The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Before watching The Dalek Invasion of Earth, which incidentally I was seeing for the first time, I can't remember the last time I actually sat down and watched a Hartnell story which didn't seem like something of an ordeal - admittedly the only ones I'd seen recently are An Unearthly Child, The Gunfighters and The Tenth Planet, but I can't really remember thoroughly enjoying any I saw in the mid-1990s, when I had most of the BBC video releases.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth, therefore, gave me something of a surprise by being largely gripping throughout. I'm not sure how well it would stand up to repeat viewing - while I enjoyed it at the time, splitting the cast up into three basic units [The Doctor, Susan and David Campbell; Barbara and Jenny; Ian] is textbook Terry Nation padding. First time round you don't know which plot threads are going to be the interesting ones, and which are there to give Jacqueline Hill something to do, seeing as Barbara isn't as smart as the Doctor, as strong as Ian or as good at getting into trouble as Susan. There are various faults throughout the story. The Robo-Men really give the impression that the actors are moving carefully to stop their headpieces falling off. The first episode cliff-hanger is woefully undramatic - I don't mean its shock value is rendered null and void by the picture of a Dalek on the front of the box, or that it's illogical [which it is - unless the Daleks routinely patrol the bottom of the Thames in case they need to rumble slowly out to give someone a bit of a surprise] - it's just a really badly directed and edited sequence, with the Dalek seen wobbling slowly out of the river while Ian and The Doctor argue with the Robo-Men, before a cut to a side-on shot of the Dalek which exposes just how much trouble it's having getting out to the Thames. While the Amicus film adaptation [Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.] is by far the weaker version [aside from a larger budget meaning more impressive Robo-Men and Dalek saucers], it does nail this sequence. It's a surprising failure as for the whole the direction ranges from solid to exemplary. The Slyther is not only as unconvincing as pretty much any shaky Who monster you'd like to shake an unrealistic rubber tentacle at, but also unnecessary and detrimental to the Daleks - why do they need to have a... whatever guarding their prison camp? Why not use, I dunno, a Dalek? Also, the actual ending's pretty bad - the Doctor and Barbara order the Robo-Men to turn on the Daleks, and that's that. The story turns in less time than it took me to write that sentence. It's a big shame as it utterly undermines the huge amount of background work done across the story, and ends up making the Daleks look a bit rubbish.

There are a few things often criticised that don't bother me. That the story shows the Daleks' dominance of the planet is only shown as covering Southern England is a pretty poor attack really, as Southern England is where the TARDIS lands, and we're following its' crew. Spending twenty minutes of screen-time on something utterly peripheral like the efforts of the Jamaican resistance would severely damage the story's pace. The story's general present-day feeling doesn't really bother me either - it's not like it tries constantly to convince us it's 2164, so this juxtaposition with the majority of the costumes or the unchanged London isn't thrown in the viewer's face... it's only really something that grates when you sit down afterwards and think about it, and thus as long as you don't decide to let it bother you the next time you watch, isn't a problem when viewing, only evaluating. That said, it's a bit of shame the production team didn't decide to set it in 1965 or something else near-future.

The regulars are on good form. Hartnell maintains credibility throughout, rarely terminally fluffing his lines or confusing everyone else in his scenes with his, erm, "ad-libbing". The Doctor's well-written, being principled without crossing over the line to pious, and Hartnell's performance gels with the grim tone when necessary. William Russell excels as Ian, who receives superlative writing, carrying his plot strand largely by himself, and being shown to be unflappable and resourceful. It's somehow fitting that he manages to keep his suit pretty much immaculate throughout. Jacqueline Hill has her moments as well - to be honest she does very well considering she's often paired with the dire Ann Davies as Jenny, and while it's silly, I rather enjoy her attempt to confuse the Daleks with historical babble - it's a guilty pleasure for sure, but rather funny. Carole Ann Ford manages to suppress her stagey side most of the time. She occasionally lapses into melodrama, but otherwise convincingly portrays Susan's maturing persona, and her dilemma over whether to stay in the TARDIS, or settle with David.

The guest cast is excellent by and large. The likeable Peter Fraser brings life to David Campbell, while Alan Judd's portrayal of the driven Dortmun is splendid - believable, dignified and deserving of begrudged respect, but never likeable or pitiable. Bernard Kay as the stoic Tyler is similarly convincing. The characters don't feel like they've just sprang into existence the second the TARDIS arrived, but give a genuine feel that they've spent their recent lives under the cosh of the Daleks. Only Anne Davies as Jenny really falls flat. Sometimes Jenny sometimes simply seems like a surly character, but the majority of the time it seems like the actress would really rather be somewhere else.

The location filming is exquisite. Sure, the odd car can be glimpsed, but otherwise it's jarring to see a dead London being patrolled by Daleks - the impact would probably have been lost if any real attempt had been made on the show's budget to create a future London. The scenes of Barbara, Dortmun and Jenny fleeing through London are marvellous, and I really like the Dalek lettering that's been added to various monuments and signs. The abysmal Slyther, the saucer model shots and Robo-Men aside, production values are pretty solid - the sets look rather good, especially considering the number used.

As the other stars, the Daleks come across well. The redesign isn't as bad as it's often made out to be - the extended "bumper" around the bottom is unobtrusive, and the collector dishes are a nice touch of continuity, also serving to remove one weakness from their debut story. They're generally well-managed and shown to be difficult to kill, until the ending when they seemingly lose the ability to fire...

Overall, The Dalek Invasion of Earth is a pretty solid story. Viewed now, it's a nice change from stories where aliens attempt to invade Earth - here, the Daleks glean a large amount of credibility from the very fact that they've already conquered the planet. It's not quite an absolute classic, and certainly not a good introduction for newer fans, but it's an enjoyable romp.

Review by Tom Prankerd

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