I’m not going to blog-review all of Doctor Who the way I did Dark Shadows. I haven’t even seen all of Doctor Who and I don’t intend to. But after reviewing An Adventure in Space and Time and the very first episodes featuring William Hartnell that came along with it, I thought I’d look at more of these earliest episodes of a series that’s been running for slightly longer than I’ve been alive, as well as some of the other more important or interesting ones along the way.
Starting with this story that made Doctor Who a hit back in 1963 and introduced a pop-cultural icon to the world.
It’s a long story, covering seven episodes, each with its own title. I’m going to take them one at a time.
The Dead Planet
This first episode begins where the rather lackluster Stone-Age storyline left off: the Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and their two reluctant companions, Susan’s schoolteachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, have just landed on a new and unfamiliar planet. They go to freshen up before heading outside to explore. Unseen by them, the radiation monitor–which was reading a normal level when Susan checked it a minute earlier–now rises up into the Danger zone. The group leaves the Tardis, oblivious to the radioactivity all around them.
But they do observe its effects on the environment. As they walk through the strangely white forest, they discover that the soil is all sand and ashes and, while there is a breeze, the trees don’t move; Ian easily crumbles a branch with his fingers. They find a dead creature that looks something like a spiny armored lizard, with scales of metal.
At the edge of the forest, they see a vast city that appears to be empty.
I was recently rewatching The Genesis of the Daleks from Tom Baker’s first season as the Doctor, and was a bit surprised to hear him ask “Who’s this Davros?” and not be making a joke nor feigning ignorance. He didn’t know the name. It felt strange that there was ever a time when the Doctor didn’t know who Davros was. It’s much the same in this episode: I see those bulb-shaped buildings, and I know that we’re on Skaro. The Doctor won’t learn the name of the planet for some time yet.
Still in happy ignorance of the future recurring baddies waiting to meet him in the city, the Doctor is eager to hike over and have a look around.
After everything they’ve just been through with the cavepeople, the others all say No. They’re tired and it’s getting dark; they just want to get back to the Tardis and try again to return to Earth. The Doctor reluctantly gives in.
On their way back through the woods, Susan feels someone touch her and freaks out. Her grandfather pooh-poohs the idea of an unseen presence as impossible. Barbara is a little more sympathetic.
The Doctor attempts to start up the Tardis, but it won’t move. After looking underneath the console, he holds up a little gizmo and announces that the problem is the “fluid link,” which is drained and not functioning. He needs to put some mercury in it. He has none of this crucial chemical in supply, so they’ll have to go to the city after all once it’s morning and search for some.
Ian looks skeptical as the Doctor chuckles to himself at the prospect of getting his own way after all.
That evening, they hear someone moving outside the Tardis and when they peek outside find a box of what appears to be little bottles of medicine on the ground. It looks like they were dropped by some kind of person, which proves that Susan wasn’t just imagining things.
In the morning, the foursome hikes over to the city, which is a mile or so from where they’ve parked. Not a very long walk, but the Doctor is worn out by the time they get there, and Ian and Barbara are feeling strangely tired too. The group agrees to split up to search for the mercury.
It’s Barbara we follow down corridors with slantwise walls, through a series of automatic doors that close behind her. A security camera high up on one wall moves to watch her as she passes. Running into a dead end, she tries to go back the way she came, but the door refuses to open. Another door does let her through and she is herded toward a lift which takes her far down beneath the ground level of the city.
When she leaves the elevator, there are more corridors, and something comes toward her that makes her scream. All we see of it as this first episode closes is a metal appendage with some sort of black node at the end.
To be continued…