|The Daleks, like most creatures in the universe,|
simply cannot abide plaid pants.
It is November 23rd, 1963. The Supremes “Baby Love” is at the top of the charts. Next up, the Rolling Stones take the charts for a week before that strangely perfect match for Doctor Who wanders through and The Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” rounds out the year.
During these six weeks, Wonderful Radio London, one of the offshore radio stations memorialized in Richard Curtis’s more or less execrable film The Boat That Rocked/Pirate Radio, debuted – a station that would have a huge role to play in the rising New Britain over the next few years.
And on television, Doctor Who premieres with its eleventh story. Hang on tight. Everything is going to change. Again.
See, there’s something about Doctor Who we haven’t talked much about yet. And that’s the Daleks. Who debuted about a year ago now, and are frighteningly popular. In June, way back when The Aztecs was airing, The Dalek Book was published. Concurrently with this story airing the Go-Gos (No, not those Go-Gos – the other ones) release the novelty single “I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas With a Dalek.” In other words, the Daleks were the show’s best claim to pop culture relevance.
And so of course they return, in what is basically the most important Doctor Who story to air yet with the possible exception of the first episode. I have not done an extensive study of primary source material here – there are plenty of overviews of Doctor Who that have, and I don’t have access to the archives that would be necessary to do it well – but my understanding is that the return of the Daleks was a known and promoted factor before the first episode of this story aired.
Which makes the pacing of the first episode somewhat odd. The entire episode is structured around its final scene – a Dalek emerging from the Thames to menace the Doctor and Ian. And rightly so – it’s an absolutely phenomenal cliffhanger. But to work, it has to be the first appearance of the Daleks in the story. The cliffhanger hinges on being a spectacular reveal and a culmination of deferred desire. It’s exciting not because you suspect the Doctor and Ian are in real danger – if you’ve watched the show before you know they’re not going out on a cliffhanger like this. It’s exciting because the Daleks are finally here, and this is the moment that pays off that desire.
Unfortunately, it means that the 22.5 minutes prior to that scene are horrifically dragged out attempts to hold off starting the story. Which requires such unfortunate setpieces as Ian being surprised to find out that a man who tumbled out of a cardboard box is dead. (Yep. I still hate Ian.)
But there are some key things in the first episode to look at. The first is the starkness of the setting – ruined landmarks and a silent London.…