March 26: The Evil of the Daleks Episodes 5, 6, & 7

Episode 5 is also padded, albeit not as padded as the last episode -- but really episodes 3, 4, and 5 could have been condensed into two episodes without any real problems.  We do get some interesting moments with the Doctor and Arthur Terrall (where we learn that Terrall seems to be incapable of drinking, and that he also has magnetic properties, apparently because the Dalek control box is flooding his system with static electricity), and we also learn that Maxtible is an accomplished hypnotist, and that he used this skill to get Victoria to go to the Daleks.

But there's more waffle with Victoria in that room with Jamie and Kemel, as it takes them the majority of the episode to get out again.  When they do get out it sounds like there's a good swordfight going on, so there's that at least.  However, the best part of the episode concerns the Doctor and the Human Factor, as he contemplates making the three test Daleks become humanized.  Waterfield tries to get him to stop (both by argument and by force), but the Doctor seems to think that the humanized Daleks won't be as much of a threat as initially believed: "And sacrifice a whole world?  A history, past, present and future?  Destroy an entire race?" Waterfield asks.  "Yes," the Doctor replies.  "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."  It seems even at this point the Doctor is considering the effect his Daleks will have on the Dalek race.  This leads to the oddest cliffhanger yet, as the humanized Daleks play a game with the Doctor, pushing him around and playing with him.

The humanized Daleks play a game with the Doctor. (The Evil of
the Daleks
Episode 5 - from Doctor Who Photonovels: The Evil
of the Daleks - Episode Five
) ©BBC
Episode 6 gets us back on track, with lots of incident and excitement.   The humanized Daleks are like children, learning about the world with wonder (and there's nothing as oddly creepy as Dalek voices with curious human-like inflections) and learning about things like friendship.  The Doctor names them Alpha, Beta, and Omega -- but then they announce that they're leaving.  Yes, it's time for this adventure to head to Skaro -- once we've blown up Maxtible's house with a bomb first.

Skaro's certainly a more abstract-looking place than the last time we visited, way back in The Daleks.  There's a lot more black space and sharp angles to be seen here, which gives the place a rather German Expressionist look.  Into this city enter Victoria and Kemel, Maxtible, and later the Doctor, Jamie, and Waterfield.  This episode's about moving the pieces into their final positions, but it does so very well.  And then, at the end, we meet the big daddy of them all: the Emperor Dalek.  This is clearly a huge creature, ten feet high at least, that the telesnaps only begin to hint at.  It turns out, under the Emperor's orders, that the Daleks have been more devious than the Doctor thought; instead of isolating the Human Factor, the Doctor has allowed them to isolate the Dalek Factor, which they will use to spread Dalek-ness through all of human history, forcing the Doctor to use his TARDIS to do so...

What's this?  That's right, three episodes today!  (Otherwise episode 1's would be the second episode of a given day until Colin Baker's era.)  So let's finish off this story -- and season 4 -- by listening to episode 7 of The Evil of the Daleks...

The Emperor Dalek. (The Evil of the Daleks Episode 6 -
from Doctor Who Photonovels: The Evil of the Daleks - Episode
) ©BBC
Things look bleak at the start.  The Doctor and his friends are prisoners of the Daleks, and they hold his TARDIS, so it looks like there's no way of escaping.  And what's worse, Maxtible is conditioned with the Dalek Factor when his greed overtakes him and he tries to take the machine the Daleks show him that turns iron into gold (seemingly; however, I seem to recall John Peel's novelization indicating that this was actually a hoax to get him to go through the Dalek-ifying archway).  And then Maxtible hypnotizes the Doctor and has him walk through the archway too, turning him into a Dalek-like person as well.  This is pretty crazy "how will they get out of this?" stuff.  But it turns out that the archway doesn't work on the Doctor (because in his words, "I don't come from Earth"), and he swaps the Dalek Factor capsule with a Human Factor capsule.  This sets the scene for the final confrontation, as the Doctor (while pretending to be Dalekized) convinces the Emperor to send all Daleks through the Dalek Factor archway, to try and turn Alpha, Beta, and Omega back into Daleks that don't question orders.  Now there's a large faction of humanized Daleks roaming through the city, leading to civil war on Skaro, with lots of exploding Daleks and wreckage and things.  ("Do not fight in here!" the Emperor Dalek booms memorably, as Daleks blast each other to pieces in the Emperor's control room.)  The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria leave Skaro in the TARDIS -- everyone else (with the possible exception of Maxtible) having been killed in the carnage.  Waterfield's dying wish is that the Doctor look after Victoria, and so that's what he's going to do.  And the story ends with the war on Skaro still raging...

The Evil of the Daleks is quite an accomplished piece of Doctor Who.  Yes, some of the science is ludicrous (though no more than any other Whitaker script), but there's a confidence on display here that more than makes up for this.  The Evil of the Daleks was intended to be a "final end" for the Daleks (Terry Nation intending to take his creations to America for a TV series that never happened), and there's clearly a desire to send them out in style.  And in this, they succeed admirably.  It's padded fairly obviously in the middle, but it's also a suitably epic confrontation between the Doctor and the Daleks, one that starts small but grows larger and larger until the fate of an entire planet is affected.  An impressive achievement.

Yet it's a bit of an oddity for season 4.  Season 2 saw Doctor Who push the boundaries of its format, and season 3 saw more of the same, just in new and different directions.  Yet season 4 sees the series start to play it safe.  After the newness of the base-under-siege format in The Tenth Planet, and the hand-off from one lead actor to another in the same story (handled in admittedly an impressively creative way), there's a feeling here of a lack of ambition.  Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis are content to keep telling the same basic storyline from here on out -- there may be some alterations from story to story, but the basic concept of a crusader who repels aliens attempting to attack/infiltrate/kidnap us remains the same from story to story.  And note that word "crusader"; the Doctor began this series as an explorer and a scientist, one who wanted to learn about the universe rather than shape it, but now he's simply there to fight "evil", because that's what he does now.  The exploration and discovery is a sideshow to repelling the Alien Threat of the Month. 

But it's clear that this is the show Lloyd and Davis want to make, and that anything outside that remit isn't worth doing in their eyes (stand up, The Highlanders).  This method is a success, with ratings remaining steady throughout this period -- and the next season, which is arguably even more limited in its scope, is frequently hailed as one of the finest seasons of the entire series -- but that sense of wonder that characterized the early years is gone, and one gets the sneaking suspicion that the stories this season that are successful are successful in spite of this new direction, rather than because of it.