The Daleks was the second story of season 1 of Doctor Who. Its most obvious contribution to the Doctor Who mythos was the introduction of the Daleks, along with the Thals and the planet Skaro. It also continued and deepened the antagonistic relationship between the First Doctor and his new human companions, Ian and Barbara, which would come to a head in the next story.
The Doctor’s non-humanoid adversaries caught on immediately with the British public, as was obvious from the serial’s ratings. A significant improvement over An Unearthly Child, The Daleks cemented Doctor Who’s position on the 1964 BBC1 schedule.
The serial was writer Terry Nation’s first for the program. Its reception led to his recommissioning for The Keys of Marinus later in the season, as well as the return of the Daleks every season until season 5. It also was the proximate cause for Nation’s financial success, since his agent had cunningly negotiated Nation’s co-ownership of the Daleks.
The ramifications of this deal on the history of Doctor Who are difficult to overstate. Indeed, though agents are usually unknown and uncredited workers, this deal was known to have been negotiated by future British television legend and studio boss Beryl Vertue — mother of Sue Vertue, and mother-in-law of Steven Moffat.
Besides Nation, other production personnel made their debuts with this story, including directors Christopher Barry and Richard Martin, designer, Raymond Cusick, prolific costumer Daphne Dare, and future director Michael Ferguson.
The Daleks was also the source material for both a theatrical film and an American comic book called Dr. Who and the Daleks. Both were the first time Doctor Who had appeared in those media. The Daleks was the basis for the first attempt to take Doctor Who to the United States market.
Episode 1: The Dead Planet
When the TARDIS arrives in a petrified jungle, the First Doctor and his companions are unaware that the planet is highly radioactive. The Doctor is eager to explore a futuristic city that they discover beyond the forest. Ian and Barbara insist on returning to the ship. On the way back to the TARDIS, Susan is separated from the rest of the crew and believes she is touched by a human hand. Once back at the ship, Susan is disconsolate that nobody believes her, and Barbara complains that she feels unwell. There is a knocking from outside the TARDIS, but the scanners show nobody outside. This provokes Ian and Barbara to demand that the Doctor remove them from this place. He seemingly complies, but, determined to get his way, the Doctor sabotages the TARDIS, claiming that mercury is needed for the fluid link. The only place to find mercury is the city.
The next morning, when the travelers emerge from the TARDIS, they find a small metal box outside. It holds vials filled with an amber liquid, seemingly dropped by whoever knocked the previous night. Susan places the box in the ship for safekeeping, then the four travelers head off to the mysterious city. It is built entirely of metal, with doorways shaped as squat, rounded arches. The travelers separate. Barbara walks down a series of corridors while doors close behind her as she continues forward. She becomes aware that she is trapped. A strange creature emerges, threatening her with a metal arm.
Episode 2: The Survivors
Searching for Barbara, Ian, Susan, and the Doctor enter a room full of machines, including a Geiger counter, which confirms they’ve been exposed to radiation. They realise the gravity of the situation, prompting the Doctor to admit his sabotage of the fluid link and that they should leave immediately, abandoning Barbara. This causes more mistrust between them. Ian takes the fluid link hostage to ensure the Doctor helps him look for Barbara. As they leave the room, they are surrounded by beings known as Daleks, who imprison them. Ian tries to run but is shot by the Daleks, rendering his legs paralyzed. They are locked up alongside Barbara.
The Daleks summon the Doctor and interrogate him. They explain they are survivors of a neutronic war with the Thals, inhabitants of the planet, which has caused mutations to both races. The Daleks are now confined to their travel machines and limited to the boundaries of their metallic city. The Doctor persuades the Daleks that the travelers will die from radiation sickness if no drugs are found. The Daleks order one of them to leave straight away. The Doctor and Barbara are each too unwell and Ian is still paralyzed, so Susan is sent to retrieve the vials that were left outside the TARDIS. She makes her way out of the city and back into the petrified forest, followed by a mysterious figure. The Daleks reveal that when the drugs are returned to their city they shall take them and leave the travelers to die. Having collected the anti-radiation drugs in the TARDIS, Susan prepares herself for the return journey.
Episode 3: The Escape
Outside the TARDIS, Susan encounters a stranger. He is a striking, handsome blond man named Alydon. His appearance proves his race, the Thals, have not suffered the same disfiguring mutations as the Daleks. Alydon is surprised to hear the Daleks are still alive. His race believes they were wiped out during the neutronic war. He explains that he brought the drugs to Susan and gives her more, saying the Daleks should not be trusted. She should keep the second stash secret. He explains that the Thals have traveled many miles across the planet in search of food, as their race is near starvation. They hope to establish a treaty for food with the Daleks. Susan heads off to the Dalek city, while Alydon returns to the Thal encampment and tells his friends about his encounter, hoping Susan can broker a peace and trade agreement.
Susan reaches her friends and passes round the drugs, telling them the Thals are looking for peace and food. The Daleks overhear this and imply acceptance to a treaty, asking in return that the Thals help them cultivate the land, but in reality they are plotting revenge and extermination of their old enemies. The message of peace is conveyed to the Thals, who are invited to collect food from the entrance hall to the Dalek city the following day. They believe this a genuine sign of friendship as Susan promised them that if the message was signed by her name it would be genuine.
Having recovered from the radiation sickness, the Doctor’s party stages an argument amongst themselves that breaks out into a fight. In the ensuing struggle, Susan breaks the camera that has been recording their movement in the cell. Using this new-found freedom to talk, the four speculate that the Daleks are powered bystatic electricity due to the fact that the floors are made of metal and that the smell of dodgems comes off them. Ian theorizes that if they were to break the circuit between the Dalek and the floor, it would become inert. Susan reveals that Alydon gave her a cloak they could use to achieve this. Barbara states that even if this was possible, the Dalek appears to be able to see very well with his eyestalk, so it would be very hard to achieve. However, she devises a plan to use the dirt off of Susan’s shoes mixed with water to create mud. The next time a Dalek comes with their food, the captives jam the door, forcing the creature to return into the cell. The four overpower him.
They open the Dalek, removing the creature inside so they can use the robotic shell as a means of escape. The monstrosity within is wrapped in Alydon’s cloak and dumped. Ian squeezes into the casing. In this guise he escorts his three friends through the city, hoping they can make a break for freedom. The creature removed from the casing tries to crawl out of the cloak. Part of its mutated body struggles free, but without the shell that sustains its life, the creature dies.
Episode 4: The Ambush
The ruse works when Ian discovers how to control the Dalek internally, rather than have the Doctor push him. They are stopped by another Dalek. Ian tells it that he is one of them and is taking the three human prisoners for further questioning. However, when the same Dalek makes inquiries, it discovers it has been duped and sounds the alarm.
In the meantime, the Doctor has magnetically locked the door to stop the Daleks from getting to them. The girls and he try to get Ian out of the casing, but the catch is stuck. As the Daleks burn through the door, Ian convinces them to get in the lift and escape. After much persuasion, they leave Ian behind. Once safe, they send the lift down for Ian. The Daleks enter the room and blast through the Dalek casing to find it empty. Ian has escaped just in time and gotten in the lift. Once he has joined the other three, the Dalek summons the lift to catch up with them.
Ian and his friends find themselves at a window, where they observe the Thals arriving to collect the food. The four shout to alert them that it is an ambush, but the Thals cannot hear. The four notice the lift is coming up. The Doctor prises open a door to escape. Ian, Susan, and Barbara throw a Dalek sculpture down the lift shaft to slow the approaching Dalek. By this time the Doctor has gotten the door open and they escape. Once outside, Ian decides to go back and warn the Thals of their danger whilst the others run to safety.
As the Thals take the food, the elder, Temmosus, decides to plea with the Daleks for a longer-lasting truce where in return he offers to work with the Daleks to create food and a stable environment. Unbeknownst to the Thals, they are being surrounded by Daleks. Ian, watching this all unfold, shouts to the Thals that it’s a trap and many escape. However, Temmosus is exterminated.
The surviving Thals, including Alydon, regroup with Ian and join the Doctor, Susan and Barbara at the Thal encampment. A young Thal named Dyoni provides a history of the planet Skaro from a Thal perspective for the Doctor. It seems that the Daleks were once known as Dals, humanoids similar to Thals. They mutated into their current forms following the neutronic war. The Thals have reacted to their history by adopting pacifism as a creed even though their history reveals them as warriors. Ian attempts to convince the Thals they’ll need to fight the Daleks to survive, but the Doctor suggests they leave. To everyone’s horror, they discover they can’t. The fluid link held by Ian was taken from him when Daleks searched him. The fluid link is in the city, and the four are trapped on Skaro.
Part 5: The Expedition
After trying to convince the Thals that they should be more aggressive towards the Daleks, Ian spurs Alydon to display aggression when he threatens to take Dyoni to the Daleks as a trade for the fluid link. The new Thal leader hits him. This act of violence spurs the Thals into using violence only as a means to do good and the Thals agree to help the TARDIS crew. One group will accompany Ian and Barbara as they cross theswamp to the rear of the city situated near a radioactive lake filled with mutants. They can enter the city unseen through a back entrance. The other group, led by the Doctor and Susan, will act as a decoy, entering through the front door.
While the Daleks seem to have rudimentary abilities to film what is going on in the jungle, they cannot hear the gang hatching their plan. They are soon distracted. The Daleks’ use of the anti-radiation medication left by the travellers has a bad effect on them. Two fifths of the Daleks fall ill. The Daleks deduce they have become immune to radiation and in fact thrive on it. They decide to increase the levels of radiation on Skaro by deploying another neutronic bomb. Whilst this would sustain the Dalek race, it would be impossible for the Thals to survive.
The attack party heading for the Lake of Mutations makes good progress on their lengthy journey. Four Thals,Elyon, Kristas, Ganatus, and Antodus, accompany Barbara and Ian. Ganatus and Antodus are brothers and have been to the lake before with fatal consequences to two of their party. The lake contains many mutated beings from the fallout of the neutronic war. Ian soon spots a multi-tentacled creature in the water. The next morning Ian discovers a series of pipes that suck the water from the lake into the city. The assembled party are shocked to hear one of their number, Elyon, scream as a monster drags him below the murky surface in a large whirlpool.
Part 6: The Ordeal
Elyon is dead, but even though the Thals are upset (especially Antodus), the party must continue with their journey and climb the mountain to complete their end of the plan.
At the front of the city the Doctor’s party block the Daleks’ video and radio communication masks by beaming light at the top of the masts to scramble the images they get. They use this radio silence to sneak into the city.
Whilst this plan is being put into action, the Dalek leaders receive the news that it would take twenty-three days to create a neutronic bomb powerful enough to sustain radiation to ensure the Daleks’ survival. As the Daleks absorb this news, the Doctor and Susan sabotage a static electricity control box. The Doctor asks Susan to hand over her key to the TARDIS, and drops it into a wall panel to draw power away from the system, promising her he can always make a new key if necessary. Susan points out a second panel, which the Doctor rewires to short-circuit. It destroys some of the Daleks’ computer terminals. Unfortunately, their activity alerts the Daleks, who soon surround them. They are taken to the city’s control center and are told of the Dalek plan to irradiate the entire planet. Instead of dropping a neutronic bomb, the Daleks will blow up their nuclear reactors to create the radiation.
Meanwhile, Ian’s party has found a tunnel that should lead to the Dalek city. They drop into a crevasse that heads directly to the city. Antodus tries to persuade his fellow Thals that they should turn back, saying even if they survive the journey, the Daleks will kill them. While they argue, a rockfall occurs. It injures Antodus and blocks any chance of retreat. The only way is onward – and a vast chasm is their next hurdle. Ian jumps first, followed by the second Thal, who discovers another tunnel they can use. One by one the party has to jump across, supported by a rope that Ian ties to a rock and then around himself. The last to jump is Antodus, who loses his footing and falls into the abyss, his weight breaking the rock and dragging Ian toward the edge.
Part 7: The Rescue
Antodus sacrifices his life to save the others by cutting the rope and letting himself fall. The others press on and soon find themselves at a dead end, with their light fading. They discuss going back; however, as the light cuts out, they see a light from a hole in the cliff and find an entrance to the city.
The Daleks have now taken the Doctor and Susan to their control room. They tell him of their plans to wipe out all other life on Skaro so they can thrive in the neutronic fallout. In desperation, the Doctor says that he will help the Daleks build another TARDIS. They say they can do this themselves and don’t need the Doctor to help them.
At the front of the city, Alydon has also led another band of Thals in an assault, hoping to rescue the Doctor and Susan. By luck this party meets Ian’s gang and they elect to attack the Dalek control centre at the same time. Together they destroy the Dalek apparatus and prevent the radiation release. They also disable the power source for the Daleks in the city. The creatures become immobile and soon die, but not before they beg the Doctor to repair their system, which he refuses to do. The Thals are disgusted by all the death, but are grateful that their struggle is finally over.
They all return to the Thal camp – this time with the fluid link – and the Doctor and his party make their farewells and return to the TARDIS. It is revealed that Barbara and Ganatus have been having something of a romance; they kiss just before Barbara is called into the TARDIS.
As soon as they are in flight, there is an explosion on the console and the four travelers fall to the floor.