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

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

You absolute horror of a human being.

As Good as it Gets (1997) (SPOILERS) James L Brooks’ third Best Picture Oscar nomination goes to reconfirm every jaundiced notion you had of the writer-director-producer’s capacity for the facile and highly consumable, low-cal, fast-food melodramatic fix with added romcom lustre. Of course, As Good as it Gets was a monster hit, parading as it does Jack in a crackerjack, attention-grabbing part. But it’s a mechanical, suffocatingly artificial affair, ponderously paced (a frankly absurd 139 minutes) and infused with glib affirmations and affections. Naturally, the Academy lapped that shit up, because it reflects their own lack of depth and perception (no further comment is needed than Titanic winning the big prize for that year).

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984) If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights  may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box ’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisi

I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one.

Scanners (1981) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg has made a career – albeit, he may have “matured” a little over the past few decades, so it is now somewhat less foregrounded – from sticking up for the less edifying notions of evolution and modern scientific thought. The idea that regress is, in fact, a form of progress, and unpropitious developments are less dead ends than a means to a state or states as yet unappreciated. He began this path with some squeam-worthy body horrors, before genre hopping to more explicit science fiction with Scanners , and with it, greater critical acclaim and a wider audience. And it remains a good movie, even as it suffers from an unprepossessing lead and rather fumbles the last furlong, cutting to the chase when a more measured, considered approach would have paid dividends.

You seem particularly triggered right now. Can you tell me what happened?

Trailers The Matrix Resurrections   The Matrix A woke n ? If nothing else, the arrival of The Matrix Resurrections trailer has yielded much retrospective back and forth on the extent to which the original trilogy shat the bed. That probably isn’t its most significant legacy, of course, in terms of a series that has informed, subconsciously or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, much of the way in which twenty-first century conspiracy theory has been framed and discussed. It is however, uncontested that a first movie that was officially the “best thing ever”, that aesthetically and stylistically reinvigorated mainstream blockbuster cinema in a manner unseen again until Fury Road , squandered all that good will with astonishing speed by the time 2003 was over.

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.

You cut my head off a couple of dozen times.

Boss Level (2021) (SPOILERS) Lest you thought it was nigh-on impossible to go wrong with a Groundhog Day premise, Joe Carnahan, in his swaggering yen for overkill, very nearly pulls it off with Boss Level . I’m unsure quite what became of Carnahan’s early potential, but he seems to have settled on a sub-Tarantino, sub-Bay, sub-Snyder, sub-Ritchie butch bros aesthetic, complete with a tin ear for dialogue and an approach to plotting that finds him continually distracting himself, under the illusion it’s never possible to have too much. Of whatever it is he’s indulging at that moment.

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef