Welcome to the Dalek Invasion of Earth, twenty-one sixty-something AD. Well, actually we’re a bit late for the invasion, that’s all done. This is actually the Dalek Occupation of Earth. Well, I say “Earth”. In fact, we only see London and Bedfordshire. So really, it’s the Dalek Occupation of England. And come to think of it, these Daleks are a bit familiar, what with their one-sucker salutes and their talk of “the final solution”. So really, it’s the Nazi Occupation of England. But with animated robotic corpses and slythery monsters.
A perfect story, as it turns out, to kick off my random trawl through Doctor Who. Because in lots of ways, this story – the series’ tenth – sets a template for most, if not all, Doctor Who stories to follow. Until this point, Doctor Who stories had been an eclectic bunch, with the Doctor and his companions stumbling into new (or old) situations and being swept along with events. The Dalek Invasion of Earth is very different; the TARDIS crew arrive, find a problem which needs fixing (the aforemetioned alien occupation) and spend the rest of the story fixing it. Once they were travellers. Now they are heroes.
This change is starkest in the Doctor (William Hartnell, playing the role with shambolic relish). When we first met him, back in 100,000BC, he only tolerated planet Earth. Now, his first instinct is to defend it. “We are the masters of Earth”, a Dalek croakingly gloats at him early in Episode Two. “Not for long”, the Doctor promises, with quiet menace. That Dalek will soon wish it had stayed submerged in the Thames.
The change in the Doctor is reinforced by those around him. Yes, he’s still a cranky old goat, but he commands a new found admiration in people. We might expect that his granddaughter Susan might say “he’s a fantastic sort of man”, or even schoolmarmish Barbara to gush that he’s a brilliant scientist. But supporting characters and Dalek rebellers Craddock and Tyler also develop a gradual respect for him, and thus the audience are sent an important signal that this dotty old curmudgeon can take on an army of alien killers spread across the globe and win.
Not single handedly though. Writer Terry Nation, in some of his best scripts for the series, divides his story amongst the regulars and then neatly converges their stories at the end. In the early episodes, he starts with two strands: Ian/The Doctor discovering the Dalek threat and Barbara/Susan befriending the rebels. These two strands are brought together in an attack on a Dalek saucer (the Daleks themselves call their spaceships that, leading to the joyous conclusion that saucers, and presumably tea cups, are not alien to Dalek culture. Somewhere, there’s a Dalek high tea going on.)
The story then divides into three strands, centred on Barbara, Ian and The Doctor/Susan, with each party making its way to the Dalek mine in Bedfordshire. (Daleks love mining and on this occasion, they plan to replace the planet’s core with an engine, and joyride the Earth around the cosmos for reasons which remain unclear.) In the final episode, these three strands fit together snugly to form the story’s resolution. The Doctor comes up with a scheme which disables the Daleks, Barbara reprograms the zombiesque Robomen to attack them and Ian has dislodged their subterranean bomb, meaning its detonation will destroy their base. All three subplots have paid off, thanks to some skillful writing from Nation, pulling off a difficult dramatic trick but making it seem effortless.
The one character who should be the centre of attention is sidelined throughout. This is the Doctor’s grandaughter Susan, who leaves at this point, the first of many comings and goings for the series. Of Doctor Who’s inital quadrille of characters, Susan is the one the writers seem to have the shakiest handle on, and her character varies widely in each story: is she a reckless teenager, a gifted telepath or a helpless screamer? The only constant is one inspired by creator Sydney Newman’s orginial notes when assessing the series’ plans for its regular cast. He scrawled: “need a kid to get into trouble”. “So our other characters can rescue her”, is the unstated extension.
Still, she gets into trouble well. Indeed, she is the instigator of our heroes’ problems when in the first few minutes of the story she falls off a small wall, injures her ankle and somehow brings a bridge down on top of the Ship. Her schoolteachers tsk at her. Her grandfather openly scolds her. “You need a jolly good smacked bottom!”, he rails. Thus the script positions her firmly as a child and a quite useless one at that.
Throughout the story, this uselessness continues. When taken in by the rebels in Episode Two, while it is established that Barbara can contribute by cooking (so liberated!), Susan can only eat. And whereas Ian and Barbara are capable of holding storylines on their own, Susan must always share the limelight with the Doctor or rebel/love interest David Campbell. This enables her to be saved from ticking time bombs and sewer dwelling alligators by the nearest man.
Throughout the story she falls for David, and at its end, there is the inevitable marriage proposal (directly strangely, with the actors’ backs to the camera). Like the audience, the Doctor has guessed that this is about to happen, and in order to force Susan to accept David’s proposal, he locks his granddaughter out of the Ship.
It’s astonishingly harsh; the subsequent explanation that Susan would never had left him voluntarily serves only to emphasise the point that she has been robbed of coming to that decision herself. “You’re a woman”, the Doctor tells her from inside the spaceship, but she still needs others to make life changing decisions for her, it seems. This undermines the inference that she’s grown up over the course of the serial. But it hardly matters, because as an audience, we’ve seen no evidence of that. She was never given the chance to show us that.
And if the pay off for growing up is that is that you get to marry the first skinny rebel that comes along, learn how to cook and work on a farm, then it seems a poor exchange indeed. Even to the last, that kid’s still getting into trouble.
NEXT TIME: We play the contest again, as our next randomly selected story is…The Curse of Fenric.