Dalek Invasion of Earth depicts a Roboman – someone under the mental control of the Daleks – stumbling through the streets of London. Gradually, very gradually, he steps into the river, heading deeper and deeper, until he finally drowns to death.

It’s an incredibly dark way to begin a story, especially for Doctor Who. While the Robomen may look more than a little ridiculous with their massive metal headsets, the idea of the Daleks converting ordinary people into zombies is still a disturbing one. (A concept that Steven Moffat has also explored in some of his episodes with the Dalek puppets.)

More than that – it’s a moment that depicts a man losing his mind in a very real sense. Terrance Dicks describes this moment perfectly in his novelization of the story:

Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man.

Adult fear

It’s a beautifully haunting line that establishes this moment extremely well. We’re witnessing the last moments of a man who has truly lost everything. We’re not sure in the story if walking into the river is a deliberately conscious one or simply a result of his mind being completely unable to recognize the danger. But either way, it’s an extremely disturbing way to begin The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

Even better is that it’s not a moment that’s lingered on for too long. The story very quickly moves to the perspective of the TARDIS crew as they find out what happened to London, and we’re taken along with them. In fact, it’s one of those little moments that becomes even more disturbing as an adult, as the destruction of one’s mind and suicide are both very adult themes. It’s an extremely dark moment in Doctor Who‘s long history, but more than that, it’s also just one of many classic moments from this much-loved serial.

What are your thoughts on The Dalek Invasion of Earth? Do you think its opening scene is a particularly dark one? What are your favorite moments from the serial? Let us know in the comments below.