Imagine what Doctor Who would look like if “The Evil of the Daleks” had been the Daleks’ swan song. Terry Nation was hoping to sell the idea of a Dalek television show to U.S. broadcasters, and, if he had been successful, “The Evil of the Daleks” would have been the final appearance of the Doctor’s most iconic enemy. Of course, audiences today know that this was not the case, and the Daleks would return to the program five seasons later to face Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, but if this had truly been the final story for the Daleks, they would have gone out with a bang. This story was written by David Whitaker, and he knew how to use the Daleks well. He wrote both of Troughton’s encounters with them, and created two of the best Dalek stories in Doctor Who history.
The epic story of “The Evil of the Daleks” starts in 1966 London where the previous story, “The Faceless Ones,” left off. The Doctor and Jamie, having just said goodbye to Polly and Ben, set off to find their missing TARDIS. They finally track it to the shop of an antique dealer, Edward Waterfield, whose antiques, while authentic, look a bit too new. Unwittingly, they walk into a trap and find themselves 100 years in the past.
It turns out that the Daleks have kidnapped Waterfield’s daughter, Victoria, and forced him to trap the travelers, since they need the Doctor’s help. The Daleks have decided to improve their race. Since humans have always been able to defeat the Daleks, they want the Doctor to isolate the “human factor” for them; they will then implant it into the Daleks to make them impossible to defeat. They have taken over the house of a wealthy scientist, Maxtible, and have everything prepared for the Doctor to conduct his experiment for them. They force Jamie to complete a risky test (which involves attempting to rescue the captive Victoria) to provide the imprint of the “human factor” to be used in three test Daleks. Is the Doctor actually collaborating with the Daleks, as Jamie worries? Of course not, but the story does take some interesting turns after the test, all leading up to the Doctor’s first return trip to Skaro for the big finale.
This story has a great structure and premise. Even at seven episodes long, it never drags. The story builds slowly, with the Daleks hardly involved in the early episodes. There is a great mysterious air in the beginning, even though the title betrays who the real enemies are to the viewer. The first few episodes introduce many characters, almost of whom could be the main human antagonist. As characters are gradually left behind or killed off, it becomes clear that the man in control (or, at least, the man who thinks he’s in control) is not Waterfield, but Maxtible. Once the viewer learns just what is going on, the action really picks up. I actually wouldn’t have minded a bit more time on Skaro at the end, since the ending feels like it has to happen a bit quickly, but I really can’t complain.
Once the Dalek plan is revealed, Whitaker uses them in a way that really shows off how clever they are. This is the first appearance of the Emperor Dalek, who shows cleverness that rivals the Doctor’s. The idea that he has tricked the Doctor into isolating the “Dalek factor” when the Doctor thought that they were looking for the “human factor” was a nice twist. It was also curious that the main difference between the Dalek and human factors was that Daleks are unfailingly obedient, while humans question. It was an interesting choice to see this as the fundamental difference between the two species, as opposed to the Daleks lack of compassion or friendship. I wish that this idea could have been explored a bit more, but that would have taken the children’s show into deeper philosophical issues than its audience would have wanted.
As in “The Power of the Daleks,” a lot of the strength of the story come from the human characters that the Doctor must deal with. While I found some of them to be a bit underdeveloped and, perhaps, unnecessary (I’m thinking of Ruth and Terrall), on the whole they were engaging. Again, as in “The Power of the Daleks” (although slightly less effectively in my opinion) Whitaker keeps the story moving with conflicts between the humans. There is a great deal of intrigue surrounding Waterfield’s antique store, and, once the action shifts to 1866, there is the mysterious plot of Maxtible, Terrall, and the Daleks. Maxtible’s collaboration with the Daleks is nicely explained by his greed; the Daleks have promised to provided him with the ability sought by many alchemists: the ability to turn other metals into gold. I also really enjoyed the character of Kemel. While the character is an example of the 60’s racism that, unfortunately, was present on the show, the character of Kemel gets more development that Toberman from “Tomb of the Cybermen.” Sonny Caldinez, more famous for his roles as Ice Warriors, made what could have been a very one note character come alive. He added a bit of humor to episode, and I enjoyed Kemel’s partnership with Jamie. I almost would have preferred it if he had joined the TARDIS team, rather than Victoria.
Which, of course, leads me to Victoria. She is, perhaps, one of the dullest characters in the story, but this is not the fault of Deborah Watling. Victoria is not given much to do in this story except be the damsel in distress. The producers originally hoped that character of Samantha from “The Faceless Ones” would become the new companion (but Pauline Collins turned the opportunity down), and she received a better introduction. She showed spirit and determination in that story (as well as a stubborn streak), while Victoria is basically left to show fear and a bit of kindness in her first appearance. Since her father died saving the life of the Doctor, he feels that he must take care of the newly orphaned Victoria, leading to her addition to the cast as the new companion.
As for Jamie and the Doctor, they continue to show great chemistry in their first adventure without Polly and Ben. The Doctor continues to be clever and always hiding something up his sleeve. His recorder makes its first appearance in several stories, but his love of hats is still a thing of the past. Jamie once again proves himself to be brave and heroic, but there is an interesting wrinkle in this story. To get Jamie to demonstrate the “human factor” the Doctor must manipulate Jamie into saving Victoria. This actually requires testing Jamie’s loyalty to the Doctor. Although his faith is quickly restored, it was interesting to see Jamie question his usually unwavering loyalty. This is also the first time that I remember hearing Jamie utter his trademark line, “Would you look at the size of that one, Doctor!”
Overall, “The Evil of the Daleks” deserves its reputation as a lost classic. It’s a strong story that contains enough twists to keep the audience guessing for its seven episodes. Since I am writing this on a day when the BBC has announced that 9 previously lost Troughton episodes were returned to the archives, I must admit that “The Evil of the Daleks” would be high on my wish list of stories I would like to see recovered. On a more trivial note, I would love to see the recovery of episodes five and six, so that I could see the Doctor’s Dalek friends, Alpha, Beta, and Omega playing trains and roundabouts with him. David Whitaker was able to pull off a feat that no writer has really been able to pull off since: he managed to make some Daleks comical without making the entire species into a joke. Who could turn down the opportunity to see playful, childlike Daleks? Definitely not me!