There's stuff that makes you shake your head. Okay, after the ratings for this one they could hardly turn it away, but with Terry Nation drafting this and The Keys of Marinus, it's staggering that the focus of the show went towards him and away from John Lucarotti, when said writer had constructed the far superior Marco Polo and Aztecs in the same season. Also amazing is that of the two directors allocated to this story, it was the amateurish Richard Martin who got given the task of directing the Daleks again in their first two reappearances. This one is helmed by Chris Barry and is better, but is still awkward and stiff. Lots of this is intentional - there's still a mutual distrust between the Doctor and his companions until after The Edge of Destruction - but often it's just the stilted dialogue and characters pointing to things offscreen because they can't afford any longshots. Thankfully Tristram Cary is on hand with his "doom" score, something he uses time and again throughout the show and something I'll praise several times over. I still can't get over how no one notices Billy very obviously ducking under the Tardis panel to bugger up the controls though.
One thing I'm never normally aware of is the fact that Hartnell's wearing a wig in the role. To my eyes it's pretty convincing, and only seems to be a hairpiece to flatter his own existing hair. Here though it's like a rock solid ice cream cornet stuck to the top of his bonce and looks, well… a little silly. Better is the never-since seen food dispensing machine, two years before Star Trek came on the screen with their Replicators. The cliffhanger's a pretty serviceable thing too, but also one of the greatest myths of Doctor Who: everyone wanted to see what was on the end of that plunger. Actually, they didn't, the ratings dipped by 500,000 the next week to 6.4 million and only shot up to 8.9 million after the appearance of the Daleks in episode two. By the time this serial finished the show was being watched by 10.4 million viewers, a four million increase on the last episode of An Unearthly Child.
This episode also contains one of my favourite-ever Hartnell fluffs, something that threatens to break into my personal top five: "It's possible they may have been anti-radiation gloves… drugs." It's not just the gaffe itself, but more the look of abject horror on William Russell's face as the realisation of what he's let himself in for suddenly strikes him. For completion, then we also get in episode one the mighty: "The animal is sit- solidified, certainly, but it's not, er… crumbling stone" and "held together by a er… magnetic field, or, in a mag-magnetic field, rather." Lastly, episode six contains the considerable "Now we've short… we've shorted it, you see."
There's plenty of stuff here that would become Nation clichés, such as the stranger who wants to help and the plot being pushed forward by eavesdropping on a conversation, but it's all new here and often used more cleverly (here it's the villains who eavesdrop on the heroes, rather than the other way around). His reversal of the physical trope to make the good guys Aryian and the bad guys mutants could be taken as just a standard recreation of the body-conscious "good and evil" stereotype. Combine this with the moral of the story - if you have an enemy there comes a time when you have to kick the crap out of them - and it can be seen as quite distasteful. A dated b-movie concept that sees the battling Dals and Thals, survivors of a neutron war, it effectively kick-started twenty-six years of Doctor Who but can no longer be fully appreciated on its own terms.
Even here though it's better than remembered, with Ganatus's "Do you always do what Ian says?" a fine counterpoint to him knowing about "ladies first" and the Daleks having the opening titles as part of their viewscreen system. Even on the restored VHS release this is the poorest quality of the seven episodes, with a very lined appearance, but it's still watchable even if the plot is dragged out beyond its natural lifespan. For the record, this is the only episode in the original story where they say "extermination" (twice), which is a fine political satire rather than questionable catchphrase here, though the "Hitler salutes" should maybe have been rethought…
As for the content, then it's a bit of an anti-climax as Ian, Barbara and the Thals take over fourteen minutes to get into the Daleks' lair… then beat the crap out of them. And that's it. Next, we're given a wrap-up where Billy almost makes the "moral of the story" palatable with his off-centre cynicism and a likeable coda where the console explodes, leading into The Edge of Destruction. Interestingly, it's here where the Doctor first puts the idea of a space/time machine in the Daleks' minds, and "if only there'd been some other way" was paraphrased and ripped off for Warriors of the Deep - was that intentional?
I think really it comes down to expectations. I didn't have high hopes watching this one again, but I sat through the whole lot in one sitting (busy day, right?) and hardly got bored once. More dated than any other Doctor Who story in existence, it still has the power to entertain and is Terry Nation's finest script, even if its sub-50s concerns no longer feel as relevant as they once did.
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