Hello everyone, the Historian here, along with Ketina, Ronelyn and Schmallturm, with another Daleky episode. Let’s get to the summary!
Episode summary: First aired 12 December 1964.
The Doctor, Susan and David realize the Robomen have left something that is ticking–an incendiary bomb! The Doctor, still weak, faints as Susan and David try to disarm it. David, unable to pries open the casing, remembers he still has one of Dortmun’s bombs. He opens it, spilling the acid out onto the device. The acid melts it and David is able to remove the timing device.
David then decides that, as the Doctor is unfit to travel, they should leave him temporarily and try to scout a way out of London. Although Susan argues (loudly), David reasons that the Daleks, believing this area to be firebombed, will not search it. The Doctor should be perfectly safe until they return for him. Susan finally agrees.
At the Transport Museum, Barbara and Jenny are trying to get an old lorry on the first floor into shape to take on the road. Thankfully, most of the old (200 years old) vehicles have been kept in working order. Jenny asks Barbara if she knows the way to Bedfordshire and she replies that she used to, adding quickly that she doesn’t know what the Daleks have done to the country.
At the mines, Ian and Larry watch in horror as Robomen drive humans who are pulling a cart on rails. The two turn to get under cover, but run into a man named Wells, who asks if they are escaped workers. When a Roboman arrives, he covers for them, saying that they’re from a work detail sent to help him carry equipment. The Roboman demands that Ian and Larry accompany it to stand in the Roboman selection line. As Ian and Larry move off, the Roboman clubs Wells savagely. The other two run back to help him, defying their captor; Ian tells the Roboman to “get new orders” and the two men help Wells into a shed.
Outside, the Roboman’s helmet lights as he requests and apparently receives new orders. It enters the shed, but Ian, hiding behind the door, clubs it unconscious. Wells suggests that the other two get out, as the Daleks always seem to know when a Roboman is killed. He can’t leave as he is waiting for Ashton, a black marketeer, who is bringing food for the camp. Ian wants to meet Ashton, reasoning that the man might help him get back to London. Didn’t you hear? Wells replies. London’s been destroyed…
Barbara and Jenny are almost ready to go. Jenny is still angry about Dortmun’s death, believing he threw his life away for nothing. She decries the idea of death for an ideal with no real effect, considering it senseless. Barbara reminds her that if he hadn’t made the Daleks believe he was alone, they’d all be dead. She then cuts the argument off and goes to start the lorry, which catches after a few tries. Jenny opens the front doors and the two move out.
David and Susan move into the sewers, still looking for a way out of London. Susan reasons that the Daleks can’t come down here, but she finds a bullet shell casing, making her wonder about the Robomen. David tells her that there are other people, scavengers who only care about surviving. The casing probably came from one of them. He checks his gun and finds he has only four bullets left, and no spares. The two turn to move down the tunnel, only to be confronted by a figure holding a gun on them!
On the road, Jenny and Barbara are nervous that a passing Dalek has reported them. Seeing a cordon of Daleks in front of them, Barbara decides to simply drive right through them, destroying at least one Dalek! However, a report has been issued to Dalek saucer Alpha Major, who locates the lorry and moves to attack it. Barbara and Jenny leap out of the lorry just in time as the saucer opens fire and destroys it!
Back in the sewers, Susan and David are delighted to discover the man holding the gun on them is Tyler! He almost shot them, thinking them scavengers, remarking that there are other dangers down here. During the plague, animals escaped from the zoos and alligators bred in the sewers. They decide to return for the Doctor, Tyler leading, then Susan, with David bringing up the rear. Susan and David talk about what might happen if the Daleks are beaten. Susan is taken with the idea of rebuilding a whole world from the ground up. David says that she would be welcome if she wanted to help…Before they can talk any further, Tyler beckons to them to follow him.
Barbara and Jenny, walking, decide they are on the road to St. Albans. Jenny asks Barbara, with some hostility, what she’ll do if they get to Bedfordshire and Barbara’s friends aren’t there. Barbara replies she’ll deal with that if it happens. She says Jenny is free to go her own way if she wants, but Jenny decides to stay with her.
That night, Ian and Larry sneak around the camp. They hear a roaring and dodge into the shed… only to find a man pointing a gun at them. He confirms that he is Ashton, the black marketeer, and tells them to get out. Ian stands his ground, asking to be guided back to London, but Ashton sneers and asks for payment. Ian says he has no gold, silver or anything else precious and Ashton sneers again. Wells arrives with some jewelery to exchange for cans of food. Hearing another roar, Larry asks what is making that noise. Wells calls it a “pet” of the Black Dalek, something called a Slyther. At night, it roams the camp, searching for food–people!
In the sewer, Susan and David have lost sight of Tyler. Making a guess, they climb up a ladder, entering another junction. Susan then comes to another ladder and decides to try climbing down. But the ladder breaks off, hanging there. Susan isn’t falling, but can’t make it back up to the sewer junction. In the water below her, an alligator has been attracted by the noise and waits for the girl to fall! She calls to David, but Tyler, who had gone up the ladder and through a manhole, gets to her first, firing at the alligator, grabbing the ladder and pulling the it back to the wall. He leads them onward, saying he has found the Doctor and they should move quickly.
Back in the shed, Ian and Larry eat some food from Wells’ store, which Larry pays for with a couple of rings. Ashton teases Wells, not understanding why the other man won’t leave with him. Ashton simply doesn’t understand that Wells is trying to help everyone in the camp, not just himself. Suddenly, the men hear the roar of the Slyther outside. They relax, but are shocked when its claw appears behind Ashton, grabbing him! The other three run from the shed, Wells going one way and Ian and Larry another. The thing follows the latter two, who run until they discover they are on the edge of a cliff! And the Slyther, roaring, comes closer….
Well. That was…certainly an episode of Doctor Who, wasn’t it? In our discussion afterwards, I called it “an average episode in an above average story.” Schmallturm countered that it was “a below average episode in an above average story,” and I don’t know that I can really disagree. It’s not that the episode was bad (the scene with Susan and the stock footage crocodile alligator notwithstanding), it’s just that it felt very light, especially compared to the previous three. Those episodes, as we’ve discussed previously, gave us both heroism and despair and really, really great characters. This episode introduced a monster and let our friends kind of advance, somewhat. (Though Ian and Larry don’t do much and David and Susan don’t really get anywhere.) The closest we get to our theme of the destruction of society is a vague mention of scavengers, Susan and David’s rebuilding discussion (foreshadowing, perhaps?) and, probably most obviously, the character of Ashton. Yes, he is the unscrupulous black marketeer who is disdainful of the “milk of human kindness,” but it’s a bit too obvious, isn’t it? And he’s a dead end character, given his apparent death, which means he’s a narrative device and not a character at all. Disappointing.
Barbara and Jenny are the obvious highlight of the whole thing, from their discussion of Dortmun’s death, to their joy at running over a bunch of Daleks with a lorry, to their final scene with Jenny agreeing to stick with Barbara. It’s really the relationship and contrast between these two women, Barbara believing it’s possible to win through vs. Jenny’s cynicism and despair, that makes this episode more than completely disposable. I’d go so far as to say that Jenny’s character arc (she’s obviously allowing herself to hope by the end of this week) is a highlight of this entire story.
As for the effects…Ketina has a serious problem, apparently, with the Dalek saucers, but I don’t. She calls them pie tins, but I think the model is better than that. Sure, it’s not all kinds of intricate model work, but it fits in perfectly with the ethos of “flying saucer” of the time. Also, for me, the design makes sense for Daleks–flat floors, one level, etc. I don’t know, it works fine for me. The lorry model explosion was…well, it was certainly a model, but at least it seemed a good match for the full sized lorry and looked all right.
The only other real “effect” (actually a costume, I suppose) for this episode was the Slyther itself. Yes, it is clearly a man in a suit. But it’s a very creepy, well-realized suit. The thing is monstrous, with its bulk blank of features and its dangerous looking claws. One has to wonder how the Black Dalek bred the thing…and from what…I think it’s certainly effective as a danger and a decent cliffhanger-bringer. (Speaking of which, what was with all the false cliffhangers? Confronted by a man with a gun! The Daleks explode the lorry! Susan hangs over a…uh, deadly alligator! etc. It’s as if Terry Nation wasn’t sure exactly where the episode would end…)
And then there’s the stock footage. I joked, “Hey, Doctor Who is shooting at a working quarry and they can actually show it as a working quarry!” And, as Ronelyn mentioned, yes, there was a bit too much of the “watching the dirty, overworked humans dragging the cart” footage. Yes, they’re oppressed, it’s horrible, we get it! I know the episode underran a bit (even with all that footage, it didn’t make it to 24 minutes), but still.
All of the above being said, though, we’re still having a good time with this story. One so-so episode does not overpower the three really wonderful episodes before it, and we have hopes for the next two. I can’t wait!
Until then, I remain
Okay, this was a mediocre episode in what has, so far, been a really good story. They didn’t seem to do well in the “getting from point A to point B” episodes in these early Doctor Who stories, did they?
I’ve got to dig for the good bits here… let’s see,
– I liked the parts with Barbara and Jenny. Loved the part when then run over the Dalek with the truck! Awesome!
Okay, I’m having a really hard time thinking of anything else I actually liked. Tolerated, sure. So, I guess then..
– It was better than “the Ordeal”, which still ranks as worst individual Doctor Who episode so far.
– Barbara and Jenny getting chased by a pie plate from space. Evil Dalek pie plate! Woo!!!
– Dangling Susan on the ladder and the attack of the baby alligator! No, crocodile. Whatever.
– Disarming the Styrofoam bomb.
– Okay, the Slyther thing wasn’t too silly, but the way it broke into the tool shed was random. I thought the black market smuggler guy was going to be a plot point, not food.
– Stock footage.
– Susan’s hair. Nice butt shot as she climbed down the shaky ladder though. 😉
Okay, so the episode really wasn’t as bad as I make it sound here. I mean, I didn’t fall asleep or anything (although I suspect that I might have when I watched this as a kid because I don’t remember any of it). Stuff happened. It just wasn’t stuff that pushed the plot forward.
I’m out of ideas here, so here’s some comments from Ronelyn:
– Daleks making clockwork bombs. WTF? Integrated circuits not good enough for you, eh?
– I know how we can get open this unstable incendiary device! By burning it open with the acid accelerate from a different bomb!
– From the length of time they lingered on the location shot of the slave wagon heading into the train tunnel, they must have blown their entire budget on the scene.
– And finally, the end of this season of “Life on Mars” as certainly taken an unexpected turn. (okay, that only makes sense if you actually watched the series finale of the British version of “Life on Mars”, but trust me that comment was funny.)
Until next time, in two weeks! (Happy Thanksgiving folks! And, for those of you not in the US, happy end of November. Or something.)
IN TWO WEEKS: “THE WAKING ALLY”