Skip to main content

Do you really think this is some sort of trap, Doctor?


Doctor Who
The Evil of the Daleks: Episode One


David Whitaker returns to the Daleks and writes the whole thing this time, albeit aided by two different credited script editors. The result is epic and daring in a way the series hasn’t seen before, starting off steeped in ‘60s pop before plunging headlong into strange Victorian occult science. And, something that is now all too abundant, the plot that’s set in motion revolves around the Doctor. He is central to the premise, a major shift in the attitude the series takes towards itself.

The first episode is all bait for the audience, just as it is for the Doctor, and its skill is in catching us on the hook while revealing very little. Jamie and the Doctor follow a trail of breadcrumbs in order to locate the stolen TARDIS but haven’t even met Edward Waterfield by episode’s end. And hints are dropped as to what Waterfield is up to and where he’s from but nothing is confirmed. In that regard, it’s something of a shame the obligatory Dalek turns up to announce that this is about them at the cliffhanger. This kind of intrigue could perhaps have been sustained for another episode before revealing them, and might have meant we could avoid the trials of a highlander halfway through the story.


One element that is instantly striking is the music, surely one of Dudley Simpson’s best scores for the series. The 1960s set London scenes could be part of a Cold War spy thriller, with Harry Palmer appearing round a corner at any moment. Accordingly, clues are dropped for the Doctor to seize upon; we are invited to acknowledge his Sherlock Holmes-like deduction skills, so it’s a slap in the face later to learn that they have been laid intentionally and liberally for him to discover. I’m not sure what the “Leatherman” reference is about, but Bob Hall reveals that a (not Doctor) J Smith signed to have the TARDIS taken away. Rather than Smith, the Doctor is given the surname Galloway in this story (Perry is told by Waterfield that is his surname).


Prior to this, the only significant story to have the Doctor and just one companion is The Massacre. Notably, both see the companion become disenchanted with the Doctor’s behaviour. By this point, it’s hard to believe that Troughton and Hines weren’t forever entwined; so natural is their chemistry and repartee. There are still efforts to retain Jamie’s inexperience with not just other worlds and wonders but other periods in history.

Bob Hall: Foreign, is he?
Jamie: You’re the one that’s foreign. I’m Scottish.

It becomes clear early on that Waterfield has ordered the abduction of the TARDIS but he refuses to elaborate on why, even when interest is shown from the likes of employees Perry and Kennedy. How does he know the Doctor? I’m unclear why Perry thinks he’s selling imitations, though. Wouldn’t that defeat the point? Waterfield’s activities here are a more minor league version of what Scaroth will get up to in City of Death. The blending of past (Waterfield) and future (the technology in Waterfield’s concealed room) with the present is a particularly strong element of the episode. The reveal of the Warlords’ tech in The War Games episode one is dealt with in similar fashion.


John Bailey had previously appeared in The Sensorites and would later turn up as Sezom in The Horns of Nimon. He essays the buttoned down Victorian with creditably; he probably had few options when he saw how BIG Marius Goring’s performance would be.

Some of the hints at where Waterfield comes from are a little clumsy (the references to hansom cabs); he’s smart enough to disguise such slips, surely? That said, the stresses of his task are clearly getting to Waterfield from the off, and he doesn’t run a very tight ship. Kennedy’s a loose cannon, while he entrusts Perry with tasks despite the latter announcing his unwillingness to engage in any nefarious.


Perry: The telephone box. What do we do with it?
Waterfield: Nothing. We do nothing… Nothing except wait.

This Doctor knows hand-rolled cigarettes when he sees them (this is the ‘60s) and concludes that the man is left-handed from the way the matches have been torn out of the matchbook

Jamie: Don’t give up, Doctor. Remember Bruce.
The Doctor: Bruce?
Jamie: Robert Bruce.


The scenes in the Tricolour coffee bar (identified on the match book, and where Perry is sent to make contact) go further to underline that Trout may be the most natural of Doctors for fitting in to a contemporary setting. Hartnell pretty much was the incongruous Victorian gentleman in The War Machines, while all the others draw attention to themselves, if only by costume (I’m thinking Davison as the other contender).

Jamie: Do you really think this is some sort of trap, Doctor?
The Doctor: Yes.
Jamie: Not the Chameleons again?
The Doctor: No. Someone else. I can feel them…

I like that his spider-sense is tingling around the Daleks, and it adds to the uncertain atmosphere here. It’s just the Doctor and Jamie now, without the TARDIS, and someone out to get them for reasons unknown. And the Doctor has got the willies.


And, while Jamie holds the fort on the comedy front, Troughton is mostly brooding and concerned. He’s not the whacky fellow of the first half of the season, and the lighter moments are more reactive to Jamie than of his own volition. He is aware that Perry is watching him.

The Doctor: Do I look strange or bizarre?
Jamie: Ay, well maybe I’m used to you.
The Doctor: That’s some comfort.

You have to wonder if Waterfield wants the Doctor to think it’s a trap, since being asked for a meeting at 10 p.m. is a fairly blatant give-away.

Jamie’s still appears to be uncertain around girls, reproaching the Doctor for making him approach the dolly birds to ask questions (“If only the laird could see that” he comments – I’m not sure whether this means the laird was dirty old bastard or that he’d tut-tut). It won’t be long before he’s groping Victoria at every opportunity, of course.

It’s surreal enough to hear Paperback Writer in the background to the coffee shop, but there are other musical delights in this episode too. One of the few plus points about RTD bringing back the Master was him drumming out an ominous riff on the series’ main theme. Dudley Simpson was way ahead of him. The fantastically unsettling, rhythmic Dalek theme, bastardises the Who theme tune in extraordinary fashion. We first hear it as Waterfield frets to his unseen masters, and again at the cliffhanger when Kennedy breaks into the secret room, intent on robbing his employer. Handy to have a Dalek doing time travelling guard duty.


About Time referred to the use of the Daleks in this story as “demonic forces from another plane of existence” and that’s a very good description of how they are presented, science fiction in an age that cannot recognise it. Similar approaches will be taken with the Lovecraft-infused Yeti and ancient deity-driven Mummies, but this does it with the series own creation rather than riffing on mythical beasties. It takes a really good writer to be able to twist around such an iconic presence and do something new with them, but Whitaker manages it twice in one season.


A superb episode, tantalising and vibrantly made. It’s doing something highly original but it manages to come across as what you’d expect to be archetypal of the series. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

I don’t need to be held together, I’m fine just floating through space like Andy.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)
Or, to give it its full subtitle, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – The Story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton. Carrey’s in a contradictory place just now, on the one hand espousing his commitment to a spiritual path and enlightened/ing state, on the other being sued in respect of his ex-girlfriend’s suicide and accompanying allegations regarding his behaviour. That behaviour – in a professional context – and his place of consciousness are the focus of Jim & Andy, and an oft-repeated mantra (great for motivational speeches) that “I learned that you can fail at what you don’t love, so you may as well do what you love. There’s really no choice to be made”. The results are consequently necessarily contradictory, but always fascinating.

Nothing in the world can stop me now!

Doctor Who The Underwater Menace: Episode Three

Episode Three is pretty much 25 minutes of filler, revolving around a kidnap attempt on Zaroff and Sean encouraging the fish people to engage in industrial action. But, laughable (intentional or otherwise) as the plot mechanics may be, this is never dull. Smith keeps the action zipping along. She has limited space at her disposal, but ensures the action scenes are tightly shot and well-edited. This means that, even when the staging isn’t especially convincing (the crowded market square, all 30 feet of it, the fight between Jamie and Zaroff), it’s a million times better executed than any comparable studio action set piece from the Davison era that isn’t directed by Graeme Harper.

No, by the sky demon! I say no!

Doctor Who The Pirate Planet
I doubt Pennant Roberts, popular as he undoubtedly was with the cast, was anyone’s idea of a great Doctor Who director. Introduced to the show by Philip Hinchliffe – a rare less-than-sterling move – he made a classic story on paper (The Face of Evil) just pretty good, and proceeded to translate Robert Holmes’ satirical The Sun Makers merely functionally. When he returned to the show during the ‘80s, he was responsible for two entirely notorious productions, in qualitative terms. But The Pirate Planet is the story where his slipshod, rickety, make-do approach actually works… most of the time (look at the surviving footage of Shada, where there are long passages of straight narrative, and it’s evident Roberts wasn’t such a good fit). Douglas Adams script is so packed, both with plot and humour, that its energy is inbuilt; there’s no need to rely on a craftsman to imbue tension or pace. There is a caveat, of course: if your idea of Doctor Who requires a straig…

For a special agent, you're not having a very special day, are you?

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
(SPOILERS) Guy Ritchie would evidently have liked to make a Bond film as much as his former producer Matthew Vaughn, and either would undoubtedly add more spark to the franchise than current darling Sam Mendes (lush cinematography or no lush cinematography). While Vaughn brokered his fandom into a patchy but violent and vibrant original earlier this year (Kingsman: The Secret Service) and won considerable box office as a result, Ritchie picked up Steven Soderbergh’s discarded menu items and went with refashioning an existing property, one he had no yearning interest in. Sometimes that shows in the result, but mostly The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a breezy, playful exercise in period spyfare. As such, it’s a shame this looks destined to remain a one-time only outing.

Which isn’t to say there’s necessarily much else left to do with it (one can imagine desperate approaches like throwing them into the ‘70s a la Austin Powers and X-Men), but the amount of fun Ritchi…

You can’t be in England and not know the test score!

The Lady Vanishes (1938)
(SPOILERS) Alfred Hitchcock’s penultimate UK-based picture, The Lady Vanishes can be comfortably paired with The 39 Steps as a co-progenitor of his larkier suspense formula (watch these two and then jump to North by Northwest and the through line is immediately obvious). Part of its great blessing is Hitchcock being handed a screenplay by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, latterly directors themselves, and knowing to make the most of the very funny dialogue, including arguably the picture’s greatest gift (well, other than Hitch himself): Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as ultimate English cricket enthusiasts – to the exclusion of all else – Charters and Caldicott.

This place sure isn’t like that one in Austria.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Brawl in Cell Block 99 is most definitely cut from the same cloth as writer-director-co-composer Craig S Zahler’s previous flick Bone Tomahawk: an inexorable, slow-burn suspenser that works equally well as a character drama. That is, when it isn’t revelling in sporadic bursts of ultraviolence, including a finale in a close-quartered pit of hell. If there’s nothing quite as repellent as that scene in Bone Tomahawk, it’s never less than evident that this self-professedchild of Fangoria” loves his grue. He also appears to have a predilection for, to use his own phraseology, less politically correct content.

This is how we do action in Uganda.

Who Killed Captain Alex? (2010)
Uganda’s first action movie”, Who Killed Captain Alex? is a cheerfully ultra-low budget, wholly amateur picture made by Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey. It’s the kind of thing you and your mates would make and (rightly) expect no one else to ever watch (aside from a few hundred hits on YouTube). But stick a frequently hilarious running commentary over the top from VJ (video joker) Emme, and it this home-ish move takes on something approaching the spoofy quality of What’s Up Tiger Lilly?