While the Daleks would go on to become the Doctor’s greatest nemesis, their first appearance, in the second-ever Doctor Who story ‘The Daleks’ was somewhat less threatening.
‘The Daleks’ bears a lot of similarities with H.G. Well’s The Time Machine. The Doctor and company travel to the planet Skaro, some time after a great war. The species that fought said war has diverged along two evolutionary paths; one becoming the pretty, blond, pacifist Thals,; and the other becoming the mutated, raging, metal-enclosed Daleks.
The seven part serial begins with the TARDIS’ arrival on the dead planet. The Doctor is keen to investigate a city in the distance, while Ian and Barbara, still reeling from their caveman adventure, just want to get home. So, the Doctor lies to get them to go. One of the catchphrases of the modern series is ‘the Doctor lies,’ and I think this serial may present the first examples of that. At least in-so-far as lying to manipulate people in to doing as he wishes, since he did technically lie to shoo away Susan’s teachers in episode one.
Anyways, they find that the seemingly dead city is actually inhabited by the Daleks, who promptly lock them up in fear that they are working with their old enemies, the Thals. Luckily, the Daleks are largely incompetent prison wardens, offering the companions multiple opportunities to escape.
The Daleks of today are unstoppable killing machines. A single Dalek could take on an entire human army without the slightest concern. But these Daleks seem to be very uncertain of themselves. They’ve locked themselves in protective bubbles twice over (first in their personal armors, then again in the enclosed city), so afraid of the outside that they are effectively powerless against the inferior enemies at the city gates. Further, the Daleks seem particularly vulnerable to casual physical attacks and plastic sheets. Maybe they upgraded themselves after this embarrassing defeat.
The seven-part serial works very well, for the most part. Perhaps the Doctor spends a little too much time in a coma (he did that in the first story, too); but there’s a steady progression to the plot. With each episode, the world and the story open a little wider; first the forest, then the city, then the Daleks and Thals. There are a lot of the cliffhanger endings the show is known for, though none are terribly suspenseful, since you know the heroes will always escape with their lives.
Though the basic concept of the Thals and the Daleks is derivative of other science fiction, it’s presented well here. It’s hardly the last time the Doctor will take on a cliched story, but his character always brings a little flavor to them.
The video looks old and faded; but it’s a cheap TV serial from the ’60s, what do you expect?