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24 February 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day Fifty-Five: The End of Tomorrow (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Episode Four)

There's plenty to say about this episode, and I'll get to that in just a moment. First though, it's only fitting that - since I'm watching one of the early Dalek stories, after all - a brief tribute be paid to Raymond Cusick.

It's more than a little strange just how hard the news struck me last night, hearing it as I did while editing a piece of artwork featuring the city he designed for the very first Dalek serial. Then I've sat down and watched this story, featuring those oh-so-iconic designs of his.

The word 'genius' gets thrown around back and forth all over the place, but it's a word often used without all that much reason. In Cusick's case, though, I think we can pretty safely apply it. Sure, part of the Dalek's charm comes from the characters created in Terry Nation's scripts, but let's be honest - it's the look of the things that really make them iconic.

Cusick has the honour of having created not only one of the most striking designs of the twentieth century, but a piece of pop culture that's going to long outlive him - a hundred years from now, that image he created of the pepper pot, gliding around without legs, with the tiny lights and the sink plunger hand will be as instantly recognisable as it is today.

What better legacy to have than being the man who designed the Daleks?

* * * * *

Dear diary,

During the latter stories in the show's first season, I spent some time tracking how well-done the instances of the cast taking a holiday were. They ranged from being very good (Carole Ann Ford's absence in The Aztecs, or William Russell's in The Reign of Terror could completely pass you by) to the less well-handled (Jaqueline Hill being left on the ship for a few episodes of The Sensorites, until they decide to bring her down to the planet once the holiday's over).

Today, we're almost completely missing the Doctor from the story, though it's not for a holiday. Hartnell had been injured during the recording of the previous story (I believe the ramp to the Dalek saucer had collapsed. That's shoddy Skaro workmanship for you), and was granted a week off here while he recuperated. Much of the Doctor's part in the narrative was given over to David, who takes Susan down into the sewers of the city while the Doctor takes a nap.

All of this is set up by having Edmund Warick keel over at the start of the story, and it actually works quite well. If I didn't know it wasn't Hartnell, I'm not sure I'd question it. I might wonder why they'd have shot it in such an odd way, but it's not half bad. And after that? The Doctor's not missed from the narrative. Susan and David are given time to bond in the sewers (that's not something you type every day), which just helps to add to their growing relationship. If anything, I think it'd feel a bit cramped to have the Doctor roaming around with them like a gooseberry.

Susan gets to reflect on wanting to settle down again, commenting that 'rebuilding a planet from the very beginning' is a great idea, and she seems genuinely touched by the suggestion that she remain behind to do so with David. It's really great to see her being given such a chance to shine as her days on the series pull to a close.

Elsewhere, everyone has so much to do that the story is really packing out the twenty-five minutes. Barbara and Jenny (who, by the way, is a damn misery. I'm glad they didn't end up keeping her on as the companion to replace Susan, I'm not sure I could have put up with that…) get to spend some more time doing action-based things, as they steal a vehicle from the transport museum and start to make their way out of London.

There's even a moment when Barbara gets to drive right into a line of Daleks, shattering one of them as they collide. Frankly, it's fantastic! It looks simply stunning, and it feels - as does so much in this story - far better than anything we're used to in Doctor Who at this stage. The thing that really impressed me about this strand of the narrative though is a little thing; Jenny opens the doors so they can drive away, and Dortmun's body is still laying there.

It seems a tiny thing to pick up on, but I'm used to the idea that they'd not pay someone to come back and play a dead body for twenty seconds. Once a character has been killed off, that's usually it. If you're lucky, you might get to see the back of their head. It's clear how they've managed it; that shot takes place on location, so would have been done far in advance of the rest of the episode. It really helps to build on the discussion of Dortmun's suicidal actions that takes place just before, and it's just another example of this story feeling so very different.

And then you've got Ian out in Bedfordshire! Ian's given perhaps less excitement than we've just witnessed, but he does still get to clunk a Roboman over the head and avoid the 'deadly' Slyther. This segment of the story helps to sell the epic scale, too, with a fantastic shot of a group of slaves pulling a mine cart. There's loads of them! Absolutely loads! (Ok, well, about twenty, but that's a lot for Doctor Who).

Less impressive is the aforementioned Slyther itself. Oh dear, it had to go a bit wrong somewhere. There's some things I like about it - by accident or design, the quivering hand is creepy enough - but on the whole it just looks too much like a man in an oddly-shaped rubber suit. It doesn't help that it's been described as the Black Dalek's pet, which makes it seem far less menacing…

Next Episode: The Waking Ally

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