Susan runs through the petrified jungle as a storm approaches; lightning illuminates a strange shape hidden among the trees which follows Susan as she makes her way back to the TARDIS, which is familiar, inviting, and, above all, safe compared to the nightmare outside. Susan relaxes—for a brief moment, it seems clear that she might rest for a short time. Then, remembering Ian’s warning that “an hour might make all the difference,” Susan opens the Ship’s doors for the trip back, the storm and the lightning becoming ever more frightening…
I have to say that out of all the previous Doctor Who episodes so far, this one was a bit—how to put this?—not boring exactly, but it was certainly more talky. I’m not certain whether a viewer in 1964 would have noticed this, or whether it’s just my own twenty-first century attention span that sometimes needs flashy, zippy stuff done by flashy, zippy Doctors. The Escape is, sadly, rather forgettable: the time travelers recover from their illness and plot their escape from the Daleks, and we learn more about the history of Skaro from the agrarian Thals (who aren’t “horrible mutations,” as the Daleks believe).
Susan continues her more prominent role in this episode, and, having made contact with the Thals, acts as a liaison between the Daleks in the city and the Thals in the forest outside. It seems clear that the Doctor plus three companions is more or less unsustainable in terms of storytelling—someone is going to get left out of the action, and up until now, it’s been Susan who’s been relegated to the sidelines. The “ideal” TARDIS team that works best is probably the Doctor plus a boy and a girl, which is exactly what the producers did with the Doctor, Vicki, and Steven the following seasons (and these days with Amy and Rory).
Susan nevertheless plays an important role insofar as younger, school aged viewers can relate to her. Ian and Barbara represent the adults (and authority figures) in the audience, while the Doctor remains, in many respects, the anthropological other or outsider in the form of an crotchety grandfather (then mischievous uncle, then older brother) whose motives aren’t entirely clear. It still makes no sense, for example, other than for dramatic intrigue, why the Doctor chose to activate the Ship with Ian and Barbara onboard. He’s still quite duplicitous, and not particularly likable.
The time travelers are determined to escape their captors. The Doctor and Ian open the casing of the Dalek they’ve immobilized, and are horrified at what they discover. Barely containing their revulsion and disgust, Ian and he Doctor remove the contents of the machine and discard it on the floor. After a moment, 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 alive…
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.)