19 June 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 170: The Evil of the Daleks, Episode One

Dear diary,

In the early 1990s, The Evil of the Daleks was voted the best Doctor Who story ever by the readers of DWB. It had dropped a little in estimations by the time Doctor Who Magazine ran a similar poll five years later, coming in at number nine in the list, and in the 2009 Mighty 200 poll, it slipped even further, to number 18. Indeed, in Doctor Who Online’s very own 50th Anniversary Poll, it’s currently sitting at number 25! Despite this decline in opinion, it still has to be said that Evil has something of a reputation amongst Doctor Who fans as being pretty darn good.

It's perhaps surprising, then, that this first episode comes across as being just a bit of filler material. The impression I got from the opening to the episode is that the Doctor and Jamie were supposed to see the TARDIS heading off on the back of a truck (at the end of the last episode, the Doctor had already deduced that it had gone, and now they actively see it), and then Bob Hall is planted in one of the hangars to put the pair off the scent. He's then followed, and is knocked unconscious for it - his being followed is clearly not a part of the plan (Kennedy even plans to beat the Doctor and Jamie over the head to make sure that they don't discover anything). It then transpires that the pair were intended to come here, because there's a pack of matches planted to lead them on to the coffee bar. So why knock out Hall? It leads to his fleeing the city, and is surely a waste of a valuable ally?

Once the Doctor and Jamie have made it to the coffee shop (where contemporary music helps to set the scene, though it's a shame to know that the Beatles' Paperback Writer had to be removed from the soundtrack), they're met by Perry. Perry has been sent by Waterfield (who also sent kennedy to plant the matches and, I'm guessing, Hall to start the whole thing rolling) to ask the Doctor to come to the antiques shop at 10pm. Why the overly-complex plan? Surely seeing the TARDIS being carted away - and then being asked by Hall at Gatwick to head to the antiques shop if they want to see the police box again - would be enough to get them there?

The whole thing is an exercise in delaying the pair until the story is ready for them. I don't know if the story was intended to be a six-parter which was then extended out to seven (in the same way as The Mind Robber being given an extra episode late in the day) or if it was just needed to get things set up ready for the main tale, but either way, it's odd.

That's not to say that it's a bad thing, mind. There's plenty to like about this episode, not least the fact that we get to spend some more time in the company of Troughton and Hines again. I'd not realised that such a large part of the story kept them in the 1960s (I'd always assumed that they stumbled into the Victorian era pretty quickly once the story got started), but it's odd just how well they really do fit in here. Whereas in The War Machines, at the end of last season, the sight of William Hartnell climbing out of a cab was unusual, it doesn't feel at all out of place to see (or, at least, hear) Troughton doing so. Considering how much time Ian and Barbara spent wishing the TARDIS would land in the 1960s, it turns up there an awful lot these days (I make it The Massacre of St Bartholemew's Eve, The War Machines, now here, and there's a couple more trips to this period in the next couple of seasons).

Not only that, but the ship keeps returning to the city on the same day! In the fantastic History of the Universe in 100 Objects book from last year, there's a line describing the 20th of July 1966 as being the day that WOTAN launched his War Machines, the Chameleons returned hundreds of missing people to Gatwick airport, and the Daleks were at large in their time-travelling antiques shop. Surely that sentence really sums up just why this era of the show is so fantastic?

Despite all the running around, and knowing vaguely what's going on, which runs the risk of lessening the tension (It's a shame, for example, to know that the Daleks are going to be a part of the story - of course they're in the title - because it takes away some of the tension of Waterfield arguing with his 'unseen masters'), there is enough here to hook me in to the tale. I don't know, for example, what the Daleks need from the man. Or why they've stolen the TARDIS (the Daleks have time travel, so it can't be that… are they just trying to capture the Doctor's attention?), or what the time-travelling antiques shop has to do with anything, and I'm keen to move on and find out, so I guess that's the story doing something right!

But to come in the top 25 Doctor Who stories ever…? I think it's got a way to go, yet…

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