The Dalek Invasion of Earth

dalekinvThis was the story that really kicked off the Sixties Dalekmania phenomenon; they were back by popular demand, and a much more powerful foe than in their debut appearance. No longer confined to their city, they could now inhabit pretty much any terrain, as illustrated by their very first scene.  But what is that Dalek doing in the Thames? Fishing? Before it appears, the Doctor and Ian are about to jump into the river to make good their escape from the Robomen. The Dalek is probably a safer option than the murky waters of the Thames.

So it makes little sense for a Dalek to rise up out of the waters of the Thames, but what a sight it is, and has rightly become one of Doctor Who’s most famous moments.  It makes the point straight away that the Daleks can go anywhere now, and the means of defeating them in their previous story does not exist any more.  This is going to be a different sort of problem, and a much bigger one.  It also represents the transition of Doctor Who towards spectacle, which is the point of the London filming.

The setting gives the production that extra something, and it is far more effective to see monsters in our own back yard than on a distant planet.  At a time when the war was still reasonably fresh in the minds of many viewers, the setting also plays on fears of being invaded and that allows for the Nazi parallel to come through strongly.  It was already present in The Daleks but here it is much more overt, complete with collaborators, the resistance, Daleks talking about the final solution and doing Nazi salutes.  The lack of futuristic human technology on display also adds to the impact: these are people like us who have been enslaved, and have only contemporary weapons at their disposal.  This does really feel like it all plays out on a huge scale, with even things like the amount of supporting artists used helping.  We also have moments where there are six Dalek props all in one scene, which doesn’t sound like much but to put it in perspective that’s double the amount of physical props used in The Parting of the Ways.

The Robomen are less successful. In theory they should have been highly effective, a forerunner of the Cybermen, but in practice they look and sound rather silly.  It is worth remembering, though, that there were limits to how far the designer could go.  The original idea was a simpler one, with wires coming out of the victims’ heads, and you can see how that would have been considered a step too far.  The story is quite horrific at times in any case, with a high body count and no shortage of dead bodies on display. Perhaps some truly zombified Robomen would have been too much for the time.

The main plot is resolved 15 minutes into the final episode, and then we get 10 minutes of character stuff: the moment when Big Ben rings again, and then the Doctor’s speech to Susan. Watching this in context it is striking what a shock this must have been for viewers after over fifty episodes with the same line-up – the TARDIS dematerialises with little hope of ever returning, and Susan’s not onboard.

And look, something simply had to change.  Earlier in the story we get this line:

What you need is a jolly good smacked bottom!

It’s not so much the Sixties values here that jar so much, but the inappropriateness of the comment in light of Susan’s age.  And it really gets to the heart (or butt) of the problem with their relationship.  The Doctor never stops treating her as somebody he has to protect.  He is more Doctorish than ever before in this story, but still she holds him back, and their relationship is utterly dysfunctional.  I have mentioned before that he constantly behaves like her owner, and here is the final, sinister example, where he makes a major life choice for her and simply dumps her with a man she has just met to go be a wife.

People have a problem with this moment for all the wrong reasons, focussing on the idea that Susan will vastly outlive David, which misses the point.  It is only the case retrospectively, because there is nothing so far that would lead us to expect her lifespan will be any more than his, but even then we are not sure because being Gallifreyan doesn’t necessarily equal being able to regenerate.  No, it is horrible even if she doesn’t outlive him, because her whole life has been decided for her by an arrogant old man, who can’t even bring himself to abandon his Victorian hang-ups and tell her he loves her in his final speech.  I do realise it is a popular speech so I am swimming against the tide here, but I think that has a lot to do with it being endlessly repeated out of context, most significantly at the start of The Five Doctors where it becomes this heroic speech to the viewers.  But we’re not a relative he has just dumped on an alien planet.  Let’s break it down:

One day, I shall come back… Yes, I shall come back.

That’s a lie.  He couldn’t wait to get rid of her at the first sign of her having a crush on somebody, which allows him to shift the responsibility of looking after her to another man.  She is limiting his lifestyle and he has no intention of ever reintroducing that limiting factor.

Until then, there must be no regrets… no tears… no anxieties.

You’re on your own, on an alien planet which is in ruins.  You have just been separated from your friends without being given the opportunity to say goodbye to them (note, Ian and Barbara aren’t allowed a Big Speech) and have no hope of ever getting back home.  But you’re not allowed to be a cry baby.

Just go forward in all your beliefs… and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.

Make your life about earning my approval, even though I am not around any more to infantilize you.

Goodbye, Susan. Goodbye, my dear.

…and you don’t even get the words “I love you” from your emotionally stunted grandfather.

That speech is all about him, giving him a grand epic moment, without actually engaging with the situation he has just created whatsoever on any kind of emotional level.  It is a magnificent speech, but it is also completely revolting.

Let’s lighten the mood with some random thoughts about The Dalek Invasion of Earth:

  • This story is packed full of iconic images: the opening shot of a Roboman committing suicide in front of the sign ‘It is forbidden to dump bodies in the river.’; Ian’s fall through a door that leads to nowhere; Daleks in Trafalgar Square.
  • The incidental music to accompany the location footage would better be described as ‘incidental drums’, but it fits the bill rather well.
  • Amusingly, the Daleks have stuck vetoed over everything imaginable, including a big poster of an elephant.
  • David asks Susan what she does, hoping for a contribution to the war effort. Her reply? ‘I eat’ – not a very promising start to a relationship. David gets his own back by taking her into the sewers for their first date.
  • We get to see different colour Daleks for the first time – a multi-coloured one (or multi-grey!) and a Black Dalek. Rather unimaginatively, the Daleks call it ‘The Black Dalek’.
  • Craddock asks ‘have you been on a moon station or something?’ which ties in nicely with later events in Doctor Who.
  • Dortmun seems remarkably unconcerned that his useless bombs got everyone killed. He meets death standing up, but it doesn’t stop him being one of Doctor Who’s biggest prats.
  • The most shocking Dalek kill of the story is one we can’t see. We just hear a man pleading desperately for his life before he is ruthlessly exterminated.
  • There is lovely attention to detail such as the Dalek writing placed here and there, but this is undermined somewhat by English writing elsewhere, such as ‘Charged’ handwritten on a Roboman neck brace.
  • It’s the first ever Doctor Who quarry, but not the last!
  • William Hartnell does not appear in The End of Tomorrow except for the reprise, as he was injured at the time of recording. The Doctor just passes out for no good reason.
  • The Slyther is only shown briefly at the end of The End of Tomorrow – very well directed. Despite a costume redesign the creature is far less effective in The Waking Ally – as we get a much clearer view of it.
  • The Waking Ally is the 50th Doctor Who episode. But who or what is it?
  • The Doctor proves himself to be pretty handy with his stick, laying into a Roboman with great gusto. But ‘I never take lives,’ he says.
  • Famous dialogue: ‘Yes, they dare. And we have got to dare to stop them.’
  • Has anyone ever spotted this: Dortmun’s chess set only has white pieces on it. Is this a new game?
  • The truck’s from the Borough of Faling. Why erase the bottom of the ‘E’?
  • Despite a valiant effort to make London look deserted, there are still boats visible on the Thames, a bus in the background at Trafalgar (look hard!) and people in the background of the final location shot.


The view from across the pond:

Like any good villain, making a return is important and should be big.  Welcome to future Earth, Daleks!

The issue with The Dalek Invasion of Earth is that it makes no sense in context to the previous meeting with the Daleks.  In The Daleks, we were introduced to our favorite pepper pots in the far future on a distant, dying world.  But just a season later, the Daleks attack Earth in force.  They seem to know about other worlds and have enough of their own kind to decimate an entire future population of Earth.  It makes for a good story, but not a good chapter in a larger series.  Yet.

What the story does well is allegorically show us a London blitz akin to WWII where the Nazis have been replaced by Daleks.  The same thing, really…   But that’s what the episode does well: captures a feeling and creates some iconic sci-fi images from it.  The best stories are the ones closest to reality, they say, and this is a great, albeit long, story.  Where it fails is in relation to everything we know about the Daleks.  But perhaps it works if looked at a different way.  We see the episodes from the perspective of the Doctor and company.  Their chronology is our chronology.  But imagine a show about a family where a guy can go back in time.  He’s married to “Barbara” in one episode.  Next episode he goes forward and sees something he doesn’t like.  Third episode goes back to before he met Barbara and he avoids meeting her.  Fourth episode, he goes back to his present and is married to another woman and the series continues from there.  To an outsider viewing the show casually, it might appear as if the actress playing the wife had been unavailable or the writers didn’t care enough to make sure they had the name right, but from the main character’s point of view, it all made sense.  It might affect the story in other ways later, but it took those first few parts to paint the full picture.   For the Doctor, that logical outcome may not be written for another decade and a half or so, but Genesis of the Daleks eventually had been written and it offered an explanation for why the Daleks, a rag-tag race in the far future, are now attacking Earth in their past.  Effectively, in the analogy above, episodes 1 and 2 are made pointless but they had to happen to provide a reason why the main character ended up where he did.  Same for the Daleks.  It just took them some time to realize there had to be a way to put things right.

Oh sure, that’s not what was going on when the story was made but the beauty of a show about time travel is that it can be reverse engineered later and that’s exactly what did happen.  Genesis gave meaning to all those loose ends that cropped up time and again in the first few years of the show.

Then there’s that unfortunate incident where someone (Terry Nation) had this brilliant idea that flying a planet around the cosmos made some degree of sense.  If we learned anything from Space: 1999 it was that a shapeshifting female alien with sideburns was a beautiful women, probably.  Wait, no, that’s not what we learned!  It was that even a moon makes a bad spaceship, so why try a full blown planet?  Come on now… who thinks this is a good idea (besides Tractators…)?    As plots go, couldn’t the Daleks have had a better reason for doing what they were doing?  And how close were they to hitting the Racnos’ spider babies?  Ah, wait, this was the future by which point all the Racnos children were all drowned.  Unless the Slyther was a mutated remaining Racnos!  Case closed, mystery solved!  We have identified what the Slyther was (because it made no sense otherwise)!

Lastly, we saw Susan’s rather ignominious departure from the TARDIS.  It gave William Hartnell a chance to make a truly moving and memorable speech but her abrupt departure was not in keeping with what one would expect.  It would almost have been better if she had died.  Here’s why: if she died, it would not have appeared as if the Doctor was booting his own grandchild to the curb, which was a shame because there was a lot of potential there.  But there’s a bigger issue: if retconning the past can be done through episodes like Genesis of the Daleks, it might make it where the invasion never happens in 2164.  Thus the Doctor never left his grandchild with this freedom fighter named David.  So where is this Time Lady?  Had she died, she would have died in a defunct timeline, but she’d still be dead.  Now she’s alive… somewhere.  Which is both good and bad.  Bad because there’s a big question mark that has yet to be answered (unless she’s still on Gallifrey after the events of The Five Doctors).  Good because maybe, one day, she will come back.  Yes, she will come back.  Until then there must be no regrets, no tears…   (You see where this is going, right?)   ML

PS: points if you got the Space: 1999 reference!

Read next in the Junkyard… The Rescue
or read about the movie version… Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in Doctor Who, Entertainment, First Doctor, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Dalek Invasion of Earth

  1. Mike Loschiavo says:

    You make a very compelling case against that speech! I’m not fond of the way he booted her, but you really did turn that monologue on its head!
    I love so many of the iconic moments from this episode. One of my favorites is the Dalek coming out of the water, but I had forgotten Ian’s door opening experience, which is another magnificent scene!
    Enjoyable story, and a classic. With just a few issues going against it!


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike Basil says:

    I’m just in the middle of reminiscing with The Dalek Invasion Of Earth on Twitch, which began its Classic Dr. Who marathon this week. It includes between-episodes quizzes for fans.

    Liked by 1 person

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