The only way to have a really good hero, is to have an even better villain. George Lucas knew it, and Verity Lambert knew it. When Terry Nation gave birth to his maniacal little salt and pepper shakers he literally, and figuratively, created a monster. Dalek-mania swept Britain, children ran through the street screaming "Exterminate", and even the most muggle among Britons knew what a Dalek was. But was it really any good?
Frankly kind of. The seamless mixture of live action and model shots alone should get this one special honors in the Doctor Who hall of fame. The story itself wasn't original by any means. Wells' "The Time Machine" had mined this material the previous century. Even so, it was fresh for a TV audience. "The Daleks" was Sci-Fi with an edge. With one cliffhanger, Doctor Who would forever be known as a "scary" show kids had to watch from behind the sofa. Whereas most subsequent Dalek episodes were "War of the Worlds" re-imagined, this one was like that Aliens movie we never got to see. You know the one where Ripley gets stuck on the Alien Homeworld and has to go into the heart of their hive to retrieve Jonesy whose inadvertently eaten the one thing she needs in order to get home. Throw in a pinch of indigenous freedom fighters trying to survive in a petrified forest, and you've got the scope of this yarn.
Unfortunately, this was also the birth of two not-so-cool Doctor Who traditions. Caves and corridors. For the bulk of the "The Survivors" and "The Escape", the time travelers are in and out of more corridors than even the Nimon could stand. Then there are the impossibly arduous cave sequences that span the most appropriately named episode of the series: "The Ordeal". What we end up with is a few snoozer episodes right in the middle of a would-be classic. And what's up with Barbara and Antodus? I mean we're barely off Totter's Lane and she's chattin' up the first blond specimen that grunts her way. This story isn't as good as people think, but it isn't as bad as it feels. "Groundbreaking" and "painfully padded" can both be used accurately, which is perfect for a story about the diametrically opposed forces on post-war Skaro.