“We must presume they don’t leave anything to chance.” – The Doctor
“The Ordeal”, the sixth of seven episodes featuring the first appearance of the Daleks, places both the Doctor and his companions through two different types of wringers. For the Doctor and Susan, their ordeal is nothing less than to wage a battle against the Dalek city with meager resources, trying to destroy key infrastructure before the Daleks can turn the tables on them. For Ian and Barbara, their ordeal is a labyrinth of caves far beneath the Dalek city– and by episodes’s end, they had still not discovered a way back to the surface. There is a ton of good in this episode, including good character moments for both Susan and Barbara, establishing them as more than just an adjunct to their male counterparts. But the episode drags on, particularly the parts with Ian and Barbara in the caves. But there is a nice feeling of tension as we build toward a climax in the next episode.
More thoughts after the break and the recap.
Time Space Visualizer – The Recap
The episode begins on a dark note as Ian, Barbara, and Antodus look over the spot where Elyon had been just moments before. He is dead, dragged into the swamp. But Ian takes the lead: they have to get to the caves by nightfall. There is no time to mourn.
Outside the Dalek city, Susan is acting as a scout, using a pair of binoculars to observe the city and provide the details to the Doctor and Dyoni who are building a map and a plan of attack. The Doctor realizes that the Daleks have full coverage of their city through video cameras scattered throughout, but that if he can damage their broadcasting ability then the team will be able to move into the city unfettered.
Meanwhile, the Daleks too are plotting. It will take 23 days to launch a neutron bomb so they must find another way of irradiating the planet to defeat the Thals.
Under the city, Ian and his group have split up: Barbara and Ganatus heading down one length of tunnel, while Ian and Antodus explore others. They keep finding dead ends, and there is still no proof that the tunnels lead to the surface at all. Just as Barbara and Ganatus hit another dead end, Barbara hears the sound of water! They have found another passage, though it is down a deep pit. Barbara lowers Ganatus down by rope, but the rope slips off the rock she was using and he drops too quickly. Ian and Antodus rush in, but thankfully Ganatus is okay. Even better: at the bottom of the pit is a cavern with many branches. The group agrees that is the best avenue of exploration and begin their own descents.
On the surface, the Doctor has instructed his group of Thals to use mirrors and reflected sunlight to disrupt the radio antennas used by the Daleks, preventing them from getting a good look at what the Thals are doing. With this distraction, the Doctor, Susan, and some Thals are able to sneak into the city to attack the antennas directly.
“Even if we do get through, we’ll never defeat the Daleks. Ganatus, we’re all going to be killed”. – Antodus
Far below, Antodus is near despair. He is tired of moving forward and fears dying in the caves, or getting to the surface and dying at the plungers of the Daleks. He wants to turn back. Ganatus tries to convince him otherwise, but they fight briefly– until interrupted by a cave-in. There is no way to go back now.
In the Dalek control room, the leaders have discovered the attack against a section of their city wall, but rather than point their radarscopes and alert the Thals that they are being watched, they use vibrations to track them all instead. This will give the Daleks the advantage of surprise.
The Doctor, Susan, and Alydon arrive at the antenna that they plan to sabotage, but they send Alydon back to tell the Thals that they can end their use of mirrors. The Doctor is unsure whether the Daleks have any long-range weapons that they could use against the conspicuous Thals, so better to be safe. Once he is gone, the Doctor and Susan use Susan’s TARDIS key to short-circuit an electrical panel, cutting off the power to that antenna and preventing the Daleks from broadcasting. But they do not have time to celebrate their victory as they are surrounded and captured. Once brought to the control room, the Daleks tell the Doctor their cunning plan: they will release radiation from their nuclear reactors tomorrow, killing everyone on the planet except the Daleks. It’s not murder, they claim, just extermination.
Far below, Ian and the others have discovered a deep fissure and have to cross it one by one. There is a tunnel on the other side, but the whole operation is treacherous and they nearly slip several times. Each party member crosses one by one with a safety rope, but when it comes to Antodus he freezes up. When they finally convince him to make the leap, he does not make it and falls into the fissure. He holds onto his lifeline and screams for help. To be continued!
So how did our main characters fare this episode?
“That’ll teach the Daleks to meddle in our affairs.” – The Doctor
The Doctor proves himself to be absent-minded– when he stands and nearly reveals the Thal position to the Daleks– but also resourceful as he works out way to sabotage the Dalek antenna using just Susan’s TARDIS key. The whole science behind this is wonky, as is the explanation that the Daleks would be blind without their antennas– but it works better if you imagine that “static electricity” is some high-concept science fiction thing, and now what you get when you put your socks in the dryer without dryer sheets.
It is also presumably the Doctor that decides that the Dalek transmissions can be blocked using strong sunlight on the antenna, and that they can generate this sunlight over long distance using mirrors. The whole affair is meant to sound like Archimedes using mirrors to burn the ships of the Romans, which itself is probably a fiction. (But hey, maybe the Doctor was there?) I’ll give them the break on this one.
“Look, Grandfather, this is marvelous, but they must have a fault locator somewhere. We must get away from here.” – Susan
Even though the Doctor is a bit of a buffoon here, Susan gets a good turn! Early in the episode, she acts as a scout and a lookout and is able to describe in detail the Dalek city so that they can build a map and a plan. Later, she also acts as the voice of reason when the Doctor gets a bit full of himself– and she was right to worry because the Daleks capture them almost immediately. And refreshingly, she does almost no screaming this episode. She gets some good moments here.
“No place for a quiet stroll, is it?” – Ian
Ian is the leader of the group, but except for his stubborn rope-safety he does not get too much of a chance to shine. He pushed the group to keep to the timetable when Elyon is killed, then keeps everyone moving in the caves themselves. He also shows a moment of compassion when Antodus fails to catch the rope, but he does not see or does not consider that he may be unable to make the jump in his emotional state.
“Do you always do what Ian says?” “No, I don’t.” – Barbara
Much like Susan, Barbara gets the better moments in this episode. It is Barbara that discovers the tunnel that led them closer to the Dalek city, even if she nearly killed Ganatus in the process. Later, she shows a flash of independence even from Ian– possibly suggesting that there may be a hint of romantic connection between her and her Thal companion. Good development, but still not enough to make her the central figure that she could be.
Even though they are primitive compared to the Daleks that we know later in the series, they are a force to be reckoned with! They clearly have the upper hand through most of this episode, easily foiling the Doctor’s attempts at sneaking in undetected (by tracking vibrations!) and they have a plan that will result in the death of all Thals in just 24 hours. Plus, they have captured the Doctor and Susan again! We know that our heroes are still sneaking in the back door, but there is tension even there as we do not yet know where the tunnels are leading Ian and Barbara.
The one drawback to this episode is the cave sequence. Everything happening underground felt stretched and not entirely interesting. The deliberateness where we were shown each companion acting out each step got tiresome. The short incident between Antodus and Ganatus did not help much, especially as the cave-in deflated the instinct to flee. There is no where to go but forward!
I am very curious to see whether they are able to save Antodus next episode or, like Elyon he will be killed off to heighten the stakes. These cliff-hangers are effective when they do not involve a main character– he actually might die!
- Doctor and Susan building and executing on a careful attack plan, with a strong role for Susan
- Great tension with the Daleks, and once again they show they have the upper hand in a way that makes sense for the plot. No wonder they became so popular!
- Extended underground sequences could have been a third as long. Throw the rope, again!
- Antodus’s panic attack
- The laughable depiction of sabotage using a TARDIS key. Really?
Onward to the dramatic conclusion!
Buy this episode on Amazon:
Previous episodes this season:
- E01: An Unearthly Child
- E02: The Cave of Skulls (An Unearthly Child, Part 2)
- E03: The Forest of Fear (An Unearthly Child, Part 3)
- E04: The Firemaker (An Unearthly Child, Part 4)
- E05: The Dead Planet (The Daleks, Part 1)
- E06: The Survivors (The Daleks, Part 2)
- E07: The Escape (The Daleks, Part 3)
- E08: The Ambush (The Daleks, Part 4)
- E09: The Expedition (The Daleks, Part 5)
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