Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Doctor Who: The Daleks

Dive once again into the video vault to recover tthe lost war on Skaro. A moment in television history, the first ever appearance of Terry Nation and Raymond Cusicks infamous creation - The Daleks!

Doctor Who: The Daleks VHS

So we crack open the VHS box and load up the tape. What we get has shades of the Buster Crabbes Flash Gordon (which was broadcast at 6pm on BBC2 through the 80s) Perhaps it's the black and white, low budget sets, the peculiar costume and set design, the lantern-jawed leader of the Thaals, but it would come as no surprise that Skaro was in fact under the rule of Emperor Ming and any moment Flash and Dale are about to appear to unite the inhabitants against their Merciless tyrant.


The all too Aryan pacifist Thals, vs. the mechanical tank creatures - the Daleks. It's a strange fragmented mirror of Hitlerian fascism, on one side the paranoid, city dwelling, industrialised war machine encased mutant Daleks, and on the other the athletic, agrarian, aryan, pacifist, beautiful Thaals - only woken to violence by the threat of having  their (presumably völkische) culture destroyed by the Daleks. That the pure blooded aryans are 'good' and genetic mutants 'evil' is quite interesting in itself...

The Daleks are far more vulnerable and human than other versions of the creatures. Scarred and mutated beyond all recognition they trapped inside their defensive metal cages. unable to wander outside their metal city (they move by electromagnetism), driven to paranoia and an acute distrust of outsiders by the horrors of the wars they have witnessed. They do not kill or 'exterminate' everyone on sight, but temporarily disable their enemies. The Daleks seemed eminently sympathetic in their plight, if somewhat alien and inhuman in appearance.

The Doctor on the other hand comes across as a selfish fool, faking a broken Tardis as his curiosity gets the better of him wanting to explore the Dalek city (knowing nothing of its inhabitants or worrying about it's potential dangers)  It falls to his companion Tom to take the 'hero' role, both being the victim of the Daleks malice, risking his life inside a Mk. I Dalek Armour and eventually motivating the Thaals to action.

The Doctor and a Dalek.

From reading various fan reviews, I'd been expecting the production quality and acting to be much more amateur than it actually was, but then my tastes do lean towards low-budget black and white stuff, so it's not a 'shock' as it might be to others. The Sword and Planet atmosphere, the Doctors amorality, the unpicking of postwar responses to fascism, the attention to alien architecture in set design - everything is 'Dalek height' - humans constantly have to stoop - all works to build a really nice piece of period sci-fi.

Terry Nation had been working with the comedy genius Tony Hancock and it's hard not to hear Tony's and his ex-co-star Sid James voices coming through some of the dry banter when the Thals are discussing the pointlessness and futility of taking action, adding to the humanity and warmth of the piece. Hancock apparently claimed he invented the Daleks - I expect this was a jest. Yet if 'The Lad' were to have defended the drawing room of 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam, against post apocalyptic mutant robots from the future, the down at heel, domestic ridiculousness of a robot that looks like an upside-down dustbin with a sink-plunger wiggling out of it would have suited his style perfectly. So who knows, certainly in this parallel universe / pocket timeline, he did.

"That bloody Nation—he's stolen my robots!"

N.B. At the time of pressing publish, BBC radio 4 extra are broadcasting the first series of Big Finish's Fourth Doctor Adventures starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson - well worth a listen, as of course, is the classic comedy series of the true Projenitor of the Daleks, Hancock's Half Hour also playing on the eternal repeats engine.

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