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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Doctor Who: Evil of the Daleks

Serial Title: Evil of the Daleks
Series: 4
Episodes: 7
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling)

Picking up on the cliffhanger of the previous serial, the Doctor and Jamie search 1966 London (in fact, the same day as the WOTAN affair from 'The War Machines'- perhaps the Doctor's sinister feeling in that episode was not due to WOTAN, but due to the simultaneous presence of the Daleks in London- which he simply attributed to WOTAN, having found it first?) for the missing TARDIS, chasing- but losing- a pickup truck spiriting the box away. 

After tracking down the thief, and getting into a fight for their troubles, the Doctor and Jamie are relayed a message from a Mr. Watterfield, of Waterfield’s antiques- a firm specializing in Victorian antiques that look brand new. At the behest of his masters, Waterfield stole the TARDIS, and lures the Doctor in, forcing him through a mirror-based time machine to 1866 Victorian England, his own native time period. There, his masters are revealed… the Daleks. Waterfield, and his partner Theodore Maxtible’s, early experiments on steampunk time-travel attracted the attention of Skaro- and they have co-opted Waterfield and Maxtible (threatening the life of Waterfield’s captive daughter, Victoria) into abducting the Doctor… who they also wish to co-opt into a sinister experiment. They propose to identify and distill ‘the human factor’ – whatever nebulous quality humans posess that allows them to defeat the Daleks time and time again- and transplant it into new Daleks, creating a race of un-defeatable super-Daleks. To do so, they intend to put Jamie through a number of tests and gauge his very human responses. The Doctor, under threat of the TARDIS’ destruction, has no choice but to agree.

Jamie is manipulated into running the gauntlet to rescue Victoria, surviving a number of traps, and even Victoria’s mute protector, Kemel. Meanwhile, Maxtible is revealed to be a willing collaborator with the Daleks, working for them in exchange for their philosopher’s stone-esque secrets. Jamie succeeds in his ‘resuce,’ but Victoria is spirited away again by the Daleks.

The Doctor completes the Human Factor distillation and implants it into the three test subject Daleks, whom he names Alpha, Beta, and Omega… who become childlike and playful innocents (NFS: "Dizzy dizzy Doctah!") who consider the Doctor their friend. The Doctor is delighted, but the Daleks soon arrive to ruin the party, taking them all into custody, transporting them through the mirror time/space portal, and destroying both it and the Waterfield mansion with a bomb. The Doctor, Jamie, and Mr. Watefield are left to die, but manage to commandeer a separate time machine used by the Daleks and give chase- landing on the Dalek homeworld, Skaro. Omega arrives to escort them in secretly, but the Daleks prove both aware of their arrival and even more treacherous than expected, as this Dalek has faked Omega’s markings and personality in order to lead them into a trap.

The group is brought before the mighty Dalek Emperor, who reveals the true purpose of the experiments- to use the Human Factor isolation criteria for Dalek scientists to isolate the Dalek Factor, everything that makes the cruel and monstrous beings what they are- which they intend to infect humanity (and the human-Daleks) with to enslave the universe. The Dalek Emperor hypnotizes Maxtible, making him the first guinea pig in an archway (perhaps an early Chameleon Arch?) that instills the Dalek Factor into humanoids. The Emperor plans to convert the Doctor, and then use him and the TARDIS, also relocated to Skaro, to spread the Dalek Factor to humanity throughout history, retroactively enslaving the human race from the very beginning. The Doctor fakes his conversion, however, and tampers with the arch.

As the Daleks are having trouble locating the three human Daleks amongst the populace, the ‘converted’ Doctor suggests running them all through the archway just to be safe, re-infusing them with the Dalek Factor and assuredly catching the miscreant three somewhere in the process. As the process begins, the Doctor slips away and frees his companions, revealing the reason for his non-conversion… the Daleks do not yet realize that he is not human, the species the archway was calibrated to, and thus it had no effect on him. He then switched the Dalek and Human factor canisters, meaning that the first batch of Daleks to go through the archway have been Human Factor-ized. They rebel, and a Dalek civil war breaks out with great ferocity- a conflict that the Doctor believes may lead to their “Final End.” Maxtable is killed whilst insanely expressing Dalek propaganda, and Waterfield takes a blast meant for the Doctor (The Doctor has more people take bullets and bullet-equivalents for him than the president of a despised dictatorship… from Waterfield to Rory Williams, if you’re around the Doctor, plan on wearing a laser-proof vest! And remember, Doctor- your charmed life has a COST!) The Doctor, Jamie, and newly-orphaned Victoria enter the TARDIS to escape, the latter becoming a new companion, as the Dalek emperor is exterminated and the city explodes into flames.

However, later… much later… in the embers, a single light blinks… and something stirs…

As they say in 50s B-movies, “THE END…?”

As a Dalek Swan Song, this was an interesting choice- as the Daleks really only feel important to the story in the Skaro finale, despite their sinister presence being interspersed throughout. However, even though this serial ended up not following through on the Dalek’s “Final End”- though it did finish them off for a while- it is one of the better Dalek tales I’ve seen thus far (maybe not in terms of a 'Dalek story'- Dalek Master Plan still holds that position, in my book (NFS: You only think that cause it has cool 'puzzle' man in it.), but in terms of a 'story with the Daleks in it.'). Note that, due to time travel, this may very well be the Daleks’ “Final End” chronologically, with all future Dalek stories taking place chronologically before this one (though that requires them to lose their knowledge of his Time Lord status at some point before this serial)- at least, up until the between-series Time War resets and scrambles the timelines for the New Series. (Or perhaps the Fourth Doctor serial Genesis of the Daleks rewrites their history... ah, but we'll get to that one all in good time!)

And this was intended as the final Dalek story. Just as with the perpetual James Bond nemesis of SPECTRE (who vanished from the Bond series somewhat jarringly with the end of the Connery era, never to be seen again), the creator of the Daleks, Terry Nation, retained rights to their use despite not having rights to the overall series, and wanted a bigger slice of the pie for himself. Rather than Dalek royalties every time they were used in an episode of Doctor Who, Nation wanted an all-Dalek series from which he could receive 100% of the profits. After creating a backdoor pilot in the stand-alone 'Mission to the Unknown,' and a series proof of concept in the Dalek Master Plan serial, Nation withdrew them from Doctor Who to go and sell a Dalek-only series in America- Dalek-mania was in full swing, with Daleks in England being nearly as popular as Mr. Spock in the US. (The pilot subsequently failed and after several years, Nation returned the Daleks to Doctor Who- Big Finish productions and Nicholas Briggs, the new-series current voice of the Daleks, are coming out with the unmade pilot’s script as an audio drama this year.) This, then, was intended to be their Doctor Who farewell story, one final epic with the Daleks before retiring them from the program for good.

The Daleks, for the beginning, are shadowy puppet masters. Then, they are fun (and not in the usual dark humor/pratfall deaths Dalek way) with the human-factor-infused Alpha, Beta, and Omega (or Alpha, Beeta, and Omeega, as Troughton bizarrely chooses to pronounce them), scenes of their frolicking playtime and childlike fun impressing even through the audio-only of the reconstruction- and lastly, regaining menace in their Skaro stronghold, unseen since… well, confirmedly, since its first appearance in the serial ‘The Daleks,’ the second serial of Doctor Who, though potentially the DARDIS departure point in The Chase and The Daleks Master Plan could have taken place there as well. Regardless, we ramp things up with the epic first appearance (in a very cool model) of the Dalek Emperor, a character seen as recently as the New Series episode “Parting of the Ways,” the final story for the Ninth Doctor. In fact, the final confrontation with the Emperor, like the villain battle in ‘The Rescue,’ feels like a New Series classic confrontation with the villain, a moody and atmospheric final showdown between titanic rivals. Sadly, it seems that, as with the Rescue, each Doctor only gets one of these in his entire run on the show at this point in the series… hopefully in the color era, we’ll start seeing more of these climactic confrontations.

The only confusing potential negative is that the Dalek’s racial/genetic purity, a key component of their overall character, mindset, and makeup, has clearly yet to be defined- as the infusion of humanity into a Dalek is such an unspeakable perversion in their eyes that the self-same “Parting of the Ways” portrayed the Daleks going mad from it- and another Ninth Doctor story showed a Dalek committing suicide rather than living with a human ‘contamination’ within itself. Still, perhaps these Daleks were members of the Cult of Skaro, an experimental think-outside-the-box group of Elites from the New Who series, who once again attempt to absorb human traits and install the Dalek Factor into humans in the utterly horrendous 2-parter “Daleks In Mnahattan/Evolution of the Daleks.”

This serial also shifts wildly in tone, though- going from a skulduggery-and-criminal-empire story in ‘modern’ London (one which I found initially hard to keep straight the characters of in the reconstruction) to a strange gauntlet-test/mad scientist story in Victorian England (complete with, errrr… static-electricity-infused-mirrors as a time machine…?) to a dark and almost apocalyptic final rebellion- and it does certainly have the intended air of finality to it!- on the black, bleak, and oppressive looking sets of Skaro.

Of the three, the middle segment, with Jamie’s testing and the ‘human factor’, felt the most superfluous- a bridging/padding section that didn’t really hold interest, as you knew that Jamie’s success or failure would have little bearing on the story. The only part of interest was Jamie’s saving and befriending of the silent Kemel, forgoing the clichéd ‘drag you down with me’ villain moment, hanging off of the roof, and showing some of Jamie’s nobler character.

The opening, an extension of the missing-TARDIS mystery cliffhanger from the Faceless Ones, felt rather tacked on (despite being more watchable) at the beginning- similar to the 2015 segments of Back to the Future II, placed in there solely to resolve the cliffhanger from part 1 and get the characters from point A- where you ended the last story, and point C- where the story you actually want to tell begins. Nonetheless, the first appearance of the Daleks here is very good, and might have served as an excellent shock, (and indeed seems to be set up as a surprise) if it weren’t for, you know… the serial’s TITLE.

The story on Skaro- with falsified brainwashing, Dalek deception, Dalek treachery, and yes, a deluded Daleks-will-give-me-what-I-wanted ninny from the Marvic Chen School of Naïve Idiocy (seriously, have these guys not been paying attention to how the Daleks treat everyone ELSE?) is exciting and tense, dark and moody, and climaxes in a Dalek Civil War that was probably a bit more epic in motion.

Though the story feels made up of distinct segments that don’t necessarily feel like a cohesive story so much as a story forced to exist out of three separate entities, it is not without it’s merits- only during the testing of Jamie phase did it seem to flag, and there are enough machinations, plots, and counter plots throughout to keep things interesting over its prodigious length.

Victoria Waterfield, new companion by necessity (perhaps the first companion taken on out of guilt, as involvement with the Doctor has- indirectly- gotten her family killed?) doesn’t present much more than a pretty face here- it will take another serial to delve into her role (Good!) and another after that to explore her character (Ugh!) (NFS: Ugh? Like as'd rather not explore her character? Or UGH it takes that long?) (NFA: Ugh as in "I didn't really care for the character that was revealed" at the time- her obnoxious behavior in the Abominable Snowmen! I think I've softened to her since.)

Jamie fares well in terms of traits- forgiving and kind to his enemy, morally outraged at the thought of helping the Daleks, even strongly calling out the Doctor’s questionable behavior when he feels like he’s being used- but he isn’t necessarily that INTERESTING- just shown to be a good character.

The Doctor himself is a little more inscrutable, as its hard to tell what level of plotting he is on. Is he cooperating with the Daleks? Merely pretending to play along? Playing both sides? The Doctor is hard to read and often-absent with the focus on Jamie’s trials, but in the ending Skaro sequence, puts in a strong showing. The finale is the Doctor’s piece, while the middle is Jamie’s, and the start is… no one’s? Meanwhile, the Doctor is established quite firmly as an alien here- though the term ‘Time Lord’ has yet to be invented, so his species remains un-named. The Daleks’ repeated reference to him as ‘human’ is retconned into an ignorance that he, perhaps, perpetuates (thus retconning other instances where he claimed or implied that he was as well?) as an advantage… very, very cleverly creating continuity out of chaos.

The reconstruction for this one- not Loose Cannon, I believe- was decent but lackluster, no real special effort applied, but not horrendous, either.

Great moments:
The first Dalek appearance. Jamie’s gauntlet. The finale. Alpha, Beta, and Omega. The Dalek Emperor.

In the end, the Evil of the Daleks, the swan-song-that-was-not-to-be, receives a 3.5 out of 5 Deadman’s Keys- but if one were to break it down individually into the stories it feels like it is, Theft Of The TARDIS would rate at a watchable 2 out of 5, Trials of Jamie would achieve a yawn-worthy 1 out of 5, and The Final End Of The Daleks (including as a prologue the creation of the human-factorized Daleks) would rate at a 5 out of 5- this is a fantastically-ending serial with just a little too much lingering build-up to get there, which, while not as unwatchable or without-merit as I may have implied, still hold it back from truly classic status overall (though I would still consider it one on the strength of its ending- one that every Who fan should see, even if not up to the quality standards of, say, Keys of Marinus, Aztecs, Faceless Ones, etc.)

The reconstruction is a 2 out of 5; just middling, and I tire of ranking all-the-same cookie-cutter reconstructions; without standout elements that marked the early First Doctor reconstructions, they all just run together… if only my collection contained more Loose Cannons!

About those Daleks...
Lastly, at this break point, when the Daleks sail oversees and hand off the heavy-villain reigns to the Cybermen, let’s take a look at the various stories of the abdicating pepper-pots and see how they rank against each other. Had things ended (and thus spared us the current new-series overdoing-it and Power Ranger Daleks), the Dalek stories on Doctor Who would have consisted of:
The Daleks
The Dalek Invasion of Earth
The Chase
The Daleks Master Plan
Power of the Daleks
Evil of the Daleks

So, how would they rate in the eye of retrospect? From least to greatest:

The Daleks – A decent introduction, but way too long and padding-filled. Borrrrrrrring!

Power of the Daleks – Creepy and atmospheric… but also too long, keeping it from true greatness. Not a bad story by half, though; a single-sane-man-trying-to-find-an-ally tale of great skill!

The Chase – A really fun notion… and the duel of the Doctors is great! But dragged down by the slow Mechanoids bit and a number of great premises that fell flat in execution. The goodbye for Ian and Barbara is almost enough to bump it up a notch, but I have to give Evil the edge due to its excellent finale.

Evil of the Daleks – A great finale, but an overall failing body. So, like Davros. (Yeah, we’ll get there…) Still, several years later, I can say this one was very memorable- from the creation of Alpha, Beta, and Omega onward, this one was a true gem!

The Dalek Invasion of Earth – While I tend to think of this one as dull and unwatchable, further scrutiny reminds me of surprisingly effective post-appocolyptic London and some great scenes, plus that farewell… good stuff, really.

The Daleks Master Plan – Everything, the Kitchen Sink, AND the Meddling Monk- from Volcanoes to Mavic Chen, Pyramids to Sara Kingdom, Katarina's death to the invention of Classic Who's ubiquitous T-mat... not to mention those alien delegates (yes, Sarah, including the puzzle-man) and the Time Destructor! The epic, the longest, and still the best- and I don’t see it being de-throned any time soon!

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