Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The Evil of the Daleks

#36 5 Jun 2004, 12:00 am

The Evil of the Daleks 1:

OK, once more it's cards on the table time. I've never been vastly excited by Evil. I need to qualify that statement a little - I think it's fun, a genuinely enjoyable romp but a tiny bit too silly to really be an absolute classic. And to be honest, I've always been bitter that its reputation has exceeded that of Power, which is, in my opinion, definitely better.

All of this is relative though, as this is only really my third experiencing of the story. And certainly my first in about ten years. Up til now it's been one listen to the cassette release, one read of the self-indulgent novelisation. So, with increased clarity and telesnaps, it's time to plunge in.

My first thoughts are that it's quite an unsual structure for an episode. For once the Doctor isn't the character we view the episode through - really, it's Waterfield. We don't slowly work out the villains plan - we know pretty much from the get go that the Doctor's being led into a trap. The hook of the episode isn't trying to figure out what's going on with the Doctor. We know the answer. We want to know what's happening with this other figure, who doesn't even meet him this episode. Other points of interest - it's quite refreshing for the cliffhanger bridge really to link the stories together tightly. Rather than just be a meaningless lead in, Faceless One's cliffhanger is the entire drive for this story. It's a deep rooted link, rather than the lip service we've been treated to recently.

The realisation that the Doctor is being manipulated offers up a dramatically ironic take on the traditional Who setup. Even as we witness him making Doctorish deductions we know that he's pulling himself further into the plot.

And following on from this, we have the title telling us who the villains are. Now, I know there's a lot of criticism of the tendency to name the Daleks and then hold them off as a 'surprise' cliffhanger. I disagree. Obviously, it isn't a surprise. But that doesn't mean the cliffhanger is intended to be. By mentioning them in the title as here, we are being given the promise of their arrival. Essentially, this just means that the dramatic tension is being built up - we know they're involved. But how? Where are they? The story has the constant threat of the Daleks appearing at any time. Equally, there's the contrast between the environment of the story and the potential appearance. Already, I'm quite excited by the prospect of Daleks on contemporary earth (due to be rudely crushed, but I'm only considering this episode). In fact, the presence of the Daleks just makes this whole set up more intriguing - the old fashioned man, the criminal underground... it all seems bizarre as bits are dragged from everywhere. How does it all fit? It's an episode of contrasts, from the psychedelia of the cofee shop to the austerity of the antiques shop, which is very interesting and imparts a surprisingly surreal quality tor the show.

Plotwise, the episode is surprisingly slight, but it uses the bizarre imagery to keep you intrigued. OK, the actual plotting of what is going on is very confusing, and I suspect overly convuluted, but we'll have to see. Nonetheless, it's solid fun entertainment. I rather like it so far.

#37 6 Jun 2004, 11:01 am

The Evil of the Daleks 2:

You want irony? How's about the fact that the sole extant episode from this story is the first one of these write-ups that's got completely lost. I typed up a full - and actually quite long - write up about two yesterday afternoon. My computer has however decided to be evil. It's always disconnecting, and that's what it did, mid-way through my attempts to post the review. Lost eternally. I'll have to try to remember what I put.

First, I recall quite clearly was that I found the opening credits weird. There's something a little bit wrong about putting the episode credit before the author credit, surely.

Onto the episode. Jamie really is coming into his own. He's dim, but his earnest honesty, bravery and loyalty really shine through. He was a bit dull in the first few stories and I'd forgotten how much I liked the character. The companions always work through their relationship with the Doctor and other companions (they can have bags of personality as individuals, but this is how we warm to them, and how the characters are really defined). Jamie's interaction with the Doctor defines his character. They're clearly friends, but he's equally clearly aware of his place, aware of how the Doctor is the leader, and he is the follower. Bizarrely, he's also the major comic foil of the duo (as in the way most double acts have one high status figure, one low status). Troughton's performance is less comic than you think, it's a controlled eccentricity, but it's rarely actually funny in the same way that Jamie is (Jamie is more traditionally comic, witness the knocking over the vase, wheareas the Doctor is amusing more by default, more because of how other people respond to the fact that he's a little bit weird). Victoria's first episode is rather underwhelming, but then she doesn't have much else she can do.

If the producers had wanted to, it's fairly clear that the first episode and a half of this story could have been replaced. It probably wouldn't have required much work on their part to translate this episode into an episode one, with the TARDIS arriving normally in 1866, and the Doctor getting embroiled somehow. But it doesn't, and that's rather nice. The long prologue is a sublime seque from the Faceless Ones. The cliffhangers between stories are usually resolved so tritely, it's great to see one that is allowed to take an episode and a half to resolve. The trap itself is so overcomplex it's a bit of a waste (why lead them on such a merry chase if you're just going to send someone along to say 'my masters got the TARDIS. Come here at ten.' which is roughly what happens), but it's played so enjoyably that it barely matters.

That's one of the big plusses that this story has. It's essentially a fairly shallow romp, with a plot that doesn't so much creak as collapse at the slightest pressure. But the acting and the writing are so well done that you are still swept along enjoying it. (Incidentally, look how good the cast is - Marius Goring is unrecognizable from his Powell and Pressburger days, but he still commands the eye, and there's a couple of great sitcom actors hanging around the fringes). It's runaround heart means that it's not really going to be the all conquering classic of repute, it doesn't have the dramatic heart of Power for example, but it will still remain thoroughly enjoyable.

One slight problem is that there's a lot of repetition of ideas at the moment. After two stories in a row had possessed people losing their accent (Macra, Faceless Ones), we've got the second story in a row with a secret room concealed behind a bookshelf. OK, it's something of a genre archetype, but it would have been nice to have had a bit of variation.

The Daleks remain on the fringes again, but that's for the best. I'm beginning to feel their dramatic strength is upped when they remain a potential rather than actual threat. The fear and suspense is generated by the worry of what they might do (Hitchcock always thought something similar - there's a sequence in one of his films, Blackmail I think, with a boy carrying a bomb on a bus. He always thought his mistake was letting the bomb go off, as it defuses the tension, it releases the audience. This is the same thing). The Doctor's worried response to the mention of static suggests something far scarier than the initial extermination of Kennedy.

Well, I think that's about all I put before. I actually seem to have written more though. If nothing else, it'll teach me to save the drafts...


#38 6 Jun 2004, 11:01 pm
Time Lord

Just a quick note here - I'm seriously busy at the moment, so I doubt I'm going to do any more write ups til at least next Tuesday. I listened to Evil 3 today, and I'll be making notes. Should have the whole story done by Wednesday if I'm lucky. Then a bit of time off before Tomb. So see you in a week or so.


#39 8 Jun 2004, 11:21 am
Carlos R


Hey Dorney,

Just wanted to say how much I'm enjoying your Day-by-Day thread - I've been following it since day one, and really like your analysis of each episode. Have a good week, and I look forward to reading your thoughts on Evil and the "monster" season.


#40 8 Jun 2004, 11:51 am
Max K Wilkie
Time Lord


I'm enjoying it too - I've been following it since about mid-season 3 but have read all your earlier write-ups as well.

I'm interested to see what your thoughts on "Tomb" will be!



Thanks chaps. It's slightly frustrating, as I've got the time to hear the episodes this week, just no time for a write up. Though I might try a sneaky Evil 3 one if I get the time later on... which I still may.

But I'll have listened to 4 and 5 by the end of today...


#42 15 Jun 2004, 11:33 am
Time Lord


As a little update, I'm planning to finish off my Evil reviews this afternoon/evening.

They'll be formatted a little differently, with my thoughts on the individual episodes prbably being briefer than usual, preceded or followed (ain't decided yet) by an overview. In many ways this might be slightly better, as it does mean I don't have to keep saying the same thing over and over again.


#43 15 Jun 2004, 7:54 pm

The Evil of the Daleks 3-7

Well, it's time for a big batch of review type things. I really want to get this story out of the way, and get onto Tomb (especially with that coming up in Enlightenment next week). So here we go.

My main thought with Evil is not about whether it's good or whether it's bad - it's that it's quite amazing that this story works at all. And not only that it works - that it triumphs.

Let's be honest here, the plot is a mess, there's more padding than story, and the concepts are daft. Somehow, however, it manages to be gloriously entertaining in a way that no other story with those problems does.

Let's look at these in detail before getting down to specific thoughts about individual episodes. It really is all over the place, unable to define what it's supposed to be about. The Terrall subplot is irrelevant and doesn't really go anywhere (the cliffhanger resolution to episode two has to be one of the worst in the entire history of the show, pure false tension). What plot it does have is stretched out beyond belief over seven episodes (if you actually analyse precisely how little happens in the four episodes worth of victorian england, you'll be amazed - the only really noteworthy plot point in those episodes is the isolation of the human factor, and even that is dragged out over more than an episode). Half the characters are broadly useless in plot terms, some like Ruth and Mollie seemingly contributing nothing at all to the story, others such as Kemel and Terral being left stranded in a plot that's frankly indifferent to them (Kemel in particular is very badly treated - beyond part four his only real contribution is to get killed needlessly. And that seems cheap to me).

Also, for a story with the word 'Daleks' in the title, it really doesn't seem to have any interest in them. The images of Daleks gliding through Victorian corridors that we glimpse in the telesnaps are utterly striking and beguiling, but ultimately window dressing - for example, witness how little they appear in parts four and especially part five - where they're really only in the reprise and the cliffhanger. In deed, they;re fairly inconsequential in the first three episodes as well, really just hanging round in the background. I've said before that the main strength of the Daleks in the Whitaker stories is their threat, rather than their presence. Troughton is clearly afraid of them, which really does add impact. However, as he ends up co-operating, and everyone seems less afraid, there really is less tangible threat about them in this story. You don't really feel them as a constant presence. The story sidetracks them, using them as a mechanism to prod the story along. Plot device rather than stars.

As for the concepts - well, the Dalek factor/Human factor stuff just seems daft to me. It seems such a silly intagible concept with little real threat that it's hard to care. Throw in some nutty stuff about mirrors and alchemy and you should have a disaster.

So why is it terrific fun? I think it's got to come down to a few simple things - it's a masterpiece of direction, script and acting. The dialogue is intelligent, witty and engaging. The cast are all masters of their field. And it has atmosphere in spades. Somehow it transcends it's myriad problems and becomes a thing of sheer joy. It's not the most intellectual of Who stories, and is nowhere near as classy a piece as Power was - but it's deliriously dumb fun, with wonderfully written characters and a grand feel that makes it feel more elegant and classy than it actually is.

Thoughts on the individual episodes will follow in a second post - just in case I go over the word count.


#44 15 Jun 2004, 9:01 pm
Time Lord


Evil 3:

As I said before the cliffhanger resolution is trite and insulting, and the Terrall sublot a blatant bit of padding. The contrivance of Jamie overhearing the Doctor's schemes irks. Once more the Daleks do very little indeed, hanging around on the fringes.

Victoria's ok as a character so far, but she is a bit of a plot cypher. You do get the sense in this episode and the next that she's just popping in to justify being booked for these episodes.

Strange how the photo of Jamie seems to look so different to him now. (This is really emphasised in the DWM photonovel - there's a close up of him on the left, and the photo on the right - and they look like totally different people. I'm surprised Kemel could recognize him).

It's very much a filler episode this, with the Terral plot and murder of Toby just being there to fill in time (the story hasn't advanced all that much in the interim). However, it does have one of the most memorable sequences in the whole of the series. The Doctor and Jamie's argument is powerful stuff, but it pales into comparison with what you slowly realises is actually going on. The Doctor's clear manipulation of Jamie is genuinely shocking - suddenly you realise how alien he is (just when you'd forgotten - he's seemed eccentric, but never really above his companions. This is truly a return to the bigger picture Doctor of season 1). It's a nasty little scene, and the betrayal gives the entire episode dramatic weight and scope - the Doctor has to be doing it for a good reason. Hasn't he?

Episode 4:

Troughton's on holiday this week, but it's great to see an episode practically designed to disguise this. It's one of the few times where you really don't notice the absence of the lead, as the dramatic focus is elsewhere and your focus is kept away. Having said that, his scenes are excellent, relying as they do on the conceit of him seeming to be at best ambivalent about helping the Daleks - at worst practically friendly. Jamie just about carries the plotless episodes. There remain a few sequences of plot stalling involving the other guest cast members, but these are generally unmemorable, and even in a few cases - such as Maxtible pulling a gun on Waterfield - contradicted by later parts of the plot. The only real sequences of note are those when we begin to get a sense of the madness of Maxtible. His eyes convey such insanity in the telesnaps alone that it's desperately sad that we can't see them.

A fun episode, and Kemel is likeable (amazing considering it's a silent performance and we've only really got the audio). The traps are a touch unimaginative, and seem an utterly ludicrous and overly risky means of judging what they're alleged to be judging. But it's all still very enjoyable.

Episode 5:

As said above, the Daleks are forgotten in this episode, but still the story entertains. Goring really is the star of this episode (he's really the only actor I've seen who can shine through the telesnaps alone - look at the hypnotism sequence if you don't believe me). You can tell why he's such an iconic character.

This episode is essentially tidying up the loose ends of the Victorian segment, 'finishing' the Terral storyline for what it's worth, and writing out most of the characters (there's no good explanation of why the Daleks kidnap Kemel and Victoria but never mind). Again, it's rather padded - it takes Kemel and Jamie over half the episode to get out of the locked room). And the hypnotism of Molly is totally irrelevant. The story still retains our attention though, by use of good strong dramatic scenes, and thoroughly explored and interesting characters (the Doctor's discussions with Waterfield are intriguing examinations of morality). The Jamie versus the Doctor confrontation acts as a mirror to the similar scene in part three - and in all honesty, you can't exactly fault Jamie's logic. His dismay seems utterly justified to me, and his accusations of callousness on the Doctor's part ring distressingly true, the Doctor's justifications ever so slightly hollow (for all his faith in Jamie, it remains a betrayal of trust, ends justifying the means - the Doctor is looking to the bigger picture here and that ain't pretty.).

It's weird how the cliffhanger left me cold as a teenager first hearing this tale, yet now it leaps out as strange and bizarre, and quite a hook.

Final two episodes to follow.


#45 15 Jun 2004, 9:48 pm
Time Lord


Evil 6:

Victoria actually begins to feel like a proper companion in this episode. Her positive attitude when trapped with Kemel is rather sweet.

Maxtible takes himself into the realms of the great Who villains on the basis of headware alone in this episode (could he make himself look any madder and more pompous if he tried?) That's a fairly flip remark that ignores what makes him work - acts of nastiness and betrayal, complete contempt for others, combined with huge deficiencies as a human being outside of adventure storylines (as in cowardice and moral weakness, single mindedness and lack of priority, that sort of thing). And helped by the increasingly gloriously over the top performance, he goes straight into the hall of fame.

The friendly Daleks are done wonderfully - there's a creepy contrast there, the childish silliness in the deadly having the disturbing overtones of mental illness, but combined with a humour and that all pervading fear factor we still associate with the Daleks.

Apart from that, it's more filler. It takes a hell of a long time to get not very far at all (the only real plot point this episode is the blowing up of the house, and the transfer of location). Skaro seems quite small and lacking in grandeur to my eye, too.

For all the talk of the Doctor's physical destruction of the Dalek, it still remains less inherently disturbing than the manipulations of parts three and five. It just isn't as nasty killing a Dalek as betraying Jamie.

The Emperor looks and sounds cool. The arch-manipulator Doctor is quite creepy (this Doctor really is quite unsettling when he wants to be, dark and nasty beneath the surface eccentricity, lightness and clowning). The twist is as silly as the rest of the plot, but it still makes for a fine cliffhanger.

Episode 7:

Yes, it's time for the... ahem, final end. This episode accompanied me on a bus ride last thursday, so it's comparitively fresh. Having scanned back through the other episodes in DWM, it amazes me how much takes place soley in this final part, with the script twisting and turning gleefully. The first few minutes are standard Dalek story climax scenes, but then it takes on whole new levels. The conversion of Maxtible is cruel and rather nasty (he's a nasty piece of work, and naive beyond belief, but he's rarely been entirely evil. The presenting of his dream to him, before it's withdrawal seems sadder than you'd expect.) Maxtible's Dalek conversion is scary (the murder of Kemel is, whilst unneccessary, one of the scariest, maddest, weirdest bits of Who ever. Darn, wish I could see it). His eyes remain terriifying, and he gets a suitably hammy exit (getting allowed to live too, sort of).

The Dalek factor concept is a bit ropey (what exactly is every converted human going to do?) And what's the point of it if it only affects humans? Having said that, the Doctor's seeming conversion is played well - it's convincing to a point, and isn't dwelt on long enough for us to realise he's faking before we're explicitly told.

But for once, the Doctor is a sideshow to the climax proper, with the revolution making this episode. It's a lovely conceit that the Daleks essentially destroy themselves. On a philosophical level, it's making a moral point, with the good side of the race swallowing up it's evil side - internal, rather than the good being an external factor - and this is what results in their final defeat. It's a rather apt way for the race to self destruct, and provides the satisfying climax the Daleks would need (their eventual return might weaken it a touch - but ultimately, seeing as that's, what, five years away it barely seems relevant). Note the way that the literal final scene of the story isn't the Doctor, or the TARDIS leaving - it's the still burning flames of the Dalek city - it gives it a sense of scale.

And one thing this story has had is a great epic feel. It does feel like it's building to something big (heck, maybe it's in the padding, a la DMP. You can make it feel like an epic if you write nothing happening in a fun way, and spread it out a bit). So the climax really is satisfying for a change (mainly as it builds over one and a half episodes).

And so it's over. The Waterfield death is a little contrived, especially since he hasn't done anything of any note for many episodes, and it only really reminds you of how slight the character is (the death is only there to give a moral weight, and to enable Victoria to join the crew legitimately).

Victoria herself hasn't really impressed me much so far. She's ok, but not yet as winning as Sam Briggs was, certainly showing less promise to my eyes. Will take a bit of time.

There we go. A rather ramshackle knocked together script that manages somehow to bluster it's way through and provide one of the most shamelessly entertaining stories of all time, a series of wonderful set pieces and great scenes that never really gel into a wholly succesful entity, but nonetheless entertain. I suppose that remains my great criticism. It's more about the parts than the whole, each scene designed to entertain in the moment rather than as a contribution to the entire piece. But maybe that's it's strength, that's why the flaws that sink other Who stories don't seem to matter as much here. When the individual parts are so much fun, who cares?


#46 15 Jun 2004, 9:55 pm
Time Lord

Managed to post that twice like a fool. So I'll just use the extra space to say, I'll be trying to be back on properly with Tomb as of tomorrow. I'm amazed at how much space I took up finishing off Evil - I expected it to be an easy write up than usual, and much shorter... but it isn't, not by much.


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