(With “The Daleks” we reach Part 2 of our Name Dropping journey through the First Doctor’s character arc as represented by his changing ways of addressing Ian: in which Ian takes no nonsense, Barbara encounters the pre-Moffat uses of a glass floor and Alydon asks Susan to do the impossible.)
It turns out that Susan’s calling Barbara Miss Wright, not Miss Right. So, that’s one potential character arc scotched.
I must confess that I’ve never watched THE DALEKS all the way through before. I used to keep nodding off halfway through the second episode. Also I never felt a great need to persevere as I’d read the wonderful TARGET novelisation by David Whittaker when I was nobbut a lad and the idea of seeing previous Doctor Who stories on TV still seemed a pipe dream. I’d also seen the first Dalekmania movie on the big cinema screen umpteen times and so had always supposed that the black and white original would be much duller.
How wrong I was. Admittedly, the sets and Dalek props weren’t as jazzy, the trek through the caves was even more tedious, there was no glass Dalek and at least Roberta Tovey didn’t giggle at times of peril. We also had to wait until DAY OF THE DOCTOR for a tribute to Barnes Common (and I do like a bit of common when I can get it). But what a revelation Ian and Barbara are. Who needs the ability to tap dance or play every musical instrument (including kettles) under the sun when you can kick ass in a cardigan? And I bet that William Russell could tap dance just as well as Roy Castle if he wasn’t too busy effortlessly exuding alpha maleness from every cardy-clad pore.
We start off with the TARDIS crew (dishevelled from their cavepersons encounter) landing on the dead planet and agreeing to tidy themselves up before venturing outside. I chuckled as they exited the TARDIS with the only apparent change being that Ian had straightened his tie. I oohed at the petrified metal creature in the forest. I aahed at the Doctor’s hi-tech opera glasses (nicely revisited in THE EMPTY CHILD and disappointingly never seen again). In fact, I made lots of these sort of noises.
The idea of our teacher duo being nice and safe is dispelled with Ian’s deliciously malicious line to Barabara apropos the Doctor: “Don’t you think he deserves to have something happen to him.” Our tenured purveyors of learning are no shrinking violets with the Doctor. Ian really lets rip into our favourite lapel-clutcher at one point with “You fool! You old fool!…It’s time you faced up to your responsibilities.” Have any future companions ever got in the Doctor’s face to this extent? Not even Tegan’s strine whine comes close to this. And, when Rose berates the Doctor in END OF THE WORLD for letting the TARDIS get inside her head, one’s reaction is less “you go, girl” and more “get away from him, you bitch.”
Ian is clearly the alpha male of the TARDIS crew, standing up to the Doctor and telling Barbara and Susan what to do but, whether this was intentionally scripted or was an acting choice of William Russell, he does it all without an ounce of aggression or bossiness. He’s taking control of the situation but manages to avoid any suggestion of patronising the girls (wink) as helpless women needing a chap to do all the dangerous work. Another surprising element of this era for those of us who dozed hungover through much of it is how little the Doctor is given the role we’re all familiar with from later in the series where he explains everything to out-of-their-depth companions. Ian works out that they’re suffering from radiation sickness and that the Daleks use static electricity without it being spoon-fed to him by the Doctor.
It could well be that, knowing Barbara already from work, Ian doesn’t dare patronise her because this London teacher can clearly kick derriere with the best of them, standing up not only to the Doctor but even to Ian when a lesser characterisation could easily have had her clinging to him as her main ally in the crew. When Ian tells her “I won’t have anyone’s death on my conscience”, Barbara delivers a zinger of a riposte with “Except ours!”
Possibly Barbara’s finest scene though is wordless. In the first episode, as she wanders alone through the deserted corridors of the city in the build-up to that iconic first reveal of the Dalek sucker, she’s clearly nervous and close to panic but not hysterical (I would have soiled myself by now). A whole gamut of nuanced feelings and reactions crosses her face with no need for words. This truly is something innovative and experimental for an audience of Saturday teatime kids. Is it too much of a cliché to suspect Verity Lambert’s influence behind this strong and intelligent character which Barbara is given?
As I’ve remarked before (para 4 here), Barbara is given the same advantage which Sarah is given in THE TIME WARRIOR which is that, instead of trying to write her as strong and confident by dint of her snarkily putting people down and loudly demanding attention, the writers give her a job which does all that work for them. When we see that Barbara is a teacher and Sarah is a journalist, that’s half the battle won as we then proceed assuming without it being signposted for us that they’re intelligent and capable women. It also provides a glass floor below which they can’t be written. Neither of them can be written as the standard silly and helpless girl of a Sixties adventure romp simply because their careers prevent it. I can’t claim to be overly familiar with the Ben and Polly era but, by contrast, Polly being a model doesn’t bode well for her being written with brains. Similarly, fond as we all are of Jo Grant, when she gets introduced as someone with no qualifications who only got the job because her uncle pulled strings, she’s unlikely to progress beyond making the tea, passing test tubes and telling the Doctor how clever he is.
The Dalek props are suprisingly impressive given how cheap we know they were. They put to shame the wobbly and near vertical Dalek props of, say, REVELATION OF THE DALEKS.
I confess to a smutty, schoolboyish snigger when Susan first meets Alydon. She’s wearing relatively little in the way of clothes and certainly nothing baggy. Yet Alydon hands her a second supply of drugs, again in a box the size of a phone directory and the shape of a suppository, and tells her to hide it as best she can. The mind boggles and the sensitive among us wince.
One thing I’ve never quite understood is the fan idea that GENESIS OF THE DALEKS completely contradicts the history of Skaro as originally set out in THE DALEKS. There’s little actual conflict. In THE DALEKS, the Thals tell the crew that they were once a famous warrior race while the Dals/Daleks were once teachers and philosophers. This certainly appears to conflict with the Kaleds and Thals as depicted in GENESIS but only superficially. We see from their willingness to use slave labour to build a rocket for committing genocide that the Thals are not exactly happy peaceniks. The Doctor finds some reasonable politicians in the Thal dome but he finds the same in the Kaled dome too. It’s the Elite in the bunker who are the fanatical Nazis, not the Kaleds in the city.
Maybe the Kaleds were called Dals before they were called Kaleds (or maybe the Thals’ written history got things wrong there) and maybe the Kaleds/Dals were indeed teachers and philosophers before the war made them into fighters. As for the problem of the Neutron Bomb, well the Skaro we see in GENESIS looks pretty devastated. Who’s to say that a Neutron Bomb wasn’t used at some stage in the long war? There has to be some reason why they retreated under protective domes.
Anyway, on to the thrilling purpose of the exercise. After only giving us three modes of address for Ian in the opening story, the Doctor certainly makes up for it here as he addresses him in 20 different ways. We get 4 x young man, 1 x my boy, 2 x dear boy, 1 x my dear boy and 1 x my dear young man. And that’s before we get to his variations on a surname in which we encounter 7 x Chesterton, 2 x Chesterman, 1 x Chesterfield and even 1 x Che’…er as Ian dashes off with the Doctor trailing behind.
It’s unclear at this stage whether the Doctor’s absent mindedness was intentionally scripted as a character quirk or whether Bill Hartnell is genuinely getting it wrong. This story is after all the source of the famous “radiation gloves” fluff. At one point, Ian is given a nice scripted joke about the Doctor’s inability to get his name right. Is this all part of the Doctor’s character or a useful get-out for when the director couldn’t afford to cut and reshoot the scene? It seems to me to be a mixture of the two.
Is the Doctor patronisng Ian with his repeated use of variations on “my boy” or is it a sign of an old man warming to a younger? Does the Doctor see that he needs Ian’s help at a time of danger, that he can’t afford to provoke someone who’s clearly not afraid to challenge him, and does he therefore deliberately use this more affable form of address which still puts Ian in the junior role? As was once so memorably observed by popular beat combo Spandau Ballet: questions questions but they give me no answers.