Friday, 12 April 2013

The Dalek Invasion of Earth written by Terry Nation and directed by Richard Martin

This story in a nutshell: Decked out in a bling satellites the Daleks have invaded the Earth in time for Ian and Barbara’s late homecoming…

Gruff Granddad: Get the hankie ready because William Hartnell will break your heart in this story. It is interesting how the emphasis of the show and his character is altered by this story. He is no longer simply an explorer with his granddaughter but suddenly he is an avenging hero who deliberately pits his wits against an enemy. By his own admission he managed to get Ian and Barbara home more by luck than judgement and wouldn’t spoil their homecoming for all the world. Watch how Hartnell starts hurling old jumble around the warehouse like a complete nut job. Proving that his mind is more sophisticated than others he passes the Daleks intelligence test and sublimely finds time to put down Craddock at the same time. I found the scenes where the Doctor was held down against his will far more affecting than I thought I would, it seems wrong for an old man to be manhandled quite so inappropriately. The Doctor even more so. He absolutely thinks he should be making decisions for himself and Susan regardless of her feelings on the matter.  He wont take arms unless his own life is threatened. His ‘I can see something’s cooking’ about Susan’s romance is gorgeous proving that the old goat is far more aware of the relationships going on around him than he would appear.  I’m glad Roy Skelton voices the Daleks because Hartnell's little attempt in this story (it's even more comical in The Space Museum) is abominable. The closing scenes of Dalek Invasion are disconsolate in a way the show wouldn’t try to be too often and Hartnell gives these scenes a real feeling of aching sadness. It breaks my heart to see him awkwardly handling Susan knowing that he is about to force her out of his life. Making her leave and become her own woman crushes his heart and thus is one of the most wonderful (and painful) gestures the Doctor has ever made. He admits to her that he knows she has been taking care of him and that one day he will come back for her. It is devastatingly good drama.

An Unearthly Child: What she needs is a jolly good smacked bottom! I have never been a fan of Carole Ann Ford’s Susan and genuinely think she did the show the world of good when she left and they introduced the bubblier and perkier and generally more amiable Vicki courtesy of Maureen O’Brien. My biggest complaints echo Ford’s ironically, that Susan was barely developed beyond her initial story, that she lacked dignity by continually being treated as a screaming wailing child and that the relationship between Susan and the Doctor failed to engage (especially compared to his far more complex friendships with Ian and Barbara). Generally I think the producers got the show just about pitch perfect in season one and had more trouble with the sophomore year but with regards to the companion swap they were bang on the nail. Susan twists her ankle in the first episode so clearly she they have run out of things to do with the character. She feels selfish that she wants them to all stay together…and then she buggers off at the end of the story! Oddly enough she really bucks her ideas up in her last story and gets some fine moments (it feels as though the writers can start taking some risks with her and giving her some real autonomy now she is leaving) and I especially like the exchange ‘What do you do?’ ‘I eat’ and when she tells Jenny to shut up when she is off on one of her negative rants. Susan admits she is always moving on and that she wants David to join them and escape this horror and usually when a companion starts talking about their situation like that they aren't long for the chop (Tegan and Peri did the same thing). David makes her realise that nothing is made better by continually running away. Susan has never had a real identity (nope) or anywhere that feels like home. It's not exactly subtle foreshadowing, is it?  One day she will stop travelling. Watch the scene where the Doctor chastises her for buying into David’s opinion above his and then when he comes along he concocts a plan along similar lines to please Susan - it is at moments like this when you can really buy into their affection for each other. The little cuddle she gives him is very sweet. The idea of rebuilding a planet from scratch really appeals to her and to be fair it would one heck of a challenge. At one point I wondered if Susan was going to be fed to the crocodiles in the sewer.  Susan and David make for a convincing couple because they are both as wet as each other but even I couldn't fail to admit that their scenes together work a charm for the most part. They play about, hold hands and share a kiss in some very tender scenes. The way Doctor Who was made in the sixties means we were able to follow this romance over a month and half so you could hardly accuse them of rushing things. Susan thinks her grandfather is extraordinary. It is so poignant that despite how much she wants to leave and be with David she cannot make the choice to abandon the Doctor. She cannot choose between the two of them. David is offering her a place, a time and an identity. Even when she accepts her fate she is still devastated that she will never see him again. It is wonderful to see this relationship end on such an emotional high.

Bouffant Babs: It's amazing how well Barbara falls into the role of a guerrilla on the run. She really wants to get in on with the fighting when they attack the Dalek saucer, diving into action and throwing one of Dortman’s acid bombs! But then these are the creatures that frightened her to death in The Daleks, her first experience of the terror of alien life. That must have left some scars. It feels very right that somebody as principled as Barbara would not leave the wheelchair bound Dortman behind and tells Jenny to bugger off if she thinks he will be a hindrance. Barbara never doubts that the Doctor is still alive against all the odds. Jenny thinks she has a romantic idea about resistance, that there is nothing glorious about dying for a noble cause and their bumpy friendship works a treat because of the tension that bubbles under their enforced camaraderie. Further cementing her in my mind as the companion of the sixties she gets to drive a bus through a road filled with Daleks. Her diversionary bafflegab in the Dalek saucer about the Indian mutiny and the Boston tea party make me cackle with delight! Because history is built into her character it is terrific to see her using it to baffle the Daleks in such an amusing fashion.

Super Scientist: Ian didn’t really make much of an impression on me in this story and I found his storyline was by far the least interesting. What worked was his optimism about returning home and not caring about a few years here or there. Sometimes the Doctor astounds him. There isn’t the emotional connection between him and Larry that there is the Doctor/Susan/David and Barbara/Jenny/Dortman plots.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He knew. He knew you could never leave him.’
‘One day I will come back, yes, I will come back. Until then there must be regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.’

The Good Stuff: Terry Nation knows how to open a story. You'll often find his tales are the ones that kick start with an action set piece that gets you asking a lot of questions (Death to the Daleks, The Android Invasion). It certainly doesn't got much more grim than a man drowning himself before our very eyes. Why does the interior of the TARDIS look so much more impressive in the 1960’s? They seem to consider the Ship worth spending a few bob on, a set in it's own right rather than a tatty bit of old junk that gets us to the next adventure that it would become for most of the 70s. The bridge collapsing on the TARDIS doesn’t look too shabby at all, for what is a pretty obvious way of stopping the travellers from escaping this actually looks as though it could really happen in the right circumstances. The location work is evocative and moody, even something as simple as a chain swinging in the desolate landscape adds tension. Considering how long they have been banging on about getting home to have Ian and Barbara return to a desolate war torn London is a genuinely fascinating idea. It's like the writer is playing a cruel joke on the characters, giving them everything they ever wanted but a scarred, broken version. Because of its studio bound limitation the first season never felt this spacious (except for some impressive backdrops in The Aztecs) and Barbara running through the wastelands and the Doctor and Ian exploring the warehouse are scenes that could happily have leapt from the big screen version. For one moment (but one moment only) the Robomen are genuinely scary, when they walk across your television set and look straight at the audience. It's comes right out of the blue and the way that they stare with blank empasive faces right through the television screen is genuinely spine tingling. You have to give the producers some credit for attempting to pull off something ambitious when they clearly don't have the funds to do it (with The Web Planet and The Chase on its way that is not the last time I will make this statement in season two). What they do have is time . Time to tell the story from many different points of view and strong actors to convince that this is a desperate situation. Whilst the big screen version offers far more impressive details, this is a far more intimate invasion of the Earth that unfolds. Terry Nation chips in one of his most chilling ideas in the Robomen; the notion of operating on humans, turning them into robotic slaves that commit suicide when their use is over is terrifying and it is a shame that the shows family roots meant that the realisation couldn't have been something more exciting than a helmet with a few wires attached. To give the Daleks some credit their terror tactics are relentless - they bombarded the Earth with meteorites, dropped a plague bomb, wiped out whole continents and then subdued the survivors! The downside to all this is that experiencing the invasion as it occurred would have made a far more dramatic narrative than catching up with the planet years later (when Nick Briggs and Russell T Davies remade this story years later - Lucie Miller/To The Death & The Stolen Earth they allowed us to experience the terror that the people of the Earth felt as the planet was invaded). Bernard Kay acts his heart out throughout and his silent anger after the attack on the saucer is almost enough to convince the viewer that it had been a horrific experience instead of the dozy farce we actually saw. That is the strength that really good actors can bring to a production - in many ways I would have preferred to have only seen his reaction to their failiure because I could have made a much more gripping scenario up in my head from that than what I actually got. I really like how the story splits three ways and gives each of the regulars a contemporary character to get close to. It is not an insult when I say that Doctor Who is the master at off screen deaths (the show can conjure up as atmosphere like no other but very often they have to censor the more horrific aspects of murder) and the guy who screams ‘My wife! You’ve killed my wife!’ and is slaughtered off screen is far scarier than anything they could ever have shown us. There are some astonishing scenes of Barbara, Jenny and Dortman avoiding the Daleks whilst crossing Westminster Bridge. There is a reason why these sequences are considered iconic and it isn't just because of the famous locations. In these sequences Richard Martin's direction is dynamic, convincing and stylish  (I especially like the tracking shots of the fugitives running and the Daleks gliding into view atop a stair case giving them a sense of visual menace that is entirely lacking in the studio scenes). Dortman's suicide would have been effective anyway but the way he tries to salvage some pride by standing up and facing his enemies as he is cut down adds a great deal of pathos to the scene. The mine workings with the railroad and abundance of extras look like they has fallen off the back of a movie. When things start to flag in later episodes (and we're stuck down sewers being threatened by crocodiles) the story has the time to add characters like Ashton who are morally ambiguous, taking advantage of the Dalek invasion to make a mint. It's a small character but adds yet another bleak perspective on the invasion scenario. Isn't it wonderful that our crazy show has gone on so long that the severe lack of explanations in this story as to why the Daleks would want to do something as insane as piloting the planet is finally rewarded in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End when they once again shove the Earth out of orbit. Turns out they were trying to build a giant super weapon that would destroy reality itself. Or at least that is how Russell T Davies retroactively tries to explain away their behaviour. I love how a story in 2008 can give a story from 1964 some kind of closure. Then again Nick Briggs' idea of a plague planet to be piloted through space as a super weapon is similarly exciting. The little interlude with the two women who have sold out to the Daleks works a treat. Doctor Who rarely dares to move into bleak areas like Larry being shot by his own brother again - even Philip Hinchcliffe might have blanched at that one. I really liked the triumphant visual of the slaves pouring from the mine like ants and carrying a Dalek aloft that they have kicked the shit out of. Sometimes this serial exposes moments of how good it could look on television with the appropriate budget. Big Ben chiming again (‘Just the beginning’) is a victorious moment. The camera lingers on Susan's key in the mud to really hammer home the point that she has gone for good.

The Bad Stuff: The bottle cap Dalek saucer reveals in one foul swoop the lack of money this production has (although the CGI alternative on the DVD manages to look very fine and retro at the same time). I just love the model work for the saucer in the movie of which very few alternatives could match. Never mind the craziness of the body dumping poster, what about its size? Nation is also the king of the cliffhanger but half the time once you get past the shock moment you find yourself picking holes in the logic. What the hell was that Dalek doing cruising in the Thames? Without trying to be insulting (how comes when people open a statement with that caveat they are usually about to do the opposite?) the Daleks voices sound appalling  it feels like a bunch of bad drag acts have decided to leap into pepper pots and take over the planet. 'We are the masters of Earth, ducky!'  It really irritates me when the story’s biggest selling point (yeah, the Daleks) aren't shot with any care and no attempts are made to make them sinister (aside from when they are on location). It's almost as if the director is happy enough to let the threat of their invasion sell the danger alone. They clunk and crash about the sets and seem to be aimlessly wandering about at times. What we needed was Douglas Camfield (as proven in The Daleks' Masterplan) to get in there with more low angles, tight shots and faster editing. There are some truly dodgy backdrops (a rocky outcrop and a row of houses stand out as obviously being flats). The Doctor’s method of escaping from the cell takes forever and if you go watch the movie version you can see how quickly it could have been achieved if he had just pulled a comb out of his pocket. If somebody could decipher that the Daleks are trying to say when the Doctor and Ian escape from the cell I would be duly grateful. The attack on the saucer is appallingly directed – I understand they didn’t have a huge budget and these stories were not  made to be scrutinised in the way that they are but if somebody like Douglas Camfield can direct action so successfully on a Doctor Who budget at the time then surely it comes down to the individual directors talent and the not the excuses that Martin reels out on the DVD extras. The cameras shoot above the action absent mindedly, the Daleks barely move, the camera is blocked by obstructions and mist shrouds much of the (lack of) action. Go and compare this to Martin’s Dalek/Mechanoid fight to the death in The Chase and this really doesn’t hold up to scrutiny - it seems that whenever he is given the chance to shoot at Ealing Martin's work improves tenfold. One of the Daleks is so fucking stupid that he mistakes a dummy for a person in an agonisingly unfunny sequence. Sometimes you have to ask how these guys managed to pull off a successful invasion. The Robomen are hardly a terrifying threat when they short circuit when somebody disagrees with them. In true Dan Dare style we are treated to the loudest ticking bomb in human history. The explosion of the truck has to be seen to be believed. Alligators in the sewers, the Daleks pet Slyther – come episode four Terry Nation has run out of interesting things to say about the invasion and has to resort to some pretty desperate ideas to keep things ticking over. If I recall he had similar trouble stretching the Daleks out to seven episodes and included an episode of padding. I'm not sure what to say about the Slyther beyond the fact that I hope it scared the kids. Ian is trapped inside a bomb that is about to penetrate the Earth’s crust -  could this be any more Saturday matinee serial (if you listen really hard you can just about hear the melodramatic Captain Proton-esque music playing in the background). People who say that the climax of Journey's End is ridiculous with the Daleks forced to waltz around the studio and blow up should take a look into the mists of Doctor Who history. Davies was only borrowing from his source material because that is exactly what occurs at the conclusion to The Dalek Invasion of the Earth. Suddenly in episode six Martin tries to shoot scenes from the POV of a Dalek but it feels like too little, too late. The Daleks was shot through with this kind of visual imagination. A piano is well and truly abused during the conclusion.

The Shallow Bit: You've got a bit of rough (Tyler) or a right softie (David). Take your pick. There's even a blonde bombshell to keep the lads happy (Jenny). The first snog in Doctor Who is a surprisingly tender moment.

Result: There is much that works in The Dalek Invasion of Earth but unfortunately it is far from the all-conquering classic of repute. The first episode is genuinely atmospheric, features some great location work and sets the scene beautifully for the Daleks entrance but ultimately it turns out to be the best installment of the whole story. The least successful element of this story is, oddly, the Daleks, which fail to work as the terrifying conquerors of repute and look so awkward clunking about the sets with their giant satellites strapped to their casings and effeminate voices. For what was supposed to be a devastating comeback for the creatures, they have none of the menace of their original story. The designers are working hard with what they have to make the studio locations as convincing as possible (and they are as diverse as a mine shaft, a riverside, the exterior of a spaceship and sewers) but shot in such a bland way much of the detail is lost. Fortunately the character drama boosts the story and with some fine actors on board they salvage something from the situation. Characters like Dortman, Tyler, Jenny and Ashton are well written and provide an effectively intimate way to explore the invasion when the budget cannot provide the sort of rollercoaster action that it needs. The Doctor says goodbye to Susan in what proves to be one of the most heartbreaking goodbyes the series ever presented and coming at the end of such a shallow action adventure it gives the material even more punch. It's an uneven story which frustrates because it could have been so much better than it is. If this could have been cut down to an hour and a half, shot on film and injected with more pace it would have made a far more effective tale. What I'm describing is Daleks, 2150 AD. I prefer the kick ass movie version (even with its apoplectic music score) but even I have to admit that the best moments of the TV version have much more depth than a cinematic blockbuster could ever achieve. Simon watched this one with me too and he came out far more in it's favour than I did. He even found the departure of Susan extremely moving (and he usually cannot stand the character). Ambitious but massively flawed: 6/10

1 comment:

David Pirtle said...

I'm with Simon. I absolutely loved this one.