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.
Before watching 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth", which incidentally I was seeing for the first time, I can't remember the last time I actually sat down and watched a Hartnell story which didn't seem like something of an ordeal - admittedly the only ones I'd seen recently are 'An Unearthly Child', 'The Gunfighters' and 'The Tenth Planet', but I can't really remember thoroughly enjoying any I saw in the mid-1990s, when I had most of the BBC video releases.
'The Dalek Invasion of Earth', therefore, gave me something of a surprise by being largely gripping throughout. I'm not sure how well it would stand up to repeat viewings - while I enjoyed it at the time, splitting the cast up into three basic units [The Doctor, Susan and David Campbell; Barbara and Jenny; Ian] is textbook Terry Nation padding. First time round you don't know which plot threads are going to be the interesting ones, and which are there to give Jacqueline Hill something to do, seeing as Barbara isn't as smart as the Doctor, as strong as Ian or as good at getting into trouble as Susan. There are various faults throughout the story. The Robo-Men really give the impression that the actors are moving carefully to stop their headpieces falling off. The first episode cliffhanger is woefully undramatic - I don't mean its' shock value is rendered null and void by the picture of a Dalek on the front of the box, or that it's illogical [which it is - unless the Daleks routinely patrol the bottom of the Thames in case they need to rumble slowly out to give someone a bit of a surprise] - it's just a really badly directed and edited sequence, with the Dalek seen wobbling slowly out of the river while Ian and The Doctor argue with the Robo-Men, before a cut to a side-on shot of the Dalek which exposes just how much trouble it's having getting out to the Thames. While the Amicus film adaptation ['Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150A.D.'] is by far the weaker version [aside from a larger budget meaning more impressive Robo-Men and Dalek saucers], it does nail this sequence. It's a surprising failure as for the whole the direction ranges from solid to exemplary. The Slyther is not only as unconvincing as pretty much any shaky Who monster you'd like to shake an unrealistic rubber tentacle at, but also unnecessary and detrimental to the Daleks - why do they need to have a… whatever guarding their prison camp? Why not use, I dunno, a Dalek? Also, the actual ending's pretty bad - the Doctor and Barbara order the Robo-Men to turn on the Daleks, and that's that. The story turns in less time than it took me to write that sentence. It's a big shame as it utterly undermines the huge amount of background work done across the story, and ends up making the Daleks look a bit rubbish.
There are a few things often criticised that don't bother me. That the story shows the Daleks' dominance of the planet is only shown as covering Southern England is a pretty poor attack really, as Southern England is where the TARDIS lands, and we're following its' crew. Spending twenty minutes of screen-time on something utterly peripheral like the efforts of the Jamaican resistance would severely damage the story's pace. The story's general present-day feeling doesn't really bother me either - it's not like it tries constantly to convince us it's 2164, so this juxtaposition with the majority of the costumes or the unchanged London isn't thrown in the viewer's face… it's only really something that grates when you sit down afterwards and think about it, and thus as long as you don't decide to let it bother you the next time you watch, isn't a problem when viewing, only evaluating. That said, it's a bit of shame the production team didn't decide to set it in 1965 or something else near-future.
The regulars are on good form. Hartnell maintains credibility throughout, rarely terminally fluffing his lines or confusing everyone else in his scenes with his, erm, "ad-libbing". The Doctor's well-written, being principled without crossing over the line to pious, and Hartnell's performance gels with the grim tone when necessary. William Russell excels as Ian, who receives superlative writing, carrying his plot strand largely by himself, and being shown to be unflappable and resourceful. It's somehow fitting that he manages to keep his suit pretty much immaculate throughout. Jacqueline Hill has her moments as well - to be honest she does very well considering she's often paired with the dire WOMAN as Jenny, and while it's silly, I rather enjoy her attempt to confuse the Daleks with historical babble - it's a guilty pleasure for sure, but rather funny. Carole Ann Ford manages to suppress her stagey side most of the time. She occasionally lapses into melodrama, but otherwise convincingly portrays Susan's maturing persona, and her dilemma over whether to stay in the TARDIS, or settle with David.
The guest cast is excellent by and large. The likeable Peter Fraser brings life to David Campbell, while Alan Judd's portrayal of the driven Dortmunn is splendid - believable, dignified and deserving of begrudged respect, but never likeable or pitiable. Bernard Kay as the stoic Tyler is similarly convincing. The characters don't feel like they've just sprang into existence the second the TARDIS arrived, but give a genuine feel that they've spent their recent lives under the cosh of the Daleks. Only Anne Davies as Jenny really falls flat. Sometimes Jenny sometimes simply seems like a surly character, but the majority of the time it seems like the actress would really rather be somewhere else.
The location filming is exquisite. Sure, the odd car can be glimpsed, but otherwise it's jarring to see a dead London being patrolled by Daleks - the impact would probably have been lost if any real attempt had been made on the show's budget to create a future London. The scenes of Barbara, Dortmunn and Jenny fleeing through London are marvellous, and I really like the Dalek lettering that's been added to various monuments and signs. The abysmal Slyther, the saucer model shots and Robo-Men aside, production values are pretty solid - the sets look rather good, especially considering the number used.
As the other stars, the Daleks come across well. The redesign isn't as bad as it's often made out to be - the extended "bumper" around the bottom is unobtrusive, and the collector dishes are a nice touch of continuity, also serving to remove one weakness from their debut story. They're generally well-managed and shown to be difficult to kill, until the ending when they seemingly lose the ability to fire…
Overall, 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' is a pretty solid story. Viewed now, it's a nice change from stories where aliens attempt to invade Earth - here, the Daleks glean a large amount of credibility from the very fact that they've already conquered the planet. It's not quite an absolute classic, and certainly not a good introduction for newer fans, but it's an enjoyable romp.
‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ is a good example of shoddy execution ruining a lot of decent ideas. Its reputation among fans seems to be fairly good – it consistently appears in the Top 50 at the Doctor Who Dynamic Rankings site – but I have to wonder how many of its enthusiasts have actually seen it recently.
You don’t have to get very far into the story for an example – the prologue, with the Roboman’s breakdown/suicide, is obviously intended to set the tone, but what it really does is show us too much of this bleak future London before the TARDIS crew even arrive, thus ruining the shock later. In fact, the direction pretty much flattens every surprise – the IT IS FORBIDDEN TO DUMP BODIES sign and the Dalek emerging from the river are wonderful, sinister ideas; and they might have been really frightening, if only the production team had accented their horror in some way (with music, editing, anything). But instead these things are simply shown - nothing more, nothing less.
In fact, on paper ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ stands up fairly well. Reading the synopsis confirms that - Terry Nation’s story is filled with action, violence and horror. The idea of the Daleks ‘roughing up’ the Earth with meteors and plague before invading is convincing and compelling. But the flaccid direction results in tedium, and the acting doesn’t help much: the surviving rebels, while certainly downtrodden and cranky, hardly give the impression that they survived a holocaust on the scale of the one described.
Of course, even if the artistic approach had been different, the story would have still fallen apart in the final episode, its resolution being patently ridiculous – the Daleks are defeated because the Robomen turn on them? Huh? What’s so special about them? They don’t have superhuman strength; they aren’t impervious to Dalek weapons. In other words, if the Daleks can be destroyed by a few unarmed men tipping them over, how did they ever invade in the first place?
Moving on to specific aesthetic elements, Susan is as annoying as ever, if not more so. Not only does she immediately twist her ankle, but once she’s latched on to her new boyfriend, she spends the rest of the story simply tagging along and doing what he tells her. Susan is heavy-handedly shown to be falling in love with David Campbell throughout the entire story; I’ll admit it’s a relief to know she’s on her way out the door, but this distracting subplot is frankly tedious. And listening to Carole Ann Ford nasally shrieking “David!!!” isn’t much better than listening to her nasally shrieking “Grandfather!!!” One of the most rankling continuity issues for some fans (myself among them) is that we are asked to accept this insipid, whining, helpless creature as a Time Lord, and, unfortunately, this farewell episode hardly helps rid us of any negative impressions.
Well, on to the Daleks. They are disappointingly bland presences here; more or less generic sci-fi aliens. Their voices don’t seem to have much distortion in them, which always robs them of some of their awfulness, I think. Although I actually like the gloating, guttural delivery of the line “WE ARE THE MASTERS OF EARTH” – it’s as close as a Dalek ever gets to an obscene phone caller (in the old series anyway). And there is one great Dalek moment: it happens when Susan and David are hiding in the underground and hear (but don’t see) the merciless execution of a rebel. That horrible voice: “STOP – STOP – STOP – STOP – STOP” . . . Dalek repetition is often mocked by fans (and non-fans, for that matter), but I often feel that it captures their alien quality, their ‘character,’ as well as anything else about them. Daleks are hideously functional creatures – the travel machines translate their thoughts into the simplest language necessary, and that’s why they will repeat the same command five times in identical words. Their lack of imagination is one of the most truly frightening things about them, in my view.
As for the Doctor himself, well, let’s just say this is not one of William Hartnell’s better stories. His one-upping of the magnetized Dalek technology in his cell is good, but otherwise the character doesn’t come off too well here, instead seeming to display all the tics and stereotypes of which Hartnell’s detractors normally accuse him. He stutters, flubs, and seems generally half-hearted in his response to the Dalek threat; not only that, he inexplicably drops out of the story for an episode! Susan’s leaving scene almost redeems him, but overall the actor’s not having a good day here.
Of course not everything is bad about this story . . . but as the things that I like are generally reviled by fans, I’m almost afraid to list them. I actually find the shambling Robomen pretty disturbing – certainly scarier than the Daleks for most of the story. As for Ian and Barbara, they come off reasonably well – the conversations between Barbara and the war-hardened Jenny are particularly interesting (it’s almost too bad she didn’t come on as a companion after all). And then there’s the Slyther. I fail to see why this monster inspires such derision in fanboy circles. I find the thing rather convincing, actually (at least, in its second version) – maybe it was that I was watching a murky VHS copy, or maybe the contrast on my TV was screwed up. But from where I was sitting, the monster was just a dark shape with a vaguely reptilian hide – it was never shown clearly, or in its entirety, which helped it a lot, and the overdubbed alligator growl gave it a good impression of size and closeness.
Ultimately, this one is recommended for Hartnell or Dalek completists only.
'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' is notable for several reasons, the most obvious being the return of the Daleks themselves. If 'The Mutants' established them as a scientifically advanced, xenophobic, ruthless threat, then 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' takes them several steps further. In their first appearance we saw them perfectly adapted to their environment, and prepared to wipe out the Thals with a release of radiation in order that they might survive, without any care of the consequences to others. Here, they have progressed further and have overcome the limitations on their mobility, now not only able to leave their city, but able also to build spaceships and travel to other worlds, where they can move beyond the confines of their ships. Now able to move and exterminate anywhere, they seem utterly unstoppable. Had I seen the ending to episode one on its first broadcast, it would undoubtedly have had huge impact, as the Dalek glides out of the Thames (frankly, I don't care what it was doing in there); even seeing it for the time in the right story order, it still has impact, as the Daleks become the series first recurring threat, and it sends a shiver down the spine. Just as they were prepared to eradicate the Thals, here they are prepared to eradicate mankind in order to achieve their aims, a scenario given all the more power by the way in which they conquered Earth – stories of horrendous plagues wiping out most of the Earth's population are starkly horrific, and the Robomen only enhance the Daleks' monstrous influence. Whilst they are often criticized for being stupid looking, the Robomen are surprisingly effective in the context of the story, being in essence zombies – they horror is not in the idea of being robotized per se, but in the thought of being forced to fight friends and loved ones irreversibly transformed into brainless collaborators of the Daleks'. This is most effectively shown in the scene between Larry and his brother, as the traumatized rebel tries in vain to appeal to his brother's memories only to be killed by him even as he anguished kills him in turn. It is interesting that Tyler notes that the Daleks knew robotizing captives would "humiliate and degrade" surviving humans on Earth and serve to further break their spirit – it demonstrates an unpleasant understanding of other species on the Daleks' behalf, indicating that whilst they do not care about the consequences of their actions for others, they do understand them, making them seem even more callous. The often-citied Nazi allegory is clear and appropriate – the Fourth Reich had no redeeming features and neither do the Daleks. The new appearance of the Daleks (they now have an energy collection disc on their backs and enlarged bumpers) is not their best, making them look somehow more unwieldy than usual, but it serves as a reminder that they have managed to overcome the problem of movement beyond metal floors and are hugely advanced scientifically, a point further emphasized by their admittedly rather B-movie plan of removing the Earth's core and installing a motive system – this is an ambitious plan, and their confidence in their abilities to safely channel they energy released by the penetration explosion is further testament to the danger they represent. All this however pails in comparison with the main reason that they are so effective here – the location filming.
This is the first time that Doctor Who was filmed extensively on location, after the brief film inserts in 'The Reign of Terror'. This largely because, although it is set in the future, it is clearly filmed in London 1965, and as such we get the first example of the Yeti-on-a-toilet-in-Tooting-Beck principle – the Daleks were impressive gliding through their city on Skaro, but the sight of them gliding around Trafalgar square and other landmarks is truly unforgettable. It gives an air of realism that really lifts the action of out the studio. That said, the sets are also impressive, giving a convincing dingy feel that fits in well with the overall feel. This feel also helps to emphasize the sense of paranoia and fear throughout – if 'Planet of Giants' was too laid back, 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' more than makes up for it. From the initial discovery of the "It is Forbidden to Dump Bodies in the River" poster to the climax as the resistance and the TARDIS crew race against time to prevent the culmination of the Daleks' plans, the story is charged with danger, as resistance members are routinely killed off, and danger threatens from all sides, be it from Daleks, Robomen, alligators, human traitors or the Slyther. Throughout the story, the TARDIS crew are confronted with constant threats, all of which they must struggle harder than ever before to overcome.
The regulars all fare well here – Ian fulfills his usual action man role, single-handedly saving the Earth by blocking the Daleks' bomb-shaft, and Russell gives it his all throughout. Even when facing the ridiculous looking Slyther, he acts with utter conviction. Barbara is also hugely resourceful, helping Jenny to escape London in a van and running a Dalek blockade in the process, and later brazenly and bravely lying to the Daleks in an unsuccessful attempt to gain control of the Robomen. Hartnell is also on top of his game here, as the Doctor ferociously pits himself against the Daleks and taking a key role in their defeat, by destroying their (still-external) power source at the mine. Interestingly, in episode two when he is seized and taken to be robotized, he seems genuinely frightened, something which has not been so clearly seen since he was held prisoner in the last two episodes of 'The Mutants' – this adds to the menace of the Daleks, since even the Doctor is clearly afraid of them and doesn't underestimate their threat. After using his brain to escape from the cell, he basically loses control of the situation and seems truly vulnerable, and that has rarely happened thus far during the series. And then there is Susan.
I've never been a fan of Susan, but watching the series in order has made me change my mind a bit. She is still annoying and prone to hysteria, but she's a lot braver than I remembered. Here she gets a fine send-off, showing increasing independence from the Doctor as she joins David to fight the Daleks. Her desire to belong somewhere and her obvious attraction to David build nicely and convincingly towards the climax, where she tearfully prepares to leave in the TARDIS. I've seen the episode several times before, but never in the context of the entire series – the moment when the Doctor locks her out of the TARDIS is shocking, and the subsequent speech he gives over the TARDIS loudspeaker is extremely moving. I was surprisingly moved as the TARDIS dematerialized and Susan dropped her key in the dirt. However much she has occasionally irritated me, she's still been a member of the TARDIS crew since the beginning, and her departure makes a notable impact.
Another part of the success of 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' is in the characterisation, especially of the resistance members who all give an impression of people desperately struggling to survive. The young and passionate David, the cynical and world-weary Tyler, and the bitter but idealistic Dortman are all well played, as are Larry and even the older woman in the cottage who gives Barbara and Jenny away to the Daleks. The only weak links are the badly acted and wooden Jenny, and also Ashton the latter of who gets several cringe-worthy lines. Nevertheless, they still fail to detract from the whole.
'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' is not perfect. Despite occasional references to other countries and continents, it still feels like The Dalek Invasion of England, and it is difficult to believe that London in the 22nd century will resemble London 1965. These points are minor quibbles however, and unavoidable given the production costs and technical limitations of the time. Less forgivable are the dreadful saucer model work and the Slyther, which looks ludicrous in both costumes (the costume from the end of episode four was replaced for the reprise in episode five) and is present only to provide a cliffhanger to episode four. There is some awful dialogue as well, especially during the conversation between the Doctor and the Dalek in episode two. And 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' has some of the worst episode titles ever seen in the series. In spite of these quibbles, 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' is a true classic, and having watched it all in one go, I found that it didn't drag at all, and it gets my vote for first VidFIRED six-part Hartnell DVD release.