So what makes a good Dalek story? Is it the Daleks themselves? Is it the reaction to the Daleks? The whole setting? Running around while giant pepperpot-ballerinas try to exterminate you? A combination of all of these things?
In 1963 there was no such thing as a Dalek. No one had any idea what to expect from the Doctor and his companions stepped out of the TARDIS into a petrified forest, blissfully unaware of the dangerous levels of radiation around them. The first glimpse of the Dalek city below them as they emerged from the edge of the forest filled the Doctor with such a thirst for knowledge he felt the need to trick his companions so that they could all go down and explore, rather than leave as all the other wanted. Upon reaching the city, the characters are separated, with Barbara lost in the corridors. And the audience is able to experience their first glimpse of something that would terrorize them for decades. An ominous sink plunger advancing slowly on Barbara as she cowers with fear against a wall, terrified of something we are currently unable to see. After all, anything that has a sink plunger for an appendage has to be the worst thing imaginable, right?
The Doctor, Susan, and Ian go searching for Barbara and hear a mysterious ticking noise. They follow said noise to a room of machinery only to discover that the source of the noise is a Geiger counter that is up in the danger zone. They’ve all been exposed to high levels of radiation, which explains why they’re starting to feel ill. Leaving the room is when we see the Daleks in all their glory for the first time. Ian tries to run and they shoot him, paralyzing his legs. Daleks with a stun setting. They also say that it is only temporary paralysis that will become permanent if they shoot him again. Which is kinda ridiculous in terms of a weapon and threat. But I love the idea of a Dalek having a stun setting. Not just being a total killing machine.
Inside the Daleks control room, the Daleks are watching as the Doctor and his companions discuss their radiation poisoning and figure out that the strange box they found outside the TARDIS earlier on probably contained anti-radiation gloves. Drugs. Which is also one of the most famous fluffs of the Hartnell Doctor. The noise inside the Dalek ship is used a lot throughout the history of the show, the ominous rhythmic thrumming noise. Daleks decide that “Questions will reduce the mystery” and question the Doctor about their condition before deciding that they should send someone to fetch the drugs. Being the ablest, Susan has to go alone.
Susan meets the Daleks’ mysterious enemies known as the Thals, who are actually very good looking humanoids. The Thal – Alydon – gives Susan extra drugs and his cloak to keep her warm.
Once the heroes are recovered, the Daleks get Susan to write a note to the Thals, saying that they will help them to survive and the two races should work together and when she returns to the cell, they stage an argument in order to break the camera that the Daleks are using to keep track of them. Now free to talk, the group devise a plan of escape, theorizing that as the floors of the city are metal, as are the Daleks, the Daleks may have formed a way of powering themselves using static electricity. Today’s educational section! Daleks smell like dodgems and the floors are metal, therefore the logical conclusion is that they work the same way. So Daleks are just deadly, deadly dodgems? Using Susan’s new cloak, which is luckily made from an insulating material, they trick a Dalek into the room, cover its eye in mud from their shoes and disable it. Ian shoos the women away to keep watch, as a Dalek creature is clearly too horrifying for a woman’s eyes. It’s not like there’s actually just a guy inside crouching as low as possible in order to not be seen as cutting between shots is expensive.
After a thoughtful cutaway to the girls to allow the man in the Dalek to escape, Ian is now in the Dalek, and rather enjoying himself despite it being very cramped in there. As they make their escape a claw emerges from the cloak they wrapped the Dalek creature they’ve commandeered the home of in.
Ian and the others wander down the corridors, with Ian inside the Dalek until stopped and questioned. The other Dalek sees through the ruse and sounds the alarm. Forced to leave Ian behind, the others run but Ian escaped his Dalek casing prison just in time.
The Thals however, walk straight into the Dalek trap and the Thal leader is exterminated. The surviving Thals along with the TARDIS crew escape back to the Thal camp. Ian and the Doctor argue over whether they should stay or go upon which they discover that the fluid link the Doctor used to trick them into staying in the first place is gone, left behind in the Dalek city. The group discuss plans more and eventually it is decided that they will split into two groups. One heading to the front door as a distraction while the others sneak in the back over the Lake of Mutations. While this is going on, the Daleks realize that they have actually mutated enough that they need the radiation in order to survive and want to build another massive bomb to increase Skaro’s radiation levels further.
While the front door group scrambles the Dalek CCTV in order to sneak in, Ian and the other group have found a tunnel/sewer system in order to get in. They follow the tunnels until they reach a wide chasm, which Ian jumps first and convinces the others to follow. The last to jump loses his footing and almost drags himself and Ian into the chasm, though at the last moment manages to cut the rope, sacrificing himself.
Together, Ian’s group and a third group of attacking Thals who have somehow turned up get into the Dalek control center and stop them releasing all the radiation, as well as cutting off the electricity. The Daleks all die and the Doctor, his companions and, the Thals head back to the TARDIS to say goodbye.This story captured the hearts and imaginations of children all across the country, as well as sending them scuttling behind their sofas for cover!
There’s a lot of parallels between this and more recent episodes, predominantly The Magician’s Apprentice/Witch’s Familiar. In these episodes, the Doctor’s companion also finds themselves making their way into the Dalek city by using an underground tunnel back entrance and are almost killed when they are hiding inside a Dalek casing. Both Ian and Clara also use the excuse of escorting a prisoner in order to move around with a non-Dalek accompanying them.I love this story. It truly cemented Doctor Who’s place in the BBC scheduling and even though it is at a much slower pace than modern episodes, I think it does really stand the test of time and can be enjoyed again and again.