The Evil of the Daleks
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 344
"The Evil of the Daleks" was, and still is, very popular, being the first Doctor Who story to be repeated on terrestrial television. It is also far and away the best of the Whitaker Dalek stories. While it possesses a couple of problems, it is still very enjoyable to watch and studded with some truly lovely details and excellent characterisation.
Essentially, "The Evil of the Daleks" is a good story with two major flaws: A tendency to overpadding, and a tendency to occasional inconsistency. In the first case, it has to be remembered that the story was originally intended to be a four-part serial, which was then extended first to six, and then to seven, parts, for reasons outlined in the article on "The Faceless Ones" elsewhere on this site. This shows in a number of ways, most notably in episode one. We have a fantastically convoluted scheme which, although it may seem to hinge on coincidence at a few points, actually makes sense when one considers the parties involved. For instance, although it might seem fortuitous that the Doctor decides to go to the Tricolour Coffee Bar upon finding the matchbook, this in fact fits in perfectly with the theme of psychological manipulation and behaviour prediction of later episodes. The fact that Kennedy plans instead to knock the Doctor and Jamie on the head and kidnap them serves to highlight that Kennedy is a bit of a loose cannon: Probably he had been told simply to plant the matchbook and cigarettes for them to find and leave, but, not having any faith in the plan, he decided to take matters into his own hands. The fact that the Daleks have pictures of the Doctor and Jamie, despite there having been no place between "The Highlanders" and "The Evil of the Daleks" when they could have encountered this particular Doctor-companion pairing (and the absence of a female companion means that they are not extrapolating from a later encounter) makes sense when one considers the time tracking/travel capabilities that we have seen them using in "The Chase" and "The Daleks’ Master Plan"; this also explains how they were able to identify when the Doctor would arrive in 1966.
None of this, however, makes up for the fact that the plan is a bit of a waste of effort, with the Daleks going to the trouble of helping to set Waterfield up as an antiques dealer and cultivate a crew of henchmen (which must have taken several months at least) simply in order to kidnap the Doctor, when all it would have required would be to have the Tardis taken away on the truck, and then have only one henchman (or even a disguised Waterfield) inform them that it was taken to Waterfield’s shop. A similar bit of entertaining but nonetheless obvious padding comes in the form of Terrall, Ruth and Toby, who, while they are interesting, well-written and well-acted characters, contribute little and disappear from the narrative as abruptly as they enter it. One could remove all the scenes involving these three characters from the story and lose nothing at all. Following on from the original version of "The Faceless Ones", the story must have simply involved Maxtabile and Waterfield, with Ben being allocated the task of rescuing Polly, and then later the two antagonists pitted against Jamie and Sam Briggs; finally, after the addition of Victoria, the other characters must have been brought in to make up the time.
The other problem with the story is the occasional bits of silliness or inconsistency. As even Perry finds Waterfield’s "new" antiques suspicious, one wonders why Waterfield does not simply have them hidden in a warehouse in 1866 and then "find" them a century hence. Waterfield’s linguistic tics (such as not knowing the word "O.K.") are intended to convey early on that he is a Victorian, but it does seem slightly unbelievable that he could have been in the 1960s for at least several months and not learned to understand the local argot. In the later, Skaro-set episodes, the Dalek Emperor seems criminally thick, in that the Daleks will originally not let the Doctor perform the test on the grounds that he is "more than human," and yet it doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that this could mean he might not be affected by the arch designed to programme humans with the Dalek Factor. As well as taking the Doctor’s advice without considering this possibility, the Emperor lets the three humanised Daleks wander around loose rather than dealing with them straight away. For the Doctor’s part, it is a little naïve of him to assume that only three humanised Daleks can cause the whole race to fall into turmoil: It is only once more Daleks have been humanised that they start to have an impact.
The story also contains strong elements of Nation pastiche (even the scenes with Jamie and Kemel searching for Victoria are reminiscent of certain episodes of "The Keys of Marinus"). We have a Mavic Chen figure in Theodore Maxtabile, complete with beard and charismatic megalomania; we have strong elements of "The Daleks" in the last couple of episodes (including scenes of the heroic group inching along a ledge). We also have the classic Nation device of having a Dalek appear at the end of episode one, despite the fact that the title rather gives their presence away. While these are not bad things in and of themselves, it is a bit of a shame that Whitaker did not focus more on his own original ideas.
That having been said, there is still a lot to like about the serial. The idea of setting a Dalek story in Victorian England is a clever bit of lateral thinking on Whitaker’s part— although "The Chase" does briefly feature the Daleks visiting Earth’s history, this is played for laughs rather than explored as a serious possibility. The sequence in 1966 (which, since the serial was made in 1967, are every bit as much a period piece as the Victorian scenes) may be padding, but it is rather lovely to see the Doctor and Jamie running around coffee bars and listening to contemporary music (to say nothing of Jamie’s prurient comment on the then-current fashion for mini-kilts: "If the Laird could see that!"). The theme of traps and puzzles is not only heralded by the chase at the beginning, but also by the sequence in which Jamie and the Doctor find the box containing the torn picture. The initial 1960s setting is also later echoed by the humanised Daleks’ rebellion, which recalls the late-1960s "question authority" ethos, coming out of the backlash to the authoritarian postwar society and the anti-war youth movements. This is actually a very clever change to ring on the Daleks at this point: Having established them earlier as an inherently totalitarian species, it is interesting to speculate how they will react when a protest movement emerges in their ranks. We also learn that there may be some kind of artistic sense among the Daleks (picking up on the presence of sculpture in the Dalek city on Skaro in "The Daleks"), as it has to be either them or Maxtabile who is selecting the antiques to send forward in time, and Maxtabile shows no more or less sense of artistic taste than do the Daleks themselves.
The Victorian sequences are also very good. The sets, props and costumes (passing hastily over the "painting" of Victoria’s mother) appear to have benefited from the increase in budget allocated to the serial as it expanded from four parts to seven; elsewhere, what survives of the model footage and battle sequences from the final episodes makes one rather wish that there was more. The performances are particularly good, with Marius Goring, who even manages to walk in a Victorian way, being worthy of special notice. Toby is well-characterised, naming his blackjack "Mr Nod" and running about like something out of Dickens, and Kemel, who could so easily have been a racial stereotype along the lines of Toberman in "The Tomb of the Cybermen", is quite positively portrayed, with his lack of intelligence being explicitly stated to be a personal characteristic rather than implied to be an ethnic trait as in "Tomb". The fact that the Waterfields seem to be living in Maxtabile’s house might appear odd to a modern audience, but is very much in keeping with the extended households of the Victorian era. The improbable experiment that Maxtabile and Waterfield conduct with mirrors is also very much in keeping with the sort of strange ideas scientists were having at the time: The Daleks take advantage of the pair's naïveté by time-travelling in under their own steam, and allowing them to believe that it was their mirrors that achieved this.
The Daleks themselves come across strongly as Mephistophelian figures in this serial. The evil of the Daleks, as it were, is not the evil that they are in and of themselves, but the evil which they tempt people to, and which these people will carry out in pursuit of their own ends. Maxtabile, Waterfield and the Doctor all deal with the Daleks knowing full well that they are devious and destructive: Even Waterfield, whose motivation is simply his love for his daughter, is thereby induced to deceive and kidnap the Doctor and Jamie, and is ultimately killed through his obsession with protecting her, making him every bit as much a prisoner of the Daleks as she is. The Doctor, similarly, is subject to temptation, as the Daleks use the Tardis as bait to lure him on. Maxtabile, finally, is a wonderfully Faustian character: Whereas Mavic Chen was a politician with a lust for power, he is a businessman with an interest in science, who is induced to help the Daleks through the promise of a formula to turn base metals into gold (and, as such, is also something of a riff on the character of Lesterson in "The Power of the Daleks", a scientist who helped the Daleks out of a greed for knowledge). There is an appropriateness to Maxtabile’s final fate, as throughout the story, he is seen to blind himself to the truth through his greed, and to attempt to find justifications for the Daleks’ behaviour which fit in with his own materialistic worldview. As he has attempted to fit the Daleks into his own beliefs about the universe, so they eventually fit him into theirs by imbuing him with the Dalek Factor.
The Doctor is unusually characterised for the Troughton era. Whereas most of the stories of this period give us a Doctor with a very black-and-white view of the world, here we see a Doctor who is very much painted in shades of grey. He manipulates Jamie into taking part in the Daleks’ experiments, but it must be said that he has little choice in the matter, selecting the least worst option rather than being offered a simple choice between a morally right and morally wrong action. The scene in which he says that he is willing to sacrifice all of their lives in order to save the Earth is in sharp contrast with the Doctor’s behaviour in "Genesis of the Daleks", in which he refuses to permit the torture of Sarah and Harry even though it might mean condemning the universe to a dire fate. We do, however, see echoes of the way in which, as in "The Power of the Daleks", the production team imply that the Doctor has always been Troughton, in that the Daleks do not acknowledge the change in his physical appearance at any point. The sequences in which the "human factor" is identified are significant in terms of how the Doctor is characterised: Rather than actual defining traits of humans, the "factor" consists simply of those characteristics that the Doctor values most in humanity.
The portrayal of the Daleks is an interesting exploration of their ethos and culture. Here, as in "Power", we see them on the back foot: Not a galactic menace, but a species desperately looking for an advantage. They are portrayed as having a degree of cunning, deceiving their worst enemy, who has beaten them on a number of occasions, into outlining the traits he feels are the most important in defeating the Daleks, and it is also unclear whether it is the Daleks or Waterfield who came up with the initial antique-shop scheme to kidnap the Doctor. The Daleks’ interactions with Victoria show them in a nicely alien light: The obvious purpose for them to hold "inspections" every 15 minutes is to have her identify herself and her location for Jamie and Kemel to find, but there is something very alien in the way they have her simply come out onto the balcony, repeat her name and go back in at mechanical intervals. Certain Dalek lines, such as "you will not feed the flying pests" and attempting to reassure Victoria by telling her that she will not be exterminated, demonstrate how alien the Daleks’ mindset is to humans. The Dalek factor, as well as including destruction and xenophobia, seems to featre a strong degree of group loyalty, which suggests that the final destruction of the Daleks by the humanised Daleks is more complete than simply a physical act: In a society based on collective consciousness and authority, introducing individuality and the right to question is ultimately the most dangerous thing possible.
In sum, then, "Evil" does contain some major flaws, but despite that it is one of the best stories of the Troughton era and certainly worthy of repeated viewing/listening for what it reveals about the nature of the Daleks, and about the social concerns of the 1960s.