Doctor – William Hartnell
Companions – Carole Ann Ford, Jacqueline Hill, William Russell
Script writer – Terry Nation
Producer – Verity Lambert
Directors – Christopher Barry and Richard Martin
Originally screened – 21 Dec 1963 – 1 Feb 1964
Episode 1: Having recently been accidentally abducted by a time-travelling eccentric, the Doctor, and his teenage granddaughter Susan, 1960s schoolteachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton now find themselves stepping from the TARDIS into the petrified forest of some unknown alien planet. The Doctor is thrilled with scientific curiosity and Susan is excitedly trying to collect the petrified flora – Barbara and Ian just want to get back inside and return to Earth straight away. But then they reach the edge of the forest and see a vast city below, and the Doctor will not be satisfied until he’s taken a look. Barbara and Ian, however, insist quite forcefully that he take them home before he does any more exploring. With bad grace, and only because it’s getting dark, he agrees.
On the way back, Susan is convinced someone touched her. Though her grandfather does not believe this is possible, a tapping against the TARDIS doors later in the night is enough to renew Ian and Barbara’s demands for an immediate departure. The Doctor rants that no, this is his ship, and he’ll do what he wants. When a tantrum fails, he pretends to take off while secretly sabotaging the console, and with very unconvincing surprise announces that oh my goodness me, they need mercury for the fluid link, where on this planet are they going to find that…?
Susan is vindicated the next morning when a metal box of mysterious vials is discovered outside. These are left in the TARDIS for later scientific examination and the quartet set off for the city to look for mercury. They enter a silent metal labyrinth that shows no more signs of life than the forest they’ve left behind. Barbara goes one way, Ian another, Susan and the Doctor a third. Getting in was easy; finding a way back, not so much. Running through the unchanging corridors, doors locking down around her, Barbara finds herself trapped in a dead end with a terrible black sucker approaching to corner her…and Barbara, sensible dependable Barbara, starts to scream.
Episode 2: The Doctor, Susan and Ian have reunited and when Barbara fails to join them, they head off to look for her. Following a faint ticking sound, they stumble across a room of alien technology that for some reason includes a recognisable version of a Geiger counter. It proves two things. They are dealing with an advanced civilisation, and also, radiation levels are off the charts. The after effects of a neutron bomb, the Doctor diagnoses, concluding that the headaches and weakness that have been plaguing them all are the effects of radiation sickness…and ah, by the way, he might have been lying just a little bit about that fluid link. He wants to go straight back to the TARDIS, Barbara or no Barbara, but Ian happens to be holding the fluid link just then and he’s having none of that. They return to their search and are immediately surrounded by black suckers. These are attached to metallic bodies striped with little semi-spheres – robotic creatures that look nothing like humans. When Ian tries to run, they shoot him, paralysing his legs. Then one trundles up to tersely inform him that it won’t be permanent this time.
With the Doctor and Susan’s help, he is half-dragged into a cell, where they are reunited with Barbara, and she learns that she is suffering from radiation sickness. Nor is she the worst hit. The Doctor is slumped sideways against the wall, looking at death’s door, but their robotic gaolers are not sympathetic and insist on interrogating him anyway. They accuse him of being a ‘Thal’ and get very cross when he tells them he’s not got a clue what they’re on about. It is, though, self-evident that he and his companions have no protection against radiation sickness. If one of his people goes to collect the contents of the metal box, that the Doctor in his desperation has decided must be medicine to counteract the effects of the radiation, the others must stay as hostages.
But it isn’t all curt electronic voices and intimidation. Over five hundred years ago, one of the Doctor’s gaolers explains, there were two dominant races on this planet, and they were at war – the Thals, and the DALEKS. Fans, you can cheer now.
After the neutron war (good guess, Doctor) the Daleks retreated to their city, protected by the encasing of their machines. Somehow the Thals survived on the outside, though the Daleks speculate with some satisfaction on the likely mutations they must have undergone. Meanwhile, back in the cell, Ian is trying to walk, without much success. Despite his determination, he simply is not capable of the trek back up to the TARDIS. The only one in any condition to go is Susan, who despite her panic manages to get there and retrieve the box. Plucking up her courage for the journey back, she steps outside again, straight into a violent electric storm.
Episode 3: With her back up against the TARDIS door, Susan sees her first Thal – a hot blonde bloke in a cloak. Expecting scary mutant people, she mutters incoherently about his perfection. He kindly ignores this, explaining about the anti-radiation drugs, which triggers her own explanation about the fate of her friends in the city. This is the first he has heard about the Daleks’ continued survival, but from her story he suspects they may not be trustworthy and provides her with more drugs in case they take the first ones away from her. He even gives her his cloak. Aww, chivalry…
Susan gets back and the Daleks eavesdrop on her while she sighs over the magnificence of Alydon the Thal to her rapidly recovering friends – the Daleks allowed her to keep the second batch of medication after all, and aren’t they pleased about that, because the next thing they overhear is that the Thals are suffering a food shortage and want to trade with the city. The Daleks decide to play nice with their prisoners for now, so as to deceive the Thals through them. Cue a cute waiter Dalek with a tray. Susan leaves the cell to help formulate the treaty, while in the forest a group of Thals – pretty much all hot and blonde, an interesting definition of ‘mutation’, that – congregate curiously around the TARDIS. The Daleks were once teachers and philosophers, one elder Thal reminds them all, talking optimistically of ‘magical architecture’ and exchanges of ideas. Alydon seems to share this trust in total strangers, speaking glowingly of Susan, which leads to some cheerful chaffing by his friends and a huff from the Thal girl who fancies him. Then the treaty, handwritten by Susan under the hectoring dictation of the Daleks, is delivered to the city limits and retrieved by the Thals. Trade is on!
Only of course it’s all a trap, something the TARDIS crew are beginning to realise for themselves. They stage a fight to knock out the recording device in their cell and, after working out that the Daleks require static electricity from the metal floors in order to power themselves, come up with a clever plan to escape. When a Dalek enters with more food (so cute, these waiter Daleks!) everyone leaps into action – Ian jams the door, Barbara disables the eyestalk with a handful of mud, and the Dalek wails helpless warnings as it is pulled onto Alydon’s cloak. Without the static electricity of the floor, the machine goes lifeless.
When Ian sees what is inside, he insists Barbara and Susan stand guard in the corridor so that they don’t have to watch while he and the Doctor use the cloak to manhandle whatever it is out, leaving the machine hollow. Ian then actually climbs inside to impersonate a guard for the others. They trundle off. Behind them, a scaled hand emerges from beneath the cloak…
Episode 4: Ian quickly works out how to operate the Dalek and with Susan leading the way, they head for the lifts. When they are stopped by a real Dalek, Susan distracts it by faking hysteria, forcing it to provide assistance in manhandling the three ‘prisoners’ into the lift chamber. The Doctor then jams the door. Unfortunately, Ian has somehow become stuck inside the Dalek casing and the Daleks, quickly realising that they have been tricked, begin to cut their way through to the chamber. Ian insists the others escape into the lift, leaving him behind. The door falls in – his Dalek casing is fired upon – but it is empty. Ian has escaped into the lift! The Daleks then try to bring it down, but Barbara pulls him free in time. Trying to orientate themselves, the TARDIS crew go to a window and witness from above the arrival of the Thals.
If we ever believed that the Daleks intended to help their neighbours, a little chat at the bottom of the lift quashes that. They don’t even intend to capture them. The first ever order is given to EXTERMINATE! For some reason, though, there is a piece of abstract sculpture at the top of the lift and with Barbara and Susan’s help, Ian throws it down the shaft to prevent pursuit. The quartet then split up – the Doctor leaving for the TARDIS, accompanied reluctantly by Barbara and Susan, while Ian stays to warn the Thals, who have just entered the hall where they were told to collect their food. It’s there, piled up with what looks like…toilet paper? Whatever, it’s good enough for the desperate Thals. Their leader (the optimist) enters first and is shot by the waiting Daleks; Ian shouts a warning and the other Thals scatter, running or hiding in convenient architectural anomalies. Ian collides with Alydon and they escape together.
Not long afterwards, the Doctor is installed at the Thal camp in the forest, chatting comfortably with Alydon’s sort-of-girlfriend Dyoni and examining a historical cache. The Thal survivors are still straggling in while Alydon, the new leader, agonises over where it all went wrong. Ian’s argument is that the Daleks are rabid racists. Show some strength, he advises, but the intensely pacifist Thals aren’t into that idea.
The Doctor isn’t bothered. “It’s no business of ours!” is his motto. “Let’s worry about ourselves!” He suggests they return to the TARDIS straight away. Only thing is…Ian had the fluid link. And it was taken by the Daleks while he was prisoner. Without it, there is no way to escape this planet.
Episode 5: The Daleks have duplicated the Thal radiation drugs to give to select groups of ‘worker’ Daleks. They have also managed to capture images of the TARDIS crew and Thals, and assume that this alliance means imminent attack. It’s not so extreme a supposition. That’s precisely what Ian is trying to convince Alydon to do, but his conscience refuses to let him push too far – what right has he to ask the Thals to fight for them? The Doctor has no such inhibitions and finds an unexpected supporter in Barbara. Only Ian seems to realise that no one is going to war over a fluid link. He fakes dragging off Dyoni to hand over to the Daleks in exchange for the lost component and when Alydon furiously clocks him on the jaw, responds with “So there are some things you’ll fight for?” Meanwhile, a Dalek is whirling out of control in a kind of delirium. The radiation drugs, far from improving Dalek health, are killing the workers they were administered to. It’s very, very sad. There is much wailing. The Daleks realise that they have become dependent on radiation for survival.
That night in the forest, Alydon is still awake, troubled by his instinctive violent reaction. Dyoni pats his arm, informing him that she’d have hated him if he’d done anything else. Behind them, an even better looking Thal is taking a walk in the woods with Barbara, laying out his multi-purpose cloak for them to sit on while they admire the chemical glow of a nearby polluted lake. The Thal, Ganatus, tells Barbara about an expedition that went there in search of food. He and his brother were the only survivors. Not a very romantic topic of conversation, he realises, and shuts up.
And suddenly we’re in Dalek cam! From a Dalek’s eye view we enter a new meeting where they are carrying out tests on the victims of the radiation drugs. If the environment outside doesn’t suit them, they decide, well, they’re just going to have to change it.
By the next morning, Alydon has made his decision. As the TARDIS crew will go whether or not they have support, he has chosen to go with them, regardless of whether that costs him his position as leader. Apparently this isn’t so much of a surprise as he thought it would be, because Ganatus quickly agrees to the plan and produces a map he prepared earlier. The plan is that their group will divide into two – one to remain behind and distract the Daleks, the others to go by the lake route to sneak into the city from behind. This involves many spooky black and white swamp shots. Ganatus’s brother is very reluctant about all this, but loses the argument and they camp for the night despite the creepy noises that fill the air. Ganatus goes to sleep with his head pillowed on…Barbara’s leg? Can that really be comfortable? Oh well.
In the morning a Thal man goes down to the lake to refill their water bags, but something rises from the depths and he is dragged to his death.
Episode 6: The water bags are found scattered on the boiling lake. Ganatus’s traumatised brother is more traumatised than ever, but there’s nothing to be done except move on. At the same time, the other half of the group – which includes the Doctor, Susan, Alydon and Dyoni – are spying on the city and making plans to sabotage the Dalek’s surveillance equipment. Little do they know that the Daleks are planning the creation of another neutron bomb. The only difficulty is that they need 23 days to make one and that is too long. Another way must be found to spread the radiation.
By now the first group of Thals have reached a system of caverns. Ganatus and Barbara have broken off from the others as their own team and there is some fun flirtatious banter, including Ganatus’s sly response to Barbara’s caution – “Do you always do what Ian says?” This is possibly why she agrees to let him investigate a narrow passageway in the rock, lowering him down on a rope. She can’t control it, though; it slides from her grip, and Ganatus falls. Ian and the others arrive at this point. Despite the fact that he is the one who fell down a rock shaft Ganatus insists on finding out if Barbara is okay before telling them about the tunnels he has discovered.
The surveillance tech in the Dalek city is beginning to malfunction. This is apparently because the Thals are aiming mirrors at it. Oh, glorious science! While the Doctor, Susan and Alydon break into the city, the other Thals are making their way through the new tunnels – Ian in the lead, Ganatus holding Barbara’s hand…ostensibly to help her along. His brother Antodus pulls him aside, though, demanding that they go back. He is convinced that they are all going to die. Ganatus isn’t willing to let him go and they wrestle briefly (you know, like pacifistic Thals do), resulting a rockslide that decides the matter – there’s no way back now.
The Doctor’s team arrive at a key point in the city and proceed to sabotage the Daleks’ static electricity generation. Sending Alydon away to rejoin the camp, the Doctor continues to happily smash up Dalek tech despite Susan’s trying to pull him away, and they turn around to find themselves surrounded by Daleks. “The only interest we have in the Thals,” they inform their prisoners, “is their TOTAL EXTERMINATION!” A radiation bombardment has been planned to take place the next day and then they will be the masters of Skaro!
In the caves, meanwhile, the first team have reached a new obstacle – a crevasse that it is decided they can only cross by jumping to the ledge on the other side. Ian, of course, insists on going first. Ganatus follows, the smiles between him and Barbara becoming more noticeable than ever. They all manage to get across, but when it’s Antodus’s turn, he misses the ledge, tumbling into the darkness of the crevasse. Above him, Ian has been knocked off balance and is about to fall…
Episode 7: Ganatus catches Ian, but the weight of Antodus on the rope is threatening to drag all three of them into the chasm. Antodus chooses his own solution, cutting through the rope to allow himself to fall. The shock causes Ganatus to lose hope in the expedition. As if anything is needed to make their situation worse, the lantern then begins to fail and they are forced to turn it off to conserve power…but light is coming into the tunnel from somewhere else. They have found a way into the city!
And not a moment too soon. Alydon has drummed up some fight in his people, giving the order to enter the city, while in a cell off from the Dalek control room the Doctor and Susan are being questioned. The Daleks are quite happy to share their plans. They intend to go forth and take over Skaro, and in order to do that, they are preparing to irradiate the landscape with the full power of their nuclear generators. Hoping to delay them, the Doctor tells them of the TARDIS, offering the errant fluid link as proof of its existence. This backfires. The Daleks would very much like to explore the secrets of the TARDIS, and that’s exactly what they will do – once intense radiation makes it possible for them to leave the city and find it for themselves. They begin the irradiation procedure. Yes, people, it’s a countdown!
Fortunately for the Doctor, a better distraction is on its way. Both groups of Thals are now in the city, looking for the control room and disabling surveillance equipment as they go. Alydon runs into Ian’s team just as the Daleks begin locking down the doors on that floor. Alydon and Ian struggle to hold one open while the others escape, and Ganatus even risks his life by forcing himself back underneath to ensure Barbara gets through safely. Somehow they all make it to the control room, where they find the Doctor and Susan and free them. The Daleks pursue, but the city is suddenly full of Thals. With nothing but ropes and rocks, they start taking out the astonished Daleks. During the fight, the control room is badly damaged, the power supply accidentally disrupted. The Daleks cannot survive without their static electricity. One pleads with the Doctor for it to be restored; he calmly informs it that he doesn’t even know how. The Dalek dies with a pitiful wail. With all the Daleks failing, all that remains is to collect the fluid link and the TARDIS crew can be on their way.
Back at the Thal camp in the petrified forest, Alydon turns amateur scientist, trying to understand Dalek technology. He asks the Doctor to stay and help them rebuild, but the Doctor refuses. “I never give advice, never,” he says emphatically (and untruthfully), then relents a little and adds mysteriously , “Always search for truth.” Well, no one ever said the man was helpful. The fluid link is replaced and general goodbyes are said. Ganatus, farewelling Barbara outside the TARDIS, is clearly on the point of asking her to stay, but stops himself and brings her hand to his lips instead. Ah, Thal chivalry! Barbara presses a brief kiss against his mouth, then disappears into the TARDIS, and a moment later the TARDIS itself is gone, leaving Skaro far behind.
The Verdict: How could I have forgotten how much I love this story? It is the first ever outing of the Dalek and it is always a joy to revisit the beginning of that legend – I admit to a fangirl shriek when, for the very first time in TV history, a Dalek orders “extermination!”. It is also a fascinating reminder of who the Doctor was when the series began. He was no hero, that’s for sure. A brilliant scientist, certainly, but also a heartless, cantankerous loner who only assists the Thals because his granddaughter would never forgive him if he didn’t. I love the Thals, incidentally, who find common ground with the Daleks in being so unintentionally funny. Ganatus, in particular, has a lot of personality and his goodbye to Barbara is one of the great poignant moments of the Hartnell era. Of course, if this was New Who, Barbara might have been allowed to bring him along…now, that would have made for an interesting conversation…
GANATUS: Here’s some fabric for a new dress, since I see you won’t be wearing those borrowed leather pants any more. Pity, that.
BARBARA: That’s so sweet. I’ll try to make time for dressmaking between life-threatening adventures – actually, hang on, do you sew at all?
GANATUS: How do you think I made my multi-purpose Thal cloak?
BARBARA: You’re coming home with me.
DOCTOR: Whatever. Grab a bunk. I’m popping by Earth anyway to stock up on Jammy Dodgers, I’ll drop you guys off then.
DOCTOR: Just call it the TAXIDIS, why don’t you.
I miss the long story arcs of Classic Who. It meant narrative padding at times, but there was also the chance to really explore a world and its people, and what it means to leave them behind when the adventure is over. Though if you thought seven episodes was a stretch, just wait until next month, when we begin the Second Doctor marathon of The War Games. There will be battlefields – rebels – time getting properly messed up and lots of cups of tea! See you then!