Doctor Who

The Daleks (1963 - 1964)

About this serial

This is a seven-part serial, first broadcast between 21st December 1963 - 1st February 1964. The serial was written by Terry Nation, produced by Verity Lambert and directed by Christopher Barry and Richard Martin. The script editor was David Whitaker.

Plot summary

The Doctor pretends that the Tardis is broken when it isn't, in order to explore an unknown city, and the Tardis crew have their first encounter with the Daleks.


The good bits:

It's remarkable how effortlessly serials from this era seem to handle three companions, while the three-companion stories from the Davison era always seem overcrowded. One big difference is that in the Hartnell era the characters and their relationships are allowed to develop, while in the Davison era they're mostly in stasis. It's also helpful that we have people of different generations here, while in the fifth Doctor's Tardis everyone more or less behaved like teenagers.

The less good bits:

'The Daleks' was written by Terry Nation, who would also write 'The Dalek invasion of earth' and 'Genesis of the Daleks'. [And others, but these were the two other Dalek stories that I had seen when I wrote the original version of this review.] The split-up and the missing object, two elements that we see in 'The Daleks', would recur in Nation's writing for those later serials.

The split-up. In 'The Daleks' we see the Doctor and Susan with one group of Thals journey to the Dalek city via one route, while Ian, Barbara and the four remaining Thals take another. Similar split-ups happen in 'Genesis of the Daleks', where Sarah Jane gets separated from the Doctor and Harry, and in 'The Dalek invasion of earth'.
This can be a useful plot device. On the one hand, it can add material to the story by having different characters, or different groups of characters, have different adventures within the same time frame. On the other hand, it can make the story more interesting to the audience by having the different characters or groups discover different pieces of information that are important to the story.
In 'The Daleks', the split-up doesn't work well. The script makes little use of the plot device's potential, showing us only Ian, Barbara and their Thal companions making their way to the city. Also, by giving us the impression that the Doctor, Susan and company reached the city without incident, the script rather undermines the ordeal that Ian, Barbara et al went through to get there - with two of their companions getting killed en route - by making it seem entirely unnecessary.

The missing object. We get two of those: the serum against radiation sickness that Susan has to go and collect, and the fluid link that needs to be retrieved before the Tardis can leave Skaro. Nation would use this same plot device in 'Genesis of the Daleks' where we have the time ring, that the Doctor and his companions need to retrieve in order to be able to leave Skaro, and the tape recording of the Doctor telling all about the Daleks' weak spots.
I'm not really fond of this plot device, since it tends to come across as, well, a plot device.
In 'Genesis', both objects seem to go missing with no other purpose than to provide padding for the seven episodes that Nation had to fill.
In 'The Daleks', Nation's use of the missing objects is more elegant. The retrieval of the serum shows us a different side of Susan by having her display some courage under fire. It also introduces the Thals, and it triggers the Daleks-nuking-Skaro plot-line by having the Daleks unsuccessfully trying to use the serum to cure themselves of radiation sickness. The missing fluid link helps to show the audience the Doctor's ruthlessness, as he's removed it from the Tardis as an excuse to explore the Dalek city rather than take Ian and Barbara home. The others' reactions when they find out the truth, and the Doctor's regrets once he sees the consequences of his actions, change the relationship between the four of them. And, of course, the need to retrieve the fluid link starts the debate between the Doctor, Ian and Barbara about whether or not to involve the Thals - again showing us different sides of the characters and further developing their relationships - and sets the whole defeating-the-Daleks plot-line in motion.

The bottom line


A must-see serial.

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