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First Doctor: Planet of Giants
Season 2 begins with what appears, in hindsight, as a bit of an oddity. This isn't the only Who story to feature shrinking - off the top of my head, that is also part of Three's Carnival of Monsters, Four's The Invisible Enemy and (for the TARDIS at least) Logopolis. But I'm pretty sure it's the only one to do it on contemporary Earth.

In any case, what's really odd about this story isn't the shrinking per se, but the way it is used as a device to transform contemporary Earth into an alien environment. It means that the TARDIS team effectively haven't really reached contemporary Earth at all - they never manage to interact or communicate directly with anyone there, and have to leave in order to get back to their normal size (and save Barbara's life). It's as though they are seeing the Earth through a pane of glass (presumably a highly-magnifying one!), but cannot actually reach it - and I can't think of any other story I've seen where this applies.

The producers presumably didn't really want to bring the TARDIS team back to contemporary Earth properly at this time, though, since the logical plot consequence of that would have to be that Barbara and Ian would leave. In fact, this is one of a trio of stories in which the Doctor is genuinely trying to get them home, and nearly succeeds each time. In The Reign of Terror. he goes too far back, in Planet of Giants, he gets the time right but not the size, and in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, he goes too far forwards. It's a sort of so-near-and-yet-so-far approach, presumably serving the purpose of keeping the stories within the audience's frame of reference (especially over that all-important gulf between the first two seasons), but without getting so close to it as to break the fantastical premise of the series.

Still, for all that, this is the closest we've had so far to a contemporary Earth story, and how interesting that it is chiefly concerned with environmental issues. It's like a flash forward to the Pertwee era - except that at this period, the Doctor is more concerned with getting the hell outta there than with righting wrongs. The setting is cleverly realised, given the special effects limitations of the times - there's occasionally a feeling that the designers have bitten off a little more than they can chew, and there's certainly a lot of reliance on close-up shots, but some of the giant props are really ace, and in general it's just great fun to see them playing around with the ideas which it presents.

The story itself seemed a bit weak, though. Quite a lot of the dialogue is really banal, which is a pity because it comes from the pen of Louis Marks - also the author of The Masque of Mandragora, which I really liked, not in small part for its script. Most annoyingly, after the last two stories being packed full of Barbara's amazing awesomeness, in this one she does not come across very well at all. I'm quite happy for one member of the team to be affected by the DN6 - it gives them all a personal stake in the issue and adds a bit of tension at the end of the story. And I'm quite happy for it to be her. But even before she touches the seed, she is already doing things like spraining her ankle - something which only ever happens to women in the Whoniverse, and which pisses me off no end - while her approach of trying to hide it from the others, and getting weepy and conflicted about it, just does not seem like the strong, confident mature Barbara I know. Thankfully it is only for this one story; but it's a depressing reminder of how much the portrayal of this wonderful character depends on the whims of individual writers.


First Doctor: The Dalek Invasion of Earth
This, though, I absolutely LOVED! Barbara is back on top form, the story itself is ace, the direction is brilliant, and basically you cannot ask for much better than this. In fact, this is probably the most suitable First Doctor-era story I've seen so far for showing to non-fans. It may not be absolutely the best, but given that some of its closest competitors have missing episodes, probably only The Aztecs retains the same potential for showing off what Doctor Who can do to those who aren't already convinced.

We're in the future this time for a post-apocalyptic story - and of course Terry Nation is brilliant at doing that, as he proved a decade later with the original Survivors (side-note - apparently the new series of the remake is due later this year, and I can't wait!). The story is compelling, the characters are three-dimensional and have plenty of room to develop, and we get some brilliant set-pieces - starting right at the beginning with the scene of a Roboman going mad, ripping off his headpiece and plunging head-first into the Thames, which does so much to intrigue and terrify us.

Nation's script is very well-supported by some brilliant camera-work, too. The scene which really stood out on this front for me came in episode three, when Barbara, Jenny and the scientist Dortmun have to leave the resistance shelter and cross London without attracting the attention of the Daleks. The length of the shadows shows that this must have been filmed in the early morning (very much as was done for the opening scenes in 28 Days Later), and they've got some brilliant shots of deserted landmarks like the Albert Memorial and Trafalgar Square, not to mention some very arty and evocative close-ups of Barbara and Jenny's running feet and the wheels of Dortmun's wheelchair. Meanwhile, the tension is stoked up with some rapid, drumming music, and there are some nice details of set-dressing, like alien-looking letters which we've also seen on the chests of the Robomen appearing painted on the Trafalgar Square monument. This is something which is never commented on via dialogue, but allows some enticing glimpses into how the Dalek invasion had originally progressed - did they paint the symbols themselves to signify their assumption of control? Or did some humans adopt their cause voluntarily, and paint the logo to indicate their new allegiance? We don't know - but it's exciting to be invited to speculate on the possibilities.

Arguably, the plot resolution at the end of the story is a bit weak. We might ask: if it is so easy for the Robomen to overpower the Daleks once they have been ordered to turn against them, how it is that the Daleks had ever managed to defeat and enslave humanity in the first place? That's answerable, for example by saying that potential resistance had been weakened by the plague which preceded the invasion, that nobody quite realised how serious the threat was until it was all too late, or even that some humans initially cooperated with the Daleks. But it really is a bit much to expect us to believe that the explosion of the bomb which the Daleks had built is powerful enough to destroy Dalek saucers in the atmosphere above the planet - but not the Doctor and his companions cowering a few metres away. It's all rather Russell T. Davies-esque to be perfectly honest. But, as with RTD, I don't really care very much, because as far as I'm concerned the plot only needs to be sufficiently convincing to serve as a vehicle for interesting character development - and for my purposes, it is. Meanwhile, the rapidity with which the Dalek threat is overcome leaves plenty of room at the end of the final episode for Susan's goodbye scene - and I would definitely rather have that than more pseudo-science about exactly how some Dalek saucers got blown up.

Susan's story is beautifully told throughout, of course. She follows a slow and carefully-realised trajectory from being distraught at the thought of Barbara and Ian leaving the TARDIS at the beginning of the story, through her gradual realisation that she would actually rather like a settled life and home like some of the characters she is encountering; the development of her relationship with David as they pass through various trials and tribulations and he proves to have the same skills, resourcefulness and kindness that she has always turned to the Doctor for before; and of course the final scene when the Doctor sees that it is time for her to move forwards into her own life, and forcefully nudges her towards the life which he knows will make her happy. It's poignant and powerful, and I don't mind telling you I had damp cheeks by the end of that final scene. And it seems Terry Nation must have had a bit of a thing for injecting romance into Doctor Who scripts in fact, because the last time a relationship was developed explicitly on screen, it was Barbara and the Thal with their chaste little parting kiss in The Daleks.

And talking of Barbara - oh! how she excels herself with awesomeness! She eggs on the dour and pessimistic Jenny with cheerfulness and self-confidence, refusing to admit defeat! She runs down Daleks in a stolen lorry! When they find themselves in the Dalek mines she cunningly inveigles her way into the main control room, because she knows that that's what the Doctor would do, and she's determined to find a way to overthrow them! And once there, she comes up with the idea of giving subversive commands to the Robomen, and brilliantly bamboozles the Daleks with a random confabulation of historical revolutionary activities (including Hannibal's forces) in order to engineer an opportunity to do it. OK, so at that point the Daleks realise what she's up to, and she and Jenny are taken prisoner, with the result that they both need to be rescued later on by two men (the Doctor and Tyler). But it's made very clear that she isn't captured through any failure of imagination or courage on her part - only because the Daleks get distracted from her fantastical narrative and cotton on to her plans. So her status as a strong and resourceful woman remains undiminished; and indeed she gets to help the Doctor put her original plan into action as soon as he has freed her from captivity.

On top of all this it hardly needs saying that the story passes the Bechdel test with flying colours. As in earlier stories like Marco Polo, this isn't so much because there are two female characters amongst the regular cast, but rather because those female characters are portrayed forming friendships with female guest-characters, and talking to them about all sorts of things as the story develops. In Marco Polo, this happens between Susan and the Mongol princess Ping Cho; here, it is Barbara and Jenny (as shown below).



But Bechdel-approved conversations between Susan and Barbara do take place from time to time too, and so, despite the screen-caps above, it is those two I chose to feature on my shiny new icon (above) celebrating the fact - as much because I want the characters to be easily-recognisable as coming from early Doctor Who as anything else.

Susan, of course, is not quite such a feminist-positive icon as Barbara. In fact, in this story, she sprains her ankle early on (see above comment on Planet of the Giants for how much that device annoys me), and is later portrayed getting unnecessarily panicky and screamy when a ladder which she is climbing breaks, and she finds herself dangling over an alligator. But I'm happy enough to accept that, because (as I noted when watching The Sensorites), this is all part of a package which allows Barbara to be portrayed with as much strength and confidence as she has. Susan fulfils the plot requirement for someone to be scared and require help and comfort, leaving Barbara free to be awesome and amazing. Thankfully, Susan's departure isn't going to disturb that balance, as we'll be getting Vicki to step directly into her role in the next story. But I know this can't last forever, and am not looking forward to losing the Barbara-shaped half of the equation at the end of The Chase.

In the meantime, we have an interesting portrayal of another character-type often overlooked in mainstream drama too: the wheelchair-bound scientist, Dortmun. We never quite know the history of his disability, though like the Dalek lettering in Trafalgar Square, it serves as another hint of the events of the invasion - was he injured trying to resist the Daleks? But it isn't an object of either stigma or romanticism. He is as fully-realised as any of the other characters - arrogant, but intelligent, and clearly a very important figure in the resistance movement. His ending is perhaps more questionable. He dies facing off some in-coming Daleks with his anti-Dalekanium bomb, while Jenny and Barbara escape in a lorry, and I think there's room here for viewing this from the same perspective as some people did the fate of the un-named black hostess in New Who's Midnight - that their minority status makes them disposable characters whose inherent sense of their own inferiority causes them to throw themselves away in the service of the able-bodied white characters around them. I still honestly can't quite decide whether that is balanced out by portraying the characters as exerting power over their own destinies and the whole situation around them at the moment of their deaths. But in the specific context of this story and this character, anyway, I'm at least reasonably convinced that the same plot could have been played out with an able-bodied character - especially since episode four does present the death of such a character (Ashton) as an opportunity for Ian and two other men to escape the pursuit of the Slyther.

To round up, a few general points about how this story fits into the general direction of the programme at this time. Once again, the story is sparked off by TARDIS-separation, this time because it gets trapped underneath a fallen girder. As in The Reign of Terror, it's the Doctor now who is curious to see what has happened to London, while Ian says he doesn't want to know. I bet some later Doctors wish they could get back to the halcyon days when the Daleks not only do not recognise them, but also do not instantly declare a desire to exterminate them on sight. And there's a nice insight into the Doctor's own attitude to violence in this period in episode five: "I never take lives. Only when my own is reasonably threatened."

And that, I think, is quite enough from me about this story.

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Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
rhube
Oct. 4th, 2009 04:52 pm (UTC)
I loved The Dalek Invasion of Earth! Also? I have learned a thing worth knowing from your icon, which I had to google, but was glad I did.
strange_complex
Oct. 4th, 2009 04:58 pm (UTC)
Glad to be of service, and I love your icon too! Barbara / Thal is still the original OTP, though... ;-)
rhube
Oct. 4th, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
To be honest, I ship Barbara/Thal more, too, I just really liked the shot (and that particular story arc generally - I keep meaning to do more caps and make more icons...). Barbara/Thal was awesome, though. The trousers they all were wearing!
nwhyte
Oct. 4th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
Episode 3 of DIoE is one of my favourite episodes ever, and the one I show to people who don't know much about the Hartnell era. And Susan gets the best romantic sendoff of any companion other than Jo. (And in dramatic terms, the best sendoff of any companion apart from Sara Kingdom and Rose in Doomsday.)

I'll be rewatching PoG myself soon, but what struck me about it was the rather 50s setting, compared to the next contemporary story, The War Machines, where the Doctor visits a swingin' night club in the first episode.
strange_complex
Oct. 4th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
A night club?!? Wow, I can't wait for that!

Yes, now that you mention it, the Earth which is portrayed in Planet of the Giants probably did seem rather dated even at the time of broadcast. Perhaps it's a good thing the stories are staying away from contemporary Earth at this time.

And how interesting that you find Sara Kingdom's departure so compelling, given that she too comes from a Terry Nation story. I've not met her yet, of course, but am looking forward to her - Jean Marsh is wonderful.
rhube
Oct. 4th, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
I quite like that the contemporary episodes give a sense of the place and the time, though. On the other hand, although I like the Weekest Link and Big Brother jokes in season one of the new lot, I don't think they will last well, as they are set in the future, and I'm not sure they'll stand the test of time as plausible future happenings. The What Not To Wear one (even though I rather liked that show) probably has the shortest shelf-life.
strange_complex
Oct. 4th, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's true. We would just splutter if we saw an episode made in the '60s and set now that featured people still watching Jukebox Jury and the like, wouldn't we? Still, the Satellite Five stuff was definitely funny at the time.
swisstone
Oct. 4th, 2009 08:30 pm (UTC)
What I've noticed recently is how untypical Dalek Invasion of Earth is of early Who . I'm not sure this is always obvious to a modern audience, where it looks, with a couple of variant features, a pretty typical alien invasion story, of the type that continues to be a common narrative strategy. The invasion of Earth has been a key feature of British sf since War of the Worlds, and, of course, formed the template for Quatermass. But Who in its first year consciously avoids that narrative, as if to proclaim "this is not Quatermass. And when the creators did choose to turn to contemporary stories, they put in deliberate distancing strategies - so in Planet of the Giants everyone is miniaturized (and thanks for reminding me of that), and Dalek Invasion is ostensibly over two hundred years in the future (though it looks like it's a contemporary setting - in fact, visually I find myself most reminded of the BBC version of 1984). The show then doesn't return to anything like this for another eighteen months, when The War Machines was broadcast. That is created by a new production team, who no longer felt the need to distance themselves so much from the Quatermass mode (probably because the show had firmly established its own identity by then).
strange_complex
Oct. 4th, 2009 09:18 pm (UTC)
Yes, I see what you mean. I'd definitely noticed the avoidance of this kind of story, but hadn't really put it in the wider British SF context. In some ways of course, almost all stories in this period are atypical, because the format is still being defined. But yes, it's harder to spot with The Dalek Invasion because of what we know comes later.
swisstone
Oct. 4th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
That's a good point about everything being atypical. I feel that the overlooked factor in the creation of Who is the sf series produced under Sydney Newman's running of ABC's drama department, before the BBC poached him. That was Out of the World an anthology of stories, often drawn from American sf stories. Who seems to me to be have begun essentially as an anthology story with a continuing cast dropped into each story.
big_daz
Oct. 5th, 2009 07:32 am (UTC)
I seem to remember reading in Dr Who Magazine a few years back that the PoG idea was meant to be used for the first Who story when they were planning the series, but they ended up going for cavemen instead. The idea ended up being recycled for the next season.
strange_complex
Oct. 5th, 2009 07:58 am (UTC)
Hmm, yeah - I'm glad they saved it until season 2, as I think it would have been a bit disorientating at the very start. Best to give people a bit of time to get used to the idea of the TARDIS travelling in time and space before you also introduce shrinking into the equation!
lilyv687
Oct. 9th, 2009 07:03 am (UTC)
I can't believe I missed that episode! It was on SO many years ago... I've read the book at least fifty times though! I think Terrance Dicks was the best of the Doctor Who writers, by far!
strange_complex
Oct. 9th, 2009 11:35 am (UTC)
I only got to see it by renting the DVD. UK TV channels do sometimes show Classic Doctor Who, but I keep a pretty close eye out for that and haven't noticed any first Doctor stories being shown for several years. I'm not sure where you live, but The Dalek Invasion of Earth is definitely available on DVD in regions 1, 2 and 4, so hopefully you'll be able to see it if you want to.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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