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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, the debut of everybody's favourite xenophobic salt shakers, and the Hail Mary pass that prevented early cancellation.

Written by Terry Nation. This seven-episode serial first aired from December 21, 1963 to February 1, 1964.

Episodes: "The Dead Planet", "The Survivors", "The Escape", "The Ambush", "The Expedition", "The Ordeal", "The Rescue".

In only the second story, the Doctor's most iconic enemies are born. Originally intended as one-shot villains, the Daleks proved so popular that they were the main enemy of over 20 further stories 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", which was the title used internally by the BBC to refer to the serial during its production, and "The Dead Planet", which was the title of the first episode. "The Mutants" was later used as the title a 1972 Jon Pertwee serial, making its use for this story potentially confusing. To avoid ambiguity, two alternative titles have emerged; "The Dead Planet" was commonly used in the 1980s and 1990s, but "The Daleks" has become the most commonly used title today; it was used on the VHS and DVD releases, and therefore must now be considered the official BBC-sanctioned title.

This serial was adapted for film as Dr. Who and the Daleks, starring Peter Cushing as "Dr. Who".


  • Actual Pacifist: The Thals, though they later dropped this stance rather than let 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. This would also explain why they don't recognize and exterminate the Oncoming Storm when they meet him, Ian, Susan and Barbara here.
    • The Universal Databank, an encyclopedia of the original TV series published in 1992, posited that the story takes place while Davros' original Daleks are still trapped inside the Kaled bunker the Thals and the Mutos collapsed on them at the end of Genesis of the Daleks and that, rather than prototypes, the Daleks in this story are another group of mutants who found Davros' early experiments and evolved themselves into a primitive race of Daleks, which would explain their more primitive technology and lack of the same mindlessly xenophobic conditioning that would drive "true" Daleks to kill all non-Daleks on sight. After this story, the original Daleks finally emerged and drove the Thals off Skaro altogether. Of course, this interpretation has long since been disproven.
  • 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 an apparent monster that proves to be a handsome man. Self-possession of the highest order!
  • Anti-Radiation Drug: The Thals survive on the planet's surface through drugs which cure radiation sickness and also prevents negative effects from further radiation.
  • Artistic Licence – 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 (also by Terry Nation, but written and 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.
  • Attack of the Monster Appendage:
    • The first thing we ever saw of the creature inside a Dalek was its claw peeking out from under the cloak that it was wrapped in.
    • For that matter, the first view of a Dalek ever was a POV shot of one's suction-cup arm ominously approaching a horror-stricken Barbara. Cue audiences frantically discussing what might be at the other end, until later scenes turned it into a Type 2 instead of Type 1.
  • 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 big 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 are shown as being able to 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. That still doesn't make the sight of the Dalek taking precision to provide nourishment and water for a group of imprisoned humans any less bizarre in hindsight.
    • The Doctor's own characterization also differs greatly in this serial compared to the rest of the show onwards. In this story, he acts entirely out of self-interest and manufactures a fault with the TARDIS's fluid link purely to force his companions to allow him to explore the Dalek city. He then elects to leave the city without Barbara when she doesn't turn up, and only agrees to help the Thals fight against the Daleks in order to retrieve the fluid link stolen by the Daleks.
  • 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 Instalment Character Design Difference:
    • The first Dalek props lack the vertical panels attached to the "shoulder" section of their casings. Those would be introduced in "The Chase" under the pretense of being solar panels (to circumvent both the Daleks' reliance on static electricity here and the giant radio dishes on their backs in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth").
    • Our minimal glimpse of the Dalek mutant revealed it had a claw. While the claw made a reappearance in "Remembrance of the Daleks", the Dalek mutants were more or less consistently blobs of organic matter in the Classic Series, and consistently vaguely cephalopod-like grotesque mounds of flesh with exposed brains and single eyes in the Revived Series.
  • Early Instalment Weirdness:
    • The early Daleks are extremely unpleasant creatures but act mostly out of paranoia, very old and ancient feuds and naked self interest, also being a lot more talkative and eloquent (a memorable scene where they dictate a letter for Susan to write to the Thals comes to mind: "WE CAN AL-SO SU-PPLY QUAN-TI-TIES OF FRESH VE-GE-TA-BLES..."). While they hate the Thals, their main reason for wanting to shower Skaro with nuclear material was because they're dependent on radiation to survive and needed to do this to terraform their world, with the side benefit of killing the Thals. They're also portrayed as being very vulnerable – heavily armed, but dependent on powered floors for movement and very weak and pathetic in nature. Later Daleks were much less reasonable and much more angry, with the primary motivation for their evil being genocidal racism against everything that isn't Dalek in origin. They also became a lot less talkative, probably because their screechy voices were just horrible to listen to, and a lot less pitiful. And while they do say they want the "total extermination" of the Thals, the Daleks' famous "Exterminate!" catchphrase is never uttered and wouldn't be established until their next appearance.
    • One Thal mentions that the Daleks used to contain teachers and philosophers within their ranks. Not only is this aspect never mentioned again, but "Genesis of the Daleks" would indicate that Daleks were always the megalomaniacal warrior race seen on-screen from the outset.
    • No Hugging, No Kissing was not yet in place, and Barbara is free to snog Ganatus.
    • 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 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.
  • Headache of Doom: Barbara comes down with a headache during her visit to Skaro. Unknown to her, the blasted wilderness she's been exploring is dangerously radioactive, and the headache is actually an early symptom of radiation sickness.
  • 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.
  • Impairment Shot: The Daleks try out the Thals' radiation drug and discover that it's lethal to Daleks. The scene includes a shot from the POV of a distressed Dalek test subject, with blurriness and double vision.
  • 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 the 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.
  • Magic Countdown: A Dalek suddenly stops counting down when it became clear to the director that the action sequence would take much longer than the countdown.
  • Mugged for Disguise: The Doctor and his companions disable their Dalek jailer and Ian wears its shell to enact a Trojan Prisoner escape.
  • 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 stories would've ever happened.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Played straight. The Thals' anti-radiation drugs seem to restore the Doctor and company, who were 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... note 
    • 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.
  • Pacifism Is Cowardice: Ian derides the pacifistic Thals (who have sworn off violence due to their world almost being devastated by war) as "cowards" for not wanting to help the Doctor's group against the Daleks.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: The Thals are portrayed as this until the climax, when they decide to fight the Daleks rather than be subject to them.
  • Scare Chord: Used very effectively when the Daleks first appear, particularly the first cliffhanger.
  • Second Episode Introduction: The second ever serial introduces the Daleks, who would go on to become one of the Doctor's greatest enemies throughout the show's history.
  • 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.
  • Suicidal Pacifism: After nearly being wiped out in an atomic war (and exterminated by the Daleks) the Thals turned to absolute pacifism. Ian tells them that they have to resist the Daleks or the Daleks will exterminate them; their leader Alydon gravely replies that in that case the Daleks will have to exterminate them. Fortunately, Ian is able to Teach Him Anger and make him acknowledge that there were some things worth fighting for and they defeat the Daleks. By the next appearance (several generations later) they have not returned to pacifism.
  • 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.
  • Trojan Prisoner: See "Mugged for Disguise".
  • Unbuilt Trope: There's an ongoing jokeinvoked 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.
  • Visual 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."
  • 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...


Video Example(s):


Dr Who - Barbara And The Dalek

Barbara Wright meets the Daleks.

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Main / Cliffhanger

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