Saying goodbye to a character in this silly old show can be a hard thing to do. But Susan’s departure is certainly very well remembered. Before we get on to that, allow me to add a little context about the story as a whole.
The Tardis arrives in London, circa 2164. But something is wrong, it is deserted and not even Big Ben is ringing. They discover a plot that the Daleks have started to take over Earth and mine deep into the crust. The Daleks want to hollow out the core of the planet and use it as a craft of some description. Not the most sane plan ever devised.
This is the first story to feature a recurring villain of any kind, and of course it would be the Daleks that were so well received previously. I can certainly understand why Terry Nation wanted to bring them to Earth; it’s a great way of making them scarier, by putting them in a familiar and relatable setting. Just to set the timelines straight, these events are set before those in their last story from the Daleks point of view. Hence their existence. The Dalek Invasion of Earth sets the somber tone straight away, showing a Roboman committing suicide.
This brings me onto the fact that the Daleks are not operating alone this time, they have slaves to do their dirty work. These slaves are the Robomen; people who the Daleks operate on, to make them follow orders. Once the programming expires, the Robomen do not return to normal Humans, but instead go insane – hence the suicide.
Upon arriving in London, Ian and Barbara assume that they are home at last. At which point Ian states that the Doctor had brought them home, the long way around. This is of course a line echoed in the 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor. I had no idea of this and my heart was warmed a little by it.
The Doctor and company are unable to escape because a bridge partially collapses on the Tardis. Personally I don’t think that they would have had much trouble squeezing through the doors if they wanted to.
This story does, however have some great iconic imagery and some pretty good model work too. Everyone know about the Daleks travelling across Westminster bridge and it has been re-enacted several times, and the Dalek rising out of the Thames is a great cliffhanger moment. The Dalek saucer is quite sweet but does look fairly good.
The Doctor and his companions end up coming across a group of resistance fighters. There aren’t many of them left and they are determined to stop the Daleks. The resistance is led by Dortmun, a man who is also trying to refine a bomb to destroy their enemies at last. Dortmun is wheelchair bound and I think feels slightly agitated that his friends go off and fight, while he must stay behind.
It is in this story that we get one of the first proper flashbacks in Doctor Who. A captured rebel, Craddock, is explaining how the Daleks took over; and we are shown how it happened while he is narrating.
The Doctor and Ian find themselves caught by the Daleks, and put in their saucer. Robomen get the Doctor and are about to get him converted into one of them. This leads to the Doctor being very scared, naturally. There is something so frightening in itself when the Doctor is outwardly showing fear. It really gave me chills.
As mentioned previously, this is a pretty somber story overall. If Game of Thrones had a 1960s Doctor Who equivalent, so far I would choose this story. Well, apart from all the nudity and sex. So many people die in this story, and even if they are only on screen for a few moments, something about the writing made me invested in their survival a lot of the time. The Daleks are obviously written to mirror the Nazis since the beginning, and it is definitely seen in this story too. They even refer to their plans as ‘The Final Solution’, a phrase made famous by the Nazis.
After a while of our main characters getting captured and escaping a couple of times, they manage to form a plan. Although Dortmun was unsuccessful with his bombs, Barbara discovers that it is possible to send orders to the Robomen to start attacking the Daleks. Ian gets caught in the tunnel where a huge bomb was sent to blow up the Earth’s core. However he manages to find a way to block it midway down. Meanwhile, Susan has been with the resistance fighters and spending a lot of time with a man named David.
Susan and David appear to have a special bond fairly early on. It is great to see Carole Ann Ford get to do something a bit different in her last story. She gets to really play with the character falling in love. It is pretty successful too.
There are a couple of lighthearted moments scattered around too. Several of which are the scenes between the aforementioned couple. While Susan is preparing a stove on the floor, David sneaks up on her with a fish to cook. It is great to see their relationship, and it seems to form rather naturally too. Even better is the Doctor’s reaction when he appears, just after they have kissed. He says to David that he can see something is cooking. David knows that the Doctor saw and approves, but Susan is hoping he is referring to the food.
I love that little conversation with William Hartnell providing a lot of sparkle.
Unfortunately there was something that took me out of the story completely. It may well have been added to fill up some time, but the creation of the Slyther was rather funny-looking. It was intended to be a little creature that effective does guard duty for the Daleks. The design and noises that the Slyther make are not very scary or convincing, and it ends up getting killed a few moments later by accidentally falling off a cliff. I believe it was mainly inserted to the story for padding and for a cliffhanger to episode four.
Now after the Daleks have been overthrown by Robomen and the rebels, Susan is left with a dilemma. She admits to loving David, as he does to her; but she doesn’t want to leave her grandfather or her friends. This is where one of my all-time favourite William Hartnell scenes begins. Susan shows the Doctor a hole in her shoe, and he takes it from her saying that he will repair it. Barbara and Ian say farewell to the rebels and go inside the Tardis. The Doctor looks over his shoulder at Susan and David talking and slightly fondles her shoe before going inside too.
He then locks the doors and tells her that she belongs with David, and not with him. The Doctor wants Susan to belong somewhere and be able to settle down as she wants to. He promises to come back to see her. My goodness my description cannot do the scene justice, just go and watch it now and come back.
Did it make you all tingly too?
The Doctor departs, leaving Susan and David to rebuild Earth from scratch with the other survivors. We even hear Big Ben chime once again. It is especially powerful, since way back at the beginning of the story, Susan was stating that she didn’t want things to change; and now she is about to leave the Doctor forever (almost). The screen then goes to stars for the credits, which has been something that Doctor Who does for special episodes. The departure of his granddaughter certainly seems like it deserves a special ending.
Altogether I am trying hard not to rate the story too highly, just because of a cracking ending. I was originally going to go lower, but by writing about it I realised how much I enjoyed it. I think it will have to be six Slythers out of ten.