Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Serial 36: The Evil of the Daleks

Doctor: Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companion: Jamie, Victoria

Written By: David Whitaker
Directed By: Derek Martinus 

Background & Significance: The first four seasons of Doctor Who saw the show at its first peak of being "super popular". It happened early on and virtually almost overnight when The Doctor and his crew first went up against "The Daleks". Now I don't need to tell you because you already know, but The Daleks were popular. No like really. Super mega popular. There were Dalek toys and games and vernacular. The whole country had been seized by Dalekmania.

Of course, this bled into Doctor Who, helping to make the show the super popular phenomenon it eventually became, and without The Daleks, the popularity might never have come and Doctor Who might have died after just a few seasons.

And Terry Nation was smart enough to know this.

Because of their popularity, Terry Nation wanted to create a Dalek show, milking all he could out of his greatest creations. He pitched and wrote an idea for the BBC which would have featured Sara Kingdom and spun out of "The Daleks Master Plan". The BBC rejected the idea (although a production of the story was later released by Big Finish just over a year ago...) and Terry Nation turned to the United States to see if they'd be interested. Because The BBC realized that Nation wanted to go a separate way, they decided to write The Daleks out of Doctor Who for good and planned for the end of the show's fourth season.

As Terry Nation wasn't available, the production teamed hired "Power of the Daleks" writer David Whitaker to pen the adventure, meaning that the guy who wrote what is almost certainly the greatest Dalek story ever made returned to bring The Doctor into a final showdown with his oldest and greatest foe. And this was supposed to be it for them. Sure, they returned later in the Pertwee era and beyond all the way to today, but for all intents and purposes, this was their last appearance ever. And the fact that they were gone for seven years shows you how seemingly serious they were about it. For perspective, they were out of the show for as long as Tom Baker was The Doctor and for longer than the Nu-Who has been back on the air.

But even beyond that, it's a turning point for the show. It's the first story that really (and I mean really) utilizes the fantastic team of 2nd Doctor/Jamie and it's the first appearance of Victoria. So... yeah. Turning point.

So let's get to it!


Commentary!:

Part 1:

Did I mention yet that this story is a slow burn? Because… I feel like I should mention that up front.

See, when you deal with a story that is longer than four parts, how the writer chooses to structure the story is something of a fascinating thing as far as I’m concerned. They’re forced to stretch out the story longer than it [perhaps] should be. Malcolm Hulke is a master of the longer-than-four-part story and is the flag-bearer for keeping the story moving while withholding the right amount of information. Wheel spinning is okay so long as it’s wickedly entertaining. And when you’re upwards of six episodes hitting seven, eight, or more, it becomes that much harder to construct effectively.

So this story at seven parts and three hours is going to be extremely long and slow burn and this first part needs to do a lot to convince me to stick around for seven parts.

And man it does that.

The trick to Whitaker’s style in this is the way he wraps the mysteries and has you guessing right from the first minute of the story. Right at the top we’re chasing after the TARDIS with The Doctor and Jamie wondering where the hell it’s going. And then, just when we’re in the midst of tracking it down, leading to clues and point a to point b, we’re thrown aside into a completely other storyline about this new character, Professor Edward Waterfield, whom we learn almost immediately is responsible for planting the clues that will lead The Doctor to the next step.

Immediately this is off-putting. For one thing, the narrative shift in this story from The Doctor to Waterfield is jarring, especially because it completely removes The Doctor from “the center of the action” for much of the episode.

Then again, the center of the action is not even where we end up going later on, to the point where this is vaguely reminiscent of “The War Games” in the way it’s about to unfold what’s going on later. Waterfield himself is but a small cog in the overarching plan of the story, but unlike “The War Games”, he never feels like he’s going to be anything resembling a big bad (as General Smythe felt in the first episode of “The War Games”). No, the reason Waterfield can carry this episode and carry it so well is because we have no idea what the hell is going on with him.

But all the clues are here and almost immediately we’re on the scent to figure out what’s wrong. We get Waterfield referencing “a hansom” and that he’s really good with Victorian antiques, but why these things…?

Whitaker even draws attention to the fact that Waterfield is something of an enigma, dragging Kennedy full-fledged into attempting to unravel the mystery of Waterfield and what he’s up to. In that, Whitaker forces his audience to deal with the script head on, and the power of the mystery comes from Whitaker knowing all the pieces and knowing all the structure while the audience has to work at it to see where the story is going. It’s incredibly engaging and made all the more complicated when a Dalek appears at the end of the episode.

All of it is tremendously strong, and The Doctor and Jamie being in the periphery doesn’t hurt the story nearly as much as you’d imagine it would. It doesn’t hurt that Troughton and Hines are kinetic when they work together, but Whitaker also puts them on task to figure out what the hell is going on with the TARDIS and the mystery they’re currently wrapped up in solving. Sure, we know what’s going on a lot more than they do, but both the audience and The Doctor are bonded by the common thread of curiosity and intrigue. Even so, we’re still left wondering what the hell is going on and what’s going to happen next and how these two seemingly unlinked elements will come together in the end.

It’s this contract with the audience, the idea that two seemingly unrelated stories will eventually meet up if you give them enough time, that Whitaker uses here and uses so well.

By the end, I’m left thinking this episode is something of a nice change of pace to the typical Doctor Who story. You can always trust David Whitaker to do something weird and unique with his Doctor Who stories and he doesn’t disappoint here. The fact that Whitaker shifts all his energies into telling the small personal tale of Professor Waterfield is a risky choice that inevitably pays off. I’m always fascinated to see Doctor Who do standalone stories or episodes that don’t feature The Doctor within the larger context of the narrative, and I’m honestly more than a little sad/disappointed that it didn’t happen more in the Classic series. I mean, you have “Mission to the Unknown” and that’s about it. Sure “Revelation of the Daleks” almost counts, but with that story you’re dealing with the story of *everyone else* while benching The Doctor. It’s different here. Focusing on Waterfield and Waterfield alone… that’s the stuff.

A great kickoff that is extremely well constructed and executed. We’re one episode in and I’m already impressed. That’s a terribly good sign.

Part 2:

Okay. So. Let’s talk about contracts.

When a writer writes a story, they form a series of unspoken contracts with the audience. They promise to reward an audience’s engagement and dedication with a fulfilling and entertaining story. They promise to answer all of the questions they set forth (that is, those questions that have relevance to the story they’re telling). They promise to fulfill on the promise of their premise, giving you something that is ultimately satisfying and to follow up on all the elements that they tease to keep your interest. That’s why The Matrix can work as well as it does. Open with a five minute action sequence featuring the craziest shit you’ve ever seen (aka, “the kung fu") and you've suddenly bought yourself forty minutes of buildup and exposition and world building before you have to go “back to kung fu”.

Now, there are times when they completely default on that contract and utterly and completely fail, but here… here is not that at all.

The major contract that Whitaker enters into with the audience at the end of the previous episode is the appearance of the first Dalek. Once that Dalek appears, Whitaker has promised his audience a Dalek story and all of the trappings that come with that. He has promised Dalek action and Dalek adventure. He has promised Daleks. And yet, this episode features a surprising lack of Daleks, or rather more specifically, a distinct lack of Daleks seeming to do much of anything. They’re there to torment Victoria. They’re there to poke and prod at The Doctor by making demands. They’re there at the end to say “let the hunt begin” (or what have you), but if you look at it, it seems like Whitaker has breached the contract he made with the end of episode one.

That couldn’t be further from the case.

What’s weird is that this story is decidedly not Terry Nation. By this point, Terry Nation had established the Dalek contract as them on screen mucking about and getting into wacky antics.

But this is David Whitaker. This is the guy who did “Power of the Daleks”, which is all about watching The Daleks slowly execute their plan over the course of six episodes. They’re always on screen and they’re always off-putting and suspicion-inducing, but here Whitaker takes that concept one step further. In “Power,” The Daleks clearly have a plan and have a plan from early on: take over the colony, kill everyone in sight. Here, he takes that conceit one step further by not allowing the audience to be privy to what The Daleks are up to.

And honestly, I find this more intriguing and instantly more engaging, and it shows you the difference between what Terry Nation did with the Daleks and what Whitaker does. Whitaker is the first writer to write The Daleks who wasn’t Terry Nation (Dennis Spooner doesn’t count…) and so how he chooses to make them a presence in the story is nothing short of fascinating. Despite the fact that there are no Daleks in most of the scenes of this episode, it still feels like there are and these Daleks are up to something and whatever it is it can’t be good. Because they’re Daleks.

Here, Whitaker really gets the most out of the dramatic irony inherent to the story, layering as much as he can across as many different characters as possible, putting everyone on uneven footing and completely warping all the balances of power.

One of the best examples of this is when The Doctor figures out there’s Daleks afoot. For most of this episode he’s bumbling around, investigating and looking for clues. Business as usual. He even almost knocks over a vase after telling Jamie to not be clumsy. See? Clowning. But when Waterfield and Maxtible take him into their laboratory, it’s remarkable to watch Troughton shift suddenly to a state of sheer panic, and it’s all in the word “static.” The second the two professors mention “static” The Doctor is on the alert, suddenly afraid in the way nothing else gets to him. I gotta give props to Troughton here: this is super super Doctor. Like super way. It’s fascinating to see what he does when he realizes there’s Daleks around, but even knowing that they’re around gives him no comfort in the situation because he has no idea what they’re up to. But suddenly he knows as much as we the audience do: that there’s a Dalek plan going on but we’ll all be damned if we know what it is.

This at least gives him a one-up on Jamie because Jamie has no idea what’s going on. He’s far behind on everyone, but he’s going to be tested it looks like. But for what? And about what? Jamie spends most of this episode unconscious, which leaves him in an impossibly weak position.

On the opposite axiom of the spectrum are The Daleks (my, how topical this sentence will be very soon). The Daleks know every single aspect of what’s going on in this story and control it completely. They even appear to The Doctor at the exact perfect moment to appear. Is this a piece of narrative convention? Sure. But for all intents and purposes The Daleks are completely in command of this narrative and they’re pushing it towards something. We, Jamie, and The Doctor are simply along for the ride, and we don’t know where the fuck it’s going. It’s thrilling. It’s exciting. And it has us on the edge of our seat.

And here’s Whitaker fulfilling his end of the contract. He promised us a Dalek story. He’s giving us a Dalek story and even though there’s seemingly hardly any Daleks in it yet, it’s unmistakably one while being completely unlike any other the show had seen so far.

Part 3:

After the insane “wtf” of the first two episodes, it’s here that the story finally takes a minute to slow down and build to something new. It’s very wheel-spinny and very blatantly about the fact that nothing’s happening…

It’s a weird move for Whitaker, I think. I mean, this is the guy who just came off an incredible first two episodes built around mystery and intrigue and suddenly in this episode we’re stuck in another build up that doesn’t mask the fact that it’s build up. And it’s… almost a slog to watch. Almost. I mean, what we want is for the story to move on and progress and we want to know what The Daleks are up to and what Jamie’s going to have to do… but it’s almost agonizing now knowing what’s going to happen next.

That’s what I think Whitaker does that’s successful here. He builds up an entire episode to get you to the point where you want to see Jamie enter the South Wing and just as he’s giving you that he says “come away next week.”

Now, week to week this works, and works well. The sequence towards the beginning of the episode where we’re introduced to Kemel is particularly effective and designed specifically to get you to lose your mind at the cliffhanger at the end of this episode. We know Kemel is a big deal, stronger than just about anything to the point that even a Dalek has to look at what Kemel did and (this is just my extrapolation, but it’s believable) flinch at the sight of that twisted metal.

Quite simply, Jamie’s no match for him. We know that. But damn if we aren’t staring him down at the end of this episode and going “oh man, what’s going to happen next?”

So it’s effective, yes. But perhaps more effective is the character work in this episode, specifically with regards to The Doctor and Jamie. More than anything, I love the way this story pushes The Doctor into a direction we’ve not before seen. We realize that he’s working with The Daleks (however begrudgingly he is, it’s still happening) and that he’s actively working to goad Jamie into the test. Not only that, but he’s going along with The Daleks version of how events are going to go down. He can’t tell Jamie what to do or how to do it. He can only get Jamie into the arena.

And it really pushes The Doctor in a direction that we kinda haven’t seen before. It’s hard to see him be so openly manipulative and such.

Leave it to Whitaker, then. This is the guy who really (in the first two episodes) made great use of The Doctor and Jamie’s relationship, showing how good of friends they were and how wonderful they work together. And now he starts to tear it down. Watching Jamie explode at The Doctor is quite hard to watch and without even trying, Whitaker’s convincingly brought The Doctor and Jamie’s relationship to a complete breaking point.

To further complicate things, neither of these two characters are wrong. Since The Doctor discovered the presence of Daleks in the previous episode, he’s had to be more careful and needs to play by Dalek rules lest there be another blood bath like there was on Vulcan. If he disobeys them too much they could turn on him at any moment and then he’s screwed. So there’s that, but it’s also the rationale that he really wants to know what the Daleks are trying to do and he needs to stop them. Best go along with them now (they have left him alive so far, haven’t they?) and figure out what to do as he goes along.

Jamie, on the other hand, is treated horribly in this. He’s manipulated into entering the South Wing of Maxtible’s house and not told anything about what’s going on. He’s a rat in a maze. No one would like that.

And then there’s The Daleks. Again. But here we find out something very specific. It’s fuzzy, but it’s here: The Daleks are sick and tired of constantly losing to humans and so want to find out what makes humans so consistently successful against Dalek attempts to conquer them. They want “the human factor” that makes humans better and different than Daleks. They then want to isolate it and inject it into a group of test Daleks to create a race of super Daleks who get all the best of Daleks and humans. In their mind (and The Doctor’s) this will make them completely unstoppable and suddenly capable of destroying humanity once and for all.

Really, it’s just the Doctor Who version of “know thine enemy” taken to the furthest possible extreme. Which is awesome.

But here’s the crazy thing about it.

I know that that’s the Dalek plan. I’ve seen this story before. But it makes me look at every look and fight and discussion to think about what Whitaker’s trying to say in this story. It’s the theme. It should be on his mind. And it bleeds through every element of the script. Whitaker’s fascination with what makes humans different from Daleks (“Why do human beings kill human beings [while Daleks do not kill Daleks]?”) backbones this story and shows people manipulating each other and conniving and doing all sorts of crazy to get to the next stage of events.

The Daleks aren’t doing that. The Daleks discuss things. They’re always on the same page. They work together. They build together. Meanwhile The Doctor and his companion and the Professors and everyone are squabbling over what the hell is going on and what they’re going to do next.

It’s mind-bending stuff, if you ask me, and it really gets into your brain and makes you engage in ways few other stories do. And look at the test that’s happening. At the end of the episode you literally get Jamie and Kemel squaring off at each other, with the idea that one is going to have to kill the other. Why? Because that’s the way it’s going to have to be and that is part of the test. But would the Daleks kill each other like this? And that’s just the start of the debate of Human vs. Dalek factor. We’re about to see it play out.

So I guess this episode really did do something after all.

Part 4:

And then this episode does things, but in an entirely different way.

Basically, the middle episode of “Evil of the Daleks” is one big set piece as Jamie treks through the South Wing to rescue Victoria Waterfield. Honestly? I don’t mind. This story has been so much about the buildup and the cerebrality of what’s happening and what’s going to happen next that suddenly we’re thrust into a Daleks and corridors run around with fights and booby traps and all sorts of madness goodness. The craziest thing is this is the sorta stuff I love. I love old houses and a giant mega death trap where one false move could kill you. I love those.

But even within the context of the massive set piece, Whitaker’s doing something extremely interesting with the Daleks and the humans.

Because the debate of this story is basically Daleks vs. Humans and what makes them different, Whitaker is throwing them thematically at each other to see which is better. The biggest obvious here is the fact that Jamie and Kemel fight and try to beat the shit out of each other but despite that Jamie saves Kemel’s life and Kemel in return saves Jamie’s. The Doctor is quick to point out that mercy and compassion goes a long way to helping humans be humans, which is not what The Daleks want to hear. Mercy is weakness, and yet it is also a strength.

It’s the moral gray area that helps the humans. The Daleks live in a world of absolutes and blacks and whites. There are Daleks and there are not-Daleks. Not-Daleks are to be wiped out. For humans, there’s an element of that and a lot of us versus them, but there’s also more.

Take the questionable decision to make Kemel “the stereotypical other”. Yes. This is yet another key moment of Doctor Who playing into racist stereotypes just like it did with Toberman in “Tomb of the Cybermen”. Like Toberman, Kemel is a big, strong, mute fellow who happens to be non-white (in this case, Turkish). It’s not the most racially sensitive thing and it’s questionable that you have the [ostensibly] white guy fighting the Turkish guy, but it’s telling that the two overcome their differences and team up to survive.

See, I think it’s argued here that humans are meant to change and adapt. They learn and weave that learning into compassion. From compassion comes mercy and a whole wealth of other complicated emotions that defy rationality.

Whitaker’s putting all of these discussions into conflict with each other and wrapping them around each other is something of a master stroke. It makes you pay attention to all of the things that are going down and think about them and what they mean. He makes you think about the way the Daleks torture Victoria and how sick it is to psychologically torment a young girl like this. It’s sadistic and undeniably Dalek (it’s a Dalek what does it), but don’t humans act this way too? Maybe not quite like this, but this nonetheless. So is sadism a Dalek characteristic or a human characteristic? What happens if a characteristic is both Dalek and Human?

We’ll find out. And I love that the Daleks are more a presence in this episode than they ever were before. They’re coming out of the shadows finally and stalking through the hallways and we’re finally starting to see them in the light. It’s been a slow build to bring them out this far, but now they’re the menace of the cliffhanger, encroaching upon Jamie and Kemel as they attempt to rescue Victoria. How interesting, too, that we get that here at the midpoint of the story. The Daleks, coming out of the shadows, looming to attack our heroes.

And based on the entire episode we just saw, I don’t think The Daleks are here to show mercy.

Part 5:

You know you’re in a good place when you’re in a swordfight.

Again, this story proves to be as much fun as it is thought provoking. You get a Dalek going over a balcony and Kemel, Jamie, and Victoria trapped in a room with no way out. You get a secret passage and a kidnapping. You get the aforementioned swordfight. You get the first meeting between Jamie and Victoria and the wonderful chemistry between Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling that’s tremendously wonderful and affectionate, somewhere between sibling and romance and one of my favorite inter-companion pairings. You get The Doctor and Jamie attempting to reconcile their friendship and the first “you don’t care about anybody” falling out that a Companion has with The Doctor that would be later repeated by Tegan, Ace, Evelyn, and Charley.

And you get the tremendously off-putting cliffhanger that features The Daleks infected with the Human Factor coming out and playing a game.

But let’s go back a bit. Let’s go to the conversation between The Doctor and Professor Waterfield, during which Professor Waterfield begs The Doctor to stop the experiments. It’s a fascinating scene and makes you realize just how conniving and mysterious the Doctor is being through all of this. He’s going along with The Dalek plans despite knowing full well that what he’s doing might full well make them invincible. The Doctor seems to cast Waterfield’s concerns aside, working instead under the veil of “I have to do what I have to do to save my friends.”

Here’s a rather large excerpt of the scene to illustrate how good it is.

WATERFIELD: So the end is in sight?
DOCTOR: Perhaps.
[…]
WATERFIELD: But you're making over the whole world to them. Don't you realise that? Our world, our future; they will enslave us for all time.
DOCTOR: That, Mr. Waterfield remains to be seen[…]Now, listen, you've done all of this because of your daughter. Jamie is with her now and they're both still in the power of the Daleks. They must be set free!
WATERFIELD: And sacrifice a whole world -- a history, past, present and future -- destroy an entire race?
DOCTOR: Yes. I... 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.

So yeah. I think it’s safe to say The Doctor knows what’s going to happen, which is mind-blowing. To complicate things, Whitaker does not reveal to us when The Doctor figured out what he was going to do or how he was putting the elements together to make it happen, but suddenly he clues us in that he’s been working towards this. This is his ultimate goal and god dammit Troughton’s acting the hell out of this episode. You can see the debate on his face and you can hear it in his voice. He knows that something bad is going to happen.

And it’s here that like… You kinda realize that if the Daleks were in charge of the narrative for the first half of the story, The Doctor’s been in control for a while.

I’m pretty sure the shift happened in the last episode, when Jamie saved Kemel’s life, when we cut back to The Doctor and reveal that he’s been hanging out in the room with the Dalek, watching the test and analyzing the results to see what they mean. It’s here that The Doctor mentions mercy, a concept The Dalek can’t begin to comprehend and he does it from a sitting position (which, if you study power dynamics, is a position of power), talking to the Daleks as only The Doctor ever could.

So that’s why The Doctor isn’t worried when he opens the boxes and lets the Daleks out. Sure, he’s not 100% on it, but he’s fairly sure that what’s going to happen will tip the balance and push the Daleks into a point of no return.

And it pays off. And he starts playing with the Daleks for the first time in his life. He’s giddy like nothing else because his plan worked and he turned the Daleks into creatures that can play and have fun and do wonderfully human things. It’s a respite before the insanity of the next episode happens and… Man is it good for all of the right reasons. It’s completely off-putting and unsettling. We shouldn’t be watching the Daleks play. We should be watching them kill and exterminate.

AND YET! Why is it that we implicitly and unabashedly trust the situation? Why don’t we think this is some elaborate Dalek trick? The cliffhanger shouldn’t work (everyone is saying “oh look at the happy happy”, that’s the cliffhanger), but for some reason it works. I think it’s because part of us want The Daleks to be good. We hope and pray that they can change and be heroes at some point. Who doesn’t love looking at them and hearing them talk? Now we get to see them as lovable play things and our humanity and compassion suddenly sees them as cute adorables to be loved and cuddled.

A pet Dalek, who’da thought?

But because we now have pet Daleks, the rules of the Daleks have changed, and with them so has the story. If the driving question of the story is “What does it mean to be a Dalek”, what happens when the Daleks have their Dalekness stripped away from them and we’re left with them having limitless potential?

We don’t quite know yet. But we’re about to find out.

Part 6:

It’s telling that the end of this episode puts a ticking clock on the whole story and suddenly we realize the stakes are much, much higher than we had originally anticipated.

The biggest hint? We’re back on Skaro.

It’s fascinating that we’re back on Skaro and it makes the show feel like it has come full circle. The first time we ever encounter The Daleks, it’s on Skaro, and now we return there after four other Dalek stories for a final showdown. He’ll only come back to Skaro one other time and it’ll be to meet Davros (also in “Destiny of the Daleks” but the less said about that story the better) and that’s about it. So it’s fascinating that Whitaker brings us back here for their final showdown. It feels… right.

Before we get to Skaro we get some other cool bits. We get the destruction of the house and an awesome ticking time bomb of… a ticking time bomb.

It’s also interesting to watch a character like Maxtible lose his mind as he attempts to get what he wants out of The Daleks. He’s quite reminiscent of Mavic Chen (although Mavic Chen is super way cooler) in that he considers himself far more important than he actually is. I also love that he happens to be questing for the secret to alchemy at the same time. Over the course of his story he’s proven himself to be something of a complete loose cannon. He’s hypnotized people and he’s been out for himself. It’s a great performance, especially in the moment when Maxtible calls out to The Doctor because they need to leave. It’s wonderful because it conveys very succinctly that Maxtible is calling out save his own life, and not The Doctor’s.

He’s punished and tortured for this, of course. Then again, the Daleks in this story do tend to get punished.

Anyways, it’s here that the narrative makes a final shift again. It’s here that The Doctor lays out the entire plan, explaining everything that he’s helped orchestrate and how he will use Alpha, Beta, and Omega (the three Daleks who have been injected with The Human Factor) to bring down the Dalek way of life. Honestly, it’s a brilliant plan and helps delineate what makes humans different from Daleks: humans question and improve and rebel, Daleks follow orders and march and obey.

So in one camp we have The Human Factor, The Doctor standing up against the Emperor Dalek and saying that the rebellion will succeed and the Daleks will fall.

The Emperor Dalek is a bigger problem. For one thing, I’ll just say right here that the design for the Emperor is absolutely magnificent and a totally awesome thing. In a story that’s full of missing story regret (that is to say, how sad it is that this story does not exist), it is perhaps most sad that this and the next episode don’t exist. The Emperor is a delight and one of the highlights of an already outstanding story. But even without the kick ass design, there’s just the fact that The Emperor is essentially imposing The Dalek Factor on The Doctor, telling him that he is going to seed The Dalek Factor throughout all of Earth’s history to allow them an easy conquest.

And why is this even more brilliant than it initially seems? Sure, it’s one thing to threaten The Doctor and his Companions with their lives, but it’s another thing entirely to do what Whitaker’s doing here.

See, for the first three episodes we had The Daleks firmly in charge of the narrative. Their goal was to isolate the Human Factor by putting Jamie through a series of tests to determine what the Human Factor is. And then there was a shift.  They handed control of the narrative over to The Doctor as he put together his findings on the Human Factor. This resulted in The Doctor manipulating events into creating the “Human Daleks”, the ones that would eventually incite rebellion and bring down The Daleks for good.

But with the end of this episode, Whitaker puts it out on the table: this final showdown between The Daleks and The Doctor will see The Doctor’s staunch Human Factor (rebellion) square off against The Emperor Dalek’s Dalek Factor (commanding submission).

As it turns out, when The Daleks “handed over” the narrative to The Doctor, they really had their own plans the whole time. It didn’t matter what The Doctor would do after he obtained the Human Factor because whatever the Human Factor ended up being, The Dalek Factor would simply be the inverse of that and The Daleks would then have all they’d need, AND on top of that, The Daleks still have the TARDIS, which they’ve had since episode one, meaning this whole story has come full circle, bringing the instigating narrative device (recovering The TARDIS) screaming back into the forefront of the story. And The Daleks control that, so they control that plot point, just as they have the entire story.

SO! Basically? The Daleks and The Doctor are going to fight over the narrative of episode seven and whoever gets control will be declared the victor.

That’s just brilliant. That’s obscenely brilliant and it makes the stakes tremendously high, especially because (as we find out on Skaro) The Doctor’s position is not as secure as he thinks it is. Skaro is a much scarier place this time around than it ever was in “The Daleks”. Back then it was a spooky jungle with a dangerous city. Here, the entire world is out to get The Doctor. The place is crawling with Daleks and these Daleks are not the final weak remnants of a long-ago war. No, this is a full-fledged Dalek army in a thriving Dalek city with all the guns poised to immediately decimate The Doctor should he give them a chance. I mean, even Omega is compromised almost immediately, meaning that he only has two other Daleks to execute the plan he’s got cooking.

Which leaves us with a winner-take-all final part. Who else is excited?

Part 7:

So in case you were wondering, yes. This was, for all intents and purposes, the last Dalek story. Because wow. Just wow. Like wow.

It’s not rare for Doctor Who to go and do something completely epic (or at least try to). Unfortunately, those tales don’t always hit at the level the creative team necessarily want them to hit. Epic stories need oomph behind them that’s more than just “let’s do an epic tale”. I’d like to point you to “The Wedding of River Song” as a good example of something that wanted to be impossibly epic but (in my own opinion) failed absolutely miserably. The truth of the matter is, there’s nothing significant about “The Wedding of River Song.” As a story it’s a nonentity because honestly, what’s the point? To tell me how The Doctor survived his supposed death at Lake Silencio? Please. We all knew he would survive. That’s not a thing that’s important.

But other stories that are epic… “The Daleks’ Master Plan” with the deaths of two companions or “The War Games” with the regeneration of The Doctor and the revelation of the Time Lords and the massive massive scope…

And with this ending, I’d be hard pressed to not put this story in the list of great Doctor Who epics. I mean, the sheer audacity to do this in a Doctor Who story is mind-blowing. From what we can see from the surviving clips, the actual Civil War between the Daleks must have been one of the most impressive things on Doctor Who ever (hell, I’m only seeing part of it and I still think it’s one of the best Doctor Who things I’ve ever seen in my life). The Dalek city is a sight to behold and watching all The Daleks go at it in the most ruthless bloodletting I’ve ever seen is more than just a little impressive.

Even before you get there, though, the story keeps you on the edge of your seat. The moment when The Doctor steps through the archway and seems to get converted is a moment of total loss, punctuated by the horror of seeing The Doctor spew out his lines like he’s a Dalek.

But it’s not like that’s even the worst of it. It’s heartbreaking to watch Kemel and Maxtible duke it out on the cliff face at the end of the story, and it’s fascinating to watch the subversion of the two characters enacted as they fight to the death. See, I didn’t realize it before, but Maxtible was a total Human before this episode, motivated by all the worst human qualities in the worst possible ways. He was greedy and independent, self-serving and curious to the point of fault. Kemel was the opposite: a follower and unquestioningly obedient to the whims of those above him.

And here at the end we get the redemption of Kemel and the fall of Maxtible. Maxtible, of course, has been Dalekized. Kemel fights for what he believes in.

So really, it’s thematically relevant to the story at hand, which makes the scene that much stronger.

Meanwhile, The Doctor takes the role of leader to the Daleks, leading a revolution as he has so many other times. What’s interesting, though, is that The Doctor is pitted against Emperor Dalek, neither of whom are Human or Dalek. The Doctor skews human, but he’s also not human because he is (although it hasn’t been stated yet) Time Lord. Likewise, the Emperor skews Dalek (because he is a Dalek) but because he isn’t the one who obeys he cannot quite be considered Dalek. This leaves us with the fact that the end of this game is played by two chess masters controlling different armies who do battle with each other.

And Humanity wins. Of course it does. This is Doctor Who. Humanity prevails by the fact that it can think and evolve and adapt. Constricting life to obeying orders is not life at all. The Human Factor breeds emotions and allows The Daleks more edge in the fight.

It’s also fun to watch. It’s fun to watch The Daleks question their orders and demand to know why they need to do certain things, but it’s also a wonderful touch by Whitaker to see The Daleks not question what to do if one of their friends are murdered. That sends them on the offensive against the Black Daleks and the carnage doesn’t stop until all the Daleks are destroyed we’re left with the final sounds and image and of Skaro burning. It’s powerful and immediately reminiscent of the final shot of John Carpenter’s The Thing, with the world burning while people watch. Sure Carpenter’s came over ten years later, but the imagery is still powerful and completely awe inspiring. Again, it’s almost hard to see Skaro completely in flames like this.

But more than that I love the effect this will have on The Doctor later. This is The Doctor’s doing, and he had a choice in all this. But way back in episode five he specifically referred to the fact that this was a probable outcome of what he was doing.

I like that. I like that The Doctor, this Doctor who is still young and vibrantly full of spirit does this without thinking about it and without remorse. It’s a nihilistic way he says “The Final End”, and you can tell that he’s trying not to think about the genocide he essentially just caused, but it’s the sorta thing that I think weighs on him a bit and will continue to weigh on him later on. I mean, look at how The Doctor behaves in “Genesis”, when he gives the “do I have the right” speech. Isn’t that just a commentary back on what The Doctor does here? And doesn’t The Doctor do the same thing when The Doctor affects the obliteration of Skaro in “Remembrance”? And how is this any different than what he did to The Daleks in the Time War or what he seriously considered doing in “Parting of the Ways”?

This Great Dalek Problem is something that has plagued The Doctor and one that will continue to plague him for as long as the show persists. He’ll keep changing his mind and saying it was or was not the right thing to do, but here it’s the first time, and every time after this is, at the very least, a reaction that trails back eventually to this moment.

So yeah. It’s epic, and for so many more reasons than you’d ever think without watching this story.

Final Thoughts?: Patrick Troughton was gifted with several incredible stories. This is easily one of them and it's also exactly why I love Doctor Who as much as I do.

Looking back on it, this is just about everything you could possibly want Doctor Who to be. It's emotional, epic, and a cracking good story.

Of course, it's most important for being The Last Dalek story, and to a large degree it is, but it also hit a high that few other Dalek stories ever attain. I can only think of a handful of other stories that are as good as or better than this one ("Power of the Daleks", "Jubilee", "Dalek", and "Lucie Miller/To The Death" come to mind) so really, that's saying something. You can also tell the energy that's on display here. The production team went all out and the surviving episode two is a whammy of awesome right to the chest and makes me sad more of this story doesn't exist. Troughton and Hines are on marvelous display here (their character work in this is really, really excellent and I love how much Troughton really gives it his all) and it's a wonderful opening story for Victoria (and even though her father does die and leaves her an orphan, he doesn't die in vain and he made the noblest of sacrifices).

But the hero of this story has to be David Whitaker.

Honestly, this cements Whitaker as one of my all time favorite Doctor Who writers. This story dials into its themes so completely that it's hard wired into the very DNA of everything that happens. As a text, it makes you think and it engages you with its story and thematics and I can't see how anyone could watch this story without being absolutely floored by all of the crazy ass shit that happens by the time it's over. It's the epitome of a slow burn and one of the best ever Doctor Who stories as far as I'm concerned. Whitaker really, really does good and clever things with his own take on the Daleks, and while I'm not completely opposed to Terry Nation's Dalek stories, I find that his use of them is tiresome and a waste of a wonderful concept. Whitaker is one of the few people who really pushed The Daleks as far as they could go and made them more than just "the best monsters ever."

Really, the only person who played with The Daleks this good was Robert Shearman, and I would like to remind you that he was only ever playing with one. Then again, he's building off of what Whitaker did with his two Dalek stories, so that gives you an idea of the influence.

I only have two really sad things to come out of this. It's sad to note that this story only has one surviving episode (episode two, which is awesome to watch even though it's not the best episode of the story), which is... that's a crime. It's a travesty that this is one of the stories that was so completely wiped from the archives and I must admit it's one of the stories I really most want returned. The other sadness is that this is really the last great Dalek story until Nu-Who. Nation notoriously hated Whitaker's developments in this story and what the former story editor did with his creations and for the longest time refused to let anyone else touch the Daleks, meaning that we're left with plenty of Terry Nation being Terry Nation. And then when it's not Nation it's Davros, which is a whole different ball game.

But this. This is a Dalek story. And one of the all time greatest. It's a tremendous outing for Troughton and his era. It's one of the high high points of 60s Who and one of the great triumphs of the show's fifty year history. A true epic and a true legend with all praises lauded on it absolutely one hundred percent deserved.

And despite all that? I still don't consider this the best Dalek story. That's nutso face.

Next Week!: 4th Doctor! The "return" of Chris Boucher! The "arrival" of Leela! The Sevateem! A giant Mount Rushmore! Hunting and lasers! And a lot of Tom Baker's head. No really. A lot. Next week continues our TOTALLY UNPLANNED "Stories That Feature The Word Evil [Or An Anagram of] In The Title" with "The Face of Evil"! Coming Next Tuesday!

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