Hello everyone, the Historian here, with Ketina, Ronelyn and Schmallturm. This is the first episode of a story we've really been looking forward to, so let's skip the preliminaries and get to the summary!
Episode Summary: First aired 21 November 1964. A man wearing a strange helmet walks jerkily towards a river. He tears something connected to the helmet off his neck, screams and walks into the river to drown...Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor is still frustrated with the scanner. He can't tell where they've landed, beyond the fact that there seems to be running water outside. When the others enter the control room, he has Susan check the vital readings. All seems normal, so the crew decide to go out and take a look. The TARDIS has landed on what appears to be an embankment, with a bridge overhead and a river down the slope. (In fact, they have landed on the very spot where the strange man was at the start of the episode!) The Doctor, Ian and Barbara immediately recognize the buildings on the far bank--the river is the Thames and they have returned to London! Ian and Barbara are overjoyed, but the Doctor is not so sure. It seems too deserted and decayed to be 1960s London...they are in the right place, but are they in the right time? Susan, deciding to have a better look around, climbs up one of the bridge supports, but falls. Ian barely manages to get her away in time, as the bridge collapses, blocking the entrance to the TARDIS! Ian and the Doctor examine the wreckage, realizing they would need help to shift it. And how, if this is the 1960s, would they explain having to break into a police box? Ian theorizes that an acetylene torch could cut through, but how would they get one? He notices a warehouse nearby and suggests checking it for tools. The Doctor is not very easy with this, but agrees. Both he and Ian now agree that this is not the teachers' time period. They've heard no sounds, no people, not even the chimes of Big Ben! Meanwhile, Barbara has examined Susan's ankle; it's definitely sprained and beginning to swell. The travellers decide that the Doctor and Ian will go off to the warehouse while Barbara watches Susan. Barbara takes her handkerchief down to the river to get some water to put on the ankle. The warehouse looks dilapidated and deserted. Ian calls out, but gets no answer as the two enter. Returning to Susan, Barbara sees a sign posted below the bridge: "It is forbidden to dump bodies in the river." She, too, is now certain they are not in their own time and she hurries back to Susan, who tells Barbara she is guiltily happy that they'd gone wrong. It means they won't have to separate, with the teachers remaining in their own time. Barbara decides to return to the river for more water. Ian and the Doctor continue to explore the warehouse, unaware that they are being watched by a young man hidden amongst the rubbish. Ian looks out and sees Battersea Power Station across the way. Two of its chimneys seem to have been broken! The Doctor, meanwhile, finds a calendar in a dusty desk which confirms to them that they have landed sometime around 2164. Barbara stoops to wet her handkerchief...only to see a body floating in the water! She draws back and then hurries back to find Susan. The girl is gone, however, and a disheveled man angrily asks her what she's doing out here as a target? He tells her Susan has already been taken to safety by a man called Tyler just as gunfire erupts a distance away. The man runs and Barbara follows. While looking for tools, the Doctor dislodges a large box. It falls to the floor and a man, wearing a helmet and uniform similar to the one the suicide was wearing. Ian and the Doctor, after recovering from their surprise, try to figure out what the helmet could be. Ian suggests some kind of medical aid, but the Doctor theorizes that it has something to do with receiving high frequency signals. Some kind of personal communication device? Ian asks, just as they discover the knife in the man's back. Ian also finds a whip that the man apparently carried. They hear a noise from another room. Ian makes a deal of noise with doors, trying to flush whoever it may be out, but almost falls when he kicks in a door with no landing behind it! The two men decide to abandon the search and return to Barbara and Susan. Their observer, still hidden, watches them go. Barbara follows the men, Tyler carrying Susan, in a wild run, stopping and hiding every few feet. She has no idea what they are running from, but immediately understands that there is a threat to evade. As the Doctor and Ian leave the warehouse, a strange sound from the sky makes them look up...to see a flying saucer gliding down over London! Resting for a moment, Susan and Barbara tell Tyler they must return to find their friends. He tells them they must get to safety and then worry about the other two. Ian and the Doctor, meanwhile, have returned to the TARDIS to find the others gone. Ian expresses his frustration at the way Susan and Barbara always wander off, but they speculate that the women hid from the gunfire they'd heard earlier. The two resolve to wait there for their friends. The Doctor wants to investigate what may have happened, but Ian simply wishes to leave; he does not want to know what disaster would befall his city in (to him) the future. Susan, Barbara and Tyler have reached the man's hideout. He touches a switch and the wall opens. A young man, David (the man who spied on the Doctor and Ian in the warehouse) emerges and berates Tyler for being late. He then sees the women. He asks Barbara if she can cook; she says yes and he replies that they need cooks. He asks Susan what she does. "I eat," she replies, defiantly. David tells Tyler he'd had a fight with something called a "Roboman" at their supply depot and they would have to move it. Tyler mentions going back for the women's two friends and David realizes that he'd seen them at the warehouse. Just then, a man in a wheelchair, who the others address as Dortmun, joins them. Tyler tells him that "they" have landed a saucer at the "heliport," as well as introducing them to Susan and Barbara. When he tells Dortmun about their friends, he is pleased. More men, he says, and sends David out to collect them. Return quickly, he tells the young man, as they are to go over the "attack plan" soon. The women are taken below as Dortmun stays above on guard. Ian, meanwhile, is getting restless and wanders a bit. He comes across the sign about dumping bodies and calls for the Doctor. Could the disaster have been a plague? David, above them, sees the two men, but before he can call to them, he sees a group of "Robomen," men wearing those strange helmets, walking in a jerky, syncopated, robotic fashion, approaching them. He is too late. Ian and the Doctor decide to search for the women, but turn and are confronted by a group of Robomen bearing whips. When they turn to run, they see another group cutting off their route. Ian tries to talk to them, but, as one, they raise their whips. Thinking quickly, Ian and the Doctor decide to try to jump into the river to escape, but when they turn they are confronted with the last thing they expect: A DALEK HAS EMERGED OUT OF THE WATER, CUTTING OFF THEIR LAST ESCAPE....!
To begin with, I have to say this is a story both Ketina and I have been looking forward to since starting the Project. It's one of her absolute favorites, and I like it a lot too. I've only seen it in the edited "three hour movie" format, however, and I remember it dragging a bit, so seeing it an episode at a time will hopefully be really fun. (I also haven't seen it in something over a decade, so my memories are not quite as sharp as Ketina's.)
This first episode far, far exceeded my memories. It is, in a word, excellent. A suitably creepily building first episode in a story where, insofar as the original viewing public was concerned, anything could happen. We start with a completely inexplicable (at the time) suicide, then see Ian and Barbara's joy at returning to London (at the right size, too!)...which, as the episode goes on, gives way to a deep uneasiness and, finally, to actual terror. Barbara's panicked running, when she has absolutely no idea what she is running from was particularly effective. The complete silence of the Thames embankment is, to say the least, eerie, and the sign about dumping bodies doesn't help matters! (Or, I suppose I should say that it does.) To say the least, the regulars come off very well here, giving us a real feeling of rising tension that never really lets up for the entire episode. Even Susan, who has come off as a bit weak lately, has her moments. Her immediate initiative, even though it causes everyone to be cut off from the TARDIS, shows her resourcefulness and her guilty confession to Barbara reveals her fears. She does not like change; she is comfortable with her friends and doesn't want to be without them. And her response to David, "I eat," is just beautiful. Go, Susan, go! As for Ian and Barbara, what can I say that I haven't said before. The Project continues to love Barbara. Note that when she sees the body, she draws back, but doesn't scream. She thinks for a moment, fearful but not panicking, and decides to return to Susan to protect her. Just wonderful. Ian, too, shines here. (My particular favorite moment is his frustration at finding Susan and Barbara missing. When he said, "Why do they always do this?" I almost laughed out loud.) He is especially revealing in his response to the Doctor's wish to know what happened there. This is Ian's future, not on another planet, but in his home. And he does not want to know. To the Doctor's credit, although he doesn't seem to fully understand, he does not press the point. In fact, Hartnell's Doctor seems really comfortable with all of his companions, treating the teachers as friends and being appreciative of their talents.
The guest cast, well...it's a bit hard to tell thus far. They seem fine, and certainly the (as far as I know) unnamed man did an excellent job at conveying the danger Barbara and Susan were in without going into detail. I had no problem seeing why Barbara simply followed him, running headlong into the unknown from the unknown. The Robomen were just amazing. Incredibly creepy in their movement and speech, they look like robotized humans. I love the design of the helmet; it just looks like this horrible, invasive thing. Very effective. (Not all of us agreed about that last part; see below.) And the cliffhanger....now, I'm under no illusions that the Great British Viewing Public didn't know that there was another Dalek story in the offing; it had been part of the advanced advertising for the second season. Still, the sight of it rising out of the Thames, a real place rather than make-believe Skaro...just a really fine cliffhanger. And the Doctor and Ian's reaction was perfect. Quite simply, I can't wait to see how they get out of it!
Not everything was perfect, of course. Given the limitations of the time, though, the flying saucer, while a little wobbly, could have been much worse. I was impressed that it actually looked like it was flying across London. Ronelyn was a bit confused by the protective device in Dortmun's hideout. It looked like the hidden pressure plate (?) controlled a mechanism that opened a secret window. All well and good, and David climbs out through the window. But then Dortmun wheels in from offstage, not from the window, and Susan and Barbara are also not led down through it. My theory is that the mechanism also exposes some kind of door offscreen, but I really have no firm idea. I also had no problems with it, but Ronelyn asked that I put this in.
This episode also has a lot of really good location shooting. I was pleased at how well the location film and the studio shots matched up; it was almost seamless, especially the scene with Ian kicking through the door and nearly falling out into space until the Doctor pulled him back in. A tremendous job by director Richard Martin, especially considering this was Doctor Who's first extensive location shoot. (Prior to this, we've only had a stand-in for William Hartnell walking down a country lane in "The Reign of Terror.)
All in all, a great episode. Well constructed, well acted, well directed with a fantastic cliffhanger. I think I can say, without fear of contradiction (from the team, at least) that this is an example of Hartnell Doctor Who at its finest.
A note before I turn this over to Ketina: There is a possibility that we will not have an episode post next week due to a pressing engagement. Right now, the chances are looking about even, but we're hopeful...although if we are able to watch/post, you probably won't see anything until Sunday night rather than our usual Friday. I will try to write a post sometime this week when I know for sure. But until then, I remain
This story is going to be tougher for me to review, as "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" is likely the story that I have seen the most often of any of the William Hartnell stories. It's harder to be critical and review the individual episodes in isolation when I recall the entirety of the story fairly well, although it has been a couple of years since the last time I watched it (it's so nice to be watching DVDs again, by the way.) But here goes.
The Silly (shorter list this week, so let's start here):
- Flying saucer on a string, when the space ship is shown. That was a bit of an "Ed Wood" moment - having recently seen "Plan 9 from Outerspace" (Rifftrack style) with the Historian, I definitely had some flashbacks there.
- Big silver hat things on the Robomen. When the Doctor describes them as personal communication devices I couldn't help but think "those are the biggest blue tooth devices ever made!"
- Hurt ankle? Again? Really? Didn't we just do this in the last story with Barbara? Casting directions for Doctor Who female companions: must have weak ankles.
- Barbara's hair.
Nearly everything else, really. Especially:
- I loved the sign "Do not dump bodies in the river". While it took forever for the TARDIS crew to notice it, it was very visible for the viewers, and especially creepy. I wanted to shout at the group "Turn around! See the sign! Get back in the TARDIS and leave, you fools!" It was just especially subtle enough to give the entire first half of the story a nice forboding feeling.
- The robomen were also especially creapy, big goofy hats aside. I love the way they just appear standing out of nowhere when they surround the Doctor and Ian. And they sound rather Dalek-esk when they finally speak.
- Add to that the dead roboman in the cardboard box. Yeah, okay the actor twitched a bit. But a body in a big cardboard box! That was especially eww worthy. Awesome story to watch the day before Halloween. :)
- I also enjoyed the grittiness of the Doctor and Ian wandering around the warehouse. While the scene went a bit too long (don't they always in these early stories?), it was a beautifully grungy and dangerous looking place. Reminded me of an old (and almost certainly dangerous) basement I played in as a kid, that if my mom had found out about I would have been in tons of trouble for going into. Tetanus anyone? Anyway, it felt much more real to me than "big old empty warehouse with some junk off in the corner" that's more typical of scenes like this one.
- And yet another awesome, awesome Dalek intro. Having a Dalek come out of the river was just completely scary and maleviolent If you can put aside out of your mind all the goofy stuff they eventually do with Daleks in future stories, this scene is really cool. A Dalek, in water, coming to kill! Whoa!
Cliff hangers mean a lot more when there's a solid week between episodes (even when you know they're going to somehow be okay).
Until next time,
NEXT WEEK: "THE DALEKS"