by Alan Stevens
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 496/7
On Tuesday, 17 March 1964, writer Terry Nation was formally commissioned by Doctor Who's story editor David Whitaker to write a six part follow-up to "The Mutants" (21 December 1963 to 1 February 1964), with a target delivery date of Friday 19 June. Nation worked on his Doctor Who scripts for the BBC at weekends, while spending the rest of his time writing episodes for the ITV adventure series The Saint. Although "The Daleks" appears on the contract, Nation's storyline was called "The Return of the Daleks", while his first draft scripts were given the umbrella title of "The Invaders".
To what extent Nation was involved with the subsequent rewrites cannot be determined, but it's noteworthy that there is a marked difference between the author's original intent and what finally appeared onscreen as "The Dalek Invasion of Earth".
The grim opening to episode one, described succinctly in the camera script as "Roboman commits suicide", does not appear in Nation's first draft. Instead it suggests a different and more atmospheric scenario: "Ext. The Bridge. Day. The dark cavern made by the arch of the river bridge. The masonry is crumbling, and some girders hang precariously above the arch. The ground under the arch is soft and muddy. A heavy mist swirls around. Sound. The gurgle and lapping of water. The camera pans slowly to the muddy entrance of the arch. There we see, half buried, the body of a man lying face down, the mud oozing over him. A swirl of mist conceals him again. A second later, the ship materialises, well back in the shadows of the arch."
Aboard the Tardis, as the Doctor and his companions Ian, Barbara and Susan prepare to disembark, Barbara is apprehensive: "I've got the strangest feeling that we're not going to like what we find out there. Call it woman's intuition if you like." The Doctor is dismissive: "Intuition! Hah! Fallacy! Complete fallacy."
Outside "we see the slow opening of the door. Cautiously the principals emerge and look around. Ian advances a few paces and almost stumbles over the body in the mud. He bends and examines it, giving an expression of disgust." The Doctor joins him and determines that the person has "been dead for some time, but the body's perfectly preserved.... Look here. These are burn scars. I'd say he died as a result of exposure to some intense type of radiation."
As in the teleplay, Susan chooses to clamber up the masonry, presumably to get a better look at her surroundings, but in Nation's draft script, Susan loses her balance after she disturbs a nesting owl that "with tremendous suddenness and noise... flares out of the cavity."
After this string of ill omens, it's no wonder Nation took the precaution of barring the crew's re-entry to the Tardis with a mound of fallen rubble and a "great iron girder... wedged firmly across the doors." Leaving Barbara to look after the unconscious Susan, the Doctor and Ian decide to explore their surroundings, since, as Ian says, "we'd need acetylene burners to cut that girder away."
They approach "a gutted warehouse. A stark shell of a building with glassless windows. It presents a slightly sinister aspect." Upon entry they discover a room which "was obviously once used as an office. All that remains of its furnishings are a broken legged table, and an upright chair lying on its side. The two staring windows gape out at a dark sky. At one of them a small tree pushes its branches into the room. The leaves shudder in the wind. The door hangs half from its hinges and creaks and rattles.... On a wall is a tattered, fluttering calendar. Its fluttering subsides for a moment, and we move into close up. The large figures proclaim it to be 2041." However, as the Doctor points out, "That calendar may have been hanging on the wall for years." All they really know is that they're in the "twenty-first century" and, having spied the "the top of Nelson's column" from one of the warehouse windows, that they're also in London.
Taking stock of the situation, the Doctor reasons that "whatever catastrophe overcame the city occurred in the nineteen seventies. Otherwise, with the rate of building, the face of London would have entirely changed." As to the nature of this disaster, he dismisses the idea of a world war because there is "very little sign of devastation.... Famine perhaps. More likely plague.... It's happened before. At the end of the Black Death in thirteen fifty one, something like seventy five million people had died." Ian objects: "Surely a thing like that couldn't happen in modern times?" But the Doctor counters,"Would you consider nineteen eighteen modern times? That year, twenty five and a half million people died in the Influenza Pandemic. Believe me, germ warfare is the most destructive force on Earth against man."
After seeing the flying saucer, the Doctor speculates some more: "If there was a war, it needn't have been fought between the great powers of this planet.... It would have been suicide for any country on Earth to use bacteria bombs! But, firing them from some other planet...." Ian finishes the thought: "They could wait for the plague to do its work, then, when the disease had died away, move in without any opposition."
It is perhaps understandable, why, for the finished teleplay, the date on the calendar was changed to 2164. The notion that, a mere six years after the serial's broadcast, the world population was going to be wiped out through germ warfare, would have put the wind up a few adult viewers, let alone the programme's child audience.
Nevertheless, the Doctor's theory is a good one, and it is supported by the description of resistance fighter David Sonheim (changed to David Campbell in the televised version): "He wears clothes not very different to the late '60s (shirt and jeans) but they show signs of considerable wear." Indeed, while these contemporary fashions still work on an allegorical level, the absence of any practical explanation for them takes a certain reality away from the production.
Another significant change is that Nation's first episode ends without any indication as to who Barbara and Susan's kidnappers might be. The unconscious Susan is carried off by a man whose "face is in the shadows." As for Barbara, the script's penultimate scene reads: "A pair of arms reach out to grab her. A hand holding a pad goes over her mouth. Another clamps around her waist. This is all we see of her capture, and she is dragged out of sight." By bringing the introduction to Dortmun and his resistance group forward, the teleplay weakens the horror of their abduction.
The Daleks' surgically created human security guards don't appear in the draft of episode one until four pages from the end: "Ext. Underside of the saucer. Day. A file of 'men' start to come down the ramp. They are dressed in black from head to foot. High necked, very utilitarian garb made from rough cloth. Their movements are a little stiff, but not over emphasised. They seem to have a slight mechanical quality about them. These are the Robomen. The leader of the file moves towards camera until he is in big close up. There is no expression on the face. The eyes stare unblinking. On the temples and forehead are large badly stitched scars. These very obvious. On the left temple is a disc as big as a half-crown, and an inch thick. Two wires emerge from it and vanish into the hair."
Here, the Doctor and Ian do not find a Roboman stabbed to death in the warehouse, as happens in the television version, nor are they challenged by a Dalek emerging from the Thames. Instead, they are captured by Robomen and taken to the saucer where they are confronted by four Daleks.
Episode two introduces us to: "Int. Operations Room. Day. A large room with a good many people in it, all engaged in various activities, giving the impression of urgent pending action. At one section, three men are filling bottles of all shapes and sizes, from some large drums. Here also is a maze of scientific and chemical apparatus. At another point, three men are in the process of 'making up' as Robomen. At the centre table is a large map of London. More maps on the walls. Here, two or three other men busy checking routes. They are dominated by Professor Dortmun. Fifty. Wasted and ailing. Confined to a wheelchair. Strong personality. Very bitter towards the Daleks who cost him the use of his legs. Amongst the people working in the room are a number of women. One or two negros [sic]. Also, Saida, the beautiful Anglo Indian girl, who will eventually replace Susan in the series. (This character is subject to variation due to casting or policy)".
It is at this point that Barbara and Susan, now reunited, ask David how the Dalek invasion came about. He replies, "I'll tell you what I know. In nineteen eighty, the Earth was hit by what everybody thought was a meteorite storm. Now of course we realise they weren't meteorites at all. They were bacteria bombs.... And deadly effective they were. Within four years the plague had raged through every country in the world... the bacillus was resistant to all known drugs. Entire continents were wiped out.... There were people, who, for no known reason had an immunity to the disease. Some even who caught the disease and recovered, though they were very few.... As populations died out, so did the bacillus. As far as we know, it no longer exists.... [The survivors] tried to start new lives. Small groups formed, they wandered the countryside, met up with other small groups and formed little communities. They had to fight against famine and sickness. Fight against others survivors who plundered and pillaged the new communities... despite all the hardships, a form of civilisation started up again. Children were born, crops grew. There were half a million people living in London. Then they came. The invaders. Their warfleets circled the Earth for days. Rockets. Giant saucers. Then they struck. They were utterly ruthless. Our weapons were useless against them. Anyone who tried to oppose them was destroyed instantly. In less than a week, they'd conquered the world."
Taken at face value, David's evidence appears to raise a disparity, in that, if the plague had done its work by 1984, why did the Daleks wait until 2041 before launching their invasion?
In episode five, Robbie Madison (Larry Madison in the teleplay) provides a partial explanation, telling Ian that: "the world was heading for destruction before the plague or the invasion. China was at war with the United States and Russia. Britain was on the brink of fighting with the rest of Europe." Ian interjects, "I supposed the plague ended all that." and Madison affirms: "Yes. And when the invasion started all the countries on Earth united. There was a world government set up in Japan. Race, colour, creed were all forgotten."
Considering the disaster that has overtaken the world, it's not remotely surprising that the story of how it came about is disjointed and apparently contradictory. Still, it is possible to build a cohesive narrative from the fragments. The meteorites struck in 1980. Over the next four years plague spread across the Earth. Nonetheless, in 1984, the Dalek fleet was destroyed. There are two possible explanations as to why David doesn't know this. Firstly, according to Nation's draft script, he is only "twenty five years old", which means, going by the 2041 date, he was born no earlier than 2016, which is 32 years after the first invasion attempt. Secondly, depending on how badly the country was affected by the plague, it's perfectly feasible that Britain did not engage with, or was even oblivious to, events taking place elsewhere, with the heavy lifting carried out by the three former antagonists, China, Russia and the USA.
The reason why Madison has better information is also suggested when he states that after the Daleks had successfully invaded, "there was some radio communications for a while. Amateurs mostly. Then the signals became fewer and fewer. That must have been when the Daleks started rounding up the survivors and shipping them here."
As to what caused the Daleks to wait 57 years before attacking again, the answer may well have been provided by the Dalek Supreme itself, who states, during episode five, that they invaded, levelled Manchester and dug an enormous trench, so they could extract the Earth's core and, "replace it with a power system that will enable us to pilot the planet anywhere in the universe." This is expanded on by the Doctor in Nation's draft script for episode six: "With some directional power substituted for the core of our world, the Earth would become a vast space ship, that could move through the universe in a controlled direction... the Daleks will have made the greatest step forward in space travel. They could set out on a journey that could take thousands of years." Resistance member Carl Tyler elaborates, "And they could have homes, grow food, and as one generation died, the new one would take over."
Although it's quite amusing to think of Daleks setting up homes and tending allotments, what is actually being discussed here is a colony ship, not unlike the human version the Doctor would encounter in the season three story, "The Ark". Which would imply the Daleks had yet to break the light barrier and that Skaro is 57 light years away from Earth.
A further issue concerns the calendar that the Doctor and Ian found in the warehouse. Some commentators have questioned whether people would still be making calendars at a time when human society was on the brink of collapse. However, this kind of 'normalising' behaviour is commonplace. In 1945, with much of Germany's industry devastated by aerial bombing, the economy was still able to manufacture 150,000 electric cushions.
What doesn't make sense is the appearance by the black marketeer who provides food in exchange for jewellery. In a society with no economic structure, where most of the surviving people are enslaved and living off rations provided by the Daleks, such items would no longer have any value. The fact the black marketeer doesn't appear in the first draft is, therefore, unsurprising, especially when seen within the context of Survivors, the BBC TV series Nation was to create in the 1970s, in which characters who attempt to cling on to their former lives following a world pandemic soon perish.
This brings me back to the resistance and Alwyn W Turner's observation, in his book The Man Who Invented the Daleks (Aurum Press Limited: 2011), that Dortmun's attack on the Dalek saucer is "a deeply flawed plan; this is intended as a symbolic strike that will galvanise other resistance groups, but how anyone would hear about it when the Daleks control all communication systems is far from clear. Here... one gets the impression that while Nation's enthusiasm might be of use to the leaders of an underground movement, they would be loath to turn to him for practical advice. Like Barbara, he often seems seduced by 'this romantic idea about resistance'."
Turner is referring in part to Dortmun's Churchillian speech, in which he says, "One success will give our people hope again. One victory will set this country, the whole of Europe, alight. That's all we need, one victory." Yet this proclamation does not appear in Nation's first draft and may well have been a later addition from the story editor. In the original, Dortmun says, "Tonight you will be armed with a weapon, which, if it succeeds, will give us the means to rid our planet of the invaders." Tyler responds, "A nice heroic speech, but I think you ought to add that the weapon is untested, and that the odds against it working on the Daleks are pretty considerable." Dortmun flares, "The odds against our survival are considerable too!!! Or perhaps you want that we go on hiding underground like sewer rats." Tyler comes back softly, "All I want is a chance. I don't think we've got that." Dortmun is unmoved: "I've never had very much faith in your ability to think Mr. Tyler. All I ask of you is that you lead the attack. The weapon will do the rest of the work."
The tone here, distinctly, is less Churchill and more Adolf Hitler in his Führerbunker berating a general for defeatism in the face of titanic odds. An earlier scene in Nation's draft script further demonstrates Dortmun's bullying nature when he storms at Tyler, "I don't care what you say. I'm in charge of this group! The weapon is as near perfect as I can make it! We can't afford to wait any longer... if you don't have the courage to lead the men, I'll find somebody who does!"
Yet after the raid, and in the face of the coming Dalek retaliation, Dortmun falls into self-pity. "I'm sorry", he says, causing Tyler to snap "Sorry? Who for? Us or yourself?" Dortmun allows Barbara and his daughter Saida to transport him out of the now deserted Operations Room, but when they reach street level he "holds the wheels" of his chair, telling them both, "You must go without me. I'll only hinder you." When they reach the bus garage, he again berates himself: "I am an old man. I have fought my battle and lost. I can contribute nothing more to the defeat of the invaders. Yesterday, men died because of my vanity. Because I let them use an untested weapon.... I knew it needed more work, but I couldn't wait. I wanted revenge against the Daleks for this", and "he pounds his legs".
Later, while unobserved, Dortmun abandons his wheelchair and makes his way out of the building. He next appears "across the street... we see Dortmun take a staggering step out of a doorway. He manages to keep on his feet with the aid of two sticks. He shows the agony of trying to stay on his feet but looks very determined." Dortmun shouts to a patrol of Daleks who "stop and spin around to face Dortmun. They start to advance on him." From the bus garage Barbara and Saida watch helplessly as "Dortmun drops one of his sticks and tries to grope with his free hand into the pocket of his coat. He loses his balance and drops to his knees. With his free hand he takes the glass bomb from his pocket, raises it to throw. The Daleks raise their guns and fire. We hear the typical searing sound. Dortmun writhes, his arm still raised. The bomb drops from his fingers and shatters near his body as he falls dead. The smoke from the bomb wreathes around him. The girls turn away in horror".
Barbara comforts Saida by telling her that Dortmun "was trying to draw them away from us", but in truth there was no justification for his actions beyond a desire to die. Indeed, the manner of his death retroactively explains his belligerency towards Tyler. Dortmun hadn't pretested the bombs because he suspected they wouldn't work, but, if this had been demonstrated, then there would have been no justification for the attack on the Dalek saucer. Dortmun would have had to live another day, his suicidal impulses thwarted.
Clearly, Dortmun knew that resistance survives on hope, and, where his group was concerned, that hope was invested in his bomb. It is instructive that, when the attack failed, those who weren't captured or killed, scattered. The only three from the resistance that make it to the end are Tyler, who has transferred his allegiance to the Doctor; Saida who has faith in Barbara's indefatigability; and David, who has fallen in love with Susan.
Ultimately, it is love that proves the strongest as it is love that breaks up the Tardis crew.
Once the Doctor became a shape-changing, indestructible, practically immortal Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, in retrospect, his decision to allow his granddaughter Susan to marry David seems wilfully perverse, but, within the context of his actuality in 1964, its bittersweet poignancy tears your heart out, whilst also indicating to the viewer that perhaps the Doctor and Susan are human after all. There is definitely nothing within "An Unearthly Child" to contradict the hypothesis that, when the Doctor talks of being "cut off from our own planet", he is obliquely referring to a future Earth, perhaps even one from "the forty-ninth century".
Nation's original draft of the Doctor's farewell speech to Susan is pretty much the same as that delivered onscreen. The camera script drives the message home further with the line "And remember love is the most precious jewel of all" but, on the day of recording, William Hartnell neglected to say it. Other than that, the biggest difference comes right at the end, when Nation has the Doctor, Ian and Barbara discover that Saida has stowed away aboard the Tardis.
There is no evidence that producer Verity Lambert ever considered casting an Anglo-Indian actress to replace Susan and so, based on the available documentation (or lack of it), both the name and the character's ethnicity appears to have come entirely from Terry Nation, which would certainly suggest the writer was ahead of his time. "Saida" is a Muslim name, which means she would have been the first Asian, Muslim companion to appear in Doctor Who, predating Yasmin Khan by 54 years.
All first drafts need revising and there is no doubt that in the process, elements of Nation's scripting were much improved. For example, the idea of the "Subterraneans", descendants of those who had escaped into the London sewers to avoid the plague, is just silly, as is the implication that, in the absence of light, they had evolved eyes that were "bulging and dark, like those of a night creature." Replacing them with alligators was a sound decision. Equally, the three "crones" who sell Barbara and Saida to the Daleks and are described by Nation as "right out of act one, scene one of Macbeth" are beyond offensive, and were quite rightly changed for the teleplay to one old and one young woman.
However, I must conclude that something was lost as well.
As we have seen, Dortmun's character was simplified, references to geopolitics eradicated, scenes of implicit horror toned down, with even some material which made it into the camera script being cut. For example, the exchange in episode six, where the Black Dalek Supreme orders that all humans are to be kept below ground so they will burn to death when "the molten core breaks through", appears in Nation's original script and the camera script, but doesn't make it into the recording. Likewise, in episode four, we are told that slave workers' have nicknamed the Dalek Supreme "The Black Devil", no doubt because, for all intents and purposes, it was digging a pit to Hell. This particular reference appears only in the camera script so may have been suggested by the director, or one of the cast, but it is still missing from the final episode as broadcast.
Yet the cut that made the greatest impact was the deletion of this scene between Susan and David:
SUSAN: What will you do now? Start to rebuild the cities?
DAVID: No, not the cities. I don't think that's the way. It's just patching up and trying to make good the old way of life. I believe we've been given a chance to start again. Right from the beginning.
SUSAN: It's a wonderful adventure. Don't fail David. The world can be a place of happiness and plenty. Don't make the mistakes that were made before.
DAVID: Won't you stay and help, Susan? There is so much to be done. So few of us left to do it.
In short, rather than a romantic fantasy, Nation is presenting an allegorical representation of Marxist Theory, where the fascist Daleks, representing late stage capitalism in all its planet-destroying glory, are overthrown by a workers' revolution, lead by the selfless, anarchic Doctor. This creates a new dawn of mutual co-operation, epitomised in David's appeal to Susan that she help him reconstruct the world as an egalitarian socialist paradise.
Evidently, this caused someone in authority to choke on their Sugar Puffs, as Nation's subversive text is replaced in the teleplay with a new scene where the Doctor, hearing the chimes of Big Ben, pats a smiling Tyler on the shoulder and whispers, "Just the beginning. Just the beginning." From which time, the establishment reasserts itself, the old order is restored and "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" is transformed into a sanitised mass-entertainment programme about plucky heroes and nasty Nazis dressed up as "motorised dustbins".