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 5: The Expedition
Last time our heroes escaped from the Dalek city, only to discover they had left a vital piece of their ship behind, a plot twist which caused me to roll my eyes so hard, I lost my vision for the better part of the day.
Needless to say, I’m not exactly thrilled to sit through another trip to Dalek town, particularly one that revolves around the search for an intergalactic spark plug, but you know what? Sometimes you just got to take one for the team.
We begin with a lengthy debate on the nature of violence. The Thals won’t fight, which is pretty understandable given that their last big battle reduced the world to an irradiated wasteland. Which would make it the second most tragic thing to happen to them after their choice of wardrobe.
The crew of the TARDIS doesn’t care about things like morals though and just really wants to get home. All except for Ian, who’s not keen on sacrificing lives over a silly ship component.
Based on Barbara’s past behavior, you would expect her to agree, but apparently this week she has forgotten she cares about people and is really only concerned with saving her own skin. She then proceeds to angrily recap the plot for Ian in case he’s forgotten things that happened literally moments ago.
And what about the Doctor, usually the prickliest pear in the bunch? He’s actually pretty gracious here and thanks Ian for not rubbing his face in the fact that this entire situation is basically his fault.
Not sure what’s up with the characterizations here. Barbara is acting like the doctor, while the Doctor comes off as remarkably laid back. Did the actors get bored and just swap scripts or what?
Then the personality mix-and-match hits critical mass when the Doctor insists, “With me to lead them, the Thals are bound to succeed.”
Did I miss something here? This is the same guy who ran away THREE times in just the last episode alone, right? Now apparently he is a master strategist, Barbara is a shrill nag and Susan, well Susan is still basically useless.
Since Ian remains the only character capable of decisive action, it falls on him to speak to the Thals. And how does he go about converting this group of dedicated pacifists? With a rousing speech? A tragic parable illustrating the inevitability of violence? Nope, he grabs Alydon’s girlfriend and threatens to hand her over to the Daleks.
Alydon is having none of that though and promptly coldcocks him.
This is apparently enough to unseat the Thals’ entire moral philosophy and they soon come to the conclusion that there are some situations in which fighting is okay. That was pretty easy.
Ever wondered what it looks like when a Dalek drops acid? Fortunately this episode is kind of enough to show us and the results are not pretty.
The Daleks have duplicated the Thals’ anti-radiation drugs, which has certain unfortunate side effects, namely, the tendency to spin around in a circle chanting, “Cannot control. Cannot control.” I’d love to see a pharmaceutical commercial for that one.
“Do not take if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Side effects include, uncontrolled spinning and in, some rare cases, death. Do use if you are a mutant cyborg.”
With a vast cross section of them dying from the drugs, the Daleks conclude that maybe what they need is more radiation. Sound good to me. Anytime something starts to hurt, I always respond by doing the exact opposite and hey, I’m still here.
So, the Daleks round up the rest of their drugged friends and bathe them in vast quantities of radiation, reasoning “if they don’t die we’ll have our answer.” Which is pretty stone cold for a group that spent the preceding four episodes serving food to people on tiny little platters. I guess they did kill that one guy, but having spent this much time with the Thals, I think I probably would have done the same.
Back in the Thal camp, the Doctor utilizes his newfound battle skills to formulate a two-pronged attack. One group will storm the city as a distraction, while another makes its way around for a rear attack. This involves traveling through a long swath of swampland, which is “alive with mutations.”
Ian and Barbara take a small contingent of Thals into the swamps, which exude a staggering amount of background noise. The foley guy rolled earned his paycheck this week.
We also see that Barbara is now rocking the Thal’s signature leather chaps, which is a vast improvement over that awful skirt she’s been wearing since episode 1. Good for you Barbara.
Ian goes over to wash his face in a nearby pond, a pond that is almost certainly seething with radiation, but why not right? He’s totally taken anti-radiation drugs, which means he’s 100% immune. See, I paid attention in science class. Then, he looks up and sees this.
Forget about the Daleks, I want to know more about that thing. My God is that creepy looking.
They all make camp for the night and, after a fitful night of sleep, one of the Thals goes off to fill the water sacks with, what I can only assume, is more radioactive water. Instead he finds this.
What exactly is going on with that pond? Star shaped monsters, random whirlpools. If that’s what’s going on, do you really want to be drinking the water?
Disposable Thal #2 gets sucked in and the group stands there thinking maybe the Doctor’s plan isn’t so great after all.
Episode 6: The Ordeal
Everyone stands around absorbing the effects of last episode’s amazing whirlpool death, particularly a Thal named Antodus, who is very sad.
Meanwhile, the Daleks are busy plotting the massive radiation death™ of what remains of their world. Unfortunately, making another neutron bomb will take a full 23 days, which is far too long by Dalek standards. When they set their minds on nuclear armageddon they want it done YESTERDAY.
By this point, Barbara and company have apparently made it through the swamps because they’re now in some sort of cave.
Barbara flirts with a guy named Ganatus, who’s just as boring as she is, making them a perfect match.
There’s some shenanigans with a rope. Ganatus falls down a cavern and Ian steps in to save the day, reminding us that everyone else on this show is basically useless.
And what about the Doctor? He’s outside the Dalek city jamming the Daleks’ surveillance equipment by reflecting bright lights at them.
I honestly can’t decide if that’s the most brilliant plan ever or the most stupid.
The really important take away here is that the Doctor’s having a ball. “We’ll show them a thing or two,” he rants like a grandpa hopped up on too much cold medicine.
Then, we’re back to the cave because apparently someone spent a great deal of money on this set and damned if they aren’t going to get their money’s worth.
Remember Antodus, the sad Thal from earlier? Well, he’s not too pleased with this course of action and wants to run away, reasoning “Even if we do get through, we’ll never defeats the Daleks.” Which raises a sound point. What is the plan for doing that?
Antodus gets angry, the two of them engage in what might charitably be called grappling and unleash a rockslide, closing them in.
Outside the Dalek city, the Doctor has found the Daleks power source. That’s right, it’s just hanging out there like an electric box. The Doctor shorts it out and again, he’s having the time of his life. “Don’t you realize what I’ve just done?” he exclaims, “A few simple tools, a superior brain…” then the Daleks roll in and capture him AGAIN, because it’s been at least one whole episode since that happened.
They’re taken back into the city and forced to sit on the floor like a pair of naughty children, leading to what is probably the best scene of this entire story arc. The Daleks lay out their plan to vent the radiation from their reactors out into the world.
Susan questions why they’re so interested in the Thals, to which the Daleks reply, “The only interest we have in the Thals is their total extermination.” Which pretty much sums up my feelings on them too.
The Doctor has a weirdly dramatic moment where he exclaims, “That’s sheer murder.” But the Daleks are quick to correct him. “No. Extermination.”
Then the Daleks line up, do a strange Hitler salute with their arms and start chanting in unison. It is without a doubt the single creepiest moment of the show thus far. In my side research I read that the Daleks were originally based on the Nazis, designed to represent the cold, faceless nature of fascism, but I didn’t really get that vibe until now. Don’t know why the writers waited this long to break this out, but it’s a pretty effective moment in capturing just how inhuman the Daleks can be.
Back in the cave, Ian and the rest of Zero Squad stumble across a crevice. Ian decides to jump it and one by one, the other members of the party follow. And I do mean one by one, as we’re treated to a lingering shot of each and every one of them jumping across what is an obvious set. Then Antodus takes his turn and immediately falls over the side, pulling Ian down under the weight. As he scrambles for a handhold we’re left pondering what would happen if Ian were to die. I assume everyone would just sit down until they died of slow starvation.
Join me next time for the thrilling conclusion to the Dalek saga in The Rescue.