Doctor Who: The Daleks, Part Five: The Expedition

You all realize, of course, we cannot succeed against the Daleks alone? – The Doctor

After an action-packed outing last time, Doctor Who switches into a different gear for “The Expedition.” This episode does a great job closing up plot threads and setting the table for the conclusion of this serial. At times, that makes this episode more like “The Exposition” than an “Expedition”, but it is fine. These classic episodes of Doctor Who do like to breathe, but I am not finding the pacing to be too far off at all. Not “modern” Doctor Who, of course– but it does not need to be.

We have some fantastic interaction between the main cast as they debate how far they should go to get home, some sensible strategizing, and closure on a Dalek subplot. On to the recap!

"The Expedition", Season 1, Episode 9. First aired January 18, 1964.
“The Expedition”, Season 1, Episode 9. First aired January 18, 1964.

I’m afraid my little trick has rather rebounded on me. – The Doctor

Where we left off, the team had just come to the realization that the fluid link was still in the Dalek city someplace; they have to go back to get it. Ian tries to convince Alydon to help attack the city, but he struggles because he does not want to push too hard– is it right for the Thals to fight and die for them? But the Doctor has had news: there really is no spare for the fluid link and they are trapped without it. The group argue on this for some time with the Doctor and Barbara on the side of convincing the Thals to fight, with Ian and Susan agreeing that it is not right to ask the Thals to die for them. Barbara counters that eventually the Daleks will find a way to leave their city and hunt down the Thals, so they had better learn to defend themselves. The Doctor believes that he can help make the Thals into an “army” against the Daleks as they are quicker and more agile, though Ian rightly points out that they have neither weapons nor ammunition (and the Daleks have both). Ian begins to formulate a plan.

My dear child, this is no time for morals. They must fight for us. – The Doctor

Back in the Dalek city control room, the lead Dalek reports that they have a plan to test the radiation drug on a small portion of the population. They also have pictures (how is not revealed) of the Doctor, Susan, and the others in the jungle. Their intelligence is imperfect as they believe that Ian is injured, but they now know where everyone is.

Ian approaches the Thals and accuses them of being passive in their lives. Skaro, he says, was once a great world of art and invention. The Thals love this history and still carry around their records. Ian threatens to take away their records and give them to the Daleks, demonstrating that they do not deserve their proud history. Ian gets no response in this tactic, so he escalates and threatens to kidnap Dyoni to deliver her to the Daleks. This has the desired effect! Alydon gets angry and punches Ian.

So there is something you’ll fight for. – Ian

Back in the city, the Daleks who took the radiation drug are losing control and distribution is called off. The Daleks realize that they are now dependent on radiation– which has been slowly lowering– and that the best approach to remain dominant is to set off another neutron bomb to increase the radiation level. Eventually, half of the Daleks that took the drug have died and the Daleks quickly decide to expose the other half to radiation to try to cure them.

In the Thal camp, Alydon and Dyoni discuss their philosophy: is it better to fight and live or die without fighting. Everyone awaits Alydon’s decision. Barbara notices a light in the distance: it is a glowing lake surrounded by a swamp. It is alive with mutations that the Daleks have not cleared out and a natural barrier against attacks at the rear of the Dalek city. Alydon finally makes his choice: since the Doctor and his companions will try to go anyway, if the Thals do not help they are effectively sentencing them to death. He adds that the Daleks may eventually find a way out of the city and that they could live on the food there for some time. Alydon says that he will go with the Doctor and invites the others to elect a new leader, but in fact everyone else has already agreed to help. They even have a plan already written! They will split up with a distraction force approaching from the front and the city walls, with another group approaching from the swamp and lake. The Doctor and Susan will be in the first group, Ian and Barbara in the second.

Some time later, the Daleks detect the Doctor’s group of Thals when they arrive at the city gate. They know it is a partial force but do not know why. But the good news is that the Daleks that were given the radiation treatment were nearly all killed: only a single Dalek has died.

At the swamp, Ian’s group decide that it is time to rest for the night. They have two and a half days until their rendezvous with the Doctor. The mountains are behind them, but the lake is ahead. They find that pipes leading to the Dalek city end in the lake– the Daleks must be using this for their own water. The group agrees to follow the pipes into the city. Some of the Thals head out to collect water– suddenly, something comes out of the water in a giant whirlpool! A Thal screams! To be continued.

The Companions

The Doctor

The mind will always triumph. With me to lead them, the Thals are bound to succeed.

We see an interesting aspect to the Doctor here. He is up against the wall, knowing that he and his companions cannot go home while the Daleks have the fluid link. And, unlike much of his later characterization, he is absolutely a warmonger. He is willing to use his “army”, the Thals, to get to the Dalek city. Ian and Susan both call him out on this, but it is strange to see him take so easily to violence when his back is against the wall. Quite unlike some of the later Doctors!

Susan

You always think of something, Grandfather.

Susan is nearly absent this episode, save for a scene in the beginning where she sides with Ian in the debate. She does not want to lead the Thals to the death, but she still trusts that her grandfather will get her out of the situation.

Ian

I will not allow you to use the Thals to fight for us.

Again, Ian has the strongest part to play in this episode. Ian not only stands up to the Doctor about constantly getting his name wrong, he also take the moral high-ground. He will not lead the Thals into battle unnecessarily, and would be willing to sacrifice his own life (as well as the rest of the group’s) to prevent them from risking their lives. In the end, the Thals do agree to fight for the Doctor, but they do so because they will be at risk long-term from Dalek aggression, rather than just to rescue the travelers.

Barbara

How you two can stand there wasting time with small talk beats me.

Barbara is the most pragmatic of the group this time around. She and the Doctor quickly agree that encouraging the Thals to fight is their best shot at getting home. In the process, she scores major points with him– and disappoints Ian. Still, Barbara does not get a major part to play in this episode except asking the questions that move the plot along.

Thoughts

This episode feels like a bridge, but it resolves some necessary conflicts and puts the pieces into position. The best part about it is undoubtedly the debate between the companions over whether the Thals should be encouraged to fight the Daleks, or not. Surprisingly, the Doctor and Barbara take the position that getting away is the top priority, even at risk that many Thals will die for them, while Ian and Susan take a pragmatic approach. At stake is the Thal pacifist culture and the question of whether or not they can run from the Daleks forever. Ultimately, they decide that eventually the Daleks will escape from the city and hunt them down, so best to fight now. This win is surprisingly easy (helped by Ian’s knuckle sandwich), but also not unexpected. It is easy to forget that they lost their leader only a day or two ago and tensions must have been running high.

On the Dalek side, I feel like there was a subplot left on the cutting room floor. We finally show what the Daleks wanted the drugs for– radiation treatment– but it is not clear why they think they need this. It has something to do with their being able to leave the city, perhaps, but since there is less radiation outside that is unlikely. (Also, they need the metal floors to move on, so how they would get out is unclear.) It is revealed that the Daleks have some sort of way that they can spy on the Thal camp– have they domesticated some animal? Having the “disease” of the radiation drugs causing Daleks to spin out of control spread to the control room makes no sense at all and I cannot help but wonder if there is something that was excised from the final script.

The final sequence plays out like chess, which I like quite a bit. We get a great sense of the geography of the area, the swamp and the lake and the mountains. Why the city walls are so well defended now while the Doctor and his companions managed to walk around unimpeded earlier is not clear, but at least it makes sense that they would be more vigilant. Having the Daleks know that something is up is great, another sign that they are not easily fooled– but they do not know what is up yet. We’ll see how that plays out over the next episode or two.

The Good:

  • Fantastic characterization episode. We learn a lot about the Doctor’s and Ian’s philosophies.
  • Barbara is wearing Thal pants!
  • The Daleks show they still have tricks up their sleeve. How did they get the photos of the group?

The Bad:

  • Lot of saying, very little doing.
  • Why have we not mentioned the swamp and the lake before this? And why was it so easy to get into the city before?
  • Very little for Susan and Barbara to do this episode.

Onward to the Dalek city!

Previous episodes this season:

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