Of course, everybody knows the Daleks are as integral to Who folklore as the police call box. Everybody knows that the Doctor has come up against them in every one of his regenerations. Everybody knows they have been chasing scared children behind the sofa for almost fifty of your Earth years.
What I didn’t realise before picking up this box set was just how early on the Daleks appeared. No sooner has the mysterious Doctor kidnapped two innocent teachers and taken them to prehistoric Earth for kicks, than they wind up in the middle of a petrified forest on an unknown planet. Presumably due to the Doctor’s relative youth, or perhaps due to his swiss-cheesed memory (which would also explain why there is no mention of Time Lords or Gallifrey in these early stories), he starts out with as little idea of the Daleks’ nature as Ian, Barbara and the casual viewer in 1963.
This original Dalek serial takes up seven episodes; as a result some of the episodes in the middle do seem to drag a little, especially to 21st century viewers, but in retrospect it is worth putting the time in to see where these ubervillains of the Whoniverse originated. Here we learn that the Daleks are the mutated remnants of a long and bloody war, which has left the surface uninhabitable without the use of anti-radiation drugs.
The nature of the war appears somewhat different to that which we later discover in Genesis of the Daleks; and indeed the mutation is believed to be natural here, rather than forced by Davros. Still, it hardy matters; it’s all just wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey when you get right down to it.
We also, for a brief moment, see that there is indeed something living inside the Dalek shells (although, in later Dalek versions it will be impossible to remove the biological component and climb in to hide from other Daleks). Other aspects of these early Daleks also disappear later, notably the need to draw power from static electricity in the floor panels.
Needless to say, the Daleks were bent on exterminating anything un-Dalek even back in 1963.
The Doctor, like his newly discovered nemesises, is at the beginning of a journey here. He is still, as I have commented before, deeply unpleasant at times in this first generation. Here, for instance, he outright lies, sabotaging the TARDIS in order to get a look at what he assumes to be a long deserted alien city. Clearly that backfired.
Make no attempt to capture them, they are to be exterminated.
Interestingly though, as I get to know One, I think perhaps I can see where Six got some of his brash and egotistical nature, and the mood swings. Perhaps if Six hadn’t looked so much like an explosion in a clown factory or had been given time to settle down with some half-decent stories, he would have turned out to have a likeable side, much as One did.
So, after a slow first serial, Doctor Who suddenly raised the stakes dramatically with the introduction of what would quickly become the iconic baddie of British TV. And with some cracking cliffhangers, this story – and the Daleks – probably set the show on course to become what it is today. I mean, can you imagine Doctor Who without the Daleks?
So, put the retconning down to timey-wimey, top up your popcorn during the slow bits around episode 5, and this is enjoyable as sci-fi TV and as essential Who folklore.
Oh, and don’t forget: the original Dalek voice? It’s Grandpa Pig.