Doctor Who: The Daleks, Part Two: The Survivors

It’s time you faced up to your responsibilities. You got us here. Now I’m going to make sure that you get us back. – Ian

I can see already that one of the challenges facing “classic” Doctor Who will be the pacing of the serials. The adventure with the cave-people completed in a brisk three-episodes, but The Daleks will be seven when it is done. While the first episode did a great job setting the status quo of the series, the second episode tries to include the key exposition to get us hooked on this serial– and it mostly succeeds– but we realize in the end that we have not made it very far.

After a brief cameo at the end of the last episode, the Daleks are introduced here properly. They are not quite the Daleks that we know from the later series, but the introduction is done well enough. They are a deadly foe, but perhaps one that is somewhat more devious than their blunt-instrument counterparts later. On to the recap.

"The Survivors", Season 1, Episode 6. First aired December 28, 1963.
“The Survivors”, Season 1, Episode 6. First aired December 28, 1963.

Ian, Susan, and the Doctor are searching for Barbara in the twisted corridors of the city, but without success. At one point, they hear a ticking noise and follow it into a lab or computer room of some kind, complete with a geiger counter. Good news: There is intelligent life! And an advanced enough civilization that finding mercury should be possible. Bad news: They are all dying of acute radiation poisoning.

The Doctor wants to leave immediately, without Barbara. He admits that he sabotaged the fluid link and that there is nothing wrong. They can leave at any time. He tries to take Susan and leave, but Ian snatches the fluid link. “Not until we’ve found Barbara.”

As they leave the room, they realize they are surrounded by Daleks and are to be taken prisoner. Ian tries to run, but the Daleks shoot him and paralyze his legs, warning that one more shot and the damage will be permanent. The Doctor and Susan have to carry Ian to their cell, but when they arrive they discover Barbara. Together again!

Meanwhile, the Daleks are conversing. Radiation levels on the planet have been gradually declining, but still fatal to human life. The Thals, they believe, have discovered a cure for the radiation sickness– but why are these four still affected? They bring in the Doctor to interrogate him. Naturally, the Doctor turns the tables and gets more information out of the daleks than they of him: they think he is a Thal, the Daleks and the Thals fought a war more than 500 years ago, after the war the Daleks fled into the city in their machines and the Thals are in the surrounding countryside, horribly mutated by the hundreds of years of radiation.

The Doctor convinces the Daleks to allow someone to go fetch the vials of (what they hope is) radiation drugs from the TARDIS. Ian can not yet walk, but Susan is not as affected as the others and agrees to go by herself. This is necessary because only she can unlock the TARDIS door, even with the proper key. Unknown to them, the Daleks conspire to take the drugs when Susan returns and let the party die. They need to duplicate the drug for an unknown reason.

Susan makes it to the jungle, and outside the Dalek scanning range, but thinks she is being watched. She runs in a panic and makes to to the TARDIS, safe and sound. She takes the box of radiation drugs and steels herself to leave again. She dashes out into the night. To be continued.


I’ve learnt quite a lot from the Daleks. – The Doctor

At some level, this should be Susan’s episode. We see her brave the unknown for the first time to rescue her grandfather and her teachers. And we get quite close to that when Susan dithers over whether to rest in the safety of the TARDIS or to dash back into the unknown where mutated beasts may be lurking just around the corner. I wish I felt it more, but I hope we get it in the next episode. Too much time was spent this episode seeing Ian struggling with his brief paralysis when we should have been in Susan’s head.

Other than Susan, the key development here comes at the beginning. We see the Doctor seemingly willing to abandon Barbara to her fate on the planet, but only Ian’s insistence (and theft) keeps him from following through on that threat. This is not a side of the Doctor that we will see much of later and it is clear that he has not fully accepted Ian and Barbara as “companions” yet. Perhaps in time.

The Daleks here are like fluffy kittens compared to their later counterparts, though perhaps more devious. There is forethought in their plan to get the Thal drugs, though no revelation yet why they want or need them. They could have killed Ian, but chose not to– even their threat to give him permanent paralysis seems fairly non-violent compared to the “Exterminate!” Daleks of later series. Proper Daleks would have killed Ian, Barbara, and the Doctor as soon as Susan left– but good thing these are not “proper” Daleks because otherwise we would have no show. These Daleks are also unable to leave the city, suggesting that they do not have universe-conquering aspirations (or abilities) at this point in their history.

The Good:

  • The Dalek city has no stairs– all lifts– a fact that Barbara comments on. It also has no furniture and overall seems reasonable for the encased Daleks to be able to get around in.
  • Susan laughs at the thought that the Daleks could have creatures inside. Oh, foreshadowing.

The Bad:

  • Little development for the characters for most of the episode. The Doctor and Barbara spent half the time asleep.
  • How did the Daleks know they would only temporarily paralyze Ian? They have not met humanoids in hundreds of years. (And in this story, it is unclear whether the Thals were humanoid prior to the radiation.)
  • Susan screams.

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