Monday, 14 April 2008

The Original Doctor Who: The Daleks (Story 2, 1963-64)

When last we left the first (and ostensibly greatest) Doctor Who, he had just taken on a pair of companions in addition to his granddaughter Susan. These were her history teacher Barbara Wright and her science teacher Ian Chesterton, who intruded unceremoniously upon the TARDIS and for their troubles were catapulted 100,000 years into the past. Unfortunately, this First Doctor is new at cascading through time and space and, well, can't quite get them home again.

After the pilot storyline, we now have the proper set-up for the classic British Sci-Fi series Doctor Who... A group of time-tossed travellers aboard a police call box, under the guidance of the mysterious Doctor, going from world-to-world meeting the weirdest aliens ever amassed on screen. As originally conceived, Doctor Who was supposed to have some kind of redeeming, educational value for its Saturday afternoon children demographic. An Unearthly Child took us on the first half of the scheme, taking us into the past to see historical events as they unfold and meet historical personalities as they lived. The second story would deliver on the other half, by taking us into the future and onto alien worlds to nest a little bit of science within rousing tales of Science Fiction.

In the process of this second story, writer Terry Nation would introduce the villains that would turn Doctor Who from a Saturday matinee kiddie show to a national phenomenon. From these humble beginnings, they would come to be as recognizable as the TARDIS itself and grow in stature to become the Doctor's greatest villains. 40 years of television later and they would reach such might that they became capable of destroying the Doctor's own people, the Time Lords. We are talking, of course, about the Daleks.

What is most remarkable about this first contact with this genocidal race of pepperpots is how unremarkable it is. Where 40 years elevated the crotchety old William Hartnell to the cosmic god-like David Tennant, 40 years also elevated the rather humble Daleks to the status of demiurgical devils. When The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara land on the desolate world of Skaro, they do not find an evil empire expanding into space, but a fearful race hiding in its secluded city.

Skaro is a petrified world... Cold and silent, the victim of a nuclear holocaust thousands of years ago when the violent Thals waged a war against the otherwise peaceful and scientific Dals. And in one horrifying moment, the world of Skaro was irrevocably scarred by a doomsday device that laid waste to the planet and its inhabitants.

But the Dals survived, locked away in their technological cities. Or, they survived in a fashion, mutated and disfigured beyond recognition. Their only hope for survival was to imprison themselves in tank-like mobile units powered through a static-electric link with the flooring of their city. It was these new breed of Daleks - emotionless, genocidal, xenophobic monsters - that the TARDIS crew discovered when The Doctor's curiosity overpowered his good sense.

The First Doctor once again demonstrates his early reckless and malicious streak by leading Susan, Ian and Barbara into danger. Desirous of visiting this mysterious, silent city beyond the petrified forest, he concocted a broken fluid link in the TARDIS to have an excuse to investigate. Unfortunately, they found more than they bargained for. Barely escaping with their lives by disabling and costuming themselves in a Dalek shell, they discovered the living race of human Thals. However, the undamaged fluid link came into possession of the Daleks, forcing a daring raid on the city.

The Thals themselves almost made an interesting social commentary until it was undone in a ridiculously ham-fisted reproof of pacifism. Formerly a warrior race, they dedicated themselves to the simple, nonviolent life of hunter-gatherers who avoided the city... Seeing the devastation that war wrought to their entire planet, they really had no choice. However, in order to whip them up into a commando unit, Ian shatters their illusion of nonviolence by provoking a fight over a woman. Because after all, in all sarcasm, nonviolence is just a frivolous luxury to be discarded at the earliest provocation.

At least the TARDIS crew had some reservations about conscripting the Thals into helping them get their fluid link back. Their job might have been easier had they known that the Daleks were planning to launch another atomic weapon and further irradiate the atmosphere, as suited their irradiated, mutated forms. Nevertheless, they've overturned millennia of Thal pacifism with one enraged fist-fight and strike out on a cave-crawl to the city.

The Daleks themselves, as perhaps evident by now, were transparent analogs of the Nazis, right down to raising their plungers in a fascist salute. The war that made the Thals pacifists in turn made the Dals into genocidal xenophobes, drunk with the ideology of their own superiority and fearful of other species to the point of systematic extermination. Their haunting city even has shades of German Expressionist influence in its lifeless halls.

Almost overnight, The Daleks turned this new show Doctor Who into must-watch television for everyone in the UK. The eponymous aliens became phenomenons in their own right, which didn't work so well when the millennial conflict between the Thals and Daleks finally came to its end at the close of episode six. However, when you're bouncing back and forth through time, what meaning can that resolution really have? It wouldn't be the end of the Daleks after all...


Biblioadonis aka George said...

This Friday...

Sci-Fi Channel

8:30 pm


(I know...I should be more coherent!)

Cory The Raven said...

Is that when the new season debuts in the States?

I'm impatient and have already been watching it on the introwebs ^_^