Saturday, 12 June 2021


First broadcast: May-July 1967
Written by David Whitaker
Plot spoilers happen!

“Somewhere in the Dalek race there are three Daleks with the Human Factor. Gradually, they will come to question. They will persuade other Daleks to question. You will have a rebellion!” 
- The Doctor

Yesterday's Past Today

Not just by acclaimed writer David Whitaker, not just a slap-bang season ender, but originally planned to be last Dalek story ever. (Because Terry Nation was trying to wrest control over his creation rather than any desire not to rely too heavily on their popularity. But with the same result. And it would be more than five years, and with the next Doctor, before their return.) This has perhaps unsurprisingly proved popular among fans. In this poll, it became the most popular Troughton adventure, while a thirtieth anniversary poll claimed it to be the best story of all.

And it's different even in it's set-up. Traditionally, 'Who' stories follow an anthology format. The Tardis appears somewhere, the crew emerge and blunder into an already existing situation. The predecessor story, 'The Faceless Ones’, would be a classic example. The previous Dalek story would be another. But this time not only do we follow directly on from what was before (the nicking of the Tardis), the situation is an already-set trap to bag the Doctor. It may be significant that the nearest we've had to this so far, 'The Chase’, was also a Dalek story. Originally by default, but now by decision it's the pepper-pots who are the Doctor's prime antagonists. With them, it's personal.

And this plot involves a breadcrumb trail of clues so elaborate as to be self-parodic. (Rather than just leaving a note saying “We have your Tardis. No funny business, alright?”) As the Doctor and Jamie follow this trail, it becomes almost the epitome of the SpyFi-ness of the Troughton era, established from the get-go by 'Power of the Daleks' – we're in an almost numinously paranoiac world crammed with spying, surveillance, secret rooms and general deception.

And this is combined with a strangely self-referential setting. We’ve become used to how later dramas retrospectively set themselves in a hyped-up Sixties, overloading the screen with mini cars, mini-skirts and lava lamps just so nobody misses them. With the pop music playing in the trendy Tri-Colour coffee bar (the Beatles before rights issues arose), ’Evil’ effectively does the same. It’s not set in its own current day, in the world that went on outside the studio. It’s set in ‘The Sixties’ of popular perception.

But then things take an abrupt left turn part-way through the second episode, and the Doctor and Jamie find themselves sent back to Victorian times. Some have criticised this, as an arbitrary reset akin to 'Keys of Marinus’. And perhaps throwing time travel into a 'Who' story isn't exactly a prize twist.

But that misconstrues what happens. First, as we'll come onto, the Sixties spy paranoia is not left behind. Also it's not a twist but telegraphed – as we note that Waterfield, dealer in unusually well-preserved Victorian antiques, is stocking up via visits back to his own time. Partly this throws the emphasis on who is behind him. (Though, as is not unusual, the title gives us a bit of a clue.) But more importantly it exists as a device to contrast the Victorian with the Sixties. Which is why the Sixties has to be so Sixties. Of course any audience inevitably sees the past through the filter of its own times. But starting things off so showily in the Sixties foregrounds this, encourages us to do it. We see in the country manor in the context of the Tri-Colour coffee bar.

Perhaps this is most foregrounded in the sequence where Jamie strives to rescue the “very beautiful” damsel in distress, Victoria, by navigating a series of death traps. As he's even accompanied by a mute ethnic stereotype sidekick, it couldn't be more of a Victorian melodrama. (And if that makes it sound tedious, try watching it.) But the whole thing is observed by the Doctor and the Daleks, in a kind of meta-commentary, like a DVD extra before it's time. (We'll come onto why. But it won't make any sense.)

In fact it could be argued the show was always pulling heirlooms out of the era, but had previously been unable to visit it because Victoriana had been so embodied by Hartnell's Doctor. It would have been too much like him coming home, and he was supposed to be an exile and wanderer. We needed to wait for the Troughton Doctor who, while shown as knowledgeable of the era, is not of it in the same way.

When Science Was Weird

But the real clue as to why we need to be told we're in a constructed Victoriana rather than anything resembling an actual Victorian past is the time machine. Waterfield and Maxtible, two gentlemen scientists, have built their own home-made one. Out of mirrors and static electricity. It is not stated whether string and brown paper were also elements of its manufacture, but the possibility seems high. And, being Victorians, they built it in a cabinet.

For any self-respecting science fiction fan, this is risible nonsense. Whereas for the rest of us it’s audaciously brilliant, one of the most gloriously deranged pieces of pseudo-science in the show's history. Is it something which could work in the real world? No. But that's what we have fictional ones for

And it needs to be a Victorian time machine to have even this semblance of functioning. Because science was then still in it's Wild West era, was still weird. The study of natural forces and development of machinery, which went on to make our modern world, went alongside the strangest kinds of spiritualism and even occultism. Nor did they merely co-exist, folk beliefs slowly vanishing to the shadows as lightbulbs started to light up. Conversely, electricity and magnetism were often considered in themselves evidence of spirit forces. We see one side of this around us every day. So now the distorting lens of fiction can play up the other.

Yet fan lore, dissatisfied with this, has it that the Daleks don't arrive through anything as undignified as this Babbage Engine Tardis. We're told they actually show up through their own power, and use the thing as a cover story to allay the superstitious locals. Which suggests fans don't always have much of an idea of how their favourite show works. For not only is it fitting, it's vital that they emerge that way!

As Waterfield says “If only we could have known the powers we were going to unleash... creatures burst out of the cabinet, invaded the house, took away my daughter...We had opened the way for them with our experiments.” It's like the cabinet was a Pandora's Box, unleashing evil spirits. While the Doctor reacts to the news it contains static electricity with mounting dread, like that has some elemental power to summon Daleks.

Dalek presence in the Victorian mansion is put down to haunting. We first hear Waterfield responding to their unheard voices through the time portal, like a medium. They often appear to people singly, like familiars. As well as Waterfield calling them “creatures” above, they're also “devils”. As Wood and Miles put it in 'About Time', “they're no longer just robot beings from space but demonic forces from another plane of existence”. Notably, unlike the capsule in 'Power', we never see inside the cabinet – just Daleks (and the occasional human) appearing from and disappearing back into it. This adds to the sense of it as some magic object.

Faustus Times Two

Many, as a way of describing Waterfield and Maxibile's summoning of the Daleks, have described this story as Faustian. So many that maybe that’s worth taking a look at...

When we first see Waterfield he's travelled through time but, no Wellesian explorer, then shuttered himself away surrounded by artefacts of his own era. He describes time travel as a “horror”. Which is a pretty effective metaphor for old age, which is after all a slow form of time travel with the element of choice removed. Get past a certain age, and it’s the present which becomes the foreign country. As a child, it always seemed to me my parents filled their home with totems of the past and begrudgingly engaged with the modern world only when compelled. But this also has the effect of humanising Waterfield, of making clear what an unwilling participant in this he is. And, as he says above, the Daleks force him into doing their bidding by kidnapping his daughter.

Maxtible is given a daughter too, who is presumably just as kidnappable. But his relationship with the Daleks is quite different. It largely works around denial. When told he is their servant and to obey their orders he replies “you have a funny way of putting things”. As it transpires they've offered him the alchemists' secret, the transmutation of lead into gold. And his carrot proves a more effective galvaniser than Waterfield's stick.

It's significant that Daleks manifest as voices in the head to Waterfield but never to Maxtible. He's the one forever saying “we are not to blame for everything that has happened”, while becoming the most active agent of everything that happens. To Waterfield they’re “devils”, to him “a higher power”.

So why is transmutation so effective a lure? It's quite carefully demonstrated that Maxtible is wealthy, the mansion his not Waterfield's, so it isn't the value of gold. But then historically its pursuit was never so much about material gain as attaining secret knowledge. (It was often used as a metaphor for - or magic version of - the ability to leave our base existence behind, gold assumed to be earthly matter with the impurities taken out.)

When Maxtible states he wants “power and influence beyond all imagination”, he pursues knowledge but with the lusty fervour others might chase wealth. Which does sound similar to Marlowe's play 'Doctor Faustus', whose lead tells himself “the God thou serv'st is thine own appetite/ Wherein is fix'd the love of Belzebub”. Though the character had roots in folklore, Marlowe makes him into a proto-modern figure. He starts the play having absorbed all Earthly knowledge and finding it wanting. Mephistopheles' first gift to him is books.

But Marlowe's Faustus is a divided figure, endlessly changing his mind over whether to sell his soul or not. When Faulkner said, “the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself” he could have been talking about Faustus. This is represented externally, by (a Marlowe addition) the continual reappearance of the characteristic Good and Bad Angels. Whereas with Waterfield and Maxtible this divided figure is divided. Literally so, there is two of them. Like Faustus, both die. But how they die is significant. Waterfield is exterminated trying to rid the world of Maxtible and save the Doctor. Whereas with Maxtible...

First the Daleks blow up his mansion. (Causing him to cry “my laboratory, the only real thing in the whole of my existence, destroyed”.) And of course the burning down of the house is a Jungian symbol for the destruction of the old self. But they don't use their familiar “your use-ful-ness to us is o-verr” line, followed by a quick bit of exterminating. Instead they make him a Dalek.

To Maxtible the Daleks are classic Bunyanesque monsters, his own lust for power and knowledge so strong it first appears to him as an alien force, before overcoming him entirely. In becoming a creature entirely single-minded and devoid of scruples, in a way he gets the transmutation he wanted. Like Mephistopheles, they never really lied – they baited with selective truth.

Maxing the Factors 

Okay so what is the Dalek plan? Now it is possible that not all elements of it entirely make sense, though they make a good stab of explaining it all themselves here. It goes something like...

Having noticed the pesky humans keep defeating them, they decide to isolate 'the human factor' and bottle it for use. This is best achieved by setting Jamie those death-trap-surmounting tasks, then getting the Doctor to capture the emotions he emits 
in a jar. (“Jamie... produced a whole battery of emotions”, the Doctor states proudly.) 

The Daleks would seem to have got to know the Doctor by now, so bait him first with curiosity (that absurd trail of clues) then his optimistic belief the human factor will win out - rather than strengthening the Daleks, it will... well, humanise them. Honest. Yet it transpires he's been double-bluffed, and their plan is to expunge the human factor, thereby creating a Dalek factor. Which will allow them to turn humans into Daleks. Which is, presumably, the distilled stuff referred to in the title.

Which makes sense. Well, provided we use a very generous definition of 'sense', asking only what sense it makes within the story. The isolated factor is itself a kind of transmutation, a purified essence. And the Dalek factor being the inverse human factor only makes sense if we conceive of these as opposites – each as lead to the other's gold. (As Wood and Miles point out in 'About Time' “the story's driven by big dramatic symbols rather than logical details.”)

But while this plays out what's the Doctor up to? In a story where his non-human-ness is not just played up but made a plot point, he counters their manipulative schemes with manipulative schemes. On finding out he was set up into running those death traps, Jamie is not understandably a bit put out:

"Anyone would think that it's a little game, and it's not. People have died... Well, I'm telling you this, we're finished. You're just too callous for me. Anything goes by the board, anything at all. You don't give that much for a living soul except yourself. Just whose side are you on?"

And in a way Jamie's right. Even had his original plan worked, the Doctor's life would have been forfeit. He says to the Daleks “I've beaten you and I don't care what you do to me now”. And not just his but the others. In a line which you can imagine no subsequent Doctor saying (save perhaps McCoy) he calmly tells Victoria he was willing to let that happen. “Five lives against a whole planet. Well, it's not a choice, is it?” And in an indication of the subsequent infantalisation of our culture, even the timid Victoria calmly agrees with this clear-cut sense.

And with the timid Victoria... well, we've left the last till least. Deborah Watling plays her with charm, but she never really transcends her melodrama role of the passively virtuous damsel in distress. Even of the three Victorian maidens within the story, she seems the least blessed with gumption. 

We first see her via a portrait. (Actually of her mother, but to whom she's a likeness.) This may be part of the general alchemical theme, where owning an image of something equates to possessing that thing. (As seen in the mirrors in the time machine, or with Jamie and the Doctor first being captured via pictures of them.) But it also feeds the notion she's a stock image of beauty and innocence propped up onstage, masquerading as a character. In a story about character essences, a Victorian woman called Victoria seems all too obvious.

(It’s another of the show’s great bizarrenesses the original plan had been for Samantha from ‘The Faceless Ones’ to become the new female companion. A modern woman who inserts herself into the plot when she goes searching for her missing brother, she could hardly be any more unlike the passively virtuous Victoria. But that plan only failed when actor Pauline Collins turned down the permanent role. You start to picture a female companion generator in the production office which is just a coin with ‘modern woman’ on one side and ‘damsel in distress’ on the other.)

Hope I Exterminate the Emperor Before I Get Old

Fan lore will have it that Terry Nation was at odds with David Whitaker's depiction of the Daleks. I've no idea how true that is. But it's notable that Whitaker's version is not only wildly different, it even counters Nation's plan - then at its height - to spin the Daleks off into their own series. Which can work for some villains. Dracula doesn't necessarily need Van Helsing, who only shows up in some of the Hammer films. But here, particularly, with the Dalek/human factor business, the Daleks seem locked in opposition to the Doctor. Even in their plot, precisely because their plot is against him, they need him.

‘The Daleks’ had scenes where they discuss between themselves what they’re going to do. They gang up together, in fear and loathing of the world outside their city walls, but they’re an agglomeration of individuals. Whereas the Daleks of ‘Evil’, even more than in ‘Power’, work like a hive mind. They have a rigid hierarchy, from grunt Daleks to black-domed order-barkers up to the Dalek Emperor. But there's more. At one point they suddenly say “We are called. All Daleks are ordered to return to Skaro.” There's no messenger Dalek come onstage, no incoming transmission. They just seem to suddenly know, the way that communication can pass along lines of ants.

And about that... When the story jumped from the Sixties to the Victorian era, it had been Whitaker’s solution to an imposed problem. Ben and Polly were intended to appear in the first two episodes, at which point the actors’ contracts expired. The time jump provided the necessary break. Against the odds, he found an ingenious solution. (We might remember Whitaker also penned the simultaneously expedient ‘Edge of Destruction’.) Albeit one that proved unnecessary when both ended up bowing out in the previous story.

But the return to Skaro, while imposed by no-one, proved a jump too far. When the Daleks step out of the shadows, when they take us back to their place, what had become “creatures” and “devils” are robots from space once more. In that way it's similar to the two halves of 'The Moonbase’.

Fan lore has it that the Skaro scenes are set in the future, presumably because the three sections can then be present, past and future. But there's no textual basis for that. Rather like the fan notion ’Tribe of Gum’ is actually set not in prehistory but a post-apocalyptic future, the idea’s enticing but entirely speculative.

You’re better off ignoring these attempts to find coherence in this story. Not only are they not likely to work very well, the very intent seems to rub up against the grain of the thing. Planned to be the last Dalek story, it does often feel like the ideas left over from all the other Dalek stories stuck together. And it doesn’t seem terribly interested in hiding any of that. Andrew Hickey, picking this as one of the fifty most significant ’Who’ stories, pointed out: “’Evil Of The Daleks' [is] almost a collage… Never mind the lack of coherence, just look at the clashing images!” Which is good advice. Things aren’t put together so much as juxtaposed.

For the first time on the TV show the Dalek Emperor appears. Though he was presaged both in the 'TV21' Dalek comic strips written by Whitaker, and less directly by the Glass Dalek of his novelisation of 'The Daleks'. So he’s retconned with “at last we meet” dialogue. Twelve foot tall, he looks mighty. Yet immobile and plugged into a nexus of leads, like a spider at the centre of its web, in a way it's like encountering the opposite King in chess. Getting close to it suggests an endgame. (The Glass Dalek is even specified as weak like the chess King, for “it spoke with a different kind of voice altogether, not like the dull, lifeless monotone of its fellows but more of a dreadful squealing sound”.)

The Doctor wins, essentially, by sneakily swapping the two factors over so all the Daleks get given the human factor. The consequent questioning 'good Daleks' have since become something of a classic and are another example of ‘Doctor Who’ making itself immune to parody, by effectively parodying itself and getting away with it.

There’s something very ’Who’ about this. The show often upends what might seem a basic genre convention; here it’s the bad guys who want to bring about order, and it’s the good guys who seek to stop them. Except it’s quite possibly more deep-rooted than that, the primal state of the universe is disorder and attempts to impose an order upon it will not only result in sterile rigidity, and so they’re doomed to fail. Talking about the “human factor” and “Dalek factor”, having a plot that doesn’t even fit together on its own terms, just bring this more out in the open.

But it’s also very Sixties. As pointed out over ‘The Chase’, collage was a very Sixties medium. And as Sarah Hadley says “it's a very hippy story, in its way... [the Daleks are] the establishment. They're the people who will never change and never understand.”

This is perhaps truest in the way the ensuing Dalek civil war is played as a clash of generations. Having the human factor and being young are essentially conflated. The 'human Daleks' are on creation playful toddlers, but soon become questioning youths. Given orders, they never say “no” but merely “why?” (Or at one point “Why not question? Why?” Parents might feel tempted to side with the Emperor there.) It's only when they won't stop with the whying that battle commences.

The underlying optimism of which, rather than jar against the paranoia of earlier in the story, actually creates a fitting counterpoint to it. It's almost like the final episode of 'The Prisoner', finding contradictory elements of the Sixties but instead of explaining them away actively colliding them. And notably, the human Daleks are not left to make Skaro a hippy commune but effectively manipulated into battle by the Doctor, much as he did with the guards in 'Power', and with the result that the whole race is wipe out. (Or is it? Time will tell...)

Yet, as we’ve previously seen, Whitaker was very much a BBC writer. He took his craft seriously, but with that came a conservative worldview. In fact it's so at odds to 'Power', where the point of the Daleks was their overriding unity, that perhaps one story became the other's impetus. Let's see what would happen if dissent was sewn into their ranks. Perhaps what's most bizarre is that things have gone from 'Power's really-rather-conservative worldview to the down-with-the-kids attitude here. It's almost the polar opposite to the 'Star Trek' episode 'Miri', broadcast the previous year, where youth protest is literally infantalised into children braying “nyah nyah nyah” and everything is solved by their listening to their elders.

But by following the same schema, it merely duplicates the problem the other way up. It becomes as mythologising of the Sixties as it was of the Victorian era. In a story full of mirrors it's too much of a mirror, showing the Sixties in a way they liked to see themselves. It's Jim Morrison singing, with swaggering confidence, “the old get old and the young get stronger”. Yet if this was just a generation gap, wouldn't a similar conflict emerge every generation?

Antagonistic youth of the Sixties would sometimes characterise their elders as Victorian. Of course this wasn’t at all accurate. But it had benefits for them, redefining an era once characterised as a golden age as the death-grip of reaction and rigid conformity. In the Eighties, free market Tories played the same game the other way up by venerating “Victorian values”. It might have been neat to portray the clash of generations as a time travel story. Steam punk where it's steam vs. punks, exploding things into a grand narrative as a way of exposing the contradictions. But that’s not what ‘Evil’ does and there’s not much point pretending otherwise.

It’s tempting to give up on a ‘Who’ story making plot sense and go for thematic sense. But every now and then... well, fairly often actually, you have to give up on thematic sense too, at least in terms of thematic consistency. Its link, between its three settings, is the Victorian time machine – and that's fitting. It’s not the mirror held up to human nature that some insist it is, it’s more a hall of mirrors which results in a picture fractured a thousand times. 

Within those fractures are some bizarre juxtapositions and compelling images, and sometimes a few pieces even manage to line up. Which can at times be enough. The human Daleks asking “why” isn't something you forget once seen. But overall, it’s too much of a collage. It's not the classic fans claim, and certainly not the equal of the much more focused 'Power'.

But perhaps that’s part of its appeal. Unlike ’Power’, which stuck rigidly to one setting and firmly to one there, ’Evil’ is so incohesive it may appeal to those whose hobby is patching plot holes and devising explain-aways.

And another apparent stumbling block, bar one episode, no-one can actually see it. Andrew Wixon astutely refers to “our collective fan belief that at some point in time the series had to have touched indisputable perfection - and as that moment doesn't seem to be recorded in any of the stories left to us, well, then, it must have occurred during one of the stories that isn't”. It’s so much easier to say “lost classic” than “found classic”. Added to which, it's equally fannish to conflate ‘last Dalek story ever’ with ‘best Dalek story ever’. Even when it didn’t turn out to be either.

Coming soon! We’ll be back to the Troughton era one fine day. But first some more of that time travel…


  1. === In a line which you can imagine no subsequent Doctor saying (save perhaps McCoy) he calmly tells Victoria he was willing to let that happen. “Five lives against a whole planet. Well, it's not a choice, is it?”

    Oh, I can SO imagine Matt Smith saying it.

    1. Not feelgood enough. The notion there's something dark about the Doctor, I don't see it there in Matt Smith at all.

    2. Remember, you've heard Troughton deliver this line and I have not. I just have the script. I can so easily imagine the simple sadness of Dr. Matt as he says "Five lives against a whole planet. Well, it's not a choice, is it?" I guess the way Troughton says it is very different what I imagine from Smith, though.

      BTW., let me say once more how very much I am enjoying these posts. They should be much more widely read.