Doctor Who: The Long Way Round: The Daleks – Part 4

The Daleks: The Ambush

Daleks The Ambush

This is another episode which decides to contrast between loud and quiet, giving it the enjoyment of a Pixies song without any of the sex or swearing. So we get an exciting escape sequence and a race against time in the first half, with the thoughtful post-mortem afterwards. As such, the second half may well turn out to be less memorable in time but is actually the most important.

This is not to disparage the escape1 we see. For a start it is a masterpiece of direction, far superior to anything we saw in An Unearthly Child (where the fight sequence ground the story to a halt). It also served a number of important characterisation functions, when it is all too common for these action sequences to be nothing but an exercise in blocking.

For the daleks, it helped establish them as formidable villains. As I noted last episode, I appreciated the fact they were not simply fooled by everything the humans are doing. Here they are tricked but in understandable ways and only for very short periods of time. When Susan does her faux escape (possibly her finest moment so far) the dalek’s reaction is understandable and is attempting to keep the travellers confined. He then reports it and gets help immediately. It could have been the case that the daleks are fooled by Ian, the travellers walk straight past and no reports get through and the daleks are the genre staple of the stupid inhuman creatures. Instead they are able to cut through doors, almost trap Ian and kill at least the Thal leader.

There is a question often asked: What makes a great villain? I personally think that a key part of it is that they are not defeated by stupidity, rather by incomplete knowledge and only as a result of great skill and sacrifice. In this story it helps elevate not just the daleks as a result but also the travellers and thals. Ian’s decision to stay behind and Susan’s insistence upon it come with a real sense of threat because we have seen that they barely escaped before. It makes Temossus’ death all the more tragic because we want him to be right but know that the chances of him escaping are so limited. Finally, we get the interesting situation where we are forced to see The Doctor’s perspective on his “callousness”. In Forest of Fear we have the Doctor push back at Barbara’s criticism of him as uncaring and inhuman (a term I want to look at more later) but here they have to leave Ian twice and he is able to escape better on both occasions. I don’t think this is meaning to refute Barbara, rather show the complexity that exists between them.

Outside of this action, however, is where the episode gets juiciest. One of the first quiet scenes we get this times is of the thals sneaking into the dalek city. And we once again we get a return of what seems to be a recurring theme of the series, what does fear make of a person? Temossus’ view is that:

…fear breeds hatred and war

Ian would support that later by saying of the daleks:

They’re afraid of you because you’re different from them. So whatever you do, it doesn’t matter.

The Doctor will wonder why the daleks have not left their mutated state. The science we cannot speak for but narratively it seems they are stuck in that state because are afraid of the other. On the other hand, whilst the thals say they are not afraid to die, it seems what they are afraid of is becoming warirors again.

It might sound a little trite to say they both have the wrong kind of fear but I think that is true. Ian and Barbara seem to use human beings to mean any creature that is rational and thinking, and the similarity is such now that it is indeed useful. Human beings are terrible risk assessors. The fact that we might change the climate such that it might ruin the planet is seen as a low priority to many, the presence of a person with a different skin colour and\or different first language in your neighbourhood is seen as a much higher priority by many. The daleks’ fear leads them to distrust the thals even though they might have the knowledge to allow them to feed the city. The thals’ fear leads them to inaction even though it might lead to their destruction. The true fear they should have is that Skaro could well end up totally devoid of animal life, the fear we would hope would make companions of them all, instead it seems to lead to the worst for both of them.

For our travellers (who do seem to be companions once again) they are forced into their own terrible situation. It actually pulls an interesting twist on both them and us. In An Unearthly Child their attempts to change the society fail and so they leave in a hurry. Here they seem to be planning to continue the same plan2 and not get involved in the inevitable conflict with the Thals and Daleks. With the loss of the fluid link they are forced in to an apparent impossible situation. It seems unlikely they’ll be able to sneak in alone a second time, the thals will not help them and the daleks seem unwilling to negotiate. What will this terrifying situation make of them?

1Strangely more time is spent escaping in this episode when the last one is titled The Escape. Whilst The Plan may have a moderately less exciting ring to it, it would have been far more accurate and interesting, still in keeping with the pattern Terry Nation seems to be setting up in this serial.

2Once again after four episodes, making this seem like a logical endpoint if they wished to do so.

GS Blogger: Kris Vyas-Myall

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