Written by Terry Nation
Directed by Richard Martin
The Doctor and his companions arrive on a war-torn London and discover that Earth has been conquered and humanity enslaved.
“She says she can cook. (to Susan) What can you do?”
This is how you begin a season. In many ways, Planet of Giants was the calm before The Dalek storm, and what a storm it is! I had mentioned in my review of The Survivors that World War II was a mere 18 years past, and the Nazi imagery of The Daleks would have been firmly embedded in the minds of the audience. Here, we have the Blitz reconstructed. This is the perfect escalation of the visceral terror of a nation, a Blitz that actually succeeded and the people enslaved. Doctor Who is now delivering a nightmare view of the future.
We open on a man wearing odd headgear. He cries out in agony and drowns himself in the Thames. This sets up a very bleak tone. Susan, however, hopes for a holiday. Our heroes suspect they are on Earth due to the TARDIS environmental readings, and at first, things seem normal. Ian and Barbara are thrilled to be home. The Doctor, however, is concerned due to what he perceives to be a state of decay that has fallen upon the city. As they explore, however, debris from a bridge falls upon The TARDIS, blocking their way to the ship. Ian’s suspicions are now raised as well, and he and The Doctor decide that the first thing to do is make a path to The TARDIS before exploring. Despite being in London, there have been no sounds of birds, people, shipping. There is only silence. The dread that is building in this episode is wonderful, much more effective in an alien jungle since everything is so familiar. Derelict buildings and streets, no people evident. Having recently been watching AMC’s The Walking Dead, there are obvious parallels in the portrayal of a devastated society. Terry Nation has presented us with an apocalyptic view, very dystopian. While Richard Martin has never been the most technically observant of directors, his excitement and enthusiasm at creating tone is evident in this story.
The Doctor and Ian discover a calendar while looking for an acetylene torch. They are in the year 2164. Barbara, back at the river, sees the dead body from the introduction and is filled with fear. She tries to get back to Susan, but a man appears. He tells her to follow him or else they could both be killed. The Doctor and Ian also find a dead man, with the same headgear as the other corpse. The Doctor theorizes that the headgear could be a type of communication equipment for relaying electronic signals. In the hand of the dead man is a whip. Barbara and Susan are taken to a secret hideout with other humans. The Doctor and Ian witness an alien ship flying overhead. Having been separated once more, The Doctor and Ian wait at The TARDIS, hoping the women will return. They soon find themselves surrounded by further men wearing the headgear. These men, however, are very much alive and well-armed. Choosing the rivers as the only escape route, The Doctor and Ian turn to see a Dalek emerging from the Thames.
While there are a few technical things to fault this episode with (the TARDIS windows being detached from the frame is one such fault), the atmosphere and pace of this episode is near perfect. This is, by far, possibly my favorite Terry Nation script. The vision of defeated London, the concept of the Robomen, the desperate survivors, these are all things that Terry Nation does best: conceptualization. He is like George Lucas in this respect, much better at ideas than at writing. Only, unlike George Lucas, most of his scripts work. This is the natural escalation of the threat of The Daleks and the next level of storytelling: moving The Daleks to Earth. I’m rather surprised the Robomen never returned to Doctor Who. While the headgear is a bit silly by modern standards, they could be revived quite well in the new series, especially if Doctor Who wanted to try its hand in the zombie genre. Robomen are zombies, not the modern flesh-eating kind, but the 1930s horror movies where zombies are mindless henchmen. New Who could effectively marry the two views of zombies to recreate the Robomen and instead of the bulky headgear, a smaller, more subtle controlling device could be used so it would be even harder to tell if someone is a Roboman or not. But perhaps this would make them too similar to The Cybermen.
Regardless, World’s End is a wonderful start to The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and a wonderful continuation of Season Two.