Monday, 9 April 2012

Doctor Who Review: The Dalek Invasion of Earth

This time we travel back to a very early time in the history of Doctor Who. It’s the time of the first Doctor (William Hartnell), a crotchety old man who travels with his granddaughter Susan and two of her teachers, Ian and Barbara, who he kidnapped when they discovered his ship in 1960s London. They travel through time seeing wonderful things and trying to get home, and end up in adventures more by accident than by choice. It’s Doctor Who unlike any other period, where things aren’t set in stone; anything could happen and filled with mystery.

This story involves the Tardis arriving in London in the 22nd century where the crew find the city in ruins and silent. Although the rest of the story is very good, I would definitely suggest the first episode is the best part and a good example of why the slower pace of the classic series of Who works so well. The whole episode very little happens; the Tardis crew is trapped out of the ship and search around to find tools to get back in. However what makes it work is a gloriously creepy atmosphere. The silence and the chilling soundtrack make this episode incredibly effective, with the audience on the edge of their seat waiting to see why the place is so empty and why there are dead bodies everywhere. In fact, the episode starts with a man committing suicide, setting a terrifying mood. And then we come to a problem. This story is released on DVD as The Dalek Invasion of Earth, so to us it’s obvious that the Daleks would be in it, however at the time each episode had a different title and this one’s was World’s End. This meant that none of the audience knew the Daleks would appear, especially as they had only ever appeared once before in which they seemed to be totally destroyed. The shock of seeing one rolling up out of the Thames would have been thrilling, and while it’s somewhat lost on us, it’s still a very strong image.

I’ll go into the rest of the story in a little less detail for two reasons. One, it is six episodes long, so it would take me all day to go into it all. But secondly, and more importantly, when I talk about the new series I expect anyone reading to have seen the episode, but here, most if not all people won’t have seen it. So instead of ruining it all, I’d like to try and persuade you to give it a look up and see what you think. Obviously there are some things that will seem strange to a modern audience for example, the awful saucer effects, the strange Dalek voices, the Doctor’s trousers, some fluffed lines and the Doctor being an old man, who doesn’t get as involved in the main story as some of his companions. But don’t let these put you off; there are a lot of good things here.

As I said, the Doctor is less involved than in later years, but William Hartnell still gives a fantastic performance, the highlights being his indignant attitude to the Daleks when they meet (this is before the Daleks know of the Doctor, so they view him as just another human, yet he still talks them down), and the ending where one of the companions leaves. This ending is still touching, without having to be over the top. His companion has just outgrown the Doctor, and has a new path in life, she doesn’t get trapped in a parallel universe, or get her heartbroken, or lose all her memories or die. This makes the departure seem more real and sadder. All of the companions give one of their best performances here, Susan with her touching falling for David, Ian and his mix of strength and light hearted fun and Barbara who’s intelligence and will in this story really show why this is one of the best sets of companions in Doctor Who history. The supporting cast all give good performances and have well rounded, real characters as well, each with their own interesting story to tell.

As for the plot, the major Dalek plan is a bit ridiculous, but then again, when is it not? However the way this story is told, with the different paths with different characters and the many varying locations provide a rather grand scale to the proceedings. It’s almost like a war story, with the resistance, the oppressors, the underground bunkers and the work camps, all very reminiscent of the Second World War.

Not only do we have good acting, good script (with the exception of a line where the Doctor tells Susan she deserves a “smacked bottom”) and a good story, we also have a very good looking story. Some effects don’t hold up today, but for the most part all the studio sets and props seem very convincing and impressive. The Daleks themselves look particularly good in this story with their strange disks on their backs that never returned, and their human slaves, the Robomen have a very striking almost zombie like design. One thing that really stands out though are the exterior shots. This was the first Doctor Who story ever to have parts shot on location, and they are magnificent. Seeing the Daleks at the London landmarks is brilliantly creepy and the way all these sequences are shot, especially an early chase with Barbara seems more suited to a stylish film rather than a BBC TV show.

So basically, this is one of the greatest Doctor Who’s ever. It is very well made and very entertaining. It also contains the first recurring villains, the first locations shooting, the first ‘monster’ and the first ever companion departure. Not only is it a great adventure, it also holds a place in Doctor Who history and I’d strongly recommend you give it a shot.


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