Sunday, 7 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks

Part One

"Follow that car!"

Alas, I haven't been able to get my hands on the Loose Canon recon in time, and I'm not prepared to wait and get even further behind! So for the first time in the marathon I'm experiencing this story by means of a Joint Venture recon- and it's not bad at all. Clearly it's not a patch on most of the Loose Cannon stuff but it's a fine effort nonetheless, and I was relieved to find it better than the Loose Cannon version of The Faceless Ones. All this, of course, is on the evidence of but a single episode, but early signs are encouraging. And the continuity announcement at the start is a nice touch.

We start with an intriguing mystery which feels like a different programme entirely, as the Doctor and Jamie piece together clues and lounge about in a 60s coffee bar to the sounds of Paperback Writer and some decor straight out of Austin Powers. Groovy! it's a nice touch that Jamie knows little of trains, although he seems to speak of the Victorian era with a little too much familiarity. It's an intriguing set-up though- a Victorian gent who's somehow in 1966. And the cliffhanger is chilling. A superb episode.

Part Two

"You will not feed the flying pests outside!"

An episode away from the recons, and the luxury of actual footage, on DVD no less. Something most definitely to savour. It's immediately apparent that the scenes are well shot. And also that the pictures of the Doctor and Jamie are publicity shots from The Highlanders! Perhaps a Dalek photographer travelled back to 1746?

The plot continues to grip; this episode is every bit as excellent as the previous one. We get to properly examine two well-characterised individuals; the arrogant and hubristic Maxtible and the guilt-plagued Waterfield- both of whom possess personality traits which mean, as this is Doctor Who, neither will survive the story. And we get to meet Victoria. Yay!

I love Maxtible's Bride of Frankenstein-esque lab, with all those phials filled with bubbling liquids! And also, as this is great, I shall overlook the, er, interesting science spouted by Maxtible!

Part Three

"Do not be afraid. You are not to be exterminated."

This is still gripping drama but, well, where exactly is the plot going? I know it serves to introduce Terrall and his plot strand but the brief kidnapping of Jamie seems oddly purposeless. It's also very notable that the Daleks don't seem very active at all, and only ever seem to appear in ones and twos. still, this is gripping stuff which shows us (however justified he may be) a dark and manipulative side to the Doctor, overheard by Jamie. For the first time in ages, both the Doctor and his companion are getting some serious character development- that'll be a David Whittaker script then.

This is the first appearance of sci-fi elements in an historical setting for ages, since the Egyptian segments of The Daleks' Master Plan, in fact. but this feels a very different kind of epic, on a more human scale. A couple of things are odd, though- is the Daleks' desire for the "human factor" really consistent with their racial supremacism? And it's notable that they say of the Doctor: "You have travelled too much through time. You are more than human." Once again, it's made clear that the series does not yet consider the Doctor anything other than physiologically human. Well, the small matter of his "renewal" aside, obviously. And for all we know, that was just "part of the TARDIS".

It has to be said, some basic elements of the plot make no sense at all. Is the explanation for the Daleks' desire for the "human factor" really convincing? Why do they need to go to all the trouble of kidnapping the Doctor and Jamie rather than any old human? How does the test work? And yet this is gripping drama, and on course for a 4/5 at this point in spite of everything. The confrontation scene between the Doctor and Jamie is electrifying- great writing and acting.

Part Four

"The Daleks know many secrets. You will learn the most important."

We start with a long fight scene with no dialogue for a very long time. An unfortunate episode to be missing, then! The gradual widening of the rift between Waterfield and Maxtible in their scene is well developed, and although not that much actually happens in this episode the time is more than adequately filled by good character stuff. On the evidence of this episode Maxtible seems to be becoming more like Mavic Chen with each passing minute...

Part Five

"No, Mr Terrall. I am not a student of human nature. I am a professor of a far wider academy, of which human nature is merely a part."

So this new generation of Daleks will have "positronic brains", will they?

There's a real sense of high stakes and foreboding being stoked throughout this episode; Molly, Ruth and Terrall all leave before the real bad stuff starts, which gives the impression that none of the other guest characters are going to survive. And when Waterfield speaks of the destruction of an entire race, the Doctor's reply ("Yes. I don't think you quite realise what you're saying, but yes. It may come to that. It may very well come to that.") is interestingly ambiguous as to the race concerned!

There's a fantastic scene between the Doctor and Jamie as the consequences of the Doctor's betrayal of his friend are made clear; "You and me- we're finished! You're just too callous for me." The episode ends with Jamie still not fully trusting the Doctor. I can't help noticing, though- whenever it's just the Doctor and one male companion travelling in the TARDIS there always seems to be a huge row!

Part Six

"I've beaten you, and I don't care what you do to me now."

Daleks playing trains? Er... ok. Fine in the context of the story, but it certainly diminishes the Daleks. It's interesting to hear the differences in the tones of their voices, mind.

The Daleks betray Maxtible? Well, blow me down! And then it's suddenly a double whammy of Dalek tropes as we get a countdown. And then everyone's off to Skaro and things start happening thick and fast. Before they do, though, we get a sweet little scene in which Victoria tells Kemel she'll look after him. Whitaker's very good at these little character moments.

At last we get to see the surface of Skaro again. Or rather we don't, as the episode is missing. In fact, the scenes in which the Doctor, Jamie and Waterfield travel towards the Dalek city are extremely reminiscent of the first Dalek story. Even better, once again we hear the music from the Dalek city and best of all, in Maxtible's cell, that throbbing sound!

The Emperor is awesome to behold, or at least his photograph is. I love the Doctor's line: "We meet at last. I wondered if we ever would." In fact, Troughton is particularly brilliant in this scene, but this is a story in which the Doctor has been better played and written than ever before. The moment when the Doctor realised he's been manipulated all along is awesomely effective.

Part Seven

"Dizzy! Dizzy! Dizzy Daleks!"

The Doctor's recorder is back! Yay! I do believe we haven't seen it since The Moonbase. It's nice that there's room in this final episode for the Doctor to finally get a chance to bond with Victoria. I don't think they'd even spoken before.

The Daleks' plan seems to make sense now, certainly more than it did, but I'm not convinced that Daleks imbuing other races with the "Dalek factor" is consistent with their obsessive belief in their own racial superiority. Maxtible gets what he deserves, though.

I notice even at this stage, and admittedly after he's supposedly been given the "Dalek factor", Jamie still isn't sure of whether to trust the Doctor, and after what has happened this has resonance.

So, the Doctor is not impregnated with the Dalek factor because he's not from Earth! He is physically different from humans, then, contradicting everything I said a couple of episodes ago!

Overall, this is breathtakingly, Earth-shatteringly awesome telly, and it's a shame so little of it exists. Yes, there are plot problems in the way the early episodes hang together and yes, the Daleks are not exactly treated with dignity here. But this is just quality stuff, an easy 5/5, second only to The Massacre.

And overall Season Four gets 3.889/5, close behind Three.

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