Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Evil of the Daleks

Previous viewings - many (Episode 2), one (others)

Apart from the excellent Episode 2, my experience of The Evil of the Daleks is limited to the last marathon I did, where the other episodes dragged like nobody's business. I think by that point though I was just tired of missing episodes - after whole season of no complete stories, The Tomb of the Cybermen was just on the horizon. Either that or I just changed my mind, because watching the story this time, it was bloody awesome!

This is the first season finale that actually feels like a season finale. So far the production block nature of the programme and the short break between seasons has meant there has been less inclination from the production team to go for whizz bang conclusions to the year's episodes. For the last time until 1972, the Daleks are the baddies (and I think part of the story's impact could be due to the fact that the Daleks didn't return for so long), and David Whitaker can write the Daleks in his sleep. He's one of the show's best writers, putting extra effort into making his characters seem like real people, who have lives beyond the confines of the story. He never wastes anyone either - every character has a story to tell, they're never just a part of the wallpaper.

Of course nobody's perfect. I'd say a common flaw of David Whitaker's stories is that his plots don't always hold up. The Edge of Destruction was a total mess in that regard, and it wasn't until the plot was out of the way that that story shone (in its last five minutes), while the plot of The Crusade shut down in the last episode rather than being resolved. The Evil of the Daleks at its core is about the Daleks taking stock of their numerous defeats by humans and deciding to destroy them by eliminating the Human Factor in them rather than by simple conquest. I think by this point so much had been done with the Daleks that the writers were having to think hard about new stories to tell with them. Fortunately here they succeed in doing something new with the Daleks here, but not through the Human/Dalek Factor stuff, but by introducing the Emperor Dalek and giving us Daleks in an historical setting. We're at the point in Season 4 where had the pure historicals not been dropped we'd be getting another one, so I'm definitely onboard with the 1866 destination.

The story picks up where The Faceless Ones left off. The TARDIS is being stolen! Like that story, we're eased into a lengthy plot with a lot of padding. I've never understood the complaints about padding though - well written padding is better than badly written essentials. The first episode introduces us to Edward Waterfield, who later turns out to have appropriated the TARDIS under orders from the Daleks, who have sent him to the future from his native 1866 to do so. As ever, the Doctor is able to follow the trail of clues left by the TARDIS's captors. As time wears on, it occurs to me that Waterfield would have been better to be more direct in his luring the Doctor to his antique shop, but it's a good episode regardless; various locations, including a bar, loads of fun Doctor/Jamie dialogue, what more could you ask for?

One thing I thought I'd comment on: what programme other than Doctor Who could given us a 19th-century man in a 20th-century setting, facing an fascist alien mutant in a metal casing?

The first reveal of a Dalek is one of their least effective entrances. It simply appears rather than being unveiled, so it's not very memorable.

Episode 2 is the best until the final episode for several reasons. It's a best of both worlds kind of thing - the first half of it takes place in 1966, with the Doctor and Jamie catching up with the plot at the antique shop, and getting knocked out and taken to 1866 for their troubles. When one door closes, another opens; in 1866 we get properly into the story with the introductions of several characters including the crazy scientist Theodore Maxtible, a terrific character who not only has a brilliantly eccentric look (massive beard) but the way he takes the appearance of the Daleks in his stride, as if it happens every day, is hilarious. There's a great scene where the Doctor finally learns about the presence of the Daleks - Waterfield explains that he has been coerced into his actions by the Daleks as they've kidnapped his daughter, while Maxtible explains how he discovered time travel using static electricity, with the Daleks appearing on cue. It's good because it's the one and only episode we can actually see Patrick Troughton as the Doctor reacting to the Daleks. I like the way the Doctor fears the Daleks, something we never saw from the William Hartnell Doctor, and lets viewers hear the revulsion in his voice as he questions the Dalek. It's not a long scene but Troughton's performance in it operates on a level above what Hartnell usually gave us when he faced the Daleks.

The Doctor is required to have Jamie submit to a Dalek experiment. It's chilling to see the Doctor agree to it on Jamie's behalf and go on to withhold information from him, which Jamie soon notices. Jamie was a bit weird in this story - one argument with the Doctor and he suddenly wants to go it alone. It seems like an attempt to develop Jamie's character by showing another side to him, but although the argument itself is good, I don't buy Jamie going off to rescue Waterfield's daughter by himself just because of that.

Obviously Waterfield's daughter is none other than Victoria Waterfield, the new companion. She's held by the Daleks and taken to Maxtible's house (must be a big house). Introducing her as a damsel in distress, and having her captured for the first four of her episodes was a bad move. Even after she is rescued she hardly does anything for the rest of the story. Considering the length of The Evil of the Daleks, I found this quite odd. The only reason I'm looking forward to seeing more of her is that the idea of a companion from the Victorian era is interesting, as her reactions to time travel and the TARDIS will no doubt be different to someone more modern.

We're in Maxtible's house until Episode 6, allowing money to be saved for the big conclusion on Skaro. Once Jamie goes off to rescue Victoria, the story starts to drag a bit, not least because the Doctor sits around monitoring Jamie's movements and the other characters aren't up to anything interesting either. The Doctor is forced to work with the Daleks to isolated the Human Factor, the qualities that humans have that enable them to defeat the Daleks, so Human Daleks can be made which will improve the Daleks. This doesn't ring true with what we know of the Daleks but I'll go with it, considering we know the Daleks are extra devious when Whitaker's at the typewriter.

The thing about the middle few episodes is that the story has such an awesome conclusion that when you get to the end, all is forgiven. However when I'm actually watching these episodes they are a chore because they're so drawn out. Jamie teams up with the mute Kemel and they make their way past some traps to get to Victoria, while some extra characters are added to pad out the episodes, including the rather boring Ruth Maxtible, the likeable maid Mollie, who gains viewer empathy by the way she accepts her low social position but ends up getting punished for helping Jamie, and the rather pointless Arthur Terrall, who struggles with Dalek orders in his head and his own free will. It's mainly the fact that he ends up contributing nothing to the overall plot other than to show us how the Daleks are affecting people, and that he is only there in these middle episodes, that makes him seem so incidental. Episode 1 might have been good padding, but this is bad padding.

The few plot developments we get from Episodes 3 and 4 pay off in Episode 5. It's a great relief when Jamie and the others are able to get back to the main part of the house quickly, even though Victoria is captured again. The Doctor's findings about the human qualities Jamie showed from rescuing Victoria are instilled into three Daleks, and as he intended, it doesn't make them super Daleks, but rather playful and child-like. The cliffhanger to Episode 5 is one of my favourites - lets face it, you've got to love a cliffhanger that makes you desperate to see how people playing trains is resolved.

The Victorian subplot winds down in Episode 6. The Daleks are recalled to Skaro and blow up Maxtible's house. Everybody ends up captured by the Daleks and left in a cell on Skaro. The destruction of Maxtible's house is another of this story's conclusion-but-not-a-conclusion's - bookending a large portion of the story with something that would have worked as a conclusion had the story ended in 1866. Regardless, action is very welcome at this point.

As I mentioned earlier, the highlight of the story is the finale. A lot of time has passed since The Daleks (the Thals aren't even mentioned so we can assume they've either been killed off or left). Skaro is now the centre of a Dalek Empire rather than a city where the Daleks can be switched off by turning the power off. From the telesnaps, the sets are darker than the ones used before, which is a good way to suggest the passage of time and also make the city look bigger. This is where the season finale aspect comes into it - everything is big; the scope, the sets, the budget. We have a seemingly impossible situation; the Doctor thought he had defeated the Daleks by creating the Human Daleks, but the Daleks announce their plan was isolated the Dalek Factor and spray it into the atmosphere of Earth, thus removing humans as an enemy.

Part of what I like about this finale is that the story has quite wisely disposed of the less important characters in the previous couple of episodes, cutting everything down to the bare essentials - the Doctor, the companions, the Daleks, Waterfield, Maxtible and Kemel. It gives the last episode a lot more focus than for example The Dalek Invasion of Earth has. Maxtible is given the Dalek Factor, and so apparently is the Doctor, but his alien physiology allows him to retain his composure and stay the same. By rejgging the arch which converted Maxtible to instill the Human Factor and not the Dalek Factor, he convinces the Emperor Dalek to weed out the Human Daleks by sending all of the Daleks through the arch, supposedly to convert them back into proper Daleks but really to send the Daleks into chaos by converting them into Human Daleks. It would be hard to measure up to The Daleks' Master Plan's conclusion, but this is a very close second - a quick solution but which is entirely in keeping with what we've learned so far. The only flaw is that the Daleks should have known the Doctor is an alien, but that's very minor.

Spectacular is the word to sum up the last episode. The Emperor Dalek tries to keep the situation under control as the Daleks blast each other and destroy the city in the process. Waterfield sacrifices himself to save the Doctor, and asks him to take care of Victoria, although by this point its so obvious that Victoria is going to become a companion that his death comes across as boringly inevitable. Ditto for Kemel, who should really have been killed earlier or left in 1866.

As the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria leave the Dalek city, the Doctor notes that this is the final end of the Daleks. It really feels like the culmination of all the Dalek stories so far rather than just the conclusion to this story, and that's high praise considering I thought it would be difficult to top The Daleks' Master Plan (and arguably it wouldn't be until Journey's End that the Daleks had an ever bigger plan).

So The Evil of the Daleks rests on a conclusion so brilliant that I can brush over its shortcomings earlier in the story, mainly issues of padding and the plot not making complete sense. David Whitaker has done what he does best - create a believable world inhabited by believable characters, and as usual he makes clear how bleak the situation is through the Doctor's reaction rather than the enemies themselves. I'm not sure whether that's good or bad. Victoria is still uncharted territory as a character, but if she doesn't impress then at least this story isn't to blame.

Horror quotient - I'm not up on Dalek voices but they seem to have got a new guy in for this story, and he really nails it. Scariest Dalek voice ever. There are loads of scary scenes in this story, and I think the Dalek city is much improved upon the one seen in The Daleks (which was also good).
Comedy quotient - I think I've found one thing the story lacked. It manages not to suffer from it though.
Drama quotient - David Whitaker script edited the first season. You always know you're going to get drama when he's writing.

Loses a point for the middle few episodes not being up to the standard I expect from a 10/10, as well as the plot problems. Nvertheless, that makes four out of four season finales so far that I've reappraised, with none of them scoring under 9/10, I wonder if The Wheel in Space will be the same...


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