Doctor Who: The Daleks, Part Four: The Ambush

“Make no attempt to capture them. They are to be exterminated. You understand? Exterminated.” – The Daleks

This episode was fantastic. We had two great action scenes, the Daleks did not act particularly stupid this time, and the plot came full circle with the re-introduction of the TARDIS’s “fluid link”. Better yet, this episode finally sees the Daleks getting scary. I suspect the challenge will be keeping up the tension as we have three episodes left in this arc, but I try to keep remembering that the original viewers did not know how many episodes were left.

Even more important to the history of the show, this episode marks the very first use of the Dalek catch-phrase, “Exterminate!” On to the recap.

"The Ambush", Season 1, Episode 8. First aired January 11, 1964.
“The Ambush”, Season 1, Episode 8. First aired January 11, 1964.

If only I knew why the Daleks hated us. – Alydon

The gang pushes Ian-in-a-Dalek through the halls of the Dalek city, but only for a few moments until Ian figures out the controls and is able to move on his own. Susan recognizes where they are and knows that there is an elevator to the surface nearby, but also that it was guarded by a Dalek. Although Ian’s voice is disguised to sound like a Dalek, the Doctor urges him to do as little talking as possible.

When they reach the guard, Ian bluffs and insists that “The Council” wants to interrogate the prisoners. When that seems to fail, Susan fakes an escape attempt which Ian-as-a-Dalek foils, forcing her into an antechamber just outside the elevator. Ian manages to convince the other Dalek to leave, but it buys them only moments as the guard Dalek radios of the prisoner transfer and their ruse is discovered. The team manage to get the door shut, but the guard sounds the alarm and Ian is immediately stuck to the floor. Worse, the Dalek casing can no longer open: he is trapped. Daleks bang on the metal door, but moments later the door gets hot: the Daleks are cutting through the door to reach them. Ian insists that everyone leave but him. He will work out the Dalek suit, but they should go on ahead in case he does not make it.

As the elevator ascends to the surface with the Doctor, Susan, and Barbara; the Doctor estimates that the Daleks can cut through in only ten minutes. Once they make it to the top– inexorably slowly– they send the elevator back down to Ian. While this is going on, the Daleks keep cutting, gradually carving a door. Finally, the Daleks break through and immediately open fire on the Dalek casing in front of them… but it is empty. Ian has already made his escape up the elevator.

The team emerged from the elevator high above the city– they missed the ground floor. But from a window, Barbara sees that the Thals have arrived and knows they are walking into an ambush. They try to call out, but the window is sound-proof. The Doctor finds an exit, but it too is magnetized shut and he starts to work on it. Down the open elevator shaft, Ian sees that the Daleks have boarded the elevator and it is heading toward them. With the help of Susan and Barbara, he picks up a heavy statue that happened to be in the room that they were in and drops it down the elevator shaft, stopping their pursuers at least temporarily.  Meanwhile. the Doctor succeeds in getting the door open and the group escapes into the city.

Across the city, the Thals approach their rendezvous: Temmosus, Alydon, and two others we do not know. Temmosus is optimistic that the Daleks will accept peace while Alydon is suspicous. Temmosus scolds Alydon for his suspicion as fear leads to hatred and war, but the Thals come in peace. When they arrive, the Thals find vegetables as promised– but also Dalek guards.

The Doctor and his companions run through the city, arriving at the city walls– around 50 yards from the Thals– unseen by the other Daleks. The Doctor wants to go back to the ship, but Barbara and the others feel responsible for the Thals’ ambush and want to help. Ian again sends the others on ahead of him; he will go warn the Thals alone. The Doctor wishes him luck as they depart for the TARDIS.

Back with the Thals, Temmosus calls out to the Daleks and tells that that he wants to live in peace. He offers to cultivate land for the Daleks if they help each other. “The time for enmity is passed,” he says, but also allows the Daleks to not decide immediately. Ian finally arrives and warns the Thals of the trap– and the Daleks open fire. Temmosus is killed immediately, falling over the vegetables he was negotiating for, and other blasts miss Ian. The Thals make a run for it, save Alydon who hides so that he can talk to Ian. They agree to go back to the TARDIS together.

At the camp, the Doctor is giddy. With the help of the Thals, he has a complete history of Skaro (now revealed as the name of the planet they are on) and of the wars between the “Dals” and the “Thals”. Neither people appear to have had interstellar transport, so only a few neighboring star-systems are well understood– but the Doctor thinks that he can use that to figure out their location.

A new Thal, Antodus, arrives wounded into the camp. He was injured trying to retrieve Temmosus’s body, but worse– Tecanda was killed in the attempt.

Alydon considers his options. With the death of Temmosus, he is now the leader. The Doctor believes that the Daleks must be fought against, that their hatred for beings unlike them must be fought to give them respect for others. He has evidence that the ancient Thals were great warriors, although they protest that they are pacifists now and would rather avoid a fight. After failing to convince them, the Doctor and his companions start for the TARDIS and another adventure.

But they cannot leave: the Daleks confiscated the fluid link from Ian when they were prisoners. They are trapped, unless they venture back into the Dalek city. To be continued!


Pacifism only works when everybody feels the same. – Ian

Wow. This is a huge episode, both in character development and theme. Let’s look at the characters first:

  • We see Ian develop into more of an “action hero” as he figures out the Dalek controls, manages to escape just in the nick of time, drops a statue on the Dalek elevator, then runs through the city to warn the Thals. We haven’t seen this much heroism before and even the Doctor recognizes it.
  • Susan also has some great moments. She successfully leads the group to the elevator, she thinks on her feet and fools the guard Dalek to let them into the elevator anteroom, and she shows a strong reluctance to let Ian out of her sight.
  • Barbara shows her compassionate side, most effectively in arguing that they needed to help the Thals. Even so, she comes out against pacifism later.
  • Even the Doctor is further developed, though again he shows a willingness to leave someone behind the save the group. He is clearly warming to his new companions now, especially Ian.

Thematically, they bring a few plot points full circle. They are back at the TARDIS and once again are missing a working fluid link– but this time they know what hell they will have to reenter to fetch it. The social commentary plays very oddly today. The episode appears to suggest that pacifism is bad and that leaders need to show their teeth to be respected by other leaders. Perhaps this is so, but it is an unusual moral for Doctor Who. It may be that “appeasement” and not “pacifism” is seen at the real enemy. On the bright side, the horrid hinted love triangle between Alydon, Susan, and Dyoni is nowhere to be seen.

This episode has a different origin for the Daleks and Thals than I recall from the later series. The original race of Daleks was the “Dals” here, not the “Kaleds”. It is also hinted that the Thals also mutated, though “full-cicle” so that they have become beautiful or at least more beautiful than they were before. That point is a bit unclear.

The only plot point not returned to (yet?) is the radiation drugs. We still do not know what the Daleks wanted with them.

The Good:
  • Is it good or bad that Daleks appear to have an appreciation for sculpture? Was that a relic of the old Dal/Thal civilization? Or just a convenient plot device to give Ian something to throw down the elevator shaft?
  • The Daleks really do grow vegetables in hydroponics below the city! They weren’t bluffing! Do the Daleks eat vegetables? Speaking of which, some of the vegetables looked suspiciously like rolls of toilet paper…
The Bad:
  • Ian figured out how to drive the Dalek casing very quickly– almost like these decided to drop that plot point as quickly as possible this episode.
  • Ian refers to the “Council” when escaping, but we have never heard of them onscreen. He does not seem to have been just making it up since the guard Dalek understood him.
  • The Dalek guard specifically says to immobilize the elevator and yet it is used three times.
  • The elevator appears to have floor labels in incorrect binary: 1, 11, 111, 10, 01, 011. Numbers starting with zero appear to be below ground, but the Dalek counting system does not make all that much sense.

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