Doctor Who (Classic): S02E02 “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”

Season 2
Directed by Richard Martin
Written by Terry Nation

Like “Planet of the Giants”, this was filmed as part of the first season, and can very well be considered the end of that season. It is the last episode David Whitaker served as story editor, but more obviously, this is where we say goodbye to Susan. If I haven’t already made this clear in the past, I was not too fond of Susan although I can chalk this up more to writing than performance (though that didn’t hurt either). Susan was increasingly written as extremely child-like prone to obnoxiously screaming at the slightest provocation and behaving less like a high school student (or even however old she actually was) and more like a small girl which is disconcerting for a 20 something to be playing. Her intelligence seemed to vary depending on the moment, and overall seemed to decrease from the first episode which felt like a more natural fit. While Ian and Barbara evolved in respect to their relationship to The Doctor, the very nature of their relationship left Susan fairly static with regards to her grandfather who never treated her as anything more than a small child. She will always have a prominent place on the show considering her role in its development, but her loss is something the show needed to grow and I can hardly say she was missed.

Her departure was also the first departure of a companion, something that would become a constant part of Doctor Who. The cast changes keep the show fresh (and going since it is over 50 years old) and losing a main character so quickly (though no future First Doctor companion served longer) set the stage for even bigger changes at the end of Season 2 and early Season 4.

Thankfully this serial starts quicker than many of the previous episodes. I always prefer when we stay focused on The Doctor and his companions at the start instead of cutting away to the generic plot running along it the background (see “Planet of Giants”). I’ve said before in the comments that the show is always more interesting when The Doctor is around, and this is perfect proof. It gives a more natural exploration of the new time/place that they have found themselves in without the need for an immediate and plot halting info dump. The quicker they are out exploring, the better. While early on it was broken/disabled TARDIS that was the go to explanation for staying, now it has become the party being split up. In addition, twice in the past three serials the area has been mistaken for modern day Earth (while the other time it actually was). I get that patterns are going to set in, but when it comes to thinking of new introductions, the series only seems to have a couple options that it just recycles.

Despite the fact that I didn’t even feel fit to mention the Daleks in the first three paragraphs, that’s not to say they aren’t important. In fact this serial had a lot to live up to with the Daleks being the clear breakout stars of the first season, the best aliens, and overall the serial was one of the best of that season. Making a sequel to something beloved is hard and it is even more challenging when you need to come up with a justification for why we should take these Daleks as a threat when the last ones were so easily defeated and that was on their home planet where their bodies were perfectly suited. Instead they made a number of changes to the Daleks (with more to come into future). Gone is the need for The Daleks to maintain contact with metal floors to operate and forgotten is their need for radiation (at least they make explicit mention of the changes here). This makes them only more powerful and mobile as most brilliantly proven with one emerging from the water at the end of the first episode. It is no “plunger menacing Barbara” in terms of being iconic, but it’s a great follow-up.

The story also gives them humans in silly hats that they are able to control and resemble proto-Cybermen (and share the characteristic of modern series Cybermen of being forcibly “upgraded”) and has them as having already conquered the Earth with humans existing as a resistance group which is a heck of an upgrade in power for them. If we were to map out the parallels to when in time this was based on considering the Daleks’ Nazi influences, this would be post the fall of France when they were at their strongest and there are certainly some parallels to the Blitz or an alternate history where the Nazis successfully invaded Britain. Even the resistance’s first attack leads to them being almost completely knocked out and has the effect of separating the team up again. Unlike most cases however, the small groups (1-2 people in addition to each companion) they are broken up to are at least fairly interesting and The Doctor’s disappearance for a while (necessitated by an injury to William Hartnell) is not nearly as noticeable as usual. They aren’t deep characters, but they don’t feel like mere plot devices and this format ensures that they are almost always talking to at least one main character. It also gives Barbara a rare chance to act almost like The Doctor in her plot against the Daleks and she proves far more adept at this than the act first Ian ever does. The Daleks themselves aren’t as huge a presence in the serial as you’d expect but they loom large over everything the characters do.

The seeds of Susan’s departure are dropped early, despite its reputation for abruptness, with her trying to convince David to travel with them and being excited to help build a new world. The two of them do get scenes to fall for each other, but it still feels rushed. They’ve only known each other a couple days at most, and Susan (albeit it hasn’t been established yet just how long Time Lords live which admittedly makes this retroactively a lot worse) isn’t even given a choice in the matter. The Doctor’s final scenes with Susan are painful to watch (in a good way) and much slower than I remembered (also in a good way) as it is clear that he loves her and wants what is best for her but he still abandoned someone who frequently acts like a child in a strange time with people they barely know against her will. She may have wanted to be with and presumably “dance” with David, but this is her decision to make. The shot of her standing where the TARDIS had once been is crushing with Susan looking like a mere shadow of her former self as she drops the TARDIS key and silently walks off with David. I may not have been upset she was leaving, but in that instant I was.

“The Dalek Invasion of Earth” isn’t perfect, but it is one of, if not the best serials so far into Doctor Who’s run and would have worked as a great, if somber capper to Season 1.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations

– Like the previous Dalek serial, this one was made into a movie (this one I haven’t seen) starring Peter Cushing called Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.. By most accounts it is somehow worse than the first movie.
– The character of Jenny was originally supposed to be Indian and an eventual companion. Assuming they didn’t go with brown face (a HUGE assumption), it would have been nice to see a nonwhite companion on a very white show.
– I love when this Doctor shows contempt for the intelligence of other around him especially since he usually backs it up. That being said he is still far too
– There is a death by Dalek heard offscreen as Susan and her future boyfriend David cower in fear that is unexpectedly horrifying
– At one point the drummer and someone playing the bongos (at least that’s what is sounded like) doing the score just starts going berserk and it is wonderfully out of place.
– The Daleks have the use of an incredibly stereotypical flying saucer which I thought was beneath the show.
– The alligator threatening Susan is so small and friendly looking and yet sends her into hysterics and is sadly killed (with only a single round from a pistol). I’ve ragged on Susan a lot but you really can’t blame all of it on Carole Ann Ford.
– Apparently there is a creature called a Slyther which the Daleks use as a sort of guard dog. It shows up in one scene, records a kill before dying and never mentioned again. I mean it’s not the best rubber suited monster, but its very existence seems extraordinarily underutilized or at the very least unnecessary when there are already three groups of villains (Daleks, Dalek controlled humans, and scavengers) existing only to generate a cliffhanger for episode 4 into 5.
– In terms of minor minutiae, Episode 6 is the first time the Daleks utter their catchphrase “exterminate” instead of the similar “exterminated” which had been used before.
– There are few things more metal than using a bomb to create a volcano to defeat your enemies
– “One day I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.”

Next Up: “The Rescue” coming in at only two episodes