The Mutants

The Mutants

The Expedition

This episode would have fared better from a pacing standpoint had The Escape and The Ambush been shortened and merged. It’s a good story, with a pair of singular conflicts that are driven by narrative events and necessary character reactions, but it being the 5th episode of a 7 episode series works against the otherwise high quality story. It’s a bit like the Netflix Marvel shows that have an awkward attention shift midway through where the villain or narrative changes from what has been built over 4-5 episodes. Like a knee, things like this provide a mobility that a long narrative needs to avoid tension exhaustion. Also like a knee, it is prone to all kinds of dislocation and errors.

The Daleks have taken the anti-radiation drugs, assuming them to be necessary for their return to the surface. A dalek acid freakout, however, suggests they are now creatures who need radiation to survive. The scene where a Dalek is being poisoned to death is one with a remarkable vulnerability that stands apart from later story’s strategic cowardice because the Dalek is begging for help from only its own kind. This vulnerability is another relic of Daleks as a race over a monster, a sad loss as it gives more weight to their alien reasoning. Evil is a lazy tool, a blank shape people project a vague sense onto that requires no actual talent to create. That said, the narrative takes a turn here that erodes that a little itself, the Daleks now suspect they need a highly radioactive environment to survive.

In modern Who, there was an episode where the Doctor pressured three women into deciding whether or not to give the moon an extremely late term abortion. It was an attempt at moving an action driven narrative conflict to a philosophical one, and I think that (even though the moon abortion was a terrible episode) this is a good form of conflict for Doctor Who to visit. It has, at its heart, a focus on intellectual resolutions which too often deteriorate into the same solutions as any other action program but with a light technobabble glaze. This episode manages it well because the problem is simple, Ian and Barbara, who are here against their will, can’t get home without the fluid link and they need Thal help to get it. This help will absolutely kill Thals, but that is a threat that they will probably face anyway if the Daleks figure out how to leave their city. Ian’s actually most hesitant to ask the Thals to help, serving as a counterpoint to some more classic First lines like, “this is no time for morals, they must fight for us”. Ian knows that the fluid link is an absurd prize to motivate a battle, and is hesitant to leverage the probability of Dalek expansionism for what he sees as a selfish cause.

Barbara does though, and she plainly states that death is inevitable in all scenarios, it may as well be in theirs. Ian relents on the morality but is still unsure as to whether the Thals have it in them to fight. Ian saves the day with good old toxic masculinity! He threatens to destroy the small tub that contains the entire Thal history and, when that fails, threatens to drag a pretty hippy girl off to be experimented on by the Daleks. This does the trick, and the Thals accept that there is no reasoning with the Daleks and that their food needs are so great that the Dalek supply is a meaningful enough carrot.

Ian and Barbara lead a group of Thals via a swamp to sneak into the city via some pipes at its undefended rear. Meanwhile, The Doctor and Susan will lead a group to sabotage the Dalek sensory equipment and sneak in the front.

Also, Barbara is totally fucking a Thal called Ganatus. She’s wearing Thal pants for no reason and when they camp near the swamp, Ganatus sleeps with his head on Barbara’s thigh. I’m still certain that Ian and Barbara are some kind of couple at this point, and extended universe stuff has them married and with a kid later on, but there’s absolutely something going on with Ganatus. Maybe they’re swingers or Ian loves watching her get ploughed by aliens.

HEADCANON MAGIC 8 BALL SAYS THIS IS MOSTLY TRUE!

To be fair, it doesn’t count as cheating if they’re not the same species. Next episode!

The Ordeal

Here’s another episode that is just short of literally nothing. The idea of attacking the city via an otherwise ignored rear, ignored because it borders a swamp full of mutants, is a sound one but the team have precious little intel to go on. Their plan, once they reach the caves the pipes enter, is to poke about and hope that they find a way into the city. Spelunking into the depths of the BBC’s polystyrene storage basement is fucking dull. Similarly, the overland group lack any noticeable threat except the Dalek’s scanner, so most of what they’re up to is holding big hexagonal mirrors to reflect light onto the sensor.

Ganatus has a brother whose name I forget and refuse to look up because I’m just gonna call him Retardicus. It’s almost odd the amount of effort Terry Nation put into Retardicus, having set up a few episodes ago that Ganatus had a sore spot in his cowardly brother. Cowardly Retardicus and his big, dumb face are fucking drama of this episode, culminating in a near Dragonfire level cliffhanger where Retardicus, having been to retarded to make a jump, is hanging from Ian from a cliff. The Doctor is in trouble because he was, no shit, stuffing the TARDIS key into the Dalek elevator control panel to fuck it up and got caught. He’s in the middle of going on about how clever he is when a bunch of Daleks just roll up on him.

Retardicus can’t catch

Speaking of the Daleks, they’ve figured out that radiation is what they need and decided to build a neutron bomb to rustle up some more. Well, they call a Dalek contractor who says it’ll be 23 days and the Dalek in question actually asks, “is that the shortest possible time?” Of fucking course it is. Why wouldn’t it be? Neutron Bomb Dalek needs some Union mandated days off to take Cynthia to the fucking beach? Well, fuck it anyway, 23 days is too long to wait for genocide so the plan shifts to venting their reactor radiation into the atmosphere. This shift, from a difference of culture to a meaningful difference in how each species survives, spoils a lot of what the rest of the narrative has been doing. The Daleks, previously described as having wholly alien reasoning, now have a perfectly understandable reason in expanding their survivable habitat. This doesn’t create questions or different moral perspectives which is really what decent sci-fi should be doing.

This episode is accurately titled and stands as the first example of “meta” in television history.

Nation is a stupid last name. Next episode!

The Rescue

Probably the best thing about this episode is that it’s called The Rescue and starts off with the literal opposite. Retardicus cuts himself loose before he can drag Ian and Ganatus into the cave’s depths with him. Brave Retardicus! We shall sing songs about how he looked like twink Ed Boon.

I like narratives that don’t seem to know where they’re going but I feel the people writing them should. The ending is both a relief from a drawn out story and rushed because its conclusion has had no adequate setup. Plot armour gets Ian, Barbara, Sexicus and some other Thals into the Dalek city. The “plan” is to I don’t fucking know because it’s never been explained in detail because thinking it causes strokes. It’s a plan like throwing rocks at a wasps nest is a plan. They open some doors and let more Thals in, armed with goddamn bits of wood. Bits of fucking wood. The Daleks ARE a gun but some exposed midriffs and gardening equipment are gonna be enough. The idea is like sending a hippie to wicker a tank to death.

This is what I mean when I say that you need to know what the ending is, because the last few minutes are just Thals wrestling with Daleks as roughly as the actors can without breaking the precious costumes (there’s like 4, they actually use Daleks painted on chipboard for a few scenes). Sitting back and watching the scene, the absurdity is hard to ignore. Barbara throws a rock at a Dalek and the thing bounces off. Thals rub them with their abs as sensually as they can, but nothing really happens. None are cracked open or anything, they just stop working like they’ve suddenly become too gay to work the controls. The battle is finished when they shove one into a machine which shuts down the power, and The Doctor stops the radiation plan he didn’t know about 3 seconds ago.

I feel like nobody knew how to fight until Michael Dudikoff invented Ninjitsu.

That’s literally it. They win by accident. None of this was a plan and they didn’t even know they’d thwarted Thal extinction. This is like your finger slipping through the paper while wiping and when you turn around to check the damage, there’s a new car sitting there. It’s fucking ridiculous but Barbara kisses Ganatus before they leave so I was totally right about everything.

Conclusion

This is a largely good story marred by really unnecessary length and an ending with all the subtle planning of a shart. It’s by no means a low point in the series (hooooooo boy, no means) and it’s the goddamned first Dalek episode so it has serious canon flavour to it. I actually recommend it, if you can get through the pacing issues and mindboggling stupidity of the modern series, this will be a walk in the fucking park.

Next week, the TARDIS crew are off on another adventure, the thankfully 2 part Edge of Destruction.

 

 

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