Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Daleks — Blogging Doctor Who

Shortly after I published my first review of a Doctor Who story, it was pointed out to me that if I did these on a weekly basis, it would take me five years to get through the series, if I did one story a week. Yeah, I think I can squeeze that in between now and 2019. Then I went and took two weeks before getting to the second story. Waits won’t always be this long (though expect a long pause between “The Seeds of Death” and “The War Games”). As this is a blog where I managed to write three posts about cranberries, expect some digressions.[1] Thanksgiving cut into the tv watching and blogging.[2]

Back to Doctor Who. In a way, “The Daleks” was the serial that really started things for Doctor Who. This is an iconic episode. First note: it’s way long. The story is told over seven episodes, so that’s about three-and-a-half hours. It’s a feature-length film with a really leisurely pace until the last episode. The last one has a much brisker pace. The script probably certainly could have been a six-parter, maybe even a five-parter.

There are spoilers ahead. Proceed at your own risk.
The Doctor is still pretty awful. Okay, we can understand his justification for taking Barbara and Ian away from 1963 London: what if they tell someone? But in the first episode, “The Dead Planet,” the Doctor sabotages the Tardis to prevent their leaving the planet until after he can explore the city. And all this without really paying attention to the radiation counter. Doesn’t he know that it’s a slow device that takes forever to get to the current radiation level? At least they checked, I guess. By the time they look at it again, they’re suffering from radiation sickness.

Nation’s script is big on radioactive terrors. The planet Skaro is, well, scarred by the aftereffects of a nuclear war. The Thals managed to work their way pass some mutated form, and then evolve right past it, to blond humanoid. The Daleks end up as hideous monsters (at least to human eyes) who are dependent on radiation, or at least that’s what they conclude. There’s a basic misunderstanding of the script of just what radiation is and does.

I can imagine life on a planet with much higher arsenic levels than our own, in which surface water is full of arsenic, but there, life would have evolved to deal with the arsenic, perhaps even rely on it. The same really can’t be said for radiation, and it’s hard to think of radiation being cured with a drug. It’s energy. “Here, drink this and you won’t burn up when you stroll through the blast furnace.”

The Thals snoop around and decided to give the Doctor and his companions their anti-radiation drug, which they simply pack up in a metal box with no label or dosing information. A fluid, do we drink it, rub it on our skin, or does it have to be injected?[3] And they know nothing of the physiology of the individuals who are tromping about their planet.

This paragraph contains definite spoilers. When they Daleks take the Thal anti-radiation drug and start dying, they conclude that they have become dependent on radiation. Atomic mutants from another planet! Wouldn’t it make more sense to assume that the drug interacted with their physiology in a bad way.[4] Sure it works on Thals, Time Lords, and Humans (pretty amazing if you think about it), but we have drugs that work on people that we can’t safely give to pets, and that varies by drug. Given the genetic drift between the Thals and Daleks (millennia of mutations on both side from what was probably once the same species), it’s not too surprising that what works for one might be toxic for the other. End spoiler alert.

I have read that Russell T. Davies considers the Tom Baker story “Genesis of the Daleks” to be the first assault in the Time War (the Time Lords send the Doctor back in time to try to stop the Daleks from coming to be), but in this story the Daleks are leading an insular existence, not really bothering anyone and waiting for the radiation to fall before they leave the city. They don’t actually sound like they’re in a good way. They think the radiation is causing them problems. The Doctor plans and leads an assault on the Dalek city. Isn’t this the start of war between the Daleks and the Time Lords? And it’s clear that the Doctor and his companion aren’t Thals: they’re not blond, and the women aren’t wearing tinsel tree toppers on their heads.

At the end of the story, there’s a romantic bit out of nowhere between Ganatus and Barbara, the series’s first interspecies kiss. If Ian thinks anything of it, he says nothing, though his relationship with Barbara is still that of friendly colleagues.

Eye Candy for Gay Time Lords
I’ve since read that in the first story, they looked for actors with hairy chests, though underneath the furs I didn’t notice any. Maybe it was more evident on the set. Here we get futuristic bare-chested look, and the casting call seems to have gone out for smooth blonds. Although the Thals show an awful lot of bare skin for people who live on a planet with dangerous levels of radiation. I might go for something more lead-lined. (On a side note, the Thal women dress funny, just odd clothing. Cocktail gowns with tinsel tree topper hats.)

There are a number of good-looking men among the Thals, with Antodus (played by Marcus Hammond) being my favorite, even though the character is a bit whiny. Besides, we all know what happens to the character who spends his time telling everyone that “we’re all going to die.”

So, Is This a Must-See?
Pros: First space adventure. Introduces the series’s biggest villains. As I said in my previous review, yes. It’s a little slack at times, but the surprises keep coming. Even though I’ve seen this one a few times, I enjoyed watching it again.

The next story is a short one, so the wait should be short too.

Next: "The Edge of Destruction."

  1. And other posts about cranberries. There’s another recipe I want to write about.  ↩
  2. And there are some other things too.  ↩
  3. Injected into muscle tissue would probably give the greatest level of bioavailability, while swallowing it pretty much guarantees that part of the dose will be excreted. Of course it’s a convenient way to give a medicine. It reminds me of the joke  ↩
    The patient says, “The medicine you gave me tasted terrible.”
    The doctor replies, “those are suppositories; you’re not supposed to swallow them.”
    The patient looks at him and says, “what am I supposed to do with them? Shove them up my ass?”
  4. We can assume that the Daleks are really bad scientists, right? Also, what kind of morons test a drug by giving it (in some unspecified dose) to a whole bunch of individuals? Not even in a clinical setting: we’re dosing you with an experimental drug, please continue at your job.  ↩

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