Once the Doctor eventually realises that the planet is contaminated with a very high level of radioactive fallout it’s chilling to see how keen he is to abandon Barbara to her fate –
IAN: We’re not leaving until we’ve found Barbara.
DOCTOR: Very well. You may stay and search for her if you wish, but Susan and I are going back to the ship. Now, come along, child.
IAN: All right, carry on, fine. How far do you think you’ll get without this? (he shows him the fluid link)
DOCTOR: Give that to me.
IAN: Not until we’ve found Barbara.
DOCTOR: Give it to me, I say.
IAN: No! It’s time you faced up to your responsibilities. You got us here. Now I’m going to make sure that you get us back.
The point’s a moot one anyway as they shortly all end up prisoners of the Daleks. The iconic nature of this episode is pretty much self evident – the first meeting between the Doctor and the Daleks – although it’s understandable that the mythos would only be added in later years. Nobody really expected in 1963 that the Daleks would ever be anything more than a one-shot monster (especially since the series was struggling for survival) so they’re presented here not as a universal menace, but simply as a group of frightened, scarred survivors.
The Daleks are all that remains of a civilisation who fought a deadly war with the Thals. So Galactic conquest isn’t their aim – that would be difficult anyway, since they can’t move out of their city – they just want to survive. But their survival doesn’t include the Thals and this is how the story will develop.
As in An Unearthly Child, the four time-travellers are prisoners. Thanks to radiation sickness they’re in a pretty wretched way and Ian (after a tussle with the Daleks) is unable to walk. A mysterious package of drugs left outside the TARDIS by an unknown hand might be their salvation and suspiciously the Daleks are keen for one of them to bring them back to the city.
But who will get it? Ian is keen to go – there’s an unspoken sense that he should, since he’s a man (why send a woman or a child out, when he’s there?) – but since he can hardly walk it seems impossible. Both the Doctor and Barbara have been badly hit by radiation, so that leaves Susan. She doesn’t want to face the terrors of the forest (we’ve seen how she was affected by a brief encounter with a stranger in the previous episode) but it’s clear that their survival depends on her.
Christopher Barry certainly makes the most of his limited resources and the scenes of Susan’s return to the TARDIS are memorable – thanks to close-ups of her frightened face and the flashes of lightening in the forest. And the occasional flash of light only serves to make the forest more, not less, intimidating.
So far the story has had an interesting structure – in episode one we concentrated on the four regulars, episode two has introduced the Daleks (with mention of the disgustingly mutated Thals) and episode three will see the arrival of the Thals proper. With seven episodes to play with, it makes sense to hold back certain elements for a while – but once we get to The Escape there’s the sense that the story can really begin.