Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Dalek Invasion of Earth

The Dalek Invasion of Earth is an epic adventure which sees our time travellers return to their home planet a few hundred years too late, to discover that the Daleks have conquered the planet and through slave labour and mind control are forcing the remaining survivors to mine for something from the planet’s core.  Terry Nation returns to his creations, the Daleks, with aplomb – after the hit-and-miss The Keys of Marinus, his writing is back on form.  Whilst he’ll never be as gifted at writing realistic three-dimensional characters as Lucarotti and Spooner, he does admirably when dealing with a grand-scale of characters, achieving a sense of national crisis as opposed to just a collection of characters dealing with their own issues.  What is so magnificent about this serial is that we meet characters from every walk of life, and from a variety of different regions and in a number of varied locations, all dealing with the implications of the domination of their home planet.  Some step up to rebel, whilst others work with their oppressive overlords and betray their own kind for some fresh fruit.  Others use cunning to exploit their own people, for their own superficial gain. 

The serial opens with the suicide of one of the Daleks’ mind-controlled Robomen, as he struggles with his neck brace before collapsing into the poisonous depths of the river Thames.  In the background throughout, there is a sign warning not to “Dump Bodies into the River”.  The grim realism of this sets it apart from Nation’s other scripts – where he usually creates alien worlds and alien residents, here the focus is very British, and it is all the more shocking for it.  The sign is something of a bug-bear of mine;  the TARDIS crew spend at least ten minutes of this first episode wandering around under the bridge and yet fail to see the sign which is right behind them until much later.  This is, of course, typical Nation – the realism is there, to some degree, but there is always something about it not ringing true.  Peripheral vision is a hindrance to Doctor Who frequently, with characters not noticing things or not being spotted despite being in the most obvious hiding places – indeed, in the Pertwee years, it is a constant fallback as a plot device – but here it feels ridiculous.  That they are looking around for clues, standing right in front of the sign, yet utterly missing it, irks me.

Another Terry Nation favourite is the idea of separating the crew from the TARDIS – this is a trait of many of the early Doctor Who stories, a guarantee that the begrudging crew have to join in with the action as they have no choice – but since Planet of Giants the dynamic and motivation of the crew had been seen to change.  They are no longer the group that would just as soon run away from danger, but rather purposefully set out to stop whatever is happening around them.  As such, Nation’s script is something of a backward step for the progression of the show – indeed, it is something which Nation will continue to do in almost every script hereon, all the way to his final offering in 1979.  Here, the collapse of the bridge is responsible, with a girder covering the door and preventing them access.

The introduction of the rebellious forces at work is a nice touch – the eyes watching Ian and the Doctor but not intervening is a grittiness which is welcome;  these people do not know these two outsiders, and even as the Robomen come forward, they are unwilling to step in to protect them, risking their own lives.  The Robomen are, generally speaking, wonderfully realised;  zombie-like in appearance, with glassy eyes and stilted movements.  One small grievance is the lack of consistency to them – whilst most appear to be like zombies, unemotional and robotic, others (all unnamed extras) swing their arms nonchalantly with little focus on facial appearance or characterisation.

One of the most iconic Dalek moments ever comes as the cliff-hanger to episode 1 – the Dalek emerging from the Thames.  Quite what it was doing under the surface of the river in the first place is beyond me, but still, the scene would provide quite a shock to a contemporary audience – that is the beauty of individual titles for episodes as opposed to whole serial-encompassing ones.  Having said that, an awful lot of publicity went into the return of the Daleks, and so the shock may not have been there for young children in the ‘60s either.  The reveal of the Daleks brings up a wonderfully realised parallel, one which Terry Nation was obsessed with in his work – having survived the Second World War and witnessed the atrocities of the times, Nation was a fan of openly criticising the political systems which allowed such things to happen, and the destructive power of those in charge.  In The Daleks, it was the use of the A-Bomb and nuclear armaments.  Here, the parallel is far less subtle, and all the more effective for it – the Daleks are the Nazi party, stomping through other people’s territories, saluting the ‘sieg heil’ with their plunger arms.  The parallels continue – Dortmun’s speech in episode 2 sounds as though it could have been delivered by any first-world country, particularly sounding very Churchill-esque in its message of motivation and passion.  The destruction of London is reminiscent of the Blitz, and even Nation’s scripts suggested using locations genuinely destroyed in the bombing of London twenty years earlier, still not rebuilt, for authenticity. 

As with all Doctor Who serials of the time, education plays an important role, and the scene in which the Doctor, Ian and Craddock are locked in a cell, and the discussion of magnetism, feel a little forced and false – as with many of Nation’s scripts, the educational elements do feel somewhat shoehorned in.  That said, the Doctor does have some great put-downs for the sceptical Craddock, including the brilliant “if they had to deal with a man of your talents, they need hardly fear, need they?” and Hold that and shut up”.

The second episode comes to a dramatic close with the rebel attack on the Dalek base, using Dortmun’s bombs.  The set pieces and action sequences are impressive, and as episode 3 begins, we see the Doctor’s transformation into a Roboman halted by the attack.  What is interesting about the sequences involving a large number of Daleks is spotting the new models, the old models, and the one-dimensional cut-outs.  Whilst the BBC had kept two models in storage for a possible revival of the creatures, two models had been donated to Barnardo’s, and they were borrowed back for use in this serial.  Likewise, a large number of new Daleks were built, to a slightly different design spec.  To make up the numbers, several life-sized photos were printed and cardboard-mounted to create the epic sense of being surrounded.  The Supreme Dalek is one of the old models, in episode 2 painted with black and white stripes and then, for episode 3 onwards painted completely black. 
The scenes involving Susan and David (Peter Fraser) are wonderfully touching, as the pair first get to know each other before gradually becoming more tactile.  Their discussions about the benefits of having “a home” are lovely, and heavily foreshadow the final scenes of episode 6.  Carole Ann Ford is terrific in this, both in her scenes with David and those with the Doctor.  The tactile relationship between her and Hartnell positively lights up the screen, as she attempts to bring the feeling back into Hartnell’s legs.  Incidentally, Hartnell really was injured in the making of this serial, being dropped in the opening of episode 3 and becoming temporarily paralysed after landing over something and hurting his back.  It is testimony to his dedication that he continues throughout despite this debilitation, with only a short break and a little rewriting necessary due to his visit to the hospital, with Edmund Warwick stepping in to ‘faint’ as the Doctor. 

Alan Judd is absolutely terrific as Dortmun, the scientist unable to defeat the Daleks with his primitive grasp of technology in comparison to that of the Daleks themselves, and his pride in his creation of the bomb, swiftly followed by the look of dejection when he hears that the first device was ineffective, are wonderful.   His tragic self-sacrifice is made all the more painful as we realise the second bomb prototype is equally ineffective, and hi brave stand, throwing his wheelchair away before stomping towards the oncoming Dalek troops is heartbreaking. 

The bomb at the end of episode 3, and its destruction at the start of episode 4, is a wonderfully crafted prop, and there is a genuine sense of danger created as it ticks down to destruction.  As David pours the acid – really acetone – over the casing, it dissolves fantastically.  David’s relationship with Susan continues to blossom throughout this episode, and the pair are enchanting to watch.

Episode 4 is all rather bleak, really – this is where Nation comes into his own, throwing in a vast number of bit-part characters to show alternative ways of life during the oppression of the Daleks.  Ashton, played with slimy greed and callousness by Patrick O’Connell, is superb, showing that while people likes Larry are rebelling for the greater good, and people like Wells are struggling by in the mines but caring for one another, there are those willing to exploit the situation – that he trades in precious metals and jewels is odd, considering that there is no value to anything anymore, since all shops are closed.  What exactly he wants the money for is rather ambiguous, but it’s a nice touch that he is holding onto what he believed dear from before the attack and the plague.   Equally brilliant is the relationship between Barbara and Jenny, played by Ann Davies, as they courageously continue following Dortmun’s suicide in a stolen bus.  The scene where they mow a Dalek down at full pelt is brilliant. 

Sadly, budgetary restraints do have a negative impact on episode 4 too – whilst the epic number of extras is fantastic, as is the use of stock footage of mining works and the fantastic location shooting, we also have two of the biggest let downs imaginable – the three inch baby alligator in the sewers, and then the Slyther.  Oh, god, the Slyther – the worst special effect yet, it is fortunately only in it for brief glimpses, but then we reach the cliff-hanger, for which the responsibility hangs solely on its shoulders, or back, or lump, or whatever the hell it is.  Essentially a bin bag with one papier maché claw stuck to it, it has no menace whatsoever.  And in the reprise of episode 5, where the Slyther dies, it gives out a little whimper like a dog that has been accidentally kicked. 

Episode 5 features more of the ‘bad’ people – the collaborators in the woods who betray Barbara and Jenny are terribly one-dimensional, betraying them all for some sugar and some fruit.  Still, for the little time that they are on screen, they serve a purpose – like Ashton before, some people will do anything to save their own backs, including betray those who are desperately trying to save them.  Adding to this realism is a rather clever touch from the costume department – Ian’s suit is gradually becoming more and more grimy, and the seam down his back is, episode by episode, becoming more and more frayed, before finally splitting completely in the final episode.  Episode 5 also features one of the most moving subplots seen in Doctor Who, the desperate search for Larry’s brother, Phil.  After he sprains his ankle, Larry realises that he will only slow Ian down, and when he finally discovers his brother has been turned into one of the Robomen, he insists Ian run as he sacrifices himself, shot at point-blank range by his own brother.  To add to the emotional charge of this, though, is the unscripted moment where, in his final death throes, Phil mutters “Larry”, and that final moment of recognition is terribly haunting.

Episode 6, then, is something of an anti-climax.  After the reveal of the Daleks’ plan, which is of course ludicrous, the plot is overthrown in about ten minutes.  The crew are thrown back together again, after being separated 60 miles away in London, and it all feels rather slapdash considering how epic the premise was.  The orders given to the Robomen by impersonating the Daleks is equally laughable.  But none of that is really the point – the entire purpose for the serial was the build-up to the final five minutes, in which Hartnell delivers a tour-de-force of a monologue, haunting and heartbreaking, and one of the most quoted speeches in television history – “One day, I shall come back...”  He delivers it with tremendous passion, no doubt aided by the set restraints meaning that whilst he is ‘watching her on the monitor’, he is actually staring directly at Carole Ann Ford across the stage floor.  It is powerful, emotionally charged and phenomenal.  Susan is the first companion to leave, and that he promises to return for her “one day” makes it seem even more heart-wrenching watching it 49 years later...

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