Saturday 25 April 2020


First broadcast: January 1965
Written by David Whitaker
Ye Olde Plot Spoilers Contained Below!

”A lonely orphan lives under the thrall of a sinister creature called Koquillion.”
- From the BBC guide

'The Rescue' is another of those ‘oddity’ early episodes they’d slip in between the big serials - a slender two episodes slid into an era of long storylines. When Carole Ann Ford left the original plan had been to replace Susan with another character from 'Dalek Invasion of Earth', but when that had fallen through the Tardis had taken off a passenger light. At this point David Whitaker had just left his Script Editor’s position, so there remained no BBC rules against him contributing scripts in their own right. However it’s notable he’d previously written 'The Edge of Destruction' (also a two-parter) to get the series out of a similar hole and (so say some) contributed without credit to 'Keys of Marinus'. Even the incidental music is out of the can (recycled from 'The Daleks').

Which might suggest two things;

- this was another episode to be flung together extremely quickly, and (more importantly)

- everything that happens here is with a view to introducing Susan’s replacement – Vicki.

Up to now stories have always started aboard the Tardis, the sole exception the very first episode. Things kick off here with a long scene focusing on Vicki. Science fiction is commonly stereotyped as a genre disposed to Big Ideas, with little interest in characters. But here we have a whole storyline devised just to wrap around one character. (Even 'An Unearthly Child', for all that it focused on Susan, used her more as a springboard to introduce the setup of the series.)

And strangely the result is the most 'Scooby Doo'-ish episode of early 'Doctor Who' - there's a monster who's very obviously a man in a mask. More strangely still, it’s also a story about child abuse. Tomb of the Anorak has suggested that at the series’ start, Ian and Barbara initially fear the Doctor might be molesting Susan. Which might be retro-fitting modern concerns, but here it becomes an idea which can’t be ignored.

In the storyline only the young Vicki and the apparently crippled Bennett have survived a spaceship crash. The other survivors have ostensibly been killed by the natives, particularly the malevolent Koquillion who holds the survivors in fearful thrall. But in fact Bennett, a convict being transported for trial, has killed both crew and natives and is merely disguising himself as Koquillion to keep Vicki obedient. Plus, you imagine, for kicks.

(Vicki seems unable to recognise Koquillion’s clearly wearing a mask, one which is even revealed as a mask within the story! However absurd this may now seem, though, its just another example of the ‘theatre logic’ which perpetuated in 'Who' at the time. If you’re unable to accept such suspension of realism, you really shouldn’t be watching shows from this era at all!)

This fits neatly with the Freudian theory that the child is unable to reconcile the nurturing and commanding sides of the adult, but instead imagines them as two separate people - an internalisation of the good cop, bad cop scenario. And let’s remember Bennett has killed Vicki’s father - effectively replacing him. (Her mother is said to have died earlier.) This tendency is magnified in the case of child abuse, where the child has things done to them they are incapable of coping with, so cannot help but give it the aspect of a nightmare. And as for the magic pointy destructive stick Koquillion’s always carrying… well, Freudian readings, enough said.

But what of Vicki herself? Will Whitaker just clone the screamer Susan sadly became, the whinger we’ve all grown so non-fond of? Or will he seize the chance to create something bigger and better? Actually what he does is press the ‘reset’ button and start the second season with a story very similar to 'Unearthly Child' – the young girl and adult whose unusual circumstances Ian and Barbara blunder in on. (It may also owe something to 'Forbidden Planet', the girl and the man crashlanded on an apparently dead alien planet actually the remnants of an alien civilisation, the girl's innocence made manifest in scenes of her communing with apparently dangerous animals.)

As we’ve seen, Susan’s original characterisation was a take on the futuristic nature of the teenager. In the untransmitted ‘pilot’ episode, she‘s even specifically from the future. Similarly Vicki is from a future Earth. She insists to Barbara her name’s not short for Victoria, a subtle underlining of her modernism. (Ironically, we will later get a Victorian Victoria!) As with Susan and her time travelling status, there’s an emphasis on the child not being listened to by the adults. This is at its height in a nice twist where Barbara shoots a sand monster to protect her, only to be told by a distraught Vicki it was a pet which she’d tamed.

And yet you can already see the spiral starting to sag. With each new girl companion the writers would attempt to mend their ways and set up a stronger character, only for her to fall back into another damsel in distress a few episodes down the road. At the point she’s introduced, there’s already clear limits to Vicki’s unearthliness. Whitaker has pressed the reset button, but not very hard.

It’s not just than Maureen O’Brien looks or acts less interesting than Carole Anne Ford. (Though there’s none of the iconic moments, such as when Susan strokes the transistor radio she’s listening to.) Susan was a time traveller, who didn’t ask for nor need Ian and Barbara’s help. The story's based around a mystery, but that mystery is her rather than something that happens to her.

With Vicki all this is reversed. She’s living not in a working timeship but crashed spaceship, she’s in need of rescue. If she’s from Ian and Barbara’s future, that detail presents no real obstacle to them relating to her as they would any other young girl. She may be in her teens, but crucially she’s a child in a story about parent figures. (The story relies on a double-think about her age, where she's both a hopelessly trusting child and a futuristic teenager. Freud's theory, needless to say, is about very young children.)

Vicki seems to have been plucked from a girl’s comic of the era - orphaned, put upon, unheeded but always dutiful. Poor-block housing is replaced by a broken rocket ship, dogs and horses by aliens, and wicked step-uncles by wicked step-uncles given to wearing masks to make them look like aliens. She’s made an orphan, partly to allow her to step aboard the Tardis more easily but also as a shortcut to not worrying about giving her much of a backstory.

One interesting aspect of the story is that the counterweight of Bennett is not the fatherly Ian but grandfatherly Doctor. While Vicki gushes about how she’s taken to him, he’s presented as a very ‘humanised’ figure – a sweet old man who natters amiably to himself and takes frequent naps. Only when he confronts Bennett does the commanding Doctor take the stage. (And even there he comes to need his own rescue…)

The emphasis on her also serving to highlight him, the Doctor does well by the story. At one point, busy with the Tardis controls, he calls to Susan to help him - then checks himself. It’s a brief moment, and for that very reason infinitely superior to the outbursts of grief porn that pass themselves off as character-based drama today.

Unfortunately, even at two episodes, the story finds time for longeurs. Caves and tunnels would seem this era’s version of quarries and corridors, characters always end up wandering them when in want of a better idea. Ian and the Doctor’s meanderings (complete with death traps as poxy as they are pointless) seem so removed from everything else, you start to feel they’ve somehow been trapped outside of the story and are trying to find their way back in it. The one respite during these scenes are the amusing monsters, who look remarkably like they’ve wandered in from 'The Clangers'. (Only less scary than that description would suggest.)

The ending is also weak, and something of a cheat. Not content with just making Bennett a child abuser, he's also made responsible for colonialism. For in an act of micro-genocide he's supposed to have killed off all the native Didonians. (The name’s presumably meant to make us think of Dodos, and progress from there to Mauritian islanders, native Americans, Tasmanians and so on.) The way he bumps off the actual peaceful natives then reinvents them in his own savage image is actually quite neat, and a reasonably accurate shorthand for the way the culture of the colonial era worked.

Two then turn up at the end to confront him and rescue the Doctor, in a similarly timely manner to the woodchopper arriving to rescue Red Riding Hood. Silent and accusatory they drive him to his death, leading you to wonder if they’re merely projections of his guilt. Unfortunately later scenes disallow that notion, raising the question of what they’ve been up to all this time.

Even if we were to somehow accept their miraculous reappearance, their ‘journey’ would merely be a repeat of the Thals – a peacefully blonde race unfortunately driven to violence through self-preservation. They even look like Thals! If they can't be gult projections then perhaps Ian and Barbara might have followed the Doctor’s trail, then donned Didoan masks to menace Bennett - playing his own trick back upon him.

Some speak of the Hartnell era as if it was very bad apart from when it was very good - in other words, a few classic episodes push up a generally low batting average. There may be some substance to that view, but 'The Rescue' is the counter argument. It should be commended for putting its focus on the character of Vicki, and the way in which it marshals the combination of all its resources in presenting that character. Somewhat paradoxically, then, its main drawback is the character Vicki is actually given. (Let's just overlook those tedious bloody caves…) While you wouldn’t reach for it first when attempting to win over a skeptic, the Whoniverse would be the poorer without it.

Coming soon! From tragedy to farce...

Saturday 18 April 2020


Tate Modern, London

”The decibels of nature can crush an artist’s brain. So I lock the door and paint interiors.”
- Tanning

The Triumph of the Id?

Dorothea Tanning was born in Galesburg, a small American town where, as she described it, “nothing happened but the wallpaper.” But her head was turned in 1936 when in New York she came across a Dada and Surrealism exhibition. She strove to reach Paris, then the epicentre of floppy clocks. Flames of war drove her back, but those same flames also drove many Surrealists to New York. She fell in with them, meeting Max Ernst in 1942 and being married to him from ’46 until his death. After a prolific career she died in 2012, age 101.

Armed with this knowledge it’s easy to look at the early self-portrait ’Deirdre’ (1940, above) and first see the green hair or the strip of red material acting as a dress. Particularly as we’ll see these human/vegetable hybrids throughout. We’ll come back to them. For now, focus on her expression. This is the impassive, slightly sombre look you’d expect of an emerging artists’s self-portrait. Then think of the humdrum title she gave it. The more surreal elements don’t jar with any of this, as they’re portrayed so straightforwardly.

Previous Modernist movement had innovated in the way they depicted things. Perhaps the most extreme case was Cubism, which showed little interest in what it painted, caring only for how it was painted. Familiar things were rent strange. With this deadpan look, Surrealism reversed all that, making strange things look familiar. Hence Tanning would paint works with such humdrum titles as ’A Mrs Radcliffe Called Today’ (1945).

For the surreal must always be presented straightfaced, as though it was real, the weird tale you need to tell deadpan. And this is a genuine time where the hopelessly over-elaborated connection between Surrealism and dreams actually works. We can dream the most bizarre, the most impossible events and occurrences. But at the time we passively accept them, their incongruity only striking us when we wake. Surrealism’s aim wasn’t evoking the bizarre event, it was dispelling the sense of incongruity that might seem to go with it.

‘The Magic Flower Game’ (1941, above) depicts a boy, and so could be seen as visual analogy for puberty. (Sometimes poetically described as a ‘blossoming’.) Or the blooming flowers could represent the triumph of the id, flowing down the walls and talking over that dull-coloured stem-lie body. And indeed, it’s the hand connected to the flower which becomes a green claw. And the second figure, carried aloft by flowers as though they’re balloons, could be the first’s future state.

These readings aren’t wrong as such, they’re just inadequate. And this is another important feature of Surrealism which she epitomised. Tanning normally responded to such suggestions with “please don’t ask me to explain.” As Laura Elkin wrote in the Tate magazine , with her ”this does not symbolise that, this is in route to becoming that, or could take another path altogether, becoming something else entirely.”

Look how the main figure stands stock still, in a work all about change. He’s presented in a state of flux, neither hands nor feet matching one another. And the shadow looks a more vegetative creature than the boy who cast it. The flowers don’t bring about change, they stand for it. Just as vegetation suggests nature’s cycle they represent metamorphosis, not one state replacing another but the ebb and flow of a fluid identity. Paul Eluard said, in perhaps the most Surrealist statement of all, “there is no total revolution, only perpetual revolution”.

And as for her dress code… clothes, especially in art, represent a fixed identity. We recognise a businessman, a workman and a skinny-jeaned bohemian as much as we do a policeman or a milkman, as if they’re all uniforms in the end. But Tanning has ferns for hair, foliage for a skirt. She’s guaranteed to change with the seasons, slipping such ridgity.

The Great Indoors

The billowing amorphous forms of ‘A Very Happy Picture’ (1947, above) recall Julian Trevelyan’s recently seen ‘Riot In the Studio’ (1933). Yet they’re set against an eerie stillness which, unlike Trevelyan, seems more than mere backdrop. The classical arches in the background and the puffing chimneys of the picture within the frame recall De Chirico, and Tanning retains his coolness in a movement normally thought of as fervid. Yet, unlike de Chirico’s Mediterranean skies Tanning paints an interior. An interior so vast it’s hard to conceive of as such, but still an interior. All of this will stay with her.

’Birthday’ (1942, above) is the work that first drew Ernst’s interest. And if the eye first fixes on the figure, it’s soon drawn to that succession of semi-open doors. One of Tannings sayings, which seems related ,was “behind the invisible door, another door.” The doors here aren’t labyrinthine, they run in a straight line. It’s just that they stretch to perpetuity. And Tanning herself isn’t passing through, an Alice-like explorer, so much as holding the door for us - as if in invitation.

She spoke of Surrealism’s appeal to her being “the limitless expanse of possibility”. The show helpfully explains the door can be “a portal to the unconscious”. But why so many doors? Why would she also say things like “my wish is to make a trap (picture) with no exit for either you or me?” And in a related question, why all the interiors?

A friend once told me of a dream she had. She was trying to go outside, but every time she found an exit door and went through it, she’d find herself in a new interior. As she described it the effect wasn’t confining. Each time she’d be in public spaces, large enough that the new exit door needed some finding. But the effect of knowing there was no outside to be found was ultimately claustrophobic. Tanning seems to have a similar mood.

It also feels evocative of my childhood. Which was characterised by labyrinthine institutions, sprawling hotels, seemingly endless department stores to explore, rooms bigger than the whole bungalow I lived in, indoor spaces so large they switched on your outdoor senses. These were liminal spaces, a made world yet one I had no part in the making of. Hotels we can (at least temporarily) live in without their being our home, with us accepting some areas will be locked to us.

In fact the famous ’Eine Kleine Nachtmusic’, coming up shortly, is clearly set in a grand hotel, three-digit numbers on the doors like a pre-echo of ’The Shining’. Tanning later said: “At night one imagines all sorts of happenings in the shadows of the darkness. A hotel bedroom is both intimate and unfamiliar, almost alienation, and this can conjure a feeling of menace and unknown forces at play.”

As the show says “the movement explored the hidden workings of the mind, as a source of art and writing.” So of course it needed visual metaphors to convey all that. By challenging the indivisibility of the self, Freud had made it possible to conceive of the mind as having an architecture within it. The Surrealists took up this, along with Ben Johnson’s celebrated phrase “I contain immensities”.

So the you which you think of as you is just one small part of yourself. The whole of you is akin to a gargantuan sprawling mansion you can explore. It contains rooms, and inhabitants of rooms, you’ll come across as if they were strangers to you.

But this is double-edged. Even if that mansion is gargantuan, its also finite. Its limits are, after all, the limits of yourself. So Tanning’s work is simultaneously grandiose and confining, liberating and oppressive. In an ostensible self-portrait she becomes a threshold guardian, offering us the route to understand ourselves.

‘Children’s Games’ (1942, above) has something of Surrealism as it’s conventionally conceived, art as a means of escape from humdrum, confining reality into imaginative realms. Art is a cake with a file in it, paintings are portals by which the girls can stage a prison break from consensus reality (represented by that iron-grey corridor). Further emphasised by the sky visible through the doorframe at the end.

Yet the violence of the image, which elides between a hung painting and ripped-off wallpaper, suggests not slipping into a charming faun-filled fantasy world but something far more sinister. The tear, the rupture, seems not a means to an end but the theme of the work. Like invoking a demon the girls bring the portal about, but are then subject to its sucking force. And then there’s the legs of the third figure, protruding into the scene but entirely ignored by the other two.

In my non-review of Mark Fisher’s ‘The Weird and the Eerie’, I described the weird as “the rip, the threshold torn open between dimensions... It disrupts out reality, but it exposes us to a higher reality.”

And the use of girls, as played up in the title, may not be incidental. George Bataille, the ‘underground’ Surrealist, recalled being in infant’s school and seized by the desire to rub his ink-stained hands over his classmates’ white shirts. From there he theorised that art was all about despoilment, about the urge to break down the pure state of things. Creation could only be brought about by destructive means. (And let’s remember Surrealism stayed close to its older sibling, Dada.)

‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ (1943, above) is something of a ‘greatest hit’ for Tanning, inevitably made the poster image of the show. It seems a sequel to ’Children’s Games’, with repeated but reworked elements. The torn portals have become doors and some of the features of the two girls have swapped over. (But still, for example, one’s hair flows up and the other’s down.) But mostly, the ‘dead’ third girl has morphed into the sunflower.

Almost every account I read described the sunflower as menacing the girls. But, guys, just look at that scene! It’s laid out on the carpet it's the victim! Sunflowers of course need sun, and perhaps that narrow shaft of light is just enough for it to feebly raise a few petals like the dying man’s head in movies.

As the out-of-place ’surreal’ object the flower grabs the attention. But it would make more sense to see the girls as menacing it. The blonde has a pulled petal in her hand. Yet the other looks to it with the impassive curiosity of childhood, with the trails of her dress seeming to extend its stem. Perhaps her hair flies up as its energy flows into her. Perhaps this takes place in a world of windowless corridors, where everyone is flighting over those slender shafts of light. Tanning also created the lithograph ’The Seven Spectral Petals’ (1950) of a sunflower with missing petals, this time with a knife and fork beside it.

However, we should remember the hotel is chosen as a setting for a psychodrama. And we should think back to ‘Magic Flower Game’, which mapped a similar conflict onto a single, shifting figure. This is no an outer but an inner confrontation, out of which a winner is unlikely.

And Tanning’s own ‘explanation’ (“It's about confrontation… there are always stairways, hallways, even very private theatres where the suffocations and the finalities are being played out, the blood red carpet or cruel yellows, the attacker, the delighted victim…”) carefully avoids spelling out who is the attacker and who the “delighted” victim.

In ’Self-Portrait’ (1944) Tanning unusually painted both a naturalist scene and a landscape. Yet she inserts herself in a desert scene in a bathing costume, the proverbial fish out of water. She had recently moved with Ernst to Arizona. But while he (who often painted landscapes) found inspiration in the cavernous open spaces, she acknowledges it here only to say it holds no interest for her. She simply continued with her interiors, ’Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ having already been painted there. “I think I could live anywhere if allowed to create freely,” she commented. “My personal space is so richly furnished.”

In fact a credible argument could be made that all her imagery at this time came from her early domestic life. Perhaps her art stirs in me such strong feelings from my childhood because it came so much from hers.

Take for example ’A Family Portrait’ (1954, above) which shows a man, a woman a maid and a dog. (The absence of a daughter presumably because we’re taking her perspective”. But, though they’re painted realistically in pictorial space, they’re sized according to symbolic importance. The maid barely comes in ahead of the begging dog.

And, while he looms over the picture, the Father is an eyeless, ghostly apparition. Yet the whole picture seems oriented round his orange tie, the brightest thing in the frame. “Just wait till your Father gets home” is linked to the psychological concept of phallocentrism, where the penis is turned into a magic object which imposes order. Usually reluctant to analyse her work, Tanning called it “a comment on the hierarchy within the sacrosanct family”.

And the white Sunday-best tablecloth appears in other works, such as 'Some Roses and Their Phantoms’ (1952). Tanning’s upbringing had been 
strict and Lutheran, and she came to see that tablecloth as another totem of power. “The great gleaming white tablecloth… made a gentle grid from end to end. The grid surely proved that order prevailed in this house.”

Turpentine Ambiguities

By the mid-Fifties Tanning had abandoned her Surrealist style for something much looser, and clarity of image for something much more diffuse and ambiguous, made with thinned-down paint. (Though they can look like watercolours, they’re oils.) She said at the time “I wanted to make a picture you didn’t see all at once. All of my pictures of this period I felt you should discover slowly”. And they’re paintings which could only be paintings, which couldn’t be done in any other media.

It’s great that she didn’t get stuck in some Surrealist production line. However, the notion is better than the realisation. Too easily they become like the Surrealist works the other way up. They first look challenging but then all-too-familiar elements resolve - a head, an arm and so on. But it’s like listening to a long distance phone call. If it takes a while to work out what’s being said, it doesn’t make those words worth hearing.

Though with ‘Even the Young Girls’ (1966, above) the intent works well. We can see three figures suggested, one hold, one pink, one almond brown. The central one could be a sketch for a Moore sculpture. Yet rather than be set against a background, the figures themselves seem to dissolve into it. Which itself hints at further figures.

While the later ’Daughters’ (1983, above) sets those convoluted, plasticated figures (one sporting a double elbow) in the solid domestic setting of ’A Family Portrait’. They look as though they’re trying to bust out of the picture frame as much as from the setting. But this time the wallpaper tears less readily and they are thrown back on themselves.

”Wild Desires”

By the mid-Sixties Tanning had moved to Paris and begun to make “soft sculptures” sewn from fabric, most commonly of distortions of the human form. The show describes these as “playful sinister and erotic. They straddle the division between object and being, inanimate and alive.”

Tanning herself said: “I don’t see why one shouldn’t be fascinated by the human form… we go through life in this wonderful envelope. Why not acknowledge that and try to say something about it? What I try to say is transformation.”

Yet, compared to the works from the classic Surrealist era, they seem at least as much about entrapment, as if we’re caught within those envelopes. She also said the works came “out of rage”. Writing in the Standard, Matthew Collings says “the sculptures deliberately never entirely cohere as humans,” as if they’re body parts somehow left to fend for themselves.

For example ‘By What Love’ (1970, above) shows a figure, rather deliberately conflated with a penis, not only chained to a post but twisted around itself. (A study drawing shows the threading was originally intended to start with parted hair then work all the way down, which was perhaps too hard to realise in this medium.) Those legs, if they 
even are legs, could not possibly walk away.

And this is underlined by the short film ‘Insomnia’ (1976), which features repeated shots of Tanning carrying a soft sculpture up a stairway (still above), until it becomes Escher-like.

While almost all the figures are single, ‘Embrace’ (1969) puts two together - to rather disturbing effect! It’s simultaneously a grittier and more cartoony version of King Kong taking off Fay Wray. That ape arm obscuring much of the pink figure’s head, and her exaggerated calf muscles which almost match her bum, reduce her to a collection of body parts. The way she’s curved back on herself suggests the way we fold cumbersome objects, the better to carry them.

Made on a sewing machine, the soft sculptures inevitably become framed (and possibly frame themselves) as “women’s art” in a way a painting or print could never be. And co-curator Alyce Mahon has spoken of challenging “the old idea of Surrealism just being about the objectification of women”.

Yet we should be wary of finding the answer we want. Tanning’s art isn’t assertive, instead it seeks to undermine and defamiliarise. These could be closer to the being-as-trap theme of Francis Bacon’s work from this era, existential rather than socio-political. And while we might see a Me Too moment in ’Embrace’, a Surrealist might simply cheer on the realisation of desire.

”An Odd Banality”

Tanning’s installation ‘Hotel Du Pavot, Room 202’ (1970/3, above) is reconstructed for the show and becomes a highlight of it. We’re back to the liminal interiors of ’Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ and ’Children’s Games’. But the shaft or square of light has been reduced to a dim, bare bulb with barely penetrates the room. Tanning referred to it as possessing “an odd banality”.

On first sight, some shapeless creature is invading the room through the fireplace. We might be reminded that a fireplace had already been used as a threshold in ‘Magic Flower Game’. Or that King James I’s 1597 book on Daemonologie suggested magical protective inscriptions be put beside apertures to keep at bay malevolent forces, and such inscriptions have since been found by fireplaces.

Yet two other figures, in the same shade of brown, have already entered the room and look to be fusing with the furniture. This force invades the room, only to become the room. Just like human and vegetable earlier, the monstrous and the domestic fuse. Imagine some Cthulhu creature who invades our reality only to seat himself in an armchair and peruse the paper, only all the time retaining his other-worldly menace. The Sunday where nothing happened, the demonic version.

As this breaks in, the two pink figures look to be busting out through the walls. We might also remember that in ’Embrace’ the masculine was coded brown and the pink feminine. As well as the two wallpaper-tearing girls from ’Children’s Games’. Except when we look again, one is bursting out, through the far wall, and the other in, through the right wall.

In fact, this doesn’t look to be a reappearance of the two girls at all. It seems more consistent that we see one woman. As she bursts out, she simultaneously comes back into the room, like a tunnelling prisoner coming back up in his own cell. As ever with Tanning, there is no outside here. Domesticity is all there is. But that domesticity is also a trap.

After ’Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ and ’Children’s Game’, we’ve moved from a corridor to a room. And that’s significant. They suggested the barriers between the unconscious and conscious could be broken down. Perhaps only by great violence and at personal risk, but still possible.

‘Hotel du Pavot’ is like an older, wiser, more world-weary rebuttal of such youthful high spirits. Their numinousness, their sense of adventure and exploration, is gone. Leaving just the claustrophobia. Surrealism was another Modernist movement uninterested in depicting the world, either the waking world or the world of dreams. Instead it sought to change that world. And, like most attempts to change the world, it didn’t.

It’s perhaps become too easy to dismiss Surrealism. History has dropped it, with its faults and failings on the side facing us. Dominated by Andre Breton, it became strangely doctrinal for a movement dedicated to liberating desire. And not just its imagery but its credos became too easily taken up by advertising art, which exulted in disocvering how easy and how lucrative it was to bypass people’s reason. Surrealism became part of our contemporary world, much more so than something like Constructivism. And we haven’t even started on the misogyny.

Yet this show comes along to remind me of just why and how much I loved Surrealism in the first place, before I learnt to be all smartypants and ‘post-ironic’. A great show for a great artist.

Friday 10 April 2020


First broadcast: Nov/ Dec 1964
Written by Terry Nation

”The Daleks invade Earth, and begin drilling to the earth's core in Bedford.”
- from the BBC episode guide

Tyranny in the Home Counties

If (as argued here) the first Dalek story took place in a metaphorical post-War Germany and ’The Reign of Terror’ in an occupied France (if ostensibly a different occupation), this time we get the big one – an occupied England! For the first time, the series’ most iconic image comes into use – the sightseeing invader, alien menaces astride London landmarks.

The Daleks on Westminster Bridge (above) was such a neat symbol that despite being a publicity shot not included in the episode itself, it soon became iconic. The second-ever cover for ’Radio Times’ featured a Trafalgar Square variant (below), but the Daleks look less dominant. It was Westminster Bridge which was recycled into a ’Radio Times’ poster for the revival – a poster I have on my wall right now! (Though such juxtapositions have a precursor in The Ministry of Truth dwarfing Big Ben and other London monuments in Kneale and Cartier’s '1984' adaptation back in 1954.)

You may note it doesn’t say anything above about a metaphorical occupied England. This is the point where the metaphor becomes a figleaf. If you can’t guess what they’re on about with this one, go check your head for a Roboman helmet. 'The Daleks' could, and most likely was, written in innocence of its own central conceit. But perhaps people commenting on it put it into the head of Terry Nation, or one of the other creators. For this time the parallels can not be other than conscious.

So the Daleks start doing things solely to live up to them. The Dalek Supreme (a Black Dalek yet!) sends out Lord Haw Haw-style radio broadcasts suggesting the rebels give up. (Telling them “You will be fed and watered. Work is needed from you but the Daleks offer you life.”) Later he decides to destroy London with incendiary bombs. (Despite the fact London’s of little strategic importance to him, and he could have done this anytime.) And just in case it hasn't been hammered home hard enough yet, he even drops the phrase “final solution” into the conversation! You getting it yet? Nude, nudge.

Their ostensible plan is to rip out the Earth’s core, replace it with a motor and use it as a spaceship. (Alas there never was a sequel where they forget where they parked it, called ’Dude, Where’s My Planet?’) Older viewers, younger viewers, the family dog and quite possibly the vase of flowers on top of the TV can all spot that this plan is nonsensical. For one thing, they already have spaceships. That’s how they got here in the first place.

But of course they’re digging in Bedfordshire not because it’s any closer to the centre of the earth, but because of the images it conjures of the Home Counties being despoiled. (I come from Bedfordshire and can confirm, yes, these days much of it has been dug up for mining. Half of my home turf literally isn't turf any more.)

Beyond the Daleks, the landscape is stuffed with soon-familiar furniture – desperate but determined rebels, black marketeers, quislings and traitors… all marinated in an overall atmosphere of distrust, desperation and self-sacrifice. Resistance, of course, is eventually proven to not be futile. Yet the brutal fact of occupation forces characters into acting as though it is. Contrast Dortmun’s self-sacrifice with the women who betray Barbara and Jenny by reasoning they’d “have been captured anyway.”

With all these endless reappearances of Nazi stand-ins, it’s interesting to note that when Bryan Hayles suggested a Nazi-era story the very concept was declared off-limits as “too sensitive” (see ‘The Nazis’. Was the very concept of a Nazi-occupied England so scary, so at odds with our most fundamental self-image as stalwart resistors and plucky islanders, it could only be approached circuitously?

Perhaps partly, but the same year ITV produced ’The Other Man’, an alternate-history where that very thing happened. More likely, ’Doctor Who’s’ status as ‘light entertainment’ (not ‘serious drama’) left it open to charges of trivialising such events, resulting in more careful treading. But this may be one of those cases where the censorship stimulated creativity, and the figleaf proved more interesting than the predictable item lying flaccidly beneath it. However, the existence of both suggests how war-obsessed British society still was in the supposedly modish Sixties.

Digging For Dalek Victory

Between this and the story being set not in a fixed past or even present but the future (albeit a future which looks suspiciously like the mid-Sixties but on a smaller budget), the interventionist debate that recurred throughout the first series is finally settled. When Susan suggests to her new beau David they could escape back to the Tardis, he firmly responds that this is his home and he must stay and fight. Susan not only agrees but elects to stay with him at the story’s end.

True, this argument might have had more bite had it been less hypothetical, for story conventions still insist the Tardis be buried under a staged fall of some less-than-substantial-looking rubble. But it still feels like a turning point.

It's a bit like the way the house style of Marvel comics didn't actually emulate their star artist Jack Kirby, but swiped from for the much more copyable John Buscema. Through springing the confines of their home city and actually invading somewhere, the Daleks as we know them arrive. All sequels stem from here, more than from their first outing.

It even provides evidence for the daft-yet-endearing notion propounded in the Trotskyist newspaper 'Socialist Worker' that 'Doctor Who' is Maoist! You see, everyone and everything in it falls neatly into the category Oppressor, Peasantry or Vanguard. T
he Daleks, you may have guessed, are the Oppressors.

The Tardis crew are the Vanguard, arriving out of nowhere to cajole the peasantry into revolt. (Perhaps we should start calling them the Gang of Four?) Check out for example their hijacking of the Daleks’ tannoy to order the Robomen to turn on their masters, with Barbara’s less-than-brilliant impersonation of a Dalek voice. (As the Robomen are never cured but merely counter-ordered, you can’t help but wonder what happens to them after it’s all over.)

But of course their cookie-cutter thinking is flawed, and most of all in their last case. True enough, with the previous Dalek story I commented “The opposition of bad, city-based overlords to noble simple peasants (the Thals are farmers) will recur again and again.”

As already mentioned, the Daleks’ decision to mine the English soil is as indicative of their evil as any of their exterminating. Turning the Earth into a giant spaceship scores on the symbolism chart. The most supremely organic thing on Earth... well that probably is the Earth, and here it's reduced to a machine. Removing its core is to remove its heart.

The film spin-off underlines this still further, introducing a subplot where the Daleks are defeated by magnetism “from Mother Earth herself.” Echoing a line from Nation’s original script: “The Earth rebelled and destroyed the invader.” (NB I am not going to keep pointing out when things don't make sense. Even the internet is not infinite.)

We’re told at one point the neo-Marxist axiom “man to them is just a work machine”, a line given its literalisation in the Robomen. It’s reminiscent of Chaplin’s speech at the end of ’The Great Dictator’ (1940): “Don’t give yourselves to thes unnatural men! Machine men! With machine minds! And machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men!” (An anti-fascist film, this also cycles back to our first point.)

And here the resistance, though based in London, keep staking their claim to country life. David, for example, mentions his family has “strong connections” with the land. (A line stated more strongly in the shooting script: “I’m going to farm. It’s the land that matters, isn’t it? Susan, the world’s saturated itself with science.”)

Yet these rebels are no grubby-mitted peasants, in fact they seem as selective a group as any squash club! (To the point where 'The Dalek Takeover of the Home Counties' might have been a more apposite title.) In the DVD documentary, Nicholas Smith comments he played revolt leader Wells as a “Somerset Yeoman”.

What we’re seeing is suburban ambiguity, the peculiarly English habit of taking aristocratic signifiers and handing them to the middle classes, perhaps best epitomised by the popular phrase “an Englishman’s home is his castle”. Essentially, it’s maintaining the association of identity with land. As Owen Hatherley points out: “The British were the first people to have no contact with the 'soil', were mainly urban by the mid-19th century, and the imaginary return to Arcadia can only be seen in this context: as a myth, something longed for because it no longer exists.”

The Daleks’ evil is to mechanise and industrialise the land. And to do it by taking these decent middle class chaps and reducing them into common labourers, digging their mine. (Their decision to not use any of their Dalek technology, but instead insist everyone has to shovel their way down to the Earth’s core, may simply be down to sheer malevolence. Alternately, it may just not make any sense.)

Yet at the same time it’s significant that suburban ambiguity knows itself well enough to remain ambiguous. It’s how suburbanites wanted to see themselves, not how they wanted to be. So David and Susan’s future life is set in is post-credits happy-ever-after land. Another of David’s comments even suggests such a plan is folly. He reveals the Dalek invasion had started with germ warfare, which “had split the world into tiny little communities, too far apart to combine and fight, and too small individually to stand any chance against invasion.” Maybe there’s things to be said for science and civilisation.

And suburban ambiguity has another aspect – like aristocrats, they defend their land, even if the warrior streak is less obvious in their case. Particularly in the earlier London-set episodes, the English resistance are reminiscent of many wartime movies such as the 1942 Ealing classic ’Went The Day Well'. Both somewhat gleefully juxtapose good manners with the ruthlessness borne of the will to survive – ’Debrett’s Guide to Etiquette’ in one hand, gutting knife in the other.

However it’s interesting to note just how shell-shocked and battle-hardened the underground have become, with love interest David perhaps the only exception. The character Jenny in particular is presented as a kind of anti-Barbara, hiding behind a wall of callousness. (I did wonder if the absurd balaclava she kept sporting was some kind of objective correlative for this, but apparently it was for the scenes where her hair hadn’t been dyed the right colour!) There’s the now-famous sign ‘It Is Forbidden To Dump Bodies In the River’. In this way they’re in keeping with the previous Daleks story, unafraid to turn teatime entertainment quite dark.

However, ’Socialist Worker’s typically one-note theory does have a stopped-clock moment of truth to it! The point of the Barbara/Jenny juxtaposition is to establish the Tardis crew’s ‘Vanguard’ role, not just galvanizing the resistance but re-teaching them human values. There’s a key scene where, locked in the Dalek saucer, the other prisoner insists there’s no hope of escape while the Doctor and Ian immediately focus on how they’re going to get out. Similarly, though the rebel Dortmun sacrifices his life to make his anti-Dalek bombs, they never actually work – they put his notes to use, but for a tangential purpose.

Everything Would Ever Be the Same Again

Though its ’The Daleks’ which tends to win fan votes, this story proved the ratings-buster and (cunningly timed for Christmas) unleashed the wave of Dalek merchandise - as John Peel notes, “Dalekmania has begun!” Which seems planned from the get-go.

The stroke of the pen that liberates them from their metal floors also pushes them away from their identity, and starts them off on their long slide into generic evil-ness. They were never sympathetic figures but they were, in the strict sense of the word, pathetic - victims of their own folly. Their voices, surely as big signifiers of their identity as their design, always seemed pitched between bragging and hysteria.

No longer paranoiacally reacting to non-existent threats, here they are made into pure-and-simple aggressors. Their motivation for attacking the Earth, to use it as a means to attack more places, is circular. Essentially allowing them to behave even more like themselves than they were already.

This loop of logic leads to a paradox. Never innately scary, they also look more blatantly ridiculous when taken outside their City. While in those iconic London scenes they do come across as quaintly sinister, in some of the later mine-location stuff they look laughable. This is particularly true of the slaves’ uprising, with one hilarious shot of them carrying a pepperpot aloft as if he’s just scored a goal! The show itself cannot entirely ignore this, there's some deliberately comic moments - such as when one interrogates a tailor’s dummy. (Let's watch out for those...)

And this process of creating antagonists with special and unique features, then rapidly ditching those features in order to make them reusable and easily insertable guest stars, this will become so common in this show we’ll need a name for it. So, after ‘the banality of evil, let’s call it ’the banalisation of monsters’. And notably this story makes monsters recyclable just as it determines that cast members are replaceable (more of which anon), further underlining where this is going. Nevertheless…

Significantly there’s no mention of the tentacled things inhabiting them; even when the Dalek casings get smashed up they look suspiciously empty. However, they are given personalities and we’re even given moments where we see events through their eye pieces. If the warning signs are already detectable, they have not yet degenerated into mere killing machines.

The importance of the Daleks invading somewhere, rather than just skulking in their city, is thrown up in the title. Which may sound like a generic title standing for a rather basic idea. Well the wheel was a basic idea too, yet proved pretty handy in the business of moving stuff along. If this is the template for future Dalek stories – perhaps even for ’Who’ stories in general – that may suggest a binding formula has already come crushing in.

But that's in the long run. For now, it all seems like something new. This sequel improves upon the original in about every formal way, utilizing more effective cross-cutting for a far better-paced viewing experience. (Some see the first, London-based half of the storyline as superior, before it moves on to mining in Bedfordshire. True, almost all the iconic images come from the first part. Also true, the more unintentionally comic moments come more from the second part, such as the Slyther. But the change of location keeps things moving, in contrast to its somewhat languorous predecessor.)

So Long Susan

The one point the fans do commend is the coda, in saying farewell to Susan it leaves not a dry eye in the house. In fact, this scene should be required viewing for every lazy journo who has claimed the revival introduced an emotional dimension to the show. It’s true that Susan growing up and getting hitched is seen more as an incident in the Doctor’s life than in hers. In fact his locking her out of the Tardis is like an extreme form of giving away the bride, of telling the child to grow up. Alas, she couldn’t go out the way she came in. But then as an incident in the Doctor’s life the impact is considerable.

You can even find in it a kind of fuzzy character arc for the Doctor. He all but kidnaps Ian and Barbara (‘Unearthly Child’),endangers everyone through reckless curiosity (‘The Daleks’) and even threatens to throw them out into space! (‘Edge of Destruction’) He’s an uninvolved wanderer, interested only in his researches and experiments, with virtual contempt for the lower life forms he passes through.

The only thing he shows any kindness for is the one being who is of his kind – his grand-daughter. His motivation to steal away Ian and Barbara comes precisely when Susan threatens to leave with them. But here he does precisely the reverse, locking her out of the Tardis, and for selfless reasons - to allow her to take up her own life. It's almost certainly unplanned. But it’s there.

Despite skipping an episode, Hartnell seems on something of a roll here. He even fits in what must be his most iconic moment, his character’s signature. As a Dalek glides menacingly into the room, all others scatter for cover. Only he remains, thumbs hooked defiantly in his waistcoat, looking down with schoolteacherish disdain.

Officially speaking, the weaker ’Reign of Terror’ ended the first season. But this was the last to be made in the first production block and with the first ever crew departure – who’s not even a human foundling but the Doctor’s own grand-daughter - feels like the closer. (Anyway, it was listed as such in the ’Radio Times Tenth Anniversary Special', so I’ve imagined it as such since 1973!) Much of the working-out and trial-by-error has been done, with the title character all-but transformed and his arch-enemies redesigned for repeat action...

Further reading! Jonathan Morris’ Black Archive book ’The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ runs through six versions of the script (including the spin-off movie and novelisation), diligently pointing out changes. You can spot easily enough the points above where I’m indebted to him.

Coming soon! “Woe is me, for I have lost my Grand-daughter!” “Don't worry, old timer, we'll get you another one.”

A repeated plea! When I first started this series, I asked that if people liked what I was writing they tell someone else, as that was my only way of spreading the word. Some kind souls did this and the stats shot up to levels others might think of as “not too bad”. Alas ‘The Aztecs' saw a plummet, its readership not half of the highest-ranking entry. (‘Keys of Marinus’, oddly enough.) This was particularly tough to take, as ‘The Aztecs’ was the one I was convinced would show the world how good I was at this!

I don’t expect fame, fortune and Patreon backers, and that seems just as well. But if you like what I write please don’t keep it to yourself. More readers will encourage more writing.

Saturday 4 April 2020


First broadcast: June/August 1964
Written by Peter R Newman

”I don't like the voices. I want to have silence in my head!”

”Leave us at once!”

From the off, the travellers are warned away from the Sense-sphere. But not with as much vehemence as you get warned off this story. People are quick to point out it reaches unparalleled levels of tedium. And this is being posted out of order because, much like the travellers, I first heeded then defied that advice.

It’s not just slow. After all, Hartnell’s default mode is slow, we’re used to that. It’s that for long periods nothing much seems to happen at all, like they’re hoping if they just keep going they’ll hit on something. “Anything but this awful waiting”, the Doctor says at one point. Cue more awful waiting.

And it shows frequent signs of having been made up as it goes along. When an antidote, intended for Ian, gets dramatically dashed to the ground someone just goes to get some more. A monster on the loose, in one cliffhanger attacking the Doctor and clawing up his cloak, is just forgotten about.

Okay, so it’s not good. But is it interesting? There we hit another problem. Assessments of the story sometimes feel like they’re talking past one another. This is because of a jump half-way through where they go down from the spaceship to the Sensorite homeworld. (Called “the Sense-sphere” because… actually, I’ve no idea why.) But rather than advance, everything then shifts from one story into another which merely happens to have much of the same cast in it. So let’s take them one at a time…

Another Kind of Avarice

The set-up is that the travellers land on a rocketship whose crew have been reduced to helpless fear (or sometimes stasis) by the Sensorites. Why do their mind control powers work so well on the future humans, yet not on the travellers? Of course our heroes need to be able to do heroic things. Which is underlined in the story, by one Sensorite explaining they are “string-willed and without fear”. Or by the introductory segment where they discuss how their adventures have changed them. But then they’re differently susceptible between themselves…

There are two extended sequences where Barbara and Susan retreat very slowly from John, a Sensorite-possessed crewman, and then Ian and Barbara from two of the Sensorites themselves. These do not get tedious in any way. But, for those who sit through them, each time Barbara who notices they don’t actually do anything very aggressive.

And Susan, rather than fall under their influence, first leads the resistance then telepathically communicates with them. Whereupon she discovers “it’s suspicion that’s making them enemies”. An earlier expedition had tried to exploit their planet, not for its unusual name but because it contained a rare mineral. Which may or may not have been called Macguffinite. Peaceful types at heart, they have presumably watched a lot of ’Scooby-Doo’. So their plan becomes to scare the pesky, interfering humans away, like their planet’s an old mill and they’re wearing rubber masks. (Which they sort of are.) When one appears at the spaceship window he may as well cry “woo-hooo!”

The standard way of portraying telepathic communication is by voice-overs, as regularly used in ‘The Tomorrow People’ (1973/9). But here we only hear Susan’s replies, like one side of a phone call. The suggestion is that telepathy doesn’t just transmit words, it’s a deeper form of communication closer to Spock’s Vulcan mind-meld, an opening-up which eliminates deceit. Notably the discs the Sensorites use to empower this are placed on the forehead, like a third eye.

Which leads to a classically liberal ’Who’ moral, where the Doctor simply asks an incredulous crew “have you tried talking to them?” But it’s his grand-daughter who leads on this. In fact she seems to have greater telepathic powers than they do themselves. While they need those discs hers are innate.

Finally we have a Susan who seems to bear some relationship to the gifted youth we first met in 'An Unearthly Child’! With this and the progressive moral, even in a below-par story, that’s stuff to write home about. But let’s poke the gift horse in the mouth a bit.

The Sensorites’ First Elder says “our planet is a rich one.” They have technology, but if they’re using the Macguffinite the humans are after no mention is made of it. Because by riches he doesn’t mean material things. They look alike, have melodious sing-songy voices, are collectivist against our individualism and possess an inscrutable wisdom. No prizes for spotting this is an Orientalist story, about the spiritual wealth of the mystic East. Even their name suggests they’re the moon to our sun, opposite but complementary.

Except is a story really anti-colonial, if it is just shifting the desired object from the material (a mineral) into the immaterial (a form of perception)? Either way it is about them having something for us. Mad John rants about “the dreams of avarice”, and this is just a slightly different kind of avarice. It also assumes the foreign culture, however inscrutable it originally appears, will not just prove explicable to us in the end but handily fill a hole in our lives. They were always there for us, even before we arrived.

And with Susan… her insight is effectively proved right, and her solution the one that’s taken up. With the exception that Ian and the Doctor go with her to their planet. But at the time it’s presented as a cliffhanger, a dangerous moment which is curtailed by the Doctor ordering her out of it. It would be glorious to imagine a version where she just goes off with her mates anyway, and lives psychically ever after. But in what’s transmitted even as she does the right thing, it’s presented as the wrong one. “Sometimes”, she laments, “I feel I’d like to belong somewhere.” Not on this show she won’t.

And if she’s more on the Sensorites’ wavelength there’s a tradition of women, and particularly young women, being psychically or spiritually (the two are near synonymous) attuned. And this not a challenge to but a product of patriarchy. It’s because they are considered less able to participate in our rational, shillings-and-pence reality that they’re considered more readily attuned to something else. For example in the contemporaneous original X-Men line-up it was the one female team member, Marvel Girl, who had the psychic powers. The fabled ‘women’s intuition’ is a more generalised, more nebulous version of this.

So John, the crewman driven mad by the Sensorites’ spooky broadcasts, is essentially ‘feminised’. But if he can’t channel this like Susan, he’s given a kind of deranged vision where he can tell good from evil with simple clarity. And handily everyone falls neatly into one or other of those categories. (However we don’t see a single female Sensorite throughout, like they’re the ‘male’ to the ‘female’ connectors in this junction.)

Similarity and it’s Discontents

The second half takes us to the Sensorite home city, whose sets avoid right angles and sharp edges. Their unashamed artificiality makes them reminiscent of the expressionist classic ‘Cabinet of Dr Caligari’, while having almost the opposite aesthetic. (Gaudi was supposedly an influence.) It adds to the harmonious, utopian sense. We are in a kind of dream city. (In which case they really should have made the rocketship all angles, rather than having those round bulkheads. But anyway…)

And this utopia also involves a rigid caste system (again recalling Orientalism), where they seem to only have ranks rather than names. Except those without rank, who we’re told “are contented with their similarity”. At the time a disease is sweeping the lower orders while leaving the upper crust alone. And without anyone seeming to see any of this as distracting from the utopianism. Indeed, the definition of utopia here would seem to be everyone knowing their assigned place is “natural”.

Intra-Dalek dialogue was soon to become brief, normally consisting of Senior Daleks explaining their plans to enlisted Daleks. (Not infrequently, even within the story a hiding human observes from nearby.) But that wasn’t the case in their first showing, where they’d have something close to actual conversations. True, these made you realise how their screechy voices worked best set against human tones rather than alongside one another. But there was a genuine attempt to make them aliens rather than monsters, to give them some semblance of internal life.

And this is true of the Sensorites, only multiplied. Watching interchangeable-looking characters deliver cod-awful dialogue in silly voices isn’t going to replace sex, drugs and rock’n’roll any time soon. You start to wonder if the actors insisted on those all-over masks so they could later deny any involvement. But the intent seems laudable.

Yet wait, I hear you say! How does this work with their hive-mind utopianism? For one thing, the nature of their telepathy changes. Now it is essentially a mobile phone call. At one point one has to deliver the message he’s ordered, under duress. And he seems unable to slip in his own thoughts, nor does the recipient seem able to sense his actual state of mind.

And this individualism comes those dissatisfied with their lot. The Administrator seeks to usurp power from the First Elder, and marshalls phobia against the humans as his means. (John labels him as evil within the story.) And he rises through the ranks by stealing the sashes of those above him, earning him the nickname Suspicious Sash. (Well from me anyway.) An idea he gets from one of the rocketship crew commenting she can’t tell them apart.

So the ludicrous racist notion that foreigners all look the same, even to each other, is married to a moral about the dangers of individualism. It’s like a compound fracture of wrongness.

The noble but somewhat credulous leader failing to suspect the treacherous subordinate… we had all this with ‘Marco Polo’! Though, perhaps partly with the alien setting, there’s more a sense that we should be drawing life lessons from this.

Which doesn’t fit well. The First Elder tells Susan “our society is based on trust… we have the perfect society. All are contented.” And won’t be persuaded otherwise by her. Later he’s forced to concede “We Sensorites have a lot to learn from the people of Earth” - an almost complete reversal not just of his first statement, but the whole first half of the story.

As it turns out, there are humans who are out to get the Sensorites. The first landing party aren’t dead, as was believed, but hiding in the aqueduct and poisoning the Sensorite water. So, despite being outed as evil, Suspicious Sash kind of had a point all along. Despite getting no credit for this within the story. In fact, beyond him sabotaging the crew’s equipment before they go down into the aqueduct, these two storylines are essentially held apart.

In fact, as the palace coup story essentially peters out before the other humans appear, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d just given up on one so thrown in the other. (Though Newman has claimed this was his original impetus, inspired by those tales of lone soldiers fighting on after the war was over.)

Despite looking like Robinson Crusoe’s shabbier brother and being armed only with sharpened sticks, they hold firm to military protocols. In scenes which could have come from ‘Monty Python’. “Civility isn't for me, you understand, it's for the uniform,” barks a bearded NCO.

The Sensorites are literally enlightened beings. They have no eyelids and darkness doesn’t just stymie or spook them, it seems to cause them physical harm. So they’ve stopped going down into their own water supplies. Rather than… I don’t know… rig up some lights or something. But the aqueducts are essentially catacombs, and the humans (also known only by titles, Number One, Number Two and so on) are the Sensorites’ shadow selves. They’re the dark side the Sensorites had hopelessly tried to banish but must instead face down.

The Sensorites might not want to be poisoned, but they need a little human tang in their water just to get by. The First Elder was too trusting but, in a circuity of logic, should have listened to Susan more. They thought they didn’t need us, but luckily came to realise the error of their ways. And let’s forget all about the humans wanting Macguffinite, despite it being where we came in. Happy ending, fade out.

As seen over ‘The Aztecs’, this is a post-colonial show. It’s made by the public broadcaster of a once-imperial power, reflecting on past habits. Yet the scenario of ‘The Sensorites’ is pre-colonial. It’s about first contact, about encountering the unknown. And it works better, much better, in the first half when that unknown can only be hazily guessed at. The more we learn, the more we realise there was little for us to learn here.

Coming soon! Speaking of Daleks…