After a short time, the pattern begins to match up, the central column stops, and the Ship arrives in a strange, bizarre forest populated by chalky, ghostly trees. Unknown to the time travelers, the radiation meter moves into the danger zone, an unseen signal flashing urgently…
In another famous story from Doctor Who’s early days, series creator Sydney Newman, the Canadian Head of Drama at the BBC back in the early sixties—and who later advocated that the Sixth Doctor should be “should be metamorphosed into a woman”—was “livid” with producer Verity Lambert over the Daleks. He had expressly forbidden any so-called bug-eyed monsters in the series, and felt the Daleks were the epitome of that. Nevertheless, he came to accept that it was the Daleks that really launched the show into popularity.
That said, there really aren’t any Daleks in The Dead Planet, but we do start to learn more about the four time travelers. The characterization of the protagonists is still inconsistent, however, especially considering that, for them, no more than a day or so has passed since Barbara and Ian followed Susan home from school and they shoved their way onboard the TARDIS. The Doctor, especially, seems far more accepting of the humans he’s spirited away in order to protect his secret. Barbara and Ian, on the other hand, vacillate between honest realism in coming to terms with the situation and the growing realization that getting back to London 1963 won’t be as easy as they initially hoped, and seeming further along in their relationship with Doctor than they should be. Ian and the Doctor continue their power struggle, but this is also inconsistent in its portrayal: one minute Ian is as excited and eager at the discovery of the city at the edge of the jungle, for example, while confronting the Doctor a moment later, and more or less forbidding the old man from visiting the city below.
The Doctor doesn’t give up so easily, however, even after Susan’s bizarre and frightening encounter with an unseen someone in the jungle (which hints there’s more to Susan, as well, a theme not really elaborated upon), and is insistent on seeing and exploring the city. A rapping on the TARDIS doors finally convinces him that Susan wasn’t imagining her experience, and it’s only at Susan’s insistence that he again activates the controls—then promptly sabotaging the fluid link causing them to be pulled back to the mysterious jungle. It’s a blatant lie, of course, and the Doctor almost gleefully explains that the only hope of “repair” can come from outside the Ship. It’s the second time in as many days he’s lied to his companions, including his own granddaughter, in order to get his way.
There are very subtle clues, however, that something is wrong, which Nation incorporates into the story much more skillfully than his characterization of the time travelers: the cataclysm that wiped out the life, but left the forest petrified, but intact, Barbara’s headache, Susan’s lack of appetite, and their exhaustion—the Doctor looks as though he could collapse at any moment—upon arriving at the city the next morning all point to something much more serious than they or even we, the viewers, realize, but will make sense later on. Already we’ve forgotten the unseen and unheeded radiation warning, but it pieces are slowly, slowly beginning to become clearer.
Once again, the sound design of this story is haunting, memorable, and foreboding in a certain sense, especially when the companions discover the magnificent, lifeless city below, and again during Susan’s ordeal in the jungle. This score, masterfully created by the Tristram Cary, is, frankly, infinitely better in so many respects than the flawless performance by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales we’re used to hearing in modern Doctor Who, and sparingly used, enhances the sense of anticipation and, indeed, apprehension, which lends itself well when the time travelers finally arrive in search of mercury that will allow them to resume their journey.
Barbara’s exploration of the city’s long, barren, gleaming, maze-like corridors is accompanied by a growing sense of fear and desperation, and a dawning realization that this city may not be not as abandoned as it seems, that she’s being guided further and further toward the heart of the complex. And then—trapped and alone, she turns to face some nameless, faceless thing as it advances toward her. Barbara screams…
Daniel is the owner and Managing Editor of Time and The – !. He’s been a fan of Doctor Who since watching Tom Baker regenerate into Peter Davison on his local PBS station as a kid. He launched Time and The – ! in 2011 after having the bright (?) idea to watch every Doctor Who story from the beginning and blog about it. (Yeah, he’s way behind.)