Friday, 17 October 2014

005 The Daleks Episode 1: The Dead Planet

EPISODE: The Daleks Episode 1: The Dead Planet
TRANSMITTED: Saturday 21 December 1963
WRITER: Terry Nation
DIRECTOR: Christopher Barry
SCRIPT EDITOR: David Whitaker
PRODUCER: Verity Lambert
RATINGS: 6.9 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: DVD - The Beginning Boxset

"It seems we have no alternative. We have to go to the city."


The Time Travellers explore the strange environment the Tardis has landed in discovering the jungle has been petrified.

We have an odd effect at the beginning of this episode: the opening moments of the new footage on The Dead Planet are filmed in Negative before reverting to normal. Every time I see it makes me think my TV has gone wrong!
Susan discovers a delicate flower that she wants to keep which crumble to pieces when Ian drops it distracted by Barbara's cries.

Susan standing there with something she wanted destroyed and in pieces in her hands is quite poignant and symbolic somehow. She's lost the life she was enjoying in 1963 and her life with her Grandfather has been interrupted by these interlopers.

Barbara has encountered a dead metallic animal which the Doctor speculates is held together by an inner metallic field. He concludes that they are not on Earth and that the planet is totally dead.

Ladies and Gentlemen: a big welcome to Fluffing Billy! Our lead actor makes up for the previous four episodes with wonders such as "Chesterfield" and "Semi Solidified" when talking about the beast (more will follow!) which itself looks like it's stood on a garden barbecue built of breeze blocks!

However Ian spots a city in the distance.

The city is a design triumph, like many of the things in this episode, and the work of designer Raymond Cusick. He wasn't the designer originally assigned to the story, that was one Ridley Scott (Yes, that Ridley Scott! Really!) However a scheduling conflict prevented Scott's involvement and Cusick was assigned instead. His work here is completely overshadowed by what he creates in the next episode but I don't think he can have too high praise for what he does.

Returning to the Tardis Susan becomes separated from the others and is convinced they're being followed when something touches her back but is doubted by the rest of the travellers.
We know that there was something there due to briefly seeing her tapped on the shoulder.
Whilst they are eating they hear a tapping noise on the outside of the Tardis. The others want to leave but the Doctor insists on staying because he wants to see the city.
In many ways the return to the Tardis and the mucking about with the food machine just slows the episode down.
The Doctor's companions persuade him to depart but the ship malfunctions taking off. The fault locator reveals that the fluid link is damaged. The Doctor needs Mercury to fix it but doesn't have any on the ship. He suggests that some may be found in the city forcing the others to go there.
The Doctor's giggling at the end of this scene is a bit of a hint towards a revelation in the next episode.

The credited writer on this serial is Terry Nation. Nation had been working with comedy legend Tony Hancock (the Agency belonging to Hancock's brother Roger would later represent Nation) but following an argument Hancock found himself without work and accepted the invitation to work for Doctor Who.

I say "credited writer" because Nation's scripts were notoriously on the light side and there's an element here that stands out as possibly being the work of script editor David Whitaker: the fluid link contains Mercury. Whitaker has an obsession with Mercury slipping it into his scripts wherever he can be it the Mercury swamps on Vulcan or the mercury vaporising in Wheel in Space !

At the point this story was written Nation was represented by Beryl Vertue of Associated London Scripts. Beryl's daughter, Sue Vertue, is now a television producer and is married to Steven Moffat, the current Executive Producer and showrunner of Doctor Who. Beryl Vertue will negotiate Nation a clause in his contract for this story that will make him a very wealthy man....

They leave the ship at first light but discover a metal case outside containing glass phials. Susan is convinced they were dropped by whoever was outside the Tardis last night. Arriving at the city all four travellers find that they are very tired.
The episode picks up in pace the last few minutes as we reach the futuristic city. More great work from Cusick here with odd shaped doors and corridors. The sound men get involved here too and that door noise is superb, still occasionally used today.

The city sequences give us the first music, apart from that for the title sequence, composed specially for the series. Composer Tristram Cary returns for Marco Polo, The Dalek Masterplan, The Ark, The Gunfighters, The Power of the Daleks and the Mutants, several of which involve reuse of pieces if this score. One element of his work for this serial will return in Doctor Who again and again .... I'll point that out when we here it later on in the story.

They split up to search for some mercury.....
NOOOO, Don't split up! You know as soon as the main characters get separated that trouble is coming!
The travellers meet up again at the appointed time and place but Barbara is missing and they are all feeling unwell.....

= - = - = - = - = - =

This is one of those occasions where it's necessary to deal with the episode in two chunks: Most of the episode and the last few moments. It will happen a few times over the years in Doctor Who that an episode becomes almost entirely known by it's last few moments: World's End, Tenth Planet 1 and 4 and Earthshock 1 spring to mind for springing HUGE story changing surprises on us that overshadow everything else. For many years I've found this episode long and ever so slow. I suspect that's partially because I *do* want it to get a move on and get to the end! But as we've seen there's a lot else in the episode that bears looking at.

You'll remember that I saw all four parts of the first Doctor Who story when it was broadcast as part of the Five Faces of Doctor Who season in 1981. Here's how I came to see this next episode: I went to secondary school in 1984, Greycourt School in Ham, Richmond. My maths teacher for the first year was one Stephen Payne, who we discovered was a Doctor Who fan: I later learned he was the first Doctor Who Appreciation Society president and he's interviewed here about being the first Audio Visuals Doctor Who. He left at Christmas 1985 to run full time his publishing company, Visual Imagination, which had acquired the rights to publish Starburst magazine from Marvel. Before he left he asked us if there was any old Doctor Who we'd like to say. We said the first Dalek story. So one lunch time, after wrestling with the school TV set in Lab 3 we settled down to watch The Dead Planet.... and I was bored out my skull. It's sooooooo slow. To make matters worse due to problems setting up we barely made it into episode 2 and never reached the good bit..... But I had by then seen the first five episodes of Doctor Who. It would be another seven years before I stretched this run to the first Eleven episodes.

Like the very first episode, even more so in fact, this episode is essentially a four hander between the main cast with just the mysterious hand being the only thing so far to wander onto the screen. It's good for building up and strengthening the relationships between the main characters but you do wish at times that they'd get on with the story!

The Dead Planet and three other episodes of this 7 part story (2 - The Survivors, 4 - The Ambush & 5 - The Expedition) are directed by Christopher Barry. Barry Would return to the series many times over the years directing The Rescue & The Romans in 1965, the The Savages & The Power of the Daleks in 1966, The Dæmons in 1971, The Mutants in 1972, Robot in 1974, The Brain of Morbius in 1976 and The Creature from the Pit in 1979. His length of service is the longest for any director on the original series of Doctor Who. However it didn't start too well as The Dead Planet became the second episode of Doctor Who to be recorded twice. The first recording was plagued by a technical fault that caused backstage voices to be recorded, so the episode was remounted a few weeks later. The original recording does not survive, save for a few seconds used in the recap at the start of the next episode, The Survivors

Great debate exists about the overall story titles of some of the Hartnell series. This story has been referred to over the years as both "The Dead Planet" (after the first episode) and "The Mutants" (as the name exists on some BBC paperwork) This last name fell out of favour in the 1970s when the Jon Pertwee story The Mutants was broadcast. You might not agree with the overall titles I use but they are the names on the DVD, VHS & CD cases so that gives them some authenticity. The Doctor Who Target Books range did occasionally change the name of the story for publication (The Cybermen, Auton Invasion, Cave Monsters, Doomsday Weapon, The Dinosaur Invasion, Giant Robot and Loch Ness Monster all have different titles when broadcast on the screen) which creates even more confusion! Eventually though this story became known by the name of the alien race that it introduced to Doctor Who which changed television history forever..... which bring us back to the end of the episode:

= - = - = - = - = - =

Barbara has become lost and disorientated, suffering from the same illness that has gripped the others. She stumble into a room where the doors seal behind her and it descends into the depths of the city. Exiting the room she is confronted by a strange creature which advances on her......


One of *THE* great Doctor Who cliffhangers. It's impact has perhaps been diminished over the years by knowing *what* is menacing Barbara but the significance has grown by huge amounts. And what a cliffhanger to leave the viewers on over Christmas 1963!

I think we all know what's about to happen ......

No comments:

Post a Comment