It is December 21, 1963. The Beatles continue to hold the #1 chart position with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Doctor Who continues apace with another claustrophobic episode featuring the four main characters and nothing else. The show is still feeling its way around, uncertain of what it is. But as with the first episode, it is already clear that it is something. Most notably with Ian’s line describing the Doctor as having “a knack for getting himself in trouble,” a character trait that will sustain 48 years and counting of stories.
But in other ways, the show seems lost, following the trends of futuristic design laid out by classic movies like Forbidden Planet instead of breaking new ground. The dead world of Skaro is a monument to retro-futurism. The TARDIS is not yet a magical box, with excessive effort being made to actually explain how the thing works. The fact that the change of the Doctor and Susan to aliens instead of futuristic humans was a last-second production decision is still clear, with both acting as though the TARDIS is just future technology that any species would acquire given time.
And on top of that, the Doctor is still openly cruel. When his companions – including Susan – beg to leave the planet, he betrays them all, deliberately breaking the TARDIS so that they have to go to the futuristic city and explore. Here we have our first inkling of why the Doctor does what he does – his burning need to explore and see new things. But it is not yet wedded to any sense of kindness. He is not a hero. Not yet.
The show also presents its first aliens. Initially they find a metal creature in the forest, and the Doctor chastises Ian for failing to adequately imagine how much the universe can differ from his experience. Then, in the episode’s iconic cliffhanger, Barbara, at this point a character mostly used so that everyone else has someone to rescue, is menaced by an unseen monster with a bizarre arm.
And for the third time in a month, everything changes.
Five days later, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is released in the US, changing the Beatles from the most popular band in England to the most popular band in history, sparking so-called Beatlemania, which will itself inspire the name of the eventual Dalekmania. Two days after that, the Daleks are named.
But what, exactly, are they? For the second episode, at least, this is held in check. They are devious, and we are certainly not inclined to trust them, but they do not seem the malevolent evil that we will someday know them to be. The Doctor is not a help here – he does not recognize them, and they do not recognize him. This is their true first meeting, and it is a wary one in which each of them tries to feel out and understand the other. The Daleks seem to warn of a greater threat, the hideously mutated Thals living out in the wilderness.…