Day 83 — March 24th 2021
The Evil of the Daleks Episodes One and Two
I’ll be up front going into this one; I’m not a big fan of The Evil of the Daleks. That’s possibly quite a controversial opinion, but it’s true. And I’ll go further than that in saying that I think this story is the ultimate proof that the ‘fan wisdom’ of the 1970s and 80s is wrong. Even more than The Gunfighters, the nominal ‘worst story ever’ which has been rehabilitated to an extent since it became more available, this is the one that shatters the illusion of which stories are good and bad.
You see, The Evil of the Daleks has a reputation as being the Dalek story of the 1960s. The best of the best. Almost from the moment there’s been a Doctor Who fandom, it’s been taken as read that this story is brilliant, and for some fans there’s absolutely no other point of view. When I did my last marathon and I wasn’t enjoying this story, the website hosting my blog actually received an email suggesting that they sack me and ‘hire someone who actually knows something about Doctor Who’ instead because if I didn’t know this story was brilliant then I didn’t know anything.
And that’s what interests me. This story has retained it’s mythical status as being very good, even while people have — I believe — begun to realise that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. And I’m afraid I’m going to bore you with some facts and figures to prove my point.
In 1993, DreamWatch Bulletin ran the first large scale poll of all Doctor Who stories, coving the entirety of the ‘classic’ era up to that point (so everything from An Unearthly Child — Survival). When the results were published in time for the programme’s 30th anniversary in November, The Evil of the Daleks came out top, scoring an average of 9.38/10 (or 93.75%). As a side note, these polls ask people to rate a story out of ten then use the average of all scores to calculate the final percentage.
It’s an impressive score, there’s no denying that. What’s particularly interesting about the DWB poll is that they also printed the number of people who’d scored each story. The Evil of the Daleks was scored by just 56 people, all of whom had (presumably) seen it on broadcast just over quarter of a century earlier. To put that into some context, many of the 1970s and 80s stories were scored by four-to-five hundred people each.
I think this is one of the things that helps to cement the idea that this is one of the best stories ever. If you have a look at the Wikipedia page for this story, it’ll tell you that it was voted the ‘greatest Doctor Who story of all time’ in 1993, so there’s no wonder that reputation has stuck. I think it’s also worth adding a little context — this poll was conducted 28 years ago. That’s longer than the gap between the original broadcast of The Evil of the Daleks and the poll taking place. It might have been voted number one, but that was a very long time ago, and a very long time after anyone had actually experienced the story. As John Nathan-Turner was fond of saying, ‘the memory cheats’.
Five years later, Doctor Who Magazine ran their own ‘every story ever’ poll, coving up to and including the 1996 TV Movie. In this one, The Evil of the Daleks dropped to 9th place, with an average score of 8.42/10. It’s worth noting here that the scores in this poll tend to be slightly lower across the board (the number one story, Genesis of the Daleks, scored 9.01, which puts it in line with the 6th highest-story of 1993), but it’s still telling that just five years later the story had been deemed less impressive than eight of its peers.
Just over a decade later, DWM’s ‘Mighty 200’ poll saw Evil take another tumble, this time to 18th place. The fall in score wasn’t so drastic, down to 8.37/10. Of course we’d had four full brand new series broadcast in the gap between polls, which accounts for a large portion of the drop in places while the score remained more even.
DWM’s third and (to date) final ‘every story’ poll was in 2014, where Evil was knocked down to 34th, with a drop to an average score of 8.25/10. On this occasion only two new stories broadcast between polls entered the list ahead of Evil, meaning that it had dropped below stories it had beaten in 2009.
Although there hasn’t been a Doctor Who Magazine poll for some time (and given the fall-out with Colin Baker after the last one I’m thinking we may never see another…!), there was an ‘every story’ poll conducted on Twitter in 2020. In the results for that poll, Evil continued to slide, coming in 40th with an average of 8.2/10.
I think we can take from all this that while The Evil of the Daleks is still considered one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time (coming 40th out of almost 300 stories is impressive, after all), its reputation as being an unassailable classic has taken a knock over the years. I wonder what would happen to its reputation if it were to show up?
Anyway, all of that was really my way of saying ‘don’t hate me because I’m not going to say a lot of nice things about this one’. On with the story itself…
The Evil of the Daleks — Episode One
For all my bellyaching above about not liking this story and trying to justify my previous ratings, I’m going into all of these stories with an open mind for this marathon. Heck, The Highlanders turned out to be one I enjoyed this time around — currently sitting above The Underwater Menace and The Faceless Ones in the ratings — despite being unable to even finish it last time around. So it’s fair to say that anything goes, and maybe 2021 will be the year when I finally appreciate The Evil of the Daleks.
This first episode is… eh, it’s fine. It’s a really atypical episode of Doctor Who, in more ways than one. For starters, stories set in the ‘present’ day are still something of a rarity, although they’re becoming more common now. Episodes featuring Doctor Who with a single male companion and no female ones are an oddity, too. There’s only this one, the first three episodes of The Massacre, and possibly The Keeper of Traken, if you pedantically say that Nyssa isn’t a companion there yet. I can’t think of any others, not in the ‘classic’ era at least. And then we’re starting the story with our heroes already in place. That’s pretty odd at this stage, too. It’s true of An Unearthly Child and The Romans, but nowhere else up to now. Usually we see our heroes arrive and the mystery is where they are, not what’s happened to the TARDIS.
While such an atypical episode could be of interest simply by virtue of being so different, I don’t think it’s particularly grabbed me. I’m not overly bothered about the mystery of chasing down the TARDIS, and the clues and hints our heroes are given along the way seem a bit slow and dull to my mind.
I don’t know if it says more about the episode or about me, but the thing I’ve found the most interesting here is that we get a glimpse of a photograph of Patrick Troughton here from The Highlanders which no longer exists (to the best of our knowledge). Of course, that it survives in a tele-snap of a now-missing episode also has a certain kind of irony to it…!
A 6/10, with hopes that things pick up now the Daleks are on the scene.
Images taken by costume designer Sandra Reid during location filming for this episode show that the next major modification to the TARDIS prop occurred between its appearance in the first episode of The Faceless Ones and here.
For some reason the ‘Pull to Open’ panel has been shifted from the left hand side of the prop to the right, and it’ll remain in this position for around the next year. You can’t see the alteration in the tele-snaps for the episode, so it’s impossible to say if it showed up on screen like this here, but it’s clearly visible later on in the story.
The Evil of the Daleks — Episode Two
It’s strange to think that the only footage we have of Troughton with a Dalek comes from this episode. We’re lucky to have it, because I think we’d feel a bit cheated if we couldn’t see any of his 13 Dalek episodes.
Being able to see this episode also reveals how dreadful the painting of Waterfield’s late wife is. We’re told that she looks just like Victoria, and that’s clearly a plot point, but the painting really looks nothing like Deborah Watling to my eyes. I spent some time trying to work out if it was simply a reused prop, but the evidence shows that it was painted specially, and was based on one of the images of Watling taken during location filming! I’ve seen it also described as a very good likeness, though, so maybe I’m just being unfair!
As much as I love the glimpse into 1960s London — and this is probably the most contemporary story we’ve had yet, given the presence of Paperback Writer on the soundtrack when Doctor Who and Jamie visit the coffee shop in Episode One — I can’t help but thinking that all the 60s stuff in this one is a bit redundant.
It’s a leftover from an early version of the story, where Ben and Polly were to be written out in Episode Two. Part of David Whittaker’s brief was to set the first pair of episodes in the ‘present’ to allow for their departure, and then he could shift the scene to the Victorian Era.
Because they were written out ahead of time, you’re left with a pair of episodes which don’t really impact the plot very much at all, and as a result end up feeling a lot like padding. Waterfield’s time in 1966 only happens because they need to transport Doctor Who and Jamie back in time (‘you spirit Jamie and me 100 years back,’ says Doctor Who, in a lovely bit of dialogue), and then (as far as I can recall) has no bearing on the plot for the rest of the story. Once we’ve reached 1866, all the ‘present’ stuff is discarded.
I feel like we’d have been served just as well by having Doctor Who and Jamie nip off in the TARDIS at the end of The Faceless Ones, arrive on the lawn of Maxtible’s house, and then get caught up in events from there. Have the scientist expecting Doctor Who’s arrival, and use that as the mystery!
The Black Archive book for this story, written by Simon Guerrier, wonders what Ben and Polly’s role in the story would have been, and posits an interesting theory. He suggests that it would have been the pair of them who went to fetch a policeman upon discovering Kennedy’s body, and returned to the antiques shop to find their friends have vanished. There’s something almost a bit harrowing in that thought — that they might find themselves returned home never knowing what happened to Doctor Who, Jamie, or the TARDIS. There’d be plenty of spin off fiction following up on it, though, I’d bet…!
Another 6/10 for this one. It’s not bad, not really, it’s just not massively good either.