Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day Five - The Dead Planet (The Daleks Episode One)
I couldn't wait to get home today and start this one. Can't tell you how happy that makes me. Historically, I've never been that fond of The Daleks as a story (or as creatures, but we'll come to that in a day or two), but today, it was all I could think about to get home and stick another episode of Doctor Who on. I'm five days in and already it's just becoming a part of the routine. This pleases me no end.
In some ways, it's because I'm predisposed to like The Dead Planet. Like the very first episode of the series, it's one featuring (more-or-less) just our regular four characters. I've praised them enough this week to not need do it again here, but I love them being given a chance to shine like this.
The Doctor's back in his adventurer/scientist/explorer role, as we saw during The Cave of Skulls; eager to get out and examine the petrified jungle. Once he catches sight of the city below, there's no question about it - he has to go and explore. Of course, doing this leads to a life-long battle with a group of evil pepper pots, but still, for now he's as excitable as a child.
His whole character has mellowed somewhat here, too. He's still not the Doctor we know and love (and won't be for some time, yet), though he's got his darker side. Removing the Fluid Link and draining the supply of mercury, just to have an excuse to visit the city, against the wishes of his three companions? That's devious, but it's wonderful. He's lighter, though, in general. He laughs a few times here, and seems - at times - to genuinely enjoy having Ian and Barbara with him in the jungle.
When they find the metallic creature frozen to the rocks, he chides Ian for not being able to conceptualise it, though seems to relish the chance to explain it to him. Equally, he's softer towards Barbara, asking her to talk with his granddaughter, and even admitting that the age gap can be something of a problem between them.
This whole episode feels more like Doctor Who than anything we had during the last story. There, they were dumped into the strange new environment and instantly victims of circumstance. Here, they have a bit more time to explore and actively engage with the adventure. It feels like the whole of An Unearthly Child was there to set things up, and now we can be on our way with the adventure.
There's a few other things I want to draw attention to, but I don't have much to say about them, really. One is the model of the city. I've seen people talk of how rubbish it is; but actually, I really like it! It's got a very 1960s sci-fi feel to it, but it's very well realised. This episode was remounted and re-shot a few weeks after the first recording, so I'm guessing it allowed them more time to work on the model. While I'm on the subject, the shot of the TARDIS team looking over the valley toward the city works very very well. So n'yer.
The second thing I wanted to draw attention to, and sticking with the theme of 1960s sci-fi, is the TARDIS' Food Machine. What a wonderfully 60s idea. I love that the food comes out in little blocks and that Ian is surprised by this. I can't imagine this particular set of TARDIS occupants getting their food any other way, so I'm more than happy to see it here. I can't remember it showing up on many other occasions (though a few spring to mind), but it's perhaps my favourite bit of TARDIS kit.
Ian and Babs must be shattered by the time they get some sleep in this episode, mind. They taught a whole day at Coal Hill, followed a pupil home and then spent several hours playing capture and escape with some cavemen. I'm surprised they didn't slap the Doctor when he first suggested they go explore the city below…
Next Episode - The Survivors