Friday, August 29, 2014

The Dalek Invasion of Earth - "What you need is a jolly good smacked bottom!"

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Dalek Invasion of Earth - Details

Season 2, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #10) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Doctor Who Reviews

We can roll our eyes at that "What you need is a jolly good smacked bottom!" line, but when we do we should remember Matt Smith's Eleven, naked (though not to us), smacking Clara's bottom in front of her parents and granny at Christmas dinner.

This, of course, is a ridiculous place to start a piece about "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" but, in my defense, the Daleks want to hollow out the Earth and drive it about the galaxy wreaking havoc -- the Earth, apparently, being unique in that is it has a magnetic core, a rather strange supposition on the Daleks' part considering the evidence -- so I feel precious little obligation to start from a place that makes any kind of sense.

So, yes, it's classic Classic Series. It's the Daleks brought to Earth, emerging from the Thames, going Full Nazi in a London that, at the time, was only as far removed from actual Nazis threatening it as I am today from Operation Desert Storm. Hardly seems that long ago at all, so one can easily imagine how those images of Daleks in a conquered London would have resonated. This eerily quiet London comes off more than a little like post-war Vienna in The Third Man. Black-and-white is limiting but, as is often noted, it hides some cheapness in the stark contrasts and its more menacing shadows. (What it doesn't hide is that the window panes in the TARDIS prop have fallen out of place, so the first thing we notice is how shabby it is. The indestructible, transdimensional, time and space travelling machine appears to be about to collapse on itself.)

For all it's iconic status as a Dalek epic, the thing I want to talk about is Susan's departure -- the other thing, apart from those famous scenes of Daleks rolling around London landmarks and emerging from the Thames, everyone knows or remembers about this story. (The alternative is talking about Terry Nation's dialogue, examples of which include: the Doctor remarking, "That's near murder. Isn't it?" after Ian describes the scene of someone dumping a dead body into the Thames; and, "We must pit our wits against them and defeat them," before mocking the Daleks who, it's worth noting, have already conquered the Earth, by scolding them with, "Before you attempt to conquer the Earth, you will have to destroy all living matter." One imagines the Daleks rolling their eye-stalks dismissively at this doddering fool.) And the reason I want to talk about it now is because Capaldi's Doctor mentioned in "Deep Breath" that he has made some mistakes and wants to fix that. Surely, never going back to check on Susan  -- let's put aside, for the moment, "The Five Doctors" -- must be one of them. Susan floated like a ghost around the edges of Series 7 (remember Eleven mentioning her in "The Rings of Akhaten,") I thought for a while Clara might be her daughter, and the Doctor has never (really) done anything about finding his granddaughter and any possible descendants he may have as a result of Susan staying on Earth with David.

Susan's departure is the first major cast change and, unfortunately, marks how little regard the production team has, and will have many more times in future, for their departing characters, if not the actors who played them. However, it does show that a major cast member can leave, and be replaced (Vicky arrives in the next story, "The Rescue,") without causing a crisis in viewership. It'll happen a few more times before single most significant departure of an actor from a series in, we might argue, the history of television occurs in "The Tenth Planet."

Her departure also fixes a key structural problem with the show, what Sandifer has dubbed The Problem of Susan. (The other problem with Susan being rather less deserving of a capitalized theory name, it being that Susan was often little more than an annoying -- to borrow another Sandiferism -- peril monkey, forever twisting her ankle, or having such a terrible headache she'd just as soon let the guillotine cure it, and so on.) But, it creates another.

The Doctor delivers one of his more memorable monologues, the famous "One day, I shall come back ..." speech. The one he, presumably, promptly forgets ever giving because he never shows any intent of ever going back. We can make excuses for why he never goes back to visit many other companions, but his own granddaughter? There are other problems with the series, other threads left dangling that aren't the Doctor's fault and we shouldn't necessarily expect Moffat, or subsequent show-runners, to go back and mend, but this is such a cruel oversight, doesn't it have to be one that a Doctor resolved to fix mistakes must address? He can, after all, show up any time after departing, maybe give Susan and David a few months before he pops back in to their timeline? But doesn't he have to do so before he's too far removed himself, before he's lived so much any kind of familial obligation one might expect him to feel has withered away?

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