January 5: "The Expedition" / "The Ordeal"

(The Daleks episodes 5 & 6)

(Before we begin, a quick note to say how marvelous Chrissie's Doctor Who Transcripts is.  It's invaluable for double-checking lines and such.)

"The Expedition" starts with an interesting debate among the time-travellers: what right do they have to convince the Thals to abandon their pacifism?  It's actually Ian who's the most against trying, arguing that the fluid link isn't worth the Thals getting killed over, while Barbara is adamant that she wants to leave, no matter what would happen to the Thals.  Yet it's Ian who actually argues with them, taunting them into fighting for themselves, not just the TARDIS crew.  "All you're doing is playing with words!" Barbara exclaims bitterly, when Ian says that the Thals have to be willing to defend themselves, yet for Ian it's not just a matter of semantics: in his eyes, for the Thals to sacrifice themselves so that four strangers can leave would be immoral, but if they were to do it to secure their future from the Daleks, then that would be acceptable.  It's a surprisingly complex argument, and it makes this a lot more nuanced than a simple "let's go fight because we should" position.

The Daleks in their control room.  Note the unfortunate angle
on the photographic blow-ups. ("The Expedition") ©BBC
Good thing the Thals are ready to fight, because the Daleks have learned they need radiation to survive, so they're going to nuke the planet again.  There's some more great direction by Christopher Barry in this sequence -- the point-of-view of the sick Dalek, with the unfocused, swirling shot, is really effective.  The use of photo blow-ups, on the other hand, is rather less effective.  They juuust about get away with it when shot head-on, but then they switch cameras and catch them from the side, rather spoiling things.  Still, can't blame them for trying.

The actual expedition, into the swamps and mountains behind the Dalek city, runs the risk of dragging (and in that context, naming an episode "The Ordeal" leaves them wide open), but there's enough going on, both through action and suspense, that you don't really notice -- at least not when viewed episodically.  The bit where Ian gets each person over the chasm seems like it should be interminable, yet it works because we know that Antodus (previously established as the cowardly one) is going to have to make the jump too, and we don't know how he's going to manage it.  (And can I just say how much I love the part where, after Ian tosses the rope to him and he makes no move to catch it, Ian assumes the blame for a "bad throw" but then chucks the rope straight at Antodus's face?)  It's quite thrilling, and the fact that he misses, threatening to pull Ian down with him, makes for a literal cliffhanger.