The Mutants

The Mutants

The Escape

It’s hard to tell in black and white but there’s Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Nougat

Radiation has mutated the Thals into a pile of handsome Mortal Kombat cosplayers! This looks a tad daft but beats the terrible Thals from the equally terrible Dr Who movie who had that uncanny Julian Sands ability to always look like they’re about to rape me. I’ve a hypothesis that there’s a measurable component of what makes some made-up cultural items like dress and manner look realer than others which I was mulling over as a Masters thesis but bailed on because I didn’t feel like doing the work. The glimpses of Thal culture in their costumes manage fine but there’s an oddity to some of their wear looking less than practical which wouldn’t really fit in a very small agrarian society.

Movie Thal/Repressed memory

The Thals are on the move from their plateau home after delayed rain ended their crops. After meeting Susan, the all neck and no skull Thal, Alydon suggests some kind of peaceful exchange. The Daleks have abundant food grown in artificial light, so the sharing would be the beginning of a new peace and a chance to rebuild Skaro. It’s weird that the Daleks have food in the form of actual fruits and vegetables. The idea of them eating anything other than maybe a nutrient paste is odd even just from a mechanical perspective. How does it get inside the shell? Maybe this is the raw material for their paste. Are Daleks canonically vegan? I’m gonna go ahead and say yes. There you go, vegans, representation. The Daleks have Susan write and sign a letter they leave just outside the city saying they’ll help the Thals. The only two things we learn in this scene are that Susan has godawful handwriting and Daleks hate the sound of laughter.

Having taken the a second set of drugs Alydon gave Susan, the TARDIS crew engage in some actual inductive reasoning and figure out a way to stop a Dalek. This is prior to the great Sonic Screwdriver bullshit so locking the Doctor in a room was an action with consequence as opposed to a pointless narrative pause. They roll a Dalek, who is screaming “keep away from me” the whole time, onto a cloak and break the power uptake the metal floor provides the shell. They haul the monster-pudding that lives inside out and stuff Ian in. Ian’s natural first action is to start poking about with the controls despite the fact that one of them is a gun and everyone is in front of him. But this episode is called The Escape not Ian Accidentally Kills Barbara, what a fuckhead, so they make their way out.

More handsome Scorpions dammit! Next episode!

The Ambush

The TARDIS crew trick a Dalek into letting them use an elevator which is great because the Dalek they trick says, “Shall I help you…” when offering to escort the prisoners. I find this offer of help hilariously cute because it’s for no other reason than manners. The Daleks have a gun for a limb that can stun as easily as kill, what “help” would one really need in escorting prisoners? Shall I help you? What are you doing later? Wanna get a coffee after? It’s the kind of thing that suggests an inner life that monsters don’t have. What do they do in the downtime? Which is really what the last 500 years have been at this point. There’s been no plan to leave or expand in any way, and they’ve only just learned that any Thals survived. So… movie nights? What? Guess we’ll never know.

The ruse is uncovered and naturally The Doctor wants to abandon Ian, now stuck in the Dalek shell, because he’s the First Doctor and would knock a toddler over to escape waiting in line at a store. Ian gets himself out with no explanation as to why exactly he was stuck or how exactly he got out. Old shit seems to do this a lot, cliffhangers based on absolutely nothing. King of the Rocketmen (the inspiration for The Rocketeer) did this all the time. They’d show a house he was in exploding as a cliffhanger, then the next episode they’d show him walking out the front door before the explosion. This isn’t as bad as that but it does appear that the Daleks use what’s left of their understanding of genitals to cut through the door so that’s one mystery solved.

The crew get to the top floor of the building and are being chased until they dump some Dalek modern art on the lift. MODERN ART! That’s what they’ve been up to. Seems like a simple exploration of line and texture before that mad Dadaist, Ian, destroys it in the name of of the new. Meanwhile, poor hippies have been lured to the city of wildly xenophobic tank people expecting everything to go well as only hippies can. The Daleks have laid out a lovely fruit, vegetable, and spam platter for the Thals and then hidden themselves in titular ambush. Ian gets there in time to prevent a tragedy but decides to wait until the Thal leader has been killed to warn anyone. No reason is given for this and he apologises later for not being quick enough even though he clearly was. Ian is a fucking killer. His time dealing with The Doctor is less than a week and already he’s been alienated from the morality that made him human.

HEADCANON MAGIC 8 BALL SAYS THIS IS MOSTLY TRUE!

Alone at the top of a tower, the only other thing in the Dalek city, sits the most modern of arts.

Well, leaders die. You know how it goes, one minute you’re school captain, the next, the vice principal BERSERKIUS  has executed you in front of the other students. The Thals are a little hurt and Alodyn tries to work out what the cause of the Dalek dislike could be, so that he may better appeal to them. Ian has a great moment here (and another in the next episode), a moment that would absolutely be The Doctor today, where he explains to the Thals that the Daleks destroy because of of “a dislike for the unlike”. This is 60s Britain basically explaining Nazis to the children and some of this sense of the kinds of pragmatism that war drives into people in Ian’s ideas on how to deal with it. They’ll only respond to a show of strength as there is no other common value shared. Barbara and Ian muse on whether the Thals are pacifist by active principle or whether they simply haven’t fought in so long.

Another distinct element of early Who appears here too, the “it’s not our problem” element. What the Thals would do if the Daleks escaped is for them to decide, as this is a show about explorers, unwitting and otherwise, not a show about superheroes. The explorers are going to leave but, amidst it all, Ian forgot the Daleks took the fluid link when they were first captured and now they are stuck having to go back for it. This seems like an absurd oversight and the kind of lazy “plot from character stupidity” thing that I loath but this is actually fair considering the radiation poisoning and other events. It’s just an alien kind of storytelling to today’s. Everything now is Chekov’s gun this and twist that so it’s jarring to watch a 7 part story with no real arc, just events flowing into each other. There’s a self-awareness that decades of critique have burned into modern writing, the authors make themselves known via their attempts to outwit an audience experienced enough to see a lot coming. This puts us at odds with the experience, whereas here I’m actually able to feel levels of tension because the story unfolds like even it doesn’t know where the end will be.

There’s value in returning to this, not exclusively but certainly occasionally. A plot that is just a logic machine you throw your characters into fuels character development better than overwrought dramatic moments because it puts the emphasis on them as pure actors and not arcs, themes or whatever else you’ve picked up from TV Tropes.

I got back from the shops once and realized I’d forgotten the milk. I suppose that is like this but the Compliance Collars keep the Coles Daleks from killing me. Ha ha, modern technology. Next episode!

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