Doctor Who Project: The Evil of the Daleks

Dizzy, dizzy, dizzy Daleks!

Now that’s how you end a season. Doctor Who‘s Fourth Season comes to a close with David Whitaker’s “The Evil of the Daleks,” (Story Production Code LL) a seven-episode story that finds the Doctor on familiar ground: Skaro, home planet of the Daleks. But he gets there through a Dalek time travel device in a London antique shop in 1966 that deposits him in a cabinet of electrified mirrors in a Victorian laboratory, which somewhat explains why it takes seven episodes to tell the tale. Much like the prior story, “The Faceless Ones,” Whitaker’s story feels an episode too long yet still delivers an engaging, if slightly overwrought, plot. Indeed, it’s best not to dwell too much on the absurd fussiness of the Daleks’ machinations here; the real story takes place between the Doctor, Jamie, and, yes, the Daleks as they come to terms with just who the Doctor is, and what it is he truly believes.

A furrowed brow

For “The Evil of the Daleks” very much serves as a re-statement of the show’s theme and purpose, a summing up of four seasons of Doctor Who, tidily wrapped with a neat Dalek bow. The Doctor and Jamie have two extended conversations—fights, really—about the lengths the Doctor will go to for his aims and what he cares about, dialogue that serves less the immediate narrative purpose than the ends of the show as an ongoing cultural entity. In short, Whitaker puts the needs of continuity ahead of the needs of story, or rather, he recognizes that the Doctor’s story is ongoing and not a mere series of semi-linked sequential adventures. His story embraces what has come before like no other story to date has, and though it’s riddled with what we might term continuity errors, he’s grasped the larger continuity, that of the Doctor’s beliefs, his purpose.

So the story picks up immediately from the end of “The Faceless Ones,” with the TARDIS being hauled away from Gatwick on a lorry. The Doctor and Jamie are lured to an antique shop through a series of elaborately laid (and patently obvious) clues about the location of the blue box, all designed with a knowledge of the Doctor’s curious nature. Much of the first two episodes focuses on the trap being laid for the Doctor; the narrative tension comes not from wondering what traps the Doctor will face but instead from how he will unravel them. And just when they’ve found the odd technology (and a dead body) in the back of a shop filled with brand new yet authentic Victorian artifacts, they’re gassed unconscious and wake up in a Victorian drawing room with massive headaches and a helpful servant named Mollie. And there are still five episodes to go.

The Daleks, it seems (and the term is used lightly, for who knows how this actually works), have found a way into Victorian England through the experiments of scientists Maxtible and Waterfield, who built a cabinet full of mirrors that they charged full of static electricity in order to repel the image of a person through time. And the Daleks, being powered by static electricity, use that experiment to break into 1866. Once there, they force Waterfield to travel to 1966 and set up a cover operation, selling brand new antiques, in order to seize the TARDIS from Gatwick so as to lure the Doctor (and, more importantly, Jamie) back to 1866 and then on to Skaro. Somehow, the Daleks have knowledge of exactly where and when the Doctor will be in order to set this trap. And this entirely over-engineered, poorly considered act by the Daleks paradoxically exemplifies the strength of Whitaker’s approach to the show.

Dalek Plot Device

It doesn’t matter how the Daleks knew to find the Doctor at Gatwick in 1966; it simply matters that they want to find him. The last time they tracked him down, in “The Chase,” they had a time machine of their own that could track the Doctor, who didn’t even know where he was going himself, and attentive long-term viewers may assume the same device was used. Whitaker doesn’t care, though. Here, he just assumes that they can track him. As in Patrick Troughton’s debut story, also written by Whitaker and also featuring the Daleks, the Daleks know the Doctor, inherently and unquestionably, even when his own companions do not. They know his motives and his weaknesses.

Doctor: I’m trying to puzzle out a problem, Victoria. The Daleks say I’m going to do something for them, something I would rather die than do.

Victoria: Perhaps they think you’re like him. [Referring to Maxtible]

Doctor: No, the Daleks know me well enough by this time.

Continuity be damned (and Dalek continuity is, at best, a disaster, chronologically speaking), the Doctor and the Daleks are, always have been, and always will be, mortal enemies, well aware of each other, regardless of relative timelines and chronologies and no matter how many times the Doctor wipes out their species (which is twice now, by the end of this story). And that is Whitaker’s real contribution to the show’s continuity. The faster one can get to the fundamental conflict between them without worrying about the narrative hoops needed to stitch the Dalek stories together, the better the story will be. So Whitaker, to his credit, just ignores it. The true continuity is in the reactions and development of the characters more than the nuts and bolts of the plot. Long-term character development needs to take precedence over minor (and, admittedly, not so minor) long-term plot details.

That said, Whitaker absolutely draws on established Dalek plot continuity, in one instance making the story run longer than it otherwise needs to in order to use it. The story concludes on Skaro and calls back to “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” with the return of the black-cased Dalek Leaders and the roboman device. This device is used to control a minor character, Terrall, who exists almost entirely to use the roboman device in the story. (That it works less well in this earlier-yet-later story than in its original appearance is left unexplained, lost to the rabbit hole that is Dalek chronology.) And Whitaker introduces an entirely new Dalek, the Emperor Dalek, a giant Dalek casing with a network of tubes that sits, motionless, in a special room on Skaro.

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Also referenced, and key to the story, are the many Dalek defeats at the hands of humanity. The suggestion seems to be that the Daleks have suffered more defeats that just those aided by the Doctor, another nice bit of plot weaving by Whitaker to suggest a deep and varied history for the Daleks without any specific references. In order to reverse this worrisome trend, the Daleks want the Doctor to isolate the “Human Factor” responsible for humanity’s victories, by isolating emotional traits in Jamie, who is unique due to having travelled with the Doctor through time. In an odd bit of plotting, the Daleks make Jamie attempt to rescue Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling, who joins the TARDIS crew at the end of the story) from a trapped and guarded room while being monitored. So for the majority of one episode, the viewers watch the Doctor and the Daleks watch Jamie attempt to rescue Victoria. It’s like they’re watching an episode of Doctor Who. He succeeds nicely (after winning the companionship of a Turkish bodyguard put in his way), killing several Daleks in the process, and the Doctor is able to isolate the virtues of “courage, pity, chivalry, friendship, even compassion.”

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In another odd bit of Dalek reasoning, the Doctor is allowed to inject three dormant Daleks with this “Human Factor,” turning them into playful, inquisitive, friendly individuals rather than unquestioning drones. That the Doctor was allowed to proceed is puzzling because the Daleks didn’t really want the “Human Factor”—they wanted to isolate its reverse, the “Dalek Factor,” and they intend to make the Doctor travel through time to spread its obedient traits through all human history. But they let the humanized Daleks return to Skaro and immediately join the ranks of the other Daleks, where they begin to question orders. Their presence becomes so unnerving to the Emperor Dalek that it allows the Doctor (assumed to have been converted into a Dalek by the “Dalek Factor”) to run all the non-Leader Daleks on Skaro through a gate designed to implant the “Dalek Factor” into any creature that passes through it. But, of course, the Doctor has swapped a vial of “Human Factor” into the gate in place of the “Dalek Factor” vial that’s supposed to be in there, turning all the non-Leader Daleks into humanized Daleks. The Doctor then urges these rebels to attack the Emperor Dalek, resulting in a cataclysmic battle that brings an apparent end to the Daleks:

Doctor: The end. The final end.

Of note, this an end brought about by the Doctor himself, through his encouragement (and indeed, creation) of the Dalek rebels.

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As early as the fifth episode, while still concocting the “Human Factor,” the Doctor contemplates wiping out the Daleks again:

Waterfield: And sacrifice a whole world? A history, past, present, and future? Destroy an entire race?

Doctor: Yes. I don’t think you quite realize what you’re saying, but yes, it may come to that. It may very well come to that.

One story prior, the Doctor goes to great lengths to provide some salvation for an alien species that was capturing European youths to serve as host bodies, but the Daleks, well, they’re different, and they create a different attitude and approach in the Doctor.

Jamie seems very aware of this difference, and he calls the Doctor’s—and the viewer’s—attention to this divergence from the norm. When Jamie overhears the Doctor insisting to Waterfield that Jamie will cooperate with the Dalek test, he snaps, accusing the Doctor of losing sight of truly important matters, like the dead body they discovered in 1966. He thinks the Doctor is more interested in the scientific inventions of Waterfield and Maxtible, and in a scene unthinkable during the Hartnell era, Jamie yells at the Doctor that all he truly cares about is the TARDIS. To make matters worse, the Doctor immediately tricks Jamie into participating in the test, without telling him what is to occur. It’s a jarring scene, one where the Doctor comes off rather poorly. He’s sent Jamie off to face a deadly test, but he doesn’t do it because he wants the TARDIS back. No, the Doctor wants to defeat the Daleks, and he’s willing to sacrifice Jamie to do it.

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Later, when the Doctor has injected the Daleks with the “Human Factor,” Jamie again questions the Doctor’s motives. He sees the Doctor exultant at having finished his experiment, seemingly oblivious to the danger Jamie was in and the disappearance of Victoria, and apparently having aided the Daleks. Whitaker centers the entire story, and arguably the entire series to date, on their interaction:

Jamie: People have died, the Daleks are all over the place, fit to murder the lot of us, and all you can say is you’ve had a good night’s work.

Doctor: Jamie!

Jamie: No, Doctor. Look, I’m telling you this. You and me, we’re finished. You’re just too callous for me. Anything goes by the board, anything at all.

Doctor: That’s just not true, Jamie. I’ve never held that the end justifies the means.

Jamie: Och, words. What do I care about words? You don’t give that much for a living soul except yourself.

Doctor: I care about life. I care about human beings. Do you think I let you go through that Dalek test lightly?

Jamie: I don’t know. Did you? Look, Doctor, just whose side are you on?

Jamie’s question is a fair one. When the Daleks are involved, the Doctor changes. There’s no discussion, no hope of redemption; it’s kill or be killed, exterminate or be exterminated. The Doctor proves willing to sacrifice Jamie, and later on, Victoria and himself and Waterfield as well, in order to foil the Daleks’ plans. In Whitaker’s earlier Second Doctor story, we see the Doctor sending groups of humans out to delay the Daleks to buy him time to foil their plans, time bought with their lives; here, the natural progression is that the Doctor will sacrifice just about anything to defeat the Daleks, including his companions and his own life.

Frankly, it’s a disquieting view of the Doctor, but one that has been part of the show to date thus far. Not everyone survives. Whether to save the historical timeline (as in “The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve” or “The Aztecs“) or to defeat the Daleks, the Doctor will let death occur. And, particularly when he’s on Skaro, he will cause it on a massive scale if he feels it necessary for life, as he understands it, to continue.

To some extent, it’s the “Dalek Factor” at work—the Doctor cannot countenance it, because it stands in opposition to his claim to care about life, all life, even non-human life, as he proclaims to Terrall. To the Doctor, the Daleks, are the antithesis of all he believes in and must be stopped, no matter the cost.

It’s not a very nuanced philosophical position, but then no one ever cried over a dead Dalek. A deeper moral discussion about the ramifications of sacrificing the Daleks or anyone for the greater good will await later seasons of the show, but for four seasons, it’s a fair summation of who the Doctor has become to date: protective of life as a concept rather than its individual manifestations and opposed entirely to the Daleks and their views on life. With them removed from the equation (apparently), he’s free to go back to saving the day in less permanently destructive ways.

(Selected images via BBC Photonovel for “The Evil of the Daleks”)

(Previous Story: The Faceless Ones)

(Next Story: The Tomb of the Cybermen)

Post 37 of the Doctor Who Project

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