13 December 2021: not really a review of Flux added.
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THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH
"Tell them to turn on the Daleks!"
Buy this Dr Who DVD: US
After the stonking success of the Daleks in their first appearance, the Doctor Who production team knew they were on to a good thing. Terry Nation was instructed to rip up his boring old historical and churn out another pepperpot adventure toute de suite. And this time, we're bringing them home.
So how do they get on in their second outing? Pretty bloody well, actually. As you'd expect from a six-part story from this era, it's got its fair share of padding, draggy bits and silly plot developments. But despite all that, The Dalek Invasion Of Earth has an impact that's still intact more than thirty years later.
The opening of the first episode's absolutely stunning. The terrifyingly creepy It Is Forbidden To Dump Bodies In The River poster, together with the guy with the scary-looking tin thing on his head who totters into the river, give the story an atmosphere of menace that sets the tone brilliantly for the episodes to come. The unease of the TARDIS crew as they try to work out what's going on, winding up with Ian saying he doesn't want to know what's happened to London, keeps that almost funereal feeling of dread going nicely. And then the Dalek comes bursting out of the river and takes the thing to a whole new level.
Unlike some of the later stories where the Daleks are no more than garnish, there's no doubt that the Daleks are central here. And very well used they are too, even if Terry was a trifle over-lavish with the Nazi parallels. The horror of the Daleks' total domination of Earth is fantastically brought out by all those iconic shots of the Daleks strolling round London landmarks. And the Daleks' absolute indifference to the fate of humankind is bang on, and it's great to see. The later tedium of ranty old Davros and his obsession with the Doctor obscures what's most effective about the Daleks - that's it's not personal. They don't hate you. They. Just. Don't. Care.
So yes, it's a Dalek story in the best sense of the word. Or is it? Despite everything we've just said, we've got a creeping suspicion that what makes The Dalek Invasion Of Earth quite so powerful has actually got nothing to do with the Daleks at all.
In the mid-seventies, Terry Nation famously wrote a post-apocalyptic drama series called Survivors, set on Earth after 95 percent of the population has been killed by a genetically engineered virus. Ah-ha! In all the excitement about the Daleks in Dalek Invasion Of Earth, it's easy to overlook the post-apocalyptic elements, yet we think it's this aspect of the story that probably creates the most impact. Yes, the Daleks are scary, and all the enslavement bit is horrifying, but all of that would have a much smaller effect on us if it weren't for the plague-related eerie deserted streets and the feeling of the abandonment of civilisation as we know it. And let's not forget that the body-dumping poster, probably the strongest visual image in the entire story, is related to the plague, not the Daleks.
Terry's clearly thought hard about his post-apocalypse world, and in six episodes he has room to bring out lots of different aspects of it. It's this that gives the setting its believability - the collaborators in the woods, the black marketeer et al all add up to a very persuasive picture which overrides the dumber plot points like the Slyther. And this is why the story's so good despite its obvious weaknesses - the strong imagery, including the "vetoed" signs and those incredible scenes of Barbara and Jenny racing the wheelchair through the deserted streets, and the depth he's developed in the setting give the thing an almost hypnotic convincingness.
And then there's Susan's leaving scene. Despite displaying during the course of the story all the chemistry of a couple of lumps of suet, she and boyf discover an undying love for each other and she decides what she really wants is a new life picking turnips. The Doctor locks her out (who knew that the TARDIS had a deadbolt?) and then gives a speech which despite the fact that we've spent umpteen episodes detesting the loathsome Susan's guts invariably makes us bawl like babies. It's beautifully written; it's flawlessly delivered; it's one of the best television moments ever. Yes, we're biased. Sue us.
Of course the story's got its bad points, not least of which is the absence of the Doctor in the middle bits. Despite an even greater ratio than usual of flubbed lines, William Hartnell's Doctor is simply superb here - cunning, perceptive and as charismatic as all get-out - and he's missed when he's not around. As for the rest of the faults, well, we don't really care. They're so not the point.
You know what? Forget the Slyther. Forget the coughing Dalek. This is a remarkable piece of television.
MORAL: If a close relative starts suggesting a jolly good smacked bottom, get out of there fast. Preferably to the other end of the time continuum.
Over the years a lot of people have chuntered about what the Dalek's doing in the river in the first place. Well, we say why shouldn't it be? Maybe it's cooling down its casing. Maybe it's looking for sunken treasure. Who knows? We certainly don't know enough about Daleks to say it's impossible.
ROOM WITH A VIEW
In the first episode, the TARDIS windows are leaning inwards on one side. Damaged? Might be, although one of them looks as if it's actually got a window fitting.
Why the obsession with wetting Susan's ankle? Did they think if they washed it, the swelling would shrink? Weird.
LOOK LEFT, LOOK RIGHT, LOOK LEFT AGAIN
Those bombs look more like Christmas tree ornaments to us. No wonder they didn't work. And besides, why all the fuss about creating a bomb to get through the Daleks' casing when they could have just run them over?
WHAT A CROC
Did Terry Nation nick the idea of alligators in the London sewers from the New York urban legend?
LIGHT MY FIRE
When he comes across Susan and David in a clumsy attempt at canoodling, we love the Doctor's sly remark "I can see something's cooking".
As immigrants, the Daleks have assimilated brilliantly. Not only do they speak English to each other, they even label their enchantingly simple maps in English.
A WHIP? WHY?
Call us cynical, but the thought occurs to us that there probably wasn't any need for the Daleks to go through the complicated process of making Robomen. Humans being what they are, there probably wouldn't have been any shortage of people eager to collaborate with them.
Project Degravitate! Could this be the looniest scheme a villain has ever launched on Doctor Who? Leaving aside the irresistible picture of the Daleks tooling around the universe on a planet (what's wrong with their flying saucers?), how the hell did they expect to extract the Earth's core by detonating a bomb thousands of miles above it?
THE INDIAN ROPE TRICK
What a handy rope Ian finds in the capsule! What's it doing there? Surely the Daleks can't use ropes?
As the Dalek following Barbara instructs her only to speak when she is ordered to, it gives her a little nudge in the back with its plunger. From the way she looks round, we suspect she wasn't expecting a plunging at quite that moment.
Jenny and Barbara complain that no matter what they do they can't get their neck restraints off. Yet along comes the Doctor, who just yanks on the restraint in exactly the same way Barbara was doing, and off it comes.
We're not sure where the best place would be to shelter from a gigantic bomb going off, but we're pretty sure it wouldn't be on the edge of a cliff. Particularly one with wobbly polystyrene rocks.
FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE
We're probably supposed to like David, but we just think he's a selfish bastard. When Susan begs him not to make her choose between him and her grandfather, he doesn't acknowledge her problem at all. And let's face it, he could spend a few years ricocheting around the universe with her and Gramps and still come back to the same point in time having lost nothing, in which case both of them would be happy. But nooo. He needs someone to do the cooking. Sigh.
Buy this Dr Who DVD: US