On First View: The Dalek Invasion of Earth

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Guest contributor Antti Björklund begins a new series offering a first time view on a Classic story.

dalek-invasion-of-earth-hartnell

Many fans think of 1964’s The Dalek Invasion of Earth as a classic. This is evident by the fact that in Doctor Who Magazine’s “Mighty 200” poll it peaked relatively high, at number 44. But exactly how good is it?

In this series of articles I will try and look at episodes I have not generally seen before and evaluate exactly how good they are from the viewpoint of someone watching the episodes for the first time. I will try and make note what are the episode’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Characters

In the beginning Doctor Who was a show about the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara. But, like all good things, this had to come to an end. For Doctor Who, this was in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Carole Ann Ford, the actress playing Susan, had grown weary of the lack of progress for her character. On July 30th, 1964, Susan’s final scene was written into episode 6 of what was to become The Dalek Invasion of Earth. With the broadcast of the final episode on December 26th of the same year an era came to a close.

The Doctor

hartnell-ian-dalek-invasionHartnell’s portrayal of the Doctor is one of knowledge. He seems forgetful in some scenes – a trademark of this incarnation, and one quite well documented and noted on by Hartnell’s co-actors – but at the same time he shows signs of heroism, such as in a scene where he saves Ian from falling.

Hartnell portrays the Doctor as, in my opinion, a somewhat arrogant character, a trait handed down later to some of the Doctor’s other incarnations. I can’t help but feel that he sees himself as the wisest of the group. That said he sometimes does give other characters the opportunity to show their knowledge.

As someone watching the serial for the first time it was clear to me already from episode one that the role of the Doctor is one of scientific knowledge. I know from before that in the early years, the show was about teaching children about history and science. The latter becomes clear in a discussion between the Doctor and Ian where the Doctor warns against drinking water that bodies might be in.

The Companions

hartnell-companions-dalek-invasionSusan quickly gets into a role that I have come to understand was quite usual for her: the screamer and the one who gets into trouble. She has her moments of humor too, such as when one of the resistance members asks her what she does and she answer’s “I eat”. Throughout the serial, in my opinion, she doesn’t really have that much to do. Her falling in love with David, one of the rebels against the Daleks, is subtly but still quite clearly shown. Susan does, however, have the role of the assistant. As do Ian, Barbara and the rebels. She also aids in the reaching of the ultimate goal.

Ian is clearly the action character. If I were to show this serial to someone who has seen only post-2005 Doctor Who, I would class Ian as the “modern companion” character, as I feel he acts like the companions the modern show has.

I would class Barbara as the mother figure of the TARDIS crew. She clearly, to me, is someone many mothers watching could possibly relate to. As someone watching the serial for the first time, I found Barbara relatable, especially in the scene where she bandages Susan’s twisted ankle. She also suggests she could cook for the rebels. On the other hand, she also has her moments of action, such as in the scenes running away from the Daleks in which she commandeers a fire truck and drives it away, and in another, in which she assists the rebels by throwing bombs on the Daleks. Barbara also provides some comic relief. There is a scene where she tries to use her knowledge of history to confuse and distract the Daleks by mish-mashing pieces of history. On first view I found it very funny.

The Monsters

dalek-water-invasionThe first monsters of the serial are the Robomen, humans who the Daleks have turned into robots. In the first episode they feel to me rather useless. They could have been easily swapped with the Daleks themselves. That isn’t to say that they are bad as such – they truly have a few moments in which at least this viewer felt a little scared – but I personally could’ve seen the serial also happen without them. I can’t help but make a comparison between them and the original Cybermen, especially in the way they walk. This view is also strengthened in my eyes by the way they talk.

The Daleks make their first appearance flying over London. It is not until the climax of episode one that the audience first sees them. Their appearance here is done in an ingenious way – a way that most definitely must’ve been a stroke of genius: the Dalek emerges from the water. It is an image I would like to be replicated in the modern series, as it clearly makes the viewer think, “how did they do that?”

The Daleks of The Dalek Invasion of Earth are menacing. I would even consider them mad. Mad like the 21st century portrayal of Davros – with the benefit of hindsight it’s clear where from the Daleks got their attitudes.

There is also a third, smaller, monster in the serial. At the end of episode four a monster attacks Ian and a rebel. To be honest, I’m not sure where that monster came from or what it’s purpose was other than to keep the story moving on.

The Overall Story

When reviewing the serial, the phrase “an awful lot of running” springs to mind. In my humble opinion the serial feels, at times, a little padded. It could well have worked as a four-parter ­– or to put it another way, it would work as a modern two-parter.

The serial is, at times, rather predictable. That said it does have its moments. The cliffhanger to episode one, which I mentioned earlier, is one such ingenious moment. The ending of the last episode is such a poignant scene that it just left me amazed.

As someone using a wheelchair, I found one character especially interesting. I am talking about the rebels’ scientific master, Dortmun, who uses a wheelchair and is portrayed as a wise hero.

Conclusion

So there you have it: my honest opinion on the First Doctor serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth. I can certainly see why it was used, as part of the 1960s “Dalekmania” fad, as the basis of the second Peter Cushing Dalek film.

I leave you with the First Doctor’s farewell to Susan, one of the most poignant scenes in all of Who. May they guide you in your travels through life:

Step back in time...