LOOKING FOR TELOS – “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”

τέλος • (télos) n (genitive τέλεος or τέλους); third declension

completion, accomplishment, fulfillment, perfection, consummation

The Whoniverse is wide, and rich, and crazy.

And sometimes, bits of it go overlooked. There’s no way around it, we, at DoWntime, are children of the New Series. Our cultural sensibilities and our tastes in Who have been shaped by it. And of course, when we’re embarking in the big task of producing Discourse, we naturally tend to tackle recent events, controversies and stories. But that doesn’t mean the twenty-six seasons of Classic Who are undeserving of some in-depth coverage – and what better way to deliver said coverage than to watch it.

ALL of it. In order. Without skipping anything.

We’re looking for our telos, and it starts now.



TIBERE: Last story with this TARDIS team. I’m in denial. I might have spent this week marathoning all of their Companion Chronicles (thumbs up for “The Transit of Venus”, “The Flames of Cadiz” and “The Library of Alexandria”, while I’m at it). I’m not ready, Scribbles. But eh, we get a good, striking first scene. “It is forbidden to dump bodies into the river”, a sign reads, as a man throws himself in said river. The shots are wonderfully composed, very atmospheric.

SCRIBBLES: There’s something really fitting about using the Daleks for their last outing, isn’t there? I mean, it was really their defining first trip, meeting them, and the one that guaranteed the success of the show. Using that iconic centerpiece as the driving force for the emotional transition is really fitting. And yeah, remarkable atmosphere, isn’t it? This serial is quite well-directed, as I recall.

TIBERE: Kind of bringing the themes of survival to their breaking point, in a way? Going full circle on the Daleks. The acting from the TARDIS team seems a bit off in these first scenes, though. Lots of talking together all at once.

SCRIBBLES: And Earth, no less. “I don’t want to boast, but we might well be in London!” It’s a lovely way of teasing the impending end, by teasing first a loss of Ian and Barbara.

TIBERE: It echoes the first episode of “An Unearthly Child”, too. It starts in a place of decay and neglect – then it was a trashyard, now it’s ruined docks. I guess there’s a bit of symbolism there. A place that’s both familiar but also out of time. And dangerous – as the bridge collapsing on the TARDIS shows. Pretty good, believable effect, too – there’s a real sense of physical danger to the proceedings, I find: I spontaneously wondered if the actors were in danger while watching the scene unfold.

SCRIBBLES: And ever, the survival needs bring out character work and educational needs. Ian trying to work out the load-bearing situation and deciding he needs a torch, it’s a very practical problem to engage with that brings out a lovely discussion of attitudes between Ian and the Doctor about optimism. And showing just how far they’ve come, the Doctor even admits he suspects he’s gotten the time wrong right up front.

TIBERE: The Doctor being all annoyed at Susan is a bit of a retread of the least interesting parts of “The Sensorites”, though. Although, she does stand up for herself a lot more – a sign that she has learnt lessons and that she’s now ready to go in the world on her own? Maybe. Or maybe I’m being generous.

SCRIBBLES: Still, “a jolly good smack-bottom” is not a good line. Very not a good line.

TIBERE: The only acceptable context for it is a Victorian-themed BDSM orgy. This is not a Victorian-themed BDSM orgy.

SCRIBBLES: I do not want to watch William Hartnell in a Victorian-themed BDSM orgy.

TIBERE: I know you want it, Scribbles. I sit inside your head. I live among the dead.

SCRIBBLES: Oh, you know my head in those terms is in a very different place right now, safely far away from Victorian old man sex. Though this serial shall endeavor to change that, just wait for the fish kink.

TIBERE: I’m hyped. But back on track … “Is it selfish to want us to stay together?” Oh, Susan, you precious little thing you. That little man jumping into frame near Barbara is a little bit goofy – but one’s gotta admit, the serial does a killer job at establishing the atmosphere. Those sets are great – simple, probably not too expensive, but there’s a lot of really subtle and sweet details thrown into it. Love me the scene of One and Ian examining the corpse of some sort of alien – it has that very down to Earth vibe of early Who, a focus on the concrete, where we follow the realistic, detailed investigations and deductions of two scientists.

SCRIBBLES: I do believe you’ve met these fellows before on audio. Curious what you make of their TV outing.

TIBERE: Yup, “Masters of Earth”. It’s a sequel/prequel to this story with the Sixth Doctor. Not really my type of story, but it was well-done for what it was.

SCRIBBLES: I have a lot of thoughts on them I’ll get to. In the meantime, what an excellent little action sequence with Ian nearly falling to his doom. There really is some special direction here, selling a great juxtaposition of the mundane world Ian and Barbara long to return to with the most alien, desolate survival landscape yet. Builds nicely off that same juxtaposition in Planet of Giants.” Really, these two serials are united in that, taking the alien landscapes and survival anxieties of the first season into ordinary Britain.

TIBERE: Those scenes with Barbara following the strange man are really noteworthy – they look really different from basically all that we’ve seen so far. Big wide shots in empty environments, fast-moving, with the soundtrack building up the tension. There’s something really cool about the way the action is framed and shot, it conveys a sense of scale. Barbara seems very small in these landscapes, with the camera often blocking her behind bars or something, or losing her in the depth of the shot. Lovely stuff. And the arrival of a Dalek saucer above the town is a great visual, conveys the escalation of the story into alienness really well. The gritty realism meets camp, and it’s quite good. Admittedly, those visuals aren’t the best, but …

SCRIBBLES: Even the mildly naff shot of a Dalek saucer above London is quite lovely. It’s a sort of potent imagery that reminds me a lot of the similar sequence in Aliens of London.” Seeing a saucer wobbling over home turf is a great bit of iconography that sells a core juxtaposition Doctor Who will eventually wholly embrace.

TIBERE: These Resistance people immediately want Barbara to cook for them. Ah, gotta love’em gender politics. Susan’s answer is priceless, though – “You cook?” “I eat.”. I’m gonna miss her.

SCRIBBLES: That’s one of my favorite Susan moments, period. No joke.

TIBERE: Honestly? Same. Gotta love the slow realization by the Doctor and Ian that that poster hints at a plague. A realization that’s accompanied by some shots of the Robomen, the first active ones we see in the story. Not too fond of that design, but the shots are absolutely fantastic – having them stepping in the sun, their shadows in front of the illuminated landscape, that’s a lovely way to convey menace. Same about their encounter with our two heroes – there’s this great bit where one goes down a flight of stairs, completely blocking the shot, and the source of light within the shot. Love the focus on the whip, too. I mean, it’s basic symbolism, but having humans herded by whip-wearing robots, that’s potent imagery.

SCRIBBLES: The Robomen are a lovely little device. They keep the monster threat going for the early portion of the story and manage to make the wait for the first cliffhanger more impactful. And then we get it, gloriously, slowly, and it is an utter, utter classic. It’s lovely, the gorgeous pop imagery of the Dalek rising up out of the water slowly, eerily. You can see why later stories make them fly, they just look right rising elegantly up.

TIBERE: Oh, absolutely. I mean, Classic Who gets a lot of flack for the famous “ah ah, the monster that’s in the title actually is in the story!” cliffhangers, and rightly so, but this one is actually done right. There’s an actual build-up to it, a sense of dread. The fact you know that this specific penny is about to drop actually helps the suspense for once. You know, classic Hitchcock stuff, the bomb under the table.

SCRIBBLES: Plus, this serial doesn’t have the monster in the title, since the title of part 1 is “World’s End.” But I doubt anyone was surprised, the Daleks were pop icons and my understanding is that their return was heavily hyped. Really, though, best of all is that we get a focus on Ian and the Doctor’s response to the reveal. They go from having an escape plan from the Robomen to realizing just how doomed they are in a really wonderful upping of stakes.



TIBERE: You know what’s never good, though? Dalek voices. God they’re grating.

SCRIBBLES: It doesn’t help that the Robomen just sound kinda drunk, either.

TIBERE: Oh god, you’re right. Drunk, though? Not really sure. More like stoned on weed. Remind me of a guy I know when he’s had a bit too much to smoke. “Resistance is useless”, say the Daleks – I see where Star Trek found its Borg inspiration, uh.

SCRIBBLES: I must say, I do like the Robomen concept. They’re basically the Cybermen done early, in a way. The Cybermen and Daleks have in many ways always been similar concepts, though obviously different, about different ways humanity can be stripped away to monstrosity through a need to survive. And so introducing the human technological conversion concept here is kind of awesome. It’d be total fanwank, but I would love if ever the Daleks and Cybermen get a rematch to do something with juxtaposition with the Robomen.

TIBERE: “The Battle of Canary Wharf II: Wharf Harder”. I mean, if Torchwood One’s gonna meet the War Machines, why the hell not … I wouldn’t say the Resistance leaders are especially well-written so far, but I do appreciate their scenes – there’s a nice parallel with “The Daleks”, the indigenous people fighting the Daleks, except here there’s an actual fight, not just two tribes struggling to survive. It’s a nice evolution of the show’s ethos. From survival to resistance. The moral core has built up with time.

SCRIBBLES: Oh, god, the amazingly ridiculous Dalek chronology explanation. The discs on their backs so they can move without static electricity, that we’ll never see again, are a kinda sweet touch to try to work around the past limitations. But the explanation itself, well, you can see the strain pretty easily. “My dear boy, what in Skaro was a million years ahead of us in the future. What we’re seeing now is about the middle history of the Daleks.” It raises a lot of obvious questions and the serials don’t really cohere together, but it’s hard to care too much, the pop power of the Daleks is clearly greater than that.

TIBERE: It works well here. It’s the kind of continuity explanation that’ll become a really big flaw with time, later down the line. But there, with a still relatively simple chronology, it does the job well. Oh, god, imagine that at that point Who still had like, an understandable, mostly linear canon? That’s like the strangest thing I ever thought about. What the hell?

SCRIBBLES: I suppose it’s inevitable. The second season, it’s basically the sequel to the original. We’re returning to locations and enemies and themes. Back to London. Back to the Daleks. We’re getting complications and payoff. It’s the natural course for a show, and the bungled chronology offers stronger futures for the show.

TIBERE: Powerful imagery there – only in the dialogue, but grim, grippling stuff: the tales of Robomen committing suicide once their programming broke down not only puts some of the images of the first episode in additional context, but it’s just … Wrong. In the best way possible. There’s a lot of power to the Daleks here. Their quest for survival has them not only destroying their humanity, but also corrupting other people’s. Logical endpoint for an expansion of the concept, really. But there’s a constant: the scenes of the Daleks talking to each other fucking suck. They did then, they do now, they always will.

SCRIBBLES: You’ve been very subtle about your feelings on that, haven’t you?

TIBERE: I’m the subtlest and most delicate man on Earth. Not fond of the dialogue casually implying that the Daleks wiped out Africa and South America. Like, Jesus, Europeano-centric and white much, Who?

SCRIBBLES: It’s not the last time the trick is used, though. Last of the Time Lordsdoes much the same, though at least it’s built around a woman of color as the revolutionary figure. That helps.

TIBERE: I mean, yes, but it doesn’t specifically delineate areas of genocide, does it?

SCRIBBLES: Yeah. It’s understandable as a technique for a British show to rely on, and I suppose geographically, Europe is just a pretty small island, hardly the first concern compared to massive continents, but it does rankle, I can understand that. The direction here is really good, though, lots of motion, lots of cameras changing distance, with dissolves and intercut footage and everything.

TIBERE: Anyway, yes, the direction is quite good. Love the use of voice-over on some shots, too. Really helps the ambiance building. Love the way they insist on radiophonic communication too. The Resistance catches their transmissions, their power passes through their voices. It’s very clearly a riff on World War II – both the London Blitz, with the ruins of the city, but also the French Resistance, I think, with the emphasis on a small group of fighters and on radio messages. And on a symbolic victory that could change the course of the war, of course. But yeah, the ragtag bunch of people democratically exchanging without much of a hierarchical structure does seem to echo the very Marxist ethos a lot of the Resistance had (huge loads of them were communists). Or maybe I’m just reading way too much into this – but eh, Nation did use the Daleks as a metaphor for World War II, so …

SCRIBBLES: Certainly. There’s a very World War II ethos to this serial, isn’t there? It’s pretty impossible to read these desolate London landscapes without thinking of the Blitz not too long before, for example. It’s a very potent history that is being extrapolated into science fiction here, using personal experiences and trauma in an exorcism with bug eyed pop icons from space.

TIBERE: Those scenes of the Doctor and Ian planning an escape aren’t my favourite, though. I don’t know, feel a bit too much Who by the numbers – the focus on science as a solution, and the fact it clearly echoes the prison escape scene from “The Daleks” … It’s not bad, but it feels a bit perfunctory. I do enjoy the subversion of the Daleks expecting them to do that and waiting for them right at the exit, though. Good stuff.

SCRIBBLES: There’s definitely a blockbuster ethos to this, isn’t there? So many Dalek props, such large locations, so many action sequences. You can tell this is a story they spared no expense on.

TIBERE: Yes, but I think they manage to pull it off quite well, without losing the typical Who stuff. It doesn’t feel like the show trying its hand at something it’s just not capable of doing – like “Earthshock” will be a lot of years later -. Much like “Planet of Giants”, it has a lot of spectacle, but it holds together well.

SCRIBBLES: Absolutely. It’s leaning into a different genre, but on its own terms and its own iconography. These are recognizably Daleks. This is recognizably Doctor Who’s idea of the world. Ian, Barbara, Susan, and the Doctor make their distinct presences felt in a way that’s grounding and powerful. It’s a blockbuster and a break from the norm, but one the show invests in as an expansion of everything it has established about itself.



TIBERE: Urgh, that sound design. Those noises are a little too good at being annoying and disturbing.

SCRIBBLES: If there’s one unfortunate aspect about this very good action bit, these resistance individuals are pretty indistinct. This woman, Jenny, I don’t feel any connection to her. If they didn’t keep repeating her name, I wouldn’t know she exists. The best action scenes make you feel for every individual involved, which you don’t quite get here. But seeing Ian and Barbara reunite for a moment, right as she’s about to lob a bomb…that’s a good beat. There’s a distinct difference between action here with the best characters and action here with empty ones.

TIBERE: Yeah – as much as I like the community aspect of the rebels (wonder if Moffat took some inspiration from it when he wrote the child gang in “The Empty Child”), it does come at the cost of having strong, distinctive characters. I don’t know any of their names, nor care about what happens to them. They’re here to move the plot forwards and get killed – which is a shame, because they do bring something at an aesthetic and thematic level. But they really only work as a group.

SCRIBBLES: The direction does a good job selling it, though. God, look how empty this resistance base is now. That’s a really impactful visual contrast.

TIBERE: “Empty chairs and empty tables …” Well, it’s still the French Resistance, isn’t it?

SCRIBBLES: It’s a small note, but it’s nice to have a disabled character here in the resistance, particularly given how Nation later uses disability as a core trait of Davros’ evil. I wonder if the idea is less in disability as evil or good, but as a particular image associated with war for him, where people on all sides are permanently physically impacted? It’d certainly make Davros less awkward to watch. Because the core idea of Davros, really, is what happens to a person who survives war all their life and comes to value survival over all things, isn’t it?

TIBERE: I’d argue that idea is something that has retroactively been built from the bricks of “Genesis”, but isn’t in the serial itself all that much. God, the day where we cover that one is gonna be a fun one, isn’t it? So much bitchiness in store.

SCRIBBLES: For now, Nation is doing a pretty damn solid job of crafting an economical war survival story, though. God, the direction rises to the challenge well. The shot of Susan and David hiding in the foreground while a Dalek goes by, for example, utterly magnificent. And the set design, god, I love it. That curious “vetoed” sticker in the background, for example, helps craft such a strange, intriguing bit of worldbuilding.

TIBERE: Same for the sound design. The screams of the Dalek victims are really well-used. Fantastic synecdoche. It’s much better to let your imagination do the work. Extermination scene on extermination scene get old really fast.

SCRIBBLES: The Dalek voices really work well there, too. “Stop! Stop! Stop!” It’s a really great moment of offscreen horror, one of the strongest scary Dalek moments yet. And genuinely, I have to admit, Susan and David are getting good material together. He’s definitely the strongest supporting character here as a result of these interactions. And you know what? He’s pretty good-looking. Nice hair, cute nose. Good taste, Susan.

TIBERE: It is a really good scene. They have good chemistry, and it makes sense that Susan would be intrigued by the possibility of having an identity all of her own, a sense of belonging, especially with the way some of the previous stories have established just how much influence the Doctor has on her. The fact that she immediately thinks about leaving the planet, while David feels scandalized at the very prospect, is really nice. And yup, he’s pretty good looking. I wouldn’t mind. Thinking of, there’s some symbolism in the name, no? David versus Goliath.

SCRIBBLES: I think season 2 in general so far has been thematically united by the idea that, eventually, the travels have to stop. It’s not just Susan. That tension has changed with Ian and Barbara, where they’ve come to love their place in these adventures while getting tempted with the closest brushes to home yet. I love what David has to say on the matter: “One day you will. There will come a time when you’re forced to stop travelling, and you’ll arrive somewhere.” Doctor Who in general is the greatest adventure there is, but sooner or later, the adventure ends and you have to find a home. For all it is easy to grumble about the trope of marrying companions off, a lot is done right here in this first use of it.

TIBERE: There’s a powerful sense of symbolism, yeah. Of reality catching-up with our heroes. “Planet of Giants” had them powerless, at the mercy of very real and concrete forces that suddenly become overwhelming; and this of course has the superposition of the Daleks with the familiar world of London.

SCRIBBLES: I love seeing the Daleks on the bridge in this action sequence, facing two women and a disabled man. It’s not as good diversity as modern television tends to rely on, because this show still hasn’t acknowledged people of color exist as a general whole, but it still evokes the idea of diverse dystopia, which is quite special, all alongside some of the most striking use of exterior location shots yet.

TIBERE: Those wide shots still are fantastic. Lots of travellings, of shots focusing on the wheels of the wheelchair – they do a fantastic job of selling the speed and intensity of the scene, and the scale of the proceedings. Special kudos to that one shot where the Daleks are seen from below, with some statues towering in the background – just a fantastic superposition of disparate elements. Oh, and random observation – Dalekanium is a name the humans come up with, isn’t it? So then, why do later stories assume that’s what it’s called? I mean, it’s a bit of a stupid name, but it works in that context. Why take it out of that context?

SCRIBBLES: I don’t know, why do the Silurians call themselves Silurians? Why do the Time Lords call their ships TARDISes? Sometimes the iconic prowess of a term transcends initial context.

TIBERE: But Dalekanium isn’t an iconic name. It’s just dumb.

SCRIBBLES: Daleks are both dumb and iconic, I’d say. That’s part of the charm. On a different note, Jenny is starting to become a pretty good character now that she’s getting some dialogue. I like her being a bitter, cynical, selfish survivor.

TIBERE: “I’m not running, I’m surviving.” That’s kind of the whole tension of these first series in one sentence, isn’t it? The two contrasting extremities that make the life of the TARDIS crew.

SCRIBBLES: I have enjoyed Susan and the Doctor’s arguments about David. From a modern perspective, it’s a shame her personal crisis comes from being defined by men, but they mark firm and interesting positions in the drama and world, and I like the point of her wanting to listen to someone who actually knows this world and its own stakes. It makes sense, and even nearly sells why she’d want to stay in such a hellhole with him. It’s a world he understands, and she likes him. The cliffhanger, well, it doesn’t make much of an impact, just a ticking bomb. But there’s good stuff on the way there.



TIBERE: I do love the sound design on that bomb, though. The ticks are really oppressive.

SCRIBBLES: I love the weird touch of the incomprehensible symbols on it. Why would Daleks even have writing, really? They don’t have hands to write with. But it makes for some nice clunky space-y design. And I like the bomb shaking a bunch as they try to defuse it, too, that’s a nice touch for tension.

TIBERE: Susan panicking over David’s attempts at disarming it is pretty great too. Oh, and they hug afterwards. That’s actually quite sweet. Honestly, for all that Susan’s ending gets a bad rep, I do buy their chemistry and attraction. Maybe not enough to justify a flash wedding, but you know, there’s definitely something.

SCRIBBLES: There’s something right about Susan falling for a guy who is ruthlessly dedicated to the physical world and to material fights, after a life of no connection to that, head always on high concepts and in the stars.

TIBERE: That female Resistance agent is working on a machine – there’s really something fascinating about the sound design in this, isn’t it? It’s all insistence on the ticking, on mechanical, repeated sounds that are allowed to fill the frame – not many moments of silence. It builds a soundscape that complements the Daleks perfectly – ruthlessly mechanical and cold.

SCRIBBLES: I regret complaining about not being able to identify that Resistance woman, Jenny, earlier. She’s really come into her own marvelously, getting to do all sorts of cool Resistance hero bits. A lot of ruthless, war-inspired grit to her, she’s quite wonderful. Really, Nation does a good job shaping characters that feel defined by this world. And the whole production rises to it. There’s empty spaces and intense attention to sound in a really striking way.

TIBERE: Yeah, there’s definitely a theme there. We get more mechanical sounds as slave workers carry a train under Dalek supervision. And then a drill! Damn. They’re hammering that one home. When it comes to symbolism, too, I’m noticing that the Robomen helmets weirdly look like the ones police assault squads might wear – don’t know if that kind of gear was the same in 1964, but it’s quite an amusing coincidence when you look at the serial with a modern eye. Especially considering the almost communist subtext of some of the earlier Resistance scenes …

SCRIBBLES: I quite like the Robomen’s use here in general. I suppose, thematically, they’re like collaborators, aren’t they? Brings to mind Nazi occupation of France or other nations, with some working with the regime to keep down fellow citizens, but I like your police assault squad comparison, too. Robotization is sort of like conversion to ideology, in a way.

TIBERE: “There’s no point in throwing your life away to prove a principle!” You’re right, Jenny does mature in a pretty good character. She’s really useful to show just how far our leads have come – I mean, Barbara was the moral compass of the show as far as “The Daleks”, but still, to have her actions framed as “a romantic ideal of Resistance”, I quote the episode verbatim, feels very significant. And wonderfully political, I might add – I am very much digging this.

SCRIBBLES: It’s also sort of a class dynamic, isn’t it? Resistance and marxism and all those rebellious ideals are far more romantic and idealistic for those living above a situation, dropping in through something like the TARDIS (which has always been a bit of a privilege), against the people who live the same ideals because they have to.

TIBERE: Well yes, there is something of that in there. I think it’s a bit muddled, though – like, Barbara, while she clearly enjoys a number of privilege, isn’t really an aristocrat either. I’m not an expert on teacher’s conditions in the 60s, but I don’t imagine it as the most glowing and prestigious job in the world (sad, ‘cause it should be). I expect the point might have been clearer if made with either the Doctor or Susan. Although, the whole Time Lord concept and the related class dynamics weren’t really around back then. Still, the Doctor does get paralleled with figures of authority and royalty quite a lot – see his scenes with the Khan in “Marco Polo”.

SCRIBBLES: Oh, pay attention, this is the best bit. Barbara and Jenny get in a van and…

(… smashes a couple Daleks)

TIBERE: Oh god, I’m in love. I lay my sword at thy feet, Barbara my queen, and swear thee my undying loyalty and affection.

SCRIBBLES: How lovely is it to get the coolest action sequence yet, involving a van and a squad of Daleks, given to the two main women combatants in this? Like, Barbara’s grin as she mows them down is just wonderful. You’re not alone in quite enjoying that, Barbara. You’re not alone.

TIBERE: Barbara Wright, fifteenth level monk, not here for your bullshit. You go girl. Oh, and some more David/Susan scenes. They actually bother to seed Susan’s fate there, with talk about rebuilding the planet, and David inviting her to “stay if [she] wants to”.

SCRIBBLES: I suppose it’s perfect for her as well as a bit iffy. I mean, she’s never had any roots anywhere, so creating a place alongside a whole world of people whose roots were stripped away by a traumatic war, you can see the appeal for her there.

TIBERE: I mean, I think the concept is really good. The execution … Well, I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. More interesting politics – Ian talks to a black market smuggler who can get him back to London, and said guy goes all “oh, please tell me you’re not one of these brothers of all mankind people”. Workers of the world, unite and kick Dalek ass.

SCRIBBLES: I love the retort he gets. “I’m going to London.” “Why die there?” Really hits at the world of cynicism excellently there. And here’s some Nazi parallels. “The Black Dalek, he’s the commandant of the camp.” Not subtle, but given how deeply this story is draped in World War II imagery, it is somewhat fitting.

TIBERE: The soundtrack does some weird things there. I don’t know what these sort of weird synthesized grunts are, but I’m not sure I’m into it. And … Hello, Slyther.

SCRIBBLES: That’s not the Slyther, not yet. And I think it’s more effective because of that.

TIBERE: Oh? Well. Sorry. Anyway. It’s not the best effect. I mean, it’s decent enough, certainly better than the marsh octopus from the previous Dalek serial, but I’m not sure the direction is at its best here – the prop and the actors feel too clearly separated, the action’s a bit artificial. I mean, got nothing against stock footage, but dammit, it’s just so damn blatant here. We’re not like, Bruno Mattei level (google that if you want a good laugh one of these days), but still, it does suck a bit considering how good the action and direction have been all serial long.

SCRIBBLES: I rather liked Susan hanging over the escaped alligator. Good use of stock footage there, and I love the shot of the gun poking through the manhole, all in black. Strong direction in that moment in my book, but the disconnect of using the stock footage does obviously have its limitations.

TIBERE: Oh, god, yeah, the Slyther looks … Not good. Very much not good. Doesn’t make for the greatest of cliffhangers, too.

SCRIBBLES: At least we’ve got our requisite bug-eyed monster for the serial out of the way. Dalek serials love having them. But this isn’t great, give me a Varga plant any day.



TIBERE: Don’t these look a bit like the Fendhaleen from that Tom Baker serial? What’s up with Who and monsters that look like a giant bowl of spaghetti Cthulhu has just used for masturbation purposes? Oh, and great, more Daleks talking. I loooooove Daleks talking. Did I mention I loooooove Daleks talking? I’m sure I mentioned I looooove Daleks talking.

SCRIBBLES: Quite striking to see Ian in combat against what’s so blatantly human, while weilding a gun. Even the Doctor gets in on it!

TIBERE: Oh god, did the Doctor just wack that Roboman on the head with his walking stick?! That is fucking amazing. Critical hit, natural 20, there. I love the way he plays it too. It’s like, almost an abusive grandparent beating up a misbehaving child, with a look of disapproval on his face.

SCRIBBLES: Genuinely brutal, even if he does continue to say he never takes a life. The final shot on the crumpled up roboman tells a more complicated story.

TIBERE: One’s relationship with violence is genuinely fascinating. He’s a problematic, complicated character, and the serials address that much more that you might have expected from the era.

SCRIBBLES: I like how much they flesh out how people survive here. Old women making clothes for slave workers because they’re too weak to work in the mines, but mostly going hungry. That’s a lovely little moment I don’t feel like the show always would consider worthwhile in later pacing, but it elevates a lot to have this slow moment juxtaposed nicely in the action.

TIBERE: And ooooh, a nice return of the mechanical theme in the sound design, with the elevator noises you hear as Ian goes down the mine shaft. Especially considering it comes when Ian speaks about his ears popping – nice way to make you feel the physical effects of the scenes. Really, the simple fact of setting the serial in a mine is as political as you can get – is there a better symbol of worker oppression and alienation? From Germinal to the strikes, there’s a rich symbolical history there.

SCRIBBLES: And crashing the Dalek into it, quite literally in that shot, is a great way of marrying distinctly Doctor Who images to it. Having the old women turn them over for sugar and oranges is a great beat, it sells a sense of desperation that distinctly reminds me of wartime rationing. It’s like Edmond with the Turkish Delight! Not a totally original beat, but one that suits the iconography of this serial very well. Oh, hey, there’s a good fucked up moment. The resistance agent Ian is with, Larry, realizes the roboman they encounter was his brother. That’s a horror moment they took so many years to bother with with the Cybermen, but here we get it right up front. And so Larry dies taking out his brother. Not the best realized, very overacted, but it’s brilliant all the same.

TIBERE: I don’t know, I really quite liked the execution. With the sound design getting all saturated, there’s something really quite baroque, quite grand guignol about the proceedings, and it’s quite horrific.


TIBERE: Well damn, that is … Frankly sexual, for Who, isn’t it? Like … She literally gets on top of him. And kisses! Oh. Noice. Go Susan. I approve of your taste in men, girl.

SCRIBBLES: It definitely is. I like the subtle gag about Susan being a very good cook, too, after earlier she just said “I eat.”

TIBERE: Who cooks better than the one who eats, really? Love the low-key motive of food in that serial, too. We go from people betraying each other for food to a scene of a community bonding around food someone has cooked. And really, food has always been really central in politics. The French Revolution has had roots in the price of bread – and in Marie Antoinette’s famous “let them eat cake!” for instance. And from there, to, well, that for instance –

SCRIBBLES: Really, these scenes in general betray a real maturity for writing Susan that I wish dominated the era more. Nation previously gave her some great moments, that one cliffhanger from the Dalek serial is etched into my mind. Now he’s keeping up some strong and very imagery-defined storytelling with her, breaking boundaries of what we expect of Who. And that includes getting sexual.

TIBERE: I recall reading some of Phil Sandifer’s writings on the subject – if I’m not wrong, he associates the fact Susan is finally exploring her sexuality and desires with the fact the show feels forced to cast her out. Paralleling it with the Susan from “The Chronicles of Narnia”.

SCRIBBLES: I do love those critical essays, but I’m also not entirely sure if that fully encompasses everything going on here. Her arc has always been a fairly ticking clock of her maturity, and she’s far less sexualized and imperiled than my memory served, even if she definitely is a fair bit. This all is a new step for her, but it doesn’t feel like an aberration from the show or her character, more the logical next step, and one that from a character perspective fits her need to break away.

TIBERE: A consistent feature of Sandifer’s critical work is that’s it’s a compelling global take that fails to consider some of the storytelling complexities of individual stories. I think things are more complicated, and not as damning, that he paints them to be. Not sure this is the place for a detailed character study, but I think that the way the show has portrayed Susan’s impulses and desires (albeit non-sexual ones) throughout its runs does pave its way for this decision; and so does her affirming her agency in front of other men – with her plot in “The Aztecs” and her friendship with Ping-Cho in “Marco Polo”.

SCRIBBLES: Speaking of thematic digging, I feel like there has to be something alchemical about the Daleks’ absolutely ridiculous, scientifically nonsense plan here. There was the earlier conversation about them daring to attempt to control natural forces that was quite note-worthy, and it’s worth noting the Daleks are themselves creatures of scientific destruction, a product of artificial nuclear radiation wreaking havoc on natural environments. They’re all about trying to redefine the environment to match their own evolution, from nuking the hell out of their world to make a survivable atmosphere to changing our world into their spaceship. I wonder where that angle went in future Dalek stories? Because here, they’re very environmental, an intersection of environmental devastation and Darwinist thought.

TIBERE: I mean, it has of course the symbolical of the planet itself being alienated, becoming nothing but a product, a tool for a singular purpose. It’s strangely ecological, when you think about it – especially with the mine depicted as one of their main places of activity …

SCRIBBLES: The mine seems to be using a lot of coal mine imagery, as well. Which is interesting, given when I google “Bedforshire” and “coal mine,” one of the first things that comes up is a massive disaster in a Bedford mine in 1886, described as a “fiery pit” that lead to the deaths of nearly forty people. Huh. That seems like relevant imagery.



TIBERE: Gotta love that title. Simple and impactful. And oooh, more delightful imagery – the Robomen pulling on a rope while going all “oh!”. I mean, they could stay silent – the fact they don’t make me think it’s something of a deliberate parallel to the work people might have done on shipyards, or on the ships themselves. And damn, these shots of Ian falling into the depths of the Dalek base, through a network of tubes, are fantastic. Very Chaplin, “Modern Times”.

SCRIBBLES: You can see why Nicholas Briggs nicked this imagery wholesale for the climax of To the Death.” We both have our issues with that audio, but it’s clear that this is imagery worth borrowing.

TIBERE: I was having such a nice evening, why did you bring up that … thing … again? In a funnier note, the Daleks yelling in a repeated loop “TESTING ORAL CONTROL” is absolutely hilarious. Oh god, the jokes. So many jokes. Can’t pick one. Help me with this, Scribby, please.

SCRIBBLES: Unfortunately, a “red Indian” line. But I do like Barbara just listing off historical rebellions as all happening at once, it’s a hilarious use of her character’s own world to give her a moment of bravery. Reminds me a bit of Clara facing the half-faced Man in interrogation. Barbara may have had a brief moment of uncomfortable period racism there, but damn, what a great scene on the whole.

TIBERE: It’s wonderful, though. It’s the world of the show, this world of fragmented, fantastic history, coming to the aid of the protagonists.

SCRIBBLES: I didn’t previously fall in love with this serial, but, uh, might be willing to call it the best Dalek serial of the classic years, or at least of the 60s, here and now.

TIBERE: I might go as far as “best TV Dalek story, period”, honestly. I don’t know, New Who has had some really good ones, but the political/survival-driven angle this serial takes really, really does it for me. Still doesn’t beat “The Lights of Skaro”, though. Because James Goss is god and he has the greatest beard.

SCRIBBLES: Ahem. This is a pretty delightful climax. Using the Robomen as leaders of the revolution. “The people fighting back at last,” did the Doctor just say? Not subtle, but glorious. A pop revolution of evil icons being chucked off clips and whacked with rocks.

TIBERE: You’re not even commenting on Barbara’s wonderful Dalek impression? It’s perfect camp and I love it. Speaking of revolution, love the way they’re framing that – lot of budget, and you can see it. Vast crowds, in wide exterior shots, really sell you on the scope of the events.

SCRIBBLES: Also delightful, in a smaller moment: Ian and Barbara finding each other again, in a great big bug. Lovely.

(Big, fiery explosion of doom)

TIBERE: See, now, that is some much better use of stock footage than the alligator. The cuts between it and the reaction shots are a lot more organic too. Dammit, Hartnell is on fire in this – his face full of wonder as the bells ring on London once more, saying “it’s just the beginning … it’s just the beginning” is probably the single best moment of acting he has gotten since “Edge of Destruction” and that universe monologue.

SCRIBBLES: “Yes, you little monkey.” And commenting on how she’s gotten more disorganized since Coal Hill. It’s genuinely cute, cuter than the relationship between the Doctor and Susan ever has been. Up until he says she needs “taking in hand,” anyway, which is just, eugh, sexist. But there’s a lot working here.

TIBERE: God, that final scene they get together is really emotional, though. I mean, it’s definitely questionable, but Carole Ann Ford and Bill Hartnell do sell it. Love the dialogue implying that David is going to become a farmer afterwards, too – you still get that focus on nature vs. industrialization.

SCRIBBLES: David asking to marry her is an odd but interesting beat. I mean, that’s something to do after wars, try to leap into a certain new future. And I like that the script makes explicit why Susan would want to stay.

TIBERE: The fact that Susan and David actually talk about their mutual love does make things better, I think. I mean, there’s still something iffy with having both her choices defined by what man she’s going to follow – it’s not as progressive as the Twelve/Clara/Danny dynamic. But it does make the Doctor a bit less awful here – he does prevent her from making an impossible choice that’ll cause her pain no matter what. He does it in a wrong, misguided way that deprives her of her agency, yes, but it’s in a way that’s still understandable, and even kind of beautiful. I mean, that speech didn’t go down in history as one of the greatest moments of all Who for nothing – those are poetic and powerful words.

SCRIBBLES: But better than that is that we cut back to Susan, not knowing what to do with herself, while David comes to try to help in the background.

TIBERE: It’s her reaction that’s at the center of the frame – not the Doctor’s angst. It’s a very forward-looking, and oddly optimistic beat. I do absolutely see the problems with that scene, and that ending for Susan, but I think you can make a redemptive reading of it, and yeah, it does largely work for me. If nothing else, it makes emotional sense. And damn, that cut from the lost piece of jewelry that stood where the TARDIS once was to the stars above is really incredibly powerful. Love it.

SCRIBBLES: It’s a striking final shot, and one that really nails the tone of the story and feels like the right emotional place to end. It’s uncertain and lost and bleak, but just a little bit beautiful.



TIBERE: That was a really pleasant surprise. Wasn’t expecting to like it all that much, but as it stands, it’s a strong contender for my favourite serial so far.

SCRIBBLES: It’s just a classic, isn’t it? In every sense of the world. It’s the show knowing it has reached its peak in iconic power and just runs for it, pumping out ideas, imagery, themes, and character beats that tie together so well, all informed by recent historical experience that, rather than feeling a bit cheap the way the Dalek-Nazi connection can do, informs a story about how a world responds to war. It’s lovely.

TIBERE: I’m really admirative about the way it can both go all-out, big and broad on the blockbuster front, and still keep a pretty damn sharp focus on themes and imagery. There’s a level of work that went into this that’s just impressive, from the sound design to the set to the directions – it’s impeccably polished while still feeling organic. It’s not without flaws, and I do definitely think it ends better than it starts – there’s a bit of a lull around episodes 2 and 3 -, but overall, it’s a splendid story. And I think it’s quite an important one, too – it feels like a big shift in tone for the show, to engage that much with political narratives. I mean, it doesn’t come from nowhere – “Planet of Giants” definitely had a political angle, and of course a lot of the plotting in season 1 was directly tied to internal power struggles, but you do feel like something has changed. There’s a shift from the purely educational to the action-driven. We travelled through history and learnt a bunch of stuff, and now we’re going to put it to good use to directly change and impact our world. It’s a powerful message, and really, a powerful story.

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