Saturday 27 November 2010

005 The Daleks Part 1: The Dead Planet

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

We have an odd effect at the beginning of this episode that every time I see it makes me think my TV has gone wrong. Then Fluffing Billy makes up for the previous four episodes with wonders such as "Chesterfield" and "Semi Solidified" when talking about the beast (more follows) which looks like it's stood on a garden barbeque built of breeze blocks! Going back to the Tardis just holds the story up with a lot of mucking about with the food machine. Eventually we get to go to the city thanks to some sabotage from the Doctor.

The city model itself is great and the episode picks up in the last few minutes as we reach the futuristic city. Oooooh, that door noise is superb, still occasionally used today. NOOOO, Don't split up! Everyone's starting to feel ill by this point as they realise Barbara's missing. She runs round the city, and is taken in a lift down to a lower level where she's menaced by an unseen creature with a robotic arm.....

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 the 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). 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.

The Daleks is 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.

Great debate exists about the overall story titles of some of the Hartnell series. This story has been referred to as "The Daleks" (obviously), "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 (DVD pre-orders for that story coincidentally went up yesterday). 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!


  1. I always thought that the first Daleks story would be boring, but when I watched it, I was impressed at how well structured and full of depth it is.

    That said, the first episode isn't as great, mostly due to the need for the dalek to turn up at the cliffhanger.

  2. I always liked from episode two to the Thal massacre and nthen found the Dalek less Flash Gordon trek through the forrest and caves so boring!

  3. I think I may be the one person who can honestly say that I really love the first episode of this story. Indeed, I think the whole first half of it is fantastic.

    There is a sense of exploration and the unknown to this first episode. The travelers don't know where they are, why this world is the way it is and we get to see their differing agendas play out. I don't think it is that slow by comparison to other television of the time either (although I will grant you that it is slow by the standards of 80's and 90's television, which in turn are slow by most 21st Century standards).

    What does strike me, and really draws me into it are the fantastic set. Not just the TARDIS set, which remains wonderful in its unlikeliness. But the other two main sets, both of which we will see more of as the story goes on. The petrified forest is a very striking creation which looks suitably alien, and the alien city is wonderful for one very important reason - it doesn't look like it was made for humans. The doors and coridoors are the wrong size and shape and for me that is what sells the idea of Barbara being lost in a genuinely alien environment at the end of the episode.

  4. I also enjoy the first episode, and think it's partly because it is so low key and uneventful, that the following episodes are as effective as they are.