Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day Eleven - The Rescue (The Daleks, Episode Seven)
I've never noticed it before, when watching the stories all in one sitting, but the cliffhanger reprises at the start of the episodes are actually pretty damn useful, aren't they? As the titles played out on today's instalment, I became very aware that I couldn't actually remember how we left things yesterday, but a few seconds of the recap and it all came flooding back to me.
I complained yesterday that our whiny Thal had been irritating me for a while, but here he nobly sacrifices himself to ensure the rest of the party have a chance to continue onwards. It's a great moment, and really allows him to die with dignity. It's far more moving than any of the deaths we have in the final battle (though more on that later).
In his book The Writer's Tale, Russell T Davies says that it's important for characters to have flaws, as it makes it all the more wonderful when they overcome them. He gives the example of Rose Tyler being selfish - so her best moments come when she is completely selfless. This is the idea in motion during this death. We've witnessed fear and cowardice throughout the last episode, and here it's all made worthwhile by the single act of self-sacrifice.
I can't help but think that if the death itself had been the cliffhanger, with the final shot being of Ian staring over the edge into the abyss below, then it may have been more memorable, and packed more impact.
I do have to take issue with the final battle here, though. It feels very much like after they've managed to break into the Dalek city, it's all a bit too easy. It's a scene replicated in Journey's End, the Doctor's companions working together (and here with the Thals, too) to overcome the Daleks, shutting off their power and kicking them into a corner.
It's a shame that after such a long time of building them up to be these imposing creatures, they're defeated with the flick of a few switches at the end. I wonder if things would have worked better had this episode been given over entirely to a final battle? The few Thal deaths we do witness during it feel completely arbitrary, just there to make the stakes seem higher.
It's especially laughable when it's described moments later as 'The Final War'!
I'm glad that there's enough time at the end to include a proper 'goodbye' scene, though. In the last story, the TARDIS crew departed in a hurry, running for their lives and fleeing in the ship. Here, they've made friends, and they get to properly see them go. Susan's given a present, Barbara gets a kiss and the Doctor gets to fill them with hope about the possibilities of the future.
He's very clearly a different character already to the one I first met just over a week ago, and different, too, to the version at the start of this story. Here, he's far more kind-hearted - pleased that he's managed to help the Thals, and excited by the possibility to build a new world.
The whole team has changed, really, and this is exemplified in the final scene aboard the TARDIS, where they seem perfectly casual with one another, ready for the next adventure instead of worrying about how to get home. It's a shame to see that the set has been created in miniature in the studio, as the size of the TARDIS during this era is one of the best things about it.
At least the next story has plenty of opportunity to show it off…
As for the story as a whole…? Well, I've enjoyed it more than I thought I would.
Watching an episode a day has already started to become an interesting way of viewing the series, as it's allowing my time to sit and digest everything I'm seeing, instead of heading right into the next part. The Daleks is certainly better in the first half than it is in the latter, and I think this is what's ruined previous viewings of the serial.
Watched as one, it could start to feel a bit like running through treacle towards the end, but taken at a slower pace (as intended), you realise that there's plenty to love as you go along.
I certainly think there's some changes that could be made to have some more impact - as I've mentioned above, the final battle needs a bit more room to breathe, and Episode Five is far too padded for my liking. Perhaps the first three episodes could tell the story of the TARDIS crew exploring and escaping from the Dalek city, Episodes Four - Six could be the struggle to get back inside (it's supposed to be a near-impossible feat, after all!), and then Episode Seven could feature the battle on a larger scale?
Still, I'm pleased to have enjoyed it more, and I'm really glad that I'd not gotten sick of it by the end as I had with An Unearthly Child.
Next Episode: The Edge of Destruction