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.

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Doctor Who Project: The Faceless Ones

Perhaps you’d kindly explain why you have no passports?

Though it starts out as a bit of a farce, with the TARDIS materializing on an active runway at Gatwick Airport and our time travellers scattering to avoid the police, David Ellis and Malcolm Hulke’s “The Faceless Ones” (Story Production Code KK) turns into an oddly satisfying story of body-snatching aliens offering cut-rate tours for teens. But along the way to the good stuff in this six episode story, there’s a fair bit of filler to slog through.

Cue Benny Hill Theme

Credit should be given to the writers for attempting to show the difficulties the Doctor and his companions would have trying to enter an international airport from the tarmac (back in pre-jetway days) without passports or other identity papers—such appearances have, in the past, been glossed over with nary a mention—but where some simple trick on the Doctor’s part to get into the terminal would have sufficed, instead we are treated to overly-long sequences with immigration agents and officious bureaucrats who are less concerned with a dead body than with a missing passport. Still, there’s some humor about the affair, and when they escape, an inspector wryly notes that it shouldn’t be hard to find a rumpled man in a frock coat and a young lad in a kilt.

Note the emphasis, however, on two individuals, rather than the current TARDIS complement of four. Ben and Polly make no appearance after episode two, save for a filmed inset of their departure in episode six. They’ve been written out of the show, and though their leaving is treated with substantially more dignity than Dodo’s abrupt rest cure in “The War Machines,” they could easily have played substantive roles in the events of the story. Instead, they are captured by the aliens and serve as spurs to action for the Doctor.

Events start quickly enough, with Polly witnessing a murder in the hangar occupied by the aliens’ tour company, Chameleon Tours, a name that sits a bit too much on point. Polly reports the murder to the Doctor, who is intrigued and determined to investigate. Though the story returns to the scene of the crime far too many times, a sense of mystery does surround the evil goings-on, with the aliens (who, chameleon-like, look like humans) not tipping their hands via narration or action. The viewer has no idea that aliens are even at work here, with the shady motives of Chameleon Tours completely opaque, beyond the fact that they killed a man for seeing the postcards. Sinister secret society? Corrupt corporate creeps? Dastardly devious deltiologists? The first episode ends with a monster teaser that, while very much in the show’s tradition, nevertheless feels fresh. There’s actual mystery here!

Back of the head of a Faceless One

And then, in the second episode, everyone talks at length about how they figured out all the clues from the first episode (including the unsent Spanish stamp!), dispelling (almost) all the mystery.

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Doctor Who Project: William Hartnell Retrospective

Doctor Who Project: William Hartnell Retrospective

Over twenty-eight stories, spanning three years and four seasons, William Hartnell was not the First Doctor; he was, simply, the Doctor. As such, he played a more significant contemporary role in Doctor Who than his predecessors, if only because the actors who followed were understood to be interchangeable, transient, and ultimately fleeting. Viewers in the mid-’60s, tuning in to the BBC for this show ostensibly pitched to children, had no idea that there would be a Second Doctor, let alone a Twelfth. Hartnell was it.

And, at the end of “The Tenth Planet,” he is gone.

The cliffhanger, with Hartnell’s face dissolving into Patrick Troughton’s, takes place not at the end of a season but at the end of the fourth season’s second story. Only a week of waiting was required for the transition to be explained (and, hopefully, accepted). The change-over did not take place in a media vacuum; viewers knew what was happening behind the scenes even as it occurred, though perhaps not to the extent that William Hartnell had become progressively weaker and, to credit the tales, cantankerous. But all the exposition in the world matters little if the character does not live on in the new actor, and that basic characterization, that ur-Doctor, passed from iteration to iteration, comes from William Hartnell’s portrayal of the Doctor.

So what core attributes derive from Hartnell’s time as the Doctor?

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Doctor Who Project: The Time Meddler

What do you think it is, a space helmet for a cow?

To end Doctor Who‘s first season, the producers pulled out all the stops in a historical tour de force with a large cast and elaborate costumes aplenty. The second season finale proves equally remarkable, but not for any creatures or effects or epic tales. Rather, Dennis Spooner’s “The Time Meddler” (Story Production Code S) marks the first story where none of the original three companions are present, and we also finally begin to understand something of the Doctor’s backstory. For he is not alone. There’s another time traveller out there, from the same place as the Doctor, with his own TARDIS, a Mark IV, no less. He’s only known in the story as the Monk, but the Doctor knows him as…a Time Meddler.

Of these two remarkable aspects, perhaps the former is the more important, because the show has the confidence to move forward with the Doctor as the central character. Previously, Ian and Barbara played, if not equal roles to the Doctor’s, at least counterbalancing roles, serving as wise and careful adults who keep events from getting out of hand (mostly). They were the literal and figurative teachers supporting the show’s nominal educational mission. The success of “The Time Meddler” is to present a Doctor Who story that is fundamentally about the Doctor and the mythology surrounding him, and it succeeds quite well, arguably the best story of the second season.

“The Time Meddler” could not have been produced earlier in the show’s run, for it relies heavily on the notions of time travel that prior episodes, particularly the historicals, have established. Both the Doctor’s strong reluctance to alter history (“The Aztecs“) and his inadvertent and significant participation in its creation (“100,000 BC“, “The Romans“) inform “The Time Meddler,” as the Doctor must confront one of his own kind who revels in changing history, “disgusting” behavior according to the Doctor. The faults of the Doctor’s TARDIS, elaborated over the course of two seasons, play a role in the story, for the Monk has a far better one that actually works. Even the intentional anachronisms—the Monk makes breakfast with a toaster and electric frying pan in an 11th Century monastery, for instance—play against the established structure of the historical stories, where every last feathered headdress and torn jerkin is properly reproduced by the BBC’s prop department. This is, at last, a time travel story in historical clothing.

While the story does feature the far-too-typical splitting of the party (the Doctor is separated from Vicki and Steven for three of the four episodes) and the inevitable inaccessibility of the TARDIS (underwater thanks to the tides), the Doctor finally has a reason to intervene in events in a historical story beyond the mere desire to escape: he must preserve the timeline. This imperative gives the story a narrative weight that prior historical stories lacked.

Not your typical to-do list.

And indeed, how could anyone not be mesmerized by a story that hinges on preventing the Norman Conquest of Britain in 1066 by sinking a Viking fleet using an atomic cannon mounted on a Northumbrian cliff…

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