Antodus is nearly frozen with terror at the prospect of jumping the few feet across the chasm in order to join Ian on the other side. Ian senses this, and coaches him calmly, deliberately, firmly. Antodus jumps—he lands on the other ledge, but his footing is unsteady. The Thal tumbles backward into the crevasse, the rope around his waist still attached to Ian who falls, barely finding a handhold. His fingers begin to slip…
The Daleks is often credited as introducing the so-called Doctor Who “formula”: the Doctor and pals arrive somewhere, something happens to separate them, adventure ensues, and they’re reunited in the end—and a good laugh is had by all. Or something like that. Nevertheless, the very best writing advice I ever received was from an old university professor of mine who said that anything we write “should be as long as it needs to be—and no longer!” I’ll never forget that for as long as I live. I only wish Terry Nation had heard Prof. Kracke’s excellent advice. At seven episodes, The Daleks is at least two (and probably three) episodes too long.
The Daleks’ real success lies in Raymond Cusick‘s highly compelling and, frankly, brilliant design—and I’m not just referring to the iconic and immediately recognizable design of the Daleks themselves, but to almost every other visual aspect, as well. To hear Cusick tell the story, Nation would sometimes deliberately leave out the visual details in his scripts with the expectation that the designer would make it look good—and he does, from the clinical, antiseptic starkness of the corridors in the city to the swamp near the Lake of Mutations, and to say nothing of the caves that Ian, Barbara, and the Thals travel through to reach the control center. Furthermore, Shawcraft Models brilliantly realizes the exterior of the Dalek city and the surrounding mountain range.
The second area where The Daleks succeeds spectacularly is in Tristram Cary‘s stark, haunting, and incredibly unique incidental music (which I’ve only recently learned is available on CD) that captures the sheer bleakness of the planet Skaro. The innocent, almost bell-like chiming that plays as the camera pans across the exterior of the city is juxtaposed by jarring, but nevertheless melodic, thuds is memorable, compelling, and riveting. Cary’s score draws the listener in, and we find ourselves siding with the Doctor, the music—however foreboding—urges us to go to the city, while the nearly omnipresent thump-thump thump-thump thump of almost any Dalek space finds its origins here thanks to Cary. It’s a remarkable (and remarkably underrated) achievement that Murray Gold could take a lesson or two from.
The Rescue itself is, unsurprisingly, forgettable: everyone makes it through their various travails, and are reunited just as the attack on the Dalek control complex begins. Again, the speed at which Terry Nation composed this serial is apparent: it seems as though any interest or enthusiasm he may have had when he began writing this story has left him once and for all. The final battle between the Daleks and the Thals is as well-realized as I think was capable for the production team, but the dénouement seems highly unlikely to say the least; the Daleks are apparently defeated a little too easily, but by the end of the story, the Doctor and Ian seems to have warmed up to one another somewhat.
After saying goodbye to the Thals, the Doctor, Barbara, Susan, and Ian are enjoying the chance to relax and talk after their ordeal on Skaro. The Doctor is at the controls, and then—the TARDIS console explodes rendering the time travelers unconscious and plunging the Ship into darkness, the machine’s great engines grinding and scraping to a halt…
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.)