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
Episode 3: The Escape
Last episode we got our first look at the Doctor’s greatest enemies the Daleks. It was heavy on plot, remarkably light on interesting developments, but fear not, because this episode is wall to wall gold.
We begin with our usual recap. Susan reaches the TARDIS where she pockets the anti-radiation drugs, then steps out for a chance meeting with this guy.
That’s right, dude’s straight up chilling outside, doing his best impression of the creepy guy at the back of the bus. Susan is understandably terrified, so the man gives her his name, Alydon, and a backup supply of drugs. So just to review, a crazy looking stalker gives a box of “medicine” to a teenage girl. Yup, I’ve got a feeling this is going to turn out just fine.
He also lends her his cloak, which might be the most insane piece of clothing ever worn by anyone ever.
Susan takes the drugs back to the city, where the rest of the crew enjoy an improbably quick recuperation given that they were dying of radiation only moments ago.
Meanwhile, in their funny little command center, the Dalek’s concoct a plan to lure the Thals into their city.
They also decide to bring food to their prisoners, which they serve to them on a little silver platter.
This is absolutely fantastic and left me with a single burning question; how is this not a theme restaurant? Dalek waiters taking your order in a shrill robotic voice.
“Welcome. to. Daleks. Today’s. specials. are…”
I would practically live at a place like that. Seriously folks, let’s get a kickstarter campaign started to fund this thing toot sweet.
We follow this up with our first group shot of the Thal and folks, it is a thing of true beauty.
Any cosplayers out there looking for their next look, I challenge you to make this happen. Torn leather chaps, open chest V-neck shirt, along with that tortoise shell pattern cloak. The thought of a good half dozen of you descending on Comic Con rocking that look fills me with a special kind of glee.
You might think that’s as good as things get, but folks, we’re just getting warmed up. Next, we get what has got to be one of my top ten favorite things of all time, when the Daleks dictate a letter to Susan. A letter which she writes out in LONGHAND. The future everyone. Incredible.
Meanwhile, back in the cell, the Doctor works out that the Daleks are powered by static electricity, which seems remarkably low tech for a race of beings in possession of a paralysis ray.
The group hatches what may be their weirdest plan yet, staging a really ham-fisted fight during which they tear out the security camera that’s been recording them, then mix water with the jungle remains from the bottom of Susan’s shoes.
A Dalek comes in later with another serving tray, allowing Ian to block the door with the remains of the camera. Barbara smears mud on the Dalek’s scanner and they straight up pull the Dalek by the arms onto Susan’s tortoise cloak, thus severing its power. That’s right, they defeat a Dalek using a combination of mud and a stupid looking cape, leading me to wonder how they ever managed to reach their arch-enemy status. I guess in the world of the good Doctor, mud and capes are hard to come by.
Then they pop the top off the thing like it’s a can of Pringles, pull out the creature inside (which thanks to a blanket we never fully see), then deposit it in the corner of the room.
Ian climbs inside and we get the Stormtrooper disguise scene from Star Wars a full fifteen years early.
After they step out of the room, we get what is actually a pretty cool cliffhanger, in which a clawed hand reaches out from beneath the blanket, revealing there’s more to the Daleks besides their metallic shells.
Episode 4: The Ambush
We pick up right where we left off, with Ian rolling down the hall in his Dalekmobile, herding his friends before him like prisoners. He tries bluffing his way past another Dalek, who decides he really ought to clear things with his boss first. Then we get a true first for this show, when Susan actually does something useful. Not surprising, it involves screaming, which turns out to be a pretty good way of distracting mutant cyborgs. Live and learn kids.
They all pile into the elevator and start their long trip to the surface. And I do mean long, as they take what might be the slowest elevator ride of all time.
Ian gets stuck inside the Dalek, which is kind of amazing and the Doctor pulls his “every man for himself” schtick, leaving him behind.
Meanwhile, the Daleks have figured out what’s happened and are going to work on the elevator door, blasting away with a wicked looking welding torch that’s a damn site more menacing than the fall-down ray they used earlier.
The Doctor reaches the top with Susan and Barbara in tow, while Ian struggles to escape his robot costume, which is a really weird way to build dramatic tension.
The Daleks finally force their way through and straight up annihilate the Dalek inside. The top crumbles away and they realize its empty.
The elevator goes up once again and Ian FINALLY makes it to the top. That’s right folks, we’re halfway through this thing and our heroes have successfully ascended an elevator. Go team.
By this point, the Daleks are themselves coming up the elevator, so Ian destroys it by grabbing an inexplicably placed piece of modern art and pushing it down on top of it. What in God’s name is this doing here? There is literally nothing found anywhere within the halls of a city populated entirely by mutated blobs riding around in roving shop vacs, yet for some reason the top floor has a piece of corporate art?
With that insane business out of the way, our “heroes” look out a window just in time to see a group of Thals headed toward the city and an obvious ambush (like the title, see?).
Naturally, the Doctor feels no inclination whatsoever to help them, so Ian agrees to stay and warn them. I’ve got to wonder why this isn’t called the Ian Chesterton show, since he’s the only character willing to do anything.
Ian proceeds to find the Thal leader, then watches him for a solid three minutes, finally yelling a warning when it can’t do a conceivable bit of good.
The Daleks kill the hell out of the Thal, giving him what is perhaps the most undignified death of all time.
Here’s hoping they build a statue commemorating his sacrifice.
Then the remaining Thals escape the city by doing this.
Again, not really selling me on the whole menace of the Daleks thing.
Ian joins up with the others at the Thal camp and we learn a little bit about their culture. In the years since their great war with the Daleks, the Thals’ culture has done a complete 180, making them opposed to violence of any kind. This poses something of a moral dilemma. Do they convince the Thals to fight, or allow them to embrace what is a very positive break from their violent past?
At least it would be a moral dilemma if it were any other show but this one. Instead, the Doctor decides it’s time to leave, making this the THIRD time he has run away in just this episode alone.
Having witnessed Barbara’s compassion towards Za back in the last serial, one would logically assume she would have some objection to this, but no, she simply grabs Susan and gets ready to leave.
Outnumbered by the others, Ian reluctantly goes along, only to reveal the episode’s final twist. Remember the fuel cell that started this whole mess in the first place? Well, it seems it’s gone missing, taked by the Daleks at some point offscreen. GROAN. Yup, that means it’s back to the city we just spent four episodes escaping from.
I can’t believe how absolutely off the wall this episode is. I get that the Doctor is meant to be unconventional, but all he seems to do is turn tail and run, which is a remarkably strange way to anchor your outer space adventure series. At this point, Ian has become the de facto lead, only by virtue of the fact that he occasionally does something to drive the narrative forward.
It’s also important to note that there are four main characters here. This is a conscious choice on the part of the creators, so why are they given so little to do? It’s a head scratcher to be sure. Oh well, perhaps we’ll get some answers next time when our “heroes” return in The Expedition.