While Barbara is meeting her first Dalek (although we don’t get to see it) at the end of Part 1, the Doctor, Susan, and Ian eventually return to the point where they entered the city. When Barbara doesn’t turn up, they go in search of her. Along the way, the trio comes upon a room containing monitoring instruments that appear to be in use; among these is a Geiger Counter, clicking rapidly.
So now they know all about the dangerously high radiation levels they’ve been wandering around in for the last two days and understand the significance of the ashen soil, the dead and crumbling forest, and this apparently empty city. They also realize why all of them have been feeling so strangely tired.
The Doctor posits that a neutron bomb would cause such devastation, but leave the buildings intact. I remember there being talk of neutron bombs back in the 1980s, but didn’t realize that the idea of such a nuclear weapon was around in the early ’60s. Whatever type of bomb caused this, it’s urgent that they hurry back to the Tardis and go to another place and time where they can be treated as soon as possible for radiation sickness.
Ian mentions that they must find some mercury, and the Doctor makes a confession: there’s nothing wrong with the little fluid link gizmo; he nobbled the Tardis just so they would have to come and explore the city. But now that he’s in danger, he wants to go and leave Barbara behind.
Back in the Stone Age story, I said that this version of the character is more like Dr. Smith than any Doctor I’m later familiar with–and here’s another example. But he isn’t as camp.
Susan and Ian refuse to go without Barbara, and Ian has the fluid link, so it’s useless for the Doctor to go back to the Tardis alone.
The argument turns out to be moot in any case. Before they can go anywhere, they are surrounded by oversized, xenophobic, metal pepper-pots that hysterically shriek “Exterminate!“
Except that these very first Daleks don’t shriek “Exterminate!”
They order their captives to come with them, and zap Ian when he tried to make a break for it–not enough to kill him, just to numb his legs so that he can’t stand or walk without assistance. Then they escort the trio to the lift and take them down to the underground part of the city, to the cell where they already have Barbara locked up. For Daleks, this is a surprisingly warm and friendly welcome.
It’s interesting to see how little the Daleks have changed over the years. The newer ones are bigger and come in an array of colors (although, if An Adventure in Space and Time is accurate, these guys had baby-blue trim and dots), and the materials they’re made from don’t look as flimsy once the BBC gave the show a decent budget. But they remain essentially and recognizably the same: bumpy, paneled skirts, eye-stalks and little lights like ears on top that flicker when they speak, plunger and whisk “arms”. Compare the Cybermen or Klingons, who have evolved so much since they were also introduced in the 1960s.
In their cell, the group discuss their captors. The Doctor and Ian refer to the Daleks as “machines,” but Barbara wonders “if there’s someone inside”; Susan, weirdly, laughs at the notion.
Two of the Daleks are spying on the prisoners via a surveillance camera in the cell, and they have a chat which reveals that they think these people are “Thals” and that the prisoners are suffering the effects of radiation sickness . The Daleks have also been monitoring the radiation levels outside and note that they’ve been falling; it’s their plan to go beyond the city once they can safely do so.
The Doctor is brought to them for interrogation. Of course, he denies that he and his companions are Thals–he’s never even heard the word before. The Daleks don’t believe this at first, and call him delirious when he refers to the Tardis. They prefer their own idea that the medication the Thals have been using to counteract the radiation no longer works, and this group has come into the city looking for more medicine.
At the mention of medicine, a lightbulb goes off over the Doctor’s head; he realizes what that box of little vials that was left outside the Tardis must be. He tells the Daleks about this box and, being kindly folk, the Daleks agree that one of the prisoners can go back to the Tardis and fetch the medicine.
They also take the opportunity to give the Doctor, and us, a bit of Skaro’s history: There were two races, the Dals (called the Kaleds later on) and the Thals. Five hundred years ago, they had “neutronic wars” that devastated the planet. The Dals retreated to their underground city and their wheelie body-armor to survive. Most of the Thals, who remained on the surface, were killed, but the survivors have become “disgustingly mutated.”
Who’s going to back to the Tardis to fetch the medicine? The Doctor is so weak that he passes out once he’s back in the cell, and Barbara is little better. Ian insists that he must be the one to go, but his legs are still wobbly after being zapped and he can barely walk, much less go running back through the forest. Besides, he doesn’t know how to unlock the Tardis. Susan does, and she’s the one who’s in the best condition. So off she goes, sobbing and hysterical the whole way.
Carole Ann Ford does commentary on this episode, and doesn’t sound any happier about Susan’s whimpering than I am. She says that when she was cast, she was told that the Doctor’s granddaughter was going to be more of an Avengers-esque action-girl, but that the character was rarely written that way and that her alien nature was dropped pretty quickly once the show got going. Mary Tamm had similar complaints about the changes in her role when she was cast as Romana, another Gallifreyan, in the 1970s. There are occasional glints of the brilliant whiz-kid we were introduced to in An Unearthly Child, but Susan isn’t very brave. For a girl who’s been traveling all over space and time with her grandfather for some time, she’s incredibly timid and fearful about strange new places and adventurous situations.
To be fair, it’s night as she runs through the forest alone. A storm has started up so there’s thunder and lightning. And the Doctor did tell her about the horrible mutants out there.
The Daleks are tracking her movements from the underground city, since they don’t entirely believe the Doctor’s story. They expect Susan to make contact with the Thals.
The Daleks aren’t as generous as they appear to be. They don’t intend to let their prisoners have the medication; they want it to duplicate for their own use. They’re just going to let the prisoners die of radiation sickness. Well, I’m shocked.
Susan reaches the Tardis, but stays just long enough to pick up the little metal box containing the medicine and to remind herself that everybody’s lives are depending on her. Then she runs back out into the storm–and straight into one of the Thals.
To be continued…