There is a big shift in tone from the light and imaginative “Planet of Giants” to the grimness that pervades “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”. I really do enjoy this story. The horrible circumstances the TARDIS crew find on 22nd century Earth bring out the hero in all of them, and what we end up with is a good solid adventure story with some moments of real emotion.
I suppose it was inevitable that the Daleks would return at some point, given that they were such a success the first time around. The redesign is fairly minimal, with larger bumpers around their base and a disc on their backs, which is meant to explain how they can move and draw power when not on metal flooring. They are an effective enemy, being in control from the before the story actually starts. They’ve already conquered the Earth by the time the Doctor and friends arrive, and they’ve either enslaved or ‘robotized’ the population. The few that remain free are forced to live and hide underground, plotting to take back the planet. London is partially in ruins, and the well-chosen location filming early on conveys this idea convincingly. I particularly enjoy the sequences where Barbara, Jenny and Dortmun cross London and see Daleks on the bridges and around some of London’s landmarks. The large amount of location filming really expands this tale beyond the confines of the studio and helps to create a bigger and more epic feeling.
It’s interesting to note that the Daleks still have an external power source, which David and Susan disable in episode six. This allows the Robomen rebellion instigated by Barbara and the Doctor to be successful, and allows the slaves in the mine to escape before the Daleks’ bomb goes off. The Daleks’ plan is also interesting and pretty impressive if they could have pulled it off: to remove the magnetic core of the Earth and turn it into something that they could pilot around the universe. They themselves also fare well, being impervious to gunfire and to Dortmun’s bombs.
The regulars all get split up into groups over the course of the story and have to rely on themselves and whoever they meet to survive, but every one of them play a part in ending the Dalek invasion. Barbara ends up with Jenny, a rather bitter woman who has lost much of her hope. I rather like Jenny. She’s angry and hard on the outside, but softens a bit and gradually forms a friendship with Barbara as the two of them work their way across London and then to the mine in Bedford. She could easily take off on her own when Barbara decides to head for the Bedford Mine, but seemingly has come to enjoy the company, telling Barbara “We may as well stay together.” The two of them very nearly succeed in their attempt to escape the mine and stir up the Robomen. Barbara’s mining of historical events to distract the Daleks is great fun to watch.
The Doctor and Susan spend their time with David and Tyler and don’t really seem to accomplish much until the final episode, when David and Susan temporarily disable the Daleks by damaging their power source. It struck me on this viewing that this is one of the stories where the Doctor contributes little. He and Ian are captured early on, and while the Doctor has a good time working out how to escape from the cell, it’s ultimately wasted since the means of escape seem to be readily available simply to weed out the more intelligent prisoners so they can be robotized. The Doctor seems quite afraid when he’s taken for ‘robotizing’. Fear is an emotion I rarely associate with the character, but it’s realistic and Hartnell portrays it well. Drugged and ill, the Doctor is disabled for an episode. It seems rather obvious that the ‘acid on the casing’ trick that David uses to disarm the Dalek firebomb is something that the Doctor would have worked out before the hurried rewrite due to Hartnell’s absence.
Ian has the best role, keeping his cool aboard the Dalek saucer and just about single-handedly stopping the Daleks by blocking the bomb shaft. He doesn’t even mess up his suit until the last episode. What a guy! Seriously, I really do find Ian as compelling a character to watch as the Doctor, something that can’t always be said for the Doctor’s traveling companions. William Russell just makes him so likeable and down-to-earth while at the same time portraying a resourceful and heroic character.
I’ve touched on some of the guest characters, and I think they are a large part of the success of this story. Bernard Kay is one of my favorite occasional guest stars. He’s a wonderfully quiet and natural actor, and he makes Tyler a good solid fighter and resistance leader who closes others off because he has ‘seen too much killing’, but is still sympathetic and likeable. Dortmun obviously has a chip on his shoulder and feels the need to prove himself due to his confinement to a wheelchair, but again he’s a sympathetic character despite his flaws. He has an ego, but he’s courageous or desperate enough to make the run across Dalek-infested London in daylight. Jenny I’ve already covered. Larry, who befriends Ian and who accompanies him to the mine is a highly sympathetic fellow, just trying to find his brother. And then there’s David, who seems the least embittered by the Dalek invasion. Young, energetic and bright, he always seems to be looking for the good in his fellow survivors. And of course, he wins Susan’s heart as well.
I’ve saved discussion of Susan until last. I’ve seen all her stories before of course, but watching them in order really has given me a new view of her character. I used to see her as a timid, annoying screamer with little in the way of better qualities, but that simply isn’t the case. She’s very kind and compassionate, and braver than I gave her credit for. She is prone to bouts of hysteria from time to time, but she’s also strong-willed and intelligent like her grandfather, even when it lands her in trouble. It’s sad to see her left behind at the end of the story, many miles and many centuries from her home, which she has talked about from time to time over the course of her time on the show. As the only member of the Doctor’s family that we’ve ever seen, she’s unique in the history of the series. The show really does feel different after her departure.
“The Dalek Invasion of Earth” is a big story, and pretty successful for the most part. The recent DVD release showcases it in its best light. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I highly recommend it.