Thursday, 2 February 2017
Inspirations - The Daleks
AKA "The Mutants".
Before we look at the story itself, a quick word about where writer Terry Nation came from. He was born in 1930 in a suburb of Cardiff - Llandaff, where many an episode of the post-2005 series and its spin-offs has been filmed. So he was an impressionable youth when the Second World War broke out. Between 1940 and 1944, his home city was bombed repeatedly. At the same time there was the constant threat of invasion. The Germans weren't just enemies, as any child of that period would have told you, they were intrinsically bad. Downright evil. Once the full horror of the Nazi regime had been exposed at war's end, the total evil was revealed. It was only to be expected that when this Cardiff youth wrote about evil beings they would have more than a hint of Nazism about them. After the success of his first Doctor Who script, Nazi surrogates invading Britain was an obvious next step. We'll come to that in a few week's time, but first he has to invent them.
It ought to be mentioned at this point that there was one other major influence on the young Terry Nation - cinema. Many's the time the air raid warning sounded when Nation would be sat in the local movie house enthralled by what he saw on the big screen - often when he should have been in school.
A writing career brought him to London in the 1950's, but it was as a gag writer that he started out, rather than the author of drama (Sci-Fi or otherwise).
He claimed that he got his first break when he sold a joke to Spike Milligan, who felt sorry for him as he looked hungry. He joined Associated London Scripts, which is where he came into contact with a number of Doctor Who's initial writers.
1962 saw him working, fairly unsuccessfully, for Tony Hancock. When Hancock moved away from the BBC, and from Galton & Simpson and from Sid James, his career took a downward turn. A 1963 tour with Hancock saw the comedian often drop Nation's jokes in favour of his old material. ("And what of Magna Carta..? Did she die in vain?!" I doubt if Nation's stuff was that good, so no wonder Hancock reverted to the old stuff).
Asked to write for Doctor Who, Nation discussed it with Hancock, and he argued against it - claiming it was insulting to ask a writer of his "caliber" to write for a kid's show. Nation turned down the gig, but was then promptly sacked - so rushed back to his friend David Whitaker to see if the job offer was still on the table. It was - and The Daleks is the result.
The ghost of Hancock lingers around the series to this day. His one-time agent is Steven Moffat's mother-in-law, and his brother, Roger, became the guardian of the Daleks' legacy as Nation's terrier-like agent.
So what of the story itself. Nation was a very good plot deviser, but had little time for dialogue or for description. Designer Ray Cusick claimed that Nation would sketch only the most basic description of a locale or piece of equipment in his scripts, leaving him and his colleagues to visualise them fully and make the damned things.
Of the Daleks themselves, the main thing Nation stressed was that they should not have arms or legs, and so not look human-like in any way. By way of movement he suggested the Georgian State Dancers, who he had seen on TV. They had stiff gowns which reached down to the floor, and when they moved they seemed to be gliding. Cusick did not base his design on a pepper-pot in the BBC canteen, but he did use one to illustrate their motion to a colleague.
The name "Dalek" Nation claimed to have got from looking at the spines of a couple of telephone directories on a shelf - but no UK volumes are known to have had these letter sequences. Another version of this story has it a pair of encyclopedias. Nation admitted he made this up as a good story for the press. "Dalek" is an old Slavic word meaning "far" or "distant", however. Somehow I don't think Terry was aware of this, but who knows what they talked about at A.L.S. as they were bouncing ideas around.
Once he had his villains, Nation then had to come up with a story to put them in.
It's still 1963, so the shadow of the Bomb hovers over all. The Daleks won't be purely robotic. They are just mobile life-support systems for the survivors of a nuclear war. Verity Lambert had to stress this to Sydney Newman, as he was fiercely opposed to having any BEMs in this show (as in 1950's B-Movie Bug-Eyed Monsters). There are two races of survivors on this alien planet. It has been scarred by war - so let's call it Skaro. (Nation will be the king of naming alien planets after some significant feature about them or their people).
Both sets of survivors are mutants. In the case of the Daleks, the mutation has become stuck, due to their harnessing themselves to technology and trapping themselves in their machines. The Thals, meanwhile, have seen the mutation go full circle and they have become beautiful, blond haired humanoids. They are peaceful and pacifist, whilst the Daleks retain hatred, fear, xenophobia. It is their mentality which makes the Daleks the Nazi surrogates.
They have a dislike for the unlike, as Ian puts it, and want to embark on a genocidal purge of these people who are nothing like them - even though once upon a time they were very much the same.
Through the course of events in The Daleks, the Thals will be taught that they will have to fight if they want to survive. Their pacifism will get them killed. It's the Doctor and a couple of Earth people who show them this - which doesn't say much for human nature.
Nation will have seen any number of movies - Westerns in particular - which have a similar theme. A small community will be threatened by a bunch of baddies (probably led by Brian Donlevy) and someone - usually a stranger in these here parts - will bring them together into some kind of fighting force so that they can defend their homes and rid themselves of the black-hatted villains. Sometimes it will take seven of these out-of-towners to achieve this, in magnificent fashion. (The Daleks will eventually get black hats - but not until Evil of the Daleks).
Last time we mentioned that the Doctor had a touch of the Professor Challenger about him. Literature is littered with obsessed scientists putting people, including themselves, at risk in order to learn something new. The Daleks begins with the Doctor spying an interesting-looking city, and he is determined to give it a closer inspection. When his companions say no, he goes as far as sabotaging his ship to get his own way - putting even his beloved grandchild in harm's way. The Doctor is assuming that the people who built this city must be scientists, and so must therefore think exactly as he does - so no way will they be belligerent and murderous. He doesn't learn from this experience, for he'll still be making the same mistake towards the end of this incarnation (see The Savages).
Time then to mention The Time Machine. Nation will certainly have read the book, but it will be the George Pal movie that will probably be at the forefront of his mind when writing this story. Released in 1960, it sees the time-traveller witness a nuclear holocaust before being thrown into the far future to see the results of the conflict. The Eloi are all blond and beautiful and pacifist - though mainly because they have been bred that way. Their food is prepared for them. They don't have to work, and so can spend their time in a vacuous indolence. The time traveller is shown ancient records of this people. The people manipulating them are mutated creatures that live in an underground city. They are the Moroks, and they use technology whilst the Eloi have none. The Moroks feed on the Eloi.
The parallels are there, but it is by no means a wholesale lift. The Thals might look like the movie Eloi, but they have a hard life, are usually self sufficient, and they have minds of their own. The Daleks do not prey on them. There's no symbiosis between the two races.
They have a shared history and clearly know of each other, but there can't have been any contact between them for generations.
This story started life as a six parter, but the uncertainty over the programme's continuance led to it gaining a seventh episode. Watching it now, it looks like padding, but the whole ordeal thing is one of the basic forms of story-telling. It used to be claimed that there were only a handful of basic story concepts (the quest, the revenge, the reunited family etc), and every drama was simply a combination of these elements. Disregarded now, as there are too many exceptions to this theory. To fill two episodes, Nation sends some of his characters off on a trek through a hostile environment. It is a varied hostile environment at least - with monster-filled swamps and deadly caves. One character is even set up just so he can fall down a hole - because he hasn't bought into this new "we have to fight now" ethos. To make it even more interesting, he is the sibling of one of his fellow trekkers.
I'm surprised Nation didn't have Ian and Barbara's group plant a bomb when they broke into the Dalek city. Where Eagles Dare and The Heroes of Telemark are a few years away from a screening at his local cinema, but he would have known about real life sabotage missions from the war.
Instead they have to struggle further to get into the heart of the city, only for the Daleks to get killed by one of their own bumping into a bit of machinery.
It must be noted that Terry Nation did not leave much of his working-out behind him. It is often extremely difficult to know what is his, and what has gone in from the story editor. It would seem from later Dalek stories that the static electricity stuff has come from David Whitaker, though it has been claimed that this actually came from Mervyn Pinfield. The TARDIS food machine - capable of dispensing bacon and eggs flavoured Mars Bars - is definitely one of Whitaker's. Food machines will be providing full Sunday dinners by the time he gets to The Wheel In Space.
As mentioned above, Nation did not like to go into too much detail in his scripts.
The Daleks are wiped out at the conclusion of this story, after the series' first use of the dramatic Countdown to Oblivion. We know they will be back, with far more Nazi imagery and allusions to HG Wells' other famous novel. (I'm thinking War of the Worlds, but Things To Come also sees a society which has survived a cataclysmic war dividing between those who embrace technology and those who oppose it - so another inspiration for this story). Back in 1964 (as this story has straddled the New Year) the viewers knew this was always going to happen. Despite seeing them destroyed, they ignored what they had watched, and wrote in and asked for a rematch - and the production team were on to it in a flash.
It might have been a different story if the original ending had been retained, however. That's the one where the Daleks and the Thals settle down to live in peace and harmony, with the leader of the Dalek Council showing Alydon how you go about growing food using synthetic sunlight, and Ganatus taking some Daleks on a nature ramble round the Lake of Mutations after they solve that reliance on static electricity business.
For it was originally intended that the war that started all this was the result of a third party. The Daleks blamed the Thals, and the Thals blamed the Daleks, but a spaceship would turn up with another bunch of aliens who would admit it was all their fault, they fired the first missile. Now they are very, very sorry, want to be forgiven, and hope that the two Skarosian races will become friends.
Had they gone with this draft of the story, Doctor Who would probably have ended in 1964.
Next time - The Thing From Another World, and a haunted house.