The shocking truth of the Daleks becomes clear: they are more than just unfeeling machines or robots. There are living, breathing creatures inside the machines, and as the time travelers escape their cell, a gnarled, clawed hand extends from beneath the Thal cloak, still from where Ian and the Doctor wrenched it from it’s casing…
So, the story goes that writer Terry Nation didn’t have a lot of time to work on this script (unlike the next two Dalek stories, The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Chase), and was turning out an episode a day. Frankly, it shows. The Dead Planet was great and the cliffhanger was one of the very best, but I have a confession: I’m not really enjoying this serial. I wasn’t prepared last time to call The Daleks boring, but now I am: it’s really, really boring.
That’s not to say, of course, that I don’t appreciate the broader, ongoing themes that are present in this story, whether Terry Nation intentionally included them or not, especially regarding the omnipresent threat and of nuclear attack and mutually-assured destruction that formed the basis of the cold war between the West (specifically the United States) and the Soviet Union. As I said previously, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the narrowly averted nuclear holocaust would still have been very fresh and raw on many viewers’ minds. Taken as a whole, The Daleks would likely have been very terrifying indeed—but perhaps for different reasons depending on whether you were a kid or an adult at the time.
Now, though, the emphasis is on questions of reconciliation and trust, not only of whether the Thals can trust the Daleks, but of whether Ian and Barbara can begin to trust the Doctor and vise versa. From our perspective as viewers, we already know the Thals can’t trust the Daleks (they’ve already made it clear that they have no intention of helping their ancient enemies). The debate among Thal society of whether a leopard can change its spots is the more interesting one, however, and like anything else in life, it’s not a simple black and white question. After all, the Thals themselves were once fierce warriors, but have now renounced that way of life, and are ready to put their past differences with the Daleks aside in favor of rebuilding Skaro. It’s certainly legitimate to ask whether the Daleks could do the same, and it is laudable that Temmosus, as leader of the Thals, is willing to take a chance for the betterment of his planet. It makes his death even more tragic.
On the second point, it seems that the time travelers, especially Ian and the Doctor, are finally beginning to trust one another, at least to a certain degree. The progression of their relationship is more natural and realistic, even if it’s forced on them by their situation: not trusting one another, especially when confronted by the Daleks, is not really a choice if they want to live. At least when the time travelers were held captive by the tribe of Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers, they were dealing with people not that unlike themselves. The Daleks, however, are not remotely like them or even the Thals. Nevertheless, there are still very serious underlying trust issues that aren’t easily covered up just because the Doctor, Susan, Barbara, and Ian worked together well enough to escape the city.
It seems as though their adventure is over, and following a pleasant interlude at the Thal encampment, the time travelers are eager to be on their way. As they’re preparing to leave, the Doctor asks Ian to return the fluid link; the Ship is inoperable without it. Suddenly, Ian remembers: the Daleks took it when they searched him. The fluid link is still in the Dalek city. The realization is clear: they must go back…
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.)