Weighing in at an impressive 800 episodes, Doctor Who has been entertaining audiences for the past 50 years. Yet, despite this vast backlog of content, I know next to nothing about the actual series. For that reason, I’ve decided to watch this unusual show from the beginning, to discover the source of its unique appeal. Come with me as I tackle this daunting sci-fi phenomena from the very beginning in The Complete Doctor Who.
Warning: the following contains spoilers
After the last serial’s unfortunate detour into Flintstones territory, the TARDIS bounces back into the world of sci-fi as its crew finds itself stranded on…
The Dead Planet.
The episode beings with the Doctor and company scoping out their most recent destination through the TARDIS’ view screen. Before getting ready to leave, the Doctor tells Susan to check the radiation gauge, which immediately spikes into the red zone the moment her back is turned.
Don’t you just hate those time delayed geiger counters?
Outside, the crew stumbles through yet another jungle (is the TARDIS set on jungle mode?), although this one is completely petrified, making it potentially even less interesting than our previous romp through caveland.
Luckily Ian discovers a strange city on the horizon, which utterly captivates the Doctor to the point that he has to be all but dragged away by his more pragmatic companions.
On the way back, Susan is accosted by someone or something that grabs her by the shoulder. True to form, the Doctor doesn’t believe her.
As Susan pouts and Ian badgers him with questions, the Doctor decides to hell with it and just serves his crew lunch, giving us our first look at the Tardis’ very strange and very awesome food machine.
I love this thing. It’s such a great combination of high and low tech, almost steampunk in how analog it is. The various foods are created through a series of numbered codes that the Doctor reads off of a handy recipe book. The machine assembles the components, then spits out what looks like a thick piece of chalk.
That’s about the time something starts tapping on the outside of the ship. Everyone is understandably freaked out and demands to leave, but the Doctor’s really taken with that city and delivers the episode’s best line, “I shall do what I want to do.”
Finally, Susan convinces her Grandfather to haul ass to someplace where they’re not in immediate mortal danger. He starts punching in commands until the ship suffers one of its regular malfunctions. Seriously, does anything on this ship ever work right? Like ever?
The Doctor traces the problem to an empty fluid link, which requires Mercury in order to run, which, of course, he doesn’t keep on the ship.
This seems like it should be a much bigger deal, but the Doctor dismisses it with a shrug, confident they’ll find a nice, healthy supply of the stuff in the strange alien city. Seems reasonable to me, surely earth elements are readily available on cold, dead, alien worlds.
They trek back out into the jungle where they stumble on an unusual metal case full of strange glass vials, which they promptly leave it behind.
Then it’s off into the city where everyone immediately starts to feel sick. Sick. Lost. Malfunctioning time machine. This is playing out like a highlight reel of the world’s worst family vacation. If only they could all get separated somehow we would hit every single item on the checklist.
Whoops, spoke too soon. Ian immediately rectifies this oversight by suggesting they split up, which for some reason involves Barbara striking off on her own while the other three stick together.
As you can imagine, it takes literally minutes for this plan to go off the rails. Barbara finds herself trapped. Her hatch turns into an elevator, which leads her deep underground. She stumbles out, then this happens.
Remember last time when I called out the final caveman fight as being especially well shot. This is another great example of the show’s occasional visual inspiration. It’s weird, it’s unnerving and, best of all, it does all this without revealing the identity of the threat.
A couple key takeaways here. The Doctor is still pretty abrasive, but we’re starting to see a different side of his personality here. He might not have much of a use for people, but this episode paints him as a man driven by scientific curiosity, which does a good job of rounding out his character. I only wish that he was the focus of the show and not his milquetoast companions, who routinely stand around delivering long exchanges of exposition.
I also like the city sets. Sure, they’re rather simple, but they have a kind of cold, foreboding quality with their long empty corridors and oddly shaped doors.
Episode 2: The Survivors
We pick up exactly where we left off, with Barbara suffering attack from some unknown assailant, while the rest of the crew continues to explore the mysterious city. They enter a random room and stumble upon a conveniently placed geiger counter, which explains why they’re all suddenly feeling so sick.
We also find out that the Doctor lied about the malfunctioning fuel link, because what’s a few dead friends compared to traipsing around a city with nothing in it? With that out of the bag, the Doctor displays his now-legendary compassion, proposing they return to the ship, leaving Barbara stranded alone in the city. Ian is less than pleased with this idea, but it’s all rendered moot a moment later when they find themselves facing down a horde of killer robots.
This is actually a pretty good reveal, which starts on Susan’s frightened reaction, then pulls back to reveal that they’re boxed in by Daleks. Glad to see we’re getting a bit more variety in the shot selection.
Apparently the good Doctor’s tendency to beat feet is wearing off on his companions, because Ian’s first impulse is to make a run for it. Unfortunately, the Dalek’s hit him with a paralysis ray, which leads to the utterly fantastic line, “My legs. My legs. I can’t use my legs.” Show of hands for who else wants a talking Ian action figure with that as one of its catchphrases.
The Daleks deposit the Doctor, Susan, and Ian in a detention cell where Barbara has already been imprisoned, making this the second time the crew of the TARDIS has been captured. 0 for 2 guys. Now I’m no Time Lord, but if this is going to keep happening, it might be a good time to invest some type of offensive weaponry or maybe just a skeleton key.
The Daleks trot out the Doctor for questioning and through their conversation we get our first hints of what the hell’s happening.
Years ago there was a war between two races, the Daleks and the Thal. A nuclear attack caused the Daleks to burrow into the ground where they remain trapped. The Thal’s true fate is unknown, but the Daleks know they have survived and assume they have become “disgustingly mutated.” This admittedly doesn’t make much sense given that five minutes ago they thought the Doctor was one of them, but seeing as how we’re dealing with a bunch of talking pepper shakers, I’m just going to go ahead and forgive it.
The Daleks believe the Thals have survived due to a supply of anti-radiation drugs, which they are eager to get their hands on. The Doctor finally puts two and two together and realizes that the strange vials they found outside their ship are, in fact, the very same drugs. He proposes letting one of his group go out to get them, which the Daleks are all too willing to agree to.
Everyone is pretty far gone by this point, leaving it to Susan to get back to ship and retrieve them. She does this by engaging in some of the most insane running I’ve ever seen–I swear it’s like she’s powering her legs with her face–but I guess it works for her, because she finally reaches the ship and finds the drugs. The episode ends as she reenters the jungle, then it’s off to credits land.
Let’s take a moment to talk about the Daleks. They don’t exactly exude menace–they’re actually quite silly, if we’re being honest–but there’s something distinct about them that I can’t help but like. They’re certainly unique and I’ll sure as hell take them them over a tribe of fire-obsessed cave dwellers.
In looking ahead to future episodes it’s interesting that the Daleks really haven’t changed much in 50 years. A few visual tweaks maybe, but that’s about it. They’re also one of the Doctor’s most resilient foes, crossing swords (or, in this, case plungers) with nearly all of the eleven doctors, most often more than once. Much like with the various Doctors, I’m looking forward to seeing how these unique villains develop over time.
Up next: More fun with those wacky Daleks in episodes 3-4.