Who Review – The Daleks

Posted by Richo On January 12, 2012 ADD COMMENTS

Welcome to the 2nd instalment of Who Review, my new ongoing column reviewing, in chronological order, every storyline from TV’s longest running SF series, Doctor Who. This week, I’ll be looking at the first appearance of the Doctor’s most famous enemies, The Daleks!


The Daleks (7 episodes)


21 December 1963 – 1 February 1964


William Hartnell


Susan Foreman

Barbara Wright

Ian Chesterton


At the end of An Unearthly Child, the TARDIS lands in a forest on a seemingly non-hostile alien planet. Disembarking, the Doctor and his companions fail to notice that the TARDIS is warning them that radiation levels on the planet are at dangerous levels.

Exploring, they discover a desolate, petrified world. This is our first glimpse of an alien world in Doctor Who, and it’s a welcome contrast to the more generic stone age setting of the previous storyline. Amongst the many mysteries offered by the planet is a vial of drugs the crew finds near the TARDIS.

Exploring further, the TARDIS crew discover a seemingly abandoned futuristic city. The Doctor wants to explore the ruins, highlighting for the first time his natural curiosity, a trait that will get him into trouble time and time again as the series progresses.   When his companions argue against the idea, the Doctor fakes a TARDIS malfunction, forcing them to remain on the planet and search the city for mercury needed to repair the malfunction.

Another Doctor Who trait reveals itself in this scene, the mischievous, manipulative side. The Doctor wants to explore the city and will do whatever it takes to ensure that he does. He’s later forced to admit to his deception, causing some dissention in the ranks.

Down in the city, Barbara becomes separated from the others. As the first episode ends, she is threatened by an unseen assailant with a metallic arm. This is our first glimpse of a Dalek!

Soon, the Doctor, Ian and Susan are also captured and we see the Daleks for the first time in all their glory. In captivity, the Doctor and his companions discover that they are on the planet Skaro, a world highly irradiated due to a war 500 years earlier between the Dals and a second race known as Thals. The Dals evolved through scientific means into the Daleks, mutated being living inside deadly war machines. They believe that the Thals were wiped out during the war, but posit that if they survived they must be horribly mutated monsters by now.

This first Dalek storyline introduces most of the traits that have become synonymous with these villains: the screeching voices, the “Exterminate” cry, the totalitarian mentality and desire for destruction of all non-Dalek lifeforms, the devastating death rays, and the mutated forms housed inside mobile weapons of destruction. It’s a credit to writer Terry Nation that he could create such a complex and fascinating race so early on in series. It’s no surprise that the Daleks have become the most famous and recognisable villains in Who history and that there instant popularity helped solidify Doctor Who as one of Britain’s most popular shows.

While imprisoned, the doctor and his companions begin to suffer the effects of prolonged exposure to radiation. The Doctor is particularly affected. Ian, Barbara and Susan determine that the vial of drugs they found earlier contains anti-radiation medication and implore the Daleks to allow them to retrieve the medication to save their lives. Seeking a cure for their own mutated condition and believing the drugs may be the answer, the Daleks agree, sending Susan back to retrieve the vial.

Returning to the TARDIS, Susan encounters the Daleks former enemies, the Thals. Despite the Daleks predictions, the Thals are handsome humans, protected from effects of radiation by the drugs they use. They’re a pacifistic race, having long since discarded their traditional warrior traits. They’re also struggling to find sources of food and non-irradiated fields to tend their crops.

Susan agrees to help the Thals broker peace between the two races, a plan that seems to be working at first, until the Daleks betray the Thals and attempt to kill them. The Doctor and his companions, now free of radiation sickness due to the administering of the drugs, manage to escape and warn the Thals of the Daleks betrayal.

The escape scene is, in hindsight, a little bizarre and humorous. The Doctor and his companions manage to deactivate a Dalek by severing his link with the floor, as they’ve determined that the Daleks manipulate static electricity in order to move. Once deactivated, Ian and the Doctor remove the mutated pilot from the Dalek and Ian climbs in, controlling the Dalek from within. Given that the Daleks would go on to be the most menacing threat in the Doctor Who universe, the idea that they operate like Dodgem cars and can be piloted by anyone is pretty funny.

Free from the city, The TARDIS crew convinces the Thals to discard their pacifistic ways and rise up against the Daleks. After much soul searching and deliberation, the Thals agree. Ian leads the Thals through the wilds of Skaro, seeking to blindside the Daleks by invading the city through a dangerous swamp.

There’s a slight lull in proceedings at this point. The expedition through the deadly terrain side-tracks the more interesting story of the Daleks themselves. Fortunately, these scenes are interspersed with enough of the Daleks that the distraction is fleeting. Having tested the anti-radiation drug on themselves, the Daleks have discovered that they have adapted to the radiation of the planet and actually require the radiation to survive. They hatch a plan to irradiate the planet with such high doses of radiation that it will kill the Thals and ensure the dominance of the Dalek race.   This new plot twist gives a level of urgency to the Thals trek through the swamp, helping to offset the less exciting elements of that journey. 

The final confrontation between the Thals and the Daleks results in the apparent destruction of the Daleks. It’s interesting that in his first recorded encounter with an alien lifeform, the Doctor commits an act of genocide. Fortunately, we all know that the Daleks would return time and time again to plague the Doctor.


In his second storyline, The Doctor truly does come into his own. His intelligence and resourcefulness in dealing with the Daleks through science and deductive reasoning establishes one of his strongest character traits, one that will carry through all incarnations of the character.

Carrying over from the last storyline, he continues to be cranky, defensive and dismissive of his newfound companions Barbara and Ian. His strong paternal relationship with Susan becomes even more prominent.


Ian continues to develop as the stoic, honourable man of action. He’s less overbearing than in An Unearthly Child and his heroism and self-sacrifice seem more genuine. He also shows strong leadership qualities, rallying the Thals and leading them in their assault on the Dalek stronghold.

Susan also continues to shine. She shows herself to be capable and independent, while still maintaining her strong relationship with the Doctor.

Barbara, unfortunately, seems to be the weak link in the story, providing little of interest. There’s an implied romance between her and one of the Thals that goes nowhere, and her single most important contribution to the story is that she’s the first to be terrorised by the Daleks.


The Daleks are without a doubt one of the finest villain races in SF culture. Even in their first appearance, they come across as truly menacing and despicable. Creator Terry Nation, who grew up during World War II, has stated that he based the Daleks on Nazis and conceived the species as faceless, authoritarian figures. You can certainly see the comparisons, and the facelessness of the Daleks makes them more terrifying than most SF and Who villains. Their physical resemblance to small tanks also draws comparisons with WWII.

Credit must be given not just to Terry Nation, but also designer Raymond Cusick. Cusick and Nation have developed a race that doesn’t fall into the “men in suits” category that dominates most SF shows, including Doctor Who itself.

One interesting factor in this first appearance is the Dalek’s reliance on static electricity generated from the metal floor of their city for movement. This weakness is well and truly forgotten by their next appearance in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  


Doctor Who as a series really comes into its own during this second storyline. Not only do we see the formation of many of the character traits that would become synonymous with the Doctor, but we get our first glimpse of an alien culture and the beginnings of our journey into the wider universe. Most importantly, we see the greatest contribution to the Who mythos outside of the Doctor himself, the Daleks.

3.5 Lukes.


Next up in Who Review, we look at the first Doctor Who “filler” story with the 2-part Edge of Destruction.  

Leave a Reply