The Dalek Invasion of Earth is up with the best Doctor Who has to offer in its fifty year run. From the first powerful opening – Doctor Who’s first suicide, to the grim world of shattered London it leaves an impact. It is no wonder that of the two colour movies made of the Dalek serials it was this one that was the most successful. Its storylines so strong they survive its translation into a very watchable Sunday afternoon colour movie.
But the movie has none of grim impact of the serial. They have built a grey disturbing post apocalypse world and there are many narratives here that Terry Nation would visit in serials like the Survivors and his later work for Doctor Who and which now thread through well know survivalist movies and TV shows.
Large parts of the serial resemble nothing so much as a well done zombie narrative. The characters who turn into Robomen – are they people or better off dead? The serial plays with the idea of how vulnerable people, especially people with disabilities like Dortman, would fare in a post apocalypse world which is a narrative central in the best episodes of Survivors.
And not all human beings are on our side. Beware hungry women in the woods. We see ordinary people finding courage and others turning on each other – themes familiar to viewers of Season Three of The Walking Dead. Fear the living, fight the dead.
While the original Dalek serial played with the idea of these creatures as mutated survivors, more to be pitied, the Daleks who have conquered Earth are pure Nazi’s and in many small ways Terry Nation shows that he know’s the psychology, tempo and fetish of his topic.
The black Dalek is addressed as described as a commandant and looks good despite a ding or two. In fact all the Daleks look flash here capturing well the eerie mixed horror, fascination and secret glamour that Nazism and its symbols held for some young people at the fringes of counterculture at the time.
Studies of the Moors Murderers have highlighted the bizarre fascination that the Nazi’s had for Brady and Hindley as they set about their grisly work between 1963 and 1965 in Manchester.
Moreover the Daleks are Nazi’s in outlook. The Daleks in Invasion simply can’t stand still. In every scene in their HQ they literally whirl around in circles giving orders to subordinates, henchmen and even each other. Sometimes giving the same orders to multiple people. It’s a mad whirling dervish national socialist machine. Competing to deliver blind obedience to orders sits at the centre – it’s no accident that Barbara twice tells the Robomen that “”this order cannot be countermanded” – an idea revisited in Genesis of the Daleks.
While Robert Harris in Fatherland offers a fictional vision of a world where the Nazis were victorious during World War II and settled down to a life of cream-cakes, bad Romanesque architecture and folk festivals by the 1960’s, many recent authors like Richard Bessel in Nazism and War compelling argue that the Nazi’s needed war and could never have stopped.
The Daleks we see here have the same raw orgiastic bent for chaos described by Bessel and Lawrence Reese. It matters little that the objective – to hollow out the earth and drive it around blowing things up – is infinitely bonkers. Indeed that helps drive the point, the Daleks need escalating war, conquest and activity, even if for no sensible reason, to keep driving forward.
If the Daleks bottle Nazism then how well are the rag-tag army of rebels played. These are a flawed desperate and noble bunch. The character of Dortman is beautifully drawn – a cross between Churchill and Roosevelt he is allowed to be flawed yet great at the same time. His “one victory”” speech has echoes in the early days of World War II when the objective was to land insignificant blows on Hitler just to prove that Britain was still in the war.
As far as we know the anti-Dalek bombs never work at all, not even the “improved” versions during Dortmans desperate heroic last stand. It’s the defiant stand that matters, not the bomb – a motif made literal as Dortman rises briefly from his wheelchair and totters towards the Daleks before throwing himself into history.
Jenny too is a well-drawn character. A person made hard by circumstances but with an inner vulnerability. Into this grim tableau we have the desperate love affair between Susan and David Campbell. While quite a few of the books and audio spin offs from the series –most notably the hilarious Jane Ashe radio piece Whatever Happened to Susan Foreman – have played with the conceit of a future Susan bitter at being at left by her grandfather on a shattered earth, the romance is deep and convincing and the serial honours Susan with the most compelling departure romance that we would get until Jo Grant left in the Green Death.
Moments of greatness (and silliness)
- What’s happened to the TARDIS prop? Has it ever looked more crap – one of the windows is caved in.
- Poor Craddock must be up for the rare honour of least likable and disposable character in a serial. Hartnells Dr is delightfully dismissive “hold that and shut up will you”. You know you have a truly uncharismatic character when he actually seems to have more purpose after becoming a zombie. When he collides with a generator and dies in a flash of sparks people must have clapped.
- There is a great scene as Barbara, Jenny and Dortman flee across London. Sense of emptiness and scale seems all the more powerful with speed as they rush through those empty streets. I don’t know how Dortman felt but I wouldn’t be letting Barbara near my wheelchair. Music is great. Imagine seeing the Daleks in those landmarks.
- Interesting that the Daleks see their authority as having legitimacy – another Nazi allusion. They call the attack on saucer “unprovoked” and see the rebels as terrorists
- Barbara should have been a military strategist – she thinks up the idea of dressing up as Robomen to gain entry into the spaceship and later we see her throwing bombs and even driving a truck. So much for simply observing history. The Doctor also gets violent in this serial – at one point he hits Roboman with a stick.
- Even though we are getting used to the idea of the “Episode without the Doctor” now – and there is a good reason for Hartnell’s absence – this one feels clunkily handled as the Doctor keels over with an unconvincing groan at Episode Four. Susan and David seem fairly relaxed about it all even when its revealed he’s been left in a plague cemetery. When he reappears from nowhere in episode 5 it feels like there is a scene missing as none of the characters seem like they can summon interest about his return.
- For all you 70’s sitcom tragic’s out there yes Wells is Mr Rumbold from Are You Being Served!
- In episode 6 we have great fun with Barbara’s background as a history teacher as she weaves the daleks a great yarn involving a host of historic military campaigns. The Daleks suddenly go all British empire “We are the masters of India” they intone. A good moment of fun in a dark tale.
- The Slyther is a worthy addition to the pantheon of Doctor Who monsters that might have been deeply silly but are saved by a quick witted Director using minimal lighting and camera time. With a cry that sounds halfway between two cats mating and a track from The White Album played backwards at half speed, the Slyther looks like an early mock up of a Krynoid.
- The Episode titles are all brilliant and doom laden. The Waking Ally, Flashpoint, End of Tomorrow, Worlds End and The Daleks. No words wasted here.
- One wonders why Terry Nation goes out of his way to say that these are Daleks from Skaro’s past. It feels an odd, clunky chronology. Wouldn’t it be more likely that Daleks survived on some other part of Skaro and adapted?
- The look on Ian’s face as he learns about the Daleks bonkers plans to turn the Earth into a spaceship is priceless. Even the Doctor seems lost for words re the Dalek plan – it will upset the entire … Errr… constellation.
- The Doctor is almost affectionate and encouraging about the romance in contrast to The Green Death which is the only other story where a companion is allowed to exit on a sustained and believable love interest. I see something is cooking he says and in episode 6 he admonishes Susan and David “don’t stop to pick daisy’s on the way”.
Tenuous Aussie connection:
- The Peter Cushing colour film of Dalek Invasion of Earth 2150 AD bombed in Sydney, Australia, it was only screened for a week or two in one of the less mainstream cinemas during the school holidays.
- Dalek operator Robert Jewell settled in Melbourne Australia and appeared in several episodes of Prisoner.
Craig Wallace is a marketing manager and project coordinator with Nican a national community organisation and has been a community leader with various organisations for more than a decade. He is the President of People with Disability Australia, a leading cross disability rights organisation in Australia and is a member of the ACT BLITS business group.