January 4: "The Escape" / "The Ambush"

(The Daleks episodes 3 & 4)

Hey, look, it's another actor!  Before we've just had the four regulars and a bunch of people in not-obviously-human-looking costumes, but now John Lee appears as Alydon, one of the Thals.  He speaks with Susan a bit, but then later on we get most of the Thals as they discuss what they're going to do regarding approaching the Daleks.

This was a bit of a surprise to me, honestly; I'd forgotten the Thals (other than Alydon) made an appearance in "The Escape" (which actually aired fifty years ago today!).  But that's probably because, even though the Thals have been introduced, the focus of this episode is still firmly on the Doctor, Ian, Susan, and Barbara, and how they're going to escape (it's the title of the episode, so no spoilers there).  In some ways their escape is one of the most memorable parts of this story, as they trick a Dalek into entering their cell and then overpower it.  The script gives each person a significant part to play in their escape.  It's nice, thoughtful writing that shows that the characters haven't descended into stereotypes yet -- because no stereotypes have been codified yet.

The Daleks cutting their way in. ("The Ambush") ©BBC.
Their escape continues in the next episode (after the cliffhanger showed a glimpse of the Dalek mutant!), but here the Thals are given more development too.  I'm not actually convinced that it works that well, since we only get broad brushstrokes for most of the characters: Alydon is the strong one, Temmosus the na├»ve leader, and Dyoni the woman.  But really, they're only there to react to the TARDIS crew -- except that doesn't happen until later.  It's actually surprising how long it takes the Doctor and company to escape the city, yet it never feels like just marking time -- a tribute to the show's creative team.  (And while we're bringing them up, a moment to note just how fabulous the blistering of that wall next to Ian under Dalek fire is.)

The end of the episode is interesting: when the Thals do interact with the TARDIS crew, there's a bit of an argument against unyielding pacifism and an examination of racism (in Ian's words, "a dislike for the unlike"), but it all feels rather half-hearted.  There's a sense of "well, we tried" from Ian, but he's just as ready to leave as the Doctor is.  One could almost believe that this was the end of this adventure—after all, the previous locale only lasted about four episodes—until the cliffhanger.  But I wonder if any viewers were in fact momentarily fooled, since there's a distinct sense of unresolved business at the end of "The Ambush" -- the Daleks haven't been dealt with, just left in their city, and the Thals' future is still very uncertain.  Which means that, even before the revelation about the fluid link, it's fairly clear that our time on Skaro isn't over yet.