The Evil of the Daleks, by Simon Guerrier (and John Peel)

The eleventh of the generally excellent Black Archive series of short books on individual Doctor Who stories addresses The Evil of the Daleks, the last story of the fourth season of the show, first broadcast soon after I was born in 1967, written by David Whitaker and directed by Derek Martinus, both big names in the history of Who. It had seven episodes, but only the second of the seven survives in video. When I first listened to the audio tape of the story, narrated by Fraser Hines from a script by Sue Cowley, I was taking B out of the way so that F could enjoy his seventh birthday in 2006. I wrote:

Spent most of this afternoon driving to the Ardennes and back, so finished listening to The Evil of the Daleks, the last story of Patrick Troughton’s first season as the Doctor, and the one voted the Best Ever Doctor Who Story by readers of Dreamwatch in 1993. Only one episode out of seven survives on video, and I haven’t seen it (yet).

I have to say that I was very unsatisfied with the plot of this classic story. The Daleks’ plan to manipulate the Doctor, and the Doctor’s attempts to manipulate Jamie, are both unrealistically convoluted as well as being very out of character. We never find out how the Daleks got photographs of the Second Doctor, whom they otherwise met only on the planet Vulcan, and of Jamie, whom they did not otherwise meet at all (unless you believe the Season 6B theory). (We also know that the first two episodes of Evil of the Daleks are contemporaneous with The War Machines, so the Daleks would have been better off trying to grab the First Doctor who was elsewhere in London at the same time.) When we hit the nineteenth century, Arthur Terrall’s presence is not very satisfactorily explained, and the fact that he is a robot is just left hanging (or rather, Ruth is told to take him as far away as possible, as if this will somehow cure him of being mechanical). And it seems difficult to imagine that the Daleks are so bad at keeping track of individual units, however de-personalised they may be, that they simply lose track of the first three humanised Daleks. (The Discontinuity Guide further asks, “Why not just kidnap the Doctor and Jamie? Why does Terrall get Toby to kidnap Jamie? Since Jamie is so essential to Dalek plans, why are the traps set for him so lethal?”)

Having said that, the acting is great, and it’s clear from the BBC photosnaps that the series looked fantastic (Maxtible’s beard!!!!!). It’s also a really great idea to return to the Dalek City on Skaro (apparently the first time the Doctor had ever been seen to return to any planet except Earth) [other than a return within the same story, eg Kembel]. And I loved the Victoriana; I especially liked Waterfield’s horror-filled explanation, “We had opened the way for them with our experiments. They forced me into the horror of time travel, Doctor” – sounded very HP Lovecraft! And the references to Poe were clear (and even at one point explicit). And Troughton is great, dominating every scene (and this partly accounts for the flagging pace of episode 4 when he was on holiday).

So anyway, more good than bad, but I’m very sorry not to have actually seen any of it.

In retrospect, that was really a bit grumpy of me, and I guess I was put out by spending a nice summer day entirely in a car. In 2010 I watched the reconstruction of still photographs combined with narrated audio, and wrote:

Well, I have revised my opinion of Evil of the Daleks upwards thanks to watching the reconstruction. I still rate it below Troughton’s debut story, The Power of the Daleks, because the plot has some large holes (why go to the bother of the elaborate entrapment via the cafe in 1966? how is the Doctor supposed to spread the Dalek Factor through history? what’s up with Terrall anyway?) and also I just don’t like Victoria (though again, maybe I will change my mind after doing her stories in sequence).

There are a couple of things about Evil of the Daleks, however, that really appealed to me this time. First, Marius Goring as the deranged Maxtible is a compelling vilain, especially as backed up by John Bailey as Waterfield – together they are the two sides of the scientist character portrayed by Lesterson in the previous story. Second, Dudley Simpson is on top of things as composer – the Daleks have a “diggerdy-dum” leitmotif, Victoria has a more wistful theme. Third, while I’m not a huge fan of turning the Daleks into something else by giving them humanity, Whitaker handles it better here than Helen Raynor did in Daleks of Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks. Fourth, it’s a nice early example (or perhaps foreshadowing) of the steampunk subgenre.

Finally, the two episodes on Skaro are an excellent climax to not just this story but the five Dalek stories of the black-and-white era; the return to their home planet somehow gives the Daleks more cultural depth than they previously had, with the thrilling appearance of the Emperor and the excitement of the civil war. So more of a thumbs up than I expected.

I took advantage of family travel earlier this month to experience Evil of the Daleks in two different ways – the Fraser Hines/Sue Cowley audio that I had first listened to in 2006, and the brand new animation released last year by the BBC, which I watched in colour rather than black and white, though I made an exception for the surviving episode 2. As it happens, I met Rob Ritchie who did much of the work on the animations on Thursday evening in the bar at Gallifrey One. He was interesting and disarming about the challenges of the process, and the flaws of the final result, none of which I spotted when watching. I have to say that I still feel that the telesnaps reconstruction, with Fraser Hines narration, which I watched in 2010 is the version that works best for me. But the animation does take us to places where the recon cannot go.

Somewhat sheepishly, I will admit that I liked the story as a whole even more this time than previously. Troughton is on top form; the varied settings keep you guessing as to what will happen next; Maxtible and the Emperor are suitably deranged; the essence of what makes us human and the Daleks monsters is core to the plot; we move from a stolen blue box in Gatwick to planetary destruction. And Victoria is given a new home by the Doctor and Jamie. I am amused at myself for liking this story more every time I experience it.

You can get the audio here, and the DVD including both animation and telesnaps reconstructions here.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of John Peel’s novelisation is:

‘Bit of a bad area, know what I mean?’ the driver observed. ‘You want me to hang around?’ He was obviously hoping for another fare, since he’d overcharged the Doctor outrageously for their trip here.

When I first read it in 2008, I wrote:

This was the last official Target/Virgin adaptatation (a few remaining stories were produced in book form by fans subsequently) and therefore also the last Second Doctor novelisation and the last in the impressive series of five Dalek novelisations by John Peel. I have to say that I am among that heretical minority who regard the original story here as of less than top quality: the plot is absurdly convoluted, requiring both the Doctor and the Daleks to behave out of character, and Victoria as a new companion is awfully wet. But having said that, Peel improves on the original in a number of ways, giving the characters more comprehensible motivations, and embedding the narrative in the Dalek continuity he has been developing. I still preferred his others, but this is a good effort.

Oddly enough I also met John Peel the night before last, in the bar at the Marriott; he chortled with delight when I told him I had just been reading this – it had been great fun to write, he said. It shows.

I would add to the points made above that Peel resolves a number of points left hanging by the original TV plot – in particular, the situation of Arthur Terrell, who is not semi-robotic as I had thought, but a victim of Dalek experiments on mind control. You can get the novelisation here (for a price).

The second paragraph of the third chapter of Simon Guerrier’s monograph is:

The Daleks were – and remain – a key part of Doctor Who. Their first appearance, in the second Doctor Who story, helped establish the series, and their subsequent stories saw peaks in the numbers of people watching. When the production team took the risky step of recasting Doctor Who’s lead actor in 1966, they cushioned the blow by having this new incarnation immediately face The Power of the Daleks. Viewers stuck with the programme.

This really is one of the best Black Archive volumes that I have read so far, and also I think the longest. Some earlier ones went rather far into the literary origins of particular Who stories, perhaps because there wasn’t all that much to say about the actual stories in question. Guerrier looks at that a little, but doesn’t waste too much time on it, and is much more interested in telling the story of Evil of the Daleks – both production and reception – as a social process, carried out in real time by real people. As I’ve done before, I’ll list out the (few and long) chapters in summary:

  1. London, 20 July 1966: Looks at the difficulties of analysing a story that is mostly lost, and at the production background and influences on the fist episode and a half (no woman appears in the 1966 scenes; originally Ben and Polly would have been in the first two episodes, and the Samantha Briggs character from The Faceless Ones would have been the new companion);
  2. Outside Canterbury, 2 to 3 June 1866: looks at the Victorian setting of the middle episodes and Victoriana in general, but also at the character of Maxtible (Marius Goring, the lead guest star, had a fixation with Henry Irving and his play The Bells, which is one of the artistic source for Evil) and what we learn about the Doctor;
  3. Skaro: Date Unknown: goes into great detail on the Daleks and on what Terry Nation and David Whitaker might have argued about, given that Whitaker arguably had an equal share in their creation; and
  4. Earth, 1967-2017: looking at the reception and preservation of the story over fifty years – lot of deep research into how and where the scripts were preserved, featuring in places my old friend Rebecca Levene; the Beatles’ song Paperback Writer was played during the original cafe scene in the first episode, but has been dropped from releases of the sound track for copyright reasons; new photographs and off-air recordings keep coming to light.

Guerrier ends by appealing for the animation of the missing episodes which has since been accomplished, but also (as usual for these books) has a decent bibliography. It’s a really solid piece of work.

My one complaint is that yet again the footnotes have been botched on the epub version. Clicking on any of the hundreds of footnote links in the text takes you to the start of the footnote section rather than to the relevant footnote itself. When you have found your footnote and ty to click back to where you were in the main text, you are taken instead to the start of the relevant chapter – and these are long chapters. No blame attaches to the author for this, but really, publisher, this is not rocket science and you got it right in several of the others.

You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | Full Circle (15)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8)
6th Doctor: The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25)
Other: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | The God Complex (9)
12th Doctor: Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Evil of the Daleks, by Simon Guerrier (and John Peel)

  1. yiskah says:

    I loooooved this! One of my favourite books I read … last year? The year before?

Comments are closed.