Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Review: Doctor Who, "The Dalek Invasion of Earth"

Sunday night I watched "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", a Doctor Who serial from 1964. I've generally been impressed by the early serials I've seen, and this one was no exception. It helped me erase the memory of watching "Survival" and remember why Who is still around after 44 years. Also, as I've mentioned before, I'm rather fond of Daleks.

This is the second Daleks serial (the first was 1963's "The Daleks"). Like its predecessor, it has a teleplay by Terry Nation and features some really fine science fiction writing. The story is set in the 22nd century after the Daleks have conquered the Earth. The First Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and companions Ian and Barbara find themselves unable to return to the TARDIS and become involved with human resistance fighters in London. Nation's script displays a keen grasp of how the occupation has affected the psyches of the human survivors, from those who become hardened fighters to those enslaved to work in mines for the Daleks to those finding a way to survive each day even if that means collaboration with the enemy. If you're going to talk about early television science fiction, then serials like this belong in an elite category.

Director Richard Martin is stuck with using 1964 London to stand in for the same city two centuries in the future, but he achieves a remarkably vivid portrayal of that future. A sequence where Barbara and two resistance fighters flee through an abandoned London is amazing, particularly a scene where they walk along the Thames across from the Houses of Parliament. The streets are eerily silent, empty of people or vehicles, and only Daleks patrol familiar landmarks of the city. It's as genuinely disturbing as an abandoned location in a George A. Romero film or New York City in I Am Legend. You know something terrible has happened. You also know that something more frightening might be just around the corner. The budget might not allow it to look futuristic, but Martin's direction makes you believe in the reality of it.

The more First Doctor serials I see, the more I love William Hartnell's portrayal of the Doctor. One of his best scenes comes at the end here when he says farewell to his granddaughter Susan, so she can make a life with a resistance fighter named David she's fallen in love with and help rebuild human society. He knows that she wouldn't willingly leave his side, so he locks her out of the TARDIS and leaves her behind. Hartnell's delivery of the Doctor's farewell lines makes it a moving scene.

And allow me to expound some on the awesomeness that is Barbara. She's self-assured, intelligent, and very capable in an era where women on television were usually not portrayed as having those traits. It seems appropriate for a show whose producer, Verity Lambert, was a trailblazer and the BBC's only female producer of drama at the time. In this serial, Barbara suggests a clever ruse to get the resistance fighters in striking range of the Daleks, manipulates her way into the Dalek command center, and then figures out how to turn their mind-controlled human slaves against them. Yay, Barbara!

The serial also marks the first speaking role of actor Nicholas Smith, playing a mine worker who becomes part of the resistance. Smith went on to become best known as Mr. Rumbold in the classic British sitcom Are You Being Served?. When I saw him, I shouted, "Mr. Rumbold!" I think I've seen every episode of Are You Being Served?.

One of the funniest lines ever in Who comes when the First Doctor angrily says to his granddaughter, "what you need is a jolly good smack bottom!" This line deserves to be immortalized. It makes you wonder if the Fourth Doctor and Romana ever got up to some smack bottom in the TARDIS. Someone needs to recycle the line in the current series, especially if it was said by or to Captain Jack. Heh.

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