Recap / Doctor Who S1 E2 "The Daleks"

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The only interest we have in the Thals is in their total extermination!
— A Dalek speaks the one word that will forever linger as their go-to phrase.

The one with the magic death whirlpool. Also the one with the debut of everybody's favourite xenophobic salt shakers.

And in only the second serial, the Doctor's most iconic enemies are born. Originally intended as one-shot villains, the Daleks prove so popular that they were the main enemy of over 20 further serials and secondary villains in a few more.

In their first outing, we meet them on the planet Skaro, a dead world poisoned by radiation. The Daleks live in their city, while the other natives of the planet, the Thals, live in the petrified forests around. The Thals are Perfect Pacifist People, and prove lethally gullible to the Daleks' deceptions until the Doctor and companions persuade them that they need to fight for their freedom and they attack the city.

Ian and Barbara are still very upset at having been kidnapped by the Doctor, and downright angry when the Doctor pretends that the TARDIS can't fly home just so he can go and investigate the Dalek city. Then, when they escape, they leave the TARDIS component he sabotaged behind and have to go back for it.

The Daleks are entirely dependent on static electricity drawn through the metal floors of the city, and when the power is turned off and the Daleks fall lifeless, one is heard to intone "this is the end of the Daleks..."

How so very wrong he was.

Susan gets mildly traumatized a few times over but eventually learns how to be brave, Ian puts his Chronic Hero Syndrome to good use, and Barbara fancies one of the Thals and, in what will turn out to be a rare sight for Classic Who, gets in a good snog by the end.

N.B.: This story is also referred to as "The Mutants", one of its working titlesnote , and was often referred to in older sources as "The Dead Planet", after the title of the first episode. It was adapted for film as Dr. Who and the Daleks, starring Peter Cushing.


Tropes

  • Actual Pacifist: The Thals, though they later dropped this stance rather than having the Daleks exterminate them all.
  • After the End: Skaro is still suffering the after-effects of a devastating war, fought centuries earlier. Most of the plant and animal life is dead, and the survivors have all mutated in one way or another.
  • All There in the Manual: According to the BBC Classic Doctor Who website, the Daleks encountered in this story are early prototypes of Davros' experiments, left behind when most of the Daleks went into space after the end of the Thal-Kaled War. This explains both why the Daleks have a mighty space empire later while the Daleks in this story are confined to the city and are all wiped out, and why later Daleks don't have the same weaknesses of needing high levels of radiation to survive and constant static electricity to power their shells.
    • Also why they don't recognize and exterminate the Oncoming Storm.
  • All Up to You: To save the lives of others, poor little Susan braves a jungle at night in a storm while suffering from radiation sickness, travels several miles, navigates to a pinpoint target to fetch some anti-radiation gloves-er, drugs, then keeps it together when surprised by a apparent monster that proves to be a handsome man. Self-possession of the highest order!
  • Artistic License Biology: The whole "cycle of mutation" thing. The Thals mutated into creatures like the Daleks, then over centuries back into human form.
    • Though this was sort of retconned in Genesis of the Daleks (broadcast 15 years later), where it implies that the later Thals are descended from both the Thal, Kaled, and possibly Muto survivors of Davros' massacre of both race's cities. May turn this into Unreliable Narrator in that case. Of course, it was a long time ago.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The Thals, all of whom are blonde and nearly physically perfect. Not that they don't have flaws, a few of which prove fatal. But they're nearly all good characters, while the hideous Daleks are all evil.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Barbara doesn't waste any time in becoming the first person in the series to snog someone: a handsome young Thal on Skaro.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: When Ian has stolen a Dalek shell, Susan specifically says he has to speak like a Dalek or it won't work.
  • Characterization Marches On: Next to nothing about the Daleks in this serial carries over into future ones.
    • Here the Daleks are technocratic scientists, barely holding onto a hysterical sanity, locked up in suits of armour that barely preserve their lives on a hostile world.
    • Probably the biggest difference here is that they shoot Ian simply to temporarily paralyze him, and warn him that if he tries to escape again, they will kill him. It's a bit difference from the Daleks' later MO of just killing everything on sight, and certainly going straight for a killing shot on someone trying to run. Hell, it's only in this serial (and one other) that the Daleks can use their weapons to temporarily paralyze someone.
    • Though here the Daleks are trapped in the city so it makes sense they are more cautious about killing people from outside.
  • Cut the Safety Rope: Antodus does this when he falls into the chasm while roped to Ian, and realises that Ian isn't strong enough to pull him and that he is dragging both of them to their doom.
  • Disney Villain Death: Antodus gets a rare heroic version. The sight of him disappearing into blackness, coupled with the thunderous noise as he hits the bottom, is quite shocking for a young viewer.
  • Distinction Without a Difference:
    Doctor: That's sheer murder!
    Dalek: No. Extermination.
  • Double Entendre: Believe it or not, lampshaded!
    A Thal: We're all working towards the same end!
    Another Thal: Now there's a double meaning for you.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Ian at one point climbs into an immobilized Dalek.
  • Early Installment Character-Design Difference: The first Dalek props lack the vertical panels attached to the "shoulder" section of their casings.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • These Daleks need radiation and static electricity to survive. Later Ret-Conned as them being an early Davros experiment.
    • No Hugging, No Kissing was not yet in place, and Barbara is free to snog a random cute guy.
    • Susan and The Doctor are clearly worried that The Doctor may die of radiation sickness. Regeneration wouldn't be conceived of until just before William Hartnell was about to leave the show.
    • The story has the moral "War and genocide is bad. And so is pacifism!" Additionally, the Doctor and the others act more pragmatically and more out of more blatant self-interest. This was before the Doctor became a Badass Pacifist.
  • Faking Engine Trouble: The Doctor wants to explore the city on the planet they just landed on while his companions want to leave. He pretends a part is damaged in order to force a trip to the city.
  • Fantastic Radiation Shielding: The Thals survive on the planet's surface through drugs which cure radiation sickness and also prevents negative effects from further radiation.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Daleks towards the Thals, simply because they're different, hence the deliberate use of Beauty Equals Goodness. The Daleks constantly refer to Thals as "mutants"; audience expectations are subverted when they turn out to be handsome and human-looking.
  • Ghost City: The Dalek city appears to be one in Episode 1.
  • Ghost Planet: In fact, the entire planet appears to be catastrophically depopulated in Episode 1.
  • Gilligan Cut: In Episode 5, the TARDIS crew has met up with the friendly Thals, and have been urging them to fight against the Daleks for the good of their race. Back in the Dalek city, the Daleks are looking over surveillance photos of the Thal's camp, leading to this cut:
    Dalek: It is logical that together they will attack us.
    Cut to the main Thal looking unhappily at Ian
    Thal: No! And that is my final word.
  • Goal-Oriented Evolution: The Thals had mutated into something hideous, then back again into good-looking space elves in leather trousers because that was, supposedly, the most perfect form.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The reveal of the Daleks is accompanied by sliding, metallic walls of sound, and a high-pitched electronic screech.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Antodus chooses to cut his rope and plummet to his death so Ian can climb up.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: The bacon and eggs which Ian gets from the food machine comes in the form of an oblong white bar, a pun on the phrase "a square meal."
  • Inhumanly Beautiful Race: The Thals are described as this. While both races mutated heavily due to radiation, the Daleks, who favoured environment suits, became hideous beings, while the Thals, who favoured a combination of gradual adaptation and anti-radiation drugs, became a race of beautiful, blond-haired people. It seems that the Thal men are especially beautiful, as Susan is shocked by the beauty of the first Thal she meets, calling him 'perfect', and Barbara has something of an off-screen romance with a known Thal beauty.
  • Innocuously Important Episode: It was initially written as a space adventure story based on 1950s sci-fi serials, with anti-war themes and some quirky Nazi-like "bug-eyed monsters" as villains. Due to the extreme popularity of aforementioned villains, it is now impossible to watch the story without being aware that this is the Doctor's first encounter with the Daleks.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang:
    Ian: Why don't we separate and go different ways and meet back here in ... say ... ten minutes, alright?
    Barbara: Alright, I'll go this way.
    (Barbara goes down one corridor, Ian another, and the Doctor and Susan take the third; less than five minutes later, the angriest pepperpots in the entire history of time and space make their television debut).
  • Literal Cliffhanger: Episode six ends with Antrodus missing a jump over a chasm, and Ian (to whom the other end of the rope is tied) struggling to keep his grip on the rock.
  • Made of Iron: One of the Thals gets hit by a Dalek exterminator beam in the gut at point-blank range and is only floored for a minute.
  • Mutants: Everyone on Skaro is a mutant, from the Daleks to the Thals, to the surviving animal life.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: One for the ages. Had the Doctor not intentionally tampered with the TARDIS so that they'd visit the Dalek City, none of the trouble with the Daleks in future episodes would've ever happened.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Played straight. The Thals' anti-radiation drugs seem to restore the Doctor and company, who were nearly close to death from radiation poisoning, almost instantly.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • The first appearance of a Dalek is a POV shot of a sink plunger menacing Barbara. Simple, but effective.
    • When they crack open a Dalek, Ian appears visibly horrified at what he sees inside, and tells the two girls to wait in the hallway so they don't see. The audience also never sees what's inside, either, except for a single claw later struggling from underneath a cloak. Of course, the audience does eventually see the creature inside a Dalek in later episodes. Although, given that this is a different offshoot, what's inside these particular Daleks might appear totally different...
    • Ian drinks from a river and the camera shows his face reacting in horror to something underwater. He has no idea what it was he saw and later on a secondary character in the same place is heard screaming in fear as he is dragged under the surface. What exactly it was is never revealed.
  • Obscured Special Effects: We never get to see the creature inside the Dalek casing, save for a blink-and-you-miss-it shot of a dark hand-like organ twitching underneath a coat. This was because they'd already blown all the budget on building loads of Daleks, but it fortunately worked as Nothing Is Scarier horror as well. The "Dalekmania" tie-in media intentionally censored the appearance of the mutant in its Dalek cross-section diagrams for these reasons.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: The Thals are portrayed as this until the climax, when they decide to fight the Daleks rather than subject to them.
  • Scare Chord: Used very effectively when the Daleks first appear, particularly the first cliffhanger.
  • Shaky P.O.V. Cam: See page image.
  • Sinister Surveillance: Barbara is moving down a corridor in the Dalek city and places her hand over the camera lens, making us realise we're looking from the point-of-view of a security camera.
  • Straw Man Has A Point: The Daleks are right, coexistence actually is impossible. The Daleks need more radiation to survive and the Thals less.
  • Teach Him Anger: Ian does this to get the Thals on our heroes' side. He gets punched in the face.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: This story has a variation of this. Rather than being ignorant, the Thals were instead morally opposed to violence due to the wars of their past, which was OK until the Daleks decided to massacre them.
  • Unbuilt Trope: There's an ongoing joke that Daleks cannot take over the universe because their impractical design means that they can't climb stairs, even though the Daleks everyone remembers can fly. Nevertheless, the very first Dalek serial deals with this restriction seriously not only can they not climb stairs (which is irrelevant, as they use exclusively lifts to get around their city) they die if they ever lose contact with the floor, relying on electricity channelled through metal floors to power them. The TARDIS crew kill a Dalek by blinding it and forcing it to roll over a plastic cloak, cutting off the connection and its life support system, and later the Doctor kills every Dalek in the city by shorting out the power. This story also dealt with Daleks being rather sad, pathetic beings, and even features the main cast making fun of the Daleks' monotone, distorted voices, with Susan laughing out loud when she first hears a Dalek attempt to say her name. It also deconstructs the way that the Doctor's inquisitive nature leads him and his companions into danger: The Doctor wants to explore a city on another planet but his companions refuse. He sabotages the TARDIS, forcing them to search the city. They are captured, as usual, but almost die from radiation poisoning as the meter wasn't checked.
  • Violence Is the Only Option: Done fairly well, since the Daleks are Omnicidal Maniacs and none of the Thals are under any illusion that fighting back is a good choice.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The Doctor removes the fluid link and claims it was damaged in order to explore the city, despite the others wanting to leave. When he admits this was the case later on, they call him on how stupid he was for doing so, especially since the fluid link was actually broken when he did so. Or so he claims, as it's mysteriously better at the end of the story (albeit after the Doctor has had access to the Daleks' supplies in order to effect repairs) and it's pretty heavily implied that he lied twice about it. It's kind of a moot point the second time round though since the Daleks have taken the fluid link from them and they need to get it back damaged or not.
    • Many, many years later, it was established that the TARDIS can fly without the fluid link when the Twelfth Doctor claims that it can't as a bluff to keep someone who wants to strand him from tampering with more important bits of the TARDIS.
    • Ian and Susan called out the Doctor on wanting to leave Barbara on the planet.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: At the end of episode 4, the Doctor and his friends have escaped from the Dalek City and saved the Thals from the Daleks' ambush. They're all set to get back in the TARDIS and continue their travels...until Ian remembers the Daleks took a vital TARDIS component from him, meaning they're stuck on the planet. Cue perilous trek back into the Dalek City...

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