Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Dalek Invasion of Earth


Chapter The Seventeenth, where - as a novelty - some aliens invade the Earth.

The Doctor with his first and arguably best TARDIS team, Ian, Barbara and Susan, arrive in a London of the future where the Daleks have invaded. The Daleks want to mine out the core of the planet so they can pilot the Earth anywhere in space. It isn't very clear why. Typical large scale project - delivery at all costs, but no one's thought through whether the overall aim is actually useful. Anyway, the Doctor and his friends ally themselves with some rebel humans, pit their wits against the Daleks, and defeat them. Susan falls in love, and the Doctor leaves her behind to have a new life, a home and an identity. She doesn't look 100% happy at this turn of events, it has to be said.

Watched the DVD - with original effects not the CGI alternatives, nice as they are - over a couple of weekends, again with the better half by my side, uncomplaining. The kids were slightly more interested in this than The Daemons, and stuck around for one or two whole episodes. After this, in time-honoured fashion, like generations before them, they proceeded to play Daleks for a few hours - some things are reassuringly consistent.

First-time round:
This was another of the glut of back and white stories released on VHS in the early Nineties. I remember I was already familiar with the plot from seeing the big screen remake on TV previously, but this was the first time I'd seen the original.


This is the very epitome of a solid, straight-ahead no nonsense Doctor Who adventure story.

This is a revolutionary watershed marking multiple changes in the programme's format.

Somehow it manages to be both. Looking back from now, it takes an effort to realise, as subsequently it's become the de facto story template for the series, but this is the first time that the programme has presented an alien invasion of the Earth. Up to now, Who has been a programme of exploration, whether that's exploration of another time or place, or of the idea that one's vehicle would shrink one if the doors were left open, or melt all the clocks if one of the switches jammed. Alien planets, history, 'sideways' ideas: we go to them. But in this story, for the first time ever, they're coming to us.

No wonder there was no need to do anything massively original with the invasion story, just doing one at all was so successful it changed the show forever. And that's not all. This is the moment that the Doctor becomes the hero of the show. Up to now, through the first season, there's been a gradual shift from the protagonists, and particularly the Doctor, being unwillingly involved participants just trying to work their way back to the TARDIS and escape, to actively wanting to fight whatever naughtiness they come across. This final change happens here: the TARDIS gets blocked off by a tumbled-down bridge in the first episode. So far, so season 1. But no one mentions it again, tries to get back there or clear the blockage. In episode two, the Doctor decides there's a moral imperative to defeat the Daleks, and sheds the last vestiges of the amoral anti-hero he'd been at the programme's outset.

Heroes need arch enemies, and the vacancy is neatly and forever after filled by the Daleks, who've handily been transmogrified into evil empire builders. This is just the first one of Doctor Who's many sequels, bringing back it's most successful aliens for a rematch. As such, there's some stage show misdirection retconning, and the visual ante has to be upped: forget about the fact they could only move on metal and had never left their city, look at the gorgeous location film work. And it is gorgeous: never mind the earlier scant footage of a stand-in walking along a path in The Reign of Terror, this is the first time the programme's done it with gusto.

Some of the changes that happen were forced upon the story; made at the end of the first recording block of Doctor Who, it marks the first regular cast member departure as, after a year, Carole Ann Ford had got fed up with twisting her ankle, or getting the blame for things she didn't do (check out episode one - she's threatened with a smacked bottom for bringing down the bridge onto the TARDIS, but she never even went near it!). But it works very well, gives us one of the best and oft referenced Doctor speeches ("One day I shall come back..."), neatly bookends the first set of stories, and leads in to the next.

Both stories involve digging into the ground for something that turns out to involve a spaceship. Rarely for Who, both contain alien races who have managed to successfully take over and rule the Earth.

Deeper Thoughts:   
The Daleks = the Nazis, right? “It was right there in the open what they were and what they symbolised,” says Ben Aaronovitch, in 1993 documentary Thirty Years in the TARDIS. (He’s the Who writer and Who fan one of the Aaronovitch brothers, who I always think of as a more geeky version of the Hitchenses). Perhaps not quite from the start, though. The first Dalek story is, if anything, a cold war fable, showing as it does the results long after an atomic war between two intractable power blocs. If the Daleks represent anyone at the beginning, it’s not the Nazis, or even the Ruskies, but The West. If Nation had anyone in mind, it’s the very people watching his cautionary tale, I’d say: the Dals were the less aggressive of the two sides, and only went crazed xenophobic after they mutated. The Daleks in their first story are maybe supposed to be us.

It’s this, their second story, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, where they become full-on Nazi analogues. Well, to be more accurate, they become film Nazis. And the story samples a WW2 resistance movie, filtering it through a sci-fi invasion prism. Well, that’s what I always thought, and there are some wonderful moments showing the human cost of the invasion which are clearly channelling that genre, involving as they do collaborators, black-marketeers and so on. The Daleks start to appropriate some actions from their war film villain forebears too, doing Heil Hitler salutes with their plungers as they tour London's landmarks. It becomes distasteful, though, when they directly reference the historical Nazis and their worst actions. At one point, the Daleks crow about "the Final Solution" when talking about knocking off their remaining human slaves, and that's a step too far.

The resistance in this story don't, though, act like their WW2 counterparts either in movies or reality. Things are too far gone for that, and there's no hint of any existing underground organisations or functioning foreign governments. No, it's more like the more defeated pockets of resistance found in The War of the Worlds. Just as the first Dalek story was inspired by The Time Machine, a Wells story also seems to have been a touchstone for its sequel.  As is often said of Doctor Who: all you need is an original story; it doesn't have to be your original story... 

In Summary:
Firsts among a sequel.

No comments:

Post a Comment