The Dalek Invasion of Earth, by Jonathan Morris (and Terry Nation, Terrance Dicks and “Alan Smithee”)

When I first watched The Dalek Invasion of Earth in 2006, I wrote:

Bought this in London last week. Excellent value – six Hartnell epsiodes of classic story, plus various mini-documentaries, including a short silent film shot by Carole Ann Ford on her last day as Susan (featuring William Hartnell with no wig and looking ten years younger).

The Dalek Invasion of Earth is good – in fact, the first three episodes are excellent, with the Dalek coming out of the river at the end of episode one, and episode three a real high point, with the scenes of the Daleks in London, wandering past Westminster, congregating in Trafalgar Square, and patrolling the Albert Memorial (having obviously somehow got up the steps) particularly effective. That is also the episode where Susan tells David of her feeling of dislocation: “I never felt that there was any time or place that I belonged to. I’ve never had any real identity.” And the incidental music is great – I hadn’t heard of the composer Francis Chagrin before but he was apparently a well known film composer; shall look out for his other work. There is a real feeling of occupied Europe resisting the Nazis (and I write this in a village which experienced that directly rather than just in the cinema).

It is a bit let down by episode four, with no Doctor in sight and the rather rubber-suited Slyther, and the Daleks’ actual plan when revealed stretches our suspension of disbelief. But the pace is kept up (especially by Jacqueline Hill as Barbara).

And finally the departure of Susan. Beautifully done, the first time that a member of the regular cast had left the show. “Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine,” says the Doctor, promising to return, but we know he never will.

When I rewatched it in sequence four years later, I wrote:

After a couple of frankly ropey sf stories (The Keys of Marinus and The Sensorites) we have a very marked improvement with The Dalek Invasion of Earth. As with Planet of Giants, we are on familiar English territory, but this time warped by the passage of time rather than perspectives of scale. There are lots of brilliant moments here, and the whole is for once equal to the sum of its parts. The impact of the Dalek emerging from the Thames at the end of the first episode is slightly lost if we know what the name of the whole story is, but several people who saw it first time round in 1964 have picked this as the most memorable moment in all of Old Who. Myself, I just love the sequence of Barbara, Jenny and Dortmun dodging Daleks across London to Chagrin’s haunting tortured incidental music in the middle of episode 3; I could watch that again and again. And at long last, as she leaves, Carole Ann Ford is called upon to do some acting, and rises to the challenge. Susan’s departure scene is really rather moving, especially watching it (as I now have done, and as original viewers had to do) as the 51st episode in sequence rather than the last of a vintage 6-part DVD. One point lost on 1964’s viewers that strikes one forcibly today is Peter Fraser’s eerie resemblance, as David Campbell, to David Tennant (who of course was not born until 1971).

Since then of course I’ve also watched the great 1970s TV series Secret Army, which is about the German occupation of Belgium; it’s possible that Gerald Glaister watched Doctor Who in 1964, but both stories are drawing from a common well of war narratives. I enjoyed watching it again, and the scene of evading the Daleks in the third episode is thrilling every time.

Terrance Dicks’ novelisation was, I think, the very first Doctor Who book I bought for myself, shortly after it came out in 1977, at the Blackpool exhibition. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

When he’d grabbed Barbara at the steps, he’d released her almost at once, saying he’d just wanted to make sure she didn’t scream. ‘They’ had their patrols everywhere, and he’d already carried Susan to shelter so she wouldn’t be spotted.

When I reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth leans a bit on the Peter Cushing film as well as on the originally broadcast story. Its most remarkable innovation, and improvement on the screen version, is the Daleks’ pet monster, the Slyther, which is much more terrifying on the page. But unfortunately a lot of the good bits of the TV story – the desperate chase across a deserted London in episode 3, and even the Doctor’s farewell to Susan at the end – are truncated and lose their effect. It’s still a good story but this comes across rather in spite of than because of Dicks’ efforts.

I was not entirely fair here. The opening paragraph is one of Dicks’ real crackers:

Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man. His clothes were tattered and grimy, his skin blotched and diseased over wasted flesh. On his head was a gleaming metal helmet. He walked with the stiff, jerky movements of a robot—which was exactly what he had become.

And the prose is taut as 150 minutes of screen time are condensed into 142 pages. The cover is fantastic too (and unrealistically raised my ten-year-old expectations for the look of the original TV series). You can get it here.

This is one of only two Doctor Who stories to have been converted to the big screen, as a film starring Peter Cushing as the human scientist Doctor Who, Bernard Cribbins as policeman Tom Campbell, and Roberta Tovey and Jill Curzon as Dr Who’s granddaughter Susan and niece Louise. I had seen it on TV as a kid; when I rewatched it in 2010, I wrote:

It is much inferior both to the original six-part TV Dalek Invasion of Earth and to its own predecessor which I reviewed earlier. Somehow where the TV series succeeded in making the sets appear a realistic future occupied England, the big screen fails to do so; the sequences around the mines are particularly striking, where the original show achieved five times the effect for perhaps a tenth of the money. The music is often terrible, though of course the TV version had some of the best incidental music ever to feature in Who. Peter Cushing and Roberta Tovey, returning from the previous film, are much less effective; the more striking performances are Jill Curzon as Dr. Who’s niece Louise, Philip Madoc as a short-lived black marketeer, Andrew Keir as a Scottish freedom fighter, and particularly Bernard Cribbins as Tom Campbell, a 1960s policeman who accidentally enters Tardis thinking it is a police box and gets swept forward to 2150.

I have some suggestions as to why this film manifestly fails where its predecessor did not, and where the TV story succeeded. First off, the TV series has an ensemble of regular characters with established relationships; the film loses time and momentum setting that up (and also has no particularly good reason for it). Second, the switching round of the narrative strands fails to work in the film’s favour. Here, Tom and Louise, rather than Ian and a local, head up to Derbyshire in the Dalek saucer; and Dr. Who and granddaughter Susie travel by land separately rather than together. (Susie follows roughly the route of Barbara on TV, accompanied by Weir’s Scottish resistance fighter.) Opportunities are missed to generate much spark between Tom and Louise, let along their terrestrially travelling friends. Of the good scenes from the TV story, only Dortmun’s last stand and the treacherous women in the woods survive, and are done less well. (The women are played by Eileen Way and Sheila Steafel.) Finally, the geology of the Daleks’ plan actually – and this is difficult to believe – makes less sense than the original TV version.

Rewatching again, the changes to the narrative annoyed me even more. But on the other hand I appreciated the thrill of seeing Doctor Who in colour, years before the TV show got there (in 1970).

Along with the Black Archive sequence, Obverse Books have produced four “novelisations” of films starring the Peter Cushing Doctor, only two of which were actually made of course. The author is the pseudonymous Alan Smithee. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

‘Run,’ Dr Who whispered under his breath. ‘Run!’ he said again, far more forcibly this time.

The mysterious “Smithee” has done well here, adding quite a lot of background detail about a number of the human characters and how their lives were affected by the Dalek invasion – something that I now realise is missing from the Dicks novelisation (unlike his books with more contemporary settings). You can get it and the other three here.

Before I get to the main business, I’m also going to mention the recent Big Finish play, After the Daleks, which I listened to recently and will write up properly Real Soon Now. It’s set in the aftermath of the Dalek defeat, and features Susan and friends attempting to reconstruct society. Some monsters are human in shape. You can get it here. Edited to add: Silly me! I had already written it up.

LibraryThing tells me that I have 42 books and audio plays by Jonathan Morris, and I know I have not been diligent about logging my audio collection there, so the real total is a bit higher. I really loved his early Big Finish play Bloodtide and his Fourth Doctor novel Festival of Death, but this Black Archive monograph on The Dalek Invasion of Earth is the first non-fiction that I have read by him.

Unlike most of the other Black Archives, this concentrates largely on the development of the script and the story in its various iterations. Morris does enlarge on something I had learned from the DVD commentary. Originally the character of Jenny, played by Ann Davies (whose husband was Richard Briers), was to be a much younger Anglo-Indian girl, played by Pamela Franklin, who was then only 14, and would have ended the story replacing Susan by stowing away on the TARDIS. But the BBC bureaucracy screwed up on the contracts, and it didn’t work out.

On the one hand, it would have been great to have a non-white companion forty years before Martha Jones. On the other, we may have dodged a bullet: my impression is that Pamela Franklin, though born in Japan, has exclusively European ancestry, so she would have needed make-up for the role, which would have been very dubious indeed. She hit the big time a few years later as one of the pupils in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The books has the following chapters, all fairly short:

  • An introduction where, like me, Morris reveals that the novelisation was the first Doctor Who book he ever bought (he was seven, I was ten)
  • Chapter 1, “The Return of the Daleks”, looking at the instability around the show and its place in the BBC in mid-1964, and the role of the Daleks in securing its future;
  • Chapter 2, “Doctor Who and the Daleks’, looks at the roots of the story in war stories, H.G. Wells and Earth vs the Flying Saucers;
  • Chapter 3, “The Invaders”, looks in detail at Terry Nation’s original script. The second paragraph, and the quote it introduces, are:

Nation’s delivery date for his draft scripts was 19 June. The existing paperwork doesn’t record when he delivered them, but it seems reasonable to assume that he didn’t deliver them before that date. Interviewed in 1973 2, Nation recalled:
‘I was in demand from all sides, besieged by offers to write comedies, plays, science fiction. We worked out that there was some work of mine shown on television for 40 weeks out of 52 that year. Fortunately I work very fast, and work best under pressure. The [Doctor Who] scripts became my Saturday job. They were written one a week, each Saturday.
2 For the Radio Times Special celebrating the series’ 10th anniversary.

  • Chapter 4, “Serial K”, looks in detail at the changes made by David Whitaker to the script;
  • Chapter 5, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth”, looks at the changes to Whitaker’s script made by director Richard Martin and others as it was being filmed;
  • Chapter 6, “The Daleks are here!”, briefly looks at the way the story was marketed;
  • Chapter 7, “Daleks Invade Earth”, looks at Milton Subotsky’s original draft of the film script;
  • Chapter 8, “Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD“, looks at how the shooting script differed from Subotsky’s original draft;
  • Chapter 9, “Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth“, looks at Terrance Dicks’ novelisation;
  • and Chapter 10, “Legacy of the Daleks”, looks at how this story more than almost any other has been referenced explicitly and implicitly in later Doctor Who stories, both on and off screen. The book was written before the 2021 Big Finish play After the Daleks, but references among others Whatever Happened to Susan Foreman?, a BBC play in which she returns to our time and becomes a European Commissioner.

So, all meaty stuff, and you can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Face of Evil (27) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)