Classic Who: The Daleks

What’s fun about watching Doctor Who episodes from 1963 is trying to imagine everything being new to you. Of course, it’s impossible to un-know what you already know about what the Doctor will become and how the character and the mythos will grow. But it’s a fun exercise to to put yourself in the mindset of someone who has no idea what’s coming.

‘The Daleks’ is the second Doctor Who story and it consists of seven episodes. I have watched it before, but I’ve seen the titular antagonists many more times since. It’s easy to forget the one time I watched their classic debut when they’ve reappeared so often in the modern seasons I’ve rewatched the most. This felt almost like a first viewing.

Now, to the story.

Imagine this. One day you’re a teacher, going about your business, taking interest in an odd but gifted student. The next day, you’ve been abducted by an old man and whisked away in his magic box. Y’all land in the past where you’re held captive by cavemen. After an escape, a rescue, a mutiny and another escape you finally get back to the magic box only to land somewhere that is not home.

This is where ‘The Daleks’ starts. Barbara had already had enough with the cavemen and was not happy be brought somewhere new. Ian was also Over It, but chose not to dwell on the negatives.

Barbara and Ian Over It

They all explored their immediate surroundings and found only a dead, uninhabitable wasteland. The Doctor spotted a city in the distance, which piqued his interest. He wanted to investigate.

Susan was alone in the dark when she felt something touch her, so she freaked out. When she told the others what happened they were unconvinced until they heard noise outside the TARDIS and discovered something had been left outside it.

The next day, the Doctor acts like he’s been convinced to leave and does a whole show of trying to pilot the TARDIS before it “breaks down.” Apparently a part is broken and in need of mercury which – lo and behold – will probably be found in the city he wanted to explore anyway. 😒

So they go to the city, realize they’ve been exposed to radiation the whole time and are captured by Daleks. Daleks accuse them of being Thals and having a drug to protect them from radiation. They deny that, but agree to send one of the group to bring back anti-radiation drugs while the others stay as hostages. The Daleks plan to take the drugs and let them die.

Susan goes back to the TARDIS for the drugs and meets Alydon, a Thal. He’s the one who tried to contact her that night and who left the drugs outside the TARDIS. He tells her about Skaro, the war that desolated the planet, and his people’s search for food. He gives her extra drugs, and asks her to relay the message that the Thal want peace with the Daleks.

When Susan returns, the Daleks let them use the extra drugs so they stay alive and can provide intel. Susan recounts to the group everything that happened while the Daleks eavesdrop. The Daleks decide to manipulate Susan into inviting the Thal to a treaty — an ambush.

Then together the Doctor and co devise a clever plan to escape, which works. They get out, warn the Thals about the ambush (saving most of them), and get back to the TARDIS. Then Ian realizes he doesn’t have the part cause the Daleks confiscated it. So now they’re stuck cause the Doctor did clownery by lying about the TARDIS needing repair.

Ian tells the Thals their pacifism won’t work and that they’ll have to go at the Daleks before the Daleks come for them. They refuse to take part in another way until Ian convinces them they have to. The Doctor not only accepts this, he actively encourages the them to take up arms so they’d help retrieve the part.

They split into groups. Ian and Barbara take a group the back way which is unmonitored cause it’s a dangerous natural barrier. The Doctor and Susan take another group through the front. It is all very dangerous and some Thals die along the way.

Meanwhile the Daleks had duplicated and administered the anti-radiation drug, which killed the ones who took it. They discovered that they had adapted to the radiation and needed it to live. They then had the obvious idea to blow up the planet AGAIN to flood it with more radiation.

The Daleks prepare their bomb while the two groups get into the city. The Daleks start their slow ass countdown FROM ONE HUNDRED. (Who does that?!) The Doctor eventually gets the part and the Thals shut down the Dalek’s power, which immobilizes them. When a Dalek asks the Doctor to stop draining their power (essentially to save them), he basically goes ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ “can’t do it.”

So the Daleks will essentially die while the Thals take control of the city. And that’s where we leave Skaro.

Whew so…

As a modern viewer who is watching this story with the benefit of hindsight it’s kind of insane to me how the Doctor behaves. I’m used to him being dismissive of companions but not outright unconcerned about them. He is absolutely capable of and willing to abandon Ian or Barbara. He does not care about their well being at all and definitely wouldn’t prioritize them over himself. If not for Susan, I’m not sure he’d have any kind of moral imperative to be decent.

I bring into this an established idea of who the Doctor is, so even unintentionally, I notice all the ways he deviates from that. But I also unconsciously hone in on things that bring him closer to the Doctor I recognize. It makes watching the Classic series interesting because I’m both experiencing a new character and watching a character I know become the person I’m familiar with.

I enjoyed ‘The Daleks’ and I like that version of their history though I already know to expect continuity issues later in the series. I will definitely be looking at how the Doctor evolves from here and how his relationship with Ian and Barbara change.

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