Published on May 27th, 2013 | by James Colvin2
036 The Evil of the Daleks
Gatwick airport, 1966. The Doctor and Jamie have just said goodbye to Polly and Ben, only to have the TARDIS snatched away from them and driven off on the back of a lorry. A trail eventually leads them to the antiques shop specialising in Victoriana, which is run by one Edward Waterfield. Waterfield appears to be a man oddly out of time – or playing up to the character of the Edwardian gentleman as his lackey would have it. However, his peculiar manner is only a cover to protect his masters… the Daleks!
The Evil of the Daleks does indeed have a lot to it. Even in a brief introduction, some of the themes of the serial become clear. Many of the characters contrast with one another, acting as opposites. While this kind of binarism is far from unusual, it is the first time it has so clearly constructed throughout a Doctor Who serial. Robert Holmes in particular would build on this extensively, populating the bulk of his work on the show with comedy double acts. Here, Waterfield and Maxtible could both variations on the Doctor.
Victoria and Ruth Maxtible offer clearer examples of this binarism. Ruth is stern, firm and slightly overbearing, always asserting her authority over the servants of the house. While Victoria is a captive who is almost entirely helpless throughout. Sadly, both women are defined by their fathers, their personalities a reflection on their fathers more than themselves. Edward Waterfield
“It still suffered from re-writes, however, and although it was intended to be the final Dalek story, as Terry wanted to launch them in America, I didn’t really think they’d be gone for good.” – David Whitaker.
Yes, Victoria… I’d argue this wasn’t the best way to introduce a new companion. The first time we see her she’s sobbing hysterically and helplessly – and it doesn’t get too much better. The backstory of how she was taken captive by the Daleks or sold out to them isn’t fleshed out all that much. In fact the most revealing thing about her is when it turns out Kemel has a crush on her. Well, a crush… she gave him a flower at some point and he’s clearly very upset about her not being around. The second flash of her character is when she promises to protect Kemel when they are both prisoners of the Daleks. It’s very sweet, but doesn’t salvage the sexism underpinning her depiction or the racism underpinning his. Unless they’re shagging, of course.
Mollie is a much more positive character, funnily enough. She shows up in episode two, waking the Doctor and Jamie with a tall tale about how they had a wild night partying with Waterfield – and have been in 1866 the whole time. In another interesting twist, rather than being a helpless captive of the Daleks, she acts as an unwitting prison guard for them. When the Doctor realises the Daleks have Victoria captive, he cries “and now they’ve got Jamie”. The scene transition then takes us to Mollie waking Jamie, which is where this conceit is subtly entertained.
The last time we see her she’s lurking in the shadows of the creepy Victorian house. The set up of the first two episodes is outstanding, but parts three through five are overstretched. The Doctor manipulating Jamie into experiencing a broad range of key – positive – human emotions is a great conceit, but three episodes of it wears thin. However, one of the ways the serial turns the seven-part format to its advantage is by flirting with various concepts. Jamie and Mollie’s whole runaround basically amounts to a haunted house Dalek story – and it’s certainly a great deal more effective than anything in The Chase.
This also allows for some genuinely bizarre scenes. When Kemel is introduced (as a racist parody of a Turk), Maxtible gets him to demonstrate his strength. He says: “His mind is undeveloped.” While this could be passed off as Maxtible’s racism, Kemel proceeding to remove his shirt, flex his muscles and generally be a spectacle, places the racism back on the show. And yet… after this, a Dalek glides out of a cabinet from where it has been watching the events, its eyestalk following the characters out of the room – utterly baffled.
The Daleks themselves… are David Whitaker Daleks. Still the very best kind (oh yes they are). Episode one has a cliffhanger ending of a Dalek transmatting in. This lovely effect (which we can still see thanks to the preservation of episode two) is one of many creepy, eerie moments in this serial. This from the man who gave us the first transparent Dalek, which would be used so effectively in Revelation of the Daleks and the first proper view of Daleks as the universe-conquering superbeings we know them as today (in the Dalek comics).
Even more unusually, they’re back story for this serial has them as an utterly malevolent and unknowable, Lovecraftian menace lurking in the darkened corners of the universe. Waterfield and Maxtible were alchemist-scientists working on theories of time travel of their own accord. It was only when they got a hint of success that the Daleks crawled out and manipulated them to their own ends. The entire relationship of this pair that we see has been created by the Daleks, with a more positive relationship only hinted at in back story.
They are utterly, utterly ruthless here, to extents never seen before. They kill two men for just seeing them. Also, this is the best use of their physical presence since the original Dalek serial. Steven Moffat recently noted that Daleks are scarier when they’re small. In the first serial, certainly. That was about a weird alien space that they were completely in control of. Their difference there alienated the viewers and the characters and put both on the wrong foot throughout (until the Thals showed up). Here, they lurk in the shadows of more familiar places to make those space strange.
Although after a few too many episodes of running around in this environment, it is refreshing to see them back on their home turf on Skaro. And the unsettling defamiliarisation doesn’t stop there! Yes, Skaro is creepy. But we’ve seen them there before. Evil doesn’t let us get settled.
The Daleks imbibed with the Human Factor started playing childish games with the Doctor, which was left to stand as the single most unusual cliffhanger of the series at the end of episode five. The Human Factor plot itself is possibly the best balance of light and dark the series as a whole would ever achieve. It’s funny to watch Daleks play childish games, but it doesn’t puncture their threat. It’s creepy. Really creepy. Particularly when they’re back on Skaro when they chant things like ‘Frieeeend’ and ‘Why?’ Also, when a non-human Dalek impersonates the Doctor’s friend Omega, it’s obvious what’s wrong, adding another element of danger.
Evil‘s Skaro scenes clearly mirror those of The Daleks – and that’s as a particularly black mirror. The prisoners in the cells are not all working to the same common goal. They’re all strangers who do not have one another’s best interests at heart. One of them is even in league with the Daleks. The Doctor even goes so far as to hint that he would rather die alone in a Dalek cell than help them in their scheme to spread the Dalek Factor throughout history.
The light that balances this is the childishness of the humanised Daleks. There’s some really bleak stuff in episode seven – such as when the Doctor acts as though he has been impregnated with the Dalek Factor – but the whole thing is structured like a children’s playground game. How beautiful is that. Even when the Human factor is used to bring down Dalek civilisation it’s a simultaneously revolutionary and child-like act.
It is also worth noting how many of these threads got picked up in later Dalek serials. The civil war most obviously in Remembrance of the Daleks – as distinguished from the other 1980s Dalek stories given that this was the one that forefronted the racial purity element of the conflict that was only hinted at here. The hive-like architecture of the Dalek city is first seen here and would be heavily extended from Bad Wolf onwards. The Daleks being easily knocked around is used to lesser impact in Journey’s End. The ruins of Skaro seen in Asylum of the Daleks are more clearly modelled on this version of the planet than any other.
The lure of alchemy is indeed a theme David Whitaker appeared to be very fond of. The mercury/time travel element of the very first Dalek serial is surely more attributable to him, rather than Terry Nation. It certainly has a great deal more in common with Whitaker’s work beyond that particular serial than Nation’s.
This alchemical theme is at its clearest in Maxtible – one of the finest villains in the entire series and certainly the ultimate David Whitaker character. His discovery of time travel is literally all done with mirrors, using them to repel light with light, in the weird Whitaker alchemical logic that hung over the first Dalek serial. The Daleks themselves are tied to this – conducting static as a form of electrical power distinguished from positive and negative currents.
He confirms he sees himself as an alchemist in a rant to Ruth, but is clearly insane and obsessive – selling out to the Daleks in order to get closer to his goal. While he says that nothing and nobody will stop him (and by turning metals into gold he will be granted immense power), he has in fact become totally in thrall to the Daleks as a result.
There is a pretty unambiguous thread of damnation here. Maxtible says “We are victims of a higher power,” clearly placing Daleks as demons. Waterfield confirms this, calling them “creations of the devil”. While there are usually some angels to counteract the demons, this is not one of the serial’s binarisms – and this saves it from becoming quite so crude in its morality.
Maxtible refers to his lab as his “hallowed ground” – but neither contemporary science nor alchemy are elevated to the status of holiness. Indeed, the only instance of more contemporary scientific language – rather than this particular version of alchemy – comes from the Daleks, who threaten to “impregnate” their victims with the Dalek Factor. There is only damnation.
All this and to say nothing of the sharp language (“You will not feed the flying pests outside”), the emphasis of the importance of challenging authority figures (from which not even the Doctor escapes unscathed) and the epic finale!