The Evil of the Daleks

The Evil of the Daleks
This is from DWM #498. I was really looking forward to
 The Evil of the Daleks, having been bowled over by Power, which remains one of my all-time favourites…

DWM #498In 1978, writer David Whitaker was looking back on his seven-part Dalek adventure. “It was a good opportunity to write an atmosphere story,” he said.

Well, there’s plenty of that. A fog which rolls in towards the end of Episode 2, thereafter occluding all good sense and leaving characters to muddle around in the murk. Up to that point, the going had been quite favourable.

With so few 1960s tales set in contemporary times, it’s a rare pleasure to witness (in as much as that’s possible with only telesnaps and an audio track) one of the black and white Doctors messing about in a world of garages and hauliers. Here, money is counted out on to crates, pop songs play in cafes, men smoke roll-ups and folk ruminate over the transport links from Euston.

This is how The Evil of the Daleks opens, like an urban thriller. The TARDIS has been stolen, and a curiously conflicted kingpin, Edward Waterfield (John Bailey), is commanding a street level crew to shift iffy antiques and move against our hero. This man is fascinating. Not quite up to speed on current lingo, he talks of “coffee shops” while they say, “coffee bars” – a preference reversed in today’s parlance, of course. All the while, he’s wringing his hands. “The Doctor is notoriously unpunctual,” he says briefing his posh lieutenant Perry (Geoffrey Colville) ahead of an assignation. But when it transpires who Waterfield’s masters are, it will seem odd this was a nugget they saw fit to pass on about their quarry. ‘The oncoming storm’? That’s as may be, but, oh my God, that guy’s tardy!

At the end of the first instalment, a suitably annoyed Dalek materialises in the back of a shop to scream and rattle its gun stick at minion Kennedy (Griffith Davies), who’s only popped in for an honest spot of thievery. It is an entirely agreeable way to complete our dealings on this Saturday evening. But the following weekend, the Doctor and Jamie are transported to 1866 – the period from whence Waterfield hails – and Whitaker really gets his thumbs into the story. This is where it loses clarity. And my good will.

Look, I don’t come to bury The Evil of the Daleks. I couldn’t do that on my own. I’d actually campaigned DWM to let me have the gig of writing about it, because I’d never taken the time to get to know the story. I was aware it’s one of our most venerated texts, and that’s for a good many reasons. For a start, it marks an exciting juncture in the programme’s history, where it bravely considered a possible future without its best enemies (whom Terry Nation was trying to sell to America). The magnitude of such a notion! “The end, the final end” to the Daleks.

Plus, it would be folly to deny what it bequeathed to us. Not only does it establish the durability of the ‘of the Daleks’ story naming convention (following on from Whitaker’s previous The Power of the Daleks and, in fact, his 1965 stage play The Curse of…), it’s also the first adventure to pitch Doctor Who into Victorian England, establishing that the show, paradoxically, fills out in this corseted environment – a place where horrors can hide in the shadow of things that may not be said in company. It’s such fertile soil, it was a surprise to trail my finger through a list of the preceding serials and realise the TARDIS hadn’t stopped off there before now.

As if that wasn’t enough, Whitaker’s tale claims a second location, equally important to the canon. Skaro. This was the first time the series returned to the Daleks’ home planet, and in doing so beatified it as a place of significance forever more. Without Evil, it would have remained another far away world in our sky, no brighter than Desperus or Vulcan.

Then – and this is a minor point, but indulge me – there’s the mustering for the Doctor’s nom-de-plume to come. ‘John Smith’ was first used in the series back in An Unearthly Child, as the stage name for “the honourable Aubrey Waites”. Earlier drafts of that script had featured the more fanciful sobriquet Ollie Typhoon, so one would assume it was Whitaker himself – then story editor – who coined the mundane alternative. In Evil, it’s revealed that whomever drove off with the TARDIS on the back of their truck signed for it as ‘J Smith’. It wouldn’t be until writer’s next-but-one effort, 1968’s The Wheel in Space, that the time traveller would claim the full ‘John Smith’ for himself, but the reference does still mark out this yarn as a bridgehead in Whitaker’s seemingly ceaseless promotion of that satisfyingly bland pseudonym.

So, yes, I can’t bury all of that. But I am going to throw a few clods at it.

Now let’s return to Episode 2, where it’s going wrong. On comes Marius Goring, with hair like an ionised pan scourer, in the role of Professor Maxtible. In between those moments where he’s conspiring to have his glasses sit crookedly on his face (a ruse also adopted by Arthur Lowe whenever he sought the reassurance of an easy laugh in Dad’s Army), he explains to the Doctor his methodology for time travel. He begins by playing up his references, like a student hoping the endnote numbers speckled throughout their dissertation will fool the reader into assuming a level of academic rigor. “Well, following the new investigations 12 years ago by J Clerk Maxwell into electromagnetism…” he says.

Stop there.

I’ve more fact-checking resources in my hip pocket than Whitaker had at his disposal, so it’s easy for me to confirm, but Maxwell’s Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism wasn’t published until 13 years after this adventure’s setting. If you are going to try and blind us with science, get it right. Failing that, do what everyone else does – fluff it along with speed. We need no more than a ‘force field’ or ‘T-Mat’, and I’m sure Pip and Jane couldn’t have spoken long on the subject of a ‘ray phase shift’. But this fastidious delineation just serves to spotlight its baselessness. Whitaker’s continued fidelity to such rubbish results in more discussion, now of mirrors and electrical charges, all told as if in plot terms, it’s highly combustible. While it’s supposed to provide the pow to propel this epic creeker over the brow and off down the slope to Skaro, instead, it’s indicative of the plot as a whole – a doomed exercise in kite-flying for concepts.

Perhaps the difficulties stem from the specificities of the production office at the time, because the writer’s prior serial, The Power of the Daleks, is sublime, meshing a superbly machined story with sophisticated characters. But, as Alan Barnes pointed out in his Fact of Fiction on Evil back in DWM 342, the story was presided over by a succession of script editors – Gerry Davis, Peter Bryant and then Victor Pemberton (uncredited). Is this why it’s so disconnected? Were each throwing in different requirements and tweaks? Terrall (Gary Watson, the show’s first, “I obey!”-spouting Dalek agent), and his thug-on-a-leash Toby (Windsor Davies) are story carbuncles. There’s a diversion where Jamie gets clobbered, kidnapped and then immediately released, and it bears no relation to anything. Was it all the result of some miscommunication between Toby and his master? Probably more to do with a partial transference between script drafts.

At least Davies gets enough action to ruffle his hair. Pity poor Brigit Forsyth, who is cast as the almost non-corporeal Ruth Maxtible, Terrall’s love interest and therefore a foil to a character who has no weight. “Now, you leave [the Daleks] to us,” the Doctor tells Terrall in Episode 5. “Take Ruth Maxtible with you! She’s waiting for you at the stables!” One imagines the duo meeting up by the saltlicks, shrugging and then dissolving back into steam to float away free through the cracks opened up by storyline revisions.

There’s other evidence of abandoned routes – meaningful talk of Waterfield’s late wife (her portrait is remarked upon several times), some half-developed lines about why the Waterfields and the Maxtibles are co-habiting, and hints of Terrall’s post-traumatic stress disorder having served in the Crimean War. But we don’t get to the end of any of them.

Meanwhile, Episode 4 presents a literal detour, as Jamie progresses through the house, in an effort to rescue Victoria, who is being held in the south wing by the Daleks. This exercise has been specifically laid on, we’re told, so that the “Human Factor” can be recorded for the Daleks’ benefit. “Transformed into thought patterns on silver wire,” says Maxtible, which, actually, is a rather nice line in bunkum. Thus begins a sequence of delaying the inevitable, as Jamie is assailed by swinging maces, falling spikes and the like, all of which he arbitrarily avoids. Granted, this isn’t the kind of thing that plays well over audio, and we can assume it was a little more scintillating on TV, but all it really achieves is a holiday opportunity for Patrick Troughton, who only appears in filmed inserts.

Maddeningly, the tale still produces slivers of brilliance, tiny illuminations that have come to (mis)represent the story. The scenes of the Doctor and Jamie arguing, when it seems the former has sold out the latter, are superb. Dialogue crashing together, strong sentiments – “Don’t touch me!” hisses the highlander – that feel shocking in comparison to the usual ‘Hey, look!’ banter. Indeed, this double-act performs particularly well throughout. Back in Episode 1, the Doctor asks, “Do I look strange or bizarre?” The answer that comes is nicely weighted. “Aye, well, maybe I’m getting used to you.”

Another character who’s unusually well delineated is Waterfield himself, who’s haunted by his pact with the Daleks.  “We are not the murderers!” insists Maxtible as the corpses mount up. “No,” whimpers Waterfield, “just the silent partners!”

And the Daleks? Received wisdom is that Whitaker, who commissioned them back in 1963, came to understand them better than their creator, Terry Nation. Whitaker’s stories do feel highly engaged with the monsters, that’s true. The Evil of the Daleks earns its definitive article because it is very specifically an investigation into what is (metaphysically) at their core. “I must not be frightened of them,” says Maxtible, “it’s just their way, they’re different people.” In this writer’s hands, the baddies are a race, a species, a people – not just a squad of rolling props. They’re possibly even an ideology: “They’ve turned him into a Dalek!” declares Jamie, when Maxtible walks through their magic doorway on Skaro to be infected by the Dalek Factor. There is no bodily change, other than a stiffening of the limbs, but in his aggressive demeanour and compliance to commands, he is now one of Them.

Despite this level of examination, Whitaker doesn’t anthropomorphise the aliens. The Dalek jailer, continually shrieking, “WHAT IS YOUR NAME?” to Victoria, or the one who bellows, quizzically, “Right? RIGHT?” when Maxtible asks why it felt it had the right to destroy his home – both feel utterly unreasonable. Yet, Nation – a journeyman writer, sure, but one who thought of plot in terms of strong pitches – was said to have been dismayed by their portrayal in this story. I think he had a point. For me, those Daleks polluted by human emotion aren’t disturbing or offbeat as so often claimed. They’re silly, chanting “Diz-zy, diz-zy, dizzy, Doctor!” as if providing the backing for a Frazer Hines novelty single. Next stop: A Kit Kat commercial. And the Emperor Dalek, for all of the impressive multi-tracking on its voice, is underwhelming and immobile, peeping out over its highly cupped Dalek breasts. “We meet at last, I wondered if we ever would,” says the Doctor with great portent. “Speak louder,” croaks the old dear.

I’ve pondered before in DWM about the Doctor Who stories missing from the archives. Are they mythologised by their absence? Is this part of the reason Evil is so well regarded? I think it could cut either way. The part that does exist – Episode 2 – reveals the fluidity of director Derek Martinus, who sends cameras rolling in to scenes to interrogate the action. Partway through, one sequence irises out into the next. How many other such flourishes have been lost to us? Perhaps this story is better than I’ve experienced, but better in a different way. An able realisation punching through the script, like fog lights.

Oh, if only we knew… If only we could see. It’s almost a certainty that’ll never happen, which is sad. It means I can find no other reason to revisit The Evil of the Daleks. Human Factor? Dalek Factor? To coin a risible phrase, for me it just doesn’t have the likeability factor. Which makes this the end. The final end.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s