Guys, we need to talk about the Daleks. Specifically, we need to talk about The Dalek Invasion of Earth, because I’m eager to get back on track with the primary purpose of this blog, which is our ongoing effort to watch every Doctor Who story from the beginning, blogging about each one as we go along. I’ve been really bad about this so far, so feel free to hold me accountable going forward.
Now where we’re we? Oh yes:
With Barbara already on the road to recovery from her exposure to DN6, the TARDIS begins to materialize—but the image on the scanner is unclear, and the Doctor uncertain about where they may have arrived…
I went into The Dalek Invasion of Earth with a fairly blank slate. It had been a few years since I’d watched it last, and even though I remember the overall plot—the title is kind of a giveaway—I was riveted by the story. The return of the Daleks to Doctor Who following their immediate success the year before was an almost foregone conclusion, and The Dalek Invasion of Earth is the natural continuation of the Daleks’ story, at least from a dramatic point-of-view: take them out of space, and put them smack-dab in the middle of everything that seems familiar and safe.
Doctor Who and the Nazi Invasion of Britain
But let’s be clear. This isn’t the flashy, all guns blazing, forty-five minute kind of invasion of Earth of the Doomsday kind. Despite everyone who died in Doomsday, this is much darker and grittier, and the Daleks are no longer an allegory about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. This story is about a Nazi invasion of Britain during the Second World War, a nightmare scenario that older viewers of that era would who had lived through the conflict would recognize immediately, playing directly into fears of what could have happened if the war had gone differently.
It works. The opening image of the roboman, the precursor to the far less effective Dalek puppets, tearing out the Dalek technology implanted in his body and throwing himself into the Thames as his only means of escaping his Dalek controllers, a poster warning against disposing of bodies in the river clearly visible in the background, sets the tone for the kind of suffering that humanity has been enduring since the Dalek invasion began.
And yet there is no mention of the Daleks in the first episode, no clear indication of what’s happened to Earth by the time the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara arrive, until the last moment when a Dalek emerges from the river—why was it down there to begin with, incidentally?—and suddenly things become not clearer, but more confusing. “Daleks on Earth?” Ian asks for us, the audience. “Doctor, how did this happen?”
For his part, the Doctor’s response—”Leave this to me, dear boy!”—pretty well summarizes what happens in any bad situation where the TARDIS arrives, and it’s perfect Hartnell. It’s the response we all expect from the Doctor, who has well and truly become almost the polar opposite of the arrogant, unlikable old man we saw in An Unearthly Child, and yet he’s full of the kind of bravado that seems perhaps slightly unwise in the face of a Dalek. Being the Doctor, he can get away with it without being exterminated. (Of course, it helps that the Daleks have a strange plan that doesn’t seem to make much sense except to them.)
What stands out for me is not so much the fact that there are Daleks on Earth, but the very palpable undercurrent of suffering in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Families have been torn apart, people are hungry, cities have been leveled, and there is a deep sense of desperation and the realization that in order to survive, people must be willing to sacrifice their values—and sometimes each other—in order to survive. This point is illustrated well when Barbara and Jenny are betrayed to Daleks by the two women living in the forest in exchange for some food.
And yet, there is an abundance of hope in this story despite the suffering, and The Dalek Invasion of Earth is in many ways less about the Daleks (or Nazis), and more about relationships, perseverance, sacrifice, and the will to overcome adversity despite seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s an epic story told on a tiny budget, and it works exceedingly well.
(Did I just write that about a Terry Nation story? Ahem. Moving on.)
The first goodbye
The Dalek Invasion of Earth, perhaps more than anything, is remembered for Susan’s emotional departure from the TARDIS and her grandfather. Behind the scenes, Carole Ann Ford, who played Susan, was unhappy that her character was never given the chance to develop, a major factor in her decision to leave the show behind. Ford would return as an older Susan in 1983 for The Five Doctors, and later in the Big Finish Eighth Doctor audios with Paul McGann. For his part, the Doctor’s farewell to his beloved Susan is beautiful and it’s clear that he loves her very much, so making the decision to leave her behind must have been very near impossible for him.
After saying goodbye, the Doctor quickly activates the TARDIS, leaving Susan watching in numb disbelief as the old police box fades from existence, and she has no choice but to leave with David, dropping her key to the Ship forlornly in the rubble.
What did you think of The Dalek Invasion of Earth? Let me know in the comments below.
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.)