The Dalek Invasion of Earth - DVD Special

Written by:
Terry Nation
Directed by: Richard Martin
Starring: William Hartnell
Year: 1965
Video Availability (NTSC Version): Try

Although I mention this later in the review, I must clarify that the actual story review - as opposed to the review of the DVD and its contents - was originally taken from television and VHS transmissions. Therefore, while still valid as a view on the story, remarks about poor picture quality are now redundant when it comes to the superb clean-up job done by the Restoration Team for its DVD release.

This is the first Hartnell story I've reviewed in this format, which is more by accident than design. I actually love Hartnell's Doctor and era, and think his historical stories are hugely underrated.

That said, his SF work has dated badly. The original Daleks, while arguably the most important story in Who's history, is now more of an historical document than a piece of television you can enjoy in its own right. The Patrick Troughton Dalek stories still hold up extremely well as they're crafted by David Whitaker. Yet Terry Nation was behind all of William's encounters with the creatures, and his by-the-numbers plotting and cursory characterisation makes them come across as B movie homages more than anything else. The Chase has the virtue of send-up, and Masterplan is aided slightly by Dennis Spooner's co-authorship, but the first two pall somewhat.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth isn't actually that bad, a big-budget mentality on the small screen. It's dumb, and it reduces the Daleks to the ciphers they would almost always thereafter remain, but it's superficially amusing. Combining moments of brilliance with moments of rank stupidity, it's awkwardly handled by Richard Martin, one of Who's weakest directors, and can annoy and embarrass as often as it delights. It disappointed many on its video release, but once you get over the shock of the silly Dalek voices, general tedium and Barbara doing a Dalek voice (painful to watch) in the final episode, it's not all that bad, if certainly not all that great either.

Anyway, the first episode. Forget the rest, this one's a cracker. It opens with a sign that eerily reads "it is forbidden to dump bodies into the river" and a man committing suicide by drowning, a horrific scene for early Who. This is followed by a ominously silent Tardis landing and some genuinely striking direction by Richard Martin. The child audience was reportedly disappointed that the Dalek didn't appear until right at the end, but in hindsight this adds genuine suspense to this unsettling introductory instalment.

On the corny side of things, then it's less than four minutes in before Susan twists her ankle, a Nation favourite. We also get Ian referring to off-screen buildings ("There's a warehouse over there, Doctor.") highlighting the studio limitations of some of the episode. The bits that are filmed on location look great, but then Who always did look great on location. This is also the episode where the Doctor tells Susan she deserves a smacked bottom, which always comes over as a bit dubious.

Eventually they all encounter Robomen, humans cruelly converted into half-machine creatures. (So Tezza practically invented the Cybermen too?) They stalk the Doctor and his friends menacingly, almost completely indistinguishable from actual humans. Well, apart from the three-foot pedal bins they wear on their heads, obviously.

This is also the episode to feature a flying saucer, which isn't a fraction as bad as some make out, especially considering it was made nearly forty years ago. Yet it's still due for an optional CGI makeover on its DVD release, and I won't name names, but a certain Big Finish/NA author who sounds not unlike Tom Thumb uses this one sequence to justify the Sylvester McCoy era as being better than Hartnell's. Keep off the crack, eh? Why is the Dalek paddling in the river? Cos it can, okay?
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You know, as much as I love Billy and think that he's hugely underrated as an actor by fans, it has to be said that this story sees one of his hammiest performances. I think it's largely his reaction against the innate silliness of the Daleks (surely a step up from Pertwee's falling asleep?), though season two does of course explode the "grumpy old man" myth by having Hartnell as nutty as a loon.

"Tell us how it all started" says Ian to a fellow prisoner, cueing reams of exposition. That's the glorious thing about El Tel, he doesn't bother fannying around with subtlety and smooth plot development like some of these other namby-pamby writers. Why arse around with clever narrative devices when you can just have someone turn round and say "so, tell me the plot then"? Tel even tries a cheeky double here, as we cut to Susan learning the exact same info dump (dump in more ways than one) at the exact same time. Wittily, she asks "what happened next?" Almost like Les Dennis proclaiming "you've got a funny story to tell us, haven't you?" on Family Fortunes, this second part tells us all we need to know with the absolute minimum of ingenuity. Ah, big up, Tel, big up!

"I think we'd better pit our wits together and defeat them". See how rigidly the plot and motivations are spelt out. This is why only the first episode nears classic status - it goes frequently without dialogue, meaning we don't have to endure Nation's awful lines. Watching most Hartnell stories are like watching a completely different era in more ways than the obvious. This is still practically the dawn of television, and there's an amateurishness to the technical qualities that even the Troughton era doesn't share. Nearly every shot brings a camera jolt or a boom mike shadow, though be kind when judging it. To say this story is weak because the production is poor is irrelevant, this isn't badly made, just made within the limitations of the time.

This is better than I remembered though, a little stagy, a little melodramatic, (with some shameless cardboard Daleks) but okay viewing. Hartnell is so likeable as the Doctor, and, while not the best actor in the role, I'd vote for him as the funniest. His delivery of the line "please go away, will you" had me in bits. Can you imagine if pompous Pertwee had delivered the same line? It'd be about as funny as a wake. I won't be so predictable as to make the "Daleks have SKY TV" gag, but I will mention just how enormous Barbara's bouffant is in this story, and how tactile Ian and the Doctor are with one another in this story. Decent stuff.
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The episode starts off with the most limp-wristed, most feeble rebellion you've ever seen. It's less of an uprising, more of a half-hearted stand up. Those who like to claims the Cribbins Comedy Cobblers of the big screen was a better realisation will have some material here, a very inept-looking and badly instigated instalment. Slow fighting, B movie tot, verging on a below-average score.

On a positive note, this has some nice scenes with Susan and David, and the Daleks seem more ruthless in this one than usual, with even the off-screen deaths packing some weight. This is also the episode that has the Daleks in London footage. It's nowhere near as good as its reputation, largely due to the bleached look of the film, and you'll also cry when you see the man with the collar sitting in the Dalek, an illusion-destroying moment. It worked better when they reprised it for The Invasion, and in all actuality it's really just three and a half minutes of padding. The scene where a Dalek interrogates a tailor's dummy also corrodes any dignity the rest of the episode builds up for them.

But one of the joys of The Dalek Invasion of Earth is the cross-country nature of it all. You really do feel as if the travellers are making their way across miles of terrain, giving it a wider scope than most Who stories, albeit not in emotional depth. And as the 60s stories were naturally slower, then this does comfortably fill the six-part format better than most, too. And a sincere big up has to go to Bernard Kay as Carl Tyler. I've previously remarked on how he's the best thing about Colony in Space, though I've overlooked him in this before. Further research reveals he also had parts in The Faceless Ones and The Crusade, though I suspect it's easy to overlook him as he underplays, unlike showier guest cast members such as Philip Madoc, who is brilliant, but in a different way. Kay is likeable and holds attention - a real underpraised hero of Who.
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A bit of a ropy start, with Billy absent for the week and Carole Ann Ford's histrionics galling. She and David have to spend the first minute tackling an unexploded bomb on a countdown timer. You might complain that it's another Nation staple, but take solace - he once wrote an entire episode of Blake's 7 based around such a thing. "It's burning through" says Susan of their acid assault on the bomb. You half expect David to say "I can see it is, you silly bint, what do you think I am, f***** blind?" but he never does, God love him. She evens does it again later, offering him a bullet with a "look at this, David - an old cartridge." I mean, can you imagine their honeymoon? "David, this is my - "

One of the plusses of 60s Who is that it can - almost - get away with using stock footage and mixing video and film. While you can tell the difference, the black and white hides it so much better than the colour eras. Another plus is that, considering this is their debut on location, the Daleks actually move considerably well. Astonishing to think that the lessons learnt here from one of the series' lesser directors were discarded in most other cases - even in their last appearance in 1988 they were witnessed wobbling all over the place like a loose-wheeled shopping trolley. Yet however decent the Daleks are in realisation, the credibility of this one is haemorrhaged every time the deeply silly Robomen appear on screen. Still got no problem with that saucer, though.

his is the episode where Barbara smashes through Daleks with a van. Now, is it just me, or is the idea that after several years a band of desperate rebels had never thought to do that, but a history teacher with a bouffant did just a little bit incredulous? "Are you one of these Brotherhood of Man people?" Ian is asked, though judging from his square's cardigan he's more of a Cliff Richard man. Later Eshton tells him that he can "I can take you out… at the right price." Well, it's been a long time since he's had a date, I'm sure he won't mind paying. We also get a new monster from the fertile imagination of Terry Nation, that gifted scribe who gave us a desert planet called Aridius. Here a horrific, slithering creature threatens the mine workers… it's called a Slyther. Oh, come on, for God's sake, he changed the I to a Y, what more do you want? A terrifying, nightmarish creature that… no, it's no good. It's just absolutely pathetic.
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The episode title of this one is The Waking Ally. I guess the Slyther wakes, but he's hardly an ally. So what exactly does the title refer to? It's like they just came up with a cool name for the episode then couldn't think of a way to justify it so just hoped no one'd notice. Billy wakes up, I suppose, but he's a regular, and… you could look at it forever. Face it. Tezza ballsed up.

To be fair to the Slyther, a multi-armed, faceless creature may have frightened small children at the time. What is disturbing though is Ian smashing its head in with a rock and then watching it plunge to its death without any compunction. For a placid science teacher he's certainly used to murder, as The Aztecs proved. And violence is an acceptable form of action for him, as the original Daleks story also attested.

Three minutes in and we're treated to some action sequences which look like Crossroads, coupled with incidental music that sounds like John Craven's Newsround. Probably the biggest flaw of the Hartnell era is that action sequences aren't paced realistically. Okay, this is the 60s - I mean, nearly fifteen years later Sally Knyvette would still be doing the slowest judo known to man in Blake - but a scene where a man humanely kills his own friend is supposed to be touching. Instead, it's just embarrassing.

Yet there is, if not a grittiness, than a cynicism to this story, refreshing in the Hartnell era. Strangers aren't friends, there to help our heroes, but spiteful traitors ready to turn them over to the Daleks for scraps of food. And what takes this episode up from its status as worst episode of the six is the flirting scene with Susan and David. Despite the fact that the opening story hints at Billy being a child molester and The Myth Makers mentioning orgies, people still like to pretend the Hartnell era was for kids. Here we get actual kissing in Who, which shouldn't seem like a big deal, but is a rarity for the show. (See? I really don't mind kissing in Who, as long as it's done in a way that arises naturally out of the story - think of this if you read my review of the TV Movie).
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The final instalment, and I can't help thinking that if the Robomen were removed, this would be a lot more regarded. Yet Who has had its daft plots in the past, especially in the 60s - Cybermen who take over the intelligensia by hiding in a fridge in the vain hope someone will come and revive them; aliens who attempt to take over the galaxy by using all the armies of Earth's history… but test them out first by letting them kill each other. Yet this one is almost certainly the stupidest plot in the entire history of Doctor Who. Never mind the unconvincing model effects, here the Daleks want to hollow out the Earth's core so they can place a drive system inside and pilot it around the universe.

I won't do my usual "what would Freud would say" routine, as there's nothing here. All the Daleks want to do is test oral control before going for penetration, all perfectly innocent stuff. Meanwhile, Barbara tries to confuse them by talking nonsense, though as she fluffs her lines ("the four… er, fifth wave") it's a question of who's confusing who? I do love Jackie Hill to bits, and think she's arguably the best-ever companion. Yet as with Hartnell, this is far from her best appearance in the series, her later "Dalek voice" particularly galling.

"Have you ever seen anything like that mine, Doctor?" No, and neither have we, as they don't show us it. I must say, Dalek Invasion is less of a story that you can't wait to see how it ends, more a story that you can't wait to see it end. It's not as much of a slog as I recalled (don't watch all six in one go, though), but with each part Who's credibility gets hammered further and further down. Good will can keep your faith in the series, but in all honesty this isn't a high point. Probably the most upsetting sequence here is seeing a Dalek with its eyestalk pointing the wrong way, so that it clearly sees Billy despite gliding straight past him. Best bit is the "zero reporting" Dalek, who, after all the human-voices, rocks like a daddy with a harsh, guttural blizzard of a voice.

So that's the story itself. While it ends abruptly and somewhat anti-climatically, what takes this episode towards near-classic status is the final eight-minute coda, which sees Susan leave the Doctor. While a little contrived, it should bring a small tear to the eyes of most, and is genuinely quite touching. Oh - and "just the beginning." Beautiful.
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Even with the best will in the world, The Dalek Invasion of Earth cannot be regarded as much more than pulp SF. It's fun and involving, and is probably Richard Martin's best work on the series. But any plusses are more "so bad it's good" rather than any genuine merit, even if the ambition must be commended. Fun hackery from the master of the lowest common denominator.
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Those Hartnell fluffs in full:

Episode One: "I have a feeling. Call it infe - intuition, if you like."
Episode One: "D'you know what's… don't you want to know what's happened, hmmm?"
Episode Three: "You seem to place more reliance on that young word - young man's word, don't you?"
Episode Six: "If they succeed it will mean that they un - upset the entire constellation, we've got to pres, er, prevent it."
Episode Six - "We might be able to imoler - immobilise the Daleks."


The review of this story above was based on the standards of the satellite broadcasts and VHS release. Therefore any remarks about poor picture and sound are completely redundant when it comes to seeing it on DVD. In a way I wish they'd concentrate more on the black and white releases for the format as that's where you can really notice the difference. Unfortunately, with the massively improved picture it does make the cuts between film and video more obvious (something normally spared us with Hartnell stories) and the use of photobackdrops even more glaring. Purists might argue that it's less authentic when old Doctor Who isn't full of crackles and distortions, but the biggest difference is the "Daleks in London" scene, now free of its bleached-out look.

Commentary/Info Text: The info text is exactly what it says it is - informative text - while the commentary is one of the weakest for me. I'm sure Gary Russell is a very nice man, but hearing his stagy presenter's voice cueing memories from Lambert, Martin, Ford and Russell like they're Altzheimer's sufferers in an old folk's home didn't work for me.("So had you worked with Bernard Kay before, Richard?") Sure, left alone they'd have probably fallen asleep or ran out of things to say while asking the nurse for more Prozac, but at least their reactions (and relationship to each other) wouldn't have been so artificially engineered. A step up from The Aztecs commentary, perhaps, but not by much. Best bit? Martin, in episode six, inadvertantly suggesting the Daleks were "bisexual".

Say what you like about the BBC, but what other company make so many extras they need a second disc to house them on - and at no extra charge? With over two hours of features it seems churlish to criticise, but I have to be honest and say that the fair majority are strictly for those suffering from insomnia. The three documentaries - Future Visions (17'48m), Future Memories (45'21m) and Talking Daleks (10'28m) all seem to run together into one stupophoric whole. Bernard Kay's chair anecdote is a laugh, and I was interested to see Richard Martin used to act in my home town of Coventry at the Belgrade, but that's more of less it. Oh - and it's implied that the Daleks can climb stairs in the story. But most of the time you'll either be nodding off, inexplicably wanting a bacon sandwich when you look at Nicholas Smith's ears, or thinking that pig-snorting Nick Evans really, really gets on your tits.

Now and Then (6'58m) is a so-so location feature narrated by Gary Russell, while Script To Screen (6'02m) doesn't cover the literary majesty of Uncle Tel, but is an impressive graphics package of some of the camera set-ups. As extras go, it's nicely done, but also quite pointless. Posh kid's show Blue Peter (7'03m) shows us how to make some vomit-inducing cakes, with the Daleks menacing Valerie Singleton omitted because The Terry Nation Estate doesn't have a sense of humour. Finally, we're left with the Radio 4 play Whatever Happened To Susan? (27'49m), where Jane Asher completely fails to realise that the script she's reading is supposed to be funny, and a double-exposed rehearsal film from Carole Ann Ford, lasting 1'42m. This is my personal favourite, as it shows just how much warmth Billy had, despite the number of people rushing forward to slag him off on his discs. Topping it all off is the obligatory Photo Gallery (3'45m), which has 36 images from the story, 3 from the commentary recording and one of the Radio Times cover devoted to said tale. There are also two harmless but not exactly side-splitting Easter Eggs, and an introduction to the disc in a Dalek voice that threatens extermination. Lasting 23 seconds, this intro might be amusing the first time you hear it - second time, maybe - but with no way to stop it playing when you put the disc in it soon becomes dull very, very quickly. Thankfully the extras on the disc are of such a nature that you'll probably not want to watch them more than once anyway, but full marks for trying.

Finally, there are small extras on the story disc proper, with a 10 second introduction sequence (flying saucers over the title) when you press "Play All", and two trailers, lasting for 1'40m.

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