An Unearthly Child, while including the pilot episode, works very much as the pilot to the overall series of Doctor Who in that it is mainly testing the waters for the series and it really began to take off with the airing of the second serial, The Daleks. Almost every fan knows the story of how Verity Lambert, Christopher Barry and Terry Nation had to convince Sydney Newman to allow them to go forward with the serial, going against Newman’s explicit orders to not include bug-eyed monsters in the television series. The rest of course is history as the viewing figures of this serial reaching 10 million by episode three and the series was allowed to continue on with the rest of the first season. This makes the very first Dalek story become a bit of a legend among stories due to what it means to the series and I wish I could say that it is a perfect example of Doctor Who. It is not of course as it is still in the very early days of forming what would become the show we now know and love.
The plot of course comes straight off the end of An Unearthly Child where the TARDIS crew have landed in a petrified jungle. The first episode of this story “The Dead Planet” sets up the trope of the first episode exploration where the episode would often would just feature the main cast exploring the area before the story would actually take off which after the characters became established, it would often be the more tedious section of a story, instead of just getting on with the plot. “The Dead Planet” however actually uses its runtime to allow us to explore the first TARDIS team and help establish their relationships a lot better. The Doctor is still horrible to Ian and Barbara in a selfish way as he sabotages his own TARDIS so they have an excuse to go down to the city and explore. I will speak of how this effects the character of the Doctor overall later on, but without him doing this he would never be able to grow as a character as he has to take up the responsibility for someone more than just his granddaughter. This is seen mostly through his rocky relationship with Ian who is really the star of the show here while the Doctor is the real side character. Ian doesn’t trust the Doctor and honestly why should he? The Doctor is responsible for ripping them out of their time and now refuses to get them home. This is juxtaposed with Barbara who is more inclined to trust the Doctor as he is the only one who can actually get them back to their own time. Barbara also gets to be the mediator between the Doctor’s old age and Susan’s youth, actually connecting them together especially considering after the first three episodes of the story Susan has nothing to do. The end of “The Dead Planet” sees the introduction of the Daleks who in their first appearance are far from the conquering force they would become and the story is really two storylines. “Escape from the Daleks” which takes up “The Dead Planet” to “The Ambush” and is about the TARDIS crew escaping the Daleks and “Revenge of the Daleks” which is “The Expedition” to “The Rescue” which concerns getting back the fluid link. Honestly the plot for the most part is good except for the final two episodes, “The Ordeal” and “The Rescue”, which feels like one episode spread over two. The story in “The Ordeal” comes to a screeching halt and you really cannot get invested in the Thal’s exploring the cave plotline as the Thals as individuals aren’t very interesting characters which becomes an even larger problem.
Outside of that we have the enormous character development for the Doctor with William Hartnell as the Doctor. Now right now he is not the Doctor that we know and love today as here he is still an awful person. He puts everyone in danger in this story by forcing them down into the city to see what exactly there is to explore which in turn causes everyone’s lives to be at risk by the Daleks. You don’t see this stated on screen, but in the subtle way Hartnell acts you see that the Doctor is extremely remorseful for what has happened to his companions and this is where he promises himself that he is going to help those who are in danger of injustice. This is because of the theme of the Daleks’ pure sense of survival and hate for the unlike versus the Thal’s sense of pacifism. Terry Nation of course says that both are wrong and that you need to fight for your freedom which opens the Doctor’s eyes to the injustice in the universe and that it isn’t just about Susan’s safety.
The production design of this story is also rather interesting in how on and off it actually is. The sets and props for the most part are designed really well. The Dalek city and the petrified jungle both hold up really well along with the Dalek designs, but there are those moments where they fail. Mainly the petrified lizard in “The Dead Planet” looks extremely stupid and there is bad continuity to what the lifts in the city looks like. The only set that is lackluster is the cave sets which just kind of look like a black backdrop for no real reason. The other problem with the production is the two different styles of direction between Christopher Barry who tries to make everything look a lot more dramatic and Richard Martin who just makes everything look really flat. There are several points when Martin is behind the camera where shots start almost too early and you are just left waiting for a second for things to resume.
To summarize, The Daleks is a story that begins the real development of the Doctor and allowed the show to have its staying power. It isn’t perfect however as there are several production problems in the story with continuity and some lackluster sets and differences in direction style between two directors. It’s still a great watch and well worth the purchase. 77/100