Doctor Who and The Dalek Invasion of Earth
“I have been to many planets in several solar systems. Always as an impartial observer. I shall put myself against you and defeat you.”
The Doctor has finally managed to return his two companions Ian and Barbara to their home. The TARDIS has landed just next to the Thames on what appears to be a lazy Sunday afternoon. There’s no sound of traffic, no sign of people at all. When the travelers realize they are not in peaceful London of the 1960’s, it is far too late. The Daleks, the dreaded menaces of the far off planet Skaro, have come to Earth and conquered it completely… or so it may seem. Defiantly, the Doctor instructs the Daleks not to underestimate the humans. While one free human lives, the Daleks have not succeeded in their invasion. Against impossible odds, the human race makes a final stand against the alien invaders with the entire universe hanging in the balance.
Terry Nation’s epic introduction of the Daleks in 1963’s ‘The Dead Planet’ is a brilliant piece of television that still stands up today. It launched a thousand spin-offs, sequels, and plenty of merchandise. But while their first appearance is iconic in the history of Doctor Who, the first sequel raised the bar for the Daleks and set the high standard for every subsequent appearance. The Dalek Invasion of Earth was bigger, bolder and more lavish than the first Dalek story and brought the monsters to Earth for the first time.
After displaying how strange and terrifying the creatures were on Skaro, it was terrifying to see them roaming around Trafalgar Square. This is a tactic that the current BBC Wales program has attempted to do straight away and frankly it missed the mark each time. Rather than establish and tell the story of a monster’s threat, they simply appear in a contemporary setting and fall flat. But that is not the case here. In the Dalek Invasion of Earth, the monsters are seen to be just as powerful and deadly as they were before, if not moreso. Not only have they overcome their restriction of movement but they have increased in numbers and also have a massive flying craft.
Around the same time that The Dalek Invasion of Earth was on the screen, the comic strip was impressing young readers with out of this world adventure, unhindered by budget-related constraints or the inevitable failure ever week against the forces of good. Until The Daleks’ Master Plan aired in 1965, this was the most impressive and innovative adventure that the program had attempted with the Daleks. It cemented their reputation with the viewing public with images that would burn into the retinas of every viewer as it pushed the phenomenon known as Dalekmania into the fore. Ranking among the most watched programs on TV at the time, the Dalek Invasion of Earth raked in over 12 million viewers during its run, a figure rarely topped in its long history.
But never mind the importance of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, is it a good Doctor Who story?
In a word, yes, it’s a classic.
The Dalek Invasion of Earth was an invasion story told over six episodes, which usually means that there are slow points and that the story appears strained. Not so here. Nation takes his time in setting up the situation, layering exposition with tension as the Doctor and Ian investigate an abandoned warehouse only to find a corpse smuggled into a cardboard box, an alien mind-control helmet strapped yo his head. When they attempt to return to Susan and Barbara by the TARDIS, they are ambushed by a squad of similar men, blank-faced robotic slaves holding whips and truncheons. The revelation of the Dalek presence, a Dalek rising from the Thames to block the Doctor and Ian’s escape, is one of the most amazing images in Doctor Who and explains the why of the situation while wetting the audience’s appetite for more.
The Dalek Invasion of Earth is a vast adventure that separates the TARDIS crew into their own stories, Susan and Barbara get involved with Dortmun and the resistance, Ian and the Doctor get captured by the Daleks and are nearly transformed into robotic slaves.
The action rarely stops (again, unusual for a 1960’s Doctor Who story) with several outside location scenes cleverly filmed to appear as chase sequences as Susan, Dortmun and Jenny evade capture. While Dortmun is stubbornly confident that his specialized bombs can destroy their foes, others have appear to have lost their will to fight. Supporting characters can be seen cowering in shock while others such as Jenny are just emotionally dead inside. It’s not that odd that Jenny (initially an young girl of Indian descent named Saida) was intended as the new companion as she bears much of the story and serves as an ersatz fourth companion in places. Even the heroic fighter Tyler (played by Bernard Kay who would become a regular guest actor on Doctor Who) is brave yet only in it for himself.
After a successful raid on the saucer releasing the Doctor and Ian from the Daleks, the resistance is ferreted out. The wheelchair-bound Dortmun’s carefully laid plans come to nothing and the entirety of London is nearly destroyed in a fiery blaze when the Daleks activate a fire bomb. The reasons behind the Dalek invasion lie in the mines of Bedfordshire where slave labor toils underground. It’s a horrifying and chilling sight for the audience who narrowly escaped destruction during WWII not long before this story was screened. It seems that the Daleks are commonly tied to WWII-era iconography and it crops up here as the Daleks seem to perform the Nazi salute around the conquered city.
William Hartnell’s Doctor is usually described as an anti-hero and a crotchety old man uninterested in the plight of others. That may be true for his first appearance and for parts of his second story, but here we see a man who challenges the forces of darkness and tyranny, his hands grasping his lapels in a declaration of importance. The Doctor in this story triumphs against the Daleks, but faces a rather crippling blow as he chooses to let his granddaughter Susan go. He knows that she will not be a little girl any longer and while it is painful for her to be deposited in a post-apocalyptic world… she needs to be her own person.
Behind the scenes, Carole Ann Ford had been attempted get released from her contract as she felt the character of Susan had become a dead end for her as an actress. The other three regulars were chafing as well as their contracts were due for renewal, making this a very tenuous time for Doctor Who.
This story also displayed a grander scale of studio recordings as seen in the Dalek saucer interiors, the rebel base, subterranean tunnels and other locations, all thanks to the much larger facilities at Riverside. Four refurbished models were brought on screen along with two new models built by Shawcraft, making this one of the largest assemblage of Daleks on TV. It also introduced the first of many variations on Dalek livery with the ‘Black Dalek’ who commanded the others. A partially painted Black Dalek can be seen briefly in an earlier episode, donning a zebra stripe of black and white and being mistaken as the Saucer Commander.
The Dalek Invasion of Earth was not without its flaws, which often happened when the program attempted to stretch beyond its standard limitations. One particular example is the worrisome ‘Slyther,’ what was intended as a blood-churning and fearsome monstrosity but resulted in a rather strange cousin to Sigmund the Sea Monster, quivering with delirium tremens. So embarrassing was the Slyther that Verity Lambert insisted that Shawcraft give it another go for the following week… without much better results.
Personally even knowing that the Slyther was a man in a massive rubber suit with deely bobbers stuck to his head didn’t make its awkward launch after Ian onto the mine car any less scary and shocking. It was a very weird effect in any case.
Script writer David Whitaker, one of the few members of the production staff to have been involved with Doctor Who nearly since its beginning, departed at the conclusion of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It can be argued that Whitaker, who would later contribute two of the finest Dalek scripts for the series to date (Power of the Daleks and Evil of the Daleks) was instrumental in the success of the first two Dalek adventures.
The Dalek Invasion of Earth is one of my personal favorite Doctor Who stories as it functions on several levels narratively, tells a gripping adventure and features some of the best production values (aside from the hub cap flying saucer) seen at that time. A sterling entry into the annals of Doctor Who.