...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Day 1960: Mysteries of Doctor Who #2: Skaro's Neighbours From Hell


My Daddies have been watching GENESIS OF THE DALEKS on shiny DVD. As this is the most repeated Doctor Who story of all time you have probably seen it too. It is the one where the crippled genius in the wheelchair invents one of Dr Who's oldest enemies.

Anyway, it is set on the planet SKARO a long time ago in a galaxy far, far… no, that's "the Lion King". The Time Lords send the Doctor there to deal with the DALEKS before they are created. (Possibly due to some bad aiming, he arrives just AFTER Davros has switched the very first Dalek on.)

Skaro is a barren and desolate planet that has been reduced to scrub and stone by a thousand years of war. (Okay, it's a quarry. But it's a very GOOD quarry!) The Doctor and Harry and best-friend Sarah arrive in the no-mans-land (also bad aiming!) between the doomed domed cities of the THALS and the KALEDS.

So here is the big mystery of Skaro: how is it that these two pitiless enemies have been at war for a millennium(!) if they only live down the road from each other?

How far apart can they be?

Well, we get to see a map of the local area in General Ravon's headquarters, clearly made for him out of papier mache by the Kaled equivalent of BLUE PETER. (SINISTER-BLACK PETER probably.) Basically, there is a bit of a range of mountains down the middle and on the plains on one side is the Kaled dome and on the plains on the other side is the Thal dome. There isn't a useful scale, but some largish coloured blocks represent the two sides units or armies so it doesn't seem to be so VERY large.

We do not get to see very much of the Thal dome – a rocket silo, a command point and the traditional bit of corridor – and we see none of the inside of the Kaled dome at all, so we do not have any way to judge how big they might be.

It is possible that both cities are the size of LONDON (they are SUPPOSED to contain the entire surviving populations of their races, after all!) and so the domes are REALLY HUGE: twenty-five miles across or more. Then if General Ravon's toy map is at all to scale, there could be a hundred or more miles between the two domes – so a bit like the Thals living in London and the Kaleds living in Birmingham. Or the other way around if you think that that is offensive to Birmingham!

Or the domes could be a lot smaller and it could be more like the Thals living in the City of London and the Kaleds living in Westminster.

As the story goes along, the Doctor and Harry get taken to Davros' bunker which we learn is three or four miles from the Kaled dome. Sarah accidentally crosses the lines and gets caught by the Thals (which sounds nasty) and taken to their city. Harry and the Doctor escape from the bunker and get to the Kaled dome and then, with help, cross to the Thal dome to try and rescue Sarah. On arriving, they discover that Davros and his chief goose-stepper Nyder have got there first in order to sell out their own side.

Of course, we do not ENTIRELY know how long it can have taken to do this travelling or indeed how they got there – several scenes in the wasteland imply that everyone is walking everywhere but there could be a day's travel in a HELICOPTER, all off screen, for all we know.

It certainly seems unlikely that Davros in his Mark One Travel Machine (i.e. wheelchair) could trundle across the quarry and up to the Thal Dome without some kind of, er, travel machine. Mind you, we later learn [R: "Revelation of the Daleks"] that Davros chair can float, even fly, so it might have been trickier going for Nyder! Actually, that raises the whole sticky question of how exactly does the supreme leader of the hated enemy wander up to the Thal Dome and get let in? But we'll skate over that – maybe Davros has been passing information to the Thals for years and so they've been EXPECTING him to defect sooner or later. It would certainly be in character for him to have set that up.

Anyway, there is one rather crude measure of time and that is how long Sarah and her Muto chum Severin spend loading the Thal's rocket. We (and they) are told that the warhead is to be packed with DYSTRONIC EXPLOSIVE (well it IS a Terry Nation script!) and that exposure to this horrid stuff will give you DYSTRONIC TOXAEMIA and, more importantly, KILL YOU after a few HOURS of exposure.

When the Doctor and Harry arrive to save them, Sarah and Severin are NOT DEAD – which seems to suggest that this is (in the traditional form) later that same day.

Good news for Sarah, but bad news for the scale of the Domes and the distance between them.

So it would seem that the Domes are not hundreds of miles apart; in fact they're probably less than ten miles apart.

So the question then is why is the rest of Skaro in ruins? Surely the Thals and the Kaleds can't have only just figured out that the easiest way to attack the enemy is straight down the road? Have they spent a thousand years under the mistaken impression that they lived at opposite ends of a flat planet and only recently discovered that actually they'd been going the long way around all this time? Did nobody think to turn left instead of right when marching off to war?

Well, perhaps there is a clue in Davros speech to the Kaled elite in part six: history will show, he says, that co-operation between different races is impossible…

Of course, he's just using that as an excuse for saying that the Daleks need to be in charge, but is it significant that he says "races" rather than "our two races"? Is it possible that in the history to which he refers, there were MORE than two races on Skaro?

Thinking again about the Thals and the Kaleds, some of their differences seem a bit ODD. The Kaleds are markedly scientific, in fact that's not out of step with the original Dalek story where the Thals enemy (although called the Dals) were thought to be scientists and teachers. The Thals, on the other fluffy foot, are SOLDIERS and pretty brutal too. The Kaleds idea to end the war is to give all their resources to their very best scientists to think up a technological solution; the Thals answer is to build a GREAT BIG ROCKET. It is intellect versus brute force.

Why don't the Thals have scientists? And why don't the Kaleds have a better army?

Well, it's just a THOUGHT, but suppose that the Thals ARE the Kaleds' army.

Suppose that a thousand years ago, the war started and the Thals and Kaleds were on the SAME SIDE against some OTHER PEOPLE. The Thals provide the troops who all go off to fight the war, while the Kaleds stay at home and develop weapons and defences and ways of growing food from artificial sunlight and all the things that an army needs to support it. Together, Thal strength and Kaled science is unbeatable and, one by one, all of their enemies in the war are defeated and destroyed.

BUT the planet is wrecked in the process.

When the Thal army comes home, there's no longer enough stuff to go around. They've just won the war: they want to reap the benefits. The Kaleds think THEY'VE done all the hard work AND borne most of the hardship, they're certainly not going on LOWER rations to feed these thickos… oh very fluffy dear.

Maybe the Thal/Kaled war is only the VERY LAST war of all the wars that between them have lasted a thousand years and ruined Skaro. That is the history that Davros thinks proves his case: co-operation between races did turn out to be impossible. But it also utterly disproves his case: this hypothetical Thal/Kaled alliance tried to end the war by the application of superior force and in the end had to settle IT'S OWN differences by force.

Davros solution DOES NOT WORK; you only end up killing EVERYONE.

Of course, the OTHER possibility is that, like all Doctor Who monsters, the Thals and the Kaleds have REALLY BAD AIM.

[Stylish cross wipe to…
Star Wars : Episode IV : A New Hope

Scene: EXT Desert, ruined sandcrawler, dead Jawas everywhere

OBI WAN KENOBI: Look at these blast points, Luke: only Imperial Troops are so accurate!

LUKE: But it's as big as a barn!

OBI WAN: Of course! How do you think they managed to hit it?

Look, you'll never see them shoot anyone ever. Suppose you end up on a giant battle station facing thousands of these jokers: who do you think is going to get shot? The untrained farmboy or the cream of the Emperor's soldiery? Seriously, they've bugger all chance of hitting you. Statistically, you're in more danger crossing the road…]


Lokian Eule said...

maybe it meant that Sarah would die if she was exposed to the dystronic radiation for hours, but not that she would die if she got away from it. In which case, still no idea about the distance between the domes.

If you listen to the radio drama I, Davros, it takes several days on foot to traverse.

Lokian Eule said...

Why isn't this working?

Millennium Dome said...

Sorry, the reason it's not working is that I've had to turn on moderation for older posts to stop spam-bots posting adverts to hundreds of posts at a time (which I can tell you is a hell of a pain to delete).

It's a nice thought that the Thals' health and safety legislation means they're only working their slaves to death a couple of hours a day... but I'm not sure that that comes across on screen.

And I'd rather not listen to "I, Davros" again to check. (sorry!)