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

Television

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 HallForeign, is he?
JamieYou’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.

PerryThe 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

JamieDon’t give up, Doctor. Remember Bruce.
The DoctorBruce?
JamieRobert 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).

JamieDo you really think this is some sort of trap, Doctor?
The DoctorYes.
JamieNot the Chameleons again?
The DoctorNo. 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 DoctorDo I look strange or bizarre?
JamieAy, well maybe I’m used to you.
The DoctorThat’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.

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